Where is ODU? In National Geographic, New York Times, Discovery Channel, etc.

Lawrence Weinstein, University Professor of physics at Old Dominion University and a researcher at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, is usually on the trail of subatomic particles. So why does an article in the April issue of National Geographic magazine have him pondering over jelly beans?

The answer has a lot to do with the book by Weinstein and ODU mathematician John Adam, “Guesstimation: Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin” (Quest, Vol. 11, Issue 1). As for jelly beans, National Geographic wanted to put Weinstein’s estimating skills to a test by having him guess how many pieces of candy were in a large jar. Newspapers, magazines, online news sources and television shows have lined up to do stories about the problem-solving tactics in the book. In the process, ODU is basking in reflected glory.

In fact, ODU researchers and scholars got lots of good publicity during the spring 2009 semester. Here are some examples:

• Just a few days after the April National Geographic hit magazine racks, the New York Times of March 31 published a story in its Science section about the “Guesstimation” book, headlined “The Biggest Puzzles Brought Down to Size.”

• A March 30 story in the New York Times used Jeffrey Jones (Quest, Vol. 10, Issue 2), ODU associate professor of communications, as a source for its profile article on Fox News commentator Glenn Beck. The Times noted that Jones is the author of the book, “Entertaining Politics.”

• Also on March 31, the New York Times article on motorsports technology in and around Martinsville, Va., noted the work being done there by ODU engineers in cooperation with the New College Institute in Martinsville to promote the industry.

• ODU geobiologist Nora Noffke (Quest, Winter 2003 and Vol. 10, Issue 1) explains her microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS) research and is shown doing field work in South Africa on the Discovery Channel television program “Prehistoric Disasters” that debuted March 26.

Steve Yetiv, University Professor of political science, wrote an op-ed article, “Reports of America’s decline are greatly exaggerated: Six reasons why U.S. economic clout will endure,” that appeared in the March 12 edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

ODU Doctoral Student Pursuing Her Dream in Panama

Julie Ray, the Old Dominion University doctoral student in ecological sciences who has refused to let her deteriorating vision derail her studies of jungle snakes and frogs (Quest, Vol. 11, Issue 1), was back in Norfolk in May to receive her degree and to drum up support for a research station she is founding in Panama.

Despite the excitement of finishing her doctorate, her main focus these days is the research station in Panama’s Parque Nacional General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera. She revealed plans more than a year ago for an elaborate $1 million station that she had taken initial steps to build in conjunction with the Panamanian government. Her work was the subject of an Associated Press news story that was distributed worldwide.

Now, she said, she has decided to scale back her plans so she can keep her proposed La Montaña para Investigación y Conservación Ambiental (La MICA) a private and locally run facility. She likes the name La MICA—in English it stands for The Mountain for Research and Environmental Conservation—because “mica” is the local name for a snake found in the region.

“During my time there last year, the local people and I decided to make La MICA a private entity within the park,” she said. “This will ensure that we can keep the money locally, directly benefiting the station, the park and the local communities. We have reduced the cost to about $100,000, including materials, general furnishings and wages for the local people.”

The decision to downsize and stay local was helped along by a Panamanian lawyer who volunteered his services, she said. “After hearing about the project, he helped us with all steps for free. We now have a nonprofit foundation set up in Panama that will oversee the station, can accept tax-deductible donations, apply for grants and be able to offer scholarships.”

More about La MICA and ways to make donations can be found at www.lamica.org.

News stories a year ago noted Ray’s determination to continue her snake studies even though her eyesight is so poor she cannot drive a car. They also told of her dream to establish La MICA and become its first director.
Ray has spent most of the past three years in Panama. She and the helpers she has trained have captured more than 700 snakes, which are evaluated as part of ecological studies and then released.

The 29-year-old woman has prevailed against great odds since she arrived at the Parque Omar, named for the late Panamanian leader. She is blind in the center of her right eye. In her left eye she has lost nearly all of her central vision, leaving her mostly colorblind and with blurred remaining vision. She also spoke little Spanish when she first tried to explain to the park’s officials and residents of the nearby village of El Copé why she was there. Based on tips she had gotten from fellow herpetologists, she believed the park might be a snake-rich territory that would promote her research.

Today, Ray speaks Spanish with ease, she has come to be known as the Parque Omar’s unofficial biologist, she is invited to lecture about ecology at Coclé Province schools and she has performed enough barehanded captures of her prey to prove that the territory is, indeed, teeming with snakes. Those captures, and the fact that most of them are accomplished at night in the jungle, have gotten the attention of locals, she said. The focus of Ray’s research is a group of nonvenomous mollusk-eating snakes of the genera Dipsas and Sibon.

Pearson’s New Book Chronicles World Travels

Michael Pearson, professor of creative writing at Old Dominion University (Quest, Vol. 2, Issue 2, and Vol. 6, Issue 1), has written a new book titled “Innocents Abroad Too: Journeys Around the World on Semester at Sea,” chronicling his experiences of traveling, twice, as a faculty member in the Semester at Sea program.

The book was selling well enough in early 2009 to make The Denver Post’s Top 10 Local Best Sellers list for nonfiction.

Pearson’s latest work, published by Syracuse University Press, uses rich imagery, humorous anecdotes and literary references to detail his experiences visiting new places in the company of young students and, often, novice travelers.

“Conflict makes good stories,” Pearson observed, “and this book explores the depths and profundity of students engaging in the world, and the mishaps also.”

During his first Semester at Sea assignment in 2002, Pearson visited Canada, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Cuba. On his second venture, in 2006, he traveled to Mexico, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Egypt, Turkey, Croatia and Spain.

In his book, which reviewers describe as a “literary journey” as well as a travel narrative, Pearson intertwines references to great travel books and their writers with descriptions of the places he visited and his own meditations on the significance of travel and new experiences.

Gheorghe Speaks at Maritime Infrastructure Protection Symposium in Bahrain

Adrian Gheorghe, the Batten Endowed Chair in system of systems engineering at Old Dominion University (Quest, Vol. 10, Issue 1), received high marks for his presentation at a Maritime Infrastructure Protection Symposium in February in Manama, Bahrain. The symposium was sponsored by the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

Gheorghe was a presenter in The Threat and Threat Protection portion of the program, and his topic was “Mission Analysis-Understanding the Threat.”

Vice Adm. William Gortney, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. Fifth Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, wrote in a thank-you note to Gheorghe, “Your presentation generated significant discussions both during and after the symposium. Most importantly, it directly contributed to improved regional cooperation on maritime security operations and maritime critical infrastructure protection.”

The 156 symposium participants were from 24 nations and represented the maritime industry, security companies and military. Topics of discussion involved maritime protection and crisis response for ports, harbors, resorts, energy infrastructure, desalination plants and all other infrastructure vulnerable in the maritime domain.

A Romanian by birth, Gheorghe was educated in Bucharest and London and has three decades of experience as a risk engineer. He joined ODU in 2006 after serving as director of the Centre of Excellence on Risk and Safety Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He is vice president of the World Security Forum and honorary president of EURISC (European Institute for Risk and Security).

He is among the pioneers in applying system of systems engineering to risk assessment and management. He and colleagues in Europe have developed computational models for these purposes, with a focus on risks from sabotage, terrorism, cyber vandalism and natural disasters. At ODU he is working with the university’s National Center for System of Systems Engineering.

ODU’s Langlais Hosts Annual Meeting of Conference of Southern Graduate Schools

Old Dominion University administrator Philip Langlais (Quest Vol. 9, Issue 2) delivered the presidential welcome and opening address at the 38th annual meeting of the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools (CSGS) in February 2009 in Norfolk.

Langlais, the vice provost for graduate studies and research at ODU, is serving as the 2008-09 president of the CSGS and was instrumental in bringing the annual meeting to Norfolk. The meeting’s theme: “Advancing an Action Agenda for Graduate Education.”

His presidential address reviewed transformative goals for graduate education that have been adopted by the CSGS. The goals include promoting graduate programs and facilities that help graduates meet the challenges of our society; updating the culture and direction of graduate programs; becoming advocates for social responsibility and accountability; and working together to create, test and share solutions and best practices.

Langlais also was an organizer of a plenary session, “The Evolving Need for Collaboration Between Graduate Education and Workforce Development,” and the speaker for another session titled “Engaging Faculty and Industry in Dialogue and Partnerships: Corporate and Academic Mindsets.”

The annual meeting featured graduate students at CSGS schools serving as panelists to give administrators and faculty participants commentary “from the frontlines,” Langlais said. An ODU doctoral student in health services research, Mohammad Alzahrani, participated in the program, “Graduate Student Panel: Meeting the Needs of an Increasingly Diverse Student Population.”

More than 200 universities in 15 states are members of the CSGS. Around 170 graduate school deans, vice provosts and other participants attended the annual meeting.

A psychologist and neuroscientist, Langlais has become known within the CSGS and several national and international organizations for his work on ethics training, especially for graduate students and graduate-program faculties. He has headed an ODU steering committee on ethics, professional standards and responsible conduct.

Humic Science and Technology Conference in Boston Dedicated to Patrick Hatcher

Patrick Hatcher, the Batten Endowed Chair in Physical Sciences at Old Dominion University (Quest, Vol. 10, Issue 2), received one of the top honors bestowed by the Humic Science and Technology XII Conference at Northeastern University in Boston in March.

The full conference was dedicated to Hatcher with thanks for his groundbreaking work in organic and environmental geochemistry. Past honorees include researchers from universities, industries and government agencies throughout the world. Michael Perdue, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech, was the conference’s honorary chair.

The ODU scientist is known for his innovations in the chemical analysis of hard-to-analyze compounds. His research applies to some of our biggest 21st-century economic, environmental and health challenges, including water quality, global warming, origins of disease and the search for sources of energy.

Organic molecules—those originating with living organisms, as well as those that are synthesized—are typically very large and complicated in the relative scheme of chemical compounds, and their structures have been difficult to elucidate. But Hatcher’s creative analytical strategies have given science a much better understanding of coal, petroleum and natural polymers, of the ways sediment and soil interact with pollutants at the molecular level, and of how natural organic material can thwart the treatment of drinking water. His work also has advanced biochemical studies of proteins and other biological compounds.

He directs the ODU College of Sciences Major Instrumentation Cluster (COSMIC) Laboratory, which includes nearly $3 million worth of instruments such as a 12-Tesla Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR) mass spectrometer and 400 MHz solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer with the latest High Resolution Magic Angle Spinning (HRMAS) capability.

Hatcher, who is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, also is executive director of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC) and leads the organization’s initiative to create a commercial source of biodiesel fuel from algae.



Quest Summer 2009 • Volume 12 Issue 1