Transformation - 2008 President's Report

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The Urgency of Now - 2008 President's Report

Center Works to Create a Renewable Energy Economy

Drs. Rick Billo, left, and Krishnan Rajeshwar lead efforts to explore alternative energy sources such as biodiesel.

Dependence on foreign fuels threatens our nation's economic, political and environmental climate.

The Center for Renewable Energy Science and Technology (CREST) was established to research and develop the base for a renewable energy economy to replace this dependency.

The current problems we face with rising fuel costs and finite fossil fuel resources coupled with the environmental hazards associated with their continued usage means we have to come up with acceptable energy solutions, says chemistry Professor Krishnan Rajeshwar, who co-directs the center with Rick Billo, associate dean of engineering for research. This can only be achieved with collective—rather than individual—research and development. We are trying to do this with CREST.

The federally funded center provides a centralized, state-of-the-art infrastructure for cutting-edge research and development by coordinating the efforts of science and engineering faculty pursuing common themes.

Researchers have made significant progress by developing more efficient and environmentally friendly energy conversion processes. Examples include low-cost biodiesel fuel processing, substantial cost and energy reductions for the fabrication of solar cells, novel solar hydrogen generation technologies, integration of renewable energy into the electricity grid and approaches to reduce the cost of coal liquefaction.

Partnership Combines Genomics, Patient Care

Bridging the gap between discoveries in genomics and patient care is the focus of the new Genomics Translational Research Laboratory. Established in January 2008 within the School of Nursing, the lab partners faculty from nursing, health psychology and genome biology. Nursing Assistant Professor Patricia Newcomb is collaborating with biologists Elena de la casa Esperon and Jeff Demuth to explore DNA modifications around genes that play roles in childhood asthma. Their research may help design preventive and treatment strategies. Other projects include nursing Associate Professor Barbara Raudonis' study of the link between inflammatory proteins and fatigue in breast cancer patients.

Student's Research Saves Lives in Somalia

Somalia native Husein Anshur's undergraduate research project hit particularly close to home. He and faculty mentor Brian Huff of the Automation and Robotics Research Institute used filtering techniques to make low-cost global positioning systems more accurate when detecting land mines. Anshur has seen firsthand the damage the explosive devices cause. I am from a war-torn country whose people suffered from land mines, the industrial engineering major said. African governments are generally poor and can't afford expensive mine detection systems. Neither can international humanitarian agencies. A member of the McNair Scholars Program, Anshur plans to pursue graduate degrees in industrial engineering and business administration.

Molecular Trailblazer Changes Drug Industry

Tiny molecules mean big pharmaceutical breakthroughs for Daniel Armstrong, the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry. Take his research on enantiomeric separations. These paired molecules are non-superimposable mirror images that are differentiated by their effects on the body. One set of molecules can be beneficial, while the other might cause side effects. The classic case is the sedative thalidomide, once given for morning sickness. While one of the mirror-image molecules proved an effective medicine, the other caused disfiguring birth defects. Dr. Armstrong's discoveries have led to new Food and Drug Administration policies and changed the way pharmaceutical companies develop drugs.

Research Keeps Senior Adults on Their Feet

student studies data on computer monitor

Falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths in people over age 65. Kinesiology Assistant Professor Christopher Ray is developing rehabilitation interventions to decrease the risk of falls in sighted and legally blind older adults. The goal is to figure out new, innovative and efficient ways to deliver and prescribe physical rehabilitation that decreases the incidence of falls in the elderly, particularly those with vision loss, he says. Dr. Ray's methods evaluate balance and postural control using a sensory organization test that measures the subject's ability to use the three sensory systems that contribute to balance: vestibular (inner ear), visual and somatosensation, which helps the body detect muscle movement and joint position.