Science & Research

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

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16th
August

Ecosystem greenhouse gases under rising temperatures to be studied by WVU researcher

Press Releases

PNGE Research Lab

An award from the National Science Foundation will allow a researcher from West Virginia University to better predict greenhouse gases and carbon storage under rising temperatures and changing environments.

Omar Abdul-Aziz, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will use publicly available data sets from around the world to identify the ecological similarities and emergent scaling laws of carbon, water and energy exchanges between the land and atmosphere. The three-year award is expected to total nearly $300,000.

Ecosystem greenhouse gas and energy fluxes have traditionally been predicted by using complex process models that are often highly uncertain and not transferrable to a different time or place. The proposed research will unravel their general patterns, which would help formulate accurate models that can robustly predict the GHG and energy fluxes at various times and places.

“By employing data analytics and empirical modeling to these data sets we will identify distinct environmental regimes of the ecosystem fluxes,” Abdul-Aziz said. “The regimes and scale-invariant patterns will be leveraged to develop simple models that can robustly predict the ecosystem fluxes at different time and place.

“This research,” Abdul-Aziz continued, “will promote environmental sustainability by contributing new understanding, broad knowledge and prediction tools for ecosystem fluxes. It will significantly advance ecological-water resources engineering beyond the conventional paradigm of streams, rivers and wetlands to expand on the engineering and management of land carbon, water and energy dynamics.”

Abdul-Aziz, who runs WVU’s Ecological-Water Resources Engineering Lab, has done extensive research in the area of human-natural systems and sustainability sciences and engineering. This current award comes on the heels of an NSF CAREER Award for his proposal, “Robust Modeling and Predictions of Stream Water Quality and Ecosystem Health.”

According to Abdul-Aziz, his research findings will be utilized to teach two new interdisciplinary courses at WVU—Ecohydrological Engineering at the undergraduate level and Ecological Engineering at the graduate level.

In addition to engaging graduate and undergraduate students in his research, Abdul-Aziz plans to involve high school students and teachers through a series of outreach activities.

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16th
August

Marshall University students to participate in national Eclipse Ballooning Project

Press Releases

A team of students and faculty from Marshall University representing the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium will launch a high-altitude balloon on Monday, Aug. 21, as part of a nationwide, NASA-sponsored project to live-stream aerial video footage of the “Great American Eclipse.”

The team will launch the roughly 8-foot-tall, helium-filled balloon, which will carry a video camera and other equipment to an altitude of up to 100,000 feet, at approximately 12:20 p.m. CDT (1:20 p.m. EDT) from a remote site in southern Illinois. Live footage from the camera will be available for public viewing on NASA’s website, http:// eclipse.stream.live.

Dr. Jon Saken, associate professor of physics at Marshall, said the location near Cobden, Illinois,  was chosen because it is on the route of the total eclipse. There were other reasons, as well, he said.

“I grew up in Cobden and my parents still live in the same house,” Saken said.  “As luck has it, their house is right on the centerline.  So not only do we have a free place to stay, I also have an extensive support network for everything from last minute repairs and construction to help with recovery.  Perhaps most importantly, I still know all the back roads.  Everywhere along the eclipse path, thousands of people will be gathering.  The roads may become parking lots.  If we have to get to the balloon quickly, the back roads may be our only hope.”

As part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, 55 teams from across the country will live-stream footage of the total solar eclipse, in which the moon will entirely block the sun for approximately two minutes on a path progressing from the Pacific coast in Oregon (1:17 p.m. PDT) to the Atlantic coast in South Carolina (2:47 p.m. EDT).

The NASA-sponsored project, which is led by the Montana Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) at Montana State University, has been years in the making. According to MSGC Director Angela Des Jardins, the project marks the first time that high-altitude video footage of a total solar eclipse has been broadcast live.

“We’re excited to provide a unique perspective of this rare phenomenon,” Des Jardins said. “The live-stream video will show the curvature of the planet, the blackness of space, and the whole of the moon’s shadow crossing the Earth during the eclipse.”

In addition to a video camera, the team’s balloon will carry a GPS tracking system, a camera to capture still images of the eclipse, a prototype of an automatic astronomical target acquisition system, and a guest payload from the NASA IV&V Center in Fairmont, West Virginia. Once the eclipse has passed, the balloon will pop and the payloads will parachute to Earth.

The Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University initiated the project in 2014. The project is sponsored by the NASA Science Mission Directorate and NASA’s Space Grant program, a national network that includes over 900 affiliates from universities, colleges, industry, museums, science centers, and state and local agencies belonging to one of 52 consortia in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Following its successful experiences with the Rocksat program, also funded through the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, the Marshall Chapter of MUSpace was chosen by the consortium to participate in this project.

Student members of the team are Jacob Staggs and Derek Staley, who are computer science majors, and Nick Zarilla, a Spring 2017 math and physics graduate. They have been working with Saken.

“This has been a great experience to work with a resourceful team and network of teams on a project of this scale,” Staley said. “The life and work experiences gained from this project have been invaluable, and I will recall these throughout my future endeavors.”

He and Staggs said the obstacles they have faced in preparation have helped build their skills.

“The project has broadened the scope of possibilities for success in this field and given me new knowledge in the amount of mysteries our universe may hold,” Staggs said. “The opportunity to work on a project as ambitious as this project is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Not only do I get to be a part of the first total solar eclipse that goes coast to coast since 1918, I also get the opportunity to gain experience working with a great team at Marshall and the great teams throughout the rest of the country that are participating. I am thankful for this opportunity and will carry all the knowledge I have gained from this project into my life.”

This project gave Zarilla an invaluable opportunity – the chance to apply what he’s learned to a real-world scientific project, he said. The guidance he received and skills he acquired “have helped me grow not only academically, but personally,” Zarilla said.

Saken expressed thanks to West Virginia Space Grant Consortium for choosing the Marshall group to be West Virginia’s team on this project. “We are also excited about the opportunity this provides to initiate a scientific ballooning program at Marshall, and hope to extend this to other schools across the state as well as expanding our K-12 outreach programs,” Saken said. “This kind of hands-on research is crucial to exciting students’ interest in science and technology.”

For more information about the national project and press materials, visit http://eclipse.montana.edu.

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11th
August

WVU engineering challenge camps help long time camper discover his passion

Press Releases

While the program has evolved in many ways over the years the one thing that has remained constant has been the attendance of Max Kemp-Rye, the only student to attend all six years of the program.
 
As he heads into his senior year of high school this fall, Kemp-Rye will age out of the engineering camping program but hopes to stay involved with the camps once he is in college. The Morgantown native plans to stay close to home to attend WVU, but surprisingly not to study engineering.
 
“Engineering will always have a special place in my heart but I plan to major in education so I can teach science to high school-age students,” said Kemp-Rye. “I’ve watched the counselors influence myself and other campers for many years and I’d like to have the same opportunity to help young people discover what they want to do when they get older and to show kids the fun behind science.”
 
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11th
August

WVU researcher to study carbon dioxide reduction under nsf collaborative award

Press Releases

One of the biggest factors hampering the growth of renewable energy is storage. Sun and wind are intermittent and dependent on geography, requiring energy storage and transportation. Batteries are a means of addressing the storage problem, but they have a low-energy density, and are relatively expensive and difficult to transport. A researcher at West Virginia University will be investigating one possible alternative that could potentially create a route to “green” hydrocarbons.
 
David Mebane, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will be investigating the conversion of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide and oxygen at high temperatures using a solid oxide electrolysis cell. He will be joined on the project by Stephen Nonnenmann, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
 
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11th
August

Marshall University student researches black holes

Press Releases

Marshall University student Rae Stanley will be borrowing time on one of North America’s most powerful telescopes this year to study black holes in galaxies as far away as 6.8 billion light years.
 
Stanley, a junior majoring in physics from Ona, West Virginia, plans to use the spectrograph of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), which is located in Safford, Arizona, known for its clear night skies. This fall, she’ll be traveling there and collecting data to determine if black holes can create new atoms.
 
The premise of her study is this: According to research, the nuclear process of rapid neutron capture is responsible for more than half of the heavy elements found in the universe. Right now, scientists believe that supernovae are the only things in the universe that can create these heavy elements, but Stanley is looking to test the proposal that they can be created when supermassive black holes take in too much matter and shoot it out in jets of particles, which typically occurs at about 10 percent the speed of light. She’s researching whether rapid neutron capture is occurring there as well.
 
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11th
August

Children and parents began their week by examining brains, both plastic and real, at the Cabell County Public Library

Press Releases

Marshall University’s Herd Science program came to the library on Aug. 7 to teach kids all about brains – what they do, how they work, and how to care for them.
 
“What we do is go out into the community to promote science education – neuroscience education, specifically – to children and their parents at local libraries,” said Amy Parsons-White, a research technician in the Department of Biology and Herd Science teacher. The program also does school visits once a month during the school year.
 
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28th
July

Marshall to partner with the National White Collar Crime Center for Cyber Investigations Bootcamp

Press Releases

Marshall University’s Digital Forensics program will team up with the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) to offer a Cyber Investigations Bootcamp, intended to train law enforcement officers from this region and beyond the latest techniques on everything from cell phone investigations to vehicle forensics to crime scenes. It will take place from Monday, July 31, to Friday, Aug. 4, in the Weisberg Applied Engineering Complex.

This is a first-time joint training event between Marshall and NW3C, a nationwide nonprofit that supports trainings on the investigation, prevention and prosecution of high-tech crime. Its trainings focus on digital forensics, intelligence analysis, and cyber and financial crime.

“We’re very excited to partner with the NW3C,” said John Sammons, associate professor of Digital Forensics/Information Assurance and chair of Marshall’s Department of Forensic Science. “This type of training is critical for law enforcement in this day and age. The amount and type of electronic evidence in even an ‘average’ case can be staggering. Practitioners need to not only keep pace with a continuously changing technology landscape, but they also need to be able to work smarter and more efficiently to combat the backlog of evidence. Training like this can help on both counts.”

Glen Gainer, president and CEO of NW3C, said his organization is looking forward to partnering with Marshall to offer this training opportunity.

“Technology is constantly evolving, and law enforcement’s investigative strategies and techniques have to keep pace,” Gainer said. “This five-day training event will prepare the participants to meet the ever-expanding challenge of collecting and preserving data generated by the Internet of Things (IoT) and other technological advances.

“Law enforcement must be able to competently identify, seize and preserve evidence from all kinds of digital devices,” Gainer continued. “We are confident that the Cyber Investigations Bootcamp will make the participants more effective, efficient and knowledgeable as they face these challenges.”

Law enforcement officers from Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia will be attending the training.  Marshall University faculty joining Sammons in teaching for this bootcamp experience will be Assistant Professor Josh Brunty and Professor Peggy Brown.  Housed in the university’s College of Science, Marshall’s Department of Forensic Science is among the university’s fastest growing departments. It leads the region in the use of state-of-the-art technology to train students in the most advanced techniques for solving crime and other legal, investigative and security problems.

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28th
July

CAMX 2017 preview: West Virginia University

Press Releases

The NSF Center for Integration of Composites into Infrastructure (CICI) at West Virginia University (WVU, Morgantown, WV, US) is emphasizing its advanced fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites and techniques for rapid repair, upgrading, rehabilitation or replacement of highway, railway, waterway, bridge, building, pipeline and other structures.

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28th
July

WVU faculty awarded Big 12 research grants

Press Releases

Eleven West Virginia University faculty members have been awarded research grants from the Office of the Provost as part of the 2017-2018 Big 12 Faculty Fellowship Program.

The program offers faculty members at institutions in the Big 12 Conference the opportunity to travel to other member institutions to pursue collaborative research in a wide variety of ways. Our university application specifies that award recipients may each use up to $2500 to “work on collaborative research, consult with faculty and students, offer a series of lectures or symposia, acquire new skills, or take advantage of a unique archive or laboratory facility.”

The 2017-2018 class of WVU Big 12 Faculty Fellows includes:

Christiaan Abildso, School of Public Health

Cheryl Ball, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

Eloise Elliott, College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences

Fei Dai, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

Joshua Hall, College of Business and Economics

Matthew Heap, College of Creative Arts

Blake Mertz, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

Ashley Petrone, School of Medicine

Bradley Price, College of Business and Economics

Heather Stephens, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design

David Taddie, College of Creative Arts

“Our faculty’s continued interest in this Fellowship program speaks to the caliber of their scholarship and commitment to collaborative research,” said C.B. Wilson, associate provost for academic personnel. “We are proud to support them as they explore the resources, facilities and opportunities available to scholars in all disciplines through the Big 12 consortium.”

For more information on this program and the application form, please go to http://www.wvufaculty.wvu.edu/opportunities. Any questions can be sent to cbwilson@mail.wvu.edu.

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28th
July

WVU research says technology that connects aging adults in rural areas with health experts improves weight loss

Press Releases

In any rural areas, treating chronic diseases related to diet and weight is challenging because of limited access to food and nutrition experts. A West Virginia University professor has found that using technology to connect those experts with middle-aged and older patients in those areas can improve nutritional health.

Melissa Ventura Marra, assistant professor of human nutrition and foods in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is part of a multistate research team that is evaluating how food security and lifestyle choices such as diet quality and physical activity affect individual health and well-being.

The project includes a broad range of research, from basic science to social science, from 13 universities around the country. A team of scientists from the group will present their findings during a special symposium as part of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics on July 23-27 in San Francisco. The symposium, titled “Successes in older adult nutrition and physical activity studies,” is the result of a USDA-funded multistate research project that began in 1989.

The research project examines three areas: molecular and mechanistic understanding of how nutrients and activity can influence age-related diseases, environmental factors that influence the adoption of health-promoting lifestyle changes, and lifestyle needs assessment and evaluation of lifestyle interventions that lead to measurable outcomes.

Marra is involved in several studies that are part of the overarching project. At the symposium she will present on a pilot project that was conducted in Harrison County, West Virginia, that assessed the use of telenutrition to achieve weight loss and improvements in diet in a group of middle-aged and older men.

Telenutrition uses various technologies to implement nutrition care. It is akin to Skype or Facetime, but its purpose is to deliver nutrition care directly to patients in their homes.

“Telenutrition is a form of telehealth that has the potential to increase access to nutrition care, particularly to people in rural areas where alternatives may be lacking,” Marra said. “If patients do not have access to high-speed internet, they can receive telenutrition services at their local healthcare provider’s office, which increases access to nutrition care in rural areas.”

The goal of her study was to determine whether patients would be interested in participating in a telenutrition program, which included weekly interaction with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, for weight loss and if the program would be more effective than a group who only received diet-related literature.

“The results from the pilot study were encouraging,” Marra said. “Because of the support from the doctors in the community, we had enough interest in the program that we ended up with a waiting list.”

Results of the study also showed that 70% of patients in the intervention group lost at least 5% of their body weight compared to 40% of those in the control group.

“This is important because losing as little as 3% of initial body weight can have clinical significance,” Marra said.

In order to gather more information about the effectiveness of telenutrition, Marra’s goal is to expand the study to conduct a larger, longer-term trial.

“We were happy so many patients lost weight, but helping them maintain the weight loss and new dietary habits is even more important,” she said.

Midlife and older adults represent the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. They also have higher rates of obesity, chronic disease and disability than previous generations and younger adults.

“The health of the aging adults is of particular significance in West Virginia,” Marra said. “That is why I’m so pleased for WVU to join with other universities to find ways to improve the health and wellness of this segment of our population,” said Marra, who serves as chair-elect of the multistate group. “Research has shown that many of the chronic diseases faced by this age group are preventable through diet and physical activity.”

More information about the multistate research project is available at https://www.nimss.org/projects/15898.

The research project was funded in part by the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Health Outcomes and Policy Evaluation Funding Opportunity with funds made available from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

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