Colloquium Lectures 2004

From Flower Stems to Feather Shafts: Twisting in the Wind Without Getting Bent Out of Shape

by Prof. Steven Vogel

January 13, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


We usually regard low torsional stiffness as something to be avoided or offset in our structures. Insufficient stiffness has made big trouble for some airplanes, bridges, and buildings. Nature often prefers less rigid structures than we humans build–she designs more often to a criterion of adequate strength rather than stiffness. As a result, in her world solid and fluid mechanics don’t stay obligingly distinct–fluid forces change structural shapes that then encounter different fluid forces. Many of Nature’s beams and columns seem deliberately designed to have low torsional stiffness relative to their flexural stiffness, a feature put to use in flows. For instance, low torsional stiffness permits insect wings and bird feathers to twist as needed to maintain appropriate angles of attack and permits leaves to minimize their drag in high winds. A look at what Nature does might impel us toward designs where shape change under load amounts to virtuous reconfiguration rather than pathological deformation.


Steven Vogel joined the Duke faculty in 1966 after receiving his doctorate in biology at Harvard. He asks about the mechanical factors that underlie the designs of organisms. He has, for instance, looked at how especially small insects fly, at how leaves are shaped both to stay cool in near-still air and to minimize drag in storm-level winds, at how organisms from sponges to burrowing rodents use wind and water currents to force internal flows, and at how creatures such as squid and whales use flows around themselves to re-expand their mantles and oral cavities. In addition, he writes articles for magazines and books, including. These include a textbook on biological fluid dynamics (“Life in Moving Fluids”) and less academic books on biomechanics (“Life’s Devices”) and circulatory systems (“Vital Circuits”). Two recent books explore the intersections of biomechanics, human technology, and human culture. “Cats’ Paws and Catapults” compares the mechanical technologies of humans and of nature, while “Prime Mover” looks at how the performance of muscle as an engine has shaped human history and prehistory. His newest is an undergraduate textbook, “Comparative Biomechanics”.

System X: Building the Virginia Tech Supercomputer

by Prof. Srinidhi Varadarajan

February 3, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


System X was conceived in March 2003, designed in July 2003 and by October it had achieved a sustained performance of 10.28 Teraflops, making it the third fastest supercomputer in the world today. System X has several novel features. First, it is based on an Apple G5 platform with the new IBM PowerPC 970 64-bit CPUs. Secondly, it uses a high performance switched communications fabric called Infiniband. Finally, System X is cooled by a hybrid liquid-air cooling system.

In this talk, we present the motivation for System X, its architecture, and the challenges faced in building, deploying and maintaining a large-scale supercomputer.


Srinidhi Varadarajan received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the State University of New York, Stony Brook in 2000. He presently serves as the Director of the Terascale Computing Facility at Virginia Tech and as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science. Dr. Varadarajan is the recipient of a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, the Egg Factory Technology Innovation award and a Faculty Fellow award from the College of Engineering, Virginia Tech.

Dr. Varadarajan’s research is focused on transparent fault tolerance for massively parallel supercomputers, scalable network emulation, compiler directed strategies for flexible data sharing models and routing algorithms for backbone IP networks. In the area of transparent fault tolerance his work concentrates on developing incremental checkpointing, recovery and migration algorithms. His research in network emulation is focused on building a distributed system that can scale to emulate hundreds of thousands of virtual nodes. This work involves research on several areas, including compiler directed mechanisms for transparent generation of reentrant code from non-reentrant sources, automatic checkpointing and recovery, code migration, dynamic load balancing and 3D environments for network traffic visualization. In the area of routing algorithms, he is exploring the use of AI techniques such as reinforced learning for use in a probabilistic framework for multi-path routing protocols.

Dr. Varadarajan is the architect of System X, the third fastest supercomputer in the world located at the Terascale Computing Facility at Virginia Tech.

Color and Light in Nature: Visual Adventures in Optical Phenomena

by Dr. David K. Lynch

March 2, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Why is the sky blue overhead and white at the horizon? Why is the setting sun flattened? Are full moons larger on the horizon than they are overhead? How many rainbows are there? How can you stick your finger in a mirage? Why are mountain shadows always triangular even though the mountain profile is not? Is it really darkest just before dawn? How can you see the green flash? Is water really blue or is it the reflection of the sky? If water is blue, why are clouds white? What makes a blue moon? These and many other naturally-occurring phenomena that are easily visible to the naked eye will be presented with color slides. Particular emphasis will be placed on seeing and photographing the phenomena. Students, teachers, artists, naturalists, photographers and the whole family will enjoy this show.


David K. Lynch is a senior scientist at The Aerospace Corporation where he specializes in infrared astronomy and atmospheric optics. He received a B.S. in Astrophysics in 1969 from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1975 from the University of Texas in Austin. He has held faculty or research positions at the California Institute of Technology, Univ. California/Berkeley, Hughes Research Laboratory and The Aerospace Corporation. Dr. Lynch has published over 150 scientific papers and ten books or conferences proceedings. He is a fellow of the Optical Society of America and he has been Principal Investigator on a variety of NSF, NASA, DoD, NOAA and DoE programs. He recently edited “CIRRUS, a book devoted entirely to cirrus clouds (Oxford University Press) and is co-author of the widely-acclaimed book “Color and Light in Nature (Cambridge University Press). Recently he organized the NASA conference “Thermal Emission Spectroscopy and Analysis of Dust, Disks and Regoliths, and is co-editor of the proceedings (Astronomical Society of the Pacific) San Francisco (1999 – in press). Dr. Lynch is Technical Chairman of the Planetary Defense Conference:, Protecting Earth from Asteroids, February 23-26 (M-Th), 2004 in southern California.

Human Exploration of the Moon: Preparing to Go to Mars

by Prof. James W. Head

April 6, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


The Moon and Mars represent a fundamental cornerstone in building an understanding of our own Home Planet Earth. What have we learned from the Moon and Mars, how did we learn it, and what else do we need to know? What was the historic role of both human and automated exploration? These questions set the stage for how we respond to the President’s Vision for Space Exploration to explore the Moon and Mars with renewed vigor. This lecture will review historical successes in human and automated space exploration, describing Langley’s key role, and will focus on what we need to know to accomplish the President’s vision.


James W. Head, III is a Professor of Geological Sciences at Brown University, where he has taught for 30 years. He received a B.S. from Washington and Lee University in 1964 and a Ph.D. from Brown University in 1969. From 1968 to 1972, he worked at NASA Headquarters, where he participated in selecting the lunar landing sites for the Apollo program. He helped prepare the astronaut crews by training them in lunar geology and he participated in mission operations in Houston during lunar surface exploration. He also helped to plan and evaluate the package of experiments to be deployed on the Moon and was involved in the preliminary analysis of the lunar samples returned by the astronauts. Dr. Head’s research centers on the study of the processes that form and modify the surfaces, crusts and lithospheres of planets, how these processes vary with time, and how such processes interact to produce the historical record preserved on the planets. His interest in volcanism and tectonism led him to do field study on active volcanoes in Hawaii and at Mount St. Helens, on volcanic deposits on the seafloor with deep sea submersible dives on cruises to Seamount 6 and Loihi, and recently to the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. He has been a co-investigator on the NASA Magellan (Venus), Galileo (Jupiter), Mars Surveyor, and Space Shuttle missions. He has published over 250 articles in professional journals and has been principal advisor to 24 PhD degree recipients. He was an investigator on the Soviet Venera 15/16 and Phobos Missions, Russian Mars 1996, and is a current co-investigator on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express.

Discovering the Secrets of the Wright Brothers

by Ken Hyde and Kevin Kochersberger

May 4, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Ken Hyde formed the Wright Experience to discover and preserve the secrets of the Wright Brothers to inspire future generations. The talk will describe the team’s extensive research that led to the building, testing and flying of accurate reproductions of the Wright Brothers Gliders and 1903 Flyer. Pilot training using gliders, simulators and modifications to the 1902 glider will be discussed. Challenges of piloting the 1903 Flyer will be explained and flight data and videos from the historic flights at Kitty Hawk will be shown. The team will also describe the significant support they received from local Hampton groups and their future plans.


Ken Hyde’s passion for aviation came at an early age, earning both his pilot’s and mechanics’ licenses while still in high school. He was a pilot for American Airlines for 33 years. In 1965, he founded Virginia Aviation, an antique aircraft restoration company, through which he gained national attention. In 1992, he became interested in rediscovering and preserving the secrets of the Wright Brothers. That commitment led Ken and his wife to form the Wright Experience which was commissioned to build a replica of the Wright Flyer and to fly it on December 17, 2003 at Kitty Hawk.

Kevin Kochersberger’s is an active glider and power pilot with 1,500 hours. He holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech and is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He participated in the Wright Experience’s effort to conduct an in depth analysis of the Wright aircraft. He assisted in the wind tunnel tests of Wright aircraft at the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel and the development of the simulator used for pilot training. Kevin successfully flew the 1903 flyer twice at Kitty Hawk.

Scramjet Powered Vehicles: Force or Fiction

by Charles R. McClinton

June 1, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


NASA interest in Hypersonic Air Breathing (HAB) Systems for earth-to-orbit started in the 1960’s. During the 60’s and early 70’s NASA LaRC was organized to address this vision. As NASA focus shifted towards rockets, LaRC maintained the agency lead for a modest program for HAB technology development during the 70’s, 80’s and early 1990’s, when HAB technology leadership was transferred to MSFC Space Launch Initiative. This briefing will highlight accomplishments by NASA over the past 4 decades, and present a vision for the future. Highlights and implications of the recent successful X-43 flight, the first scramjet-powered vehicle, will be discussed.


Mr. Charles R. McClinton received his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1967 and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from George Washington University in 1971.

Over the past 4 years, Mr. McClinton has been instrumental in various planning capacities for hypersonic airbreathing technology development programs, including NAI, NGLT, ASTP, the Space Partnership Council and NASA Code R. In 1996 Mr. McClinton was selected as Technology Manager for the Hyper-X Program, and in this role is responsible for the Hyper-X vehicle definition to meet mission requirements, delivery of government furnished items to the contractor team, wind tunnel testing, and hypersonic technology development. Prior to that, Mr. McClinton was selected to form and lead the Numerical Applications Office, of the National Aero-Space Plane Office, to provide flow field details using the state-of-the-art Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) methods. Mr. McClinton has held positions in the Conceptual Studies Office of the Hypersonic Vehicles Office, and 18 years in wind tunnel testing of scramjet engines and components. He has authored numerous publications, and is the past Chairman of the JANNAF Airbreathing Propulsion Subcommittee. He has received several awards including the NASP GENE Zara Outstanding National Team Member Award, the NASA’s Medal for Exceptional Engineering Achievement, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the AIAA Air Breathing Propulsion Award.

The Design of Electronic Textile Applications

by Dr. Mark T. Jones

July 13, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Electronic Textiles (e-textiles) have recently received considerable attention. Significant commercial and research efforts are currently underway to develop a wide array of e-textile applications in areas such as health-care, military and first-responder uniforms, and entertainment. After reviewing the state-of-the-art in e-textiles, including an examination of commercial efforts currently underway, this talk will focus on a design framework for e-textiles under development at Virginia Tech. The use of this framework will be illustrated using two application prototypes currently under development in the E-Textiles Laboratory at Virginia Tech, a wearable system for human gait analysis and an autonomous garment for determining the wearers’s location within a building. The talk will close with (disclaimer: likely inaccurate) prognostications on future developments in e-textiles.


Dr. Mark T. Jones is currently an Associate Professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. He earned his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Duke University in 1990 and a B.S. from Clemson University in 1986. During his graduate work, Dr. Jones spent part of his time on site at NASA Langley Research Center working in the area of parallel computation. Upon graduation, he joined the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory where he worked in the area of large-scale scientific computing. In 1993, Dr. Jones joined the Computer Science faculty at the University of Tennessee where his interest in embedded computing began. Dr. Jones moved to Virginia Tech in 1997, where he continues his interests in high-performance large-scale and embedded computing. His work in the area of e-textiles began in 2000 as an extension of his interests in embedded computing. With Dr. Thomas Martin, he has formed the E-Textiles Laboratory at Virginia Tech with funding from DARPA and NSF.

Reasons to be Optimistic About Aeronautics

by Dr. Richard W. Wlezien

***DATE CHANGE*** WEDNESDAY: August 18, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Much of our expectation of the future is based on linear extrapolation from the present state. Yet history tells us time and again that it’s the nonlinearities that make all the difference in predicting the future. A view of some new and exciting “game-changers” in aeronautics will be presented based on experience in industry, DARPA, and NASA.


Dr. Wlezien was born in Chicago IL. He earned his BS, MS, and Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1974, 1976, and 1981, respectively, where he specialized in fundamental studies of turbulence. He worked for the McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratories from 1980 to 1990 where he was responsible for noise research, working acoustic issues for aircraft including the F-15 Eagle, F-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier, and MD-80 and special projects including the F-15 STOL and Maneuvering Technology Demonstrator and the Ultra-High Bypass Engine Demonstrator. Between 1990 and 1992, he was Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. In 1992, he moved to High Technology Corporation where he worked as a senior scientist in aeronautics research, focusing on the coupling between sound and laminar boundary layers. He joined the staff at NASA Langley in 1994 and has held a series of technical and management positions (progressing from Project Scientist to Branch Head). He formed the Active Flow Control group and formulated the Aircraft Morphing Project as it’s first manager. He served as Program Manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from 1999 to 2002. While at DARPA he ran the Quiet Supersonic Platform Program that culminated in the demonstration of the first supersonic aircraft to fly with a quieted sonic boom. He also managed the Micro Adaptive Flow Control Program which demonstrated the first successful flight application of active flow control on the XV-15 aircraft and a program that developed the first hovering micro air vehicle based on flapping wing technology, the MENTOR. He is currently assigned to NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC where he manages the Vehicle Systems Program.

Improved Composite Materials for Exploration Systems

by Dr. Ranji K. Vaidyanathan

September 14, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


The mass of future ambitious Exploration Systems will drive in-space propulsion and launch requirements. However, trimming masses from existing materials reduces margins and reliability. Nanomaterial additives are an attractive means to enhance the required properties without reducing the weight. Recent work has shown that nanomaterial and aerogel additions into the composites could result in systems with improved shielding from radiation, thermal, acoustic and EMI effects. Simple fabrication processes such as VARTM, RTM and rapid prototyping have been developed for these new composites. The presentation will discuss processing challenges and the results based on current work.


Dr. Ranji Vaidyanathan holds a B.Tech. degree in Metallurgical Engineering from Banaras Hindu University, an M.S.M.E. in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina A&T State University, and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from North Carolina State University. He was a Research Associate at Rutgers University and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University in 1996, and has been an Adjunct Associate Professor in the AME Department at the University of Arizona since 2000. He is currently the Manager for Advanced Materials at Advanced Ceramics Research and works to develop flexible manufacturing techniques for ceramic and polymer matrix composites. He also works with the University of Arizona on outreach programs to improve K-12 education and to enhance enrollment into the engineering programs at the university. He received the R&D 100 Award in 2001 for developing a water-soluble mandrel material for polymer composite materials.

A Century of Innovation That Transformed Our Lives

by Bob Somerville

October 5, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


From 1900 to 2000 the world changed more than in any previous span of 100 years, perhaps more than it ever will again. Humans flew for the first time and even ventured into space. They talked across oceans, drove across continents and built calculating machines that worked miracles simply by processing zeros and ones. They reinvented farming, learned how to supply clean and safe drinking water and harnessed the very power of the atom. It was a century of firsts, and engineering was a part of it all. Bob Somerville, co-author of A Century of Innovation: Twenty Engineering Achievements That Transformed Our Lives, reviews the 20 greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century, from electrification and health technologies, to household appliances, the Internet, lasers, fiber optics and more. He describes the details, processes and serendipitous discoveries behind these achievements and tells the fascinating stories of the men and women – some well known, many unheralded – whose hard work and innovative thinking made it all possible. In little more than a lifetime, they transformed the world as never before, improved the lives of billions and launched the modern age.


Bob Somerville graduated from Princeton University and later attended graduate school at Yale and the University of Virginia. He worked for 20 years at Time-Life, beginning as a proofreader and eventually becoming executive editor of the trade books division. He has written and edited books on a wide variety of subjects, including archaeology, astronomy, computers, flight, human physiology and psychology, American and world history and health. Now a freelance writer and editor based in Forest Heights, Maryland, Bob is co-author of A Century of Innovation: Twenty Engineering Achievements That Transformed Our Lives. He is currently editing a history of a Trappist monastery, a how-to book on film editing and a legal thriller. He coaches Little League baseball, cans fresh vegetables from his own garden and is on a continual mission to download everything he knows (both the useful and the useless) to his long-suffering 11-year-old son, Andrew.

America’s Future in Space and PBS NOVA series “Origins”

by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

November 2, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


On January 14, 2004, President Bush announced a new national vision for space exploration, including the return of humans to the moon, then on to Mars and beyond. To develop the new space vision, the President established a Commission on the Implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy, dubbed the “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” commission. The Commission navigated a path by which the new space vision can become a successful part of the American agenda. Dr. Tyson was appointed to the Commission by President Bush and will discuss the results of the Commission.


Neil deGrasse Tyson was born and raised in New York City. He earned his BA in Physics from Harvard and his PhD in Astrophysics from Columbia. Tyson is the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of the Hayden Planetarium where he also teaches. Tyson’s professional research interests include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our Milky Way. In 2001, Tyson was appointed by President Bush to serve on a 12-member commission that studied the Future of the US Aerospace Industry. The final report was published in 2002 and contained recommendations (for Congress and the major agencies of the government) that would promote a thriving future of transportation, space exploration and national security. In addition to dozens of professional publications, Dr. Tyson is a monthly essayist for Natural History magazine under the title “Universe.” Among Tyson’s seven books is his memoir The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist and Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, co-written with Donald Goldsmith. Origins is the companion book to the PBS-NOVA 4-part mini-series entitled Origins in which Tyson serves as the on-camera host. The program premiered on September 28 and 29, 2004.

Following the lecture, Dr. Tyson will sign copies of his book, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution. The book may be purchased at the NASA Exchange Shop in the cafeteria and at the Reid Center.

Hydrogen and Fuel Cells: Hope or Hype?

by Robert Rose

December 7, 2004, 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


NASA uses hydrogen to power its rockets. But can rocket fuel really offer an alternative to oil here on earth? The Bush Administration and governments around the globe are beginning to think so and have begun to plan a transition to a “hydrogen economy”. Spending for research and demonstrations is on the increase. Every major automobile company is experimenting with hydrogen in internal combustion engines or testing fuel cell vehicles, which rely on hydrogen chemistry instead of combustion. Some nations have even begun to develop commercialization time lines. Hydrogen offers enormous potential as a clean, carbon-free, domestically available energy option. But as the idea has taken hold, some critics have suggested hydrogen is more about hype than about hope. Robert Rose, an internationally known fuel cell and hydrogen advocate, will offer his perspective on this topic.


Robert Rose is founding executive director of the Breakthrough Technologies Institute (BTI) and the U.S. Fuel Cell Council (USFCC). BTI is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting advanced environmental and energy technologies from the perspective of the public interest. BTI’s fuel cell education program, Fuel Cells 2000, was launched in 1993 and is internationally recognized. USFCC is the business association for the fuel cell industry. Founded in 1998, the council has more than 115 members. Rose is the author of Fuel Cells and Hydrogen: The Path Forward, which proposes a public-private partnership to develop and commercialize fuel cells and a supporting hydrogen infrastructure. He is the 2004 recipient of the Fuel Cell Seminar Award, the most prestigious of its kind in the U.S. Prior to founding BTI, Rose was a private consultant, specializing in policy analysis and public relations. He also served as Senior Special Assistant to Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie. Rose received his Bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy from the University of Nebraska in 1968.