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Accolades: New Minority Support Group Recognizes Two University Leaders

Thu, 2015-07-02 14:19
Dan Heuchert

A new group formed to support African-American faculty and staff at the University of Virginia has honored two members of the University community.

The Black Faculty and Staff Employee Resource Group describes its mission as “to actively engage in the recruitment, mentorship, collegiality, professional development, retention and promotion of an inclusive environment that will benefit all U.Va. faculty, administrators, staff, students and the Charlottesville community.”

On May 20, it held a luncheon to honor one faculty member and one staff member for their contributions to increasing diversity at the University.

Dr. Maurice Apprey, dean of African-American Affairs and a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, received the group’s Armstead Robinson Faculty Recognition Award “for his 31 years of stellar academic record and research, teaching accomplishments, and creating professional and academic advancement opportunities for countless students.” The group noted that under Apprey’s leadership, the School of Medicine has retained 100 percent of minority and disadvantaged students for 13 consecutive years, and that Apprey recruited the first three African-American M.D./Ph.D. students in the Medical Scientist Training Program.

The award’s namesake, the late Armstead Robinson, a former history professor, oversaw the initial development of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies, which helped identify, recruit and retain key African-American faculty at the University.

Morgan Davis, the purchasing coordinator for the Department of Psychology, received the Lincoln Lewis Staff Recognition Award. Davis, a more than 20-year veteran of the University, is a member of the University Staff Senate, the Black Faculty and Staff Employee Resource Group and the Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services Committee, and “plays a key role in supporting and enhancing the Department of Psychology Graduate Diversity Committee in graduate student recruiting efforts,” according to the award citation.

The award is named for the late Lincoln Lewis, the University’s first Equal Opportunity-Affirmative Action Officer, who initiated the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration program linking the University and local communities.

Sandy Hook Group Honors Dewey Cornell

Dewey Cornell – a leading national expert in school violence, Bunker Professor of Education in the Curry School of Education and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project – joined two U.S. senators as the first honorees of Sandy Hook Promise, a national non-profit dedicated to protecting children from gun violence through programs in mental health and wellness and gun safety.

At a June 23 gala in Washington, D.C., the group, founded and led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, cited Cornell for his creation of a threat assessment program that has been implemented in more than 1,000 Virginia schools and used to train professionals in more than 3,000 schools across the U.S.

The other honorees were U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

“We call these three exemplary leaders our ‘Promise Champions’ as they have been instrumental in advancing innovative solutions to prevent gun violence,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise. “Whether in the areas of mental health and wellness or gun safety, they champion the cause Sandy Hook Promise works to advance every day: protecting children from gun violence.”

Nephrologist Earns National Fellowship

Heather M. Perry, a postdoctoral researcher in the Division of Nephrology, has received a national fellowship for her work.

The American Society of Nephrology – the world’s largest organization of kidney health professionals – and the ASN Foundation for Kidney Research named Perry as the 2015 Sharon Anderson Research Fellow for her research, “Endothelial Sphingosine-1-phosphate Receptor-1 is Necessary for Recovery from Ischemia Reperfusion Injury and Prevents Fibrosis.”

The award provides $50,000 in each of the next two years to support Perry’s research. It is named for Dr. Sharon Anderson, the American Society of Nephrology’s first female president and the current chair of the Department of Medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.

Alum Returns to Grounds, Builds Ties Between Darden and Engineering Schools

Thu, 2015-07-02 14:15
Michelle Koidin Jaffee

After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2009 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Edward McDonnell worked for five years at Honda and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Now he has returned as an M.B.A. student, and he’s applying his real-world knowledge to forge connections between students at U.Va.’s Darden School of Business and its School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“They can learn from each other,” McDonnell said. “I really just want to get people together.”

By combining different students’ skills and knowledge in business and technology, they can form interdisciplinary teams and work to start new companies, he said.

McDonnell, 27, of Richmond, returned to U.Va. last fall after working for two years as a body structure design engineer for light trucks at a Honda facility in Ohio, and then for three years as a mechanical design engineer for solid-fueled rocket propulsion systems at Aerojet Rocketdyne in Gainesville.

Over time, he developed an interest in business management and entrepreneurship, and he decided to pursue his M.B.A. Once back at U.Va., he quickly realized there was untapped potential to bring together business and engineering students.

He networked at last fall’s Medical Hackathon, a three-day contest organized by the biomedical engineering student group Health UnBound in which entrepreneurs and health care business professionals served as judges and led workshops.

“It was great to meet all those people and see the potential,” said McDonnell, who helped mentor a team. “Those sorts of events are great for Darden students.”

As vice president of events for Darden’s Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital club, McDonnell helped involve Darden students in a fair hosted by the Engineering School’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Board, where engineering students had an opportunity to present their ideas.

His efforts at collaboration are aimed at yielding strong, diverse teams with mutual respect, said Dasha Tyshlek, an engineering science major who last year was picked for the national University Innovation Fellows program and who developed Health UnBound.

“The two groups give each other a lot of context,” she said, noting that Darden students bring long-term perspective while engineering teammates bring technological creativity. “Darden students can think three steps ahead.”

McDonnell, she said, does due diligence on all aspects, going from trying to learn 3-D printing to talking with insurance company executives.

“He feels comfortable with both the technology side and the business side,” she said. “He’s the perfect person for creating these sorts of collaborations because he feels comfortable learning from everybody about everything.”

David Chen, director of the U.Va.-Coulter Translational Research Partnership in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and a Darden graduate himself, lauded McDonnell’s efforts.

“Ed has taken a lot of initiative,” Chen said. “He’s on the ground talking to his peers. He has the technical capabilities to speak engineering, but being at the Darden School, he has a lot of business school peers and friends.”

Currently, McDonnell is organizing “Shadow a Nurse Day”; his own recent opportunity to shadow a nurse gave him ideas regarding health care innovation.

This summer, McDonnell is interning at Harpoon Medical Inc., a development-stage medical device company in Maryland.

Working on real products makes a huge difference in the learning experience, he said, citing his participation as an undergrad in Virginia Baja Racing. During that time, he designed and built a mini dune buggy for off-road racing. The Baja team reinforced CAD skills learned in class and allowed McDonnell to develop the creative design skills needed to transform a 10-horsepower lawnmower engine and some steel tubing into a working car.

“It was one of the best learning experiences I had at U.Va.,” McDonnell said.

Such experiences, he said, greatly bolster what students learn in the classroom and are critical in landing jobs.

Plus, he points out, experiential extracurricular activities may one day turn into real-world companies.

Say It With Light: Using LEDs to Move Data Faster

Thu, 2015-07-02 13:08
Matt Kelly

It’s like using fiber optics to communicate – only without the fiber.

Imagine connecting to the Internet through the same room lights that brighten your day. A University of Virginia engineering professor and her former graduate student are already there.

Maite Brandt-Pearce, a professor in the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mohammad Noshad, now a postdoctoral fellow in the Electrical Engineering Department at Harvard University, have devised a way of using light waves from light-emitting diode fixtures to carry signals to wireless devices at 300 megabits per second from each light. It’s like having a whole wi-fi system all to yourself; using light waves, there would be more network access points than with radio waves, so less sharing of the wireless network.

“We developed a modulation algorithm that increases the throughput of data in [visible light communications],” Brandt-Pearce said. “We can transmit more data without using any additional energy. As more light fixtures get replaced with LED lights, you can have different access points to the same network.”

Their breakthrough means that data can be transmitted faster with light waves using no more energy than is already required to run the lights.

Noshad, 29, from Iran, started working with Brandt-Pearce on wireless optical communications in spring 2011 when he joined the electrical engineering department to pursue his Ph.D. He received several prizes for his work and earned his doctoral degree from U.Va. in 2013.

“We came up with the idea together, we wrote the research papers together, and so it makes sense that we wanted the names of both professor and student on the patent,” Brandt-Pearce said. 

Noshad and Brandt-Pearce have filed a patent – along with the University – on their idea and Noshad has created a company, VLNComm, for Visible Light Network Communications, to which Brandt-Pearce is a consultant. The Charlottesville-based firm is developing a prototype for potential investors – a desk lamp that provides an Internet connection through light – and conducting further research.

Jie Lian, another one of Brandt-Pearce’s graduate students who has finished his master’s degree in electrical engineering and is working toward a Ph.D., is focusing his research on multiuser systems, getting several lights to cooperate to send data to many users in a room, making sure the lighting is good and everybody has a good connection.

“We have a patent with the University and we will file more patents on the research being done now,” Noshad said. “We can make different products, such as a large LED panel for shopping centers, airports and conference rooms. And we can build LED bulbs for use in the home.”

He said it would be a matter of simply adding software to computers to connect them with LED transmitters.

“This is not a replacement for wi-fi; it’s an augmentation,” Brandt-Pearce said. “Researchers have called it ‘Li-Fi’. Our modulation can be used in any optical device so this has the potential for widespread use and much better access than present wi-fi based on radio waves.”

The firm, which has been in business since last year, employs about four people and Fraidoon Hovaizi, an early investor, is president of the operation.

VLNComm has drawn attention from venture capitalists and has gotten some funding from a federal Small Business Innovation Research program through the federal Department of Energy. Noshad said the firm has gotten additional funding from the National Science Foundation and he thinks there may be more DOE funding for it in the near future.

“The idea in this technology is to transmit the data using the lighting systems that are already used for the illumination of indoor environments,” Noshad said. “[Visible light communications] offer a compact, dual-use, energy-saving solution and can provide a high-speed secure network connection for a large number of users.”

Part of its value is in its versatility.

“You can use it any place that has lighting,” Brandt-Pearce said. “In a stadium, in a parking lot, or from vehicle to vehicle if using LED headlights and taillights.”

Like current wireless communications, encryption is necessary to keep data secure, but Brandt-Pearce noted that a secure network could be created in a room with no windows.

“It can’t be detected outside the room because the light waves stop when they hit something opaque, such as a wall,” she said. “That can keep communications secure from room to room.”

And two separate networks in different rooms would not interfere with each other the way they do with present wi-fi networks.

She said devices with LED circuits in them can also communicate with each other.

“Your alarm clock can communicate with your coffee maker that it is time to start making the coffee,” she said. “Anything with an LED can talk to anything else with an LED. You don’t need a separate transmitter because you are not using radio waves.”

And because it does not use radio waves, this system can be used in places where radio waves could create problems, such as in hospitals, in manufacturing facilities and in airplane cabins.

“[Visible light communications] has the potential to significantly increase the speed of Internet connection in multiuser indoor environments due to the broad bandwidth of the visible light,” Noshad said. “It will offer a huge energy saving for the nation since energy is already used for lighting, and thus does not need to be expended for communications.”

Noshad said that some experts have forecast the LED communications market at $6 billion by 2020.

“There are people working on it in Asia and Europe,” he said. “I believe this is going to be a big market.”

Brandt-Pearce, who has taught at U.Va.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science for 22 years, said the visible light communications project is one of about four or five on which she is working simultaneously. Others include determining how much data can be pushed through an optical fiber and how to design long-haul fiber-optic networks so the data quality stays high while the data throughput is increased.

“I like that each day is different and that there are different projects to work on,” she said. “I love my job because I am having fun doing it, and still making a difference in people’s lives.”

$1.35 Million Grant Funds Bid to Better Predict Deadly Avian Flu Outbreaks

Wed, 2015-07-01 16:18
Josh Barney

An international research team led by Lukas Tamm of the University of Virginia School of Medicine will receive $1.35 million from the Human Frontier Science Program Organization to better understand how the influenza virus passes from birds to humans. This could lead to the creation of a new tool to predict the risk of outbreaks of potentially deadly avian flu.

The researchers will look at changes to the flu virus’ envelope – the shell that lets it bind to and infect cells – as the virus adapts to different hosts. By better understanding this, scientists will be better able to determine the risk that a new virus could infect humans and potentially cause a pandemic.

“Previous research has mostly focused on changes in cell attachment and genome replication that are different between avian and human flu viruses, but our working hypothesis is that bird flu is subject to vastly different temperature and environment cycles upon transmission through the fecal-oral route than human flu, which is transmitted through aerosols and lung tissue,” said Tamm, of U.Va.’s Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics. “Our international team of investigators will test the temperature hypothesis of host adaptation by looking at viral envelope remodeling as bird flu strains adapt to human transmission conditions.”

In bird flu’s current form, humans can contract it only through direct contact with birds. In the wake of increasing human infections, however, some scientists fear that a virus could mutate and become transmissible from person to person, possibly resulting in a pandemic akin to the Spanish flu that killed more than 50 million people in the early 20th century.

To better understand how the virus adapts to new hosts, Tamm will bring his expertise in membranes to a team that includes structural biologist Kay Grünewald of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; virologist Michael Veit of Freie Universität Berlin in Germany; and biochemist Markus Wenk of the National University of Singapore.

Tamm’s team will receive $450,000 each year for three years. It earned one of only 21 awards made from more than 900 applications. In evaluating Tamm’s grant application, one reviewer commented, “The comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach here … is innovative and highly professional.”

The grant program aims to support cutting-edge research by fostering collaboration and enabling teams to bring together expertise from around the world. This year’s awards went to labs in 24 different countries. (Full list of awards.)

After three years, the researchers will report their findings to an annual meeting of the Human Frontier Science Program Organization, in addition to publishing their findings in scientific journals.

U.Va. Updates Policy on Sexual Assault, Harassment, Other Interpersonal Violence

Wed, 2015-07-01 16:10

The University of Virginia has updated its Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence.

The updated policy reflects input and recommendations from internal and external reviews, including recommendations from the President’s Ad Hoc Group on University Climate and Culture. The updated policy also incorporates recent Virginia legislation, which is effective today, July 1. 

The revisions update an interim policy announced in late March that reflected best practices and current legal requirements including Title IX, the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Act; improvements to procedures and practices based on the University’s experience with a prior policy; trauma-informed approaches and training; and fair and impartial proceedings based upon due process of law.

The first draft of the policy was posted for public comment late last year, and the University received nearly 600 comments from the community.

Due to the evolving nature of state and federal legislation regarding these issues, the revisions proactively include a call for a review of the policy on an annual basis.

“As we approach the beginning of the fall semester and the return of our full student population to Grounds, I encourage all members of our community to review this updated policy carefully,” U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “More than mere compliance, however, this policy embodies our institutional commitment to provide a safe and non-discriminatory environment for all members of our community.”

Sullivan also said the implementation of training modules and associated requirements for completion by both students and employees is underway and will soon be announced to the University community.

An Earthquake History: Finding Faults in Virginia

Wed, 2015-07-01 15:41
Katie McNally

The 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the commonwealth in 2011 was a wake-up call for many Virginians. Originating deep under Louisa County, the quake was felt as far north as Canada and caused significant structural damage around the state.

Today, earthquakes pose an even greater risk to the commonwealth as the population density and development continue to increase.

In the latest edition of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Virginia News Letter, geologists Wendy Kelly and Anne Witt explain how the state is preparing for the next quake.

“Prior to 2011, we didn’t have a comprehensive database to identify the faults where earthquakes originated,” Witt said.

The authors work with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy’s Division of Geology and Mineral Resources, , which is currently evaluating the state’s seismic history and compiling a geodatabase of geologic faults within its borders.

“It’s going to be the first all-inclusive detailed database of fault lines in Virginia,” Witt said. “We have a basic map, but those are very generalized faults for the entire state. This will be taking all the data we have, historical and modern, and compiling it all.”

Many of Virginia’s faults are still considered “blind,” hidden underground without surface evidence to indicate their location, so turning to historical earthquake data is one of the few ways geologists can map their location.

“We still don’t know very much about earthquakes in the eastern U.S.. We have a lot more to learn about these seismic zones and why they even exist,” Kelly said. “Identifying faults is easier in the West because the landscape is younger and the faults can be more apparent.”

By combing through historic data in written records and geologic indicators of prehistoric earthquakes, scientists have been able to identify three major “seismic zones” where many earthquakes appear to originate in Virginia.

The Central Virginia Seismic Zone stretches from Richmond to Charlottesville and encompasses much of the Piedmont. Other smaller hot spots can be found in the New River Valley within the Giles County Seismic Zone, and along the southwestern border in the Eastern Tennessee Seismic Zone.

Making better maps of these areas is not only important to Virginia, but also for the United States as a whole. Geologists across the country can use the data to better understand why earthquakes like the one in 2011 are felt so far afield.

“It seems that these eastern-originating earthquakes tend to ring the entire East Coast like a bell,” Witt said.

In the case of the 2011 earthquake, scientists knew it originated in the Central Virginia Seismic Zone, but it didn’t line up with any previously mapped faults.

“In 2011, we thought we had pretty good mapping of where two major faults ran through the Central Virginia zone, and that earthquake actually occurred between them,” Virginia State Geologist David Spear said.

In order to better understand these seismic zones and their related hazards, the Division of Geology and Mineral Resources is participating in a project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Together they will assess the commonwealth’s seismic risks by overlaying their geodatabase of faults with population and infrastructure maps.

Using that risk assessment data, the Division of Geology and Mineral Resources is working with the 12 Virginia planning district commissions that fall inside the seismic zones to create strategies for mitigating loss.

Anthropogenic seismicity, or quakes that are induced by human activity, is becoming more of a concern in the eastern U.S. A few instances of induced seismicity related to coal mining have been recorded in Southwestern Virginia, but other industrial activities such as deep well injection and reservoir construction have triggered seismic events elsewhere in the country and world.

Although severe earthquakes are relatively infrequent in Virginia, seismic-related risks will increase as the population and infrastructure expand. Historic seismic data and real-time monitoring will be crucial tools for the state’s emergency readiness.

“It’s really important to stress that this is a work in progress, because so many faults are yet to be discovered,” Kelly said. “With time we hope to identify more faults and have better data to provide to state and local planners.”