Virginia promotes homeland research

The Virginia Institute for Defense and Homeland Security launched a summit June 25 showcasing cutting-edge technology projects in development as a way to drive research dollars to the commonwealth's universities. This was the first in what many government, academic and business leaders are hoping will become an annual event.

Addressing a well-attended meeting at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., Gov. Mark Warner, who officially formed the university and research industry institute in early February, said he had "extraordinarily high hopes" for it. "This is one of the most important initiatives of this administration," he said.

The Secure Virginia Initiative Panel recommended creation of such a group last fall. Soon after, the Virginia Research and Technology Advisory Commission, a 29-member panel created by Warner to advise him on research and technology strategies, began developing plans for the institute.

"This is a three-legged stool we're working on," said state Technology Secretary George Newstrom, referring to the collaboration between the academic, business and government sectors.

He, Secretary of Education Belle Wheelan, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Michael Schewel, and Assistant to the Governor for Commonwealth Preparedness John Hager guided the development of the institute.

The institute is a consortium of 14 member universities, including the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Warner said IDHS' efforts would ground the state in three areas: focused research, collaboration among institutions of higher learning and advancing the state's long-term economic strategies. He said there's a critical need to commercialize homeland security research and development.

"We need to move the efforts from the lab into commercial applications as well as community applications," Warner said.

Joe May, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and head of its Science and Technology Committee, said that to his knowledge, most states have tried some version of such an institute, but never in such a unified manner as Virginia. He said collaboration between the public, private and academic sectors up until this point has been "virtually zero." It could also become a national model for other states and the federal government, he added.

Researchers provided 20-minute overviews of their projects in such categories as smart chips for detecting biochemical agents, intrusion-detection systems, preparing biosecurity workers and first responders for a food-based terrorist attack, and cognitive software-defined radios. Many are being funded by various federal agencies, including the Defense Department.

For example, James Leathrum Jr., an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., is working on a seaport simulation project that studies the impact of a chemical or biological attack to find weak points and then develop recovery strategies.

Warner said Virginia universities currently receive about $600 million in research and development funds. He wants to increase that by $100 million by the end of his administration and increase funding by up to $1 billion total in another seven to eight years.

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