4 VA at JMU — Moving Forward 2014
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Collaborative Research
Maria Morri

Strength in numbers is a concept well-known in nature, and it applies to higher education as well. Collaborative research between the four 4-VA institutions has not only increased the interaction between faculties at each institution, but has also increased the competitiveness of their research.

Mini Grants of up to $5,000 and Scale-Up Grants of $20,000 are awarded to faculty and staff members whose research will contribute to 4-VA initiatives related to research and instruction. With over $100,000 invested in 27 research projects since October 2012, a $100,000 return on investment has already been recognized.

Developing a Diagnostic Tool for the Next Generation

Principle Investigator: Dr. Louise Temple

WITH OUTBREAKS of whooping cough on the rise in the United States—even with mandatory vaccinations—it has become increasingly important to detect this lung infection at its earliest stages.

With the assistance of Dr. Gordon Archer at Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Louise Temple, a JMU professor in the Department of Integrated Science and Technology, has started studying bordetella, the bacterium that causes whooping cough.

Focusing their research on isolating bordetella, Dr. Temple hopes to develop a diagnostic tool that will decrease the time it takes to diagnose the bacterial disease. This tool will also increase knowledge of the bacteria, allowing researchers to better understand how and why whooping cough infects humans and is spread to others.

Without the support of 4-VA, Dr. Temple said, “I might have been able to do a little bit on it, but I couldn’t have paid students in the summer, so we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have and wouldn’t have had this really successful summer.” Dr. Temple said she is grateful for the opportunities 4-VA is providing in terms of creating opportunities for students and enabling the creation of relationships between universities.

Finding a Cure for Dry Eye

Principle Investigator: Dr. Bob McKown

"Cloning this gene is the first step towards development of a treatment for dry eye in humans."

DRY EYE is a fairly common condition, affecting roughly 35 million Americans. Those who have it typically produce tears of inadequate quality or quantity. Dry air, wind, allergies, medications, disease, aging, wearing contact lenses and spending long hours in front of a computer are just some of the potential causes of the uncomfortable sensations and blurred vision brought on by the condition. Artificial tears are commonly used as a temporary solution for dry eye, but what if there was a treatment that could stimulate new tear production?

With funding from both a 4-VA Mini Grant and a Scale-Up Grant, Dr. Bob Mc- Kown is working to find just that—a treatment for dry eye in dogs that could potentially develop into a new topical therapeutic for the treatment of dry eye in humans. A professor of Integrated Science and Technology at JMU, Dr. Mc- Kown is collaborating with Dr. Ian P. Herring from the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

A human tear protein called lacritin and the canine version of lacritin are at the center of Dr. McKown’s research. The goal of his Scale-Up Grant is to clone the canine gene for lacritin, produce the canine lacritin protein in bacteria, and purify it for animal studies. The purified protein will be sent to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech and tested for stimulation of tear production in canines. If successful, this research could directly result in a treatment for canine dry eye, which would have an important impact on dry eye syndrome in humans as well.

“The safe and effective use of lacritin for treatment of dry eye in an animal model system would help advance development of this potential new drug into human clinical trials,” said Dr. McKown.

The two grants awarded to Dr. McKown have also provided the means to hire two student researchers to focus solely on the project. Cara Soyars and Alan Tate assisted with dog tear analysis in Dr. Mc- Kown’s lab at JMU during the summer of 2013.

Cloning this gene is the first step towards development of a treatment for dry eye in humans, an accomplishment that will improve the lives of many and demonstrate the power of collaboration in funding and research.

Soft Matter Research: Connecting Physicists across the Commonwealth

WHAT DO pharmaceuticals and cosmetics have in common with avalanches and lava flows? They are part of a large class of materials known as Soft matter—the focus of research led by Dr. Klebert Feitosa, a Physics and Astronomy professor at JMU. Soft matter is characterized by complex fluid behavior whose understanding will have deep implications for improvement of manufacturing processes, as well as predictions of natural phenomena such as avalanches, mudslides and lava flows.

You may be wondering, “What is soft matter?”

Soft matter is a term used to describe many systems that are disordered and fragile. Foams, paints, gels, grains, and emulsions are some very familiar examples.

Although soft materials have been around for a long time, only recently have scientists begun to explore their intricate dynamics, searching for a unified framework to explain and predict their complex behavior. In order to combine resources to further this endeavor, Dr. Feitosa has proposed and was awarded a Mini Grant titled Bringing Together a Community of Soft Matter Researchers in Virginia.

This initiative will bring keynote speakers and researchers together for a Soft Matter Workshop event at James Madison University on February 11th, 2014. This workshop will facilitate statewide networking, communication and collaboration on the topic of soft matter research.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Klebert Feitosa

"By better understanding our treasured aquatic resources, we can develop better conservation and management strategies."

Researching the Shenandoah Valley: Coldwater Ecosystems

RIVER SYSTEMS support complex networks of life, including microscopic algae, animals, and of course, humans. Dr. Christine May, an assistant professor of biology at JMU, is no stranger to the significance of these systems. By forming collaborations with scientists, businesses, and government departments and agencies, Dr. May has been able to increase awareness for research and educational needs for rivers, streams, and springs in the Shenandoah Valley.

The city of Waynesboro, located 45 minutes south of Harrisonburg, is home to a section of the South River and is at the center of Dr. May’s grant. As the city strives to revive itself by increasing attractions that draw tourism to this gateway to the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Dr. May and her collaborators became involved in the effort to highlight unique attributes of the South River. The overarching goal of this endeavor is to increase interest in the development of the Center for Coldwaters Restoration, which will serve as a collaborative research center and educational facility for aquatic ecosystems.

“The mountain streams and large river valleys of Virginia are iconic ecosystems that provide a critical habitat for native brook trout populations,” said Dr. May, “By better understanding our treasured aquatic resources, we can develop better conservation and management strategies.”

In September 2013, Dr. May and collaborators oversaw the Mountain Stream Symposium II: Continuing Challenges for Critical Ecosystems, a one day symposium that was conducted to reach their goal—increasing awareness. The symposium was open to the public, and featured fourteen speakers from various Virginia universities and government agencies. Also featured were poster presentations and displays submitted by participants of the symposium, including several community-based programs.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Christine May

Cross Country Adventures on an Electric Motorcycle

Principal Investigator: Dr. Robert Prins

"This experience taught me a lot about working on research with a team and adapting to situations along the way."

ON JUNE 6, 2013, former professional motorcycle racer Thad Wolff drove the electric motorcycle that broke the cross-country record. The journey totaled 2,500 miles and went from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California. Even with a severe rainstorm and sweltering heat, it only took 84.5 hours, just over three days. The previous record was about six days.

But Mr. Wolff didn’t do it alone. Dr. Robert Prins, a Professor in the Department of Engineering at JMU had partnered with Moto Electra, a Shenandoah Valley electric motorcycle company. Together they have been conducting research on the efficacy of electric mobility. The cross-country trip was a test based on their research.

A support team from JMU and Moto Electra rode along with Mr. Wolff in a support van. Will Hays, a sophomore at JMU and part of the research team on the trip said “This experience taught me a lot about working on research with a team and adapting to situations along the way.” Hays was in charge of the data, tracking amps, GPS data, wind speed and direction, and temperature.

Thermal Conductance for the Next Generation

Principle Investigator: Dr. Costel Constantin

"As devices improve in functionality, the changes in speed and size generate excess heat."

PORTABLE ELECTRONIC DEVICES such as laptops, tablets, and cell phones are increasingly becoming an integral part of our daily lives, creating a demand for constant improvement. As devices improve in functionality, the changes in speed (bit rates) and size (making processors as small as possible) generate excess heat. This heat can be a health hazard and can damage the devices themselves. Improving a device’s ability to keep up with these changes and dissipate heat is therefore crucial.

With the help of a 4-VA Mini Grant and a Scale-Up Grant, Dr. Costel Constantin, a Physics professor at JMU has partnered with Dr. Patrick Hopkins, a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering professor at UVA. Together they will study the transfer of heat between materials in these devices.

When cooking on a stovetop, heat transfers from the stove through the bottom of the pan to the cooking surface of the pan, in order to heat and cook the food. Although the stovetop itself may be hot after a minute or two, it could take a while to heat the pan because of thermal conductance, or transfer of heat particles. As the heat particles bounce back and forth within the first material—for example, the stovetop—only some of these particles are transferred to the second material—the pan.

When applied to microelectronics, such as cell phones, Dr. Constantin said, “It is increasingly important to study the Kapitza conductance of interfaces to fully understand and engineer the thermal transport in next generation nanodevices.” Kapitza conductance, also known as Kapitza resistance, is a measurement of thermal flow resistance.

Dr. Constantin and Dr. Hopkins’ efforts have already been a success, receiving recognition from the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund as well as a $100,000 grant to continue this research. In addition, funding from the 4-VA Scale-Up Grant has enabled three students to attend conferences and utilize labs and equipment at UVA, which would have been otherwise impossible.