RESEARCH MILESTONES Spring 2012
Research Milestones is the University’s bi-annual
since both addressed issues of class, gender, and family that are still under
round-up of significant research undertaken in its
discussion in contemporary society.
accelerating march toward greater national research
prominence. The work described in these pages is being performed by outstand-
ing student and faculty researchers who are enhancing WVU’s global engagement and educational achievement and advancing University diversity, regional economic development, and the well-being of the people of West Virginia. This report recounts only some of recent research highlights in abbreviated
“People do not always realize how much our culture is shaped by the works of the past, We retell stories to
work through cultural and social problems, and even if
the answers may be different, many of the issues and the questions remain the same.” —Marilyn Fincus
form. For more information or to see other stories about the research at WVU, visit http://research.wvu.edu/
Uncovering the impact of Jane Austen and Frances Burney on modern culture WVU Department of English professor Marilyn Francus is at work on two different research fellowship projects: one is a study of Jane Austen’s relationship to popular culture and a second on Frances Burney as a professional writer and a mother, in a time when it was thought that women could not be both writers and parents. Francus is especially interested in researching the impact of the women writers Austen
Unearthing the value of Appalachian dialects
WVU Professor Kirk Hazen, Ph.D., and his team of undergraduate researchers received a $239,742 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue a study of phonetic variation in Appalachia. Hazen advances the study of sociolinguistics by presenting dialect diversity programs to a wide array of audiences, including future health professionals, social workers, students, and service organizations. Throughout the entire 12-year period of the project, Hazen is also trying to educate West Virginia students about language in general and specifically about dialects. Unearthing and confronting linguistic misconceptions will require a thorough understanding of the state’s language variation and a statewide effort to teach its legitimacy and value. This project provides the means for helping West Virginians to avoid self-effacing loathing of their language diversity.
“Rural areas in the United States are changing, and the sociolinguistic patterns discovered in this project will illustrate those changes,” —Kirk Hazen
FOR Mon River water quality info
The West Virginia Water Research Institute is a premier water research center where experts have already established a monitoring program that, in cooperation with coal companies, has helped control total dissolved solids — known as TDS — that sometimes result from energy recovery operations in the Mon River basin. WVWRI Director Paul Ziemkiewicz is fond of noting that “a little science goes a long way.” He and the other experts at WVWRI are hoping that the new expanded Mon River Quest will reinforce that contention by using a little science and dedicated volunteers to keep the Monongahela River clean. For more information on the Mon River QUEST project or how to get involved, visit http://www.monriverquest.com.
Enlisting and training volunteers to monitor and protect Monongahela River water quality Mon River Quest is a major West Virginia University-based initiative that is empowering hundreds of volunteers in an effort to keep an eye on thousands of miles of Monongahela River tributary streams so that any detected irregularities can be quickly monitored, traced and alleviated. The project has been recognized as one of the best research, education and outreach projects in the nation. The project, funded by the Colcom Foundation — a Pittsburgh based private foundation dedicated to fostering a sustainable environment, represents an
Helping the National Park Service and its visitors understand an unnoticed resource in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park parallels the Potomac River as it winds through scenic Maryland valleys. Visitors have long appreciated its geology and wildlife as they travel along the canal towpath. What most do not know is that along the canal exists a world of caves and springs just as fascinating and much more fragile.
unprecedented level of community involvement in pursuit of water quality information and a prime example of WVU’s outreach mission to make lives
This world has gone unnoticed for many years, but now a collaborative effort
better by seeking ways to head off potential environmental problems.
between the U.S. National Park Service and WVU seeks to better understand
these caves and how they are affected by the surface. WVU doctoral candidate John Tudek of the Department of Geology and Geography is working under
“I’ve been exploring caves for more than 20
years,” Tudek said. “This is something I would happily do as a hobby. To be able to do this
professionally; in an area rich in biology, geology and history—it’s a bit of a dream come true.”
“I’ve been exploring caves for more than 20
years,” Tudek said. “This is something I would
Petra Wood, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and adjunct professor of wildlife in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, and Kyle Aldinger, a native of Hummelstown, PA who is pursuing a doctoral degree in forest resources science, received a $16,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the
happily do as a hobby. To be able to do this
professionally; in an area rich in biology, geology and history—it’s a bit of a dream come true.” —John Tudek
Where have all the warblers gone?
associate professor of geology Dorothy Vesper, Ph.D., on this $218,000, two-year project funded by the National Park Service. Joining the geologists on this multidisciplinary effort are Benoit Van Aken, Ph.D., microbiologist at Temple University; David Smaldone, Ph.D., associate professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design; and Dan Feller, biologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Working to reverse losses to America’s songbird population In recent years, the golden-winged warbler has been in decline throughout the northeastern United States and West Virginia’s population has experienced a particularly sharp decline. Two West Virginia University researchers, however, hope their research will offer solutions to help preserve the threatened species.
population status of the species and associated avian species inhabiting high elevation pasturelands in West Virginia. To aid conservation efforts in the state, the pair will investigate habitat management strategies for the species with particular interest in in the effects of livestock grazing, brush-hogging or mechanical mowing, and light tree harvest. Ultimately, the information will help guide conservation and habitat management for the species. Other objectives include testing survey protocols, measuring breeding habitat characteristics of the species, and investigating its use of abandoned and active livestock pastures. Research efforts should help preserve and promote the songbird’s population
for future generations to enjoy. 7
renewable energy development while effectively managing stable eagle populations on BLM lands. Katzner, Turk and their colleagues hope to establish a comprehensive understanding of habitat relations and of risk to birds from energy development in California. Katzner and Turk will be joined on the project by Adam Duerr and Tricia Miller, research biologists with the WVU Research Corporation, David Brandes, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, and Michael Lanzone, CEO of Cellular Tracking Technologies in Somerset, PA.
Photo copyright: Todd Katzner
Taking eagle research nationwide
Golden eagles travel thousands of miles in their yearly migration. Now, research techniques refined at WVU will begin their own cross-country travels thanks to a $321,000 grant from the Bureau of Land Management.
Examining natural defense against pesky stinkbug invasion Yong-Lak Park, an assistant professor of entomology in WVUâ€™s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is studying the potential of the spined soldier bug as a natural deterrent to the invasive brown marmorated stink bug. Experts suspect that brown marmorated stink bug probably hitchhiked its way from Asia in container ships. It
Todd Katzner, a research assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries resources,
was first detected in this country
and Phil Turk, assistant professor of statistics, will adapt efforts that balance
in Allentown, PA, in 1996. It has
sustainable energy development with eagle protection for use in California.
no natural enemies here, so the population has grown quickly.
Katzner and Turk have been working on a project to provide a framework for safer and less controversial development of wind power in eastern North
The insect has been found
America. California is facing similar issues, with the added complexity that in
in 33 states. It has spread
addition to wind power, solar energy development is using up acres of land in
to agricultural commodities,
becoming a major pest of fruit orchards, field crops,
A lack of data has hampered the BLMâ€™s ability to understand impacts from
vegetables, and ornamentals in 9
the Mid-Atlantic region. The stink bug has caused considerable crop damage to fruit orchards and organic vegetable farms in the Eastern Panhandle of WV. The State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania tapped Park to see if he could develop a biological control for the invader that could effectively fend off the destruction of crops without forcing growers to resort to chemical pesticides. Park has been looking into the appetites of the spined soldier bug as an indigenous adversary for its destructive cousin. While the soldier bugs aren’t displaying an appetite for adult stink bugs, they do eat stink bug eggs, which could effectively curb the population of stink bugs.
five years as part of the Aquacutlure Food and Marketing Development Project. This new grant has given them the opportunity to study that potential at a
Combining hydroponics and aquaculture for cleaner water and additional food production WVU researchers are expanding their investigation into aquaponics — a sustainable production system that combines aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).
production scale. The aquaponics team is conducting its studies in flowing-water aquaculture systems at the Reymann Memorial Farm near Wardensville, WV, and at two commercial fish production operations in West Virginia. Flowing-water systems are preferred by trout producers as an efficient and manageable production system that are generally fed by groundwater flowing by gravity from springs or mines. According to Buzby, the aquaponics system has shown success in removal of soluble nutrients from the water flow like ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and phosphates that adversely influence water quality.
Their work will be funded by a Conservation Innovation Grant from the United
In addition to reducing the environmental impact of fish-production systems,
States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.
aquaponics may also offer an extra source of income for fish producers. The
Lance Lin, an assistant professor of civil engineering, is the principal
addition of vegetable and flower production increases the volume and diversity
investigator on the project.
of goods for market. Investigators also note that lettuce production can be conducted year-round. The consistent temperature of spring water provides
Karen Buzby, a post-doctoral fellow in environmental engineering in the
conditions for cold-weather crops in the dead of winter and the heat of
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and other aquaculture
summer, times when these crops don’t do well in exposed soil.
investigators, have been studying the potential of aquaponics for more than
They’re in! WVU students selected to participate in Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon
A team of students from West Virginia University has been selected to participate in the 2013 Solar Decathlon, hosted by the United States Department of Energy, one of only 20 teams selected for the worldwide competition of college and university students challenged to design, build and operate the most affordable, attractive and energy-efficient solarpowered house they can. Each team selected to participate in the competition receives a $100,000 grant. Finished homes are built and displayed for judging. The interdisciplinary team was led by a group of students from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. Students from the College of Creative Arts; the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design; and the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism have joined the project. The project offers exceptional educational opportunities to students across the WVU campus. In addition to their colleagues in Morgantown, the students are working with representatives from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, which has a research agreement with WVU. WVU’s entry in the competition, the Preserving Energy with Appalachian Knowledge project, or PEAK, will combine modern smart-home technologies into a rustic-style log home. This is the first time a log-style home has been accepted into the competition. The 2013 competition is the first that WVU has entered. The decathlon consists of 10 contests designed to gauge the environmental performance and livability of each team’s submission. The contests cover everything from architecture, market appeal and engineering to comfort level, appliances and home entertainment. One of the key criteria for the winning team is that each home produces as much or more energy than it consumes. The maximum budget for the house is $250,000.
Helping the nation’s truck fleet go green
Ralphs Supermarkets, a California centered division of The Kroger Co., wanted to pursue a greener energy footprint by using cleaner fuels and engines to power an extensive fleet of delivery vehicles that dot the highways from Los Angeles’ freeways to the country roads of the California mountains.
Helping industries save energy and reduce costs
WVU’s Industrial Assessment Center will receive $1.5 million over the next five years as part of the Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Center program. The grant, a renewal of a program that has been at WVU since 1992, will help provide undergraduate and graduate engineering students with the opportunity to conduct energy assessments in local companies and factories that will help them reduce energy consumption and emissions, save money and become more economically competitive. The grant stipulates that at least 10 to 15 students a year
The company is transitioning half of its truck fleet to less polluting compressed
must be trained.
natural gas or CNG. Ralphs leadership looked to WVU’s Center for Alternative
The program must
Fuels, Engines and Emissions to help turn those green plans into reality.
WVU scientists chassis-tested Ralph’s heavy-duty vehicles to ensure the
engines are compliant with emissions regulations by collecting and examining
emissions data from diesel, CNG and dual-fuel engines.
annually, while performing extensive
WVU is nationally-known for its engine mission expertise because it is home
not only to a highly trained cadre of experts, but also the only mobile heavy-
and tracking activities.
duty chassis dynamometer in the U.S., which allows WVU scientists to visit sites where vehicles are being used in real-world situations. CAFEE works with engine, vehicle and exhaust treatment systems manufacturers to design and fabricate retrofit solutions to meet compliance. That means peace of mind for Ralphs if its growing fleet of green vehicles passes the WVU tests and a growing collection of important engine emissions data for future conversions at sites across America.
“The desired end result is to create the next generation of
energy engineers. They will have sound technical knowledge
of hands-on energy assessment methods; ISO 50001 energy management certification; and in-depth understanding of management systems, business and corporate cultures,
industrial supply chains and sustainability issues so they can hit the road running.”
—Bhaskaran Gopalakrishnan 15
Encouraging clean coal technology use through a novel training simulator for coal power plants WVU Chemical Engineering Professor Richard Turton has teamed with Stephen Zitney of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory to create a first-of-a-kind advanced virtual energy simulation training and research effort — called AVESTAR™ — which will help encourage use of new clean coal power plant technologies.
Operations Management on the operator training system and 3-D virtual reality component. Invensys, a provider of technology and software solutions to the global manufacturing and process industries, including the power industry, is well-known and respected for its work in simulation modeling. Funding for WVU’s portion of the collaborative work was provided through the NETLRegional University Alliance.
“IGCC power plants are relatively rare. There are less than 10 similar plants operating or being constructed in the
states, with several more in China and Europe. The simulator
gives the DOE and WVU an opportunity to showcase this
technology. Because so few of these plants have been built, the center will allow engineers, technology managers and
operators to obtain experience in the operation of these plants prior to actual construction.”
The virtual reality simulator will allow trainees to enter the power plant and move freely throughout the facility using a joystick to control their avatar, seeing exactly what they would see if they were in an actual plant.
Digging for geothermal energy answers
AVESTAR™ is a real-time dynamic simulator much like the simulators that airplane pilots train on but is designed to teach power plant personnel how to operate an integrated gasification combined cycle, or IGCC, power plant
The work of Brian Anderson, assistant professor of chemical engineering in WVU’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, to explore the potential for a geothermal energy bonanza in West Virginia was highlighted in Sierra Club’s print and online magazine.
complete with carbon capture capability. The magazine ran a visual feature explaining how recent scientific findings found Zitney and Turton along with professor Debangsu Bhattacharyya of WVU and
that the Mountain State sits on top of a geothermal hot spot 2.4 miles down that
other experts from NETL and FCS provided technical guidance to Invensys
could theoretically provide 18,890 megawatts of energy in the future. WVU’s
Anderson is at work with a $1.2 million grant from the US Department of Energy to assess “enhanced geothermal systems.
Helping America’s military thwart threats
Technological advances designed to neutralize threats and minimize American casualties in Afghanistan and future battle zones is critical to U.S. military efforts. Rugged terrain, stealth and technology have changed the nature of combat, requiring the U.S. to continually tweak its strategies and armaments. West Virginia University is poised to play a key role in these advancements, thanks to a multi-million dollar contract with the U.S. Department of Defense which is upgrading some of its current weapons systems. The goal is to create a new line of smart munitions that could be ballistically fired like mortars or grenades and would transform into unmanned aerial vehicles, capable of surveillance or payload delivery. The new devices would combine the best features of autonomous drones and conventional weapons while offering easier transport and more efficiency. WVU was awarded $2.2 million to work with United States Army Armament
“West Virginia is an energy state and I am a West Virginian through and through.
Ultimately, I want to change the landscape
of energy usage. I want geothermal to be viable anywhere.”
Research, Development and Engineering Center.
“I’m very proud of WVU and to be a part of this. The ultimate goal is for the soldier — to give the soldier this unique weapon and increase his safety out in the field.”
Fixing Mountain State bridge deficiencies
WVU’s Constructed Facilities Center has developed a process that has led to the rehabilitation of nearly 30 bridges across the state, keeping them safe and operable at a fraction of the cost it takes to replace a bridge.s CFC is working closely with the
“Not only does it hold things together, but the wrap also enhances the strength of the overall structure,”
The Constructed Facilities Center trains workers from the state’s highway department and private contractors on proper wrapping procedures and those workers do most of the labor on bridges whose time has come to be refurbished.
West Virginia Division of Highways on a project with the potential to
GangaRao also directs the Center for the Integration of Composites into
rehabilitate 400 to 500 concrete
Infrastructure (CICI), a cooperative research effort among the National
bridges across the state over the
Science Foundation, industry, and West Virginia University. CICI’s mission is
next five years.
to accelerate the adoption of polymer composites and innovative construction materials into infrastructure and transportation applications through
CFC Director Hota GangaRao said
CFC’s method allows West Virginia to preserve as many bridges as possible, rehabilitating and maintaining them at minimal cost. Established in 1988, CFC fosters and conducts research and development activities vital to the rehabilitation of the U.S. infrastructure. Through joint projects and continuing education, the center works closely with the chemical, manufacturing, and construction industries, as well as highway and other government agencies.
So how does a bridge go through rehab?
After evaluation, experts strip the bridge down to a solid portion of its original
Probing the mysteries of tornados
David Lewellen, research associate professor, in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in WVU’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources has studied tornadoes and other atmospheric turbulence at WVU since 1993. He is finishing the first year of a three-year $397,703 National Science Foundation (NSF) award to further study what has become his specialty — the interaction of a tornado’s central vortex with the ground surface.
concrete or steel. Then, the structure is covered with a two-inch outer mortar cover and wrapped tightly with a material made from either glass fabric or
The grant is the fifth NSF award Lewellen has received for his work over the
carbon fabric and resin; the fabric gives the wrapping material strength, while
past fifteen years.
the resin binds with the structure’s original substrate. For years, Lewellen worked alongside his father, Dr. Steven W. Lewellen, now
retired from WVU, who he credits for getting him interested in tornados. Their work has been profiled in such publications as National Geographic.
“If we can understand tornados better, we can predict things better, to make structures on
the ground more tornado-resistant, we need to know the underlying wind forces coming
from the tornado – and this involves the winds right in the lowest layers, which is what we’re
studying. If we can understand these things
better, maybe we can build structures that will
Enhancing a multidisciplinary approach to cancer research
Capping a decade of success in cancer research, the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded a five-year, $5.5 million research grant to WVU’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center to support the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence led by Laura F. Gibson, Ph.D., of the WVU School of Medicine.
resist tornados better,” —David Lewellen
“Winning Phase III funding is a recognition of the exemplary contribution that WVU scientists are making to the scientific community’s understanding of the basic mechanisms of cancer,” Christopher C. Colenda, M.D., M.P.H., chancellor for health sciences, said. “Since the establishment of our CoBRE in Signal Transduction, our faculty members have published approximately 300 scientific Photo Courtesy: Heidi Specht
journal articles. That is an amazing record.”
Above: Cutaway views of tornados — Cutaway views of debris clouds from tornado simulations, as developed digitally by Dr. David Lewellen, WVU
According to Gibson, the first two phases of funding were aimed at nurturing
research associate professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The
the development of scientists in the early part of their academic research
photo on the left is a funnel cloud touching land; on the right, a cutaway view
careers. She said seventeen investigators were funded during the initial
of a debris cloud. (Photo courtesy David Lewellen.)
two phases of the CoBRE award. Phase I and Phase II awards also helped establish and strengthen several core facilities at the Health Sciences Center which are shared by many cancer researchers at the University. The third phase will allow the Cancer Center to develop research collaborations with other scientists across the University and elsewhere. As a result, WVU will be able to make high-quality, sophisticated research tools more accessible to a wide variety of researchers.
Unraveling the mysteries of Alzheimer’s
The Alzheimer’s Association has awarded Justin Legleiter, assistant professor in the in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, with one of approximately 45 internationally awarded New Investigator Research Grants.
Studying how service dogs help veterans recover, return to workforce Man’s best friend may also be a veteran’s best therapy. A team of West Virginia University researchers and an area non-profit are partnering with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to see if dogs
Alzheimer’s Association research grants are made to advance the
can help veterans both
understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, help identify new treatment strategies,
recover and return to the
provide information to improve care for people with dementia, and further
knowledge of brain health and disease prevention. The New Investigator Research Grant is reserved for researchers who have earned their doctoral degrees within the last 10 years.
“Although there is significant interest in service dogs for veterans to aid in readjustment, the focus has not been on employment,” said Matt Wilson, project leader and interim director of the Division of Animal and Nutritional
To conduct his project, “Mechanisms and consequences of beta-amyloid
Sciences in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.
peptide binding to cellular surfaces,” Legleiter will receive a two-year, $99,592
“There is a resounding lack of empirical evidence documenting whether
grant. He will work with WVU chemistry students to try to unravel information
the provision of service dogs is of therapeutic benefit for persons with
on the beta-amyloid peptide, which is found deposited in the brains of
PTSD – other than the generally accepted, positive effects of human-animal
Legleiter believes his team’s research could provide a detailed understanding of
NIOSH has provided $273,202 to allow the WVU-led team to collaborate on
how changes in cellular surface properties associated with aging influence beta-
Project ROVER, Returning Our Veterans to Employment and Reintegration.
amyloid peptide binding, aggregation and toxicity. Students assisting Legleiter with his research include chemistry graduate students Elizabeth Yates and
The Project Rover team will examine the therapeutic benefits of service dogs
Nicole Shamitko, and undergraduates Michael Lynch and George Magnone.
that are trained to provide physical and psychological assistance to veterans,
Graphics: National Institute on aging
and determine the impact of this assistance on the veterans’ ability to cope with the symptoms of PTSD and function effectively in the workplace.
Developing a device to seek and save trapped coal miners
WVU mining engineering professor Keith Heasley earned a $110,511 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help develop a seismic system for locating trapped miners. The system is portable and can be set up within minutes of arriving at the accident site.
pounding with sledgehammers 800 feet below ground. The rescue response team should know within hours whether or not there are survivors from an accident and, crucially, where they are located. This is an unprecedented advance in mine safety technology, according to SureWave.
Vaulting onto “best places” to work in academia list
The interdisciplinary and cooperative nature of WVU’s research community was a key factor in a prestigious magazine for scientists selecting the University as one of the best places to work in academia.
WVU’s research enterprise clocked in at number 20 on the list of U.S. research sites complied by The Scientist — a respected news magazine that focuses primarily on biology and life science. The magazine’s Best Places to Work in Academia survey was released earlier this year. “Though large universities can rarely offer their researchers the camaraderie that comes from a small, tight-knit community, their size provides access It’s a project that stems from the Sago mine disaster in which an explosion
to high-end resources,” the magazine wrote. “Enterprising life scientists at
trapped 13 miners for nearly two days in January 2006 in Upshur County, W.Va.
West Virginia University, this years #20 US institution, take advantage of
Only one of the miners, Randal McCloy, survived.
their school’s breadth of brainpower by tapping colleagues in the physics department to build custom tools they need.”
Heasley said background noise, which can be anything from the wind, chatter or trees rustling, can interfere with the signals that determine a miner’s exact
The article noted how Elena Pugacheva, assistant professor of biochemistry
location. But the system in development filters out the background noise.
and a member of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center in the School of
Last year, Heasley began collaborating with SureWave Technology, a United
Medicine needed a new, specialized ultrasound machine for her research
Kingdom-based company, to further develop this seismic system.
on cell proliferation in tumor cells associated with breast cancer. Instead of seeking an expensive private sector remedy for the situation, colleagues across
With the aid of his graduate students and other mining engineering faculty,
town in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences’ Physics Department rode to
Heasley and SureWave successfully detected the location of individuals
the rescue and helped build a new ultrasound machine from scratch.
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Biannual research publication highlighting research projects conducted at West Virginia University and designed to entice readers to explore...