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West Virginia University researchers present work being done to help state [The Exponent Telegram]

By Victoria L. Cann

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University researchers are working to help not only the Mountain State, but the nation and world with discoveries in a number of fields.

The university unveiled some of those developments during a day-long “media day” designed to share the school’s mission with residents.

John Bolt, senior executive director of communications, said it’s important to host a day like this, especially after WVU was honored as a R1 research university a little over a year ago.

“Research is important for the academic world, and it’s important that the people of the state understand what’s going on, too,” he said. “Research has real-world impact on people’s daily lives.”

Dr. Hota GangaRao, director of the Constructed Facilities Center, presented research on polymer composites to help fix infrastructure. Not only can this be done competitively with regards to conventional materials, but with more longevity, he said.

As a state, West Virginia is facing a lot of bridge issues, GangRao said. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave a D+ for West Virginia’s infrastructure.

“West Virginia is in particularly bad shape. It is one out of five states out of 50 that is falling behind in terms of improving the infrastructure rating,” he said. “We have a large problem with 7,000 bridges, with approximately 1,250 having strength-related problems.”

With the use of fiber reinforced polymer (FRP), combining two materials to make something better is a way to effectively and efficiently fix these problems, GangaRao said.

“Using different FRP can reduce the load of that particular bridge deck system and increase the load of the trucks it can handle,” he said. “With advanced polymer composites, we can offer new ways to enhance the service life of our infrastructure at minimal costs.”

GangaRao said he is working with the Texas Department of Transportation. It was going to replace road infrastructure at $160 per square foot. With the fiber reinforced polymer, the department can replace that same section for $60-70 per square foot.

“We have done accelerated studies on the materials and combinations. We expect to have the structures lasting roughly 100 years at a minimum,” he said. “If there are issues, if we didn’t do it right, we can go in there with a big syringe to inject the resin so it bonds back as we intended in the original design.”

Dr. Patrick Ma, associate professor and co-leader of the WVU Cancer Institute, presented the facts and figures of battling lung cancer in West Virginia. It is the top cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.

“Nationally, lung cancer is a problem, but it’s even worse in West Virginia and the Appalachian region,” he said. “Lung cancer in West Virginia is 59.6 percent per 100,000 compared to 45 percent in the country.”

Although there have been several advancements in the field of lung cancer, there is still so much more to be done, Ma said. They have been working with personalized precision targeted therapy, genomic profiling and looking at drug-resistant strains.

“We look at it that we can cure lung cancer, maybe not yet, not in the near future,” he said. “We are looking to cure more lung cancer or bring about long-term survival, seven to 10 years more with stage 4 metastasized lung cancer.”

Dr. Stephany Coffman-Wolph, WVU Tech assistant professor of computer science and information systems and a founding faculty member of the Association for Women Engineers, Scientists, or Mathematicians Empowerment, presented a talk on artificial intelligence.

“The term was coined in the 1950s shortly after World War II, essentially when the ENIAC was a giant computer that took up an entire room,” she said. “But it emerged after that, and it’s such a multifaceted field.”

Artificial intelligence is the ability to mimic human behavior and mannerisms using computer algorithms, Coffman-Wolph said.

She has done a lot of research on fuzzy logic, which is an approach to computing based on “degrees of truth” rather than the usual “true or false” (1 or 0) Boolean logic on which the modern computer is based. By fuzzifying, it takes mathematical, logical or comparative operators and converts them to the fuzzy counter part, which is an abstraction designed to mimic a more humanlike approach.

“The Hunch Factor is my attempt to mimic the human intuition into decision making,” she said. “So, we have to physically put that into the system, and it’ll pick something random. It’s OK for it to make mistakes or bad portions because those things have to be a portion of it.”

Article amended to reflect Dr. Coffman-Wolph’s credentials.