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ECU changes lives through research

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Dr. Baohong Zhang, whose research focuses on microRNAs and cotton biology, said if he can pinpoint which microRNAs and genes affect fiber growth, that knowledge can be used to produce higher crop yields.


ECU News Services

Sunday, February 10, 2019

East Carolina University researchers and inventors were recognized on Feb. 5 at the university’s third annual Research and Scholarship Awards.

The awards honored ECU faculty with the Lifetime Research and Creative Activity Award, the Five-Year Research and Creative Activity Award, and the Scholarship of Engagement Award. Four inventors who received patents in 2018 were recognized at the ceremony.

ECU researchers helped the university reverse a trend in declining research productivity over the past year, according to the National Science Foundation’s annual Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) survey. The survey ranks nearly every aspect of research productivity for more than 600 American colleges and universities, including research sponsored by federal agencies, state and local governments, industry and non-governmental organizations.

Five programs at ECU, including anthropology, ocean and marine sciences, economics, atmospheric sciences and meteorology, and health sciences were ranked in the top 100 for public universities nationally in 2017, the latest year data was available from the NSF. ECU was ranked fourth in the UNC system in research expenditures based on the HERD rankings.

ECU biology professor Dr. Baohong Zhang was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement for Research and Creative Activity Award for his contributions in plant science, particularly for his discoveries on microRNAs and cotton biology.

During his time at ECU, Zhang has secured more than $800,000 as a primary investigator in research funding from federal agencies and industries including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, Cotton Incorporated and DuPont, melding his basic scientific research with real-world industrial applications.

Dr. Jamie Perry, associate professor in ECU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, received the Five-Year Achievement for Research and Creative Activity Award. She is a leading expert in velopharyngeal anatomy and has developed imaging processes using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs) that have challenged traditional clinical practices and led to a shift in the approach to cleft palate care. Due to her research, more cleft craniofacial teams are implementing MRI into routine clinical care.

Dr. Benjamin Blaisdell, assistant professor in the College of Education, received the Scholarship of Engagement Award. His research and outreach center on working collaboratively with school teachers and administrators to overcome racial inequity. This work draws on the knowledge and expertise of people of color and their racially literate colleagues to create and foster purposefully antiracist schools and communities.

Dr. Jitka Virag was honored as an ECU inventor. Virag, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology at the ECU Brody School of Medicine, received nationwide recognition last year when her research was selected as the winner of the STAT Madness contest, which searches for the “best innovations in science and medicine,” out of a field of more than 64 prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale and MIT.

Also honored as ECU inventors were a trio of researchers recognized for advancements in medical imaging. The team, which includes Cheng Chen and Kenneth Jacobs from the Department of Physics and T. Bruce Ferguson Jr. from the Department of Engineering, was issued a patent for innovative technology that allows surgeons to observe blood flow during surgical procedures.

First Family Health Night highlights local resources

Using pedal power to make a smoothie on the blender bike. Creating a mood wheel to share feelings. Discovering composting, or “worm food.” Plus blood pressure checks, grocery shopping tips and healthy portion guides.

More than 100 local families got a healthy start to the new year, thanks to ECU’s College of Health and Human Performance.

Family Health Night, held on Jan. 8 at the South Greenville Recreation Center, connected Pitt County families with organizations including Cooking Matters, ECU Community School Community Garden, ECU Family Therapy Clinic, Greene County Health Care Neighborhood Services, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Pitt County Cooperative Extension, and 4-H Youth Development.

“There are so many incredible community partners in Pitt County that make a difference for our families,” said Angela Lamson, associate dean for research in the College of Health and Human Performance and organizer of the event. “Often, though, families don’t know about the resources right in their backyard. This Family Health Night is a great way to introduce them and I hope tonight was just the first of many.”

Natalie Richardson, ECU doctoral student in medical family therapy, also facilitated the event. Nicole Manigo, recreation supervisor of the South Greenville Recreation Center, helped organize the space for the event.

Engineering students focus on capstone project at Cherry Point

Fleet Readiness Center East recently hosted visitors from ECU to strengthen a longstanding relationship and partnership in developing future engineers.

ECU College of Engineering and Technology Dean Harry Ploehn and Department of Engineering chair Barbara Muller-Borer visited FRCE, located at Marine Air Corps Station Cherry Point, on Jan. 16, and six senior engineering students who are working on a capstone project visited Jan. 17.

“We’re always looking to build. We want to have more ECU engineering grads here,” said Ploehn. “We want to be able to help and support FRC East in any way we can, and we are producing quality and a quantity of great engineers for (the organization).”

Ploehn and Muller-Borer toured the facility’s depot operations, learned about engineering workloads and jobs and engaged ECU alumni along the way.

“Just seeing the breadth of capabilities, understanding the kinds of job functions … really what is (the) business and what are needs of (the) organization,” said Ploehn of the reason for the visit. “It helps us to see the nuts and bolts of what you do to be able to understand how we can help (FRC East) best.”

Muller-Borer added that the trip informed their awareness “to be able to better prepare our students.”

According to Mark Meno, AIR-4.0 research and engineering group head, FRCE’s relationship with ECU spans about a decade and the organization is benefitting from outreach and engagement efforts that have attracted ECU alumni.

“We have 70 Pirate graduates on the engineering and logistics team in large part due to efforts in collaboration with the engineering program at ECU,” Meno said. “Those include a number of sponsored capstone senior design projects, employer panel discussions with students and FRC East Pirates personally recruiting their fellow Pirates to this purposeful job in service to the defense of our nation.”