Virginia Tech and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Nov. 4, 2009, to formally recognize a series of new collaborations under discussion between the two organizations.

Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger is the signing authority for Virginia Tech, while Patrick Gallagher, director of NIST, is the signing authority for NIST.

“We are thrilled to enter into this stronger partnership with NIST and to be able to leverage the strengths of our top faculty toward this collaboration. Having a national laboratory presence on the Virginia Tech campus, and having the ability to exchange researchers between Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus and NIST’s facilities in Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Co., will offer new opportunities for research and education that will continue to strengthen the stature of Virginia Tech as a whole,” said Steger.

”NIST is excited to be opening this new chapter with Virginia Tech. Government-university research collaborations tend to be highly productive and we’re gratified to be helping train the next generation of U.S. scientists and engineers in the process,” said Gallagher.

Thomas A. Campbell, associate director for special projects and research associate professor for Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, initiated the idea of a broader MOU signing and helped facilitate the negotiations with NIST. “Obtaining this signed MOU is a great example of how far Virginia Tech can go in its engagement of the nation’s best researchers from national laboratories. The collaborations that will ensue from this agreement will raise Virginia Tech’s and NIST’s research stature, as well as our students’ educational opportunities,” said Campbell.

Campbell also noted that “increasing the cooperative and collaborative links between Virginia Tech and NIST will enhance the scientific, technical, and engineering competence and breadth of the two institutions, and enable their faculty and staff to work together to develop stronger programs of mutual interest and benefit. This enhanced capability will permit both Virginia Tech and NIST to accomplish goals together that they could not achieve separately.”

The MOU covers nanotechnology; environmental, health and safety aspects of nanomaterials; biotechnology; renewable materials; sustainable water technologies, and energy. These areas were chosen to highlight the complementary expertise between Virginia Tech and NIST researchers.

The initial focus under the MOU will be sustainable water technologies. Water research was specifically chosen because it is a core strength for Virginia Tech. “We have some 100-plus faculty researchers from five colleges and 15 departments at Virginia Tech who are engaged in cutting-edge research aimed at providing safe and reliable water infrastructure, protecting water sheds and effective waste water treatment; these faculty, including a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a MacArthur Fellow, are well-poised to collaborate with NIST in their efforts toward advancing the state-of-the-art in water infrastructure, standards and measurement systems,” said Roop Mahajan, director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech.

Mahajan will be Virginia Tech’s technical point of contact for the research stemming from this MOU signing.

In particular, this MOU will provide a focus and framework for budding efforts in water-related measurements within NIST’s Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory (MSEL), Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory (CSTL), Physics Laboratory (PL), and other laboratories. It will formalize cooperation with the institute, which recently established a water research group to provide sustainable technology solutions, from “shed to shower” under one umbrella.

It is expected that the MOU will foster scientific and organizational collaboration along the following themes:

  • Monitoring of water infrastructure — Leveraging Virginia Tech’s expertise in water infrastructure tracking and management and NIST expertise in pipeline safety, the institutions will work together to build measurement technologies to monitor the health of the nation’s water pipelines, including sensors to prioritize the repair and remediation of this national resource.
  • Water remediation — A Virginia Tech-NIST collaboration on water measurements will support the development of standards needed at local, regional, and national levels to ensure consistent assessment and meaningful data for water analysis, in particular of emerging trace contaminants. Furthermore, the institutions will work together to advance technologies, including advanced membranes, for water treatment. Initital targets for interaction will be a series of Virginia Tech-NIST workshops in these areas.

“Through a partnership with a well-known leader in water research such as Virginia Tech, NIST will be able to better identify and address national measurement needs in sustainable water management and remediation,” said Michael J. Fasolka, acting deputy director of MSEL at NIST. Fasolka will be NIST’s technical point of contact for research emanating from the MOU.

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