Virginia Tech research institute highlights for fiscal year 2022
Under the framework of Research and Innovation, Virginia Tech’s research institutes provide critical infrastructure in the form of cutting-edge facilities, equipment, resources, and funding to support the researchers journey from pre-award to discovery. For the past fiscal year spanning July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022, affiliated faculty demonstrated their ability to address large-scale research opportunities by crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries, contributing to the overall growth of the institutes and the research enterprise.
Fralin Biomedical Research Institute
Virginia Tech’s Health Sciences and Technology Campus celebrated a major milestone with the opening of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s $90 million, 139,000-square-foot expansion that enables 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.
The integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV) partnership with the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, Inova Health System, and the institute continues to support clinical and translational research across Virginia.
Robert Gourdie, a trailblazing cardiovascular scientist at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, was the first Virginia Tech researcher to receive an Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for $6.5 million to carry out inventive research concepts that aren’t tethered to specific, finite projects.
With the support of NIH funding, cardiology researcher Junco Warren is working with collaborators at Rutgers University and the University of Utah to examine gene regulation and cardiac function; addiction recovery researcher Warren Bickel is working with partners from Arizona State University and Stanford on a competing neurobehavioral decision systems theory of cocaine addiction in a longitudinal clinical trial; computational neuroscientist Read Montague is collaborating with Mount Sinai, Wake Forest, and Rice University on social decision-making research; Jennifer Munson is studying imaging biomarkers and CAR-T cell therapy for cancer with Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope; and Sharon Ramey is leading a 12-partner pediatric clinical trial to investigate a specialized therapy for young stroke victims.
Fralin Life Sciences Institute
To further enhance its core services, the institute invested in 19 shared equipment and instruments across five research buildings, such as the Conviron Growth Chambers in Latham Hall, CODEX Instrument Bundle for single cell spatial sequencing in Steger Hall, and Keyence BZX Fluorescence Microscope in Life Sciences I.
The Virginia Tech Faculty Activity Support Team, otherwise known as VT-FAST, which is jointly supported by the institute and the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, supported development and submission of 88 proposals with combined budgets of more than $230 million.
The institute provided graduate training to 788 graduate students led by institute-affiliated faculty, including 288 students directly supported by the institute’s core research center’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs.
Affiliated faculty successfully secured an National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Training Program award on Convergence at the Interfaces of Policy, Data Science, Environmental Science, and Engineering for Combating Antimicrobial Resistance, which welcomes 12 new interdisciplinary graduate students, 75 percent of whom are underrepresented minority students over the next academic year.
Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology
The Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) in partnership with the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation hosted the third ACCelerate: ACC Smithsonian Creativity + Innovation Festival at the Natural Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. With over 30,000 attendees, Virginia Tech’s presence included three transdisciplinary projects with 18 faculty and staff and 26 students representing 16 departments.
The Science, Engineering, Art, and Design program funded 19 grants, five of which were student grants. From the various projects 82 exhibits, 37 media hits, 27 external submissions, 13 external awards, 68 presentations, 27 publications, and 16 additional honors resulted.
For the second year in a row, Ph.D. student Lee Lisle, advised by Doug Bowman, professor of computer science in the Center for Human-Computer Interaction, won first place in the international Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Virtual Reality 3D User Interfaces contest.
Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science
Test methods developed by the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership as part of a long-term collaboration with researchers in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics became the first that will allow drone companies to demonstrate compliance with a crucial new Federal Aviation Administration rule allowing drone flights over people.
The institute’s seed funding programs continue to yield dividends. For example, researchers funded through the Diversity and Inclusion Research Grants program collectively reported more than $3 million in external funding for projects launched with institute seed funds. Since its inception, the program has forged connections between Virginia Tech and 27 historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions around the country.
The popular drone delivery program in Christiansburg celebrated two years of operation in October 2021; the service was the first in the country and continues to attract national attention and a visit by Virginia Gov. Glen Youngkin.
Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment
Five faculty members from different disciplines participated in the 2022 Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment COVID-19 Reset Program — a new initiative that offered both funding and monthly mentoring sessions for social science faculty whose research was interrupted during the pandemic. The funding supported data collection activities and writing time intended to help the researchers pursue external funding, which resulted in the submission of grant proposals to the NIH, the NSF, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The institute also continued to support social science researchers through its competitive grant programs, unsolicited funding opportunities, and technical assistance/mentoring to enhance their competitiveness for external funding. Since fiscal year 2018, the institute has invested over $2 million on 200 faculty, 114 projects, and five centers. From these investments, 193 sponsored awards have been received from federal, state, and private agencies, totaling almost $56 million.
Virginia Tech National Security Institute
In September 2021, the National Security Institute was launched with Eric Paterson as its leader, aspiring to become the nation's preeminent academic organization at the nexus of interdisciplinary research, technology, policy, and talent development to advance national security.
Assisting Paterson, Laura Freeman was named the inaugural deputy director of the Virginia Tech National Security Institute continuing the institute’s trajectory for growth and maximizing its impact on the university and the country.
Virginia Tech was awarded $1.5 million 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 tech-talent workforce, specifically the nation’s intelligence and defense communities.
Alan Michaels, director of the Spectrum Dominance Division at the National Security Institute and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech, was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.
Deloitte’s Artificial Intelligence Institute and the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology within the National Security Institute started the Deloitte Graduate Student Research Program on Artificial Intelligence, which aims to prepare graduate students for artificial intelligence careers.
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
In October 2021, Zachary Doerzaph was appointed as the executive director of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, overseeing the university’s largest research institute, which conducts more than 300 research projects in partnership with more than 100 public and private organizations to improve transportation safety, nationally and globally.
This past Spring, Sen. Tim Kaine visited the institute to learn more about a university-led effort to establish Southwest and southern Virginia as a global leader in next-generation transportation by creating the most advanced real-world test environments for automated vehicles and delivery technologies, as part of the university’s standing as a finalist to win a potential $100 million in the federal Economic Development Administration’s Regional Challenge.
The institute continued a safety education and outreach program Sharing the Road with Trucks, which grew out of naturalistic driving research that showed teen drivers initiated more than 75 percent of incidents involving heavy trucks due to a lack of driver education.
The institute partnered with the Virginia Department of Transportation and GeoStabilization International to deploy their full smart work zone technology system in rural areas of Virginia. The system works to decrease injuries and fatalities in roadside work zones by providing early detection of threats and quickly informing workers and drivers of dangers.