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New engineering dean hired
Hassan Aref, a professor and chair of the Theoretical and Applied Mechanics Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will assume duties as the new dean of the College of Engineering on April 1. Aref, who has spent nearly 10 years in his current position, earned his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark in 1975, and his doctorate in physics, with a minor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, from Cornell University in 1980. In addition to serving as dean, Aref will hold an endowed position, the Reynolds Metal Professorship, and will be tenured in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. TOP

College's research funding exceeds $100 million
The College of Engineering graduate program spent more than $100 million on research in 2002, helping put Virginia Tech on track toward its goal of ranking among the nation's top 30 research institutions. Much of that total was spent on transportation, power electronics, materials, coal and energy, and wireless communications research, and college officials anticipate future growth in the areas of biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, and new critical technologies. Institutions that spend more on research are generally accorded more funding, which is one reason the university is driving toward top-30 research status. The College of Engineering provided the total for its annual report on graduate school activities for U.S. News & World Report's annual survey, which will be published in April. TOP

Alumni help to save funding
In an effort to trim state spending by $1 billion, Virginia Governor Mark Warner proposed to reduce funding for the state's "unique military activities" budget, which supports the corps of cadets at Virginia Tech and Mary Baldwin College, by 50 percent for the fiscal year beginning July 1. However, after a concerted communications campaign by Virginia Tech corps alumni, both houses of the Virginia Assembly voted to fully restore the funds for the 2004-05 budget. In addition, Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension recovered more than $1 million--after having lost $11.6 million this fiscal year for Extension and the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station--to fund 21 agents and four specialists in Virginia. Alumni and Extension clients throughout the state worked hard to save the funds. TOP

Steger elected chair of technology board
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger was elected chairman of the board of directors for Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), effective April 1. The CIT is a state-chartered nonprofit corporation that works to enhance federal research funding to Virginia's colleges, universities, and industry; to commercialize intellectual property from universities, laboratories, and growing companies; and to promote technology-based industry development. Steger was appointed to the CIT board in April 2001. TOP

English department designs new book
How can professors create a unified experience when teaching 130 sections of first-year writing each semester to approximately 3,300 students with a wide range of majors? The Virginia Tech Department of English has solved the problem by creating its own coursebook, the Department of English Writing Yearbook, which contains content from several books published by Allyn & Bacon/Longman and Prentice Hall. Because this is a fairly revolutionary collaboration, Pearson Education, the company that owns both publishing companies, is now touting Virginia Tech's innovative approach at its national sales meetings. TOP

Professors win SCHEV awards
Two Virginia Tech faculty members, Tom Gardner of English and Mike Vorster of civil and environmental engineering, received the 2003 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV), the commonwealth's highest honor for faculty at Virginia's public and private colleges and universities. Gardner, who is also a poet, has won numerous awards for his scholarship and teaching, including Guggenheim and National Foundation for the Arts fellowships and a Fulbright to the University of Helsinski. Vorster is the David H. Burrows Professor of Construction Engineering and Management and a 16-year veteran of Virginia Tech. He is also considered one of the premier educators in the department's distance learning efforts. TOP

Di Ventra named IOP fellow
Missimiliano Di Ventra of the Department of Physics has been named a fellow--the highest class of membership--in the Institute of Physics, a leading international organization that promotes the advancement and dissemination of knowledge in pure and applied physics. Di Ventra, who came to Virginia Tech in 2000, has recently worked on projects in which he has explored the nanoscale world through computer simulations and employed a new approach to studying issues in transport in molecular wires. TOP

National association recognizes agriculture professors
Two professors from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences received prestigious Food and Agriculture Sciences Excellence in Teaching awards from the USDA and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. Michael J. Ellerbrock, associate professor of agricultural and applied economics, received one of the association's two national teaching awards. James W. Knight, professor of animal and poultry sciences, received one of two regional awards from the association's Southern region. TOP

Which Tech is a "Robot Rivals" champion?
In November, a team of Virginia Tech engineering students competed against Georgia Tech for the premiere episode of The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Network's "Robot Rivals" series. Each team created a robot that could locate, grasp, and propel soccer balls for the "Robo-World Cup" soccer match challenge. Which Tech team won? Tune in on April 14 at 9 p.m. ET to find out. For more information, go to TOP

Couch wins USGA award
Plant pathology professor Houston Couch was selected to receive the United States Golf Association's annual Green Section Award, which recognizes an individual whose work with turfgrass has contributed significantly to the turf industry and golf course managers. A professor at Virginia Tech since 1965 and one of the country's first university turfgrass pathologists, Couch published the first comprehensive book on turfgrass diseases in 1962. He has received numerous awards for his work in the field, including the Virginia Turfgrass Council's award of merit and the R.D. Cake Award. TOP

Second VT professor in a row wins award
Charles Goodsell, professor emeritus in the Center for Public Administration & Policy, was awarded the American Society for Public Adminstration's Dwight Waldo Award for 2003. Since 1980, this distinction has honored outstanding lifetime contributions to the literature of public administration. CPAP professor John Rohr received the award last year. TOP

Project receives Queen's Anniversary Prize
The Darwin Correspondence Project, based at Cambridge University and directed by Virginia Tech botany professor Duncan Porter, has received a Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. The prize recognizes the outstanding contributions made by universities and colleges in the United Kingdom. The Darwin Correspondence Project involves transcribing, editing, and publishing more than 14,500 letters written and received by Charles Darwin throughout his life, providing a good historical view of the way the scientist's controversial theory of evolution took shape. TOP

Changes are underway at Tech
Moving ahead with its restructuring plans (see summer 2002 issue, page 7), Virginia Tech has created the temporarily named "New College" that will be comprised of the College of Human Sciences and Education (CHSE) and the liberal arts departments of the College of Arts and Sciences. Jerry Niles, interim dean of the CHSE, started as dean of the New College in mid-March. Departments in the New College will include foreign languages, English, history, music, philosophy, political science, sociology, theatre arts, interdisciplinary studies, communication studies, the ROTC programs, and all departments from the College of Human Sciences and Education, except the Department of Human Nutrition, Food, and Exercise, which has moved to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. These changes will be effective July 1.

In addition, Lay Nam Chang, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has been selected as dean of the newly created College of Science, which is currently slated to house the departments of biology, chemistry, economics, geological sciences, mathematics, physics, psychology, and statistics. N. Gregory Brown, dean of the College of Natural Resources, has taken on the additional responsibilities of interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The former dean, Andy Swiger, retired Jan. 1. TOP

Built Virginia Tech tough
Always wanted to tailgate in true Hokies style? Virginia Tech has collaborated with Sheehy Ford of Richmond to introduce the first collegiate-licensed vehicles, a 2003 Expedition and a 2003 Explorer. The Expedition sports, among many other features, 12 Virginia Tech logos, "VT"s on the exterior, logos on the headrests and the custom-embroidered floor mats, and a tailgate table that fits into the rear tow receiver. According to Locke White, director of the university's licensing and trademarks office, Virginia Tech is the first university in the country to have a licensed car. TOP

Tech to make another NASCAR appearance
NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler will be driving a car for the 2003 Winston Cup series that has a sponsorship twist. For each race, the "Go Team Virginia" car will feature a different Virginia university--including Tech--and students from the featured school will participate in the marketing and possibly the testing of the vehicle. The universities will pay nothing, and in return they will receive half the proceeds from licensed merchandise. Sadler will drive the Virginia Tech car in the Bristol race on March 23--where an in-car camera will give millions of viewers a shot of the Hokie Bird and/or the VT logo on the dashboard--and in the Martinsville race on Oct. 19. Become a member of the "Go Team Virginia" club by going to If enough Hokie fans join, the university could get a third Winston Cup race. In addition, because Virginia Tech is helping Sadler with the sponsorship program, the Tech car will be featured in the new NASCAR Racing 2003 Season video game from Sierra Entertainment. In the game, players have the opportunity to "drive" for any NASCAR team, giving Hokie fans a chance to race Sadler's Virginia Tech car [computer game version shown on right] against Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, or any other driver in the circuit. For more information on the game, go to TOP

women cadets"Cool" calendar highlights achievements
The Virginia Tech Women's Studies Program is offering a different approach to the traditional woman-in-a-bikini calendar with "Cool Women of Virginia Tech." The calendar showcases women who embody the intellectual and creative spirit of the university, including Lucy Lee Lancaster, a long-time employee of Tech and a member of its first class of women; prominent black poet Nikki Giovanni; and members of the current women's basketball team. The calendar, which costs $14, is sold at the Volume II Bookstore, the Women's Center, and the Women's Studies Program Office. TOP


Fingerprinting wildlife helps manage species
Although it's tempting to imagine a scientist dipping a bear's paw in ink and pressing it onto a sheet of paper, that's not how Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences professor Eric Hallerman fingerprints wildlife. Instead, Hallerman's research relies on genetic fingerprinting, in which DNA is extracted from a creature and sequenced, allowing geneticists to identify its species and population. The data is invaluable in managing and maintaining endangered species such as the black bear, the walleye fish, and the Madagascar fish eagle. Hallerman's work also has human implications; in Israel, he collaborated with other researchers to identify E. coli in that country, helping drastically cut the time needed to detect the potentially deadly bacterium in food and water. TOP

Putting on your computer one leg at a time?
Researchers Mark Jones and Tom Martin of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Chemical Engineering have designed what they call "e-textiles," which is cloth interwoven with electronic components, for use as personal "wearable computers." Jones and Martin are currently working on the development of large e-textiles fabrics that look like typical military equipment, such as tents or camouflage nets. The electronic wires and sensors woven into the fabric will be able to hear faint sounds, such as distant vehicles deployed by the enemy. Software will allow soldiers to determine the location of the sounds. In another project, Jones and Martin are designing wearable computers made of e-textiles, which could be worn as hats, pants, or any other type of cloth apparel and could detect changes in a wearer's speed, direction, and surroundings. Potential uses include sportswear that tells joggers how fast and far they've run or uniforms that allow firefighters to map their way in and out of burning buildings. TOP

Jaguar candids caught on camera
Thanks to her research into new technologies to collect data on elusive species, Marcella Kelly, assistant wildlife professor in the College of Natural Resources, is helping capture images of jaguars in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve at Las Cuevas Research Station in Belize. Kelly employs infrared, remotely triggered cameras set up at stations placed every three square kilometers in the jungle to create a "capture" history for each jaguar as part of a project that will produce the first density estimates of jaguars in tropical rainforests. Luckily, Kelly says, the jaguars seem to be ready for their close-ups. "The jaguars seem to show curiosity towards the camera's flash," she says. "We found that most of the same jaguars come back to have more pictures taken of them." The biggest difficulty, she adds, is the opossums. "We have pictures of them taking pictures of each other or taking the wires out of the cameras." TOP

Looking to predict and prevent falls among the elderly
Although the National Safety Council reports that falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths among people over 75 and the second leading cause for those aged 45 to 75, the correlation between age and falls is still a mystery. Thurmon Lockhart, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, is working on a project in his Locomotion Research Laboratory to look into the causes and potential prevention of falls among elderly. Sixty volunteers divided into three age groups--18 to 35, 40 to 55, and over 65--are equipped with a network of sensors [as shown on left], then walk along a platform until they slip on a randomly introduced solution. (An actual fall is prevented by a harness.) Researchers are testing the subject's gait prior to the fall and the body's reaction as the fall is occurring, which Lockhart hopes will yield intervention strategies, such as special shoes, strength-training routines, or environmental designs. Tips from Thurmon Lockhart for preventing falls around the house:

General Areas: Wet surfaces may not appear dangerous until you step on them--and then it's too late. Heed these tips to stay safe.

  • Minimize changes in walking surfaces, and use slip-resistant coverings such as rough tile and carpet with short, dense pile.
  • Create color contrasts between walls and floors; lighter-colored floor surfaces are preferable.
  • Increase lighting and reduce the contrasts in lighted areas.
  • Install wall-mounted light fixtures, accessible while standing on the floor.
  • Install more outlets to minimize the use of extension cords.
  • Relocate switches so that the homeowner doesn't have to walk through darkened areas.

Kitchen and Bathroom:

  • Securely install grab-bars in tub/shower and near toilet at height and angle best suited for homeowner's needs; tubs/showers typically require two bars positioned for support when entering and exiting.
  • Install slip-resistant tile.
  • Increase door width to 30 inches for homeowners with wheelchairs or walkers.
  • Clean up grease, water and other liquids immediately. Don't wax floors.
  • Avoid climbing and reaching to high cabinets or shelves, or use a sturdy step stool with handrails.
  • Always keep a night-light on in your bathroom.
  • Use bathroom rugs with nonskid backing.
  • Vary the colors in your bathroom. Having a white tub, white toilet and white walls can be a safety hazard. If everything is one color, add bright decals or even red tape so older adults can see the edges.
  • Be sure shower stalls have code standard shatterproof glass.
  • Stairways: To reduce injuries on stairs and steps, consider these modifications:
  • Install handrails on both sides of the stairs and extend them one foot beyond the last step at both top and bottom; position top of the railing at elbow height of the homeowner.
  • Use handrails that allow the homeowner to use a "powergrip"--to encircle their thumb and fingers around it--and allow hand clearance between the handrail and the wall.
  • Use a different color contrast to mark the first and last step.
  • Limit stair rise to seven inches; make tread at least 11 inches.
  • Use incline risers with 15-degree angles.
  • Remove thick (3/8 inch or thicker) carpets and underpads on treads.
  • Make sure stair height and tread widths are adequate, and each step is identical in size.
  • Install a second handrail if the stairs are wide enough.
  • Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairs.
  • Be sure carpeting is tightly woven and installed so it doesn't move or slide.