Research
President's Report: 2004-2005 University of Virginia
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Pushing Boundaries, Building New Strengths

The University is moving boldly to take its place at the forefront of scientific inquiry, ensuring that it will make significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge and the preparation of future leaders in science, engineering, and biomedicine. To achieve this vision, which emerged from the Virginia 2020 long-range A vigorous effort to achieve leadership in research yields promising results. planning process, the University has set out to build superb research teams in areas in which it can leverage current strengths.

To this end, the University has begun a vigorous effort to attract ten top-caliber investigators whose

Insects trapped above Victoria Amazonia

Insects trapped above Victoria Amazonia, 2004. Gouache and pencil on paper. Elizabeth Schoyer, McIntire Department of Art.
initiative has produced its first result. Joe C. Campbell, who is renowned for developing the detectors of laser light used in fiberoptic telecommunications networks, will join the University’s Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2006. A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Prof. Campbell comes to

Joe Campbell

Renowned for developing laser detection devices for fiberoptic technology, Joe Campbell joins the faculty in January 2006.
discoveries are transforming their disciplines. Made possible by a $60 million commitment from the Board of Visitors, the recruiting Virginia from the University of Texas at Austin and will bring with him a $3 million laboratory and a team of outstanding graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

Adding such stellar researchers to our ranks will benefit the University in many ways. In addition to enhancing the stature of the University’s science and technology programs and the funding they receive, they serve as magnets for recruiting the best junior faculty and graduate students. This in turn enriches the education of undergraduates in the sciences, who will be vital to the nation’s prosperity and security.

The plan to build new strengths in science, engineering, and biomedicine rests on a sound foundation. The University’s research efforts and other sponsored programs attracted more than $300 million in grants and other external support in 2004–05, a 5.7 percent increase from the previous year. To put this achievement in perspective, University funding for sponsored programs totaled $150 million in 1996–97 and reached $200 million just five years ago. Some 60 percent of the University’s research dollars finance work in the School of Medicine.

Leaders in the Quest for Knowledge

Along with increased support has come greater recognition.


Capturing the Power of T-rays

In the electromagnetic spectrum, terahertz frequencies (or T-rays) sit on the border between microwaves and infrared light, until recently a spectrographic no man’s land. Now University engineers are tapping the remarkable potential of T-rays to help us understand the cosmos and the chemistry of our cells.

With a new grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation, Donald Brown, the W. S. Calcott Professor of Engineering and Applied Science and chair of the Department of Systems and Information Engineering, leads a team that will develop a groundbreaking device for terahertz spectroscopy. The goal is to create a useful tool in the analysis of biological molecules and their role in everything from drug interactions to the transfer of genetic information. Capturing the unique spectrographic fingerprint of biological materials in the terahertz range could lead to a variety of practical applications, such as sensors to identify skin cancer.

Atacama Large Millimeter Array
An artist’s conception of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array near Cerro Chajnantor, Chile

At the same time, University researchers are helping astronomers use radio telescopes to capture T-rays emitted from space, which will be especially useful in the study of star formation. Robert Weikle and Arthur Lichtenberger of the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are working with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to develop terahertz sensors for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array project in Chile. Scheduled for completion in 2012, this instrument will comprise sixty-four high-precision antennas on a site 16,500 feet above sea level and will be able to detect clear signals from the cold, enigmatic portions of the universe.

For example, Joseph Poon, the William Barton Rogers Professor of Physics, and Gary Shiflet, the William G. Reynolds Professor of Materials Science, were named to the Scientific American 50, the magazine’s prestigious roster of leaders in science and technology. They were cited for their discovery of amorphous steel, a nonmagnetic material with superior anticorrosion properties that is three times stronger than conventional steel. The two researchers also have worked with John Scully, professor of materials science and engineering, to develop revolutionary coatings that prevent corrosion. Combining aluminum, cobalt, and cerium, the coatings release inhibitors in response to pH changes associated with corrosion, which means they provide protection only when needed. This makes them particularly long-lasting and efficient.

Other faculty who won accolades for their work this year include the following:

Matthew Neurock, professor of chemical engineering, won the 2005 Paul H. Emmett Award in Fundamental Catalysis, which is given to exceptional researchers in this field under the age of 45. His studies have produced important insights in such areas as surface structure, crystallite size, surface coverage, alloying, condensed media, and transient intermediates.

• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration presented Jeff R. Crandall its Safety Engineering Excellence Award. An associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Applied Biomechanics, Prof. Crandall was cited for his research on thoracic injuries in vehicle crashes and the effect of safety belts on young children in auto accidents.

Charles F. Dunkl, who retired as professor of mathematics this past year, was elected a fellow of the Institute of Physics in London. Prof. Dunkl is known for his Dunkl operators, which are mathematical derivatives that provide a valuable tool for analysis in quantum physics and other complex problems.

• Professor James Howe, director of the electron microscope facility in the Engineering School, won the Champion H. Mathewson Award from the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society. His research entails the application of high-resolution and analytical-transmission electron microscope techniques to study phase transformations in nanoparticles.

New Innovations and Insights

In a variety of fields, discoveries by University scientists attracted international attention this past year. One such

Joe Poon, Gary Shiflet, and Vijayabarathi Ponnambalam

Amorphous steel discovered by, from left, physicist Joe Poon, materials scientist Gary Shiflet, and materials physicist Vijayabarathi Ponnambalam could revolutionize the steel industry.
study may help explain the physical mechanism of jet lag, the malaise experienced when we cross time zones faster than our bodies can reset our biological clocks. An international team led by Vice President and Provost Gene Block found that the brain’s central timekeeper, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, has two halves that adjust to shifts in light schedules at vastly different rates. Prof. Block and his colleagues also discovered a neurotransmitter that eventually pulls the two clock parts back into synchronization, setting the stage for possible therapies for jet lag.

U.Va. physicists made a breakthrough with important implications for developing quantum computers, devices that will be vastly more powerful than the supercomputers available today. Senior research scientist Haruka Maeda, working with Don V. L. Norum (College ’07) and Thomas F. Gallagher, the Jesse W. Beams Professor of Physics, has succeeded in imposing order on the electrons that rotate around an atom’s nucleus. Although generations of high school students have been taught that


Milton Brown

Oscar: A Window on Current Scholarship

Dr. Milton Brown, a medicinal chemist who searches for drug-like molecules that may hold the key to new therapies, was among the scientists featured this year in Oscar, the College of Arts and Sciences’ new Online Guide to Scholarship, Creativity, and Research. Launched with the support of John Griffin (McIntire ’85), a champion of cross-disciplinary collaboration at the University, Oscar can be found at http://oscar.virginia.edu.

electrons rotate in neat, predictable orbits, in the paradoxical world of quantum mechanics any electron can be anywhere at any time and all places simultaneously. These scientists have found a way to manipulate electrons, placing them in a classical orbit for an extended period of time. The ability to control electrons is a prerequisite for quantum computing and information storage.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomy professor Trinh Thuan has found what may be the youngest galaxy ever seen in the universe. Called I Zwicky 18, it may be only 500 million years old. By contrast, the Milky Way is about 12 billion years old, the typical age of galaxies across the universe. I Zwicky 18 represents an opportunity for astronomers to study in detail the building blocks from which galaxies are formed. Prof. Thuan collaborated with Yuri Izotov from the Kiev Observatory in

Charlotte Patterson

Psychologist Charlotte Patterson released new findings on the development of children of same-sex female parents.
Ukraine on this project.

Professor of psychology Charlotte J. Patterson drew wide attention with her research on the teenage children of same-sex female parents. Reviewing data drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Prof. Patterson and her colleagues found that these teenagers develop as well as the children of opposite-sex parents and that they exhibit the same dating and romantic relationship behaviors. She concludes that parents who are supportive and maintain close relationships are the best predictors of successful, happy teens.

University neuroscientists helped find what is considered the holy grail of hearing research: a solution to the mystery of how the human ear converts sound vibrations and balance stimuli into electrical impulses the brain can interpret. Investigators Gwenaëlle Géléoc and Jeffrey Holt were part of a national research team that identified a protein called TRPA1 located at the tips of the sensory cells in the inner ear. When sound waves strike the protein, a hole pops open in its center, allowing potassium and calcium ions to carry signals to brain cells. The researchers believe that some forms of hearing impairment are caused by defects in the TRPA1 gene.

Those who take echinacea when they feel a cold coming on have another reason to sniffle. Dr. Ronald Turner, professor of infectious diseases in the Department of Pediatrics, conducted one of the largest, multicenter clinical trials of the popular herbal supplement. The results, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that echinacea appears to be useless in treating the common cold. Carried out in collaboration with researchers in Austria and South Carolina, the study involved testing nearly 400 volunteers between 2002 and 2004.

building for our future

Wilsdorf Hall

Wilsdorf Hall, named for the late Heinz Wilsdorf, first chair of the Department of Materials Science, and his wife, Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, University Professor of Applied Science, will house research on nanotechnology and related fields.
The most significant barrier to expanding the University’s science, engineering, and biomedical programs has been a shortage of research space. Construction projects now in progress or design will go a long way toward addressing this problem.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

The five-story Wilsdorf Hall, scheduled for completion in 2006, will contain space devoted to nanoscale and quantum research in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. These investigations will point the way to new materials and new devices fabricated at the molecular or even atomic levels. Wilsdorf Hall and the Carter-Harrison Research Building (see page 35) have been made possible by a combination of funds from a bond issue approved by Virginia voters, generous support from donors, and other University resources.

IN DESIGN

Planning is well under way for ART, the Advanced Research and Technology building, slated for construction in the Fontaine Research Park. To house investigators in medical imaging, biological timing, computational biology and other strategic initiatives in biomedicine, it will provide the flexible space required in today’s rapidly changing research environment. Offering open floor plans that promote collaboration among research teams, the ART building can be reconfigured quickly as programs grow and change.

 

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