Engineering students win Virginia Outdoor Writers Association awards, in writing and photography


Two Virginia Tech College of Engineering students captured top awards at the Virginia Outdoor Writers Association’s Dominion 2013-2014 Annual Collegiate Undergraduate Writing /Photo Contest.

The association honored the students at its annual meeting/conference in Charlottesville.

VOWA/Dominion Collegiate Contest Winner Victor Harangozo of Haymarket, Va., and a freshmen in general engineering, was awarded a cash prize by Dominion. His winning essay, “Mr. Crabs,” recounts a day of hunting for a trophy deer. His essay also won the Cooperative Living magazine Award, given by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives for the best entry related to Virginia.


Above, Harangozo (yellow shirt) accepts his award.

This award includes an additional cash prize and publication in the Cooperative Living. The theme for this year’s writing contest was a memorable outdoor experience or special interest.

“Spending so much of my time alone in the wilderness has made me who I am today,” said Harangozo, who wants to continue writing and “travel the world sharing my stories with those who don’t have the same opportunities.”

In a new category sponsored by Hunt’s Photo and Video, Sara Fleetwood, a junior majoring in materials science and engineering won the VOWA/Hunt’s Best Outdoor Photo Award. Her image, “Castle Rocks,” was taken at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. (The winning photograph is at top of story.)


Sara (pictured above) received a gift certificate from Hunt’s. She enjoys backpacking, rock climbing, caving, and photography. Her goals include using her engineering skills at a biometric materials or outdoor gear company.

A lunch, with Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Joseph Ward in attendance, honoring the winners was sponsored by Dominion Power. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also published the winning entries in The Outdoor Report.

 —Copy courtesy Virginia Outdoor Writers Association, edited for clarity and length.

Virginia Tech to host Society of Women Engineers’ Mid-Atlantic Region conference this weekend


The Virginia Tech section of the Society of Women Engineers will host the organization’s Mid-Atlantic Region conference March 28-30 at the Inn at Virginia Tech.

More than 250 people registered for the conference, including students and professionals from Virginia to New York, according to Peggy Layne, an organizer of the event and director of AdvanceVT and faculty project’s with the university’s provost’s office.

Slated for the weekend event: A networking reception in the Hillcrest Dining Hall on Friday evening. On Saturday, Richard C. Benson, dean of the College of Engineering, will welcome guests on Saturday morning.

Lunch speaker will be Amy Elliott, a new doctoral graduate of the college’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Dinner keynote speaker will be Linsey Marr (pictured above), professor of civil and environmental engineering. Workshops and various sessions and meetings will be held throughout the day.

Registration is closed for attendees who plan to eat at both meals, but the talks are open to the public for those who wish to hear Elliott or Marr.

Elliott, of Fayetteville, Tenn., was one of 10 contestants on the new Discovery Channel reality television competition show “Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius,” which focuses on using logic and design to crack different engineering-related challenges each week. She finished second on the show which aired in spring 2013. In fall 2013, she gave spoke at TEDxVirginiaTech.

Marr’s research areas focus on the transformation and fate of pollutants in the atmosphere, improved quantification of air pollutant emissions, environmental and health impacts of engineered nanoparticles, and airborne transmission of infectious diseases. This past year, Marr received a $2.28 million National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award in support of her research on influenza transmission by bioaerosols.

Several national leaders of the society will be in attendance, said Layne.

More info 




HEVT to co-host ‘green’ car event in Roanoke next weekend


Words by Steven Mackay / College of Engineering

In another great example of Virginia Tech students bettering the world as they Invent the Future, our College of Engineering’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) is teaming with Virginia Clean Cities to host Innovation Under the Hood, Roanoke’s green car show on 29 March.

The 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. event will take place at the roof of the parking garage at Church Avenue and 1st Street in downtown Roanoke, Va. (In the event of inclement weather, and it *is* supposed to snow this week, so you never know, the event will move to a lower level of the garage that has also been reserved.

HEVT member and spokesman Chris Bonelli, a communication major from Mechanicsville, Va., says the alternative fuel vehicle car show will feature the latest hybrid and electric vehicle models on the market. Members of HEVT, gearing up for the final Phase 3 of the North American EcoCAR 2 challenge, will be on hand with their two hybrid electric competition cars.

“We will mostly just be displaying vehicles at the event with trunks and hoods open,” he said. “Near the end of the event we may offer rides around the garage, but that depends on the crowds.”

The show will give the Roanoke community the opportunity to compare these new makes and models side-by-side, according to organizers. The event is intended to raise awareness of advanced vehicle technologies and increase buyer consideration of alternative fuel vehicles.

Virginia Clean Cities will bring a compressed natural gas vehicle as well as a solar-powered generator to display. An official program, with Roanoke city officials invited, will begin at 11 a.m.

All Roanoke area car dealerships and Roanoke/New River Valley community members are welcome to bring their alternative fuel vehicles to showcase at the event, said Bonelli. (Those bringing vehicles to showcase should plan to arrive between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Saturday.)

For more on the “Innovation Under the Hood” event, visit the groups’ Facebook event page. For event logistics, contact Josh Beckner at; for media inquiries, contact Bonelli at

Spring will be busy for the Hybrid Electrical Vehicle Team, whose faculty adviser is Doug Nelson, professor of mechanical engineering.

The EcoCAR competition finale begins June 1 at General Motors Milford Proving Grounds, in Milford, Mich., where more than a dozen university teams will undergo dynamic vehicle testing, with a few static events/presentations to follow. June 9 the team will travel to Washington, D.C., for final presentations, media tours and the awards ceremony taking place June 12.

In 2011, the HEVT won the first EcoCAR competition, beating out 16 other teams.


‘Coraline’ animator to visit campus, discuss 3-D printing technology

Words by Steven Mackay / Virginia Tech College of Engineering

What: ArtsFusion presents “Rapid Prototype: See how 3D printing is used in movie making”

Who: Brian McLean, director of rapid prototype at LAIKA Animation Studio. Animator for the films Coraline and ParaNorman

Where: The Cube, Moss Arts Center, 190 Alumni Mall, Blacksburg

When: 6:15 p.m., Tuesday, March 18

Questions: (540) 231-0802 or

 If you’re more likely to walk around campus humming, “She’s as cute as a button in the eyes of everyone who’s ever laid their eyes on Coraline” rather than, say, that pesky song about the cold from “Frozen” – and who wants to hum that now – then you are in luck. On Tuesday night at The Cube at the Moss Arts Center, “Coraline” animator Brian McLean will discuss the use of 3-D printing in stop-motion animated films. The event begins at 6:15 p.m.

McLean is director of rapid prototype at Laika, the studio behind the 2009 hit film “Coraline” as well as “ParaNorman” and the upcoming “BoxTrolls.”  His talk is an ArtsFusion event sponsored by the Virginia Tech Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology, the College of Engineering’s  DREAMS Lab and the School of Visual Arts, the latter part of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

A veteran of Walt Disney’s animation studio as well as Warner Bros., McLean is well known for developing 3-D printer technology in stop-motion animated films, including the practice of printing out thousands of copies of a character’s face, each for a different expression. He won an industry Annie Award for Special Achievement in Animation for Coraline. Both Coraline and ParaNorman were nominated for Best Animated Feature. His work, and that of LAIKA, focuses on using hand-crafted puppets in miniature sets for stop-motion animation, combining filmed movements with traditional CGI animation to create seamless images that are memorable.

(“Coraline” – based on the book by Neil Gaiman — focuses on a child who enters an alternate world hidden inside her new home where her parents are perfect and permanently at her beck and call. But they also are perfectly scary as they have buttons for eyes. In one scene, Other Mother and Other Father attempt to sew buttons into Coraline’s own eyes. Pure horror for any child, and not a few adults.)

In his presentation, McLean will touch on:

*  The use of Maya and Zbrush to enhance practical sculpts

* 3-D printed material and subsurface scattering to allow puppet builders to break free of previous design limitations

* The advancements in color 3D printing and the enabling of puppet builders to evolve beyond prior design limitations

* The use of in-house developed silicones which enable character performance previously unseen in stop-motion animation

* The utilization of 3-D printers to pre-vis puppet construction issues and control how practical materials perform

* The use of laser cutting fabrics to enhance the design and functionality of the puppets’ costumes

Production puppets from McLean’s films will be displayed during the presentation.

Read Wired’s story on the use of 3-0D printing technology in the Laika-made film, ParaNorman. 

Watch the trailer to Coraline

More info on the event  


More than 150 Virginia Tech students attended the Monday night launch of the  Spring 2014 Additive Manufacturing Grand Challenge, hosted by Chris Williams, an assistant professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Open to all university students, the information session attracted not just College of Engineering students, but those from biology, natural resources, geosciences, and math, among other majors. Team registrations are due 8 March 2014. For more information — including info on the $15,000 in cash prizes — see our Virginia Tech news story.

More than 150 Virginia Tech students attended the Monday night launch of the  Spring 2014 Additive Manufacturing Grand Challenge, hosted by Chris Williams, an assistant professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Open to all university students, the information session attracted not just College of Engineering students, but those from biology, natural resources, geosciences, and math, among other majors. Team registrations are due 8 March 2014. For more information — including info on the $15,000 in cash prizes — see our Virginia Tech news story.

Going on today: ECE alumnus Williams to discuss multi-agent coordination

Ryan K. Williams, an alumnus of Virginia Tech’s Bradley Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering and a University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, will give a talk, “Interaction and Topology in Multi-Agent Coordination,” at 4 p.m.

 The talk is open to the entire university. Those wishing to hear the talk should abide by the following:

Instead, you should attend the seminar in a VBS room based on the first letter of your last name. The room assignments are the following.

A-G: Durham 261
H-J: Durham 463
K-O: Torgersen 1050
P-Z: Torgersen 1030

For example, if my name was Albert Einstein, as my last name begins with an ‘E’, I would attend the seminar in Durham 261. Likewise, if my name was Rabindranath Tagore, as my last name begins with a ‘T’, I would attend the seminar in Torgersen 1030.

Blacksburg students should remember their student IDs so that their attendance can be recorded by the card scanners. Please be sure to arrive to your assigned room in plenty of time so that everyone will be seated and ready for the seminar to begin at 4pm.

 Williams will be broadcasting his talk via the Web from Durham 463.

 For more on Ryan, visit:

Harmon appointed to International Council on Systems Engineering post


Ken Harmon, an associate professor with the Virginia Tech Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, has been appointed to Corporate Advisory Board and Academic Council of the International Council on Systems Engineering (or INCOSE, for short). 

Harmon will be the first person to represent Virginia Tech on the INCOSE advisory board and council.

At Virginia Tech, he has served for more than 20 years as the director of the Grado department’s extended campus program, which includes the systems engineering and engineering administration graduate programs.

His research focuses on systems engineering and technology management.

In this amazing 2-minute Microsoft-produced video, Computer Science’s Wu Feng —  a TEDxVirginiaTech 2013 speaker — discusses big data and cloud computing. Go Hokies!

Computer Science alum’s Doritos commercial may play Super Bowl

Super Bowl XLVIII pits the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos, and most eyes and bets will be focused on which team wins the big trophy. But there’s another contest afoot tonight as well, with a Hokie alum on the cusp of a sure-fire win: Getting a commercial played during the big game.


Raj Suri (Bachelors of Science, Computer Science, 1997. Pictured above.) has co-produced a commercial for the Doritos snack brand that is among independently produced five spots vying for a 30 second spot. And it’s a big deal. News reports have Fox charging up to $4 million for a 30 second spot.

The commercial – if it airs — will play alongside ad stalwarts Budweiser and movie trailers for 2014 superhero flicks “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”  

(This is an engineering blog. Name-dropping comic book characters seems quite fitting.)

Based in Phoenix, Ariz., Suri is a systems analyst for Intel, a job he landed right out of college in 1997. On the side as what Suri describes as a hobby, he is a professional actor – he has a bit part in the 2009 James Caan film “The Middle Men” – and also has been a producer for three years.

(Pop over to to see some of his work and credits.)

In the spot, titled “Time Machine,” a young blonde boy dupes a passerby out of his bag of Doritos using a cardboard time machine.  A glance at the spot makes one think of the “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strip, but Suri says the inspiration is a bit older, mainly a certain Michael J. Fox time-travel comedy classic.

The spot is part of a contest sponsored by the snack company. Five commercials were placed online and website visitors were encouraged to vote for their favorite. Voting closed days ago.

The winner airs during tonight’s Super Bowl, although all the spots seem to have aired elsewhere on television already. Suir will learn if he wins tonight during the game. (Suri’s competition includes ads that revolve around another child, and his dog, or office-related humor.)

We talked to Suri – now in New York — via email. His responses have been edited for clarity and length.

On the inspiration:

“Our director, Ryan Thomas Andersen, was watching ‘Back to the Future’ with his son who happens to be the little boy in our commercial. His name is Gavin Andersen. Gavin asked his father to make a time machine. Ryan figured he’d make it out of cardboard and that was the beginning of the concept. We weren’t trying to avoid controversy. We were just trying to come up with an awesome story. Honestly, it just turned out that commercial was super clean. But we weren’t aiming to do that.”

On the chance of airing a spot on the Super Bowl, one of the most-watched annual events on television:

 “This whole experience is surreal. I am an amateur producer by definition. To create something that is regarded to be a superb feat in advertising is hard to wrap my head around.  It’s odd that people want to talk to me. But it’s been fun.  I do these competitions to create opportunities for myself. We’ll see what happens. I’m a huge football fan.  But honestly, I could care less about the game this year. I’m going to be too nervous hoping our commercial airs!”

On the future:

“It’s been a very hectic time but I’ve already been approached with opportunities! I’d love to pursue my passion full time.”

Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Project Expo


The nearly 300-member Virginia Tech mechanical engineering class of 2013 will be exhibiting their project designs Friday, May 3, as a final deliverable of the two-semester capstone design course.  Thirty-eight teams have been working since August 2012 on projects ranging from bio-inspired locomotion to an electric powered motorcycle designed for a 140 MPH top speed.

The design teams are paired with a faculty adviser who is considered a subject matter expert in the design domain required of the project.  These teams meet weekly with their adviser and more frequently among themselves to produce a “product realization” from an idea.  The course is structured to take students from identifying customer needs, defining target specifications and generating concepts to analyzing candidate designs and finally building and testing their final products.  Success is measured by how closely the tested product meets the original project goals.

Throughout the year the students are evaluated in written and oral presentations, with presentations given to a design review panel consisting of faculty and industry representatives.  The inclusion of industry reviewers provides a balanced assessment of the teams’ work, where real world constraints of schedule and profitability are seen as important indicators of success.

The event kicks off at 1 p.m. at Hancock Atrium.