Innovations and Research

Erik Herzog, a postdoctoral fellow at the University's Center for Biological Timing, monitors the way cells work together to study circadian rhythms.
he University's goal is not simply to prepare students for leadership, but to create the tools and compile the information they will need to face the challenges of the twenty-first century successfully. The next generation of knowledge is being uncovered now at the University.

One area in which the University has achieved international eminence is the study of vascular illnesses such as heart disease and arteriosclerosis. This year faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and affiliated researchers from other departments received two grants from the Whitaker Foundation to expand these efforts. The first grant of $750,000 was designated for the establishment of a University Center for Engineering of Wound Prevention and Repair, and the second, a $1 million grant, will help establish a training and research program in genetic engineering targeted at vascular diseases.

Faculty display exceptional perseverance in pursuing their research goals. James McCarthy, the W. L. Lyons Brown Professor of Physics, first conceived of what is now the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in 1979, and dedicated himself to finding support for the project. The $600 million facility in Newport News was dedicated by Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary in May 1996. McCarthy was instrumental in establishing the Southeastern Universities Research Association and in securing funding for the facility from the energy department.

The hair-thin continuous beam of electrons generated by the facility allows scientists to explore the basic makeup of the particles inside atomic nuclei, where the most powerful force in the universe reigns. And because the accelerator facility allows scientists to peer inside protons, which physicists believe were formed in the first ten millionths of a second following the Big Bang, they are in effect re-creating the conditions that existed ten billion years ago when the cosmos was being formed.


University researchers continue to be singled out for prestigious prizes. Gabriel Robins, associate professor of computer science, and Robert R. Jones, assistant professor of physics, were awarded Packard Foundation Fellowships, one of the nation's most prestigious unrestricted grants for young science and engineering faculty. Robins was recognized for his work on the design and performance of large-scale integrated circuits. Jones was singled out for his study of laser pulses that are both powerful enough to alter the way electrons move about the atomic nucleus and quick enough to isolate these changes.


Funding organizations often hesitate to commit their scarce resources to new ideas, making it difficult for society to capitalize on the newest innovative thinking. Rather than let potentially valuable insights languish, the Board of Visitors established the Academic Enhancement Program (AEP) with money generated from the University's own endowment to foster interdisciplinary teaching and research.

Proposals undergo a rigorous review process, and the results so far have been impressive. During its first five years, the program supported six centers that went on to become self-supporting. In the process, they attracted outside support in excess of the board's initial investment and have created more than two hundred new jobs.

The National Science Foundation Center for Biological Timing had its origins in an AEP grant. The center is directed by Gene Block, vice provost for research.

This year, the following four programs in the humanities and social sciences were selected for AEP grants:

Robert Emery, professor of psychology, will establish a Center for Children, Families, and Law to study how changes in the American family influence the emotional and economic well-being of children. He is conducting his research with sociology professor Steven Nock and law professor Elizabeth Scott.

John Unsworth, associate professor of English and director of the Center for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, is using the AEP grant to apply emerging technologies, including virtual reality and 3-D modeling, in humanities teaching and research.

Daniel Duke, professor of education, is studying daily schedules, grouping strategies, governance structures, and evaluation systems to help schools increase their productivity. This effort will be housed in a newly formed Thomas Jefferson Center for Educational Design and Planning.

J. H. "Rip" Verkerke, associate professor of law, is using the Academic Enhancement Program grant to establish a program for employment and labor law studies in the law school.

Go on to Achieving Excellence on the Playing Field

Return to Table of Contents