Virginia Tech Magazine
Around the Drillfield
Winter 2009

Relay for Life celebrates success

In April 2008, Virginia Tech Relay for Life successfully fielded 303 teams with more than 3,100 participants, raising more than $294,000 for the American Cancer Society. Virginia Tech is currently ranked the No. 1 university in terms of fundraising for the cause per capita. The cause is a yearlong fundraising effort for the American Cancer Society, with Virginia Tech's next Relay for Life event, "Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back," scheduled for April 24, 2009. Relay for Life is a global movement that engages people in the fight against cancer. To find out more about Relay for Life at Virginia Tech, visit

Relay for Life at Virginia Tech

Sofware package takes first in
intellectual-property-to-market competition

EcoDaemon, an intelligent software package designed0 by two Virginia Tech researchers to reduce energy costs in data centers, ranked first in the Southeastern Universities Research Association Intellectual Property to Market Competition. The software, co-invented by computer science Associate Professor Wu Feng and his Ph.D. student, Song Huang, placed first among submissions from more than 60 research institutes in the southeast.

EcoDaemon can automatically save substantial energy while programs run on computers. The software also improves the reliability and useful life of a computer in the data center by reducing the core temperature, thus potentially lowering the cost and environmental impact of data centers and other computing devices. An emerging company called EnergyWare is interested in commercializing the software. "Energy consumption in data centers is doubling every five years and already consumes 3 percent of domestic electric power," says Bob Summers, an entrepreneur who is part of EnergyWare.

VT KnowledgeWorks business-acceleration center in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center is helping to finalize a licensing agreement with Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties for the EcoDaemon technology.

Virginia Tech names Tree Campus USA site
Grant received to study retention of female undergraduate engineering students

Virginia Tech has been named a co-recipient of a $499,000 three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant aimed at studying how cooperative education and related on-the-job experience affect female undergraduate engineering students. The team of researchers will investigate the hypothesis that women in formal engineering programs who participate in work related to their field of study during their undergraduate education have higher self-efficacy and are more likely to graduate with a degree in their chosen field.

Rachelle Reisberg, director of Women in Engineering at Northeastern University, is principal investigator; Carol J. Burger, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at Virginia Tech, is co-principal investigator. Burger and Reisberg will work alongside colleagues from the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Wyoming.

The study, Pathways to Work Self-Efficacy and Retention of Women in Undergraduate Engineering, is one of the first to investigate how co-op opportunities and other formal work-experience programs impact the retention rates among female undergraduates studying engineering.

Currently, women are underrepresented in engineering, making up only 18.6 percent of bachelor degree recipients in the field and, in 2006, holding only 11 percent of engineering positions.

VIRGINIA TECH ranks 15th

in best values in public colleges
Virginia Tech has climbed to the 15th spot in the rankings among the top public colleges and universities that offer a first-class educational experience at the most affordable cost, according to Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. In 2007, Virginia Tech was ranked 18th; in 2006, the university held the 20th spot. Kiplinger's top 100 colleges are identified from a pool of more than 500 public four-year colleges and universities and are ranked according to academic quality, cost, and financial-aid opportunities. Virginia Tech continues to be among the commonwealth's most affordable public universities and boasts the lowest in-state costs for residents among public institutions in Virginia. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill topped Kiplinger's list for the seventh year in a row, followed by the University of Florida and the University of Virginia. Four other Virginia institutions made the list: University of Mary Washington, the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, and George Mason University.
Spencer to serve as V.P. for student affairs

Edward F. D. SpencerEdward F. D. Spencer, who was appointed interim vice president for student affairs following the death of Zenobia Lawrence Hikes, was appointed to the position for a three-year term, effective Nov. 1, 2008. As chief executive officer for the Division of Student Affairs, Spencer will oversee 15 university departments including such areas as housing and dining, career services, student activities, multicultural programs and services, recreational sports, student-health services, and the corps of cadets. "Ed Spencer's experience and commitment to the Division of Student Affairs will provide us with great leadership at this critical time," says university Provost Mark McNamee. "He will continue along the path blazed by Dr. Hikes."

Spencer began his professional career in student affairs in 1970 at the University of Delaware, where he held three different positions. Spencer has spent the past 25 years dedicated to student life at Virginia Tech since being named director of housing and residence life in 1983. He then became director of residential and dining programs in 1989, was named assistant vice president for student affairs in 1996, associate vice president in 2004, and interim vice president in 2008.

L-beam energy harvester doubles electrical output

Virginia Tech researchers have developed an energy harvester that produces greater electrical output than does similar technology of the same size; the harvester is slightly smaller than a credit card. Energy harvesters, which are devices that convert other forms of energy to electricity, are poised to replace batteries, providing limitless power to a wide range of low-power electronics, such as medical implants and portable devices.

The new L-beam design provides more than twice the voltage of existing designs, according to its inventor, Alper Erturk, a Ph.D. candidate in engineering science and mechanics. Erturk developed the L-beam technology with co-inventors Jamil Renno, a recent Ph.D. graduate, and Dan Inman, the George R. Goodson Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of Virginia Tech's Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures.

The L-beam harvester turns vibrations into electricity by scavenging electricity from a wide range of vibrational frequencies. Funding has come from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and Inman notes that ongoing development will continue to increase the electrical output and enable tuning the harvester to the vibrations in a wider range of environments.

The continent of Africa University receives grant to improve food security in Africa

The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade has awarded a $1 million grant to Virginia Tech's Office of International Research, Education, and Development to improve agricultural productivity and ease trade barriers in Africa. The African Food Security Initiative will focus on enhancing production of staple food commodities, including the tomato, one of the most important cash crops for small-scale growers in Africa, along with rice and maize, both major sources of dietary carbohydrates on the continent.

Techniques developed by the program will extend science-based food production methods that will increase yields, reduce crop risks such as virus diseases and insect pests, and lay the foundation for long-term productivity growth.

The project is an associate award to Virginia Tech's Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program. The program, also funded by the USAID, has been working in sub-Saharan Africa for 15 years.

David G.I. Kingston
VBI offers fellowships for
graduate work in
transdisciplinary studies

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech, in collaboration with the university's genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology Ph.D. program, is providing substantial fellowships in support of graduate work in transdisciplinary team science. The Transdisciplinary Team Science Fellowship Program for the Life Sciences was developed for students interested in joining the Ph.D. program.

With the goal of connecting students with accomplished researchers working in a team-science environment, these fellowships cover the cost of the students' first two years in the program, which is $29,679 plus tuition and fees. After completion of their first two years of study, students will be supported by a research grant from their selected mentor professor.

The program is open to students with bachelor's degrees, and master's students, in particular, are strongly encouraged to apply. Recipients of the fellowship will be required to pursue projects at the interface of life and computational sciences as part of a transdisciplinary team.

Chemist to donate potential pharmaceutical royalties to third-world nation

The National Institutes of Health has renewed a five-year research grant for a total of $2.5 million to an international biodiversity group led by University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry David G.I. Kingston, who is known internationally for his work in biodiversity and development of naturally occurring cancer-fighting agents. Consistent with the Convention on Biological Diversity, Kingston will share a portion of any royalties generated by sales of pharmaceuticals developed from this work with Madagascar, the country in which the research is taking place.

The award is the third competitive renewal of a research program that Kingston began in 1993. The grant was accompanied by a companion award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture of $1.25 million over the next five years. The overall goals of the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group are to foster biodiversity conservation, economic development, and drug discovery in Madagascar. The proposed research integrates the work of eight different research groups located in the United States and around the world.

video contest winners announced
Virginia Tech's YouTube page

The top three videos in the university's student YouTube video contest, "True Life: I'm a Hokie," were announced during the Virginia Tech versus University of Virginia football game on Nov. 29.

Capturing the spirit of the university with a distinctive take on Virginia Tech were first-place winner Tom Copenhaver, sophomore geography major in the College of Natural Resources; second-place winner Liz McClendon, a graduate student in the School of Education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; and third-place winner Ian Heflin, a sophomore geosciences major in the College of Science. Copenhaver says that his music video highlighting many aspects of student life was definitely a team effort, with Spencer Ferguson, a sophomore chemistry major in the College of Science, composing the music, and Kevin Do, a sophomore in hospitality and tourism management in the Pamplin College of Business, writing the lyrics.

The contest, which was designed with the help of university relations interns, junior Christie Lemley and senior Sarah Rothe, both communication majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, was launched to create excitement among students by giving them the ability to summarize, in video format, their personal perspective on what it is to be a Hokie and to build awareness of the university's YouTube site. The winners and all the submitted videos can be viewed at The site also includes historical videos that might be of interest to alumni.

Tiny bacteria weave big solutions

bacteriaIt sounds like a sci-fi version of the tale of the miller's daughter, but instead of turning straw into gold, bacteria are being used by Tech researchers to weave biomaterials and medical implants.

Acetobacter xylinum is a bacteria that produces cellulose nanofibers. About five years ago, Paul Gatenholm--then at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden--discovered that the bacteria could weave those fibers to fit a template and that the resulting biomaterials were compatible with living tissue. To address the medical community's need for small blood vessels, Gatenholm's team at Chalmers had the bacteria produce tubes. By 2006, the scientists had developed a process for creating tubes of any size or shape.

Last year, Gatenholm--who has started three companies based on his findings at Chalmers--joined the Virginia Tech faculty as a professor of materials science and engineering, an affiliate of the Virginia Tech Center for Healing Biomaterials, and an adjunct faculty member with the Wake Forest University Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Here, Gatenholm met Rafael Davalos, an assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics, who had found that he could control bacteria motion using electrical fields. Supported by the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, Gatenholm and Davalos applied this technology to the cellulose-producing bacteria and soon had them shuttling back and forth like a nanoscale loom, assembling cellulose layers into custom 3-D architectures. As a result, the researchers can guide the bacteria toward templates that can support cartilage and bone tissue growth, among other complex biomaterials. The bacteria weave nanofibers around the structures, which are then placed within a living being.

One of Gatenholm's goals is the creation of cartilage--or, specifically, the creation of scaffolds that would be occupied by chondrocytes, the cells that produce cartilage. "We would build a porous scaffold in the shape of a nose or an ear as a structure for the chondrocytes to move into--in the body, not in a bioreactor," he explains. "The [bacterial cellulose] scaffold would be part of the healing process." Another unmet medical need is a way to replace large bone deficits, such as a piece of skull, without using metal implants. Gatenholm proposes constructing a bacterial cellulose scaffold to "create a material that allows the bone healing process to take place--or even stimulates it."

And patients could soon reap the benefits of the tiny weavers’ efforts for themselves. Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. has applied for a patent for Gatenholm and Davalos' "dielectrophorectic microweaving" technology, and a new company, BCGenesis, has been established in Blacksburg to provide biocompatible material for healing soft or hard connective tissue, such as bone grafts and cartilage replacement, and other orthopedic applications.

Biomedical team obtains $4.9 million for trauma research

The Global Human Body Models Consortium, a group of nine international car manufacturers and suppliers, has awarded $4.9 million to the Center for Injury Biomechanics in the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Science, known internationally for its research on the effects of trauma on the human body.

The group is funding the Center for Injury Biomechanics to conduct a study that aims to produce a better understanding of what happens to individuals subjected to body trauma. "Initially, four sizes of individuals will be modeled to cover the maximum range of normal sizes in the world," says Joel Stitzel, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest. The study will then branch out to include other body shapes and sizes, as well as differences for children and the elderly.

Better crash-safety technology is the ultimate goal of the consortium and participants. The computer models could help investigators determine and better understand injuries that are likely to result from a vehicle crash.

University partners with Apple, Mellanox to build green supercomputer

Five years ago, Virginia Tech burst onto the high-performance computing scene using Apple Power Mac G5 computers to build System X, one of the fastest supercomputers of its time. Today, Srinidhi Varadarajan and Kirk W. Cameron of the Center for High-End Computing Systems (CHECS) and professors of computer science in the College of Engineering have built a new supercomputer, System G. While the new supercomputer is twice as fast as its predecessor, the researchers' primary goal was to demonstrate that supercomputers can be both fast and have a more environmentally green technology. System G clocks in at 22.8 TFlops (or trillion operations per second) and consists of 325 Mac Pro computers, each with two 4-core 2.8 gigahertz (GHz) Intel Xeon processors and eight gigabytes (GB) random access memory (RAM). According to Cameron, System G has thousands of power and thermal sensors. As the world's largest power-aware cluster, System G will allow CHECS researchers to design and develop algorithms and systems software that achieve high-performance with modest power requirements and to test such systems at unprecedented scale.

Frank Lloyd Wright's work inspires design student's winning entry

Michelle Pyne, a fourth-year interior-design student in the School of Architecture + Design, has won a grand prize in the national JELD-WEN Student Door Design Contest.
JELD-WEN, a leading window and door manufacturer, selected Pyne's design from 349 entries from 89 colleges. Pyne received a $3,000 scholarship for her winning entry. Winners were selected based on suitability of the design for today's architecture, creativity, uniqueness, and attention to detail. Pyne's modern door was inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and his residential design for Ward M. Willitts in Chicago, featuring a symmetrical façade of stucco accented by thick wood strips.

Pyne says she plans to take the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design examination soon after graduation and hopes to work in an architecture firm committed to sustainable design.

The Many Faces of the Civil War: A collection from the public radio commentaries of Dr. James I. Robertson Jr. For 14 years, Virginia Tech Alumni Distinguished Professor of History James I. Robertson Jr. delivered weekly commentaries on the Civil War on public radio stations in and around the Commonwealth of Virginia. This CD features 36 of Robertson's commentaries exploring the social history of the conflict.

"The Many Faces of the Civil War" is available at Virginia Tech's University Bookstore and Volume II Bookstore. Proceeds from the sale of the CD will support Virginia Center for Civil War Studies programs.

LISTEN to an excerpt from "Hardtack."

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