James Smyth. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.
James Smyth. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

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Fralin researcher awarded NIH grant

James Smyth, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, has been awarded a five-year, $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to discover why viruses that normally infect our lungs can turn deadly when they infect the heart. 

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. Inflammation of the heart due to infection, called myocarditis, is responsible for 42 percent of all sudden deaths in young adults and is a significant cause of death in infants and children.

Inflammation occurs when our immune systems act to shut down an infection, and most of what is understood regarding how the heart is affected during viral myocarditis has historically focused on such responses.

Smyth is taking a different approach. He is looking at the virus to discover what is happening during infection prior to inflammation. His team has identified alterations in the heart, caused by the virus prior to an immune response, that can lead to deadly arrhythmias.

“Right now, we don’t understand why certain viruses infect the heart or what they do at the molecular level that leads to arrhythmias,” Smyth said. “This work will investigate and shed new light on how viral infection of heart muscle actually leads to sudden cardiac arrest.”

Smyth’s laboratory at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute examines how heart cells communicate with one another to keep the heart beating.

Smyth, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Science, is recruiting team members, including a research associate and a postdoctoral associate, to join his research team at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

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Top row, from left: Viswanath Venkatesh, Georgia Hodes, Zheng Xiang. Bottom row  left to right: Lina Quan, Walid Saad, Wenjing Lou. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.
Top row, from left: Viswanath Venkatesh, Georgia Hodes, Zheng Xiang. Bottom row left to right: Lina Quan, Walid Saad, Wenjing Lou. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Six Tech researchers named on highly-cited list

Six Virginia Tech researchers have been named on Clarivate’s Highly Cited Researchers 2022 list for demonstrating significant influence in their fields or across multiple fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers during the last decade. 

The highly cited researchers’ names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science citation index, and the list identifies the research institutions and countries where they are based.

Virginia Tech researchers Lina Quan and Georgia E. Hodes received the distinction of being cited as “cross-field,” a category that identifies researchers who have contributed to highly cited papers across several different fields. Some Virginia Tech researchers listed below have appeared on this prestigious list multiple times.

Hodes, assistant professor of neuroscience in the College of Science, was cited for studies that cross multiple fields with research examining sex differences in the peripheral and central immune system and how immune mechanisms interact with brain plasticity to drive behavioral differences in susceptibility and resiliency to stress. Her research interests include the molecular substrates directing the functional contribution of hormones and cytokines to the onset, symptoms, and cause of mood disorders in both sexes.

Wenjing Lou, the W.C. English Endowed Professor of Computer Science in the College of Engineering, has made innovative and widely cited research contributions in a diverse set of challenging security and privacy contexts, including problems arising in next-generation wireless networks, the Internet of Things, network management and routing, blockchain systems, and data security and privacy in the cloud. Lou, who also holds a courtesy appointment in electrical and computer engineering and is a co-director of the Complex Networks and Security Research lab, has been an IEEE fellow since 2015 and founded the IEEE conference on communications and network security.

Viswanath Venkatesh, the Verizon Professor in Department of Business Information Technology and director of the Executive Ph.D. program in the Pamplin College of Business, has published 140 journal articles in various fields, including human-computer interaction, information systems, organizational behavior, psychology, marketing, medical informatics, and operations management. He is the most-cited scholar at Virginia Tech per Clarivate’s Web of Science with almost 50,000 citations and more than 152,000 citations per Google Scholar. Venkatesh’s research focuses on understanding the diffusion of technologies in organizations and society, and he has published several high-impact papers related to societal and organizational problems. 

Quan, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Science, was cited for studies that cross multiple fields, focusing on the optical and electronic properties of emerging semiconductors such as perovskites for use in next-generation optoelectronic applications. With her research group, Quan employs a number of cutting-edge characterization techniques (ultrafast lasers, synchrotron X-ray) to study the photophysics of materials and devices with high spatial and temporal resolutions. Applications for her research are: light harvesting, light emitting, and other related optoelectronic devices.

Walid Saad, professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering and IEEE Fellow, was cited for research at the intersection of wireless systems, artificial intelligence (AI), game theory, and cyber-physical systems, including seminal contributions to emerging wireless systems including 5G, 6G, and beyond; machine learning, and edge computing/AI. Saad, an expert in wireless systems and AI, leads the Network Science, Wireless, and Security Laboratory and is the Next-G Wireless Faculty lead for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, aims to lay the foundation of AI-native, sustainable wireless 6G systems that exploit brain-like intelligence and reasoning to support the unique needs of future applications, such as wireless extended reality and digital twins, that will be pillars of the anticipated metaverse.

Zheng Xiang, associate professor and head of hospitality and tourism management in the Pamplin College of Business, was cited for his research that includes travelers’ use of information technology, digital marketing strategies, emergent technologies, and social media analytics. His research focuses on the strategic implications of information technologies for the hospitality and tourism industry. He served as president of the International Federation for IT and Travel and Tourism and currently serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Information Technology and Tourism.

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Tracy Frist. Courtesy of Ferrum College.
Tracy Frist. Courtesy of Ferrum College.

Ferrum gets $10,000 gift for Appalachian Literature project

Former Ferrum College student Tracy R. Frist recently made a $10,000 gift to Ferrum College to support the College’s Appalachian Literature project (AppLit) and the digitizing and archiving needs of the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum (BRIM).

“Tracy’s generous gift to the BRIM archive will provide us with the resources we need to digitize collections of folktales and songs so that they will be easily available for public use,” said Bethany Worley, director of the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum in a statement.

AppLit is an online resource library created by Tina L. Hanlon, professor of English at Ferrum College, to serve as an archive of Appalachian literature for children and young adults. Frist’s own original animal tale, “Mountain Marbles: An Appalachian Tale,” is archived on the site and is an example of how the project includes student and faculty authored works as well those gathered from oration. 

The AppLit project was originally funded in 2000 by the National Endowment for the Humanities and serves as a resource for educators and dramatists. 

In addition to Frist’s gift, Ferrum College received a Humanities Research for the Public Good grant from The Counsel of Independent Colleges to fund student work on the project. 

“Dr. Tina Hanlon taught me preservation of culture, history and diversity lies in storytelling. Ferrum College and the greater Appalachian community is full of powerful and transformative stories. I wanted to be a part of saving these stories with this rich cultural evidence and making them accessible to everyone,” Frist said in a statement.