Two professors awarded Fulbright fellowships

Linsey Marr and Erich Hester of the Charles Edward Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have been awarded Fulbright fellowships to conduct research in Taiwan.

Marr and Hester are two of three faculty at Virginia Tech that have received Fulbright awards for the 2017-2018 cycle so far.

An expert in air pollution and its health effects, Marr, a professor and leader of the Applied Interdisciplinary Research in Air lab, will travel to Taiwan to probe the hypothesis that influenza can be transmitted through the atmosphere over distances of hundreds of kilometers or more. Her research will be the first to assess how important this route of transmission might be.

“Taiwan is an ideal place to study influenza because some of the largest epidemics of avian influenza occur there, a new strain of the virus has emerged there, and its Centers for Disease Control and influenza research community are very active,” Marr said. “This is a great opportunity to immerse myself in a tropical locale where the seasonal pattern of the flu differs from ours and where people think about it differently. I hope that bridging public health and engineering will produce new insight into how the flu spreads.”

Marr will work with colleagues from National Taiwan University as she compiles data and constructs a model of virus transport from mainland China to Taiwan. This work is an extension of the NIH New Innovator Award she received in 2013 to study how humidity affects transmission of the flu.

Hester, an associate professor and leader of the Hester Environmental Hydraulics Research Group, will stay in Taiwan from September 2017 to June 2018 to quantify the effect that the interaction of river channels and floodplains has on water quality in the country. Typically, river channels and floodplains work symbiotically: when rivers overflow, floodplains temporarily absorb floodwaters, offering a habitat for fish, birds, and reptiles and improving water quality for humans and ecosystems.

As in many countries, these benefits have been reduced in Taiwan as floodplains are increasingly modified for human use, but Taiwan’s landscape and climate make the effects unique.

“I study rivers, and Taiwan is fascinating because of its strong seasonal monsoon and big mountains right next to the ocean, which together enhance flooding and erosion relative to other places,” Hester said. “In the U.S., floodplain restoration is increasingly popular to improve water quality in river systems, but to my knowledge has not been harnessed in Taiwan. There is great potential for technology transfer between our nations and I am excited for this opportunity to assess the potential benefits for Taiwan.”

Hester will work with colleagues from National Taiwan University as he builds and calibrates numerical models that represent the interaction of river systems and floodplains in Taiwan, which he will then use to perform analyses of floodplain management and restoration techniques for the country.

This work will build on existing projects funded by the National Science Foundation investigating how river management can improve water quality in large watersheds like that of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Global Education Office, a unit of Outreach and International Affairs, oversees the Fulbright Program at Virginia Tech. For questions or more information on Fulbright opportunities, please contact Betty Watts.

Written by Erica Corder