Discoveries That Define Our Times
Bolstering the research enterprise opens the door to new strengths.
Renowned in academic circles for its distinguished programs
in the humanities, as well as its highly ranked professional
schools, the University is one of the nation’s leaders in higher
education. But to be a truly great institution, the University must
establish equivalent strengths in the sciences and engineering.
Developing strategies for achieving this goal was one of the purposes
of the Virginia 2020 planning process.
In the fall of 2003, the Board of Visitors moved boldly to fulfill
this vision. The board agreed to spend $60 million over five years
to enhance the University’s programs in scientific, biomedical,
and engineering research.To be combined with state bond funds
for a new medical research facility and grant revenues generated
by our investigators, the board’s commitment is part of a
$126 million effort to raise the stature of the research enterprise.
The University will invest these funds in ways that yield the
best returns. We will dramatically
increase our laboratory space, we will
provide compensation packages and
other incentives to retain our best faculty,
and we will recruit at least ten stellar
research teams that can capitalize
on the University’s existing strengths
across a number of disciplines.
Special attention will be paid to scientists
and engineers working in the
areas of morphogenesis and regenerative
medicine, in quantum and
nanoscale studies, in computer and
information sciences and engineering,
in regional environmental studies, and
in aging. These areas emerged in the
Virginia 2020 planning process as
showing exceptional promise for
achieving groundbreaking results with
CAPTURING OUR CURRENT MOMENTUM
The board’s action reflects the understanding that the
University must do its part to advance the scientific and technological
discoveries that define our times. Attracting nearly
$296 million in grants for sponsored research this past year, the
University already has made substantial headway in achieving
these ends by making key faculty hires and by fostering the
collaborative, cross-disciplinary culture that will be critical to
generating new breakthroughs.
An example of early progress is the new Institute on Aging,
where multidisciplinary research now under way will help
address the needs of the elderly, as well as the challenges posed
by the baby boom generation as it nears retirement age. Directed
by Timothy Salthouse, the Brown-Forman Professor of
Psychology and one of the world’s leading authorities on the
ways aging affects memory and other mental processes,
the institute has used funding from the Office of the Vice
President for Research and Graduate Studies to launch six pilot
projects. Neuroscientist Bernard Maier, for example, is looking
at how genes can be manipulated
to reverse the cellular effects of
aging. John Lach in electrical and
computer engineering is developing
a wearable health monitoring device,
and Carol Manning in neurology is
studying the relationship between cognitive
impairment and the levels of certain
brain chemicals. More on the
institute can be found at www.virginia.
Timothy Salthouse, the Brown-Forman Professor of
Psychology, leads the new Institute on Aging.
Age-related research is taking place
in schools and programs across the
Grounds, including the Department of
Health Evaluation Sciences. Robert
Abbott, a professor of biostatistics in
the department, is co-author of a new
study published in the Journal of the
American Medical Association showing
that sedentary elderly men are nearly
twice more likely to develop dementia
than those who walk two miles a day.
The link between walking and cognitive
ability is not clear, according to Prof. Abbott, but it may be
related to the healthier lifestyles followed by those who exercise
Working with novel nanoscale structures, a cross-disciplinary
team of physicists and materials scientists has taken yet another
step toward the production of amorphous steel, a revolutionary
new material that could be used in everything from submarines
to tennis rackets. After nearly two decades of research, Joseph
Poon, the William Barton Rogers Professor of Physics; Gary
Shiflet, the William G. Reynolds Professor of Materials Science;
and materials physicist Vijayabarathi Ponnambalam succeeded in
producing a nonmagnetic steel that is three times stronger than
conventional steel and that can be machined and molded like
plastic.Called amorphous steel because the material consists of a
randomized arrangement of atoms rather than a crystal structure,
the material holds great promise for industrial and military uses.
In the area of regional environmental studies, University students
and faculty are looking at how the social, economic, and
political dimensions of human activity affect the climate and other
environmental factors over large stretches of the planet. In southern
Africa, for example, Bob Swap (College ’87, Graduate Arts
and Sciences ’90, ’96) of the Department of Environmental
Sciences has studied the way clouds of aerosol particles produced
by massive annual fires, sparked by both human and natural
forces, make an impact on climate patterns in the region. In his
effort to understand what he calls "the complex feedback loop"
between humans and the environment, he has been the catalyst
for collaborative educational, research, and outreach programs that
involve colleagues across the Grounds. He works with faculty in
the schools of Nursing and Medicine and the Department of
Anthropology, for example, to explore the link between the environment
and human health issues in the developing world.
James Galloway, also a member of the environmental sciences
faculty, has been a leader in establishing the International
Nitrogen Initiative, a coordinated effort supported by the United
Nations and other agencies to minimize the harmful consequences
of nitrogen in the environment while augmenting its
beneficial effects. From
unprecedented ozone levels
in the air we breathe to algae
blooms in our waterways to
the acidification of our
streams, a multitude of ills
can be traced to the reactive
nitrogen we introduce when
we fertilize crops or burn fossil
fuels. At the same time,
much of humanity relies on
the food produced with this
substance, and portions of
Africa suffer low crop yields
and malnutrition due to a
deficiency of nitrogen in the
soil. Prof. Galloway believes
our future depends on a fuller
understanding of how nitrogen
cycles through the environment,
on both global and
local scales, and how we can
manage its use more wisely.
James Galloway, professor of environmental sciences, is helping to
lead international efforts to address the effects of reactive nitrogen.
William Ruddiman, professor
emeritus of environmental
sciences, drew international
headlines this past
year with research showing
that humans have been causing
global warming not just
since the dawn of the
Industrial Age but since the
dawn of widespread agriculture.
According to Prof.
Ruddiman, civilization has
flourished because the climate
for the past 8,000 years
has been relatively stable and
moderate. This, he explains,
did not occur naturally, but
happened because humans cleared enormous tracts of forest in
Europe, China, and India to make room for crops and pastures.
This loss of forestlands greatly increased the amount of heattrapping
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Humans also irrigated
lands for rice fields, increasing the release of methane over the past
5,000 years, which also contributed to the greenhouse effect.
Instead of cooling naturally, the climate stabilized. As a result, he
argues, an ice age that should have begun 4,000 to 5,000 years ago
|Fostering a Diverse Faculty
Edward Botchwey in the
Department of Biomedical
Engineering and Nisha Botchwey
in the Department of Urban and
Environmental Planning were
among eight 2003–2004 fellows
in the Excellence in Diversity
program, created by the Office
of the Vice President and
Provost and the Dean of Arts
and Sciences to nurture the
careers of minority scholars.
An expert on tissue engineering,
Mr. Botchwey studies the promise
of bone repair using bioreactor
technology. Ms. Botchwey
specializes in community development
and how local religious
and secular institutions can
promote public health.
Edward and Nisha Botchwey
To build world-class research programs, the University must
have world-class research space. The construction of Wilsdorf
Hall, scheduled for completion in 2006, will support the
University’s drive to establish preeminence in nanotechnology.
The five-story building in the Engineering School will house
researchers in the Center for Nanoscopic Design and other investigators
in materials science and chemical engineering. The Board
of Visitors’ financial commitment, combined with funds from the
general-obligation bond issue approved by Virginia voters in
2002, enables the University to proceed with construction of
Medical Research Building 6 and the new Advanced Research
and Technology Building, a flexible facility planned for the
Fontaine Research Park.
The impact of the University’s research efforts will be felt well
beyond the Grounds. It is estimated that every $1 million spent
on research generates more than thirty full-time and part-time
A NEW GENERATION OF INVESTIGATORS
The University’s up-and-coming scientists and engineers will
play a prominent role in fulfilling our aspirations as a research
institution. Among them are such rising stars as Richard Kent,
assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and
Shayn Peirce (Engineering ’00), assistant professor of biomedical
engineering. Both were named to Technology Review’s 2004 list of
the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators.
Prof. Kent, who holds a joint appointment in engineering and
medicine, is using new mathematical algorithms to imagine seat
belts and airbags that can process data rapidly during an impending
crash. The safety devices would respond to how fast the car is
going and the shape of the object being hit, as well as the size,
weight, bone density, position, age, and health of the driver.
A pioneer in the emerging field of systems biology, Prof. Peirce
designs complex computer models to predict blood vessel growth
in response to changes in blood pressure and the presence of a
growth protein. The research holds promise in the treatment of
chronic heart disease and diabetes through the growth of new
blood vessels. The results could also be used to treat cancer by
shutting off the blood supply to malignant tissue.
Elsewhere in the Engineering School, assistant professor of
computer science Greg Humphreys received a prestigious industry
honor, the R&D 100 Award, for devising one of the most
technologically significant new products of the year. Prof.
Humphreys created a program called Chromium that manages
supersized sets of data to create elaborate visual displays. Instead
of requiring an expensive supercomputer to process the data,
Chromium breaks the problem into separate pieces that can be
run on ordinary, off-the-shelf personal computers.
Dr. Raghu Mirmira
is revealing how
cells are formed.
In the School of Medicine, Dr. Raghu
Mirmira is investigating the processes by
which insulin-producing cells are formed,
which may reveal ways to convert other
cell types into insulin generators. He
recently won the Thomas R. Lee Career
Development Award from the American
Diabetes Association, which provides a
$912,000 grant to support this work. Along
with Dr. John Kattwinkel, the Charles I.
Fuller, Jr., Professor of Neonatology,
Dr. Mirmira was one of thirteen researchers
recognized this past year at the Discovery
Health Channel Medical Honors. Through a campaign advocating
that infants be placed in cribs on their backs rather than their
stomachs, Dr. Kattwinkel has helped reduce the incidence of
sudden infant death syndrome by half since 1994.
As it elevates its science, biomedical, and engineering programs,
the University will expand on the achievements of these
and many other researchers. In recent times, our faculty have
advanced strategies for restoring the Everglades, sent instruments
to Saturn on board the Cassini-Huygens space probe, developed
ways to manage highway traffic more efficiently, and used techniques
for identifying proteins to develop anti-cancer vaccines
now in clinical trials. Their success bodes well for our future.
TEN YEARS OF IATH
Frischer, formerly of
UCLA, is the new director
of the Institute for
in the Humanities.
The University’s Institute for Advanced
Technology in the Humanities, a pioneer
in digital scholarship, celebrated its
tenth anniversary last year. As it begins
a new decade, it will be guided by a new
director, Bernard Frischer, who joined the faculty this fall as professor
of classics and art history. Succeeding founding director
John Unsworth, Prof. Frischer established UCLA’s Cultural Virtual
Reality Lab, which uses three-dimensional computer modeling to
reconstruct cultural heritage sites such as the Roman Colosseum
and the Roman Forum. Created with a grant from IBM and support
from the University, IATH quickly became an international
leader in providing scholars with the tools of the Information
Age. The forty-five major projects emerging from the institute
range from a documentary archive of the Salem witch trials,
assembled by Benjamin Ray in the Department of Religious
Studies, to a site on noun classification in Swahili created by
Ellen Contini-Morava, chair of the Department of Anthropology.
Drama professor LaVahn Hoh, well known to students for his popular
course on the history of the circus, is launching a new site
titled "The Circus in America: 1793–1940," a digital archive of
thousands of circus artifacts from collections around the country.
To view these and other projects, visit www.iath.virginia.edu.
Mark Saunders and Penelope Kaiserlian
ROTUNDA PUTS DOLLEY MADISON ONLINE
The University of Virginia Press, directed by Penelope Kaiserlian,
has launched a new line of digital scholarship titled Rotunda.
Mark Saunders, assistant director of the press, manages the
electronic imprint, which will benefit from a new $638,000
grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and support from
the Office of the President.
The grant is the second
from the foundation for the
press’s digital initiatives.
The first release in the
Rotunda series is The Dolley
Madison Digital Edition, a
Web-based collection of the
first lady’s correspondence
edited by Holly Shulman.
Future projects include
a fully searchable online
edition of the multivolume
Papers of George Washington
and Emily Dickinson’s
annotated scans of the
letters in which Dickinson’s
poems first appeared.