Army Under Secretary visits UT campus, tours research facilities

By Elizabeth Anne Farmer | Daily Texan StaffMarch 13, 2012

Army Under Secretary visits UT campus, tours research facilities
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The second highest serving U.S. Army adviser visited the University to speak with faculty Thursday about brain and energy research that could help the Army.

U.S. Army Under Secretary Joseph Westphal's conversations with faculty hit on timely issues in state higher education, from the push for a UT Austin medical school to funding constraints and faculty's role in teaching versus doing research. Westphal toured several research labs on campus that could help with post-traumatic stress disorder and energy issues on Army bases. The Army currently provides funding for some University research initiatives and may expand funding to some projects regarding these issues.

Westphal said University researchers play an important role in teaching and said a University researcher should "be a teacher of teachers" by training students in their field to teach. Westphal said he was struck by the University's interdisciplinary research, such as the projects fusing psychology, neuroscience and chemistry.

"It's the study of all the impacts of combat," Westphal said. "It's what we're looking for -- that type of synergy between disciplines. I think you've been able to do things here that I haven't seen at other universities."

Westphal said many soldiers who are exposed to potential brain injury appear fine, but may have underlying problems. Jeffrey Luci, neurobiology research assistant professor, said the University's new MRI equipment made by Siemens offers techniques that were unimaginable two years ago, including images that reveal degenerating areas of the brain affected by traumatic brain injury.

"We find new ways to use the scanner that Siemens hasn't ever thought of," Luci said.

When Westphal asked about the technology's use in a medical school, faculty quickly explained state senator Kirk Watson's plan to establish a medical school at the University. Westphal said medical schools are important but expensive endeavors.

Engineering faculty presented current projects about energy security, energy independence and alternative fuel sources. Associate Dean for Research John Ekerdt said the University's energy research has potential to help the Army and to help the country's general commercial needs.

"We serve as this advancing force," Ekerdt said. "We don't have an agenda because we can't sell you anything except our ideas."

Westphal said the tour gives him a "flavor" of University resources that would benefit the Army. However, he said budget cuts affect how the Army funds research at institutions like UT.

"We don't have the luxury anymore to fund everything," Westphal said. "We have to set priorities."

Westphal said he is interested in energy research for improvements it could make to energy infrastructure on Army bases.

"It's not just about 'how do we fight the next battle,' it's 'how do we protect resources, how do we live among communities and respect them as well?'" Westphal said.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff