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ODU President Roseann Runte and Norfolk State University President Marie V. McDemmond offered similar glowing assessments of the "Portals to New Worlds: Research Exposition" when they addressed a standing-room-only audience Wednesday evening at the closing ceremony.

More than 700 people attended one or more segments of the seven-hour exposition on the arena floor and in various meeting rooms of the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Runte applauded the cooperation of the two institutions, and said the exposition supports ODU's "research initiative and our intent to create a climate to promote research."

McDemmond, who called her university a proud co-host of the event, said, "No one could leave the arena today without professional and personal enhancement. This event shows these two institutions right here in Norfolk have very bright faculty and students."

This was the first such joint event showcasing the research and creativity of faculty and students at the two institutions.

Mohammad A. Karim, ODU vice president for research, said he thought the cooperation of the universities produced a distinct synergy that made the exposition a clear success. "It's a plus to present this together. We are rediscovering each other. That's what I'm hearing from faculty members of both schools." He said he hopes other regional schools can participate in the exposition next year.

Runte thanked Karim for his oversight of the event and also gave credit for its success to Vice Provost David R. Hager, who chaired the steering committee. Hager told the packed Big Blue Room audience at the closing ceremony that he had feared there may be more exhibits than people, but that he was "delighted" by the outcome. In an interview at mid-afternoon, he said more than 700 people had registered their attendance. "By all measures, this way exceeds my expectations."

Steady streams of attendees, many of them students and faculty, but 100 or more who were not associated with the universities, winded through the 250 exhibits and demonstrations on the arena floor and through the displays of books written or edited by faculty and artwork by faculty in the center's entry spaces. They sat in small groups to hear musical performances. They filled up chairs in rooms where four panel discussions and the closing ceremony were held.

"Isn't this great? Look at all the people," said Susan Metosky, ODU research compliance manager and one of the exposition exhibitors, as she watched more chairs being brought into the Big Blue Room for the closing ceremony and keynote address of Nobel laureate Horst L. Stormer, a physicist who is on the faculty of Columbia University . Sitting just in front of her was Larry Mattix, associate dean of the School of Science and Technology at NSU, and he was glowing, as well. "Those of us from Norfolk State are impressed by the number of exhibits, the number of people, the quality of the event," he said.

Stormer told his audience that Columbia has no such event to showcase its research and that he would take the idea back with him to New York. In an interview minutes earlier he had said he was a proponent of education outreach by scientists, and that the exposition was a fine example of this. "We have an obligation as scientists to make what we do understandable to the public, and to demonstrate the enthusiasm we have for our work. I find the public hungry for this outreach. They are excited by science. It's a lot different from what you hear," he said.

Stormer, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1998, took the complex subject of nanoscience for his keynote address and made its basic points and potential understandable to laymen. "Nano" means one-billionth, and nanoscience and nanotechnology involve research at a nanoscale level that, in comparison, makes the width of a hair seem huge. He dribbled and waved about a basketball for much of his lecture, using it to illustrate an atom. If each atom of a human hair were as big as a basketball, he said, then the human hair would be wide enough to cover all of Hampton Roads "from Poquoson to the North Carolina line."

He encouraged his audience to think of atoms as Lego blocks. "Individual atoms are not very interesting," he said. "You could say the same for individual Lego blocks." It is when atoms come together-like Lego blocks-that interesting things happen. Nanoscience and nanotechnology involve manipulation of these building blocks, and incredibly strong building materials, superconducting wires, astonishingly small electronic and computer components, and a new breed of lasers are among the possible products of this research.

Stormer showed photos of a Ford sedan from the mid-40s and the first transistor, as large as an egg, which was made in 1947. If the car industry had made the same advances as the semi-conductor industry, he told his delighted audience, a Ford today would weigh 7 grams, get 12 million miles per gallon, go 14 million miles per hour and cost $5. He predicted even smaller chips with more transistors (some microchips today already have 220 million transistors) will result from nanotechnology.

Nevertheless, he admitted that the only master of nanoscience today is Mother Nature. "We are beginners. We are freshmen," he said.

Stormer learned just before he spoke that he and one of ODU's leading scientists, Karl H. Schoenbach, professor and eminent scholar in electrical and computer engineering, whom he had never met, had been born just 10 kilometers apart in Germany and that each was doing research that the other found intriguing. "This shows one of the best things about this event," Hager said, referring to the opportunities for knowledge exchange that can happen among faculties and students, and, in some cases, the public.

One member of the panel that discussed Advanced Materials-which covered nanoscience work at ODU and NSU-was N. P. Barnes from the NASA Langley Research Center. After the discussion he noted that he had been surprised to "learn what's going on in my own neighborhood." He said the presentation of Sacharia Albin, ODU professor of electrical and computer engineering especially caught his attention. "Professor Albin, I find, is doing fiber laser work, and that's what I'm interested in, too. This event gives us the opportunity to cooperate."

Albin said he thinks researchers always "come away with more from actually talking with colleagues and getting details, than from just reading something in a journal."

This article was posted on: April 7, 2005

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