Newsmakers

Science  27 Apr 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5824, pp. 525
  1. AN UNSPEAKABLE CAMPUS TRAGEDY

    A candlelight vigil at Virginia Tech on 17 April. CREDIT: XINHUA/LANDOV

    BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA—Two days after a student gunman killed 32 people and himself here at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the Drillfield at the heart of campus was eerily quiet. Instead of hundreds of students hustling to class or tossing Frisbees, a few dozen people stood solemnly around a makeshift memorial. Among those killed in the massacre were a popular professor and eight students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). The Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) lost two esteemed faculty members and their home building: Norris Hall, where most of the victims died, will be closed indefinitely. Last week, the faculty of two engineering departments held emergency meetings, trying to come to grips with the tragedy.

    Science mourns the lives lost on 16 April and offers condolences to the survivors. Staff writer Greg Miller provides these remembrances of some of the victims.

  2. LIVIU LIBRESCU

    A Romanian-born aerospace engineer, Librescu, 76, survived the Holocaust as a child and emigrated to Israel in the 1970s. He joined the ESM department at Virginia Tech in 1985. Librescu studied how the inherent flexibility in structures such as airplane wings and helicopter rotor blades affects their aerodynamic properties, says Walter Silva, an aerospace engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center in Norfolk, Virginia. “He's very well-known internationally, and he had some reason to be arrogant, but he was actually very humble,” Silva says.

    Students recall Librescu as a father figure. A former student and longtime collaborator, Ohsep Song of Chungnam National University in Daejeon, South Korea, says that Librescu always returned from far-off conferences with presents for the children of his graduate students, treating them as if they were his own grandchildren.

    According to many reports, Librescu threw his body against the door of his classroom, giving his students time to flee as the gunman tried to force his way in. One note left at the Drillfield memorial read: “Librescu. My hero. Goodbye, Professor.”

  3. KEVIN GRANATA

    Granata, 46, an ESM faculty member, was a rising star in biomechanics whose research bridged the gap between engineering and medical sciences. “Kevin had a very keen mind for evaluating movement disorders,” says Mark Abel, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville who had a collaboration with Granata aimed at designing better braces for children with cerebral palsy.

    CREDIT: VIRGINIA TECH

    Granata was also a valued mentor. “He taught me how to be an engineering professor,” says Sara Wilson, a mechanical engineer at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, who trained with Granata as a postdoc. “He was passionate about his research and worked really hard, but he also reserved time for his family.”

    Granata's office was on the third floor of Norris Hall, one floor above where the shootings took place. Hearing the noise below, Granata went to see whether he could help—but only after ushering 20 students from a nearby classroom into the safety of his office, according to a report in the Washington Post. “Kevin was a tough guy,” says Abel. “He's not the kind of guy to hear a bunch of commotion and crawl under a desk.”

  4. G. V. LOGANATHAN

    Colleagues uniformly describe Loganathan, 51, as one of the nicest people they'd ever met. Born in India, Loganathan came to the United States for graduate school and joined the CEE department at Virginia Tech in 1982. He was an expert in water-resources management.

    Unassuming and collegial, Loganathan had a gift for teaching. Among many other accolades, he won one of three university-wide Wine Awards for Excellence in Teaching last year. Loganathan seemed to inspire undergraduates with his enthusiasm and, say his colleagues, knew how to push his grad students hard without being unkind.

    CREDIT: REUTERS/LANDOV

    Loganathan was teaching his Advanced Hydrology course in Norris Hall when the gunman burst in, killing him and nine students.

  5. THE STUDENTS

    It was clear from the beginning that Jeremy Herbstritt was enthusiastic about science, says CEE professor Panayiotis Diplas, who was his adviser. Attending an open house for prospective graduate students last year, Herbstritt stretched his scheduled 15-minute visit with Diplas into a 40-minute discussion of potential research projects. “He was a person with tremendous energy,” Diplas says.

    Herbstritt was one of seven CEE graduate students from Loganathan's class who died, along with Brian Bluhm, Daniel O'Neil, Juan Ortiz, Waleed Shaalan, Matthew Gwaltney, and Partahi Lumbantoruan. The other two victims in that class were Julia Pryde, a graduate student in biological systems engineering, and Jarrett Lane, a civil engineering major.

    Six other undergraduates majoring in science or engineering were killed in the rampage.

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