Now in its fifth year, the Virginia Tech College of Science Lay Nam Chang Dean’s Discovery Fund recently announced research awards that will support such diverse projects as water quality, discovery of drugs for pain and viruses, mental health treatment, and economics forecasting.

Awarded grants this year exceeds more than $156,180. In the five years, grants from this fund have supported research and education programs valuing more than $510,000. 

The Dean’s Discovery Fund was established in 2017 by former College of Science Dean Sally C. Morton to support innovative ideas and research. To meet that need, Morton gained support from the College of Science Dean’s Roundtable and the College of Science Annual Fund. The awards were announced recently by College of Science Interim Dean Ron Fricker.

“These awards show that Virginia Tech scientists are focusing their research on issues critical to the world around us,” said Fricker, who is also a professor of statistics. “The way these researchers are working across disciplines, and pulling together experts from other colleges, is how key discoveries and innovations happen.”

The awards are named after Chang, the founding dean of the College of Science and a professor in the Department of Physics. Chang served as dean from 2003 to 2016, and before that dean of the College of Science. He died in December 2020 at age 77.

This year’s selectees are:

Who: Lee Cooper, clinical associate professor and director of the Psychological Services Center, Department of Psychology, with co-investigator Anita Kablinger, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and a Carilion Clinic psychiatrist. Project title: Implementation Training to Enhance Measurement-Based Care Utilization in Outpatient Mental Health. Amount: $19,240

Who: Russell Hewett, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics, and co-investigator Ali Habibnia, assistant professor, Department of Economics. Project title: Deep Learning for Nonlinear Common Factor Modeling and Forecasting in Economics. Amount: $20,000

Who: Birgit Scharf, professor, Department of Biological Sciences. Project title: Mechanisms of Salmonella enterica Infection by Bacteriophage Chi and Identification of Targets for Phage Therapy. Amount: $10,000

Who: Madeline Schreiber, professor and associate department head, Department of Geosciences, and co-investigators Marc Michel, associate professor of geosciences and nanoscience program head in the Academy of Integrated Science, and Cayelan Carey, associate professor of biological sciences. Project title: Using a Nanoscale to Whole-Ecosystem Scale Approach to Examine the Role of Reactive Metal Hydroxide Nanoparticles in Drinking Water Reservoirs. Amount: $13,200

Who: James Smyth, associate professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and the Department of Biological Sciences. Project title: Naive Neighbors: Investigating how Viral Bystander Effects Predispose Uninfected Cells to Infection. Amount: $10,000

Who: James Tanko, professor, Department of Chemistry. Project title: When a Good Enzyme Goes Bad: Proton Coupled Electron Transfer and the Mechanism of MAO Catalysis. Amount: $10,000

Who: Dorothea Tholl, professor of biological sciences. Project title: Pheromone Specific Gene Discovery for Developing Controls of Leishmaniasis Disease Vectors. Amount: $5,000

Who: Valerie Welborn, assistant professor of chemistry. Project title: Pain Relief Drug Design with Electric Field Calculations. Amount: $9,500

Who: Brenda Winkel, professor of biological sciences, with co-investigators, Shihoko Kojima, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Rich Helm, associate professor, Department of Biochemistry, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Project title: Strengthening the Evidence for Crosstalk between Flavonoid Metabolism and the Plant Circadian Clock. Amount: $20,000

Who: Zhaomin Yang, associate professor of biological sciences, and co-investigator, Anne Brown, assistant professor with University Libraries and the Department of Biochemistry. Project title: Experimentally and Computationally Establishing C. diff. PilB for Antivirulence Drug Discovery. Amount: $20,000

Brown, Carey, Helm, Kojima, Scharf, Schreiber, Tholl, Winkel, and Yang are all affiliated faculty members of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech.

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