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Building Tomorrow’s Road Map, Today

The MTSA team

The Master of Transportation Safety Administration team includes Bruce Rafert, Philip Pidgeon, Kim Alexander, Ralph Elliott and Terecia Wilson

Clemson launches first-of-its-kind Master of Transportation Safety Administration

Age 18 marks a turning point in many people’s lives. Kim Alexander was no different. A stand-out athlete and point guard on the girls’ basketball team, she had recently earned a scholarship to attend a local college.

That all changed in one moment. In May of 1979, Alexander was involved in a single-vehicle, run-off-of-the-road crash in Oconee County, South Carolina. Doctors told her family she had sustained a spinal cord injury, leaving her as a C5/6 quadriplegic.

Today, Alexander serves as the founder and chair of Clemson’s Institute for Global Road Safety and Security and directs the first-of-its-kind Master of Transportation Safety Administration. The work of Alexander and her colleagues not only impacts the lives of their students, but it also makes a difference for motorists everywhere, delivering safer roads and more secure transportation systems nationwide.

Alexander’s journey to this point was not a straight one — hospitals and rehabilitation centers helped her learn to navigate the world in a wheelchair and consider her future. She began sharing her story with teenagers in high schools and at conferences, focusing on making wise decisions, living safe lives and overcoming obstacles. Questioning how she could make a lasting difference, she followed her brother, Steve Alexander ’79, to Clemson, where she earned a B.S. in marketing, M.Ed. in guidance and counseling, and Ed.D. in curriculum development, risk perception and educational leadership. In 1990, she was hired as a program information coordinator in the Department of 4-H and Youth Development. This six-month grant led to others and a position as an Extension associate and director in 1993.

“I wanted to do something very creative in education and something that, regardless of my physical condition, I could sit around the table with others, and we could do it together,” said Alexander.

Professional development in transportation safety has long been an issue, and this program is unique in addressing that need.

More than 40 years after her crash, Alexander is clinical associate professor, founder and chair of Clemson’s Institute for Global Road Safety and Security. She has resumed her point-guard role as director of the first-of-its-kind MTSA degree program, which launched in 2019 and graduated its first cohort in August.

Developed in coordination with a technical advisory committee of prominent national leaders in the field of road safety, and offered exclusively online, MTSA is a two-year, 30-credit hour, non-thesis interdisciplinary program that addresses the need for a road safety workforce capable of deploying evidence-based strategies and best practices supported by ongoing research. With the rise of autonomous vehicles and connected infrastructure, the world of road safety is even more crucial. The goal is to build safer communities, which will reduce vehicle crashes and ultimately save lives.

“The significance of the MTSA program cannot be understated,” said Elizabeth Baker, regional administrator emeritus of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Professional development in transportation safety has long been an issue, and this program is unique in addressing that need.”

With specific expertise in a variety of disciplines and professional backgrounds, MTSA students include members of law enforcement, emergency management, education, planning and design, public health, injury prevention, communications, marketing, public policy, driver and vehicle services, transportation finance, and grants administration. Jennifer Homendy, recently confirmed as chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, is in the MTSA program.

“Sitting in this wheelchair has given me a different vision than I probably would have had if I had been on my feet,” said Alexander. “It’s given me a clear perspective that life is fragile and that bringing together people who have the same passion and commitment to saving lives can create something that will leave a lasting impact. I truly believe this program will result in a much safer world.”

 

 

A New Generation of Army Vehicles

Automotive autonomy technology is changing economies and global industries — and is also a driving force behind military modernization. Bringing these self-driving vehicles to life on- and off-road requires new concepts to be tested quickly, efficiently and cost effectively — all of which happen through virtual prototyping. This key enabler for autonomy is the focus behind a new $18 million center housed at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research and a research partnership with the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center.

As founding director of the Virtual Prototyping of Ground Systems Center, Zoran Filipi will lead more than 65 Clemson faculty across seven engineering departments on the multiyear research partnership to develop virtual prototyping tools supporting the rapid transformation of U.S. Army fleets. The research will be focused on autonomy-enabled ground vehicles, including digital engineering, next-generation propulsion and energy systems, and manned and unmanned teaming in unknown off-road environments. Research activities will also take place on Clemson’s main campus and will include learning opportunities for students at all levels.

As the research develops, the team will build a physical mock-up of an optionally manned, noncombat, off-road ground vehicle. In the project’s final phase, discoveries and breakthrough innovations from the center will be fabricated and tested via Deep Orange, the University’s long-running educational prototyping program. The Deep Orange program takes automotive engineering students through a two-year product development process that culminates in a fully functional concept. The program encourages learning by doing, transdisciplinary teamwork, leadership and project management skills to best prepare students for the workforce. Deep Orange has been sponsored by industry leaders such as AVX, BMW, ExxonMobil, EY, Ford, GM, Honda R&D Americas, Mazda, MINI and Toyota.

The Virtual Prototyping of Ground Systems Center is designed to accelerate the development and validation of high impact technologies, acting as a catalyst for economic growth. Driven by fundamental research, the center supports South Carolina’s economic development efforts, industry innovation priorities and the development of a highly skilled workforce.

“This type of work is the driving force behind why South Carolina invested in our idea for the CU-ICAR campus,” said Clemson President Jim Clements, “and we are grateful for the legislature’s continued support and the hard work of Rep. Clyburn and Sen. Graham to bring this project to life. It will pave the way for opportunities for our faculty, our students and our state.” 

 

Training Successful Problem-solvers

Analytical chemistry professor Ken Marcus used to call his group of doctoral researchers “the Tinkerers.” His group develops analytical instrumentation, something he says takes a unique mindset and is attractive to federal laboratories and scientific organizations. Nearly half of that group of soon-to-be 41 Ph.D. graduates works in national laboratories, such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They’re looking for problem-solvers,” Marcus said.

The latest problem-solver is Tyler Williams, the second Clemson chemist in three years to receive a National Nuclear Security Administration Graduate Fellowship, designed to develop the next generation of national security leaders.

Marcus said that to be a successful tinkerer and problem-solver, there has to be a connection between mind, gut and hands:

“Those three things have to be in sync. You have to know enough and understand what’s going on in order to react on a gut level. Then, your hands do the work. Sometimes things work out as you planned, sometimes they don’t and sometimes serendipity is your best friend. If you do something in the lab and something remarkable happens, but you don’t [recognize] it in your gut and in your head, then it’s lost.”

In June, Williams will join the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which enhances national security through the military application of nuclear science. He will work in the administration’s enriched uranium modernization group, which focuses on modernizing the nation’s enriched uranium capabilities and infrastructure to support NNSA’s defense, nonproliferation and naval reactor missions.

 

Teaming Up for Innovation

Clemson will play a significant role in advancing the nation’s environmental, energy, and national security research and workforce development efforts as a member of the Battelle Savannah River Alliance that will now manage the Savannah River National Laboratory.

Clemson faculty have worked with scientists at SRNL for three decades to study solutions to nuclear waste storage, advanced materials, environmental protection and energy security. The long-standing relationship has resulted in numerous internships for undergraduate and graduate students who have conducted research with SRNL scientists and Clemson faculty. The new partnership is expected to bring even more opportunities. 

“This historic partnership expands on our world-class workforce development efforts and opens a pipeline of scientific discovery and innovation that should benefit the entire state of South Carolina,” said Clemson president Jim Clements. “I’d like to thank Gov. McMaster and our state leaders for supporting this endeavor that will provide unique opportunities for our faculty and students while uplifting the state’s economy.”

As a member of the BSRA team, Clemson experts will provide technical support on environmental remediation, waste management, materials science, computational modeling, advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and numerous other research topics.

“Workforce development will be central to our work at SRNL,” said Tanju Karanfil, Clemson’s vice president for research who will serve on a board of directors overseeing management of the lab. “This close partnership with Battelle and SRNL will nurture a skilled workforce that will be ready to lead the energy sector into the future.” 

The contract DOE awarded to BSRA includes a five-year base with five one-year options. The estimated value of the contract is $3.8 billion over the course of 10 years if all options are exercised. Other members of the alliance are Georgia Tech, South Carolina State University, University of Georgia and University of South Carolina, as well as small business partners Longenecker and Associates and TechSource. 

This marks the first time the U.S. Department of Energy has issued a management contract for the lab separate from the Savannah River Site contract. BSRA is led and wholly owned by Battelle, which already has a management role at seven other DOE national labs. 

 

Tackling Drug Shortages

Drug shortages have plagued health care for decades. Even prior to COVID-19, hospitals incurred more than $400 million in labor costs and alternative treatment options due to national generic drug shortages, especially for those administered via injection.

And research shows shortages lead to things like delaying critical procedures, rationing doses based on supply levels and prescribing suboptimal treatment plans with substitute drugs — resulting in adverse patient outcomes.

Manufacturing tops the list as the most common cause of shortages, pushing those in the pharmaceutical supply chain to look for new ways to increase productivity — and thanks to a partnership between Clemson and Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation, a solution may be on the horizon.

Led by Associate Professor Yue “Sophie” Wang, the project combines robotics and medicine to ensure sterility, quality, safety and efficiency in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Her team worked in partnership with South Carolina-based Nephron to develop a flexible, easy to use, open-source benchtop robot that can fill, cap and seal sterile syringes.

“Pharmaceutical collaborative robots is a new and quickly growing research area,” said Wang, who serves as the Warren H. Owen Duke Energy Associate Professor of Engineering. “By combining our expertise with unique applications in pharmaceutical manufacturing, we hope to benefit both patients and the industry through increased efficiency in syringe manufacturing.”

The project supports the Nephron 503B Outsourcing Facility, which provides sterile, pre-filled medications to hospitals and medical facilities across America. Pre-filled syringes help control costs by minimizing drug overfill and minimizing microbial contamination.

“Anything we can do to improve drug shortages, that’s just good for patients,” said Nephron CEO Lou Kennedy. “It’s a very big crisis, not just in the U.S. but globally as well.”

The partnership was developed through Clemson’s Office of Corporate Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives. The next phase of the project is further development, starting with the completion of a purpose-built clean room on Clemson’s campus. Kennedy hopes to commercialize the benchtop system for use inside health care facilities across the country.

Clemson and Nephron are at the forefront of a larger trend shaping pharmaceutical manufacturing today. The integration of automation, AI and robotics is catalyzing the industry, and rising demand paired with major market disruptions, such as COVID-19, are only accelerating change. The pharmaceutical robotic systems market is expected to nearly double to $119.46 million from just five years ago, driven by innovations in packaging, inspection and lab work, according to one report.

Part of what has made the project successful is the complementary strengths Nephron and Clemson have brought to the table. Wang needed an insider’s perspective on pharmaceutical manufacturing to understand the exact requirements and processes involved in sterile syringe production. In addition to Clemson’s research talent, Nephron was also drawn to the steady stream of talented graduates who could hit the ground running at their facilities. 

 

Delphine Dean Honored with Class of ’39 Award

 

Faculty have named Delphine Dean, the Ron and Jane Lindsay Family Innovation Professor of Bioengineering, one of the very best among them by awarding her the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence.

Endowed by the Class of 1939 to commemorate its 50th anniversary, the award is presented annually to a faculty member whose contributions for a five-year period have been judged by peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the student body, University, and community, state or nation. Recipients also become honorary members of the Class of 1939.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean set up Clemson’s first high-complexity clinical diagnostics lab to run all of the University’s COVID-19 screening tests. The lab runs more than 3,000 tests a day, which includes all of Clemson’s COVID-19 surveillance testing as well as testing for the community.

“Dr. Dean is at the forefront of international scientific trends in COVID-19 saliva testing, a skill which has benefited Clemson University students, faculty and the community,” Terri Bruce, academic program director of the Light Imaging Facility, and Windsor Westbrook Sherrill, associate vice president for health research, wrote in their nomination letter.

 

“Dr. Dean is at the forefront of international scientific trends in COVID-19 saliva testing, a skill which has benefited Clemson University students, faculty and the community.”

 

Dean’s work during the pandemic is just the most recent reason she has been recognized. With a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she heads a lab that conducts studies focused on understanding mechanics and interactions of biological systems. Dean also works on several applied translational design projects primarily aimed at enabling health care in low-resource areas in the U.S., Tanzania and India.

Dean currently mentors more than 50 undergraduates in the Creative Inquiry program who work on a variety of projects, from understanding the effects of ionizing radiation on tissue to developing medical technology for the developing world.

“I am honored to be a part of the Class of ’39,” said Dean. “It’s amazing to be a part of such an illustrious group. The fact that service to the University and beyond is encouraged and celebrated at Clemson is part of the reason I’m always proud to say that I’m part of the Clemson Family.” 

 

Bridging the Gap

 

In an effort to bridge the gap between talent and opportunity, GE Gas Power announced it is establishing an annual scholarship to support underrepresented minorities and women on campus — the largest in the history of Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

The scholarship, named the GE John Lammas Annual Scholarship, honors the engineering legend who was instrumental in changing jet travel and power generation during his 35 years at GE. Lammas passed away in April 2020.

In addition to 40 annual $8,000 scholarships, GE Gas Power’s investment — totaling $1 million over three years — will establish two pilot programs within the Division of Inclusion and Equity designed to create pathways to college for middle and high school students.

“GE Gas Power is committed to inclusion and diversity, as we know that different viewpoints, perspectives, life experiences and skills drive better team performance,” said John Intile, vice president of GE Gas Power Engineering. “GE’s ongoing and accelerated partnership with Clemson University is key to our success. It will help us create a diverse talent pipeline that will continue to propel a more inspirational and inclusive workplace with a relentless pursuit of innovation for a better tomorrow.”

Each of the GE John Lammas Scholarships is open to current or future CECAS students majoring in general engineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering, computer information systems, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, and materials science and engineering. Student recipients will be eligible for GE’s internships, co-ops and full-time leadership programs.

 

Clemson Senior Wins Prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship

 

Venkata “Anish” Chaluvadi, an Honors College senior from Simpsonville, S.C., majoring in materials science and engineering, has become the first Clemson student ever named a Gates Cambridge Scholar, one of only 24 chosen nationwide for the prestigious postgraduate award. Established through a $210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the scholarship fully funds postgraduate study and research at the University of Cambridge. Recipients are chosen for academic accomplishments as well as leadership and commitment to improve the lives of others.

Chaluvadi’s interest in sustainable material solutions for environmental problems was developed from his understanding of the rural South as well as his travels to India, where his parents were born and raised. He will pursue graduate study in nanoscience and nanotechnology, with an emphasis in computational modeling.