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Mobile Autism Clinic RV drives past the courthouse in Marion, VA

Faculty, staff make strides in research, outreach efforts

The College of Science's faculty and staff excel at answering the challenge of Virginia Tech's motto, Ut Prosim, That I May Serve.

These are just a few of the people who are using their expertise to advance basic science and outreach efforts to improve society, inform the public and impact the world.

Scott smiles in front of clinic RV

Jen Scott

Rural outreach and grants coordinator,
Virginia Tech Autism Clinic and Center for
Autism Research, Department of Psychology

Service focus: Expansion of services by the
clinic to rural areas lacking care for youth on the autism spectrum

The Virginia Tech Autism Clinic and Center for Autism Research's Mobile Autism Clinic has been named a finalist for the 2021 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award. The designation was announced by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) with the clinic/research center having been selected as a regional winner of the 2021 W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Scholarship Award. The prize "recognizes programs that demonstrate how colleges and universities have redesigned their learning, discovery, and engagement missions to deepen their partnerships to achieve broader impacts in their communities,” according to the APLU website. Scott and Angela Scarpa, professor of psychology and director of the clinic and research center launched the Mobile Autism Clinic in 2018 to serve families in Virginia’s rural Central Appalachian region, providing expertise and diagnoses of youth with autism spectrum disorder. The project received its initial funding as a private gift from Virginia Tech alumnus Jerry Hulick (political science B.S. 1973). Winners will be announced in November.

Xiao portrait in front of Hokie Stone wall

Shuhai Xiao

Professor, Department of Geosciences

Research focus: Interactions between the biosphere and its environments at critical transitions in Earth’s history

Earlier this year, paleobiologist and geobiologist Xiao was awarded the National Academy of Sciences’ prestigious Mary Clark Thompson Medal. Presented every six years, the $20,000 prize went to Xiao for “re-envisioning our understanding of evolution” through his research into “the interactions between the biosphere and its environments at critical transitions in Earth history.” This follows Xiao, also a member of the Virginia Tech Global Change Center, being named the Patricia Caldwell Faculty Fellow by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors in 2020.

Lin portrait in front of stone wall wearing purple dress shirt.

Feng Lin

Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry

Research focus: Batteries, energy technologies, smart windows, catalysis materials

Feng recently won a five-year, $600,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to develop rechargeable batteries that he hopes could one day impact the energy market. His project is timely as scientists and engineers around the world work to make rechargeable batteries that are smaller, last longer, have faster charging speeds, and are safe. “Energy storage is a vital technology to enable the widespread adoption of renewable energy and to accelerate the technological advancement toward negative carbon dioxide emissions,” Lin said in his proposal abstract to the NSF.

Langwig portrait in dark Torgersen Bridge library.

Kate Langwig

Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Research focus: Ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, including pathogen transmission and dynamics, and the impacts of pathogens on ecological communities

Langwig, also a member of the Virginia Tech Global Change Center, had a banner year addressing concerns and mitigating false information surrounding the three available vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — for the COVID-19 virus. She shared her expertise with such media outlets as WDBJ 7 Roanoke, Business Insider, U.S. News & World Report, WNPR Connecticut, West Virginia Public Radio, and more. “I think that COVID-19 might affect vaccine hesitancy,” Langwig said in February. “By the end of this, I don’t know that there will be anyone left in this country who has not been touched by COVID-19 in some way. I wonder if that will result in sort of a renewed faith and a renewed enthusiasm for vaccinations.”

Santos leans on railing with arms crossed and smiles.
Photo by Alex Crookshanks for Virginia Tech.

Webster Santos

Professor, Department of Chemistry

Research focus: Organic synthesis in medicinal chemistry and chemical biology, including synthetic methods development and discovery of molecules that improve human health

This spring Santos received a $2.2 million National Institutes of Health grant to further his research of mitochondrial uncouplers — small ‘fat burning’ molecules that could be used to help treat nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH for short) in the liver. NASH is a type of fatty liver disease that is characterized by inflammation, fat accumulation, and scarring. If the fat becomes too abundant then liver can become too inflamed to perform its crucial duties: remove toxins from the bloodstream, recycle red blood cells, and maintain sugar levels. An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. have NASH. There are no FDA approved drugs to treat it. “The challenging thing about NASH is that there are a lot of patients who don’t even know that they have it because the diagnosis is so poor,” said Santos, who is an affiliated member of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery. “Yes, the liver is a very malleable organ. But if you have a continuous, decades-long insult, and you don’t know that you have the disease, the damage will be irreversible.” With the grant, Santos will be able to take his prototype molecules that have already been developed and optimize them by synthesizing a lot of derivatives. After that, Santos will be able to put the various prototype molecules into animal models of disease.