ultoday.com talks with VP of Research & Graduate Programs Robert Stewart, about his area and the future of UL.

Robert Stewart, formerly the head of the USGS National Wetlands Research Center in the UL Research Park, has served the University as Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies for the last three years. We talked with him recently about the phenomenal growth in research he has seen at The University of Louisiana.

What's new in Research and Graduate Studies?

Our biggest initiative is with the LITE Center (Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise). Formed as a separate governmental entity, LITE is one of the world’s leading 3D immersive visualization and supercomputing resource centers hosting clients in commercial industry, government, and university sectors. LITE’s leading-edge $27 million facility features a comprehensive set of advanced visualization systems including the world’s largest 3D immersive visualization theater and one of the world’s first six-sided digital 3D total immersive space (TIS) based on CAVE® technologies. LITE offers amazing capabilities in 3D visualization and super computing. It allows us to ponder oil and gas exploration across the entire Gulf of Mexico, develop new methods for the film industry, explore visualization in medicine for doctors and nurses, and develop new technologies for the gaming industries, just to name a few. This is truly a world class center and we are expanding our research programs at the University to be involved in all aspects of LITE's research activities. Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira is a faculty member of the University and is also the Executive Director of LITE.The challenge and goal for the University is to use this tremendous capability to help a number of our academic programs enhance their reputations nationally and beyond. Disciplines such as Architecture, Computer Science, Nursing, Geology, Engineering, and Visual Arts will be able to benefit significantly from the availability of this technology.

Another large initiative is NIMSAT (National Incident Management Systems and Technologies) focusing on improving government and private sector responses to natural and technological disasters. Dr. Ramesh Kolluru created this Institute after Hurricane Katrina to improve not only the management of disasters but also recovery following a major disaster. It involves enormous data bases and capabilities to bring what we know about an area, city or town, to first responders and then to the people managing the recovery operations.

Another very strong UL initiative is the Energy Institute headed by Dr. Ali Ghalambor and Dr. Carl Richter. The Institute has both an educational and a research component, looking at oil and gas in the Gulf. Currently the team is looking at new methods for analyzing new seismic data from below the salt deposits, looking for very deep oil and gas deposits. The Gulf Petro project headed by the Institue will research (1) methods to explore the technically challenging deepwater regions of the GOM to better define drilling targets and thereby reducing the well construction cost, and (2) the re-energization of pressure depleted reservoirs in the GOM through various production optimization schemes and improved recovery techniques. The dissemination of the results derived from this research program will provide the basis for continued technological development from the university to the private sector and has the potential for significant economic development to impact the U.S. energy security.

In Materials Science, the Center for Structural and Functional Materials (CSFM) and its Director Dr. Devesh Misra is developing some very interesting applications. He also has developed nano-materials that both have many potential civilian and military applications such as unmanned aerial vehicles, fuel lines for cryogenic fuels in aerospace systems, high optical clarity applications, magnetic nanoparticles for tumor-targeted drug delivery, as well as third generation of advanced ultrahigh strength and light weight steels for the ballistic, oil and gas, and construction industries.

The New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) provides resources for basic and applied research aimed at the solution of human health problems. They have over 6,000 non-human primates from 10 different species. Under Dr. T. Jeff Rowell, this center conducts health related research that has national importance. Additionally, it is one of only three facilities in the world capable of providing for research in compliance with Good Laboratory Standards using great apes (chimpanzees) as animal models for human diseases. This center has provided opportunities for not only UL students, but also students from other universities such as Yale, UC Davis, Ohio State, LSU, Tulane and others.

I hope all your readers remember the Cajunbot. This robotic vehicle was developed to drive on city streets, in traffic, and all without human interaction – a completely autonomous vehicle. The development of the Cajunbot was led by Dr. Arun Lakhotia and he and the Cajunbot team did very well in a national competition sponsored by the Department of Defense. Also Dr. Lakhotia has been doing exciting things that go beyond autonomous robotic vehicles; perhaps most notably, he is looking at cyber security. He has developed promising approaches being considered by a major software company that will improve security threats from viruses and other cyber threats.

The University has created a cross-disciplinary initiative, the Institute for Coastal Ecology & Engineering or ICEE. Coastal erosion and wetlands watersheds are critical issues facing Louisiana. Dr. Don Hayes has been tapped as the Director, and we have a new co-director coming too, Dr. Jenneke Visser, an ecologist currently at LSU. As for Don, he is a coastal engineer; that's a great addition to our faculty; for there are not many coastal engineers in our Universities.Tying into ICEE, Dr. Bob Gramling in Sociology is looking at coastal issues from a critical, but completely different direction. As a sociologist, he is looking into the human, cultural, and economic aspects. For example, he's interested in the effects of major freshwater diversions. As these large diversions are completed there will also be social shifts and economic diversions that may occur, and some could be huge. What are the effects on the fishing industry, the tax base, and job loss or creation.

Another big success at UL is the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana (MEPoL), which is UL's manufacturing extension service located in offices all over the state. Under Corrine Dupuy's direction MEPoL was recently rated as one of the top 5 MEP’s in the whole US. It provides a variety of business support services to manufacturing companies, and most recently have developed a LEAN Center to allow them to serve non-manufacturing companies as well. The LEAN process makes companies (and others) more efficient and effective and therefore more competitive nationally and internationally. They have saved Louisiana’s manufacturing industry many millions of dollars. And even another success in this arena is our Procurement Technical Assistance Center or PTAC. Sherrie Mullins is the director and PTAC provides advice to corporations who are interested in doing business with the Federal government.

Part II of Dr. Stewart's interview is available here.