News Highlights

Sethuraman Panchanathan, Ph.D., director of the National Science Foundation (center) stands with two other people in front of a desk
Sethuraman Panchanathan, Ph.D., director of the National Science Foundation (center)

NSF director visits campus and tours the Nanomaterials Core Characterization Facility

Sethuraman Panchanathan, Ph.D., director of the National Science Foundation, visited campus in February, meeting with VCU leaders, touring labs and hearing from researchers about how VCU is advancing NSF-supported scientific discovery, innovation and education, and serving as a national model for bringing the “missing millions” to STEM careers and education.

One of the locations that Panchanathan visited was the Nanomaterials Core Characterization Facility, which is a partnership between the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences and the VCU College of Engineering. The facility offers technologies that benefit multidisciplinary industrial and scholarly research in a broad range of sciences to modify, manipulate or tailor the surface, size or shape of a particular material.

As he toured the facility, Katharine Tibbetts, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, and Chamari Weththasingha, a chemistry grad student, showed Panchanathan results from an earlier study they conducted in the Nano lab. “It was very exciting to have Dr. Panchanathan visit VCU and our facility, especially because we place such an emphasis on training students to use NCC instruments. VCU can directly answer the call to engage the missing millions, and we have a superior facility that gets students energized about the future of science,” said Tibbetts.

Puru Jena standing in front of a bookshelf
Puru Jena, Ph.D.

New Energy and Environment Institute spearheaded by Puru Jena

This year, VCU launched the Institute for Sustainable Energy and Environment (ISEE) under the direction of Puru Jena, Ph.D., distinguished professor in the Department of Physics. The institute is a collaborative effort with faculty participants from across campus.

The goal of ISEE is to address the existential threat of climate change by creating sustainable energy systems and sustainable ecologies, while educating students and working with community partners to meet these challenges. ISEE’s many initiatives this past year included a Transdisciplinary Environmental Research Incubator that supported environmental research collaborations across the university; a Climate Teach-In that educated students, faculty, staff and Richmond-area community members on advocating for climate justice policies; and a Symposium on Sustainable Energy and Environment, a multi-day conference that included collaborative, transdisciplinary research on sustainability.

Jena said the institute’s work is urgently needed. “We have an obligation to see how we can [transition] from the energy that causes all these problems to a clean energy,” Jena said. “We need our scientists to develop fundamental understanding of material properties that will lead to the design and synthesis of novel materials, made of earth-abundant materials and capable of meeting the requirements of the next generation of devices.”

collage including flowers, a butterfly and a bust sculpture

Philosophy hosts summer camp for high school students

Some high school students like to ponder life’s biggest questions. Enter the VCU Summer Camp in Philosophy, a weeklong day camp program held for the first time in the summer of 2022. Students in grades 9-12 had an opportunity to learn new perspectives and explore a specific theme by creating projects, including videos, podcasts and presentations, to help themselves and others see the world in a new way.

“One of the really wonderful things about this program — the thing that I find most fantastic about it — is that it has the opportunity to reach a whole bunch of students who’ve just really never encountered philosophy in any form at all, and they have no idea whether it’s something that they’re interested in yet,” said Jamie Fritz, Ph.D., camp director and an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy.

Close to 20 students participated in the inaugural year while philosophy undergrads served as counselors. The camp was such a success that the department hopes to hold it every summer.

“I think the camp made me realize that philosophy was not really a thing that you just learn and then you tell other people about it; it’s a way of thinking,” said Lucy, a student at Atlee High School in Mechanicsville, as her project group mates enthusiastically agreed. “It’s a way to understand things in a deeper way and to make conclusions, and I think that’s a really helpful skill.”

Three photos of outdoor rallies next to 7 photos of people on a video conference call

Political Science partners with Kyiv School of Economics in Ukraine 

In the spring of 2023, students in POLI 391: Ukrainian Politics and Society had the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of the war from Ukrainian citizens. “It has just been a very striking class so far,” said Philip Kamper, a senior at VCU. “There’s been a couple of moments where one of the professors had a legitimate issue of [electrical] power. And so that led them to a really interesting discussion. It was a reminder that they’re teaching us from an active war zone.”

The course was developed by Judy Twigg, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Political Science; Ivan Gomza, Ph.D., academic director of the Public Policy and Governance program at the Kyiv School of Economics; and Tymofii Brik, Ph.D., rector at the Kyiv School of Economics, and features many Ukrainian guest lecturers. This collaboration between the Kyiv School of Economics in Ukraine and VCU began in April 2022, when both parties signed a memorandum of understanding that confirmed the intention of the institutions to develop collaborative activities in different academic or research areas.

“Ukraine, and especially Kyiv, has such dynamic, creative, innovative young thinkers and institutions,” said Twigg, the initiator of the partnership. “It’s exciting to take steps toward expanding VCU’s ties there and launching a university partnership that can benefi t people across both our societies, especially as a free, democratic Ukraine will be rebuilding after the war.”

VCU students realize that this learning experience is unique. “Overall, I have been absolutely loving the class, and I cannot stress how grateful I am that our professors — both the professors at the [Kyiv School of Economics] as well as our own Dr. Judy Twigg — have provided this course, “ said Fraser Trotter, a senior majoring in philosophy and political science. “It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

All annual report topics