Public Release: 

Virginia Tech research, graduate program focus on interfaces

Virginia Tech

Blacksburg,, Va., -- The mass and energy transfer that takes place at natural interfaces determines virtually every aspect of life. A Virginia Tech team of scientists and engineers has received a prestigious Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) award in the amount of $3.1 million to study these phenomena.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is providing the funding for "Exploring Interfaces through Graduate Education and Research." Known as EIGER, Virginia Tech's project will explore naturally occurring interfaces among minerals, water, air, and microorganisms. The program also will explore the complex interfaces among people who make up the interdisciplinary teams that will investigate these interfacial phenomena.

"Gaining an interdisciplinary understanding of these complex processes will only be possible if we are able to transfer knowledge across the interfaces between humans and between disciplines. EIGER is unique because we will study these physical and psychological processes simultaneously," said John Little, professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) who is the international internship coordinator. EIGER includes 11 remote laboratory locations on five continents, and EIGER fellows, in teams of two, will engage in research at these international sites in a novel program called "paired internships."

EIGER will educate the "whole student" in a complex field vital to the leading environmental issues of the day. It is envisioned that this educational model will help drive an institutional transformation at Virginia Tech and beyond. The program will support at least 27 graduate students during the next five years.

"As part of EIGER, we will develop a new graduate-level course that will actually teach students how to do interdisciplinary research in science and engineering. We will be offering this course to Virginia Tech's EIGER Fellows and other doctoral candidates. These graduate students are among the very best in the country, and it's an exciting prospect to work with them in the classroom and on research," said CEE professor John Filz, the EIGER curriculum coordinator.

A central feature of EIGER is the integrated team of principal investigators at Virginia Tech. In addition to Filz and Little, they are Roseanne Foti, associate professor of psychology, Mike Hochella, professor of mineralogy and geochemistry, and Brenda Winkel, professor of biology. In all, EIGER will involve 20 faculty members from 10 departments and four colleges.

"It is a rare privilege and great honor to team up with some of the most talented faculty members on campus to work in a research field that means so much to science and engineering in general and the sustainability of Earth in particular," said Hochella, the director of EIGER.

IGERT is an NSF-wide program intended to meet the challenges of educating U.S. Ph.D. scientists and engineers with the interdisciplinary background, deep knowledge in a chosen discipline, and the technical, professional, and personal skills needed for the career demands of the future. The program is intended to catalyze a cultural change in graduate education by establishing innovative new models for graduate education and training in a fertile environment for collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Virginia Tech was among an elite group of 23 new IGERT grants awarded in this funding round out of 550 proposals submitted. The award is Tech's fourth IGERT. Only five U.S. universities have four active IGERT awards. The other are the University of California at Los Angeles, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Michigan, and University of Washington.


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