Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein’s Prediction

UM scientists join colleagues in celebration of historic achievement

Members of the University of Mississippi LIGO Team include (from left) Camillo Cocchieri, visiting scholar; Mohammad Afrough, graduate student; Marco Cavaglia associate professor of of physics and astronomy; Katherine Dooley, assistant professor of physics and astronomy; Jared Wofford, undergraduate researcher; and Hunter Gabbard, undergraduate research assistant. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Members of the UM LIGO Team include (from left) Camillo Cocchieri, visiting scholar; Mohammad Afrough, graduate student; Marco Cavaglia associate professor of of physics and astronomy; Katherine Dooley, assistant professor of physics and astronomy; and Jared Wofford and Hunter Gabbard, both undergraduate research assistants. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of space-time called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.

The gravitational waves were detected at 4:51 a.m. Sept. 14, 2015 by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detectors in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. The LIGO Observatories are funded by the National Science Foundation and were conceived, built and are operated by the California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The discovery, accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration and the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy, and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.

“Using sophisticated algorithms and data analysis techniques, we estimate that the black hole collision took place about 1.3 billion years ago,” said Marco Cavaglià, University of Mississippi associate professor of physics and astronomy and assistant spokesperson of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. “The two black holes had a mass of about 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun.”

The black holes collided with each other at nearly half the speed of light, said Katherine Dooley, UM assistant professor of physics and astronomy and senior member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

“The explosion released so much energy that about three times the mass of the sun was converted to gravitational waves in only a fraction of a second,” Dooley said. “These are the gravitational waves that LIGO has observed.”

LIGO research is carried out by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group of more than 1,000 scientists from universities around the United States and in 14 other countries. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the LSC develop detector technology and analyze data; approximately 250 students are strong contributing members of the collaboration.

UM has been a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration since 2007. Cavaglià founded the group at UM and has contributed to understanding artifacts of the instrument data that come from sources other than gravitational waves, a critical component for being able to positively identify a gravitational wave signal. Since 2012, Cavaglià has served as the collaboration’s assistant spokesperson.

Dooley joined UM this past fall after having worked for over nine years on building and improving the LIGO and GEO600 detectors. The detectors use laser light to measure infinitesimal changes in the distance between mirrors mounted 2-1/2 miles (4 kilometers) apart.

“The detected gravitational waves changed this distance by one-billionth of a billionth of a meter, about one-thousandth the diameter of a proton,” Dooley said. She designed techniques to control the angular pointing of the laser beam, helping push the limits of the precision measurement technology that was needed to make this detection possible.

Cavaglià, Dooley, UM post-doctoral research assistant Shivaraj Kandhasamy and three doctoral students from the UM-LIGO team are among the authors of the discovery paper. The UM LIGO team also includes a master’s student, an undergraduate and three undergraduate exchange students from Italy.

“LIGO’s detection opens a new way to look at the cosmos,” Cavaglià said. “I think LIGO will go down in history in the same way as we now remember Galileo’s telescope.”

The entire university community shares in the excitement of this extraordinary achievement, UM Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said.

“This astounding breakthrough is the result of decades of international collaboration by a talented team of scientists and engineers,” Vitter said.  “Everyone at UM congratulates our colleagues in the physics department for their role in this historic discovery. The University of Mississippi is committed to pursuing research and scholarship that helps us understand and improve our world.”

The discovery was made possible by the enhanced capabilities of Advanced LIGO, a major upgrade that increases the sensitivity of the instruments, compared to the first-generation LIGO detectors, enabling a large increase in the volume of the universe probed – and the discovery of gravitational waves during its first observation run.

LIGO was originally proposed as a means of detecting these gravitational waves in the 1980s by Rainer Weiss, MIT professor emeritus of physics; Kip Thorne, Caltech’s Richard P. Feynman Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics; and Ronald Drever, Caltech professor emeritus of physics.

The LSC detector network includes the LIGO interferometers and the GEO600 detector. The GEO team includes scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute), Leibniz Universität Hannover, along with partners at the University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, the University of Birmingham, other universities in the United Kingdom and the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain.

Several of the key technologies that made Advanced LIGO so much more sensitive have been developed and tested by the German UK GEO collaboration. Significant computer resources have been contributed by the AEI Hannover Atlas Cluster, the LIGO Laboratory, Syracuse University and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Several universities designed, built and tested key components for Advanced LIGO: The Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, the University of Florida, Stanford University, Columbia University in New York and Louisiana State University.

The NSF leads in financial support for Advanced LIGO. Funding organizations in Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) also have made significant commitments to the project.

Virgo research is carried out by the Virgo Collaboration, consisting of more than 250 physicists and engineers belonging to 19 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare in Italy; two in The Netherlands with Nikhef; the Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland and the European Gravitational Observatory, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy.

“This is a momentous event,” Dooley said. “LIGO has opened our ears to the universe. For the first time ever, we can now listen to the cosmos.”

For more information on the UM LIGO team, go to

UM Journalism Professor Selected for Humanities Council Honor

Alysia Burton Steele to receive Preserver of Mississippi Culture Award

Alysia Burton Steele

Alysia Burton Steele

OXFORD, Miss. – A prize-winning University of Mississippi journalism instructor is the 2016 recipient of a prestigious award from the Mississippi Humanities Council.

Alysia Burton Steele, assistant professor of multimedia, will be presented the Preserver of Mississippi Culture Award on Friday (Feb. 12) at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson. The award, which recognizes an individual or organization for extraordinary efforts to protect and promote the cultural traditions and assets of the state, is in recognition of Steele’s book, “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom” (Center Street, 2015). The invitation-only awards program begins at 6:45 p.m.

“I’ve partnered with the Delta Center and Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, and we are doing statewide tours to present and preserve oral history in part by the ‘Delta Jewels’ stories,” Steele said. “That partnership and my passion for collecting these Mississippi stories inspired the prestigious nomination, for which I am in awe. For me, this recognition is encouraging because others are seeing value in the stories from a powerful, brave, strong demographic often overlooked in mainstream media.”

A finalist in the 2015 Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Awards for nonfiction, the book has been featured in The New York Times,, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Public Radio, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Essence, (owned by the Washington Post), Free Lance-Star, The Clarion-Ledger and Southern Living.

“(Her) remarkable book of oral histories and photographs calls attention to an important, but often overlooked part of Mississippi history,” said Stuart Rockoff, MHC executive director. “These largely unheralded women have been the crucial backbone for the Delta’s African-American community.

“In addition to the book, our award recognizes Ms. Steele’s efforts to bring the stories of these women to audiences across Mississippi and the United States.”

Steele said she drove 6,000 miles, took more than 7,000 photos and collected more than 240 hours of raw audio while interviewing 54 women from 27 towns in the Mississippi Delta and Hills regions. She did this without major grants or sponsorships for nine months to complete this personal project.

“I did this project because I missed my grandmother, the woman who raised me,” Steele said. “She and my grandfather raised me from age 4 to18. I never photographed her or recorded her voice, and I missed her. That hit me when I saw the Delta and it reminded me of our summer visits to her family in South Carolina.

“It was never meant to be a book, but instead a personal journey for collecting oral history and photographing women church elders for poignant stories about life in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era.”

During the process of writing the work, the author faced and overcame several challenges and obstacles, including driving at least four hours round-trip to interview and photograph women, transcribe and work with her mentor, Stan Alost, on picture editing, all while teaching.

“I was exhausted but determined to get this project done before any of the women passed away,” Steele said. “That’s what drove me to work so hard.”

Sadly, Rosie Bynum, 101, of Leland died four months before Steele’s book was published last April.

“What’s bittersweet is that she left a quilt for me that she made and stuffed with cotton that she picked,” Steele said. “Her daughter, Patricia, presented it to me and I burst into tears. It touched me so much. I’m very sad she passed away before she could see the book, but I know she was proud of what we were doing.”

Steele’s latest honor is well deserved, said Will Norton, dean of UM’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

“When one reads Al’s stories and sees these photos and listens to these women on panels and presentations, one is in awe at the strength of character and faith they exhibit,” Norton said. “That Al was able to obtain these stories and have them published is a major contribution to the state and our society.”

A Pennsylvania native, Steele received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her master’s degree in photography from Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication. She has worked as a staff photographer/multimedia producer at the Columbus Dispatch, a picture editor at the Dallas Morning News and deputy director of photography/picture editor at the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

A UM faculty member since 2012, she said connecting with students is what she finds most gratifying about her work.

“The bonds are strong and they keep me young,” Steele said. “I’d like to think I’ve made an impact on some of them, as my mentors have for me. We never work alone and we must always pay it forward, so I love teaching and challenging students.”

Steele spent five weeks documenting life in South Africa, Uganda and Ivory Coast, where her images were featured in Habitat for Humanity’s 25th anniversary coffee table book. While a photographer at the Columbus Dispatch, she won the 2004 James Gordon Understanding Award for photographic excellence for her monthlong assignment inside the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. In 2006, she was part of the photo team that won the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for their Hurricane Katrina coverage where she served as a picture editor.

For three consecutive years, she did the picture editing and layout/design for the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Classic coffee table book. She also did picture editing for the National Urban League and designed its 100th commemorative poem booklet written by Maya Angelou. She’s won numerous awards for her photography and picture editing.

Of all the accolades Steele has received, the MHS honor is unique, she said.

“For me, this recognition is encouraging because others are seeing value in the stories from a powerful, brave, strong demographic often overlooked in mainstream media. Their stories are American stories and they transcend race, gender and age,” Steele said.

“All I’m doing is honoring those elders by listening to their stories and letting them know that I appreciate all that they have done and endured so future generations would have a better life. Seeing the women’s faces filled with pride is the best accolade I could receive. “

For more about the Mississippi Humanities Council, visit For more about the UM Meek School of Journalism and New Media, go to

UM Recognized Among Country’s Elite Research Universities

Carnegie Classification recognizes R&D investment, doctoral degrees granted and faculty achievement

Caleb Ezell (left) and Eleanor Anthony, both students in the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, work with English professor Gregory Heyworth to examine a 15th century Italian manuscript for Oberlin College. The work is part of the Lazarus Project, which uses multispectral imaging technology to analyze old and/or damaged documents and recover faded or erased text. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Caleb Ezell (left) and Eleanor Anthony, both students in the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, work with English professor Gregory Heyworth to examine a 15th century Italian manuscript for Oberlin College. The work is part of the Lazarus Project, which uses multispectral imaging technology to analyze old and/or damaged documents and recover faded or erased text. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is included in the elite group of R-1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the definitive list for the top doctoral research universities in the United States.

UM is among a distinguished group of 115 institutions including Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins in the “highest research,” or R-1 category. This group represents the top 2.5 percent of institutions of higher education.

The Carnegie Classification analyzes Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, data from all U.S. post-secondary institutions and evaluates measures of research activity for doctoral universities in making its assessments, which are released every five years.

“As a flagship university, the University of Mississippi is determined to play a key role in the cycle of research and discovery that drives and sustains our community and world,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “This ranking was achieved thanks to our outstanding faculty and their dedication to research and education.”

The Carnegie Classification’s assignment to categories of highest, higher and moderate research activity is based on research and development expenditures, science and engineering research staff including post-doctoral candidates and non-faculty staff members with doctorates, and doctoral conferrals in humanities and social sciences fields, in STEM fields and in other areas such as business, education, public policy and social work.

Dr. Wael ElShamy, director of the UMMC Cancer Institute’s Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Program, has received a patent on a method to diagnose and treat several cancer types and subtypes. The method may lead to the first targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer and add to therapies for other cancers.

Dr. Wael ElShamy, director of the UMMC Cancer Institute’s Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Program, has received a patent on a method to diagnose and treat several cancer types and subtypes. The method may lead to the first targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer and add to therapies for other cancers.

Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, applauded the university’s new classification and affirmed the vital economic role that a world-class research institution plays in the state and region.

“Attaining the Carnegie ‘highest research activity’ classification is historic for our university,” Clark said. “It illustrates the value we place on scholarly inquiry and the application of our expertise to understanding and improving our world and educating future leaders. Our faculty, staff and students deserve this recognition of their efforts to create and innovate.”

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at the UM Medical Center, was elated at the Carnegie distinction.

“We are very pleased and proud to be a part of a university where research and scholarly activity are highly valued,” she said. “From internationally renowned basic science research in physiology to large population studies being conducted through the MIND Center and the Jackson Heart Study, UMMC is leading the way in research on the diseases that impact Mississippians most.”

The university received more than $117 million in sponsored awards, with more than $105 million in research and development expenditures, during fiscal year 2015. Of that total, more than $77 million was in federal grants, more than $16 million was from foundations, about $11 million came from the state of Mississippi, approximately $8 million was from industry and roughly $4 million came from other sources.

UM researchers submitted 876 proposals and 546 research projects were funded in the last fiscal year.

Among the university’s most prestigious and longstanding research projects is the Jackson Heart Study. UMMC researchers are collaborating with Tougaloo College and Jackson State University on the world’s largest long-term study of cardiovascular risk factors in African-Americans.

In 2013, the university joined the American Heart Association and Boston University for “Heart Studies v2.0,” which will expand upon the landmark Framingham and Jackson studies to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular ailments.

The population study has followed the health of 5,000 participants, producing data that continues to yield insights into the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. In 2013, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, each a part of the National Institutes of Health, announced renewed funding for the JHS.

Other long-term prestigious projects are the marijuana research project conducted by the university’s National Center for Natural Products Research, jet noise reduction studies at the National Center for Physical Acoustics, known as NCPA, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory collaboration through the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Faculty and postdoctoral researchers in the physics department played major roles in the search and discovery of the Higgs boson, the subatomic particle thought to be responsible for all mass in the universe. The discovery was announced July 2012 by scientists at CERN, a multinational research center headquartered in Geneva.

Most recently, two faculty members within the physics department and NCPA received a $3 million Department of Energy grant to study nuclear fuel storage safety and stability.

Three Ole Miss professors received Faculty Early Career Development Awards from the National Science Foundation within the past eight months. Patrick Curtis, assistant professor of biology, is the seventh CAREER award recipient at the university in the last eight years. Sarah Liljegren, associate professor of biology, received the award last November and Jared Delcamp, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, earned a similar award in June 2015. This marks the first time three UM faculty members were selected in the same academic year.

From its first class of 80 students in 1848, UM has grown to a doctoral degree-granting university with 15 academic divisions and more than 23,800 students. Located on its main campus in Oxford are the College of Liberal Arts; the schools of Accountancy, Applied Sciences, Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Journalism and New Media, Pharmacy and Law; and the Graduate School. The Medical Center in Jackson trains professionals in its schools of Medicine, Nursing, Health Related Professions, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Graduate Studies.

In all, more than 100 programs of study offer superior academic experiences that provide each graduate with the background necessary for a lifetime of scholastic, social and professional growth. Strengthening and expanding the academic experience are the acclaimed Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Croft Institute for International Studies and Lott Leadership Institute.

For more information about research at UM, visit

UM Civil Engineers Assist MDOT with Bridges and Highways

Researchers provide expertise, technology for inspections

Civil engineering graduate students take vibration measurements on Ford Center Bridge.

UM civil engineering graduate students take vibration measurements on University Avenue bridge over Gertrude Ford Boulevard.

OXFORD, Miss. – As Mississippi lawmakers continue to examine means to fund a $375 million proposal for state highways and bridges, University of Mississippi civil engineers are developing new ways to assist with inspections and maintenance.

The Mississippi Economic Council and state Chamber of Commerce released a report in December advising that Mississippi needs to invest funds to replace 562 deficient bridges and repave many roads. Though financial sources remain uncertain, the report suggests lawmakers consider higher fuel taxes, license plate fees, rental car taxes and/or general sales taxes.

“For several years now, the University of Mississippi has been a leading contributor in helping MDOT with these infrastructure challenges,” said Waheed Uddin, professor of civil engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology at UM. “Through our collaborative efforts with them and researchers at other universities, we have developed programs that have repeatedly proven successful in achieving transportation objectives.”

The university’s researchers have developed ways to use such high-tech tools as computational modeling, laser-assisted measuring devices and more to help MDOT monitor bridges and roads throughout the state.

For example, Uddin’s CAIT lab has conducted two MDOT Research Division studies since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, using ground-penetrating radar to assess the structural integrity of state highways and to check bridges.

UM civil engineering professor Elizabeth Ervin (right) inspects the University Avenue bridge for weaknesses.

UM civil engineering professor Elizabeth Ervin (right) inspects the University Avenue bridge for weaknesses.

Working with the university’s National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering, Uddin and his students also have used extreme flood simulation results and created three-dimensional computational models of bridges to show how catastrophic failures happen. This work is helping improve the resilience of bridges built over streams and rivers.

“When funding is extremely limited, asset management becomes all the more important,” said Uddin, who serves as a member of the Mississippi Transportation Institute board of directors. “By using a Highway Asset Management System, MDOT has been able to monitor existing roads and bridges for maintenance, safety and stability.”

Another project, a partnership with MDOT’s Construction Division and NASA, has yielded a laser technology to conduct aerial surveys for highway and bridge design alignment.

“Most states’ Department of Transportation agencies now use this technology, which was evaluated for accuracy and cost right here at the University of Mississippi,” Uddin said.

The MDOT Traffic Engineering Division worked with Ole Miss professors when deciding to conduct a field performance study of roundabouts on South Lamar Avenue in Oxford.

Following the construction of roundabouts on both ends of the Highway 6 bridge on South Lamar – which have proven highly successful in promoting safety and traffic flow – the roundabout project was selected as one of the Sweet 16 projects for national recognition by American Association of State Highways and Transportation officials.

Roundabouts were later built on Old Taylor Road, easing traffic flow on the Highway 6 bridge on this major link between the Ole Miss campus and new housing developments in Oxford and Lafayette County.

Another important new tool is a software package called Structural Health Evaluation, developed by Elizabeth Ervin, associate professor of civil engineering.

The system measures vibrations on a bridge to locate its weakest points. The measurements can usually be taken in less than a day and do not require roads to be closed. Data collected has the potential to help inspectors better determine which bridges are most likely to fail and how to best address the issues.

“Visual observation alone of bridges is no longer the best way to select and prioritize them for repairs,” Ervin said. “While the vibration sensors can’t make predictions, it can help inspectors know which bridges are weakest and most likely to fail first.”

Chris Mullen, another Ole Miss civil engineering professor, is using computational modeling to help determine which structural parts are most likely to cause critical failure (such as in the case of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2015). Combining Mullen’s modeling technology and Ervin’s vibration sensors could greatly enhance the effectiveness of bridge inspection practices, Ervin said.

UM civil engineering professor Waheed Uddin checks data using his ground penetrating radar system.

UM civil engineering professor Waheed Uddin checks data using terrain laser mapping sensor equipment aboard an aircraft.

“Of course, no one can accurately predict exactly when a structure will fail,” she said. “We can only give our best guesses about when it might occur and, based on that data, determine a plan of action. Lowering truck weight limits alone is not a guarantee. Research and technology offer better alternatives.”

Uddin and Ervin both said they’re hopeful that funding for infrastructure improvements can be found.

“We’re certainly very hopeful that the Mississippi Legislature will pass the MDOT funding proposal,” Uddin said. “We want to continue offering our expertise in partnership with other institutions and agencies for the good of all transportation users.”

“This proposal, if it passes, is a good start,” Ervin said. “Still, the maintenance of existing bridges and highways, not to mention the possible construction of new ones, is a mind-boggling problem. We still have a long, long way to go.”

UM Professor’s Study May Help Develop Stronger Materials

Article co-authored by A.M. Rajendran makes cover of prestigious journal

Arunachalam 'Raj' Rajendran, UM chair and professor of mechanical engineering, examines a panel fractured during an experiment on blast loading inside the blast tank in his lab at the university's Jackson Avenue Center. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Arunachalam ‘Raj’ Rajendran, UM chair and professor of mechanical engineering, examines a panel fractured during an experiment on blast loading inside the blast tank in his lab at the university’s Jackson Avenue Center. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi professor’s atomistic modeling research that may someday lead to stronger materials for civilian and military applications has been selected as a cover story for the January issue of a prestigious academic journal.

Arunachalam “Raj” Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering, co-authored “Dislocation evolution and peak spall strengths in single crystal and nanocrystalline Cu,” an article published in the Journal of Applied Physics. Rajendran collaborated with five fellow scientists from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, and the University of Connecticut.

“We performed billions of atoms simulations to understand how pure copper atoms debond due to a strong shock wave and to theoretically calculate material strength at lower length scales,” he said. “This research was initiated by me through the scientists in ARL a few years ago. The JAP liked our paper and requested our permission to use one of the figures from our article on the cover.”

Rajendran explained the nature and impact of the team’s studies.

“When structures fail due to complex operating conditions under extreme environments, the failure process begins at the atomistic levels,” he said. “Ultimately, the degradation of materials at nanometer (one billionth of a meter) and micrometer (an even tinier measurement) levels leads to catastrophic structural failures.

“A fundamental understanding of how materials fail at these length scales will eventually help engineers to design and develop tougher, stronger and more robust materials for a variety of both civilian and military applications.”

The study reported in the journal investigated material failure processes in a metallic system that is subjected to a high-velocity impact. Observing material failure at atomic levels through scientific experiments in laboratories is complex and will require advanced diagnostic techniques with high-resolution instruments.

“We generated a computational model of a nanocrystalline system,” Rajendran said. “With the advent of petaflop computing capabilities, it is now possible to perform research on failure of materials at nano-length scale levels and advance our understanding to macro-length scales to predict failure.”

To model a one-micron cube volume of material, the computer model will require several trillion atoms. For example, a grain of salt contains a billion billion atoms. It is impossible to perform simulations of such systems, even using exaflop computers, some of the most powerful systems available, able to perform a billion billion calculations per second.

“We calculated the dynamic failure strength of pure copper subjected to a strong shock loading (such as the ones generated in any ballistic and blast events) using a state-of-the-art new approach that will not require to model a system with several trillions of atoms,” he said. “By comparing results obtained for six different nano-grain systems, as well as a single crystal system, the computationally determined dynamic failure (spall) strength has been successfully validated in this journal article.”

Though the model was validated for a pure metallic system, it has the potential to model other complex heterogeneous and biological material systems, Rajendran said.

“There is an ultimate need for such computational models toward the design and insertion of new materials that are lighter and stronger for protective and other structural applications to withstand loading generated by extreme environments,” he said. “There are many more research challenges yet to overcome to achieve this ultimate need.”

Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor of research and sponsored programs, commended Rajendran for the latest addition to his list of accolades.

“Dr. Rajendran’s research is a great example of the importance of basic research,” Clark said. “Understanding interactions at the atomic level can lead to practical, real-world solutions. What an exciting achievement for both Dr. Rajendran and the University of Mississippi.”

Rajendran is an emeritus fellow of the ARL, fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, fellow of the Society of Engineering Mechanics, Distinguished Fellow of ICCES and associate fellow of AIAA. He serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Computer Modeling, Simulation in Engineering and International Journal of Plasticity.

Rajendran previously served as an associate editor for the ASME’s Journal of Engineering Materials and Technology and Composites Part B: Engineering. He was chair of the executive committee of ASME’s Materials Division in 2009-2011. In addition, Rajendran has been a member of the prestigious in-house basic research review panel for the Corps of Engineers Laboratories during the past three years.

To view the article in the Journal of Applied Physics, go to

Hail to the Chief: Hugh Warren is ESB President

Senior electrical engineering major faces challenges, enjoys successes of leadership

Hugh Warren

Hugh Warren

After representing the University of Mississippi School of Engineering in key leadership roles, Hugh Warren felt compelled to run for the position of Engineering Student Body president and continue to work to better the engineering school.

The Madison Central High School graduate was elected last spring and has begun working with the ESB Leadership Council to plan events and discuss initiatives to help both current and future engineering students. Other officers are Taylor Maldonado of Houston, Texas, vice president; and Dustin Dykes of Madison, Alabama, secretary-treasurer.

“I love our School of Engineering and saw this role as a great opportunity to serve its students,” said Warren, a senior electrical engineering major. “I felt that my experience as the Associated Student Body senator for the School of Engineering and serving as an engineering ambassador would be of value to me in this position.”

Warren is confident that his leadership team’s outreach has improved visibility of events hosted by the ESB, and he hopes to continue that trend through the rest of his term. They continue traditions – such as coordinating the engineering tailgate – and they have hosted new events, including like a town hall meeting to hear student feedback and providing snacks in Carrier and Brevard halls during finals week.

“This year’s Leadership Council has greatly increased awareness of ESB activities, and we have seen great turnouts for all of them so far,” Warren said.

He also pointed to a large increase in applications from students interested in serving on the ESB Leadership Council as a success.

Even though a new ESB president will soon be elected, Warren is working hard to make sure that the spring 2016 semester is a success. The group still has events to continue planning, he said, noting that he looks forward to working with the new ESB officers to facilitate a smooth transition.

The ESB Leadership Council is organizing events for National Engineers Week in late February, as well as planning the Engineering Formal. The group is also planning to have a keynote speaker before the semester’s end.

Although the activities of the ESB Leadership Council have been successful, Warren realizes the semester has not been without particular challenges. In addition to serving as ESB president, he is balancing a co-op position at BorgWarner, an automotive components and parts supplier in Water Valley.

“Without the support of Taylor, Dustin and the Leadership Council, it would have been nearly impossible to manage both of these roles,” he said. He advises that any students considering taking on a leadership role weigh all their responsibilities and to not take on too much.

As commencement approaches, Warren is still uncertain of his plans. He is interested in pursuing graduate school, but he is also considering starting his own biotech company.

As the student governing organization for the school, the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council represents all seven disciplines. ESB provides student services and coordinates social and professional development events throughout the year. The group is also responsible for seeking feedback from engineering students and facilitating discussions with the administrators or faculty members.

Engineers Without Borders Returns to Togo

Following successful crowd-funding campaign, team advances infrastructure project

Dr. Bob Holt (left) explains to Paige Lohman and Vera Gardner how to classify soil cuttings from the drilling operation. A worker places a sample of soil cuttings on the ground for Holt to log.

Dr. Bob Holt (left) explains to Paige Lohman and Vera Gardner how to classify soil cuttings from the drilling operation. A worker places a sample of soil cuttings on the ground for Holt to log.

Entering its fourth year of helping the people of a few villages in the West African nation of Togo build a sound infrastructure, members of the Ole Miss chapter of Engineers Without Borders recently returned there to assist in the planning stages for a deep-water well installation.

The group left for the impoverished country Jan. 12, a month after launching a highly successful crowd-fundraising campaign through With help from more than 100 donors, the amount raised easily surpassed the $20,000 goal.

The contributions received enabled members of EWB and School of Engineering faculty members to spend seven days there planning how to provide clean water to a children’s hospital in the rural village of Akoumape. They also made a followup visit to the school building built by EWB in 2014.

“One good thing we didn’t expect to happen is that we had time and an available rig to drill a shallow irrigation well,” said Cris Surbeck, associate professor of civil engineering and faculty adviser of Ole Miss-EWB. “Due to equipment issues, we weren’t able to complete the project, but Dr. (Bob) Holt (geology and geological engineering professor) taught the people there how to finish it after our departure.”

Other team members included Paul Scovazzo, chemical engineering professor and construction guru; Vera Gardner, junior mechanical engineering major; Timothy Steenwyk, junior mechanical engineering major and chapter vice president for outreach; Zach Lepchitz, graduate student in geological engineering; Paige Lohman, sophomore mechanical engineering major and team health and safety officer; and Dillon Hall, sophomore mechanical engineering major, with expertise in building and manufacturing.

Two of the most enjoyable aspects of the trip were meetings UM team members had with the geology faculty and students at the University of Lomė, as well as the governor of the Vo prefecture (similar to a county).

“The Lomė university group provided very helpful information that proved useful to us as our own project got underway,” Surbeck said. “Our students enjoyed fellowshipping with the Lomé students as well.”

The UM team met with the governor, who went with them to the school. He introduced them to the Togo students and gave them his overwhelming support. More than 100 children attend the school Mondays through Fridays.

“My most memorable experience on this trip would have to be when we visited the school that the UM-EWB team completed in January 2014,” said Gardner, a Memphis, Tennessee native who originally visited the country as a freshman two years ago. “When we saw the students attending classes and learning in their new schoolhouse, it showed that the community’s efforts and the UM-EWB chapter’s work was being used for its intended use and a good cause. Everyone’s hard work paid off.”

Steenwyk has been involved in the organization for three years, but this was his first time to visit Togo.

Workers drill a borehole with a rig and drilling mud as Zack Lepchitz and Dillon Hall examine soil cuttings.

Workers drill a borehole with a rig and drilling mud as Zack Lepchitz and Dillon Hall examine soil cuttings.

“The most memorable part of the trip for me would be our visit to the school that we had built,” the Ocean Springs native said. “It was amazing to see how the engineering drawings that we worked on in Oxford became a usable facility for children on the other side of the world. I hope we will see the same results for the well we are planning.”

First-time travelers to Togo found it an amazing, eye-opening seven days.

“My most memorable experience was spending time with the local children,” said Lohman of Moline, Illinois. “I befriended a 12-year-old boy named Voku, and we played catch and talked about his school. When I was at the local church, a little girl walked up to me and waited until I picked her up and set her on my lap, where she stayed the rest of the church service. It was very difficult for me to imagine growing up with a lifestyle similar to theirs. Seeing the poverty firsthand really made me thank my lucky stars to have the life I live.”

Hall said attending the service opened his eyes to the real needs of the people and also how much the children of the area aspire to great things.

“It was baffling to hear from these kids that they wanted to aspire to be doctors, lawyers, engineers and congressmen when it seemed like they hardly had the resources to finish grade school,” the Saltillo native said. “Their will to achieve something greater in their lives convinced me to not take for granted the opportunities that I have to achieve my career goals.”

During the service, Hall also had an opportunity to translate Ewe readings from Scripture to English.

“I had thought to bring a pocket-sized New Testament along, so it was pretty cool to be able to connect with the members of the church despite a significant language barrier,” he said.

As on previous excursions to Togo, there were unexpected challenges as well. One such case involved the temporary incapacitation of one of the motor vehicles the group used.

“The roads are so rough that they often cause cars to break down,” Surbeck said.

However, by the end of the trip, the mission of planning the digging of a deep water later this year was completed. The well will provide drinking water to a children’s hospital, which is being built by a nonprofit organization. EWB-Ole Miss is committed to drill a well and install a distribution pipe and a public tap stand.

“It’s going to be an expensive effort requiring professional construction crews and electricians,” Surbeck said. “Several Rotary Clubs in Mississippi and Tennessee are raising $100,000 for this particular project’s expenses.”

 The EWB-Ole Miss team made a long-term commitment in 2012 to work with rural villages in Togo to improve community infrastructure and health care. With four productive trips completed since that time, the EWB-Ole Miss team has built a school that provides a safe setting for dozens of children to benefit from educational opportunities.

“All of these travelers, and countless other chapter members, have invested time, money and deeply committed efforts to this project through to completion,” Surbeck said. “Faculty members donate all of their travel time without compensation. Participants are passionate about seeing this children’s hospital have clean water, which, in turn, will help health care workers care for sick children.”

All the students said if they have the opportunity to return with EWB to Togo for future trips, they would do so without a second thought.

“There is so much information and resources that America can provide for these people that I would hate to see go to waste,” Dillon said.

UM Professor Appointed to EPA Science Advisory Board

Nosa O. Egiebor will serve on prestigious committee until 2018

Nosa O. Egiebor

Nosa O. Egiebor

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi administrator and professor widely respected for his leadership and research has been appointed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

Nosa O. Egiebor, professor of chemical engineering and senior international officer and executive director of UM’s Office of Global Engagement, will serve a three-year term ending in September 2018. He is also a member of the SAB’s Environmental Engineering Committee.

“The initial notice from EPA that I had been nominated by one or more professional peers for this prestigious national assignment was a humbling experience,” Egiebor said. “I was obviously elated when I received the final news that I was selected via the invitation and appointment letter by the EPA administrator to serve, after such a rigorous review and evaluation process.”

The U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board includes leading scientific experts from the environmental community. Congress created the board in 1978 to advise the EPA in policymaking based on “the best environmental decisions to protect human health and the environment.”

“My main assignment is to serve as a chemical engineering expert within the Environmental Engineering Committee, and to provide independent scientific, technical and professional advice on significant environmental science and technology issues to the EPA administrator,” Egiebor said. “Such expert guidance is essential to the EPA’s ability to protect public health and safeguard the environment for all Americans.”

Egiebor’s selection honors both his personal professional achievements and the university, officials said.

“This is an outstanding honor recognizing Dr. Egiebor’s accomplishments,” Provost Morris Stocks said. “He is a distinguished scientist, well-respected among his colleagues. I am pleased that Dr. Egiebor has been recognized and selected for this tremendous honor.”

Egiebor said his appointment is a community service assignment that will not, in any way, affect his duties at the university.

“If anything, the university will benefit from being viewed as a leading national brand with an improved visibility and an enhanced reputation for excellence,” he said. “SAB meetings are scheduled and held infrequently, and most of the scientific and technical review activities are conducted online, and mainly during evenings and weekends.”

Still, the work of the SAB is critically important to the public because the technical and professional advice and guidance it provides help shape the regulations and laws that guide environmental protection.

“Since our public health is inextricably linked to the quality of our environment, and no one can be immune to environmental pollution in air, water and soil, the work of the SAB invariably impacts people’s lives through the policies, regulations and laws that are enacted to protect our environment,” Egiebor said.

As the chief international officer of the university, Egiebor has oversight responsibility for several departments within the Office of Global Engagement. These include the Office of International Programs, the Intensive English Program, the Study Abroad Office and the Japanese Supplementary School.

A registered professional engineer, he has more than 30 years of involvement and leadership in international higher education, both as an administrator and as a faculty member.

Egiebor holds a doctorate in chemical and environmental process metallurgy from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, a master’s degree from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Benin in Nigeria.

He previously worked at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada; the University of Benin; Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida; and Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. He has also been a visiting professor at numerous international universities, including the Technical University of Berlin in Germany and Ankara University in Turkey. He is an active member of several professional and higher education organizations and has published more than 120 scholarly articles in journals, books and conference proceedings.

For more about UM’s Office of Global Engagement, visit

Memory Serves Alex Mullen, New World Mental Athlete Champion

Alex Mullen is first American to win title

Mullen shows off Team USA's second-place trophy.

Mullen shows off Team USA’s second-place trophy.

Alex Mullen, a second-year medical student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and son of Dr. Chris Mullen, civil engineering professor, became the first American to capture the overall title at the 24th World Memory Championships recently in Chengdu, China.

A memory athlete who entered the world of competitive memorization for the first time in 2014, the Oxford native was rewarded with approximately $40,000.

Team USA, led by Mullen, 22, took second place in the event, the highest showing for this country yet. Mullen’s teammates were Luis Angel, Nelson Dellis, Lance Tschirhart and Brad Zupp in the international contest that attracted around 278 competitors from 23 countries.

“We were all thrilled to be able to represent the U.S., and it feels great to be putting the America on the map in what has largely been a European-dominated sport, “Mullen said in comments emailed from China. “Hopefully, next year we can continue to push things even further and challenge for the overall title.”

The championships, held in the Jintang Hengda hotel in the province of Sichuan, challenged contestants in 10 different disciplines to memorize quickly and accurately such information as spoken numbers, playing cards, historic/future dates, binary numbers, random words, speed cards and more.

“It was an unbelievable three days for me,” Mullen said. “I feel incredibly lucky. I certainly didn’t expect to win. I knew that if I even wanted a chance at the title, I’d need to have the most perfect competition of my life.”

The scores of the participants were cumulative. Their opponents were the clock and each other.

Mullen took the overall title when he defeated frontrunner Marwin Wallonius of Sweden in a final speed-card clash.

“I was sitting in second behind Marwin until the 10th and final event, speed cards,” Mullen said. “And luckily, I managed a time that gave me the lead in the overall standings by just a hair.

“Competing against the top guys like Marwin and Simon Reinhard (of Germany) is always incredibly challenging, and both were incredibly strong throughout the year.”

Mullen achieved the highest overall score ever at a World Memory Championships since its inception in 1991, breaking one world record and five top U.S. scores He became the first person in the world to crack the 3,000-digit barrier in the hour numbers event when he recalled 3,029 digits within the allotted time.

Even before his trip to China, Mullen was ranked worldwide as a contestant, thanks to such feats as recalling the arrangement of a 52-card deck in under 29 seconds, committing to memory a series of 615 digits in order; memorizing 70 made-up “historical” dates in under five minutes and remembering the precise order of 102 digits – after hearing the sequence only once.

He could perform none of those feats, he said, until discovering as a college sophomore “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer. Subtitled “The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” the book describes the world of competitive memorization.

In this country, that world is represented by the USA Memory Championship, patterned after the older World Memory Championships and founded in the late 1990s by Tony Dottino, at the time an IBM executive who had been searching for a way to restimulate employees’ creativity.

Mullen just wanted to stimulate his memory, adopting techniques from “Moonwalking” to shine up his school work and help him get into medical school.

“My memory improved pretty much instantly,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “Because I use the same kind of strategies in medical school, it’s like I’m cross-training for the memory competitions.”

This was going to be his “secret weapon,” he said. But, now, he shares it on his blog, He couldn’t keep this to himself, or even to his classroom in Oxford, where he grew up and went to school.

“I got hooked, and I couldn’t stop,” he said.

Hooked on mnemonics, that is – in particular, a device known as the memory, or mind, palace, which taps into our talent for remembering context, or stories, better than we can isolated facts: You can fix anything in your mind by building a place in your imagination and furnishing it with images at certain points along the way.

Those images are connected to the numbers, names and faces, addresses, etc., you want to remember. To retrieve that information any time in the future, you stroll through your mental manse.

One of Mullen’s 20 or so memory palaces is his home in Oxford. In Gross Anatomy, for instance, he could have attached the brachial artery to his mailbox.

“This has definitely helped me in medical school,” Mullen has said. “Anything I need to memorize, such as the names of bacteria or drugs, I convert to images.”

During a demonstration at the Medical Center this fall, he revealed his skill with a playing deck, card by card: “This one’s Michael Jordan,” he said. “This is Gandalf, this is a particle accelerator like the one in Switzerland, this is Sparky – a guy I know” and so on. He then put Michael Jordan by the door, Gandalf on the table … you get the picture.

The mnemonics vary somewhat, depending on the task. To connect a name with a face, Mullen offers his as an example: Owl for “Al,” licks for “lex.” He wears glasses: “Owl licking my glasses.”

No wonder his name is becoming unforgettable among his rivals. In 2014, he plunged into the USA Memory Championship for the first time, finishing second.

“I always liked competition. In high school, it was swimming and tennis,” he said. “This is another way to compete, to push myself to do more and more.”

He reached the national finals again this year, then placed fourth at the 2015 Extreme Memory Tournament, which drew memory mavens from around the world to San Diego in May. Mullen won $4,000.

Now he’s milking his skill outside the arena and the classroom as well, taking on the task of learning Chinese, because he can.

It’s serving him well during his time in China, a journey he decided to take after his marriage this summer to Cathy Chen, a fellow second-year medical student who has relatives in Taiwan. The two took their finals early in order to be able to make the trip.

“It is kind of a second honeymoon,” he said, shortly before departing.

In a way, Mullen is wedded to this cerebral sport as well. “At this point, I almost feel like I can’t stop,” he said. “The more I compete, the more I want to do it.”

UM, ‘Empire’ Star Slated for NAACP Honors

Campus chapter, actor/singer Jussie Smollett among prestigious Chairman's Award recipients

Apparently, some type of connection exists between the University of Mississippi and the Fox TV megahit drama “Empire.”

For starters, a UM broadcast communications specialist once interned for the popular show’s casting director. Then, a former Ole Miss women’s basketball star-turned-actress had a cameo appearance on the program’s mid-season winter finale in December. Now, it appears representatives from UM’s chapter of the NAACP and rising “Empire” star Jussie Smollett will both be receiving the Chairman’s Award when the 47th annual NAACP Image Awards airs Feb. 5.

The university’s NAACP chapter is being recognized for its successful student-led campaign to remove the Mississippi state flag, which includes the Confederate battle emblem in its upper left corner, from campus.

Smollett, who plays singer-songwriter Jamal Lyon on “Empire,” has been an activist for civil rights, HIV-AIDS awareness and social issues since he was 15. He is being honored for his volunteer work with such nonprofits as the Black AIDS Institute, Artists for a New South Africa and the United Negro College Fund. Recently, Smollett interrupted his performance at the BET Awards to speak out about the Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage.

Other recipients of the Chairman’s Award include the Justice League NYC, the University of Missouri Concerned Student 1950 Collective, Brittany “Bree” Newsome, the Rev. Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III and the Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley.

“It is a rare privilege for me to present the NAACP Chairman’s 2016 Award to an outstanding group of trailblazing leaders all under the age of 50 who have given voice and vision to the mantra that black lives matter,” said Roslyn Brock, chairman of the NAACP national board of directors. “The five individuals and three organizations have raised awareness of social, educational and economic injustice from college campuses, church pulpits and the streets, and exemplify what this award symbolizes: ‘Courage will not skip this generation.’”

The Image Awards will air live from the Pasadena Civic Center on TV One, beginning at 6 p.m.

To read more about the UM NAACP receiving the Chairman’s Award, visit here. To read more about the 47th annual NAACP Image Awards, go to