Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap Profile: VSU

Virginia State University (VSU) was founded in 1882 in Petersburg, Virginia. It is one of Virginia's two land-grant institutions and was the first state-supported four-year institution of higher learning for black Americans in the U.S. Today, VSU has a student population of over 5,300 and offers 55 bachelor's and master's degrees, two doctoral degrees, and three certificates. Student study and research is conducted in one of five schools: the School of Agriculture; the School of Business; the School of Engineering, Science and Technology; the School of Liberal Arts and Education; and the School of Graduate Studies, Research and Outreach. Research Centers of Excellence are established in several key areas, including physics, energy and environmental studies, engineering technology, water quality management, aquaculture, education, social sciences, and business.

Much technology research and development is underway and planned at VSU, including in advanced manufacturing. Key aspects of VSU's technology profile follow.

VSU's Technology Profile

The University is focused on solving some of the toughest problems facing our Commonwealth, nation, and world. VSU defines success through the expansion of fundamental knowledge and the transition of its research results from the lab to the real world. This focus transforms industries and lives, while enhancing economic development and creating jobs.

The research conducted at VSU falls into five areas of focus: viz., Human Factors-Knowledge Capture-Workforce Development; Life Sciences-Health and Human Systems; Advanced Manufacturing Technologies; Information and Communication Technologies; and Agriculture.

Key areas of current and planned research include:

Cognitive Science and Human Behavior

This VSU program of research will be to identify the specific neural changes that accompany cognitive training, and to provide a more fine-grained analysis of the differential effects of various approaches to training (e.g. methods that focus on working memory versus methods that train a broader spectrum of cognitive skills) through the use of a randomized control study design. The University also plans to explore in more detail the transfer from cognitive training to mathematics performance and will continue to test a model of the interrelationships of cognitive skills and other psychosocial variables in minority secondary and historically black college and university (HBCU) students.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

VSU's research goals are to build unmanned vehicles that can fly without global positioning systems (GPS) through unmapped indoor environments, robots that can drive through unmapped cities, and to build social robots that can quickly learn what people want without being annoying or intrusive. Such robots must be able to perform effectively with uncertain and limited knowledge of the world, be easily deployed in new environments, and immediately start autonomous operations with no prior information.

This engineering challenge will require algorithmic advances in decision-theoretic planning, statistical inference, and artificial intelligence. VSU's researchers specifically focus on problems of planning and control in domains with uncertain models, using optimization, statistical estimation, and machine learning to learn good plans and policies from experience.

Game Theory/Dynamic Systems

Since introduced by von Neumann in the 1920s, game theory has been a fast-developing branch of mathematics science and has become a critical tool of analysis in a wide range of disciplines that include economics, political science, military science, biology, and ecology. A differential game - the modeling and analysis of conflicts in the context of dynamic systems via game theory point of view - is a relatively young and vibrant field. Different from control theory, the dynamic system under a differential game scenario consists of two players with opposite impacts on the system. A min-max differential game of a dynamic system involves two processes on the objective function: first an infimum over the "good player" and then a supremum over the "bad player". The resulting saddle point solution singles out "the worst of all possible best outcomes".

The group will be working on applying the min-max differential game theory to the study of dynamic systems that arise from engineering, biology, and biomedical contexts. The research group is particularly interested in coupled PDE systems, which consist of two or more equations interacting with each other at an interface.

Big Data

Analyzing enormous amounts of data generated daily is essential to progress in all research areas. To achieve advances in critical areas of science and technology, VSU is leveraging its expertise in Big Data to provide solutions that will transform the ability of individuals and organizations to analyze large and complex sets of data. For example, the use of Big Data techniques to better understand social networks could help tackle challenges such as understanding critical trends in behaviors and customs, and influencing change. These computational capabilities could also be applied to even more taxing issues such as finding vulnerabilities in the power grid and monitoring important protein interactions in cancer research.

VSU supports multidisciplinary research teams that are developing innovations in computational methods to advance Big Data analysis and intends to apply these techniques to industry, business, and the public sector. Enabling technologies under development include data visualization, advanced analytics, machine learning, and high performance computing. Application areas include astrophysics, biomedicine, combustion, energy, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, materials, information and cyber security, social networks, sustainability, and transportation.

Cyber Security

VSU's expertise in a broad range of sensor technologies is critical to truly innovative defense technologies. From antennas, to lasers, to radar - and everything in between - VSU scientists and engineers are experts in designing sensors, integrating them, and making them smarter. This helps the military prepare for a future that will include advanced sensor networking, sensor fusion, and leading edge information visualization.

Warfare increasingly involves the virtual world of cyberspace, where enemies attempt to cripple critical infrastructure to gain a competitive edge. VSU will battle these threats through research on improving networking security, sharing information to defend against threats, and countering hostile activities on both civilian and military networks.

VSU researchers will help the nation stay a step ahead of adversaries through expert modeling of enemy capabilities and operations, including through reverse engineering of complex systems and modeling the beliefs, desires, and intentions of rivals. Policy research will focus on issues ranging from the implications of new science and technology to the complex issues that arise from international conflict.

Advanced Manufacturing

VSU is one of three academic members of the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM), an applied research center in nearby Disputanta, Virginia that bridges the gap between fundamental research typically performed at universities and product development routinely performed by companies, and accelerates the transition of research innovation from the laboratory to commercial use. CCAM's initial focus is on surface engineering and manufacturing systems. Along with the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, VSU joins nearly 20 industry members in delivering new "production-ready" solutions to factories.

Agriculture Research Station

The School of Agriculture (SOA) research station is changing the core components of society that impact what we eat, where we live, and how we will face tomorrow. Its innovative research spans the Commonwealth of Virginia, our nation, and the globe, taking a high-tech look at traditional agriculture, food, and natural resources issues. This research directly impacts our future - from health breakthroughs, to sustainable agricultural techniques, to food safety.

The group's research areas are Environmental Science, Food Science, Pest Management, Plant Science, and Small Ruminants and Forage Research, with a focus on developing production systems that conserve natural resources, crop diversity and alternative crops, economically competitive and sustainable small-scale agricultural systems, and bio-based energy production. Additional areas of emphasis include value-added plant and animal products, improving food safety and quality, and nanotechnology applications in food packaging and processing.