Making A World Of Difference

February 12, 2004

In the profiles that follow, we introduce six research areas that have the potential to make life better for all of us...

Owen Lind, who conducts ongoing limnology research at Lake Chapala in Mexico, now also works with Robert Doyle, head of the new Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research in Waco, to improve water quality.

Jaime Diaz-Granados, in psychology and neuroscience is studying the effects of alcohol on the developing brain of preadolescents.

Martin Medhurst, Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Communication, brings his years of experience in presidential rhetoric and discourse to bear in this election year.

Lisa Taylor, assistant professor in Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing, has begun a health clinic for a vastly underserved population.

Bennie F.L. Ward, Distinguished Professor of Physics and chair of the physics department, is doing cutting-edge work in his discipline's underlying principles that could redefine the field -- and its myriad applications to everyday technology.

Bryan Brooks, assistant professor of environmental studies, examines contaminants in fish in a North Texas creek as a precursor to developing safeguards against bioterrorism.

What good is research at universities? It might make a difference in the taste of the water you drink, the mental health of your teenager, how you understand presidential candidates' rhetoric in this election year, in the health care -- or lack of it -- you receive if you live in a rural community, what kind of technology you'll use and frontline efforts against contamination of water sources. Baylor research is making a difference. If Truell Hyde were a train, he would be a rapid transit, whipping through the urban landscape in an efficient, mind-boggling blur. Baylor's vice provost for research is constantly on the move, talks at warp speed and attends to business so quickly that, two years into it, he's almost finished his five-year professional plan. He is a man with a heart for research, a path he's traveled since his undergraduate years at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City and increasingly so since he came to Baylor in 1988 as a lecturer in physics. Once here, he began CASPER, the Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research, an interdisciplinary collaboration with the Department of Physics, the School of Education, the School of Engineering and Computer Science and Texas State Technical College (TSTC). He loves mentoring students -- not only undergraduates and graduates, but middle-school and high-school students as well. For them, he offers an annual Physics Circus, which he began in 2000, where he introduces "purely wild science," he says. Getting people excited about science is just the first step. That feeds into his desire to provide resources that enable the discovery of new knowledge -- that pulse-quickening rush of breakthrough thoughts and applications. And that makes him the go-to guy at Baylor for finding and acquiring grant monies. Even before Baylor's current emphasis on research, its professors demonstrated a successful track record in landing research grants, Hyde says. He's just trying to make grants come Baylor's way more often by providing the right tools, resources and information. One example is finding monies to allow travel that enables researchers to meet directly with funding agencies. It's an approach he says is getting results. "I can trace four grants already to that," he says. Two are Baylor proposals that received full funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hyde notes that the USDA funded only 15 percent of all proposals it received during that particular cycle. "For us to get two is unheard of." In late October, Baylor learned it will team with an international company and receive $300,000 of a $900,000 contract to help the military detect contaminants in its portable water units -- a heightened concern given worldwide terrorism. Baylor scientists involved will be Rene Massengale, assistant professor of biology, microbiologist and immunologist; Kevin Chambliss, assistant professor of chemistry; Bryan Brooks, assistant professor of environmental studies; and Bruce Byars, hydrologist and senior research associate with Baylor's Center for Applied Geographic and Spatial Research. Growth in grants is reflected in figures provided by Gary Carter, director of sponsored programs and contracts. The numbers show a sharp increase in expenditures from the 1990-91 school year to the 2001-02 year, the latest available. In 1991, Baylor expended $1.8 million in research and other sponsored activity from various funding sources. By the 1995-96 fiscal year, that had grown to $3.1 million; that figure nearly tripled to $8.6 million by the end of the 2001-02 fiscal year. "Those figures represent actual expenditures and not announced awards," Carter notes. The growth is not accidental. When Hyde was named vice provost Oct. 1, 2001, he quickly initiated a structure to make grant-seeking easier. He instituted an internal grant proposal review that allows faculty members to gain insights that increase their chances for external funding, beefed up Internet research tools and started the process toward allowing electronic submission of grant proposals on campus. Also, he hired a grant writer last year to help faculty members and others write proposals. "We also have on the schedule several grant-writing seminars where we will bring in people. We will teach how to maximize the odds of getting grants," he says. Ensuring the wider academic community knows that Baylor is serious about research also is a priority. To do so, Hyde has developed a more dynamic and interactive Internet presence for his office and an annual research publication mailed to selected audiences. And he's constantly networking -- both via cyberspace and telephone. "I'm just letting people know these research areas are here -- areas that have immediate impact on people and have lots of Baylor researchers already involved," he says. In a state higher education system that includes research universities such as Texas A&M and University of Texas at Austin, Hyde says Baylor needs to create, not duplicate or compete, in the research arena. "Baylor is not a research university like, for example, UT, which covers every field. What we plan on doing instead is picking niche areas that we can be very good in, things that fit our mission statement and overall direction." Having brought more than $20 million in grants into Baylor, some in conjunction with others, Hyde knows the ins and outs of what it takes to attract and acquire research funds, and he also understands how the system works in the higher education culture. Everyone doesn't always play fair, he says. "At a lot of major research universities, everything is cutthroat. Everybody is scrambling for the same research dollar, and they are all basically in competition with each other. I talk to my counterparts at other universities, and they are discouraged about trying to get interdisciplinary research working on a regular basis. But we haven't had as much trouble along those lines," he says. As examples of how Baylor's interdisciplinary research affects quality of life issues, Hyde cites the Drug Discovery Center, where researchers in biology and chemistry have developed a vascular targeting agent to combat cancer and possibly macular degeneration. And, he calls Max Shauck, who monitors air pollution and researches alternative fuels at Baylor's Institute for Air Science, "the best in the world" at what he does. In almost every discipline, collaborative efforts among faculty and departments directly impact quality of life, on campus and off, Hyde says. He lists the School of Music, the English department, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, the School of Education, the Louise Herrington School of Nursing, the School of Social Work and many others: "Every one of these is doing exciting work that directly impacts people on multiple levels," he says.