Kraft presents moon rock to his alma mater

The man who directed the U.S. mission to the moon in the 1960s was honored at Virginia Tech in September 2006 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for his leadership of America’s space program. Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., a 1944 aerospace engineering graduate of Virginia Tech, received NASA’s Ambassador of Exploration Award.

Capt. John Young, former NASA astronaut, presented the award to Kraft in front of more than 100 of his prominent fellow College of Engineering alumni. In turn, Kraft presented the award — a small sample of lunar material encased in Lucite and mounted for public display –– to Richard Benson, dean of engineering, for permanent display in the college.

The moon rock awarded to Kraft is part of the 842 pounds of samples brought back to Earth during the six Apollo lunar expeditions from 1969 to 1972.

A native Virginian, Kraft was born in Phoebus in 1924, two years before the launching of the first liquid-fueled rocket by the American physicist Robert Goddard. After graduating in 1944 from Virginia Tech, Kraft joined the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the precursor of NASA.

Kraft became NASA’s first manned space flight director and the chief architect of Mission Control. Referred to simply as “Flight” by the engineers in Mission Control, he directed the Mercury space missions and several Gemini missions. During the Apollo missions that landed men on the moon, Kraft was in charge of the space center’s management and mission planning. In1972 he became director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, leading the Skylab project and development of the Space Shuttle program. Since retiring from NASA in 1982, he has served as a consultant to the aerospace industry and has written a best-selling autobiography, Flight: My Life in Mission Control.

“Dr. Kraft’s extraordinary contributions to NASA are just the measurable part of his legacy,” Benson said. “How many of those inspired teenagers in the 1960’s went on to successful careers in aeronautics, microelectronics, medical devices, computer science, engineering education, and more? We’ll never know the whole of his legacy, but we can safely say that few Americans have ever done so much to advance the engineering and scientific prowess of this great nation.”

Four College of Engineering researchers win NSF CAREER awards

Assistant professors Maura Borrego of engineering education, Dennis Hong of mechanical engineering, and Patrick Schaumont and Yong Xu of electrical and computer engineering each won five-year Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) awards, the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious grants for creative junior faculty considered likely to become academic leaders of the future.

Borrego will use her $525,000 grant to develop methods that will better prepare faculty and graduate students for interdisciplinary research. “Interdisciplinary approaches are necessary for solving our most critical technological and socio-technological research challenges,” Borrego said.

To gain an understanding of the complexities of interdisciplinary research, Borrego will survey 1,000 faculty and 1,250 graduate students, representing more than 20 disciplines at four NSF Integrative Graduate Education Research and Training (IGERT) program sites nationwide. She also will conduct detailed interviews annually with 30 students. During the final two years of the five-year CAREER project, Borrego will present national dissemination workshops at Arizona State University, University of California at San Diego and University of Michigan with the goal of training faculty and future faculty in interdisciplinary research strategies.

Hong is designing a Whole Skin Locomotion (WSL) mechanism to work on much the same principle as the pseudopod — or cytoplasmic “foot” — of the amoeba. With its elongated cylindrical shape and expanding and contracting actuating rings, the WSL can turn itself inside out in a single continuous motion, mimicking the motion of the cytoplasmic tube an amoeba generates for propulsion.

“Our preliminary experiments show that a robot using the WSL mechanism can easily squeeze between obstacles or under a collapsed ceiling,” Hong said. The mechanism, which can use all of its contact surfaces for traction, can even squeeze through holes with diameters much smaller than its normal width.

“This unique mobility makes WSL the ideal locomotion method for search-and-rescue robots that need to travel over or under rubble,” said Hong, who hopes his research will help promote the concept of bio-inspiration in robot design. Hong is the director of Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa), where WSL actuation models will be analyzed and prototypes will be built and tested. Hong and his graduate and undergraduate students in RoMeLa are working on several innovative robot locomotion mechanisms.

Schaumont’s goal is to design computers so that personal and security information can be protected from theft or abuse. “An increasing amount of personal and private information is stored in electronic form on portable computers,” said Schaumont, who directs the Secure Embedded Systems Group at Virginia Tech. “This ranges from the access codes used by the electronic key that unlocks your car to the high-resolution photograph of your signature encoded on your electronic passport.”

Electronic information can be “locked” — or made unreadable — by encryption with a selected key, and it can be restored only by employing decryption with a correct and matching key, Schaumont explained. However, encryption and decryption were introduced during the days of large mainframe computers to protect information during transmission, not during storage.

Schaumont plans to develop a methodology that computer designers can use to create secure embedded system designs. In addition to protecting information in cell phones, RFIDs and other embedded systems, solving the problem of security would protect copyrighted materials, such as songs and movies in portable players, and intellectual properties, such as embedded software.

Xu’s goal is to produce optical images at resolutions as low as one nanometer. “The resolution of most optical microscopes is restricted by the so-called ‘diffraction limit,’ which means we cannot produce optical images with resolutions higher than a few hundred nanometers,” Xu said. “Currently, the most advanced optical microscope can achieve a resolution only as low as 50 nanometers.”

In the field of nanotechnology, researchers are discovering ways to arrange atoms into unique structures on the molecular scale. Xu is attempting to produce an optical microscope that can observe nanostructures at a resolution of one nanometer — which is equal in size to approximately one-billionth of a meter, or the diameter of four atoms.

In addition to achieving a breakthrough in arranging nanostructures, Xu hopes that his research will lead to observation of the “vacuum field” at a resolution of one nanometer.

“Vacuum field refers to the tiny amount of electric field fluctuations that can exist in the absence of any sources such as electrons or atoms,” Xu explained. All of this, he believes, can ultimately lead to chip-scale quantum information processing and can help boost the pace of discovery in nanophotonics research and engineering.

Table of Contents

Students are leaders in national vehicle challenges

College of Engineering undergraduates will be among the top competitors to watch this year in two major U.S. ground vehicle challenges.

With a Chevrolet Equinox SUV they re-engineered into an ethanol-powered hybrid, the Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) placed best overall and won three other top awards during the second-year competition of Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility in June 2006 at the General Motors (GM) Mesa Desert Proving Grounds in Arizona.

Under the leadership of mechanical engineering (ME) graduate student Kurt Johnson and ME professor Doug Nelson, the more than 30 student members of the HEVT are perfecting their Equinox for the final Challenge X competition event, to be held May 30 through June 7 at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds near Detroit, Mich.

The HEVT is among 17 university teams selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and GM to compete in the three-year Challenge X, a national competition that encourages engineering students to help develop advanced propulsion technology for the next generation of energy-efficient, low-emissions vehicles. DOE and GM gave each team chosen to participate in Challenge X an Equinox and $10,000 seed money, as well as up to $25,000 in automotive parts.

“From the beginning of the competition, our goal has been to reduce the petroleum consumption of the Equinox by 80 percent,” Nelson said. The team researched fuel alternatives and decided to use an E85 engine, which runs on 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. In addition to achieving the goal of reducing petroleum consumption, the E85 fuel mixture produces fewer overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Through GM, the team obtained a Saab 2-liter E85 engine that they integrated into the Equinox with a parallel hybrid electric drive. To succeed in Challenge X, the HEVT had to produce a fuel-efficient, low-emissions Equinox that also retained all of its original performance and utility factors, including fully operating air conditioning, cargo space, and acceleration performance.

“VictorTango,” a team of Virginia Tech engineering and geography students, will enter the national Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competition with solid support — $1 million in funding from the competition’s sponsor, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In addition, Ford Motor Co. has donated two Escape hybrid SUVs and Caterpillar Inc. has provided a $100,000 grant for the team.

From an international roster of 65 Urban Challenge proposals, DARPA selected VictorTango as one of only 11 “track A” academic and industry teams that will each receive a $1 million contract to develop autonomous vehicles capable of conducting simulated military supply missions in an urban setting. About 80 track B teams receiving no funding from DARPA have also qualified for the competition.

The teams are attempting to develop vehicles capable of traveling a 60-mile course through traffic in less than six hours — with no human intervention allowed past the starting line. The vehicles will have to obey traffic signals, merge into moving traffic, navigate traffic circles, negotiate intersections and avoid a variety of obstacles.

VictorTango will convert the two Escape hybrids into autonomous vehicles by outfitting them with “drive-by-wire” systems and an array of sensors and computers for navigation (drive-by-wire technology replaces a vehicle’s mechanical components with electronic controls).

The 10 graduate students and 50 undergraduates on the team are guided by four faculty advisers — Charles Reinholtz of engineering education, Al Wicks and Dennis Hong from ME, and geography professor Bill Carstensen. TORC Technologies LLC, a company in Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center founded by recent alumni, is working work with VictorTango to develop the software for the vehicle’s computer system.

The final competition event will take place on Nov. 3 at a location that DARPA will disclose later this year.

Table of Contents

A message from the Dean

It is difficult to know what to say about the events of April 16 at Virginia Tech. The following are the words that Richard C. Benson, Dean of the College of Engineering, wrote on the day of the tragedy: To the Virginia Tech College of Engineering Community:

My heart aches for the lives of the students lost. These bright young men and women were in the prime of life, planning for rich, fulfilling futures. They came to Virginia Tech to acquire an education, an education that would forever change their lives — and the lives of their children and the lives of their brothers and sisters and the lives of their parents and the lives of husbands and wives.

The murdered faculty members had devoted their lives to scholarship and education. They so beautifully embodied Virginia Tech’s motto of Ut Prosim, “That I May Serve.” They also had spouses, children, and brothers and sisters and parents.

Just as these friends would have transformed the lives of generations, now there is a void that cannot be filled. It, too, will last for generations. Virginia Tech is a noble place. It is a nobility born of our great Land Grant tradition, a nobility born of a place of learning. Young women and men — many of modest beginnings — come here to learn. We ask that they work hard, and they do.

For generations upon generations, dating to our founding in 1872, we have nurtured this process of intellectual growth, and we have sent generations upon generations out into the world to serve the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America.

While our loss is huge and our grief unbearable, the nobility of this great community of scholars is undiminished. Those of us who survive and those who will come after will continue to dedicate ourselves to teaching and learning. And we will never forget the friends that we lost. As long as there is a Virginia Tech they will be remembered. They are more than friends. They are family.

Richard C. Benson, Dean of Engineering
Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair

Table of Contents

Engineering Education named University Exemplary Department

The Department of Engineering Education (EngE) and the Department of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences both received 2006 University Exemplary Department awards for innovative approaches to introductory courses.

In 1968, the Division of Engineering Fundamentals began teaching and advising all freshmen enrolled in the college. In 2004, in a move recognized by the National Academy of Engineering for its leadership, the College of Engineering transformed the division into EngE, with a new graduate program in engineering education and a redesigned undergraduate course sequence that continues to train more than 1,200 freshmen each year.

While the college’s freshman curriculum has long been a national leader in providing hands- Engineering Education named University Exemplary Department on laboratory instruction, EngE has developed a number of innovative approaches. One example is the new format for the first-year course EngE 1024, which now offers one-hour lectures followed by two-hour hands-on workshops that reinforce learning. Laboratory innovations include the Earth Sustainability Project, where freshmen learn to design and build projects related to energy, agriculture, and other sustainability issues.

“As a result of these and many other innovations, students in the first-year engineering classes are now completely engaged in the learning process,” said EngE department head Hayden Griffin. The department’s new graduate curriculum also has proven to be a success, with students from throughout the College of Engineering and the School of Education taking courses in engineering education.

Table of Contents

Robot designed by students a success at international competition

"DARwIn," a bipedal walking humanoid robot designed by Virginia Tech mechanical engineering (ME) students, captured the attention of thjudges at the 2006 American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) International Design Engineering Technical Conference in Philadelphia. During the conference, the Virginia Tech team won second place in the undergraduate division of the ASME International Student Mechanism Design Competition.

The four students representing Virginia Tech were Karl Muecke, Jeff Kanetzky, Raghav Sampath, and Patrick Cox, all from the ME senior design team that created DARwIn. Their adviser was ME assistant professor Dennis Hong, director of Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa).

The award marks the second straight year Virginia Tech has received high honors in the ASME competition. In 2005, undergraduate student Derek Lahr won first place for his design, “Cam-Based Infinitely Variable Transmission.”

DARwIn — or Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence — is a humanoid robot capable of bipedal walking and human-like motions. Developed in Hong’s robotics lab, DARwIn is a research platform for studying robot locomotion that will also serve as the base platform for Virginia Tech’s entry in the international robot soccer competition, RoboCup 2007.

DARwIn is 600 millimeters tall, weighs four kilograms, and has 21 degrees-of-freedom. The arms and legs are connected to the body by motorized spherical joints that provide a wide range of motion, similar to shoulder or hip joints. The robot carries its own batteries for power, as well as a single-board computer for processing, three gyroscopes to track orientation of the body, and a variety of sensors.

Finalists in the ASME design competition were selected according to a number of criteria — creativity and novelty, practicality, integrity of analysis and design procedures, manufacturability, proof-of-concept, and quality of the project

“The students and I can’t wait to participate in RoboCup 2007,” said Hong. “We will be the first U.S. team to enter the humanoid robot division.” This will be a collaborative effort between ME senior design students and students in the School of Architecture and Design, advised by associate professor Ed Dorsa.

For more information about DARwIn and other robots being developed in RoMeLa, visit

Table of Contents

Zhang noted for creation of alternative fuel solutions

Y.H. Percival Zhang was recognized for his research with two notable honors in 2006 — he was selected by Oak Ridge Associated Universities to receive the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award, and the national magazine Esquire named him one of the 42 “Best and Brightest” of the year.

Zhang joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 2005 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Systems Engineering, which is part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as well as the College of Engineering.

He is developing a cost-effective pretreatment process for the production of ethanol — which usually is distilled from corn kernels — as an alternative fuel. Currently the bioconversion of raw materials to ethanol is expensive, requiring special equipment to produce high temperature and high pressure for processing, resulting in higher prices for ethanol than for gasoline.

Cellulose, the primary component of plant cell wall material, is an abundant renewable resource and is found in the inedible, as well as the edible, parts of corn and other plants. Zhang is developing a method of using enzymes at room temperature and pressure to break down biomass so that sugars can be extracted and then turned into ethanol in more cost-effective and efficient ways than is possible with current technology.

“Production of chemicals and energy from renewable cellulosic materials, such as agricultural waste and switchgrass, is vital to sustainable development because it reduces reliance on fossil fuels, decreases emission of greenhouse gases, and benefits national interests and security,” said Zhang, who has established the Biofuels Laboratory at Virginia Tech.

Zhang has expanded this research into a method of turning the sugar extracted from cellulose into hydrogen, which is a clean and efficient fuel but is costly and difficult to produce and store. He has found a way to use water and enzymes in combination with cellulose-extracted sugars to produce separate molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. Ultimately, he believes, this research could lead to a process whereby reactors that would fit in machines of all sizes could convert sugar into hydrogen, which in turn could be converted by fuel cells into electricity.


DeBell and Quillen honored as engineering alumni

The College of Engineering honored two alumni, John DeBell and Michael Jack Quillen, for their achievements and service in 2006.

DeBell, president and CEO of Burgess and Niple Inc. of Chantilly, Va., received the College of Engineering Distinguished Service Award.

A 1968 Virginia Tech civil engineering graduate, DeBell has been a staunch and active supporter of his alma mater. He is a member of Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society, a past chair of the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Advisory Board, a member of the college’s Committee of 100, and has served two terms on the college Advisory Board, one as chair of the board. He also serves on the board of directors and the executive committee of the Virginia Tech Foundation.

In 1975, DeBell was named the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers (VSPE) Young Engineer of the Year and in 1983 he served as VSPE president. In 1978 and again in 1982, DeBell received VSPE’s Outstanding Service Award and was named Engineer of the Year of 1988.

Quillen, who was named the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2006, is president and CEO of Alpha Natural Resources Inc. (ANR) of Abingdon, Va., the Commonwealth’s largest coal producer. With revenues in excess of $1.6 billion annually, ANR is one of only two billion-dollar companies based in western Virginia.

Quillen received his bachelor’s degree in 1970 and master’s degree in 1971, both in civil engineering at Virginia Tech. He got his start in the coal industry in 1974, working for the Q.S.H.E. Inc., of Gate City, Va. During his career he has held leadership positions in a number of coal companies in Virginia and other states. In 2002 he became president and sole manager of ANR, LLC, and has served as the company’s CEO since January 2003.

Quillen is a past chair of the Virginia Coal Association, the Virginia Mining and Reclamation Association, the Tri-State Coal Operators Association, and the Coalfield Economic Development Authority.

Table of Contents

Harold L. Martin, Sr., chancellor of Winston-Salem State College in North Carolina since 2000, was appointed senior vice president for academic affairs of the 16-campus University of North Carolina (UNC) in 2006. Martin completed his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech in 1980 and earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at North Carolina A&T State University. Although an accomplished computer engineer, Martin has spent his career as a university administrator and has worked successfully to improve the quality of minority higher education in North Carolina. As UNC’s top academic officer, he is responsible for leading the university’s educational and research missions. Virginia Tech honored Martin with the Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award in 2004.

Joe Calkins, a mechanical engineering (ME) graduate, was named the College of Engineering’s Outstanding Young Alumnus for 2006-2007. Calkins, who earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Virginia Tech, culminating with his Ph.D. in 2002, is president of New River Kinematics (NRK), a software development company he started in 1994 with another ME alumnus, Bob Salerno, and professor Charles Reinholtz. Among the successful software created by Calkins and his colleagues is SpatialAnalyzer™, which has become the industry standard large-scale measurement software for portable metrology devices. Calkins and Salerno have moved their headquarters to Williamsburg, Va., with a satellite operation in Seattle, Wash. Under Calkins leadership, NRK’s clients include Boeing, General Dynamics, Honda, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Northrop Grumman and several other major corporations.

Table of Contents

Google CEO Schmidt endows chair in honor of the Torgersens

Long before he grew up and became chairman and CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt made spending money in Blacksburg by mowing the lawn for his next-door neighbors, Paul and Dot Torgersen. In the fall of 2006, Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, announced a gift of $2 million to establish the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean’s Chair in Engineering at Virginia Tech.

The Torgersen-Schmidt friendship began more than 30 years ago when Wilson and Ellie Schmidt moved their family next door to the Torgersens on Palmer Drive in Blacksburg. At the time, Wilson Schmidt was the head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Economics.

“Our families were raised next door to each other,” recalled Paul Torgersen, who was dean of the College of Engineering from 1970 to 1990 and president of Virginia Tech from 1993 to 2000. While visiting Eric Schmidt at his home in California in the spring of 2006, Torgersen discussed the possibility of an endowment to be named the Eric Schmidt Dean’s Chair in Engineering. Later that year Eric and Wendy decided to make the gift — but they named it the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean’s Chair in Engineering.

“I was stunned,” Torgersen said. “Dot and I have had some nice things happen to us over the past 52 years, but I do believe this is one of the nicest. The chair is a capstone both for the college and Dot and myself.” The dean’s chair — the first of its kind at Virginia Tech — will provide discretionary funds for College of Engineering deans to use in building outstanding academic programs. Richard Benson, the current dean of engineering, is the first to hold the chair, which will be passed along to each of his successors.

Table of Contents


The ICTAS-I (Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science) building, shown here in an architectural rendering, is under construction in the College of Engineering corridor and is expected to be completed in 2008. The facility will house the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, the Nanotechnology and Environment Center, and the Engineering Research Center on Fuel Cells. ICTAS-A, which houses the Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Lab, is already completed in Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center and will be dedicated during the fall meeting of the College of Engineering Advisory Board and Committee of 100. Meanwhile, the Virginia General Assembly has authorized approval for construction of ICTAS-II in the university’s life sciences corridor. The three facilities will provide a total of 200,000 square feet of additional space for engineering researchers and colleagues from the colleges of science, natural resources, and veterinary medicine.

Table of Contents


Student Engineers’ Council funds endowment for design teams

The Virginia Tech Student Engineers’ Council (SEC) is creating a permanent funding source for the dozens of undergraduate design teams in the College of Engineering. An initial gift of $105,000 was presented to the college at the SEC’s Leadership Awards Luncheon on April 30.

“Our goal is have this endowment reach $500,000, depending upon how well Engineering Expo succeeds throughout the next few years,” said Jonathon Kegan, a junior in electrical and computer engineering and the SEC’s director of philanthropy. “In the interim the new endowment should provide some assistance with interest generated off the principal amount. Once the overall goal is reached, design teams will be eligible to apply for a set amount of money that will help fund their team in design, travel, or any other costs they might have.”

“This endowment is loaded with potential,” said Michael Chappell, the 2005-2006 SEC chair who originally conceived of the design team endowment. “As it begins to fructify, we will see it feed student involvement, innovation, and ownership in their education.”

In both 2003 and 2006 the Virginia Tech SEC was named the most philanthropic student organization in the country by the National Association of Engineering Student Councils, in recognition of grants supporting programs in the college. “The SEC is truly realizing its vision to serve the College of Engineering, engineering student societies, and engineering students by planting and nourishing this financial seed,” added Chappell, who has graduated from Virginia Tech and now works as an analyst for Accenture. “The SEC is sincerely grateful to every single sponsor, without whom none of this would be possible.”

In addition to grants, the SEC also has endowed three scholarships, each with a principal value of $25,000. Two Torgersen Leadership Scholarships have been established in honor of former Dean of Engineering Paul E. Torgersen. The Nathaniel Gebreyes Scholarship was established in honor of a former SEC chair who was killed in an automobile accident. Each scholarship awards $1,250 annually to a Virginia Tech engineering undergraduate.

The SEC earns the revenue it donates to the college by hosting the annual Engineering Expo career fair, which attracts about 250 companies to the campus. “Virginia Tech’s Engineering Expo is one of the most successful career fairs in the country,” said Erik Anderson, the 2006-2007 SEC chair.

Table of Contents

Students win autonomous vehicle competition for third year

For the third year in a row, the Virginia Tech Autonomous Vehicle Team swept the international Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC), winning best and second-best overall and placing first in the three top event categories during the 2006 event. The team of mechanical engineering (ME) students also was awarded $15,000 in prize money.

The Virginia Tech team entered three of the 40 autonomous vehicles that competed in the 2006 IGVC, which took place at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Mich. Thirty-three universities in the U.S. and other countries were represented at the event. The Virginia Tech students were guided by professors Charles Rein-holtz of engineering education and Alfred Wicks of ME. Much of the design and construction of the vehicles was directed by graduate students Andrew Bacha, Ruel Faruque, and Brett Gombar. Other team members were Ben Amar, Randy Depoo, Peter King, Ryan Tenga, and Jon Weekly.

During the IGVC, autonomous vehicles used on-board computer and navigational technologies to navigate obstacle courses and point-to-point destination courses without human intervention. The entries also were judged on design innovations.

The Virginia Tech team equipped their vehicles — “Chimera,” “Gemini,” and “Johnny-5” — with computers and navigational sensors, including digital cameras, digital compasses, GPS, and scanning laser range finders. The vehicles differ in body construction, power sources, and operational variations that the team implemented in the on-board computer software.

Gemini placed best overall in the 2006 IGVC — repeating its first-place performance from the 2005 competition — and also won the Autonomous Challenge. Johnny-5, which best placed overall in 2004, came in second place overall for 2006 and won the Navigation Challenge. Chimera, a new vehicle built during the past academic year, placed first in the Design Competition.

The Virginia Tech team also won prizes for implementing a new software standard for unmanned systems and for implementing the ability to point to a target at the end of a navigation run.

The IGVC is supported by a number of sponsors, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, U.S. Department of Defense, Society of Automotive Engineers, and General Motors.

Table of Contents

Programming wizards represent Virginia Tech at Tokyo world finals

“The Milk’s Gone Bad,” a team of three undergraduate engineering students from Virginia Tech, continued a long-standing tradition by winning the Mid-Atlantic Regionals of the Association of Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC), and then achieving honorable mention during the World Finals, held in March in Tokyo, Japan.

The Virginia Tech team was one of only 20 U.S. teams to win places in the world finals. The team members, all seniors, were Mike Henry, a computer engineering major, and Cris Kania and Joel Riley, computer science (CS) majors. They were coached by recent CS graduate Joseph Gleason.

More than 6,099 teams representing 1,756 universities worldwide participated in regional competitions in 2006. The top 88 teams qualified for positions in the world finals, which were hosted by IBM’s Tokyo Research Lab and the ACM Japan Chapter. The annual international contest is sponsored by IBM.

Virginia Tech teams have participated in the ACM-ICPC contest for the past 25 years and have made it to the world finals for 23 of those years — and have typically won at least honorable mention.

Table of Contents

Virginia Tech / Loughborough team again wins NASA competition

The Virginia Tech International Aircraft Design Team won first prize in the Noise Reduction Challenge category of the 2006 University Design Competition, sponsored by the NASA Langley Research Center’s Aerospace Vehicle Systems Technology Office.

The team — a group of 15 undergraduates from the Virginia Tech College of Engineering and 11 students from the Aeronautical Engineering Program at Loughborough University in England — created “Orca,” a design for a low-noise, two-person amphibian aircraft that could be certified under the new Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) classification recently established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The design for Orca offers significantly lower noise levels than most LSA aircraft, said team adviser Jim Marchman, professor emeritus of aerospace and ocean engineering (AOE) at Virginia Tech. Since LSA classification is meant to reduce the expense and licensing requirements for flying recreational aircraft, the Virginia Tech/Loughborough students decided that noise reduction would be a benefit for people who live near airports where light airplanes take off and land.

Noise reduction in Orca’s design is achieved with a ducted propeller and an internally mounted, water-cooled engine. “The students proposed marketing the Orca as ‘The Good Neighbor Light Sport Amphibian,’” Marchman said.

This marks the fifth time during the past nine years that a team of engineering students from Virginia Tech and Loughborough have created first-place designs for a NASA-sponsored university competition. This year, Virginia Tech was represented by 10 seniors from AOE, two seniors from industrial and systems engineering, and three engineering freshmen.

Since the collaboration began 10 years ago, the teams have been directed by Marchman and Gary Page, a professor of aeronautical engineering at Loughborough. “Each year’s project has included an exchange of visits and a high level of international communication,” Marchman said.

The projects are supported by the engineering colleges at the two universities and by a grant from the Boeing Company. This year’s University Design Competition encompassed various categories of aircraft design and three levels of awards. Sharing the top tier of awards with Virginia Tech’s noise reduction project was Georgia Tech’s “GIT Smart Project.”.

Table of Contents


Study of medical applications for “e-textiles” wins White House honors for Martin

For his research in the emerging field of electronic textiles, Thomas L. Martin, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was honored at the White House in 2006 as a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

Martin is one of 20 researchers whose work is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to receive the PECASE award, which is the highest national honor for researchers in the early stages of their careers.

In the Virginia Tech E-TextilesLab, Martin and his colleague Mark Jones, also an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, are developing “smart” clothes that appear and feel normal but that can sense their own shapes, the wearer’s motions and the positions of the sensing elements. The primary focus of their research is potential medical applications.

Because electrical wires, sensors and actuators are woven into the fabric, e-textiles cloth can be turned into shirts, pants, hats, gloves and other clothing items equipped to monitor an impressive range of factors. Wireless transmitters placed on garments could communicate data to a screen, a cell phone or a computer — or via cell phone to a doctor’s office or emergency alert system.

For example, Martin and Jones are attempting to perfect methods of constantly monitoring the activities of cardiac patients while measuring their heart rate, blood pressure and temperature.

“Knowing what a patient is doing could help a doctor interpret heart-rate data,” Martin said.

Another medical application could include detecting when a wearer has fallen down and can’t get up or has had a seizure — and then sounding an alarm for help.

Using a Computing Research Infrastructure grant from NSF, the researchers recently acquired an industrial loom. With the help of graduate student Meghan Quirk, who has a background in both textiles engineering and computer science, they now are weaving their own e-textiles fabrics.

Table of Contents

Bell leads development of unique freshman course with NSF funding

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a project in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering aimed at teaching freshmen that electrical and computer engineering is a creative discipline that directly benefits society.

Faculty in Virginia Tech’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Department of Engineering Education (EngE), led by ECE associate professor Amy Bell, will use the $160,000 NSF grant to develop a first-year course that will give freshmen the opportunity to work on projects based on solving real-world engineering problems.

A major goal of this initiative is to increase ECE student retention by demonstrating the discipline’s creative and beneficial aspects. The 600 students who will take the course during the 2007 and 2008 academic years will learn about contemporary problems that electrical and computer engineers tackle in their jobs, such as signal and image processing for biomedical applications and wireless sensor networks for environmental monitoring.

This NSF-sponsored project at Virginia Tech comes at a time when engineering schools and major organizations, including the National Academy of Engineering, are concerned that the nation is producing far too few engineering graduates. One consensus among experts is that a significant increase in the number of women engineers could alleviate this problem.

Bell and her colleagues are designing their new course to provide illustrations of the ways in which electrical and computer engineering benefits society, in the hope of increasing retention and interest among all Virginia Tech ECE students, including women and minorities.

Bell will team-teach the course and study retention results with Tom Walker, associate professor of EngE. Walker is a co-principal investigator on the NSF project along with Jenny Lo of EngE and Virgilio Centeno and Leslie Pendelton of ECE. Other senior personnel involved in shaping the project are Mike Gregg of EngE and Masoud Agah, Luiz DaSilva, Allen MacKenzie, Leyla Nazhandali, Paul Plassmann, Sanjay Raman, and Chris Wyatt of ECE.

Win-Win strategies support College of Engineering, benefit donors

Creative giving strategies provide win-win opportunities to support the College of Engineering with a gift that also provides benefits to you.

Learn more about the advantages of win-win charitable gift strategies that fit your personal goals.
Call Erin Edwards at (800) 822-5146 or visit

Table of Contents

Edwards receives Virginia’s highest faculty honor

Marc Edwards, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), was recognized by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for excellence in teaching, research, and public service during a ceremony in February 2007 at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

Edwards was among 12 college and university faculty selected from a statewide pool of 95 nominees to receive the Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award, the Commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty. The award program is administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) and funded by a grant from the Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dominion.

Since joining the Via department, Edwards has achieved international renown for applying the principles of aquatic chemistry to solving problems related to corrosion and drinking water infrastructure degradation. Featured by Time in April 2004 as one of the nation’s leading scientific innovators, Edwards — dubbed “The Plumbing Professor” by the national news magazine — has used his expertise in drinking water quality and corrosion to help identify and solve some critical problems, including the leaching of lead into home water supplies in Washington, D.C.

When Edwards learned in 2003 that lead levels were elevated in District of Columbia drinking water, he and his graduate students began investigating and found that chloramine, a compound used in drinking water treatment, was causing lead to leach from pipes in thousands of homes. As a result of that research, Edwards was asked to testify before Congress about the corrosion problem.

Table of Contents

Duma named one of the world’s top young innovators

Stefan Duma, a professor of mechanical engineering and founding director of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest Center for Injury Biomechanics, was named by Technology Review to the 2006 “TR35” roster of the top 35 innovators under the age of 35.

The editors of Technology Review, a publication of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the oldest technology magazine in existence, selected the TR35 honorees from among hundreds of nominations submitted by universities and industries around the world.

Duma began researching automobile impact injuries as a master’s degree student at the University of Cincinnati. Since completing his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia and joining the Virginia Tech mechanical engineering faculty in 2000, he has laid the groundwork for a remarkable range of research.

One of his unique contributions to the field of injury biomechanics is the world’s first computer model of a pregnant driver. Using his then-pregnant wife, Christine, as the human model, Duma developed a computer model simulating a uterus and fetus at the seven-and-a-half month stage. The model is being used by automakers to test new restraint designs for pregnant drivers.

Another first is a study of head impact injuries initiated by Duma during Virginia Tech’s 2003-2004 football season. Hokies’ football helmets are equipped with sensors that record impacts in terms of G (gravity) forces. The sensors transmit real-time data to a sideline computer system that keeps track of a range of head impact information for each player wearing the sensors.

The Eye Injury Research Program established by Duma at Virginia Tech is the nation’s largest research program for airbag-induced eye injuries and one of the largest for all types of eye injuries. His group developed the first computer model of the human eye that can accurately predict the probability of eye injury under any type of impact, as well as the first fluid-filled synthetic eye equipped with sensors to precisely replicate the effects of impacts on the human eye.

Table of Contents

Dietrich solving mysteries on the trail of metallic tastes and odors

Andrea Dietrich, a professor in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and a renowned expert on drinking water quality and aesthetics, is tracking the causes and health implications of metallic tastes and odors.

With funding from the Institute of Public Health and Water Research, Dietrich is leading an interdisciplinary team in examining metallic tastes in water, which is not simply an aesthetic problem. For example, a medical study has found that about two million cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and other drug therapies experience foul, metallic tastes when consuming beverages and foods, which can lead to nutritional problems.

Along with Virginia Tech colleagues Brenda Davy, professor of food science and technology; YongWoo Lee, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences and pathology; and CEE graduate students Pinar Omu-Ozbek and Jose Cerrato, Dietrich is studying the components of metallic flavor. They are comparing the sensory thresholds, recommended nutritional levels, and adverse health effect levels of iron and copper in water with their relationship to health-based problems, such as the metallic tastes provoked by chemotherapy.

“Unfortunately, these problems that impact nutrition and quality of life are underestimated and understudied by oncologists,” Dietrich said. “If we can discover the cause of the production of metallic flavor, then preventative methods can be taken accordingly.”

In a separate project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation with additional funding from the UFZ Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, Dietrich and CEE research associate Dietmar Glindemann are trying to solve one of the mysteries of the complex chemistry of smell. The idea for the project materialized while the two were investigating iron plumbing infrastructure.

The sense of smell is the most difficult of human senses to explain scientifically. “We are the first to demonstrate that when humans describe the ‘metallic’ odor of iron metal, there are no iron atoms in the odors,” Dietrich said. “The odors humans perceive as iron are really by-products of the metals reacting with skin or impurities in the metal itself.”

In a paper published in the European journal Angewandte Chemie (International Edition), Dietrich and Glindemann explain the source of the metallic odor that is generated when a person picks up keys, coins or metal objects. The odor results from a metal-induced oxidation of skin lipids — so it is, surprisingly, a type of human body odor. The compounds people smell are actually aldehydes and ketones, rather than iron compounds.

“The fact that iron produces a whole host of ‘smelly’ organic molecules when humans touch it or acid attacks it was unexpected,” Glindemann said. “While our deciphering of chemistry is scientifically fascinating, it also has a wide range of benefits, from designing tests to monitor human diseases associated with oxidative damage to cells, to improving blood-scent tracking.”

Table of Contents

National Academy of Engineering honors two researchers

Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers Michael Garvin and Pavlos Vlachos were among 81 of the nation’s outstanding young engineers invited by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to participate in the 2006 Frontiers of Engineering symposium. The attendees — engineers 30 to 45 years of age and representing academia, industry and government — were nominated and selected in recognition of their contributions to the advancement of engineering and their potential as future leaders in their fields.

Garvin joined Virginia Tech’s Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in 2005 after serving four years on the Columbia University faculty. Shortly before coming to Blacksburg, he was honored at the White House as a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which is the highest national honor for researchers in the early stages of their careers.

Garvin is developing new methods to help municipal and higher-level officials better manage infrastructure investments. New approaches to investment strategies and procurement practices for large-scale infrastructure projects are important in the current climate of increased public expectations and decreased federal funding.

Vlachos joined the Virginia Tech mechanical engineering faculty in 2003 after spending three years as a visiting assistant professor and research assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics at the university. He also is on the faculty of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

The goal of Vlachos’ research is to advance the understanding of cardiovascular flows in order to improve the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. He is constructing experimental models of the cardiovascular system to discover how flow disturbances influence a variety of cardiovascular disease conditions. In 2006 he received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER grant for his research.

Table of Contents

Henneke to retire, Leo new associate dean

Mechanical engineering professor Don Leo will become the College of Engineering’s associate dean for research and graduate studies when Ed Henneke retires in July.

Henneke joined the Virginia Tech engineering science and mechanics faculty in 1971 and was appointed department head in 1989. He was named associate dean in 2002. He also has twice served as interim dean of the college. With Henneke overseeing research and graduate studies, the college has continued its flagship role for research competitiveness, with its research expenditures increasing from about $55 million in 2000 to more than $112 million in 2006.

“Dr. Henneke has done an outstanding job for Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. His record of service throughout his tenure at the university has been exemplary,” said Richard Benson, dean of engineering.

Since August 2005, Leo has worked as a program manager in the Defense Sciences Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Washington, D.C., on an interagency loan agreement with Virginia Tech. While at DARPA he has managed and initiated materials research programs to improve the science and technology base of the Department of Defense. Leo came to Virginia Tech in 1998 and is affiliated with the university’s Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures.

“With Dr. Leo’s experience managing DARPA programs, he has all of the credentials to move our College of Engineering even further ahead,” Benson said.

Micron Technology Semiconductor Processing Laboratory dedicated

Julia Cushen, a chemical engineering student and Micron Scholar, presented a framed wafer to Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine during the dedication of the College of Engineering’s Micron Technology Semiconductor Processing Laboratory in October 2006. Also shown are Pat Otte (second from left), Virginia site director for Micron Technology; and Dean of Engineering Richard Benson (far right). The lab, which is used by graduate and undergraduate students as well as faculty researchers, was refurbished with a $750,000 gift from Micron Technology, Inc. Since 2002 the Micron Technology Foundation has supported Virginia Tech’s Micron Scholars program, which provides scholarships for at least five microelectronic engineering students each year. The partnership between Micron Technology and Virginia Tech is expected to significantly enhance semiconductor and microelectronics research and increase the number of engineering graduates entering the microelectronics industry.

Table of Contents

Engineering Is a Contact Sport


This year the College of Engineering will host four pre-game tailgates. Join us to visit with former professors, reminisce with old friends, and find out what’s happening at your alma mater. Enjoy free food, beverages, and entertainment. Unique student design-and-build projects will be on display, including the Human-Powered Submarine, Mini-Baja, ethanol-fueled Challenge X hybrid vehicle, Urban Challenge vehicle, and many more.

Due to recent events, the location for the tailgates will be determined later. Please check the College of Engineering web site for updates: Since start times for the Saturday games have not been announced yet, mark your calendar that the tailgates will usually begin two hours before games.


Saturday, Sept. 15
Hokies vs. Ohio University Bobcats

The College of Engineering will host a tailgate two hours before kickoff. Come cheer on the Hokies as they try for their fourth win over the Bobcats.

Saturday, Sept. 29 VT Homecoming Game
Hokies vs. North Carolina Wolfpack

The traditional Hokie Homecoming with parades and floats — and our team attacking the Wolfpack.

Thursday, Oct. 25 COE Homecoming
Hokies vs. Boston College Eagles

This exciting Thursday night game will start at 7:45 and will be nationally televised. For the College of Engineering Homecoming, we promise extra special activities, food, and fun at the Contact Sport Tent. The tailgate will begin at 4:00 p.m. Registration information and event details for Engineering Homecoming will be available at

Saturday, Nov. 10
Hokies vs. Florida State Seminoles

The Hokies and Seminoles battle for the first time since the ACC Championship game in 2004. Come see Frank Beamer and Bobby Bowden face off again.

We don’t want to run out of food and drink, so please let us know if you’re coming and
RSVP before game day to Lisa Young at or call (800) 822-5146. Start times for the games will be announced over the summer and early fall on the Hokie Sports web site at
We look forward to seeing you on campus this fall.

In addition to the College’s events, the student professional societies of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering will host three tailgates in front of Holden Hall two hours before each of the following games:

To RSVP for the MSE tailgates, contact Diane Folz at or (540) 231-3897.


Dean, College of Engineering: Richard Benson
Editor / Writer: Elizabeth Crumbley
Contributing Writers: Lynn Nystrom, Karen Gilbert, Susan Trulove
Designer: David Simpkins
Photographers: Rick Griffiths, John McCormick,
Michael Kiernan, Josh Armstrong, Karen Gilbert

Virginia Tech does not discriminate against employees, students, or applicants on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, veteran status, national origin, religion, or political affiliation. Anyone having questions concerning discrimination should contact the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Office.

College of Engineering
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061
(540) 231-6641

Table of Contents