Science & Research

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission


Press Releases


SBIR Road Tour: Morgantown, July 19

News about science and research, Press Releases

SBIR road tourThe Small Business Innovation Research program and its sister, Small Business Technology Transfer, together provide $2.5 billion annually in federal funding for research by small companies. West Virginia innovators can engage SBIR/STTR leaders face-to-face when the 2016 national SBIR Road Tour visits.



Who should attend?

  • Entrepreneurial university researchers
  • Small firms in the early stages of R&D of new products or services
  • Previous SBIR/STTR award winners interested in new funding opportunities

If you or your company could use early-stage, non-dilutive research funding, this rare gathering of state and federal representatives – including SBIR program managers from several agencies – is an event you don’t want to miss.

SBIR Flyer–July 19 Road Tour in Morgantown

SBIR FAQs June 2016



Over 100 West Virginia students to participate in second annual Science Olympiad, Feb. 20

for kids, News about science and research, Press Releases

For the second year, Marshall University’s College of Science is bringing the Science Olympiad to West Virginia.

The Science Olympiad, which organizers say is the “nation’s most exciting K-12 science competition,” will take place in West Virginia, Saturday, Feb. 20, on Marshall University’s Huntington campus. Winners of the West Virginia competition will travel to the University of Wisconsin-Stout for the national tournament in May.

Dr. Jennifer Mosher, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Melissa Fox, co-director, have served as coordinators of the West Virginia event. Mosher said 11 teams, grades 6 through 12, have signed up for this year’s event.

ScienceOlympiad1“We are expecting over 100 bright middle and high school students on campus who are excited about STEM and competing in the events which cover life sciences, chemistry, geology, engineering, astronomy and physics,” Mosher said. “We have doubled our team numbers this year with over eight different schools from across West Virginia participating in the 2016 Science Olympiad at Marshall.”

Last academic year, approximately 7,300 teams competed in the competition nationwide.

“We hope to expand next year and have regional events throughout the state, with Marshall hosting the State Finals,” Mosher said.

ScienceOlympiad2Teams will compete in a series of 23 challenges, with topics including entomology, fossils, crime science, bridge building and experimental design. Mosher said with the exception of the opening ceremony and the awards presentation, the events are not open to the public. However, media personnel will be provided guest passes to cover the event. For a full list of events open to the public, visit

For further information, visit the Science Olympiad website at, contact Mosher by e-mail at or by phone at 304-696-3637, or contact Fox by e-mail To learn more about programs and services in the College of Science, visit


Photos: (Above) Students had fun with the Glider Construction challenge during the 2015 Science Olympiad at Marshall University. (Middle) Teams were given various challenges in the 2015 Science Olympiad at Marshall University. Two students are shown working hard during the Simple Machines challenge. (Below) Clara Poling and Shy Johnson participated in the Geological Mapping challenge during the 2015 Science Olympiad at Marshall University.



WVU astrophysicist part of team that detects last prediction of Einstein’s theory

News about science and research, Press Releases

1455203123Over the past 100 years every prediction that Albert Einstein made in his theory of general relativity has been directly observed, except for one.

Now, on the centennial of the publication of Einstein’s magnum opus, a global team of researchers, including an astrophysicist from West Virginia University, have verified that Einstein’s final prediction is true.

For more information about the gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction, click here.

Gravitational waves exist, and they are going to blow your mind.

Sean McWilliams, assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, is a member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, the research team that detected these invisible ripples in spacetime.

“This is a watershed moment for physics and for science,” said McWilliams. “The direct observation of gravitational waves will fundamentally change our understanding of the universe.”

“This discovery is an example of the exciting research work being conducted by faculty and students at West Virginia University,” said Fred King, vice president of research. “This sort of ground-breaking work in a variety of areas is what has enabled the University to achieve the recent recognition as a Doctoral University – Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education.”

A beautiful mind
Einstein’s theory of general relativity describes the inner workings of gravity, which is the most important force on the scale of stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. Although it is complex and detailed, there is beauty and elegance in the theory’s form.

This theory describes spacetime as a fabric permeating the universe. Einstein posited that spacetime is not a static and rigid stage on which celestial bodies act, but is instead flexible, able to be distorted and warped as large masses move through it.

Picture a trampoline and a bowling ball. If you place the ball in the center of the trampoline it’s mass will cause a dip in the fabric where the ball is placed.

If large, very dense masses move in a particular way, such as pair of black holes or neutron stars spiraling into one another, the disturbances in the gravitational field will travel outward as gravitational waves.

In the analogy, if a pair of bowling balls were set to roll around each other on the trampoline, the fabric of the trampoline would undulate and oscillate, like ripples on a pond, reacting to the movement. The balling balls would lose energy as a result of causing these oscillations, and they would ultimately collide with each other at the center.

Proving a prediction
The sources of these events occur billions of light years away, so their impact on Earth is infinitesimal. In order to detect gravitational waves, scientists need the most high-tech, sensitive measurement tools in the world.

That’s where the LIGO interferometers come in.

The National Science Foundation has funded an observatory in Washington state and in Louisiana. The instruments at each location are identical. They split a single laser into twin beams, and shoot each beam down a pair of perpendicular two-and-a-half-mile long vacuum tubes, turning them into giant L-shaped listening devices.

The beams bounce back and forth off a series of mirrors, and ultimately return to the location where they were originally split. Since the laser is just a wave of light, he instrument can measure the behavior of beams relative to one another by letting them interfere with each other; in this way, LIGOscientists are able to detect even the smallest change in the relative distance traveled, down to smaller than one-ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton.

This means that if a gravitational wave passing by causes even the slightest change in the distance of the arms, the instrument will be able to detect it.

LIGO physicists determined that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed, making this not only the first discovery of gravitational waves, but also the first discovery of a binary black hole system.

They estimate that the black holes were about 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun, and the event took place 1.3 billion years ago.

Based on observations they also determined that three times the mass of the sun was converted into gravitational waves in a fraction of a second – with a peak power output about 50 times that of the whole visible universe.

According to general relativity, a pair of black holes orbiting around each other lose energy through the emission of gravitational waves, causing them to gradually approach each other over billions of years, and then much more quickly in the final minutes.

During the final fraction of a second, the two black holes collide with each other at nearly one-half the speed of light and form a single more massive black hole, converting a portion of the combined black holes’ mass to energy, according to Einstein’s famous formula E=mc2. This energy is emitted as a final strong burst of gravitational waves, which LIGO scientists were able to observe.

The galaxy in code
It’s not every day that you can say you’ve played a role in the biggest scientific discovery of modern times.

A native of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, McWilliams is a self-described coder. His work with LIGO has focused on simulating and modeling the gravitational-wave emission in order to detect the incoming signals and infer details about their source. He has been a member of theLIGO Scientific Collaboration, or LSC, since 2005. He is WVU’s institutional principal investigator for the LSC and is a member of the LSC Council.

He was part of a team of collaborators who performed some of the earliest supercomputer simulations of merging black holes. Since then, he has worked extensively on simulating and developing models for these signals, which LIGO scientists expect to detect from across the universe.

McWilliams has most recently collaborated with Zachariah Etienne, assistant professor of mathematics at WVU, and WVU mathematics graduate student Caleb Devine to improve and optimize the most state-of-the-art models for the signal from a pair of spinning black holes, so that the model could be used to better characterize the parameters of the Event.

In addition to making contributions to the writing and editing of the main detection paper and several of the companion papers, McWilliams was also one of a small group of experts who monitored incoming LIGO data in round-the-clock shifts during the first observing run, deciding when “triggers,” or relatively loud phenomena in the instrument, were actually cosmic events and should therefore be investigated further with regular telescopes.

In addition to McWilliams, WVU has three active members of the LSC: Etienne, Devine and physics graduate student Belinda Cheeseboro.

We go to the moon
McWilliams concedes that the detection of gravitational waves won’t make your morning commute go faster or get you a bigger tax return, but he says the discovery will open up an entirely new channel of information about the universe, revealing information that was previously unknown.

He likens the detection of gravitational waves to sound.

“Everything we know about the universe up until now has been visual,” says McWilliams. “Now we can not only see what is going on, but we can ‘hear’ it, too. We’ll discover things that we didn’t know existed and things that we thought we understood will be revealed in different ways.”

Currently, everything we know about the universe is what we have seen through telescopes and particles of light. But unlike light, gravitational waves can pass through the universe unobstructed, so they carry information that we cannot obtain otherwise.

That allows scientists to observe areas of the universe that we have never been able to before, like black holes. Up to this point, scientists had only been able to detect the black holes indirectly.

The binary system of two black holes detected by LIGO is at the end of life, giving a sketch in time of the final fractions of a second of this binary system as it became a single black hole.

McWilliams also says that the technology necessary to detect gravitational waves – from supercomputing to precise measurements of time – could eventually advance tools in our daily lives, such as computers and cell phones.

He continues to say that the detection of gravitational waves will provide more information about the evolution of galaxies and black holes over cosmic history.

For example, in the 1970s, scientists discovered a binary neutron star system that will merge and form a black hole in 300 million years. The binary system of two black holes detected by LIGO is at the end of life, giving scientists a snapshot of the final fractions of a second for such dense binary systems as they become a single black hole.

Beyond the exciting phenomena that scientists expect to observe in the coming years with LIGO and with other gravitational wave detectors, McWilliams emphasized that the possibilities for new and unexpected discoveries is almost without limit.

“This discovery is akin to Galileo first looking through his telescope and seeing the moons of Jupiter. We are “hearing” the Universe now for the first time, and given how much we have learned by seeing the Universe since Galileo’s time, it’s a genuine thrill to imagine how much we will now be able to learn by listening to gravitational waves.”

A space for discovery
In addition to his work with LIGO, McWilliams is a member of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves, or NANOGrav, along with WVU professors Duncan Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin.

The NSF awarded NANOGrav $14.5 million to create a Physics Frontiers Center aimed at using radio timing observations of pulsars with the Green Bank Telescope and Arecibo Observatory to search for the existence of low-frequency gravitational waves by using millisecond pulsars, nature’s most precise celestial clocks.

Last summer WVU launched the Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology, bringing together researchers from departments across the University and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank.

McWilliams says that since coming to WVU in 2013 he has been able to make significant advances in his research because of the ability to collaborate with colleagues in his department and across disciplines. In addition, McWilliams says that access the University’s supercomputing facility has been indispensable to his work.

“Roughly 10 years ago WVU developed a new research area in astrophysics. Now that original investment has resulted in one of six NSFPhysics Frontiers Centers, a major new NSF EPSCoR grant, collaboration between colleges and departments, and with this result from LIGO, major visibility on the international stage for WVU faculty. Careful investment and support by the University created the foundation for all this activity,” saidEarl Scime, chair of physics and astronomy. “It is an exciting time to be atWVU.”




Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction

News about science and research, Press Releases

phpKxMETyhow-ligo-caught-a-waveWASHINGTON D.C./MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.

The gravitational waves were detected on Sept. 14, 2015 at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (09:51 UTC) by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, USA. The LIGO Observatories are funded by the National Science Foundation, and were conceived, built, and are operated by Caltech and MIT. The discovery, accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (which includes the GEO Collaboration and the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy) and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.

WVU scientists make key contributions
West Virginia University astrophysicist Sean McWilliams is a member of the research team that detected the gravitational waves. His work focused on simulating and modeling the gravitational-wave emission in order to detect the incoming signals and infer details about their source.

This result opens an entirely new window of observation of the universe, and WVU scientists will be at the forefront.”

-Earl Scime
Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy

For more information about WVU astrophysicist Sean McWilliams and his research, click here.

“This is the culmination of literally hundreds of scientists’ work to build such an incredibly sensitive detector and to predict the details of potential signals with what has turned out to be remarkable accuracy,” McWilliams said.

To read more of the article go here.



Malaria parasite found hiding out in North American deer

Press Releases

By Marianne LavelleFeb. 5, 2016 , 2:00 PM

North America’s most popular game species, the white-tailed deer, harbors a secret: low levels of a malaria parasite that have only now been detected thanks to advanced DNA technology. Though this particular species of parasite poses little risk to humans, researchers say the find could reshape our understanding of malaria’s origins.

There are more than 100 species of malaria parasites, distributed on every continent except Antarctica. Those that infect birds and lizards are widely distributed, even on seemingly isolated ocean islands, and certainly in the Americas. Yet scientists believed that the microorganisms that infect mammals originated in the Old World, mainly Africa and Asia.

The new findings were discovered by chance. Researchers led by Ellen Martinsen, a biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s genetics center in Washington, D.C., were searching for the source of malaria parasites in birds at the national zoo. Using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, which amplifies DNA to make it easier to study, they identified a genetic signature of an unexpected malaria parasite, Plasmodium odocoilei, previously unknown in the Americas. The researchers were able to obtain a large enough sample of blood from the mosquito’s enlarged abdomen to trace its origin to white-tailed deer. “We weren’t out there, testing a hypothesis,” Martinsen says. “We serendipitously stumbled upon this weird sequence.”

To find out how common the infections are, the researchers screened more than 300 white-tailed deer with PCR. They found 41 animals harbored the parasite, from 10 of the 17 states surveyed. No infected deer were identified in the west, but in the east, malaria parasites were widespread. Twenty-five percent of the animals tested at sites in Virginia and West Virginia carried them, the team reports today in Science Advances.

Go here for more information.



Marshall receives $170K NSA grant

Press Releases

web1_COS-NSA-Grant-FacultyHUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A group of faculty within Marshall University’s Department of Mathematics has been awarded a $170,000 grant from the National Security Agency.

The grant will be used to fund undergraduate research and develop a scientific workforce in Appalachia, according to Dr. Elizabeth Niese, principal investigator for the project.

“One of the things in math research that is distinctive is learning how to ask questions and work toward answers we don’t already know,” Niese said. “Our research will focus on combinatorics and algebra. These fields have applications in computer science and physics.”

Niese, an assistant professor of mathematics, said nine students from across Appalachia will be invited to attend sessions each summer for the next two years. Colleagues Dr. Carl Mummert and Dr. Michael Schroeder will assist in the supervision of the students’ research experiences throughout the project.

“We need more people focused on science and mathematics. We are focusing on students from the general Appalachian region to develop that workforce here in West Virginia,” Mummert, co-principal investigator for the grant, said. “We need students from other institutions to work toward these same goals of fostering a stronger mathematics culture in the whole state.”

Marshall’s Department of Mathematics has been increasing research activities for the past decade and this grant is a reflection of this work and development, according to Schroeder, another assistant professor in the department.

“When crafting this grant proposal, we knew it would benefit our students and help to advance our department’s research efforts,” Schroeder said. “When students graduate, many are applying for the same job in a competitive job market. It’s been shown that students who have undergraduate research experiences have a much greater chance of getting a job, so what we are doing here is twofold: we want to engage students in mathematics and we want to make sure our students are marketable and will get jobs once they graduate.”

The Department of Mathematics, which is housed in the university’s College of Science, also recently received a three-year career development grant for applied mathematics. To learn more about the department’s upcoming research projects, visit For more information on the programs and services offered by the college, visit



WVU assistant professor receives National Science Foundation Career Award

News about science and research, Press Releases

1433524357_smAn assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies is West Virginia University’s most recent recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Career Award.

Melissa Luna is the first faculty member from the College of Education and Human Services to receive this honor, which is given to outstanding junior faculty members whose proposed research will contribute to NSF’s mission to broaden STEM participation in underserved areas of the country. The accompanying grant, totaling nearly $800,000 over five years, will be used to further Luna’s research regarding elementary science education.

Luna plans to work closely with six elementary schools in West Virginia, where she will investigate fifth-grade teachers’ knowledge of noticing students’ thinking. According to Luna, teachers are key in supporting children’s thinking and understanding—in science classrooms when teachers listen and respond to the things children say and do, children are better able to make sense of phenomena in the world.

“I care deeply about what happens in elementary classrooms in terms of science teaching and learning,” Luna said. “Children are thinkers. They have ideas about the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ in the world. When kids observe and investigate their world, their ideas and thinking become evident, but also their thinking evolves.”

Luna said that while educators agree that teachers’ attention and responsiveness to their students’ thinking is important, what teachers notice and what knowledge they draw on when doing so is little understood.

To fill that knowledge gap, Luna will use wearable technology to capture teacher noticing in action. By attaching a small video camera to the bill of a hat, Luna will help participating teachers record a constant audiovisual stream of their science teaching practices—while they plan and teach lessons, and while they assess their students’ work. She will also ask teachers to hold a small remote and press the button whenever they notice students’ ideas and thinking. This will create a digital marker on the video footage, thus providing data of teachers’ in-the-moment noticing of their students’ thinking.

Luna will then model the specialized teacher knowledge involved, and design teacher learning materials informed by the model. These outcomes will serve as a foundation for Luna’s larger research agenda in which she plans to test and refine the model and instructional materials in other contexts in order to contribute to a practice-based theory of teachers’ knowledge of noticing students’ thinking in science that can inform and impact science teaching practice in West Virginia and beyond.

This research, set to begin in July 2016, could not come at a more appropriate time. According to Luna, the state of West Virginia will implement new science standards for the 2016-2017 school year. With these new standards in place, Luna believes the emphasis in science education will shift away from science simply as a body of knowledge to learn to a more active approach: engaging in authentic practices of science and engineering to make sense of how the physical/natural world works.

“Professor Luna is an outstanding educator and scholar,” said Gypsy Denzine, dean of the College of Education and Human Services. Denzine added that Luna’s research project “engages West Virginia science teachers in a five-year collaborative project that will have a positive impact on student learning. Her work is highly innovative and lies as the very core of West Virginia University’s land-grant mission. Professor Luna’s expertise is a tremendous asset to our College of Education and Human Services as we prepare outstanding science teachers for West Virginia schools.”

Luna earned a B.S. in Elementary Education from Valparaiso University before becoming a fourth grade teacher. She became increasingly curious about how teachers think about science teaching and learning and about how to support teachers in learning to teach science more effectively. Addressing this led Luna to earning an M.S. in Environmental Education from Lesley University and a Ph.D. in the Learning Sciences from Northwestern University.



WVABLE Program

News about science and research, Opportunities in Innovation, Outreach, Press Releases

The FastTrac TechVenture program is ideal for aspiring entrepreneurs in the early stages of developing a technology- or science-based business. FastTrac TechVenture teaches entrepreneurs how to identify and meet market needs; access human, business, and financial resources; and navigate intellectual property protection, fundraising and legal processes. The course also facilitates networking between entrepreneurs and professionals. This is sponsored by the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in Charleston. The course costs $400 but some scholarships are available.  The course is from 8 am to noon each Saturday from August 1-September 19. A poster with details is available here: WVABLE Program




First statewide travel fund to help female faculty ease academic travel burdens

grant opportunities, News about science and research, Press Releases


Raising a family and pursuing a career can often be a difficult balance to strike. A new statewide travel fund for female faculty and post-doctoral scholars in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math, social sciences and women’s studies will soon help ease the burdens associated with child and eldercare costs.

The first statewide program in the nation, the travel fund will provide female faculty and post-doctoral scholars at all public and private institutions of higher learning in West Virginia, including 2-year colleges, the opportunity to apply for funding. Applications for Summer 2015 began in April. The application deadline is July 15, 2015. Eligibility details are available at the following link:

The fund is made possible by a 2-year grant from the Elsevier Foundation’s New Scholars Program. The Elsevier Foundation provides grants to institutions around the world, with a focus on support for the world’s libraries and for scholars in the early stages of their careers. The funds will be administered by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission’s Division of Science and Research.

“This new program will allow women the opportunity to travel when otherwise they wouldn’t be able to,” said Leslie Tower, principal investigator of the award and professor in the West Virginia University School of Social Work. “Traveling is critical to their career.”

Amy Keesee, Co-PI and Research Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy said, “Traveling is key to making further connections that benefit the faculty and the university.”

Maura McLaughlin, also Co-PI and Professor of Physics and Astronomy said, “Not only does it showcase the work being conducted, but it also allows for members to make connections that may, down the line, resurface as research opportunities.”

Organizers say that such an investment in STEM fields is pivotal for the state’s future.

“Increasing the numbers of college graduates, particularly in STEM fields, is essential to support the state as it transitions from an industry-driven to knowledge-driven economy,” Tower said. “To accomplish this goal, West Virginia must make significant investments in its faculty, particularly female faculty.”

By providing these funds, female faculty members may find it easier and less restricting to take advantage of opportunities that will advance their career.

“The progression of the ‘ideal’ academic career runs parallel to social norms around the timing of marriage and parenting,” said Melissa Latimer, director of WVU ADVANCE. “Innovative programs like the one designed by WVU faculty and fully supported by the Elsevier foundation have the potential to remove barriers to work-related travel and thus may help eliminate some of the subtle and insidious penalties faculty who provide direct care for others accumulate throughout their careers.”

The next application deadline is July 15, 2015. For a more detailed program overview, visit:







Design the mission patch for West Virginia's first CubeSat in space

News about science and research, Opportunities in Innovation, Press Releases

concept3-970x454-2-470x220To celebrate the launch of the Simulation-To-Flight-1 (STF-1) Mission,  students and individuals in the community have been challenged to design the Mission Patch. The Simulation-To-Flight-1 (STF-1) Mission will be the first time West Virginia has put a CubeSat in Space.

This unique CubeSat will be developed by NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Program and West Virginia University (WVU). STF-1’s primary mission objective will be to prove that using NASA IV&V’s simulation capabilities, you can save time, effort, and money in CubeSat development. The CubeSat will have 3 science objectives all developed by WVU.

The WVU Mechanical and Aerospace Department will have Global Positioning System (GPS) and Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) experiments on board. The WVU Department of Physics and Astronomy will be focusing on magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling and space weather. The WVU Lane Department of Computer Science & Electrical Engineering be researching the performance and durability of III-V nitride-based materials.

For more information, visit the STF-1 website at