Laroussi Gets Inaugural Award From
International Society For Plasma Medicine

Fifteen years ago, Mounir Laroussi (Quest, Vol. 9, Issue 2) began an experiment to investigate the effects of cold plasma on bacteria.

That experiment led him on a career-changing path, ultimately making him one of the world’s leaders in cold plasma research, particularly its effects on living cells. Laroussi is an electrical engineering professor in Old Dominion University’s Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology and director of ODU’s Laser and Plasma Engineering Institute.

The International Society for Plasma Medicine (ISPM) will recognize Laroussi’s research efforts with the inaugural International Society for Plasma Medicine Award for his contributions to the development of plasma medicine as a field. He’s one of three researchers worldwide being honored this year.

The ISPM announced the award at the International Conference on Plasma Medicine in Norfolk in June.

“I had no idea that this would grow into a field of research, much less that I would get some sort of award for it from my peers,” Laroussi said. “I was simply a curious researcher who wanted to find out what happens to living cells when they come in contact with plasmas. Luckily, other people got interested and the whole thing snowballed.”

Plasma is an electrically charged gas, known colloquially as the “fourth state of matter.” It is used in vacuums in fluorescent lights and televisions. The plasma Laroussi studies is called cold because it exists at room temperature and can be made outside a vacuum at atmospheric pressure.

Historical Murder Mystery by Finley-Croswhite Off To A Fast Start

Old Dominion University historian Annette Finley-Croswhite’s (Quest, Vol. 9, Issue 1) new book about an unsolved murder that took place in 1937 on the Paris metro subway has been praised by critics, including one who called it “well-researched and …consistently compelling.”

“Murder in the Metro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France” is a politically charged story uncovered by Finley-Croswhite and co-author Gayle Brunelle. It was published in early April by Louisiana State University Press.

Finley-Croswhite is a professor of history and chair of the ODU Department of History. Brunelle is a professor of history at California State University at Fullerton.

The book was chosen by Canadian Distributors of Scholarly Books as their “best bet” in crime and media for summer 2010. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the authors “provide a speculative but strong plausible case for who murdered Toureaux and why. Brunelle and Finley-Croswhite have produced an exceptionally fine work that is well-researched and documented and consistently compelling.”

Toureaux, an Italian immigrant, was the first person ever killed in the Paris metro. “She was a fascinating woman whose life reflected many of the complexities of inter-war France,” Finley-Croswhite said in an interview.

A factory worker and young widow, Toureaux loved to frequent music halls in some of Paris’ shabbier neighborhoods. She called herself “Yolande” and worked as a private detective for the Agence Rouff as well as for the Paris Police and agents of the Italian government.

“As something of a triple-agent, Yolande infiltrated a far-right terrorist organization, the Comité Secret d’Action Révolutionnaire, which went by the popular name of the Cagoule, and she took their gun-running expert as her lover,” the ODU professor said.

The authors’ research looked into why the Paris police shelved the murder investigation and left the case unsolved to this day. They build a convincing case for her having known too much about the plans of French and Italian fascists, and for the inevitable suppression of the murder investigation by men who would become post-war leaders of France.

Top Job With International Program Monitoring
Change In Oceans Goes To CCPO’s Hofmann

Old Dominion University oceanographer Eileen Hofmann (Quest, Vol. 12, Issue 2) will be torn between two workplaces during the next few years, one on the ODU campus and the other in Brest, France.

When she took the helm of the Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosphere Research (IMBER) initiative in January, Hofmann inherited a project office and full-time staff in Brest, as well as responsibility for some of this era’s most important research into climate and other global-change issues.

“This is an important international appointment,” said Richard Zimmerman, chair of ODU’s Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “The IMBER committee has significant input to international policy regarding climate change.”

Right now IMBER is a coalition of researchers in 24 countries, and the reach of the organization is expected to grow in the near future. The existence of IMBER, which was organized five years ago, can be attributed to the conclusion of scientists worldwide that global changes under way today compose much too big an issue to be studied piecemeal.

IMBER is one of the global change projects endorsed by the Stockholm-based International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), an offshoot of the International Council for Science (ICSU). A second IMBER sponsor is the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, which is also an ICSU body.

Along with Hofmann’s new position as chair of the IMBER science steering committee, she also serves on the science steering committee of the IGBP, which is coordinating and facilitating global-change research targeting the atmosphere, land and sea. The IMBER project provides the ocean link in the suite of IGBP projects that are focused on understanding and predicting responses to accelerating global change.

Currently, the IGBP is producing a series of global-change integration and exploration reports on topics such as environmental change and sustainable development; the relationship between a high-carbon-dioxide world and nutrient loads in the seas; and the role of land cover and land use in modulating climate.

Under the IGBP umbrella, Hofmann will be guiding IMBER toward a new goal. She calls it a “new direction in the science” that brings together two thrusts in marine science. One studies how global change affects the abundance, diversity and productivity of marine populations ranging from zooplankton to whales. The other studies the sensitivity to global change of marine biogeochemical cycles - the carbon cycle is an example.

“These are different research communities,” Hofmann explained. “Now with the emphasis on climate change these communities realize they need each other. We will look at ways to pull together biogeochemical cycling and its feedback into the food web.”

Tuleya is Author of Study Predicting
More Intense Hurricanes by Century’s End

A team of scientists including Robert Tuleya (Quest, Vol. 8, Issue 2) of Old Dominion University’s Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography (CCPO) turned up cautionary results from a study that paired an ensemble of climate-change projection models with tried and true models that the United States government uses in hurricane forecasting.

The scientists’ paper about Atlantic hurricanes, which appeared in a January 2010 issue of Science magazine, warns that the number of intense, category 4 and 5 hurricanes could double by the end of the 21st century. Furthermore, the strong hurricane activity may target highly populated areas in the eastern United States.

Morris Bender, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is the lead author of the article. He and other authors, Thomas Knutson, Joseph Sirutis, Gabriel Vecchi, Stephen Garner and Isaac Held, are with NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in Princeton, N.J.

Tuleya joined ODU after he retired in 2002 from GFDL, where he served as head of the Hurricane Dynamics Group. He and Bender worked together in the 1990s to develop the GFDL hurricane model.

At ODU as an adjunct professor and self-supporting research professional, Tuleya has continued to work on contract with NOAA to improve the GFDL hurricane model and to help develop the next generation Hurricane Weather and Forecasting (HWRF) model, which is now used as guidance by the National Hurricane Center. Altogether, he has devoted nearly 40 years of his career to devising computer models that predict tropical storm formation, intensity and movement of present day storms and investigating the impact of climate change on tropical storms in the future.

“This paper reports results of the most objective and thorough investigation of its kind to date,” Tuleya said in an interview.

The title of the article in Science, which is one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, is “Modeled Impact of Anthropogenic Warming on the Frequency of Intense Atlantic Hurricanes.” Results reported are in line with other studies suggesting that the overall frequency of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes could decrease as the climate warms.

For example, a recent GFDL study using a regional atmospheric model called ZETAC predicted a reduction by 18 to 27 percent in the total number of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes by the end of the century if the climate warms according to the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But the authors contend that many models, including the regional ZETAC, are incapable of simulating high-intensity hurricanes. Their new modeling and simulation strategy - employing the so-called “operational” GFDL hurricane model that has been used in one form or another for the past 15 years to track and predict the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes - simulated a more realistic distribution of intense hurricane winds than the ZETAC regional model in a control period of 1980-2006.

“We explored the influence of future global warming on Atlantic hurricanes with a downscaling strategy by using an operational hurricane-prediction model,” the researchers write in the article. “The model projects nearly a doubling of the frequency of category 4 and 5 storms by the end of the 21st century…when the downscaling is based on the ensemble mean of 18 global climate-change projections.”

ODU Biofuels Team Consulting on California Wastewater Project

A California wastewater treatment plant that is using Old Dominion University geochemist Patrick Hatcher and several other ODU researchers as consultants is getting attention from around the globe for its innovative, Earth-friendly plan to improve efficiencies.

Hatcher, ODU’s Batten Endowed Chair in Physical Sciences and the executive director of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC), has long been a champion of algae as a biomass source of alternative fuels (Quest, Vol. 10, Issue 2). With VCERC he has also promoted systems in which algae, as they grow, can scrub harmful nutrients from wastewater and carbon dioxide from industrial-plant airborne emissions.

In Victorville, Calif., which is about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles on the edge of the Mojave Desert, the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority has been working with Hatcher and the ODU algae-to-biodiesel research team to grow oil-rich strains of algae in a wastewater plant’s percolation ponds. The algae feed on nitrates and phosphorus, stripping these contaminants from wastewater before it is discharged into the Mojave River.

Other than Hatcher, the ODU researchers working with the California authority include Aron Stubbins, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry and assistant director of VCERC; Harold Marshall, Morgan Professor emeritus of biological sciences; Gary Schafran, chair and professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Andrew Gordon, professor of biological sciences.

The algae growing in the ponds also can provide a for-fee service to industrial facilities neighboring the wastewater plant. Carbon dioxide emissions that ordinarily would escape into the atmosphere, or require an expensive anti-pollution containment scheme, can be pumped into the ponds and sequestered because the algae need carbon dioxide in order to grow.

A spokesperson for the Victor Valley authority told the Daily Press newspaper in Victorville that biofuels gleaned from algae are expected to generate electricity for the wastewater plant. Therefore, the plan would save money for the authority’s ratepayers while also helping to clean up the environment. He said the plan, which is expected to be implemented beginning this summer, has spurred recent visits to the plant from officials in Korea, China, Sri Lanka and Mexico.

Researchers Give Children with Autism
a Smartphone-Image Communication System

Many children with autism communicate very little, even with the family members and teachers who are around them the most. But researchers at Old Dominion University have shown that a novel approach using smartphones and the World Wide Web can help these children express their thoughts and desires.

To Gianluca De Leo (Quest, Vol. 11, Issue 1), an assistant professor who specializes in bioinformatics and virtual reality at ODU’s College of Health Sciences, the project is yet another example of how information technology (IT) can improve human health and well being. He previously has adapted smartphones to help diabetics manage their health and employed virtual reality to promote treadmill training for children with cerebral palsy.

The autism project, which was funded by Microsoft’s External Research Group, allows children to communicate by calling up images on Windows mobile devices. A child who wants chicken for dinner, for example, can call up one image of a dinner table and another of a chicken leg.

Children with autism often are trained to express themselves by picking one or more laminated picture flashcards from a folder or binder and affixing their message or “sentence” to a strip of Velcro. A popular adaptation of this is called PECS for Picture Exchange Communication System.

There are also existing electronic communication devices such as the Cyrano Communicator and Pocket Reader that can be used to help children express themselves with images, but these devices often cost $5,000 or more.

De Leo says smartphones are cheap, easy to use and offer numerous other advantages over the laminated picture system and existing electronic communicators.

He leads the development of the PixTalk Communications System together with Gondy Leroy, associate professor of information systems and technology at Claremont Graduate University in California. Another member of the project team is Padmaja Battagiri, who received a master of science degree in electrical and computer engineering from ODU in December 2009. Her advisers included De Leo and her master’s thesis focused on smartphone use by children with autism.

The team’s paper, “A Smart-Phone Application and a Companion Website for the Improvement of the Communication Skills of Children with Autism: Clinical Rationale, Technical Development and Preliminary Results,” was published in February 2010 by the Journal of Medical Systems.

PixTalk software - which is available under an open-source license - can run on any Windows Mobile Smartphone, and is designed to work with a website that the researchers have fashioned to serve as project central. A child’s teacher or caregiver can access the website and select from an online library of images to be downloaded to the child’s phone. The downloaded file can be personalized to the child.


Quest Summer 2010 • Volume 13 Issue 1