Don Leo, associate dean of research and graduate studies in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering, has been named special assistant to the vice president for research for energy initiatives. In turn, Leo has announced energy initiatives for the upcoming year.

“I look forward to building upon the achievements of Jack Lesko, professor of engineering science and mechanics, who served as the first special assistant for energy initiatives, and the Deans’ Task Force for Energy Security and Sustainability,” Leo said. “They organized the forum to promote, and position Virginia Tech's educational, research, and outreach efforts to achieve sustainable and secure energy systems, developed a speakers’ series, supported the biofuel initiative in Danville, and worked with the Tobacco Commission on energy initiatives around the state.”

Leo told the research committee of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors that the university has broad expertise in energy and he will work to focus efforts on areas of established strength and emerging strength, specifically, fossil fuels, technologies for the hydrogen economy, renewable energy, nuclear energy, and energy conservation and policy.

After discussions with the deans of all the colleges at Virginia Tech, Leo has identified four areas of investment for the coming year. One investment is to develop strategies for the construction of a pilot-plant facility in the greater Blacksburg area to enable effective scale up of sustainable energy technologies and construction processes. Investments will also be made to reinvigorate Virginia Tech’s educational and research programs in nuclear science and engineering to assist the nation during this time of “nuclear renaissance.” A working group will be formed to merge Virginia Tech’s strengths in wind and solar technology, planning, and policy into a multidisciplinary research effort. Finally, investments will be made in the university and Blacksburg community to promote the development of groups that span the intersection of research and outreach.

“The goal is to build on our strengths and position Virginia Tech for national prominence in research areas that are vital to our nation,” said Leo. “The university will work closely with the commonwealth and our peer institutions across the state to promote economic development in the energy sector and position Virginia for a future national center for energy research.”

Seminars will be held in the spring around the topic of “Energy Entrepreneurship” to increase the university’s visibility on energy matters, and engagement with communities to bring economic development opportunities, he said.

“These investments will build upon the momentum that has developed over the past two years and to coordinate universitywide efforts that will bring national prominence to Virginia Tech,” said Leo. “The key is to invest in long term strategies that benefit our communities, the commonwealth, and the nation.”

Leo is associated with the Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures. His research interests are the dynamics and control of active material systems, such as power electronics integration for active materials and the development of cellular materials that harvest energy from biological fuels.

In 2007, Leo served as a program manager in the Defense Sciences Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Washington, D.C. Previous honors include the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award in 2001, and being named the 2004 Outstanding Alumnus of the Aerospace Engineering Department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering in 1990.

Leo earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Buffalo in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1992 and in 1995, respectively. He served on the mechanical, industrial, and manufacturing engineering faculty at the University of Toledo and spent two years as a project engineer for CSA Engineering Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif. He joined the Virginia Tech faculty as an assistant professor in 1998, becoming a full professor within six years.


Share this story