Innovation drives research forward
Based on fiscal year 2022 data estimates, Virginia Tech sponsored research expenditures and awards increased by 12 percent, with growth in federal, state, private, and local funding.
“Virginia Tech research continues to build on its strengths, which is reflected in expenditure growth toward record totals, but also seeks to transcend traditional boundaries in a collective effort to diversify perspectives required to make a greater impact on global priorities and the human condition,” said Dan Sui, senior vice president for research and innovation and chief research and innovation officer. “I am encouraged by the progress we are making and by the dedication of our researchers. With initiatives like the Research Frontiers, we are making innovative progress by forging new and enhancing existing partnerships with collaborators and sponsors that include other universities, industry, foundations, and the federal government.”
For the artificial intelligence frontier, Virginia Tech and Amazon partnered to advance the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning through machine learning-focused research projects, doctoral student fellowships, community outreach, and an establishment of a shared advisory board. The program is housed in the College of Engineering and directed by Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering in the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics at the Innovation Campus.
Encompassing the health frontier, Virginia Tech’s Health Sciences and Technology Campus celebrated a major milestone opening Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s $90 million, 139,000-square-foot expansion that will enable the institute to double its workforce by 2027. As part of the growing partnership with Children’s National Hospital, two brain cancer research faculty were recruited. Virginia Tech’s health experts Linsey Marr, Carla Finkielstein, Lisa M. Lee, and others continued to contribute to conversations around COVID-19 with daily mentions in national and global top-tier media outlets.
For security-related initiatives, Virginia Tech announced the formation of the National Security Institute with Eric Paterson as its leader and Laura Freeman as its deputy director to expand upon the legacy of the Hume Center for National Security and Technology. One of the more recent projects includes $1.5 million awarded by the Department of Defense, with Peter Beling, associate director of the institute’s Intelligent Systems initiative, leading the multi-university cybersecurity program to diversify the nation’s intelligence and defense workforce.
Quantum research progress includes uniting Virginia Tech’s broad expertise in quantum with the launch of the Blacksburg-based Center for Quantum Information Science and Engineering led by world-renowned quantum expert Sophia Economou, and the Northrop Grumman gift to the Innovation Campus, in Alexandria, of $12.5 million to further establish Virginia Tech as a leader in quantum research and expertise. Commonwealth Cyber Initiative researchers Economou, the Edwin Barnes professor of physics; Jamie Sikora, assistant professor of computer science; and Nicholas Mayhall, associate professor of chemistry, are working together to explore quantum networks.
Virginia Tech’s institutes continue to fuel the research engine by enhancing the university's ability to address large-scale research opportunities by crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries. Highlights include the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute appointing new leader Zac Doerzaph, the launch and celebration of the National Security Institute, and the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Institute researchers who received prestigious awards included Robert Gourdie, cardiovascular scientist at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, being named the first Virginia Tech researcher to receive an Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health and Alan Michaels, director of the Spectrum Dominance Division at the National Security Institute and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech, being named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Read more about Virginia Tech research institute highlights for the past fiscal year.
In reinforcing its commitment to serving the region and the world through research and scholarship, Virginia Tech’s commercialization and start-up efforts are driving economic growth while ensuring discoveries have pathways to impact. This past year, the Innovation and Partnerships’ LICENSE team encouraged a record number of 169 invention disclosures from Virginia Tech researchers, while executing more un-affiliated licenses through Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties than in previous years. With a total of 29 agreements, LICENSE has increased the number each year over the past five years, more than doubling the 2018 number. With partner unit, LAUNCH, the university enabled 10 spin-outs of intellectual property-based start-ups, also a record number. With recurring opportunities such as the Proof-of-Concept grant program and training such as the Tech Transfer bootcamp and Start-up Labs, the team has been building additional resources for the research community. LINK, the Center for Advancing Partnerships, a collaborative effort among advancement, research, colleges, and institutes, plays an active role in working with companies, foundations, faculty, and university leadership to uncover what can be achieved together. This year, corporate and foundation philanthropy exceeded $80 million.
The Office of Strategic Research Alliances continued to build its portfolio of activities focused on increasing the visibility, competitiveness and impact of the university’s research programs. Earlier in the year, the office was integrated into the Office of Research and Innovation in effort to increase the competitiveness and impact of research. The strategic research alliance team provided advice and tactical guidance in the development of the successful phase one proposal to the highly competitive Economic Development Agency's Regional Hub challenge. The team continues to work with researchers, institutes, and academic units to inform national research initiatives led by federal research agencies and facilitated researchers’ connections to federal sponsors including the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Institutes of Health.
For the Virginia-Tech led Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI), former chief technology officer for the Federal Communications Commission Eric W. Burger joined the team and Virginia Tech as a research professor. Focused on cybersecurity, related research areas, innovation, and workforce development, CCI hosted its second cyber camp, several research showcases, and formed a partnership with European-based Software Radio Systems Ltd. to advance open software mobile wireless networks in North America.
In collaboration with CCI, Virginia Tech’s departments of industrial and systems engineering and electrical and computer engineering, and also with industry, the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation (VT-ARC) has transitioned two new 5G network enhancements and will begin working to integrate and operationalize them at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Smart Warehouse in Albany, Georgia. In its role as a partner intermediary for the U.S. government, VT-ARC established a new Center for Advancing Science, Technology, Learning, and Engagement for the National Reconnaissance Office and worked with the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research to aid in the technology transfer of their intellectual property to four small businesses for future mission impact.
Over the last fiscal year, a research development strategy team was established with the goal to help faculty be prepared for opportunities before they are announced, shape opportunities by positioning faculty as expert resources for sponsors, and assist researchers in the development of outstanding proposals to existing solicitations.
“Since Jan. 1, team members have helped faculty submit over $500 million worth of proposals and letters of intent,” said Randy Heflin, senior associate vice president for research and innovation. “We’ve also provided over 20 red team reviews of large-scale proposal submissions and coordinated more than a dozen cost-sharing packages.”
Last fall and spring's Research Development series featured speakers who led conversations designed to help researchers identify international research partners, solve complex problems through convergence research, and understand the value of team science from a federal agency perspective. This fall semester event line up features topics on: Strategies for Winning National Institutes of Health Program Project/Center Grants, Resources and Training for Virginia Tech Researchers, the National Science Foundation’s New Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, and Establishing Collaborations with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.
Supporting Virginia Tech’s vibrant research ecosystem, postdoctoral associates represent the next generation of diverse leaders in research in academia, industry, and civil service. In January, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs was established and Chris Smith was named program administrator. Smith has led the development of new postdoctoral associate career programs and held town halls with early program topics focused on career exploration, creating an individual development plan, and job search resources.
Rankings reflect progress is being made across the research landscape. In May, after making its debut in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings a year ago, Virginia Tech found itself ranked in the top 100 overall out of more than 1,400 institutions across the world in the 2022 Impact Rankings with an overall ranking of No. 98 out of 1,406 universities spanning 106 countries. The THE rankings use calibrated indicators to compare universities across four areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching.
Virginia Tech was also listed as 251-300 in the 2022 Times Higher Education World University Ranking, which judges research excellence on a global scale. Among research-intensive, public land-grant universities, the university is currently ranked No. 16 with the goal to become No. 13 by 2024.