Virginia Tech Magazine
Hok-E-News -|- Summer 2006

Virginia Tech Magazine's online feature, Hok-E-News, which is updated quarterly with Web-only content, gives Web-savvy readers more news and stories about some of the exciting things happening at the university today.

Agriculture and Life Sciences awarded grant to reduce pollution in Chesapeake Bay
by Lori Greiner

Chesapeake Bay

Congressmen Bob Goodlatte announced in early June on a Rockingham County farm that researchers at Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have been awarded more than $2.5 million to help improve the quality of local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

The funding is part of a $7.7 million initiative funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust to help local organizations reduce nutrient pollution that enters local rivers and streams from agricultural and suburban lands and prevent it from reaching the bay.

Virginia Tech is the lead institution for three projects that will look at innovative ways to manage manure and poultry litter and to use market-based incentives to improve water quality through collaborative partnerships.

"The alternative use strategies developed by the forum will help local farmers turn a product that may have formerly cost money to dispose into a revenue generating product. At the same time, the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries stands to benefit from the development of alternative uses for manure and litter. This is a win-win for our farmers and our environment. I applaud contributions of Virginia Tech to the forum and look forward to hearing about the progress of this important project," said Goodlatte.

"These projects are an example of the college's commitment to help citizens protect and enhance the environment," said Sharron Quisenberry, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "The research implemented will demonstrate how the agricultural industry and local communities can benefit from sound environmental and nutrient management practices to create economically viable solutions as well as marketable by-products, including bio-energy and organic fertilizers."

The first project, a partnership of Virginia Tech, the Virginia Poultry Federation, the Dairy Foundation of Virginia, the Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development Council, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, will be demonstrating a comprehensive and innovative approach to managing excess animal manure and poultry litter in the North River Watershed of the Shenandoah Valley. The project seeks to generate revenue from manure on poultry farms via bio-energy production, decrease the cost of manure transport through nutrient concentration technologies, and increase the markets for manure. Katharine Knowlton, associate professor of dairy science, will serve as the principal investigator for this project.

A second project, which involves Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, the Frederick-Winchester Service Authority, as well as federal, state, and local government and community interests, will use proven and innovative best management practices to accelerate nutrient reduction in the Opequon Creek Watershed. The project will encourage widespread adoption of practices to reduce nutrient runoff from urban and agricultural sources. Detailed monitoring of floodplain and pocket wetlands, water-quality swales, and fenced streams will determine the impact and cost-effectiveness of these practices. The project will result in a plan for the Frederick-Winchester Service Authority to obtain nutrient offset credits for wastewater treatment plan expansion. Conrad Heatwole, associate professor in biological systems engineering, is the principal investigator for this project.

Virginia Tech is also partnering with Virginia Commonwealth University and two oyster producers to demonstrate and assess the potential for commercial oyster production to be credited with water quality improvements under the Chesapeake Bay water-quality trading and offset programs. Co-principal investigators, Kurt Stephenson, associate professor of agricultural and applied economics, and Bonnie Brown, associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, will provide scientifically based analysis of nutrient removal by cultivated oysters and examine the economic feasibility of using assimilation credits as a water quality management option.

More information about the Chesapeake Bay Targeted Watersheds Grant Program can be found at, along with additional information about the funded research projects.

Researchers study light-activated anticancer drug target to DNA using cisplatin like sub-units
by Susan Trulove

One of the most effective chemotherapy drugs against cancer is cisplatin because it attaches to cancer DNA and disrupts repair. However, it also kills healthy tissue. Many scientists are creating alternative drugs or cisplatin analogs in attempts to find treatments without side effects. One approach to analog development is light activated drugs, or photodynamic therapy (PDT). Now a Virginia Tech chemistry-biology research team that has been working on both non-cisplatin drugs and cisplatin analogs has combined their findings to create a molecular complex (supramolecule) that exploits cisplatins tumor targeting to deliver a light activated drug.

The latest results from the group's research to create a DNA targeting, light-activated anticancer drug was presented at the 231st American Chemical Society national meeting in Atlanta on March 26-30.

Chemistry professor Karen J. Brewer reports that the group has developed supramolecular complexes that combine light-absorbing PDT agents and cisplatin like units. Previous anticancer molecules created by the group have contained platinum-based molecules that bind DNA.

Cisplatin DNA

They have also developed new light activated systems able to photocleave DNA. This report combines these two approaches to target the drug to DNA using cisplatin like units, directing the light activation to tumor cells and the sub-cellular target, DNA.

"In the past, our light activated systems had to find the DNA within the cell, an often inefficient process. Now we have added the DNA targeting drug," Brewer said. "We were working on cisplatin analogs before, so we have tied it to light activated systems."

Cisplatin begins its interaction with cancer DNA by binding to the nitrogen atoms of the DNA bases, typically guanine. Our new supramolecules use this nitrogen-binding site to hold the light activated drug at the target until signaled to activate. Thus the new supramolecules can be delivered to the tumor site but remain inert until activated by a light signal. Light waves in the therapeutic range -- that is, those that can penetrate tissue, are used to activate these new drugs. The researchers are also appending other molecules that emit UV light to track the movement of these drugs within cells.

Virginia Tech chemistry graduate student Ran Miao discussed how component identity dictates device properties. He presented the paper, "Synthesis and properties of mixed-metal Ru-Pt complexes: Coupling light absorbers to reactive metal centers" (INOR 105) on Sunday, March 26, at the Georgia World Congress Center room B408. Co-authors are Matthew T. Mongelli, postdoctoral associate in chemistry at Virginia Tech, and Brewer.

American Chemical Society Abstract:

Mixed-metal tetrametallic complexes [{(bpy)2M(dpp)}2M'(L)PtCl2](PF6)6 (M, M'= Os or Ru, L = dpp, dpq or dpb; bpy = 2,2'-bipyridine, dpp = 2,3-bis(2-pyridyl)pyrazine, dpq = 2,3-bis(2-pyridyl)quinoxaline, dpb = 2,3-bis(2-pyridyl)benzoquinoxaline) are of interest. These supramolecular complexes have a trimetallic {(bpy)2M(dpp)}2M'(L)6+ chromophore, which strongly absorbs visible light, possessing several metal-to-ligand charge transfer transitions throughout the visible region, coupled to a reactive Pt site. This unique design allows these complexes to display interesting properties. Photophysical studies reveal excited state energy or electron transfer is possible. This report will discuss how component identity dictates devices properties. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation (CHE-0408445).

Several Bioinorganic-Biological Applications of Inorganic Chemistry posters, were displayed in the Georgia World Congress Center exhibit hall B4, also discussed related issues:

DNA interaction and biological activity of Ru-Pt supramolecular complexes (INOR 125) authors are Miao, chemistry Ph.D. student R. Lee Williams , biology professor Brenda S. J. Winkel , and Brewer, all of Virginia Tech. This presentation was posted during the Sci-Mix from on March 27.

Probing DNA-metal complex interactions of Pt containing assemblies via electrochemistry and spectroscopy (INOR 122), authors are Mongelli, Winkel, and Brewer.

Variation of light absorbing units for rhodium centered trimetallic complexes as DNA photocleavage agents applicable in photodynamic therapy (INOR 606) authors are Emily Merola, chemistry undergraduate at Bucknell who worked in the summer at Virginia Tech, Shatara Mayfield, chemical engineering student at North Carolina A&T who worked at Virginia Tech for two summers), chemistry undergraduate Julie Heinecke, Winkel, and Brewer.

The National Science Foundation supports this research.

Learn more about the Brewer-Winkel group's research at and

Virginia Tech, University of Richmond Law School announce joint degree program
by Catherine Doss

Virginia Tech and the University of Richmond announced in early May a new joint degree program that will enable students to earn both a Bachelor of Science degree and a law degree in as little as six years' time, thus eliminating up to two years from their total time in school.

The program is a partnership between the College of Science at Virginia Tech and the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond.

VT College of Science
University of Richmond School of Law

With planning and careful coordination of courses, students who want to take advantage of this partnership can potentially complete their coursework at Virginia Tech in three years and move directly into law school, completing their J.D. degree in another three years.

Students who complete the program will have a specialization in intellectual property law, currently one of the fastest growing fields in law.

"Both of our schools will benefit, as will society, from well-educated students who have a strong academic grounding in the intersection of science and law," Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said in making the announcement. "These students will be specially trained in both their undergraduate and law school years to address the rapidly evolving challenges facing law, science, and public policy in the arena of intellectual property. This is just another way Virginia Tech is inventing the future."

Steger also noted that the initiative directly addresses a key recommendation in the state's Higher Education Restructuring Plan. That recommendation is for schools to find ways to reduce the time it takes students to earn their degree. The partnership can eliminate up to two years from a student's total time in school if each degree were sought separately.

"We anticipate this joint collaboration will enhance the quality of the University of Richmond Law School's existing intellectual property program by bringing a critical number of highly qualified science students with a keen interest in intellectual property issues," said Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the T.C. Williams School of Law.

"The College of Science is proud to be involved in one of only a handful of joint degree programs offered at Virginia Tech," said Lay Nam Chang, Dean of the College of Science. "Science and technology will continue to shape our society and our future. As they do, we will rely more than ever on intellectual property law to control their impact. That is the key aspect of this unique educational initiative -- the confluence of all three: technology, society and law."

A fact sheet may be viewed at

Engineering students catch top prizes at ASME competition
by Liz Crumbley

The Virginia Tech chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) carried away several top awards -- including one for the design of a fishing apparatus for a quadriplegic -- during the ASME District F student conference hosted by the University of Tennessee in April.

The Virginia Tech undergraduate mechanical engineering (ME) students, under the guidance of their long-time faculty adviser Charles Reinholtz, an Alumni Distinguished Professor of ME, won first place in seven out of the eight competitions held during the conference.

The Virginia Tech chapter placed first in the Student Design Competition with "Hokie Hooker," their version of a cost-effective, reliable apparatus that would enable a quadriplegic to cast a fishing lure accurately, retrieve it, make additional casts, and reel in a weight simulating a fish on at least one cast.

For winning the design competition, the Virginia Tech chapter received $200 and another $1,000 in travel funds for the national ASME competition in Chicago in November.

Several individual Virginia Tech ME students also won awards during the District F Conference. Tiffany Murray, a senior from Norfolk, Va., won first place in the Technical Web Page Competition.

In a series of "Old Guard" competitions, which are sponsored by retired ASME members who continue to support student activities, Ramtin Taheri, a senior from Virginia Beach, Va., placed first in the Technical Content Competition; Amanda Thomas, the chapter's chair for the year and a senior from Vienna, Va., placed first in the Technical Poster Competition; and Taheri placed second and Greg Vonder Reith, a senior from Fredericksburg, Va., placed fourth, in the Oral Presentation Competition.

The Virginia Tech chapter also placed first in the Ingersoll-Rand Contest, which recognizes the most active student chapter in the district for the academic year. "In the five years that this award has been presented, our chapter has finished first three times and second twice," Reinholtz said. "This should again put us in good position to compete for the title of the most active student ASME section in the world."

In addition, the Virginia Tech chapter won the Student Kilometer Award, for bringing the most participants the longest distance, and the Students in Attendance Award for having the largest number of students at the conference.

"I want to convey a special thanks to our chair, Amanda Thomas, for leading the student section to another banner year," Reinholtz said.

ASME District F includes engineering schools from Alabama, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Virginia Tech