Virginia Tech Associate Professor Hang Yu. Courtesy of Tech.
Virginia Tech Associate Professor Hang Yu. Courtesy of Tech.

Here’s a roundup of education briefs. Want more education news? There’s no full-time reporter west of Richmond covering education K-college. You can help fix that. Help us fund this position. From now until the end of the year, NewsMatch will double your gift of up to $1,000.

* * *

Tech gets grant for 3D printing in space

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded up to $1 million over the next three years into research in Virginia Tech’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering to study 3D printing in space.

The project will be led by Associate Professor Hang Yu, who will receive the funding beginning this year through DARPA’s prestigious Young Faculty Award program. The award guarantees $500,000 for two years, beginning this fall. If all benchmarks are met, the project could qualify for a third year and another $500,000.

DARPA was created in the 1950s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower after the Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite caused concern that the U.S. might fall behind in national defense and security. The agency has been instrumental in developing society-changing technologies, such as the internet, stealth technology, GPS navigation, drones, and mRNA vaccines.

“They emphasize high-reward, high-risk projects,” Yu said. “And they want to get things done quickly.”

Yu’s lab focuses on a metal manufacturing process called Additive Friction Stir Deposition (AFSD), which has drawn great attention recently from the aerospace and defense sectors. The low-temperature 3D-printing process can assemble components using metals, such as high-strength aluminum and titanium, without melting them. By building up layers of the materials, AFSD can manufacture components in a range of sizes and shapes that have better strength and fewer defects than components printed using other processes. AFSD also can be used to repair metal components.

Yu and his research team already work with the Department of Defense, including a Naval Air Systems Command project that examines ways to use low-temperature 3D metal printing to repair specialty aluminum components used in airplanes.

The DARPA project will focus on autonomous manufacture and repair for austere environments like space, creating new challenges for Yu’s lab. His team will work on it with a corporate partner, MetroLaser Inc., a California-based company that develops laser-powered optical diagnostics systems.

Kendall Knight, a doctoral student in Yu’s lab, will help direct the interdisciplinary research group working on the project. The group includes student members from materials science and electrical engineering and will use data analytics and artificial intelligence components.

“The way DARPA is looking at it is: ‘How can we print metal on the moon or Mars or in the deep ocean, and have confidence it will be strong enough?’” Knight said.

Knight, who has a background in mechanical engineering, is part of a three-student interdisciplinary team working on the project.

* * *

Two Tech scientists involved in study on bird feeding

Two Virginia Tech scientists are involved in research into human-wildlife interactions through bird feeding.

Ashley Dayer of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, the lead principal investigator on the project, and Dana Hawley, a co-principal investigator from the College of Science, are leading a team that has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Dayer, an associate professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and Hawley, professor of biological sciences, started working on bird feeding five years ago when they received a joint seed grant from the Global Change Center of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and the Institute for Society, Culture and the Environment. They later applied for the larger and more competitive NSF grant and were recently notified of funding.

Their collaborative project involves researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which manages Project FeederWatch — a November-April participatory science project in which birders observe birds that visit backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. By counting birds on select days and submitting their data online, members of the general public are able to participate in and advance scientific research. Researchers from The Ohio State University and the University of Georgia also are involved.

The team wants to learn how birds react to what people do in their backyards, how people react to what they see at feeders, and how birds impact people’s well-being. A group of more than 10,000 people from across the nation will be submitting information through Project FeederWatch, and the grant allows for the funding of positions to collect, sort, and analyze that data.

“With this study, we will be able to explore how to maximize benefits to wildlife and humans in a dynamic system,” Dayer said in a statement. “Importantly, we aim to shed light on questions wildlife agencies are asking about how to address avian disease outbreaks. If they tell people to take down their bird feeders, how will that impact populations of birds and how will it impact human well-being if people are no longer seeing birds at their feeders?”

* * *

Bluefield to hold public Christmas music event

Bluefield University will host its traditional Christmas at Bluefield music event Saturday, December 3, at 7:30 p.m. in Harman Chapel Auditorium on the Bluefield University campus. 

Christmas at Bluefield is open and free to the public. It features choral performances, carol singing, instrumental selections, theatre pieces, and scripture readings. The production will showcase students and professors from BU’s music and theatre departments.  

A reception hosted by the office of the president will follow the program in Shott Hall with hot cider, coffee, cookies, and other holiday treats. 

For more information, contact Rebecca Kasey, director of public relations at