Graduate student Mico Woolard is comfortable talking about his research when other engineers visit Virginia Tech's Smart Infrastructure Laboratory on the third floor of Goodwin Hall.

In fact, his advisor, Pablo Tarazaga, encourages Woolard and other students to lead tours of the lab so they become comfortable discussing their work.

But Woolard, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering from Virginia Beach, admits he sometimes got a little tongue-tied when the Virginia governor, the U.S. secretary of commerce, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, the economy minister of the United Arab Emirates, and other diplomatic and corporate dignitaries stopped by Virginia Tech’s booth at Hannover Messe, the world’s foremost trade fair for industrial technology.

“At one point, I was explaining to three Boeing executives how we use sensors in Goodwin Hall to better understand how humans interact with the environment,” Woolard said. “And just a minute later, the governor was tapping the solid piano I created to demonstrate the interactive capabilities of a smart building.”

The trade show, which attracted more than 190,000 visitors – including President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – featured more than 5,200 exhibitors at a sprawling site in northern Germany. Virginia Tech's participation was sponsored by the Language and Culture Institute, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

“All the latest technologies, all the advanced manufacturers – they’re all here,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at Hannover Messe. “Virginia Tech is a huge player in this space, so it’s important that Tech be here.”

McAuliffe said universities such as Virginia Tech need to take part in such events to see what advancements are being made in other countries and at other universities and so others can see what’s being discovered here. “We want everybody to know that Virginia Tech is a research leader,” he said.

U.S. commerce secretary visits Virginia Tech booth at Hannover Messe
Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute Director Don Back (center) introduces U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to Scott Weimer, director of Continuing and Professional Affairs, at the university's booth at Hannover Messe.

Lane Ballard, a 1997 mechanical engineering graduate who is vice president of materials and manufacturing technology at Boeing Research & Technology, echoed those sentiments. “It’s important to not only get talent, but also products and technology, from all regions of the earth, as there are a lot of good ideas that aren’t just central to the U.S.,” he said. “You come to these conferences to get the integration of the manufacturers, the IT solutions, the supply chain managers, logistics to, in the end, shorten the value stream of products to customers.”

Abraham Lama Salomon of the Dominican Republic, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering and an M.S. student in computer engineering, said he talked with a wide swath of people about his research on 3-D representations of objects or environments – as well as research being done in other departments. “Also, we could engage with people, both locally and internationally, and create bonds for possible future partnerships or collaborations,” he said.

Tarazaga, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, said laying the groundwork for such partnerships was a main goal.

“This was a good way to meet and greet several potential partners in one place in one week,” he said. “This usually takes a much longer time in the conventional university environment. Hannover Messe was a sort of ‘speed dating’ for potential research projects.”

He said the event was an opportunity to show potential partners “the kind of high-quality students that we produce and what we’re able to do at Virginia Tech.” 

In addition to meeting people at the university’s booth, Woolard and Jan Helge Bøhn, an associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, moderated tech transfer forums featuring presentations and panel discussions. Tarazaga also presented a talk about the Internet of Things and his work with intelligent infrastructure.

The university also spotlighted the work of the Language and Culture Institute and Continuing and Professional Education. The institute recruits international students on behalf of the university, provides language-related programs for academic and professional development, and develops partnerships that promote international development and capacity building. Continuing and Professional Education works with the university’s teaching and research faculty; academic, government, and business leaders; and community partners to design and deliver customized educational programs and advanced workforce training. 

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