Thursday, November 19, 2015

Henry B. Linford Award for Distinguished Teaching awarded to John Scully

Professor John Scully has been selected as the 2016 winner of the ECS Henry B. Linford Award for Distinguished Teaching. The award will be presented at next year's ECS Meeting in San Diego, California, USA in May 2016.

The awards are named for Henry Linford, ECS
secretary for 10 years and president from 1961-62

Founded in 1981,  Linford Awards are only granted only every other year and honor distinguished excellence in teaching in areas pertaining to the Electrochemical Society. The society presents winners with a the Linford medal, a wall plaque, a private dinner in their honor. Lindford awardees are invited to deliver an address to the Electro-chemical Society at the symposium of their choosing.

Professor Scully follows one of the co-founders of what is now the Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering, Glenn E. Stoner, who in 2000 earned the prestigious award as well.

Understanding corrosion from the nanoscale to the macroscale

Associate Professor Petra Reinke and Charles Henderson Chaired Professor John Scully are collaborating in a new Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) sponsored by the Office of Naval Research to understand, predict, and control the role of minor elements on the early stages of corrosion in metal alloys. The multimillion dollar effort, Understanding Corrosion in 4-D, will involve researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin, The University of Akron, and UCLA. 

ONR logoCorrosion, which is the environmental degradation of materials due to electrochemical reactions with the environment, accrues an annual cost of several percent of the nation’s GDP. In 2010, the Department of Defense (DOD) estimated the costs exceed $23 billion annually.  Corrosion affects the longevity of infrastructure and assets ranging from DoD/ONR warfighters and warships to gas transmission pipelines.

Professor Scully has studied many aspects of corrosion for decades, and Associate Professor Reinke specializes in the observation and understanding of surface reactions. This complex problem is being analyzed by a team of experimentalists, alloy designers, and theoreticians who will apply this knowledge to design new materials with improved performance by linking electrochemistry, high-resolution microscopy, tomography and simulations to capture all aspects of the corrosion process on selected, technically highly relevant alloys.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2015 Robert W. Cahn Prize awarded to Brad Richards, Hengbei Zhao, and Haydn Wadley

The best paper of the year award in the Journal of Materials Science has been awarded to Brad Richards, Hengbei Zhao, and Haydn Wadley. The Cahn Prize was named in honor of the founding editor of the Journal of Materials Science, Robert Wolfgang Cahn who founded the journal in 1966. The paper, "Structure, composition, and defect control during plasma spray deposition of ytterbium silicate coatings" was published in the December issue.

From Springer's Press Release | 1 December 2015 | Heidelberg, Boston
Springer’s Journal of Materials Science has awarded the 2015 Robert W. Cahn Best Paper Prize to Bradley T. Richards, Hengbei Zhao and Haydn N.G. Wadley of the University of Virginia for their study on the important issue of how to protect ceramics that have applications in advanced, high efficiency, gas turbine engines.
Ceramics can withstand operating temperatures exceeding those of superalloys, but they need protection from the water-rich oxidizing environment they will encounter in service. Richards, Zhao and Wadley have proposed using ytterbium silicide as a protective coating. Their study, "" examines how to optimize the deposition process used to apply these coatings.

C. Barry Carter, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Materials Science, said, "When a journal covers the entire field of materials science and receives more than 5,000 submissions each year, the winner of the Cahn Prize, selected by members of our editorial boards, epitomizes the outstanding quality of the papers that the journal publishes."

Charles Glaser, Springer’s Executive Editor for the journal, added, “The Journal of Materials Science is honored to publish the findings of excellent researchers. In order to recognize their achievements, we award the Cahn Prize to the best of the best and hope this recognition will help and encourage the winning scientists in their careers. Springer is proud to play a role in making their research more accessible, thereby accelerating further discovery.”

The Cahn Prize was named in honor of the journal’s founding editor, the late Professor Robert Wolfgang Cahn. This annual prize recognizes a truly exceptional original research paper published in the journal in a given calendar year. Each month the editors select a paper published in that month's issue through a rigorous nomination and voting procedure. The winning paper is then selected from the 12 finalists by a separate panel of distinguished materials scientists.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Extreme Challenge: UVA engineer Haydn Wadley and his team push materials to their failure point

"Sometimes spectacular failures inspire you to investigate the fundamental processes that are responsible, and that knowledge then sets the stage for designing new materials and new structures that can survive under even more extreme conditions.”

November 13, 2015 | UVa Today | by Charles Feigenoff

“Things get pretty interesting when you take materials to their point of failure,” said Wadley, a University Professor and Edgar Starke Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Virginia. One extreme environment that has drawn Wadley’s attention is the interior of jet engines.

In 2016, the International Air Transport Association expects airlines to carry 3.6 billion passengers, the equivalent of half the world’s population. Jet engine performance affects all of those people, and increasing the performance protects the environment by reducing carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Surfaces in a jet engine’s combustion chamber and in the turbine immediately behind it routinely reach 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, even the most advanced engine alloys rapidly oxidize and fail. In response, engine manufacturers coat these parts with heat-resistant materials. Over the years, Wadley’s research group has done pioneering work exploring the mechanisms that enable coatings to protect an underlying surface, determining mechanisms that cause the coatings to fail with rising temperatures, and developing longer-lasting coating materials. Wadley and his colleagues also have developed vapor deposition processes that deliver more effective coating protection.

But 2,500 degrees is not as extreme as engine manufacturers would like to go. Combustion at even higher temperatures would increase fuel efficiency and further reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They are experimenting with engine components made from ceramic composites that have tremendous strength at ultra-high temperatures. Principal among these are SiC/SiC ceramic matrix composites, named because silicon carbide is used for both matrix and fiber.

“If we want technology to continue to provide greater services for society, we need to understand failure in extreme environments and so design materials and structures that withstand them,” Wadley said.

- See more at:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Jerry Floro emphasizes hands-on approach with REU (research experience for undergraduates)

No one ever fell in love with engineering by reading a textbook. Knowing this, many Engineering School faculty members welcome undergraduates into their labs each summer as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program (REU).

"Learning by Doing" | by SEAS VEF

“When you are in the laboratory, you’re trying as hard as you can to find an answer to a problem that’s never been solved before,” says Jerrold Floro, associate professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department and co-principal investigator of one of the three REU grants the School has secured. “You begin to see the knowledge you’ve learned in the classroom in a new light, as a tool to be used, not something to be memorized and repeated.”

In Floro’s laboratory, students take on cutting-edge issues that grow out of Floro’s interests in synthesizing and characterizing the structure of electronic materials as well as materials that self-assemble on the nanoscale.
Floro also moderates a weekly journal club, where undergraduates hone their public-speaking skills by summarizing an article related to their research.  Their fellow students not only ask about content, but also critique their presentation. Students then apply the lessons learned to the 20-minute presentation on their work that they give at the daylong REU Research Symposium that ends the session.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

New U.Va. Dual-Degree Program Aims to Meet Demand for STEM Teachers

Begining this Fall 2015, a great opportunity awaits those interested in earning a degree in teaching! The University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Curry School of Education have joined forces to offer a five-year Bachelor of Science/Master of Teaching program, responding to a nationwide demand for teachers with rich backgrounds in STEM fields.

Written by Aubree Breen with UVA Today.

Engineering School students will; in their second year, apply to the Curry School of Education and complete both schools requirements during their subsequent years finally earning both a bachelor's degree in engineering science, coupled with a Masters of Teaching degree. In addition to earning the dual degree's; graduates will receive a teaching license with an endorsement in either physics, chemistry or mathematics.

Faculty members from the Engineering and Curry schools have partnered for years on multiple projects. Many of those projects, combined, create the Curry School’s Engineering Design Initiative, which works to support the successful implementation of engineering design curricula in K-12 classes both through its teacher preparation program as well as collaborations with in-service teachers.

We are excited to partner with the Curry School on this new educational program. The world needs more engineers and scientists, and students should be introduced to the excitement and opportunity of engineering early on, said Craig Benson, dean of the Engineering School. We need teachers with engineering skills to meet this need, and our joint program will fill that need.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Professor Robert Johnson and his team simulate Pluto's upper atmosphere

This July, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will probe the Pluto system. Modeling and simulation work done by Professor Bob Johnson and his team show promising data revealing that nitrogen in the atmosphere from the cold and distant dwarf planet Pluto could be flowing over to its moon Charon, which would be the first known example of a such an event.
img: Nasa 
 The group's findings temper past doubts about Pluto and its moons potentially sharing an atmosphere.

From New Scientist:

  "It's thought to happen all the time in astronomy, such as in the case of binary stars or explanets located close to their stars,"  says Johnson. "Calculations and computer models are one thing. But here we have a spacecraft that's going to fly by and directly test our simulations, which is quite exciting."

Thursday, July 2, 2015

UVA ECS Student Chapter Ranked #1

With 32 students, the University of Virginia student chapter of the Electrochemical Society ranked number one as the ECS student chapter with the largest presence according to May press posting.  Founded in 1902, the Electrochemical Society is the largest international organization promoting  electrochemical and solid state science and technology. With over 8,000 members in 70 nations, ECS promotes the field of electrochemistry and solid-state science through meetings, journal publications, scholarship, and training.

The UVA student executive committee is:

Mary Lyn Lim (MSE), Co-Chair
Jay Shrinavsen (MSE), Co-Chair
Noelle Easter Co (MSE)
Rob Golden (MSE)
Scott Lee (CHEM)
Gilbert Liu (MSE)

Micheal Nguyen (CHEM)
James Robinson (CHEM-E)
Lok-kun Tsui (MSE)

Giovanni Zangari is the ECS faculty adviser

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

MSE-ES Jill Fergusson represents UVA NExT at White House Forum

On May 20 at the White House Forum on Small Business Challenges to Commercializing Nanotechnology, Jill Ferguson (ES' 17) spoke before members of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and members of the National Economic Council, along with business leaders and representatives of academia.

Jill Ferguson of UVA NExT speaking at the White House
According to White House press release, the  forum recognizes nanotechnology as a important emerging growth sector:
In recognition of the importance of nanotechnology R&D, representatives from companies, government agencies, colleges and universities, and non-profits are announcing a series of new and expanded public and private initiatives that complement the Administration’s efforts to accelerate the commercialization of nanotechnology and expand the nanotechnology workforce
Jill attended representing, NExT, the Nano and Emerging Technologies Club) of UVA during the lightening round of talks. Jill Ferguson is pursuing an Engineering Science degree with a concentration in Material Science Engineering and Nanotechnology and an Engineering Business minor. Jill's notable active roles in academia and  in the science and technology community, coupled with events like her participation in the forum, aide in answering the President Obama's call for all sectors of the nanotechnology community to come together as pillars and to continue to build and enforce nano-science and nanotechnologies.  

NExT provides students of diverse backgrounds a forum of which to learn, develop and grow in the dynamic and ever evolving cutting edge research and technologies field by spreading tech news, hosting seminar series, leading NASA lab tours, and working to create student alumni relationships. Started in Spring 2009, NExT was formed by UVa undergraduate Matthew Smith. Jill's recent participation in the White House Forum embodies the NExT club's vision:
NExT is devoted to raising awareness of current research and potential applications of nano and emerging technologies, building an interdisciplinary community of students interested in technologies of the future, facilitating interaction with faculty and industry, and promoting science and engineering innovation

Monday, June 22, 2015

MSE mourns the loss of professor Raúl Baragiola

The Materials Science and Engineering Department was saddened to learn that Raul Baragiola, the Alice and Guy Wilson Professor of Engineering Physics and Materials Science, died Sunday June 21, 2015.

Professor Baragiola joined the University of Virginia in 1990 following positions at Rutgers University, the Bariloche Atomic Center in Argentina, and as CEO of his own computer and software engineering company.  Founder and Director of U.Va.'s Laboratory for Atomic and Surface Physics, Baragiola was a member of NASA's Cassini Mission team.

His research interests spanned astrophysics/astrochemistry,  atomic physics, solid state physics, and space sciences, atomic collisions in gases and solids, sputtering, electron and photon emission from surfaces, Auger processes, surface physics, physics of ice, plasmon excitations, dielectric breakdown and decomposition of insulators, ion beams and ion implantation, physical-chemistry of surfaces of planetary bodies and interstellar grains, and instrumentation for space research. 

Baragiola offered in one interview that he was "someone who is always looking for questions. For me, the most fascinating stage is the very first, when an idea begins to take shape, when the elements of a problem are first discovered." In his 2014 bio sketch by Eduardo Montes-Bradley, Professor Baragoila elaborated "that he liked to explain things that have not been explained before... the passion that I get if from solving mistakes."

Baragiola was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a Fellow and Chartered Physicist of the Institute of Physics (London), and an Honorary Member of the Bömische Physical Society, Professor Baragiola, held two Argentina National Physics Prizes, and a NASA achievement award, as well as an ICACS Lifetime achievement award.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Wadley Lab Wins Major Equipment Award

The Wadley Lab group received notification of DOD approval to construct a $800,000 high temperature, high water vapor pressure laser gradient test facility as part of the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program.  The new instrumentation will enable the University of Virginia researchers to recreate the thermal, environmental and mechanical loading conditions within future ceramic gas turbine engines.

According to DOD press release, the highly competitive program  received over 695 proposals for support from a wide range of advanced engineering areas:

"The Defense University Research Instrumentation Program supports state of the art equipment that augments current university capabilities or develops new capabilities to perform cutting edge defense research and associated graduate student research training....    This includes research that underpins advances in materials, structures, and manufacturing science; quantum and nanosciences; computing and networks; electronics, electromagnetics, electro optics; acoustics; neuroscience; fluid dynamics; robotics and autonomous systems; and ocean, environmental, and life sciences and engineering."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Congratulations to the MSE, EP, and ES class of 2015!

“You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So... get on your way!”
from ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Theron Rodgers Receives Ph.D.

Well done Theron! Theron Rodgers has completed his Engineering Physics Ph.D. with a successfully defended dissertation titled "Non-Line-of-Sight Directed Vapor Deposition".  Theron is currently finishing up several papers on the coating of doublet guide vanes before joining Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, New Mexico).

Bradley Richards Receives Ph.D.

Congratulations to Dr. Bradley Richards who successfully presented and defended his MSE Ph.D. dissertation on "Ytterbium Silicate Environmental Barrier Coatings" in April.  Brad is now finishing up several papers before starting the next phase of his career with GE Global (Niskayuna, NY).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Titanium Wood?

Liang Dong has developed a novel technique for making titanium cellular materials with a highly efficient octet truss structure.  His recent paper in the International Journal of Solids and Structures "Mechanical Response of Ti-6Al-4V Octet-Truss Lattice Structures" shows that the cellular structure is of similar density and strength to engineered balsa wood, but offers the greatly improved corrosion and high temperature resistance and titanium.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Alcoa joins the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing

by CCAM: "Global High Tech Metals Leader Will Enhance CCAM Research and Development"

The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) today announced that Alcoa, the global leader in lightweight metals technology, engineering and manufacturing, will join the research consortium that brings together world-class businesses, Virginia's top universities, and the NASA Langley Research Center.

As an Organizing Industry Member, Alcoa will conduct proprietary research at CCAM's state-of-the-art facility in Prince George County, Va., and retain IP ownership of its developments as well as collaborate with member companies on research for new manufacturing techniques and processes.

"Alcoa is driven by innovation - not only from our own scientists and engineers but also through collaboration and ideas shared by those outside our company," said Director of Technology Leighton Cooper, who will serve on CCAM's Industrial Operations Board and provide oversight of CCAM's operations and review of research programs. "Our membership with CCAM will increase efficiencies and provide advanced manufacturing solutions that will benefit the whole consortium. Alcoa's role as an industry pioneer directly aligns with that model."

Raymond J. Kilmer, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Alcoa, will serve on the Board of Directors for CCAM, and Sherri McCleary, Director of Materials & Process Technologies will serve on its Technical Advisory Council.

Joseph F. Moody, CCAM President and Executive Director, said, "Alcoa is a multi-material powerhouse, a trailblazer in new production techniques and a leader in developing speed-to-market innovations. CCAM is delighted to welcome Alcoa to the team."

Founded more than 125 years ago after inventing aluminum, Alcoa developed a new industry from which many others benefited. Alcoa's innovations continue to evolve in markets ranging from aerospace, automotive, defense and commercial transportation to oil and gas, building and construction, consumer electronics and packaging.

The CCAM industry and government consortium now numbers 28 members, including Aerojet Rocketdyne, Airbus, Alcoa, Canon Virginia Inc., Chromalloy, Newport News Shipbuilding, Oerlikon Metco, Rolls-Royce, Sandvik Coromant, Siemens, Blaser Swisslube, EOS, Hermle Machine Co., Mitutoyo, Paradigm Precision, RTI International Metals, Inc., Buehler, Cool Clean Technologies, GF Machining Solutions, Mechdyne, National Instruments, Spatial Integrated Systems (SIS), and the NASA Langley Research Center.

Academic partners are the Old Dominion University, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University, and Virginia Tech.

CCAM is based at a 62,000 square foot facility that has computational and engineering research labs, high bay production space and commercial scale equipment, and specialized equipment and tooling for research in surface engineering, manufacturing systems, additive manufacturing, machining technologies, composite materials processing, and welding and joining. Leveraging the combined strengths and capabilities from CCAM and the network of university, industry, and government partners, CCAM bridges the gap between research and commercialization, accelerating new developments to market.


About CCAM
CCAM delivers innovative solutions for manufacturing better products. An applied research center, CCAM provides production-ready advanced manufacturing solutions to member companies across the globe. Members guide the research, leveraging talent and resources within CCAM and at Virginia's top universities, through a collaborative model that enables them to pool R&D efforts to increase efficiencies. Results can then be applied directly to the factory floor, turning ideas into profit faster and more affordably than ever before. CCAM is located in a state-of-the-art research facility in Prince George County, Virginia. For more information, visit

About Alcoa
A global leader in lightweight metals technology, engineering and manufacturing, Alcoa innovates multi-material solutions that advance our world. Our technologies enhance transportation, from automotive and commercial transport to air and space travel, and improve industrial and consumer electronics products. We enable smart buildings, sustainable food and beverage packaging, high performance defense vehicles across air, land and sea, deeper oil and gas drilling and more efficient power generation. We pioneered the aluminum industry over 125 years ago, and today, our approximately 59,000 people in 30 countries deliver value-add products made of titanium, nickel and aluminum, and produce best-in-class bauxite, alumina and primary aluminum products. For more information, visit, follow @Alcoa on Twitter at and follow us on Facebook at

Leland Melvin featured on NPR's My Big Break

"By day, I'm catching balls for America's team and at night, I'm watching materials science and engineering courses in a master's program." ~ Leland Melvin, speaking to NPR in My Big Break
From NPR: "From Touchdowns To Takeoff: Engineer-Athlete Soared To Space"

You may recognize retired astronaut Leland Melvin from his famous 2009 NASA portrait with his two dogs, Jake and Scout. Or maybe you've seen him on the Lifetime channel hosting Child Genius.

But his first claim to fame wasn't in space or on screen — it was on the field. Melvin, who is part athlete and part engineer, was drafted in the NFL in 1986.

He was signed to the Dallas Cowboys the same year he enrolled at the University of Virginia, studying materials science and engineering.

"They videotaped the courses and mailed them to me in Dallas," Melvin says. "So by day, I'm catching balls for America's team and at night, I'm watching materials science and engineering courses in a master's program."

But when Melvin suffered a severe hamstring injury during practice, his NFL career was over.

So he fell back to a career in science. He says he heard that NASA was looking for astronauts. With his athletic background and engineering experience, he thought he might be perfect for the job.

"So I applied the next selection and I got in," Melvin says. "It was pretty incredible."

Melvin went through the rigorous series of training sessions, including time at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a 6-million-gallon pool used for spacewalk training.

"We have the International Space Station and Space Shuttle submerged underneath 30 feet of water so that you can actually be floating like you're in space," he says. "We're in this white suit looking like a Michelin Man, they lower you down in the water and one of the things they forgot to put in my helmet was this little pad on your neck ring."

Melvin says that little pad allows you to press your nose against it so you can clear your ears as you go down into the water.

"I was straining to clear [my ears] and I tell the test director, who's in the control center, to turn the volume up in the headset," Melvin says. "I could not hear a thing. All I heard was static and white noise."

They immediately stopped the exercise and Melvin was pulled out of the water.

Leland Melvin floats inside the International Space Station
alongside  astronauts Stanley Love (left) and Rex Walheim, (right)
during Melvin's first mission to space. AP

"There was blood coming out of my ear and they rushed me to the emergency room," he says. "They did surgery, they looked around, they couldn't find anything and being an astronaut, you need your hearing. If something happens and they can't explain why it happened, they won't let you fly in space."

Melvin's hearing slowly came back but he was still medically disqualified. So he traveled to Washington, D.C., to work in one of NASA's education programs instead.

"At that same time, February 1, 2003, we lost Space Shuttle Columbia," he says. "At that point we had to take care of our families."

Melvin consoled the parents of David Brown, one of the crew members on board who died that day.

"David's father said to me ... 'My son is gone, there's nothing you can do to bring him back, but the biggest tragedy would be if we don't continue to fly in space to carry on their legacy.' "

Melvin says that really stuck with him. He wanted to do his part. As he flew across the country attending memorial services, Melvin says the chief flight surgeon was watching him closely, assessing his ear injury.

"He's watching me clear my ears and go up and down in the airplane and he calls me in his office and says, 'Leland, I'm going to sign a waiver for you to fly in space,' " he says. "That was one of my big breaks."

The Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off Thursday afternoon Feb. 7, 2008, at the Kennedy Space Center. "It was this incredible surge of force and sound," Melvin says. Terry Renna/AP

Melvin's first mission was in February of 2008 aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis.

"We're looking at each other, we're pointing to the books and things and we're pointing to the computers and we have these huge smiles on our faces," he says. "Just like, 'Yeah, we're about to go to space!' "

The countdown began.

"The three main engines light, that's when the solid rocket boosters ignite," Melvin says. "It was this incredible surge of force and sound and your head is starting to shake."

The shuttle roared into the sky.

"I had a mirror on my wrist and I could look out the overhead window and see where the plume connected back to the ground. About three miles from where that plume was, was where my family was sitting," he says. "And it made this connection with me that they were with us."

Just 8 1/2 minutes later, the crew aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis made it into space.

"We're floating and the things that you dropped are now floating around you," Melvin says. "Seeing this blue marble below us with no borders as we go around the planet every 90 minutes at 17,500 miles per hour."

"Looking at places where there's unrest and war and we're working together as one team to help advance our civilization — that's just an incredible, incredible moment for me."

Monday, February 2, 2015

Nanomedicine student Kevin Eisenfrats leads team to Winning Entrepreneurship Cup

Last fall, nine finalists competed for a chance to win the sixth annual  University of Virginia Entrepreneurship Cup competition. The first place prize went to a team led by forth year Nanomedicine student Kevin Eisenfrats.

Story by Lauren Jones and Ashley Patterson in UVA TODAY:

Four teams divvied up $40,000 in prize money Friday at the sixth annual University of Virginia Entrepreneurship Cup competition, where new student-initiated ventures hoped to get their footing with a generous investment sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research in partnership with Third Security LLC and Vonage.

“The concepts presented today covered talents and ideas from all over the schools of the university,” said Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research. “We can say the entrepreneurial spirit is layered over U.Va.”

He noted that more than half of the nine finalist pitches were interactive media concepts, and the rest were new inventions of physical devices or therapies. But with three-quarters of the winnings, the material inventions won out.

The winners of the $20,000 first-place prize went to an almost exclusively first-year team of Ann Liu, Alexander Karmi and Melissa Pena and their fourth-year team leader, Kevin Eisenfrats, who developed the idea for a gel-based contraceptive injection for male cats and dogs that could transform the way the animal population is controlled.

The current vet-administered procedure for neutering costs pet owners hundreds of dollars, is surgically invasive and painful, irreversibly alters hormones and can often lead to complications such as increased risks of prostate and bladder cancer, said Eisenfrats, a nanomedicine engineering major. He and his teammates are pre-commerce and engineering students who met through a biotechnology entrepreneurship program at U.Va. called Biotrep.

“The truth is that the neutering procedure hasn’t changed in centuries,” he said. “There’s a two-week recovery period after the surgery, it’s expensive, and there are way too many risks that come along with it.”

The students’ solution package, called “Contraline,” contains two parts. First, they’ll provide an existing contraceptive polymer gel that vets can inject into a male pet’s vas deferens (the tube that transports sperm from the testes). Instead of sterilizing the animal, the gel will effectively block the sperm from flowing for 12 years – the average lifespan of most pets, Eisenfrates said – but it’s also easily reversible, a trait that competitive animal breeders would find attractive.

To accurately inject the gel, the students are developing a handheld ultrasound device that vets can use to see beneath the animal’s skin, similar to an x-ray machine. The vet can use the device to insert the gel, and to check on the status of the contraception at any subsequent checkup.

“We’re taking the neutering procedure, which is surgically invasive and has many problems for the animal, and turning it into a much safer and less complicated procedure,” Eisenfrats said. “Think of it like a flu shot.”

The new procedure will reduce pet trauma while still controlling the animal overpopulation, and with a cost to consumers of $150, it promises a faster and cheaper alternative to neutering.

In a pet sterilization market valued at more than $3 billion annually, Contraline’s “no-snip” contraceptive method has the potential to make a huge impact.

“We are shocked and ecstatic to win,” Eisenfrats said. “[Our team] has come very far and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Biotrep and Dr. John Herr, my mentor and our team’s adviser.”

The $10,000 second-place check was awarded to the NostraJAMUS team, which pitched its idea for an online music platform centered on discovery and popularity betting. Commerce students Collin Waldoch, Tony Olmert and Vincent Ning developed the concept for the website, which encourages users to share songs they think will be the “next big hit,” post the song on their profile page, and then gain popularity on the site if other users agree. In a twist from other music-discovery sites, players can enter contests to place small bets on which music acts will rise, and the outcomes result in cash winnings.

The team proposed to make pick new hit songs like drafting a “fantasy football” steam, and by pairing music discovery with monetary incentives, they’ll facilitate a fun, interactive community that music lovers will want to keep coming back to – and will set itself apart from other services that rely more on their music volume than its value, they said.

Two other teams won $5,000 checks for honorable mention.

Commerce students Doug Chan, Shreyas Harihanan, Dawn Lu and Seth Nelson received funding to propel their “Community Honor Fund,” a short-term loan and financial coaching program specifically for university towns. The fund aims to offer low-interest loans to families in need living in the Charlottesville community, and enroll the borrowers with a student-run loan counseling service that will educate the families, and train students in financial literacy coaching.

The other $5,000 check went to Tim Barry, Stephen Simion, and Pearson Gunn for RHEOFLEX, a brace to help reduce knee injury in football. Football players often avoid wearing braces because the rigid, uncomfortable fit impacts their performance. The student team, made of two engineers and a commerce student, have engineered a lightweight, flexible polymer-based brace that tenses up when it sense the knee is about to give out, combating both problems. The engineering students have already started developing the brace as part of their fourth-year capstone project.

“There was a great diverse number of concepts that we got to see today, and the judges all felt that the level of poise and passion that you brought to your concepts was incredibly impressive,” said competition judge and U.Va alumnus Mark Lefar as he prepared to announce the winning teams. “Keep plugging away at your ideas.”

Friday, January 16, 2015

Groundbreaking Nanomedicine Program Creates Opportunities for Undergraduates

When it comes to the future of medicine, small is indeed beautiful.
By Charlie Feigenoff, UVA TODAY:

Working at the nanoscale, tens of thousands of researchers are in a race to develop tiny nanoparticles, nanodevices and nanopatterned surfaces for medical applications. Their goals are both comprehensive and ambitious. They are hoping to create drugs that stop disease processes at the molecular level where they start, engineer drug delivery systems that are small enough to reach deep within the body and build scaffolding and textured surfaces that the body can use to regenerate lost or damaged tissue.

To prepare students to take part in this swiftly emerging field, University of Virginia faculty members in the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering have formed a program in nanomedicine.

“This is a great model of departments working together,” said professor William Johnson, who chairs Materials Science and Engineering. “Students were very interested in nanomedicine, and we wanted to make the opportunities in the field available to them.”