Computational Complexity Researcher Desh Ranjan is New Chair of Computer Science Department

Desh Ranjan, an internationally known computer scientist and teacher, has joined Old Dominion University as chair of the Department of Computer Science. He had been department head in computer science at New Mexico State University since 2004 and a member of that university’s faculty since 1993.

Ranjan’s research, for which he has received $15 million in grant support, has explored randomness in computation, computational complexity and efficient algorithm design. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University.

Provost Carol Simpson and College of Sciences Dean Chris Platsoucas presided at areception Wednesday, Sept. 9, formally welcoming Ranjan and his wife, Jing He, who is joining ODU as an associate professor of computer science. A special guest was Richard Cheng, who came to ODU in 1979 to be founding chair of the ODU Department of Computer Science. He went on to become a successful computer science entrepreneur who has made a generous gift to ODU to endow the Richard Cheng Chair in computer science.

Cheng, who was chair for five years, noted the advances of the department since he left and said he believes that Ranjan, “as a strong researcher and administrative leader,” will take the department “to a new level of excellence.”

“He brings new and innovative ideas to the department,” Cheng said of Ranjan.
In his statement at the reception, Ranjan said supportive people at ODU made his decision to leave New Mexico State easier. “There is also the fact that here we have the opportunity to build something special,” he said. “The university and the college have the vision to build strong programs and promote research.”

He said he envisions an “outward-looking department” that is eager to collaborate on research with faculty members in all of ODU’s colleges. He also said he hopes to expand the number of full-time faculty members who teach undergraduate courses.

In addition to being department chair at NMSU, Rangan served as director of that university’s Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

“Desh Ranjan is an accomplished research investigator and teacher in computer science,” Platsoucas said. “He is respected by his peers for a substantial number of highly original and seminal research contributions. His expertise and leadership will bolster our efforts to expand research and our educational programs in computer science.”

Ranjan succeeds Michael Overstreet, the associate dean of sciences who has been acting chair of the department for two years.

ODU, EVMS Sign New Agreement for Joint Public Health
Graduate Program

Old Dominion University and Eastern Virginia Medical School have executed a new memorandum of agreement strengthening their joint master’s degree program in public health to better leverage academic strengths of the institutions.

The memorandum, which was signed in mid-September by Carol Simpson, the ODU provost, and Gerald Pepe, the EVMS provost and dean, declares that the ultimate goal of the venture is a joint school of public health. The two institutions have cooperated in graduate public health education for more than a decade, guided by two previous memoranda.

“More recently the two provosts have discussed mutual goals, and we wanted to create an agreement that will better help us realize them,” Simpson said. “A joint school of public health is not something that will happen in the near future, but it is our ultimate goal. Together we can accomplish things we could never accomplish alone.”

ODU will be responsible for the environmental health and health promotion tracks of the joint program under the new memorandum, and EVMS will be responsible for the epidemiology, health administration and biostatistics tracks. EVMS also will be the school of record for the program.

ODU will join EVMS in offering a generalist track in public health when the required faculty complement is available.

The memorandum specifies that the director of the joint program will come from EVMS and the associate director from ODU. Dr. David Matson, who has been the EVMS director of graduate public health education, will continue as director of the joint program. Jim English, chair of the School of Community and Environmental Health in the College of Health Sciences and ODU’s director of environmental health programs, will serve as the joint program’s associate director.

The agreement calls for the program to have a single curriculum, single application process and single tuition structure. Joint curriculum and faculty committees will review and approve faculty, curricula, program outcomes and evaluation processes. Degrees will be awarded jointly by the institutions.

Ciba Foundation Gift of $200,000 to Promote Research in Chemistry

The Ciba Foundation Inc., a private, tax-exempt organization, announced in August that it has made a one-time donation of $150,000 to Old Dominion University to fund The Ciba Specialty Chemicals Legacy Fund in Chemistry.

These funds will be awarded as annual stipends to attract, educate and retain top-level doctoral and graduate students in chemistry. Furthermore, the foundation also made a donation of $50,000 toward the purchase of liquid chromatography instrumentation equipment that will directly support undergraduate chemistry research at ODU.

“This is a timely and much appreciated gift that promotes the growth of Old Dominion’s research program and is evidence of the longstanding relationship between university researchers and the Ciba Foundation,” said John Broderick, the ODU president.

“The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is indebted and very thankful to the Ciba Foundation for this generous gift that will attract and support graduate students - Ciba Fellows - who specialize in analytical chemistry,” added Richard Gregory, chair of the ODU department. “Their research will in part be supported by a portion of the gift that will be used for state-of-the-art research instrumentation.

“We were able to leverage the $50,000 gift from the Ciba Foundation to win additional support worth $40,000 to pay for the new instrumentation,” Gregory added. The additional support came from the ODU Office of Research and the Shimadzu Corp., manufacturer of the liquid chromatography equipment.

Gregory said two ODU graduate students in chemistry, Amanda Willoughby and Rachel Sleighter, have already been chosen to receive $10,000 each in an annual stipend as the first of the university’s Ciba Fellows. Willoughby, who is scheduled to complete her master’s program later this year, plans to begin immediately thereafter a doctoral program in chemistry with Patrick Hatcher, ODU’s Batten Endowed Chair in Physical Sciences, as her mentor. Sleighter already is a doctoral student in Hatcher’s research group.

NSF Supports Proposal of ODU Chemists to Create a New Organic Carbon Analyzer

Two Old Dominion University chemists have received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a highly sensitive instrument to measure organic carbon in seawater and give scientists a better understanding of the global carbon cycle.

Global warming, climate change and marine ecosystems are closely tied to the carbon cycle, providing a sense of urgency to the two-year project to be undertaken by Kenneth Mopper, professor, and Aron Stubbins, assistant professor, in ODU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The title of the NSF grant is “Development of a High-Precision TOC/DOC Analyzer with a nM Detection Limit” and the amount is $394,749.

Total and dissolved organic carbon (TOC and DOC) in seawater are central components of the global carbon cycle, which is the process of carbon being cycled through the air, to plants, into animals, the ground, rivers, oceans and so forth. Organic carbon comes from living sources, such as the gigantic numbers of phytoplankton that take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis as they grow on the surface of oceans, but then die, sink and decay.

The dissolved organic carbon pool in the oceans is equivalent in size to that of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. Therefore any changes in the rates of the processes that convert DOC in the oceans to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could accelerate ongoing climate warming. So precise measurement of organic carbon in the oceans is of great importance to scientists who are trying to establish how carbon-gain and carbon-loss processes are at work in the waters.

“Accurate measurements of these pools (of TOC and DOC) are needed for oceanic models, as well as for food web and climate-ocean feedback studies,” Mopper said. “However, current DOC analyzers have problems in the analysis of seawater. The funded research project will explore the development of a new type of TOC/DOC analyzer that will potentially overcome these problems. If the instrument is successfully developed, a number of major oceanographic and carbon cycling questions can be addressed.”

The exact workings of the proposed instrument are secret because the scientists hope to commercialize it. But they do say their plan is to make design changes that will allow a nM (nanomolar) detection limit, which would be a thousand times more sensitive and precise than the limit of current analyzers.

Researcher Authors Book on Bats and Their Dispersal of Seeds

Old Dominion University botanist Tatyana Lobova studied seeds and fruits in exquisite detail as a Ph.D. student and researcher in her native Russia. But the forks in the road of research now have led to her new book on bats—yes, winged mammals—that live in tropical forests of South America.

Actually, seeds and fruits do play a major role in the scholarly work that Lobova produced together with two co-authors. The book is titled “Seed Dispersal by Bats in the Neotropics.” It was published in May by New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) Press.

Bats of temperate areas are well known as prodigious eaters of insects such as mosquitoes, but many tropical species eat fruits. In the New World tropics—known as the Neotropics—bats play an important ecological role as seed dispersers.

The new book describes in words and pictures all known bat-dispersed plants in the Neotropics, with a specific focus on the relatively undisturbed forests of central French Guiana. It covers a total of 549 species in 62 plant families, as well as 37 different species of fruit-eating bats.

“This is clearly a landmark study and will be a major reference work for students of neotropical bats and plants for a long time,” wrote one of the book’s reviewers, Theodore H. Fleming of the University of Miami. “The overall level of scholarship is excellent, the literature coverage is exhaustive and attention to detail and writing are exemplary.”

Lobova’s co-authors are Cullen Geiselman, a joint doctoral student at Columbia University and the Institute of Systemic Botany at the NYBG who studies nectar-feeding bats and the plants that they pollinate in French Guiana, and Scott Mori, the Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany at the Institute of Systematic Botany.

ODU Engineering Student Wins Scholarship to Attend International Infrastructures Academy

Ersin Ancel, a Ph.D. student in engineering management and systems engineering at Old Dominion University, was awarded a $4,500 scholarship that allowed him to be a participant in an international think tank on infrastructure security issues Sept. 21-25 in the Netherlands.

The Next Generation Infrastructures (NGInfra) Foundation headquartered in Delft, Netherlands, selected Ancel in a worldwide competition for scholarships to the NGInfra Academy, which will be held at a castle in the southern Dutch province of Limburg. The scholarship covers the registration fee as well as travel expenses.

Ancel has studied infrastructure transition and emerging infrastructures for the past two years with Adrian Gheorghe, ODU’s Batten Endowed Chair in Systems Engineering. Infrastructures are the complex systems for transportation, energy, communications and other services that people depend upon daily.

Gheorghe, who nominated Ancel for the scholarship, said, “Participating in this exceptional learning opportunity for forward-thinking infrastructure design and management will bring the most current knowledge, tools and capabilities to both Ersin’s research and other related research efforts at Old Dominion.”

Ancel, who received a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from ODU in 2007, has research interests related to unmanned aerial vehicle flight integration to national airspace for future commercial and civil applications. He also has conducted research to show the interdependencies of today’s critical infrastructures on space-based technologies.

Quest Winter 2010 • Volume 12 Issue 2