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Junior Faculty Awards fund research partnerships across campus

September 7, 2017

Cayelan Carey, center, an assistant professor of biological sciences, is leading a research project on compounds in freshwater ecosystems, one of 10 projects funded in 2017 by a Junior Faculty Award from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

Cayelan carey virginia tech
Cayelan Carey, center, an assistant professor of biological sciences, is leading a research project on compounds in freshwater ecosystems, one of 10 projects funded in 2017 by a Junior Faculty Award from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

Ten faculty members received funding for interdisciplinary research projects as part of the  Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science's Junior Faculty Award program.

The program provides seed funds for innovative research led by pre-tenure faculty, which supports early-stage projects with the potential to evolve into groundbreaking research programs. It also encourages the formation of collaborative teams that can leverage a broad range of perspectives to bring a fresh approach to formidable problems, such as analyzing the cellular changes caused by brain injury and developing advanced computing methods to guide the synthesis of high-performance materials.

Stefan Duma, the Harry Wyatt Professor of Engineering, is the interim director of the institute, which is known on campus as ICTAS.

“The driving force behind everything we do at ICTAS is our mission to advance Virginia Tech by growing externally funded research at the intersection of engineering and science.  One way we do this is through the Junior Faculty Awards,” Duma said. “The awards provide some initial resources for faculty to pursue original ideas and start to cultivate a robust, distinctive research program that will attract the attention of major funding agencies.”  

In the process, the awards program also fosters research partnerships between faculty in different disciplines, as well as between junior and senior faculty members: The program guidelines require that each proposal be led by a junior faculty member, with another faculty member — typically a tenured or senior tenure-track faculty member — as a co-principal investigator.

“Collaborating with faculty in complementary research areas and harnessing that synergy, can catapult a young research program to the next level,” Duma said. “It can be challenging for new faculty members to build those partnerships, so we’ve structured the award to facilitate that process.”

Michelle Theus is an assistant professor of molecular and cellular neurobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She received a Junior Faculty Award (JFA) in 2016 and has used the funding to advance her research on new therapeutic approaches for traumatic brain injury.

“The JFA award helped facilitate a unique transdisciplinary partnership between neuroscience, chemistry, and materials science aimed at developing a novel drug delivery system to the brain after trauma,” Theus said. “Our team’s translational approach to improving outcome in patients with head injury is expected to garner external funding and patent opportunities, which are now possible with ICTAS support.”

These projects were selected for funding in 2017:

  • Rapid elemental fluxes in freshwater ecosystems. Led by Cayelan Carey, an assistant professor of biological sciences, with Madeline Schreiber, a professor of geosciences. 
  • Neurovascular dysfunction after traumatic brain injury. Led by John Chappell, assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, with Pamela VandeVord, the N. Waldo Harrison Professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics.
  • Planning structural cardiac interventions with 3-D printing. Led by Jason Foerst, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, with Chris Williams, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Tim Long, a professor of chemistry.
  • Real-time air quality models. Led by Steve Hankey, an assistant professor of urban affairs and planning, with Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering; Hesham Rakha, the Samuel Reynolds Pritchard Professor of Engineering; and research scientist Peter Sforza.
  • Fog computing for smart additive manufacturing. Led by Dongyoon Lee, an assistant professor of computer science, with Ran Jin, an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering.
  • Adaptive thermal capacity for smart energy management. Led by Farrokh Jazizadeh, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, with Bert Huang, an assistant professor of computer science, and Francine Battaglia, a professor of mechanical engineering.
  • Bio-eng approach to manufacture CAR T-cells. Led by Ken Oestreich, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, with Blake Johnson, an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering.
  • Dissecting radical astrocyte heterogeneity after brain injury. Led by Stefanie Robel, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, with Hehuang Xie, an associate professor at the Biocomplexity Institute.
  • Base cations as drivers of microbial ecology in freshwater. Led by Meredith Steele, an assistant professor of crop and soil environmental sciences, with Brian Badgley, an assistant professor of crop and soil environmental sciences; Bryan Brown, an associate professor of biological sciences; and Leigh-Anne Krometis, an assistant professor of biological systems engineering.  
  • Ultralight hierarchical active morphing metamaterials. Led by Rayne Zheng, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, with Tim Long, a professor of chemistry, and Eric de Sturler, a professor of mathematics.

The Junior Faculty Award provides up to $40,000 in funding each year for two years. Typically, 10 new projects are selected for funding each year. The award announcement will be published in December, with applications due Feb. 1 and winners notified by March 2.

Reflecting the institute’s commitment to furthering the university’s Beyond Boundaries initiative, the program focuses on research aligned with five of the six Destination Areas — the adaptive brain and behavior, data and decision sciences, intelligent infrastructure, integrated security, and global systems science — and the economical and sustainable materials Strategic Growth Area.

More information on the Junior Faculty Awards and other ICTAS funding programs is available here

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