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West Virginia University's WVNano initiative is the institution's focal point for discovery and innovation in nanoscale science, engineering and education.
WVNano conducts research on systems that, put simply, can detect threats to the security, defense and health communities on a molecular level. For example, WVNano researcher Letha Sooter was recently awarded a $409,000 grant from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to work with molecular recognition elements (MREs), in hopes of creating devices that will detect explosive, chemical and biological warfare.
Funding a program as ambitious as WVNano requires a continuous effort, said interim director Dr. David Lederman. “You need to be aggressive about funding, and you need faculty to be inspired to write proposals.”
Lederman indicates that the program’s historical success rate for funding proposals had been hovering around the national average of 15 percent, but because his faculty had been aggressive in generating proposals prior to the infusion of federal stimulus funding, his team is experiencing funding acceptance rates closer to 40 percent this year.
WVNano operates various education programs designed to attract more students to nanotechnology research: seminars for incoming freshman, summer research opportunities for undergraduates and bridge programs for incoming graduate students. These programs are changing the way students look at nanotechnology.
“Students sometimes feel that fields like physics or chemistry involve sitting at a desk and calculating all day,” Lederman said. “But in reality, you’re figuring out something that’s real and coming up with creative solutions. You need creativity just like a painter or writer needs creativity.”
The WVNano initiative brings prestige to West Virginia University that bolsters the school’s ability to recruit students, conduct research and win research funding. “It’s really about benefit to the students,” Lederman said. “These are the people who will lead our high-tech industry and economy into the future.”
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