CHARLESTON, W.VA. – The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has awarded three West Virginia University (WVU) faculty members nearly $4 million in Research Challenge Grants, which will help them build additional research strength and work toward commercial products. The grants are administered by the Commission’s Division of Science and Research.


Heath Damron, John (Jianli) Hu and Nasser Nasrabadi each were awarded the grants by the West Virginia Science and Research Council on Oct. 11. The Science and Research Council was established by the West Virginia Legislature in 2009 in part to fund these grants that assist faculty researchers in successfully competing for external funding on a national basis by providing incentives to increase capacity.


“The Research Challenge Grants are our most distinguished and most promising scientific awards available from the state of West Virginia for bright and aspiring research faculty,” said Paul L. Hill, higher education chancellor. “It is with great admiration that we recognize and fund the promising research of Drs. Damron, Hu and Nasrabadi.”


Institutions are encouraged to collaborate on projects where practical and to target research toward needs of the state. Averaging between $250,000 and $400,000 annually, these grants will invest nearly $3.9 million over the next five years in important science, technology, engineering and mathematics research.


“Investing in research not only furthers the projects of our grantees, but strengthens our state by training our students and perhaps creating new businesses in the future,” said Dr. Jan Taylor, director of the division of science and research. “It’s a win-win situation.”


Damron, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology, and cell biology, looks to create the Vaccine Development Center at the WVU Health Sciences Center. This center will leverage resources, support vaccine research projects, facilitate training of the next generation of scientists and physicians and foster the establishment of industry partners.


Hu, Statler Chair in Engineering for Natural Gas Utilization, will pursue the advancement of science and engineering for localized gas utilization. For this project, the WVU Center for Innovation in Gas Research and Utilization partners with Marshall University; the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research, and Innovation Center; the West Virginia Chemical Alliance Zone; the WVU Energy Institute; the WVU Bureau for Business and Economic Research and the National Energy Technology Laboratory to promote local, downstream utilization of natural gas in West Virginia’s residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.


Nasrabadi, professor of computer science and engineering, proposed founding the Center for Cognitive Computing to use advanced learning techniques to conduct fundamental, applied research in data science and exploit big data to address issues related to national security, border control, biometrics, cognitive automation, cybersecurity, banking, finance, education, healthcare, retail and commercial applications.


For more information about Research Challenge Grants as well as all other available grants, visit


West Virginia Science and Research, a division of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, directs the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) in West Virginia, while also managing state-funded academic research programs, including the Research Challenge Fund.