Research universities such as the University of Virginia play a vital role in our society: providing answers to fundamental questions about the world around us. As a national research university we must contribute to the creation of knowledge, using it in turn to create world-class educational programs and improve science and technology literacy programs. The University is investing strategically in science and engineering, capitalizing on its distinctive areas of strength to create programs that place it at the forefront of exploration and discovery.
The latest in imaging technology enables U.Va. researchers to study cellular metabolism in mice using 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG PET). Images from the School of Medicine's Molecular Imaging Core facility show the progression of scar formation in mouse hearts after myocardial infarction. These FDG PET and magnetic resonance imaging scans help investigators in radiology, biomedical engineering, and medicine understand the heart's response to damage and are being used to identify drugs effective against heart attack and heart failure.
Attracting World-Class Researchers
Outstanding leaders in their fields have the capacity to energize the research enterprise at the University in a number of ways. In addition to bringing to the University large and well-funded research programs of their own, with their presence they attract talented young faculty and graduate students and provide existing faculty opportunities for additional collaboration. The University has hired five world-leading scientists in 2006–07 alone:
- Stephen S. Rich, the Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor, joined the University's highly regarded research program in diabetes. Professor Rich, a genetic epidemiologist, is the principal investigator or co-principal investigator in eight federally funded grants including the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Family Study. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science among other organizations.
- Christine and Bernard Thisse, internationally renowned for their work in embryonic development and genetics, joined the faculty from the Institute of Genetic, Molecular, and Cellular Biology in Strasbourg, France. Their pioneering work will enhance and expand interdisciplinary work now taking place at the University's Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute.
Christine and Bernard Thisse
- John T. Yates, Jr., is one of the world's leading investigators in surface chemistry and physics. His work has wide-ranging implications for nanotechnology, semiconductor fabrication, astronomy, and chemical catalysis, all fields in which U.Va. has highly regarded research programs. He is a member of several prominent scientific organizations including the National Academy of Sciences. This year, the American Chemical Society named Professor Yates the 2007 recipient of the coveted Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry.
- Mark Yeager, a practicing cardiologist, was a professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, before coming to the University to serve as chair of the Department of Molecular and Biological Physics. His research interests are in structural virology and the molecular bases and processes of heart attacks.
The ability to attract and retain faculty of this stature demonstrates how far the University has come since its founding. When he recruited the University's first faculty, Jefferson said, "We do not expect to engage the high characters . . . who are at the head of their schools, established in offices, honors, and emoluments which can be bettered no where." Today we do.
A Distinguished Senior Faculty
A powerful inducement for these distinguished faculty members is the opportunity to collaborate with outstanding researchers already on Grounds. Indeed, our faculty already includes more than two dozen members of national academies, and their ranks are growing every year. In 2007, John J. Dorning, the Whitney Stone Professor of Nuclear Engineering, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, while Stephen Plog, the David A. Harrison Professor of Historical Archeology, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Professor Dorning is known for developing advanced computational methods for nuclear reactor analysis. Professor Plog's research on the Chaco Canyon region of northwestern New Mexico has challenged prevailing views about early Native American peoples and the massive population shifts near the end of the thirteenth century.
Other senior U.Va. scientists and engineers were singled out for high honors this year:
- Lester Andrews, professor of chemistry, was presented the George Pimentel Award for lifetime contributions to the spectroscopy of matrix isolated species.
- Robert J. Davis, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering, received the 2007 Paul H. Emmett Award from the North American Catalysis Society. His colleague Matthew Neurock received last year's award, making it the first time that the society has honored faculty from the same university two years in a row.
Donald F. Hunt
- George M. Hornberger, the Ernest H. Ern Professor of Environmental Sciences, was named by Governor Timothy M. Kaine as one of five Outstanding Scientists and Industrialists of 2007. Professor Hornberger's research has led to better understanding of the effects of acid rain on the Blue Ridge, pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, and agricultural chemicals on water supply in the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont.
- Donald F. Hunt, University Professor of Chemistry, had a special issue of the International Journal of Mass Spectrometry devoted to his work on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday and in recognition of his forty years of research in mass spectrometry.
- Anita K. Jones, University Professor and the Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Computer Science, was named the recipient of the 2007 Founders Medal by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Professor Jones served as director of defense research and engineering at the Department of Defense from 1993 to 1997, overseeing the department's science and technology program, research laboratories, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
- John C. Knight, professor of computer science, received the 2006 Harlan D. Mills award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. His research focuses on the software and architecture of high-value systems such as financial networks and avionics.
- James A. Marshall, the Thomas Jefferson Professor of Chemistry, was the recipient of the Centenary Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry. This is the highest honor the society can bestow on a chemist not a citizen of the United Kingdom.
Michael F. Skrutskie
- James G. Simmonds, emeritus professor of structural and solid mechanics, was awarded the Worcester Reed Warner Medal by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He was cited for making substantial and enduring contributions to the literature of engineering.
- Michael F. Skrutskie, professor of astronomy, was awarded the James Craig Watson Medal by the National Academy of Sciences. He was recognized for his leadership of a major project that surveyed the entire sky in the infrared spectrum, providing the first-ever "bird's-eye view" of the Milky Way.
- William A. Wulf, University Professor and the AT&T Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States. Professor Wulf recently stepped down as president of the National Academy of Engineering.
This year, the University inaugurated its own Distinguished Scientist Award to highlight longtime U.Va. faculty who have made extensive contributions to their fields of study. The award this year was shared by Brian R. Duling, who serves as the Robert M. Berne Professor of Cardiovascular Research, and Herman H. "Hank" Shugart, Jr., the William W. Corcoran Professor. Both Professors Duling and Shugart have published hundreds of articles, received millions of dollars in research funding, and led multiuniversity research efforts.
FEST award winners, above, Xiaowei Lu, and below, Benton Calhoun
Rising Young Faculty Stars
Engineers Win Competitive Grants for Interdisciplinary Research
This year, U.Va. engineers brought together teams of experts from around the nation and submitted proposals for three of the thirty-six projects funded by the federal Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. These projects will receive almost $20 million over five years. The competition for these awards is intense, and receiving just one MURI is considered a significant accomplishment.
The projects themselves reflect areas of strength in engineering. John C. Knight, professor of computer science, is exploring novel methods to protect critical networks from attack; Pamela M. Norris, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is developing new methods to reduce chip temperatures in electronic systems; and Haydn N. Wadley, University Professor in Materials Science and the Edgar A. Starke, Jr., Research Professor of Materials Science, is developing new concepts to protect vehicles from explosive devices.
Young researchers early in their professional development bring to the University their energy, creativity, and ambition. The ability of the University to nurture these faculty members as they launch their first major projects is as critical to the long-term health of its research programs as its ability to attract eminent senior scholars.
Three years ago, the University created Distinguished Young Investigator Grants for junior faculty members as part of the Fund for Excellence in Science and Technology (FEST). These grants of $50,000, awarded on a competitive basis, are designed to help young researchers produce stronger proposals for outside funding. Winners for the 2006–07 academic year were cell biologist Xiaowei Lu, chemist Jill Venton, electrical engineer Benton Calhoun, and mechanical and biomedical engineer Silvia Salinas Blemker.
Thanks in part to this FEST seed money, these faculty members have succeeded in securing additional funding for their research. Professor Calhoun received a Young Faculty Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to further develop his research on a type of semiconductor chip called a "field programmable gate array." Professor Venton won a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation for research on neurotransmitters—the chemical substances used for communication among brain cells.
The University's ability to attract talented young faculty was confirmed by the following young faculty selected for CAREER awards this year:
- David Green, assistant professor of chemical engineering, received his grant for breakthrough research in polymer nanocomposites. Ultimately, Professor Green's work will enable engineers to create new composite materials with specific mechanical, thermal, optical, and electrical properties.
- Steven McIntosh, assistant professor in chemical engineering, will apply his funding to developing more effective anodes for solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). Because they can use any combustible fuel, not just hydrogen, to produce energy, SOFCs are likely to be commercialized in the near future.
- Jason Papin, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, was recognized for his innovative use of systems biology and computer modeling to investigate infectious disease processes. He will use his grant to study leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that afflicts twelve million people, and can lead to disability, deformity, or death.
- Todd Scanlon, assistant professor of environmental sciences, specializes in atmospheric science. With his CAREER award, Professor Scanlon will measure nitrous oxide emissions on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and investigate mercury transformation in both the air and water in the Shenandoah National Park.
Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center on the Eastern Shore
For twenty years, the University of Virginia has set the research and educational agenda at the 35-000 acre Virginia Coast Reserve, one of the oldest sites in the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research Network. During this time, U.Va. environmental scientists have uncovered many of the fundamental relationships that shape this irreplaceable landscape—the barrier islands, lagoons, tidal marshes, and watersheds of Virginia's Eastern Shore.
This year, the University launched an even more ambitious research program, officially opening the $2.5 million Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center, a new facility located on forty-two acres in the town of Oyster. The center includes more than 9,400 square feet of laboratory space; a 5,800-square foot residence building that can accommodate thirty people; and a dock for its fleet of four shallow-water research vessels. The new center, which replaces the aging farmhouse used previously as a station, is expected to draw top environmental scientists from across the United States. John L. Nau III (College '68), president and chief executive officer of an Anheuser-Busch distributorship, played an instrumental role in securing a gift from the Anheuser-Busch Companies to help build the center. Other funding included support from Paul Tudor Jones II (College '76) and the National Science Foundation.