JAN. 7, 1993, WAS ONE OF THE MOST profound days both professionally and personally for Dan Sui.

On that date 28 years ago, Sui, who was completing his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, would not only receive his first job offer, but also celebrate the birth of his daughter, Alice.

The job offer would take the young family from Athens to College Station, Texas, the first step in a professional trajectory that would include opportunities at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas, before bringing Sui to Virginia Tech in 2020.

“It was a pivotal moment in my life,” said Sui, Virginia Tech’s vice president for research and innovation. “Pushing my daughter in her carriage while I held hands with my wife, Feng, as we walked onto Texas A&M’s campus to start my first job.”


Virginia Tech’s research enterprise inspires intellectual, innovative, and creative activities within and across disciplinary boundaries through building and sustaining a culture of collaboration.

The university is invested in major research initiatives bringing together diverse expertise that transcends traditional discipline boundaries, in partnership with industry, government and foundations, to address emerging challenges and opportunities that seek to improve the human condition and create a better world for all. These research areas are Frontiers.

Artificial intelligence frontier

Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for Intelligence Augmentation
Building on expertise in AI and data science, systems engineering, neuroscience, human factors, robotics, immersive visualization, and education, among others, to accelerate human-technology partnerships toward seamless augmentation, ethically and sustainably.

Health frontier

Leading the One Health Initiative to Achieve Whole Health
Changing the focus on disease and symptoms to one of whole health, integrating intersections of animal, environment, and human health and building in communities and systems to empower multifaceted well-being.

Researcher inspects a slide with a sample on it within a lab

Security frontier

Innovating for a Secure and Resilient America
Ensuring communities are prepared to face global threats, from climate change to cybersecurity to national defense through advances in preparation, defense, mitigation, and recovery.

Quantum frontier

Advancing the Quantum Leap
Using an unparalleled transdisciplinary focus to accelerate the integration of quantum technologies across society, realizing unprecedented computing and communication capabilities and restructuring our social framework.

Born in northeast China, also known as Manchuria, Sui’s grade school academics involved rigorous scholastic training. Chinese students were required to take a seven-subject test called the National College Admission exam and place in the top of their class in order to be admitted to a university. Sui excelled. He attended Peking University in Beijing, China, earning undergraduate and master’s degrees in remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS). Sui later earned a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Georgia.

Now an internationally renowned researcher in the area of GIS-based spatial analysis and modeling for urban, environmental, and public health applications, Sui has been called one of the greatest visionaries in the field of geographic information and ranks among the first scientists to recognize the importance of geographic location information in social media.

Most recently, Sui led the University of Arkansas’ research enterprise, contributing to a $2.2 billion economic impact for the state of Arkansas. After a national search, in the fall of 2020, Sui was selected to lead Virginia Tech’s research enterprise. The university is ranked in the top 5 percent of higher education institutions in the nation for research expenditures with approximately $556 million, and the conglomerate organization encompasses six institutes, several university centers, more than 3,000 faculty who conduct research, and approximately 700 employees.

“What excites me about Virginia Tech research is that it has a strong foundation of researchers who have exceptional work ethics and thrive in a culture of collaboration. We are well-positioned and recognized for our diverse research portfolio. But, we must take it to the next level—from national excellence to global eminence—and champion our strategic intellectual priorities and intentionally invest resources,” Sui said.

Active in his own research, Sui’s recent work includes co-editing a peer-reviewed book, “Mapping COVID-19 in Space and Time: Understanding the Spatial and Temporal Dynamics of a Global Pandemic,” an international collaboration with 40 researchers representing 15 countries and three continents.

“To have a better understanding of how disruptive global events, such as COVID-19, impact public health and economic decision, we examined how technological advances, like smart cities, GIS, and the current political environment, can be used as a medium to impact both the development of policy and the spread of misinformation,” Sui said.

At Virginia Tech, Sui is not only thinking about applied research, but also the fundamental concepts learned in the classroom. This coming academic year, Sui will be teaching an honors course dedicated to the future of work that will include discussion about the sometimes-controversial topic of the intersection of humans and machines.

Between teaching, his own research, and supporting Virginia Tech’s research community, Sui has established a well-rounded lifestyle that he finds enormously gratifying. “At the end of the day, when goals have been set, obstacles overcome, and big things have been accomplished with my team, that’s when I know exciting changes are taking place,” he said.

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