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Spring 2017

The future is created today. What we’ll eat, what we’ll wear, how we’ll heal, the crises we’ll avert. West Virginia University has already started these improvements to our lives. Now it’s time to count down . . . 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.


Jennifer Shephard

Constant gardener 

We have fewer bees around to pollinate our crops nowadays. One species has even been listed as endangered. A robotic hero, Cataglyphis, which has gone farther on the NASA Robot Sample Return Challenge than any other robot in the history of the competition, is retiring from space science to help pollinate plants. Assistant professor Yu Gu and his team from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, will be training the robot — named for a genus of desert ants — to navigate around and identify plants in the WVU Greenhouse. Then they’ll adapt Cataglyphis to create a stationary robotic arm system to pollinate bramble plants, such as blackberries and raspberries. The project is funded by the federal government’s National Robotics Initiative.


UAS: RQ-11B Raven (Courtesy AeroVironment, DSIAC Journal)

Drone team

A new math algorithm is helping drones fly autonomously on complex coordinated missions. Marjorie Darrah, professor of mathematics, created a genetic algorithm that helps multiple Raven unmanned aerial vehicles to coordinate during missions. A piece of software assists the ground station, which would have ultimate control of the flight. UAVs are used by the military in enemy air defense and conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. One of Darrah’s students, Marcela Mera Trujillo, is developing and patenting a similar algorithm approach that creates highly detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps using multirotors that fly over structures. Darrah’s research was funded by the Army Research Laboratory.

Faster Drug Delivery

It can take 10 years and more than $1 billion for a potential medical drug to get from initial study to the pharmacy. Three graduate students have found inefficiencies in the way lab animals used in research are handled, and they have developed a solution. MD/PhD students Brandon Lucke-Wold and Zachary Wright and MBA student Brandon Cook have developed SwifTag, an ear tag that uses radio frequency identification and a smartphone reader to collect data for animal inventory and tracking. The current system uses numbered metal ear tags to keep track of animals. SwifTag simplifies the process to avoid hand-entering data on computers and reduces excessive animal handling and the chances of human error. The team has secured pilot funding for prototyping, filed a provisional patent and formed a limited liability company. 


Matthew J. Winans

Yeast Testing

Humans are a lot more like yeast than it appears at first glance. Yeast grows, divides, ages and metabolizes food much like human cells do, which is a reason Jennifer Gallagher, assistant professor of biology, is using yeast to look at the effects herbicides have on genes. In 2015, the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, is a “probable human carcinogen.” With the support of the National Science Foundation, Gallagher is studying genetically diverse strains of yeast from all over the world to see if she can find pathways, which also appear in humans, that herbicides affect.

Carbon Chompers

We talk about carbon a lot, especially as it relates to climate change. More carbon is stored in soil than the atmosphere and biosphere combined, and the microorganisms in soil consume the carbon and convert it to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Ember Morrissey, assistant professor of environmental microbiology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is studying how soil microorganisms behave in order to predict whether their actions could alleviate or worsen climate change. Her research is funded by the National Science Foundation Division of Environmental Biology.

T-Minus Archive

Spring 2016

What if we could harvest the elements in our phones from acid mine drainage? What if our snack packaging was made from plants?

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Spring 2017

A robot turns from space mining to pollinating raspberries. Drones work as a team. And students find a way to make medical research run faster.

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