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State researchers meet to highlight accomplishments and identify potential new scientific endeavors

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Approximately 50 academic researchers from West Virginia’s colleges and universities, who collectively are responsible for an economic impact on the state of $37.5 million, met in Charleston recently to report on their current work while planning for the state’s future in scientific discovery.

“The scientists who gathered last week are West Virginia’s true rainmakers when it comes to driving the state’s economic engine from a research and development perspective,” said Dr. Paul L. Hill, Chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (the Commission). “These very talented and intelligent individuals are not only responsible for cutting-edge research that results in life-changing discoveries, but also for changing lives through the creation of jobs and the infusion of cash into the state’s economy.”

West Virginia Science & Research, a division of the Commission, hosted the annual “All Hands” meeting at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park. Researchers from institutions across the state gathered to present their work and talk about progress made and the milestones met. Updates focused on two signature projects: Gravitational Wave Astrophysics and the Appalachian Freshwater Initiative. Both projects are funded by a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Program Track-1.

“The Track-1 award brings together researchers at five institutions — Marshall University, Shepherd University, West Virginia Wesleyan College, West Virginia University and the Green Bank Observatory – in an effort to build a world-class research effort,” said Dr. Maura McLaughlin, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at West Virginia University. “This is a multi-disciplinary effort that involves theory, computation, big data challenges and instrumentation. The Track-1 award has allowed us to leverage the strengths of many different institutions and specialties to make the entire collaboration more competitive. Students involved in this work are learning valuable 21st-century skills that will prepare them for careers in many fields needed to sustain our state’s new knowledge-driven economy.”

EPSCoR was created in 1979 due to Congressional concerns regarding the geographical concentration of federal academic research and development (R&D) funding. EPSCoR’s goal was to expand and enhance research capabilities in states that traditionally lacked strong university-based research efforts in order to make them more competitive for federal research funding. West Virginia was one of the first states selected to join and since 2000, has tripled the amount of federal funding awarded.

While federal funding for R&D is steady, state funding has declined in recent years. The West Virginia Research Trust Fund – created by the state legislature in 2008 — provided $50 million that was matched by donations to West Virginia University and Marshall University. The endowment was used to hire faculty, support fellowships and scholarships and improve academic libraries. In total, the Research Trust Fund was leveraged for an additional $117 million investment in

academic research and development. By 2015, this fund was no longer available. The Research Challenge Fund – created by the legislature in 2004 to support R&D projects at higher education institutions – has also seen its budget cut by nearly 75 percent.

For more information about scientific research happening in the state, visit wvresearch.org.

West Virginia Science & Research, a division of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, directs the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) in West Virginia, while also managing state-funded academic research programs, including the Research Challenge Fund.


RESEARCHER PROFILES

Maura McLaughlin
Dr. Maura McLaughlin is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at West Virginia University. McLaughlin’s main research interests involve studying neutron stars, amazing physical laboratories for general relativity, studies of the interstellar medium, high-energy particle and plasma physics and studies of stellar evolution. Through her work with the NANOGrav collaboration, she aims to use neutron stars to detect gravitational waves through timing an array of ultra-precise millisecond pulsars. She serves as chair and co-director of the NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center and also as principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) award, which provides students with research experience through the International Pulsar Timing Array collaboration. Her work with the Pulsar Search Collaboratory involves West Virginia high-school students in research. She has been awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship and a Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for her work. McLaughlin received her Ph.D. in astronomy and space sciences from Cornell University in 2001. She then received a NSF Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship, which she took to the University of Manchester in England. McLaughlin came to West Virginia University in 2006, and is now the Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy.

Michael Norton
Dr. Michael Norton is a professor of chemistry at Marshall University. His research interests range from the synthesis, reactivity and physical characterization of superconducting materials to the design, assembly and characterization of DNA based nanostructures with sensing capabilities. Norton is also interested in imaging science. He is director of the Molecular and Biological Imaging Center at Marshall, which houses instrumentation for scanning electron microscopy, scanning tunneling microscopy, atomic force microscopy, laser scanning confocal microscopy and near-field scanning optical microscopy. Norton graduated from Louisiana State University of Shreveport with a B.S. in chemistry, and earned a Ph.D. in solid-state chemistry from Arizona State University. He pursued two years of post-graduate training as the National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in the Electronic Materials Branch of the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, California.

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