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Lectures and Seminars

The flagship D.C. area annual seminar series is the Science, Technology, Innovation and Policy Leadership Series. The series features external, high-level science and technology and policy leaders from industry, government or academia, and provides opportunities for Virginia Tech faculty, students, researchers and partners to gain perspectives on advances and future challenges in key areas of interest in the D.C. area -- such as information technology, health care/life sciences, energy/sustainability, resiliency, security, infrastructure, innovation, policy, and planning.

The majority of the seminars take place in the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington (VTRC-A) Executive Briefing Center, however, there are also opportunities to hold these at other sites around the region.

The seminar series’ also typically incorporate a networking aspect, either before or after the speaker’s presentation depending on scheduling.

The following is a list of speakers that D.C. area leadership has presented since 2012. Selected lectures are archived on the D.C. area YouTube channel.


Speaker: Kathleen Fitzgerald, director of Digital Humanities and professor at Michigan State University, and author of the bookGenerous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University

Dates: October 10, 2019
Title: Building External Partnerships, part of the Beyond Boundaries lecture series
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, author of "Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University" and director of digital humanities at Michigan State University, will visit multiple Virginia Tech locations Oct. 8-10 as part of the Beyond Boundaries lecture series. On Oct. 10, Fitzpatrick will be in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area to lead a discussion, hosted by Vice President Steve McKnight, on external partnerships in the context of generous thinking.

Speaker: James Garland, Federal Highway Administration, Team Leader- Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program

Date: April 11, 2019
Title: Megaregions: Planning for the Future
Abstract: Megaregions are characterized and defined as a collection of urban centers and their surrounding rural areas, connected by existing economic, social, and infrastructure relationships. These networks serve as incubators of innovation, driving vital parts of the U.S. economy that benefit surrounding regions and rural areas. While Megaregions can be delineated and structured in different ways, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has preliminarily identified 13 Megaregions and National Economic Partnership opportunities in the U.S. based on feedback from State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) as well as patterns of connectivity in passenger travel, freight movement, and infrastructure. To date, Megaregions generate the vast majority of the Nation’s gross domestic product and will soon contain more than two-thirds of the Nation’s population.

Speaker: Valerie Browning, Director, Defense Sciences Office, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Date: November 8, 2018
Title: DARPA/DSO 101 - An overview of DARPA and its Defense Sciences Office
Abstract: Dr. Valerie Browning will provide an overview of the DARPA mission and discuss the ecosystem DARPA, and particularly the Defense Sciences Office, seeks to foster to create science‐based transformational change and innovative technologies. This ecosystem includes academic, corporate, and governmental partners. The presentation will explore the current national security threat landscape as well as global trends that are shaping DARPA and DSO investments today. An overview of the current DSO portfolio, including thrust areas and recent program announcements, will be presented along with exemplar areas of interest for potential future DSO investments. Dr. Browning will also provide insights regarding opportunities for the academic community to approach and engage DARPA and DSO Program Managers with ideas and concepts that address current and/or anticipated future national security challenges.

Speaker: John Zolper, Vice President, Research and Innovation, Raytheon Company

Date: September 18, 2018
Title: Technology Innovation for a Safer World


Speaker: Brian Holmes, Ph.D., Dean, National Intelligence University, Anthony G. Oettinger School of Science & Technology Intelligence
Date: April 12, 2018
Title: The Evolution of Science and Technical Intelligence

Speaker: Peter Newell, BMNT
Date: December 04, 2017
Title: Building a National Security Innovation Pipeline


Speaker: Ralph Langner, founder and chief executive officer of the Langner Group

Date: June 28, 2017
Title: The Future of Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security
Abstract: Events such as Stuxnet, the 2015 power outage in parts of Ukraine, the Mirai IoT Botnet, and the recent WannaCry ransomware campaign illustrate the potential national and international impacts of high-profile cyberattacks. In a world that is doing everything to increase the pervasiveness of digital technology, this raises the question of what will come next and how to prepare against next-level cyberattacks against critical infrastructure and defense systems.

Speaker: Gabe Klein, co-founder, CityFi
Date: March 7, 2017
Title: Macro Trends, Process Innovation, and Governance for the Ideal City of the Future

Speaker: David Woessner, general manager, Local Motors
Date: December 5, 2016
Title: Existing to Shape the Future! We are here to disrupt the biggest System in the world!

Speaker: Tom Mahnken, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA)
Date: October 18, 2016
Title: Back to the Future? Thinking about Great Power Competition


Speaker: Sokwoo Rhee,associate director, Cyber-Physical Systems Program, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Date: June 22, 2016
Title: Internet of Things and Smart Cities: Global City Teams Challenge
Abstract: The convergence of networking and information technology with engineered physical systems is creating a new generation of systems that integrate distributed networks of sensors, controls, and processors. These systems, referred to as "Internet-of-Things (IoT)" or “Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS),” are on the cusp of unleashing an extraordinary cycle of innovation through smart systems in areas such as manufacturing, transportation, utility infrastructures, and buildings, including home appliances and remote sensors. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in partnership with other agencies and private sector stakeholders, has launched Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC), which enables cities and communities worldwide to share ideas, develop comprehensive requirements and solutions to their common issues, and leverage their respective investments. The Challenge brought the cities and innovators together to create solutions to common issues in cities/communities, establish replicable and scalable models of IoT deployments in smart cities and to encourage the adoption of IoT and CPS to improve the quality of life. Since its launch in 2015, GCTC created over 170 action clusters comprising more than 160 municipal governments and 400 corporations, academic institutions and non-profits from around the world.

Speaker: Donna Harris, cofounder and co-CEO, 1776

Date: February 25, 2016
Title: A Global View of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Abstract: The U.S. global economy is undergoing a massive shift as it transitions to a fully digital era. In this talk, Harris will offer insights on this shift by sharing stories and data on the worldwide phenomenon of startup activity that is disrupting every industry on the planet. She will also provide projections and forecasts for the future of startup activity and investing.

Speaker: Todd Stottlemyer, CEO, Inova Center for Personalized Health
Date: November 30, 2015
Title: Vision for the New Inova Center for Personalized Health

Date: October 27, 2015
Title: Leading Advanced Research for National Intelligence
Abstract: As an advanced R&D arm of the U.S. intelligence community, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has funded scientific research in areas as diverse as machine learning, human judgment, neuroscience, epidemiology, cybersecurity, linguistics, and high-performance computing. This talk will summarize what has been learned in the first nine years of IARPA's research programs, and what hard research problems are on the horizon.


Speaker: Kelly Clements, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State

Date: April 21, 2015
Title: Challenges of Humanitarian Aid in the Middle East: U.S. Leadership and Response

Abstract: The mission of U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is to provide protection, life-sustaining assistance, and durable solutions for persecuted and uprooted people around the world. It works through multilateral organizations to build global partnerships and promote best practices in humanitarian response, and strives to ensure that humanitarian principles are integrated into U.S. foreign and national security policy.

The work of the bureau today is more relevant than ever - not since World War II has violence and conflict driven so many people from their homes. There are over 50 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons around the world today. In the Middle East alone, half of Syria’s pre-war population is displaced, more than 12 million internally and near four million to neighboring countries. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s advances in Iraq since January 2014 have forced more than 2.6 million Iraqis from their homes. In the Damascus suburb of Yarmouk, approximately 18,000 Palestinian refugees have been under siege by regime forces since 2013 -- experiencing severe restrictions on food, medicine, clean water, and electricity that have left the population on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, compounded by ISIL’s April 1 takeover of the southern portion of the neighborhood, where 95% of the population lives.

In Yemen, where prior humanitarian conditions were already abysmal, recent conflict has displaced more than 100,000 people within a couple of weeks and led to increasing numbers of third country nationals and refugees fleeing the violence. While the level of global humanitarian assistance provided rose to a record high in 2014, it has been quickly outpaced by needs so vast this assistance addresses only the most basic life-saving relief to those conflict-affected populations in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries. This talk will highlight the role of U.S. leadership in providing humanitarian aid and protection in the Middle East, as well as the challenges of addressing needs of people living both in conflict areas and in overstretched host communities and implications for regional stability. It will also examine some recent innovations in delivering and tracking humanitarian aid to address some of these challenges.

Speaker: Steven Walker, Deputy Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Date: January 27, 2015
Title: Breakthrough Technologies for National Security
Abstract: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was established in 1958 to prevent strategic surprise from negatively impacting U.S. national security and create strategic surprise for U.S. adversaries by maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military. To fulfill its mission, the agency relies on diverse performers to apply multi-disciplinary approaches to both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research. As the DoD’s primary innovation engine, DARPA undertakes projects that are finite in duration but create lasting revolutionary change. This talk demonstrated how some of DARPA’s recent investments in vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, electromagnetic spectrum dominance, advanced robotics, big data, and brain function research all play a role in achieving our mission.

Speaker: Larry Larson, Rush C. Hawkins University Professor and dean of Engineering, Brown University

Date: December 1, 2014
Title: The Next Era of Wireless Communications – Enabling Revolutions in Health Care, Energy and the Environment with the Internet of Things
Abstract: 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the first cellular telephone call. The growth of personal portable wireless communications since then has created a global communications network unprecedented in human history. This anniversary gives us the opportunity to consider what the next forty years of wireless communication might look like. Further inevitable Improvements in semiconductor technology, with resulting improvements in processing power, transistor speed and complexity will result in exciting new applications of wireless devices. Wireless technology has historically been focused on personal or data communications, but some of the most exciting new approaches will center on medical, energy, transportation and environmental applications. These include such areas as wireless medical and neural interfaces, networked personal transportation and infrastructure, and the "internet of things." This talk summarized the emerging wireless technologies that will enable these new applications, and present some of the challenges to their widespread adoption.

Speaker: John Murphy, director of the Office of Cyber & Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA) at U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Protection & Programs Directorate (NPPD)
Date: October 9, 2014
Title: An Overview of all Hazards Consequence Analysis in Analyzing The Risk to Critical Infrastructure

Speaker: Louis Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Date: August 21, 2014
Title: The Rise of the Intelligent Community: The University as the New Factory Floor
Abstract: The Intelligent Community Forum is a New York think tank that has sponsored the Intelligent Community of the Year Award. The Forum has built a global network of more than 200 communities sharing ideas about innovation, connectivity, the knowledge workforce, digital literacy and equity, and community advocacy. This presentation included a discussion of the criteria – including the roles technology and the proximity of a university -- for designation as an intelligent community..


Speaker: Randall Murch, Research Leader, NCR Research and Development Team, and Professor in Practice, School of Public and International Affairs, currently serving as Senior Advisor for Microbial Forensics, Defense Intelligence Agency

Date: May 8, 2014
Title: Achieving 'Who Did It?' The Forensics and Attribution of Biological Weapons

Abstract: Offensive biological weapons research, development, possession and use is illegal both from the national and international perspectives. For 18 years, an important pillar of the U.S. biosecurity program investments has been toward the goal of attribution; that is, having the ability to answer key investigative, legal, intelligence and policy questions which result in action against perpetrators and enablers of biological weapons proliferation and attacks.

In recent years, these efforts have achieved even greater prominence within the U.S. Government as the Executive Office of the President, key Cabinet departments, and those who support them seek to advance the various components of the attribution assessment process and the major capabilities that support an attribution decision. Attribution, determining who is responsible is a very “big deal” in low-level criminal cases and looms even larger in complex and high stakes global politics. Having the ability to collect, process, analyze, test, integrate and understand information from a variety of sources is crucial, just like with competent investigations and legal actions that either result in convictions or exonerations. However, in this arena, the action taken could be political, diplomatic, economic, military or legal so a system of complexities and uncertainties must be addressed. Science is a very important contributor but alone will not support reliable and defensible attribution decisions, just as successful prosecutions in courts of law rarely, if ever, rely only on forensic science even when substantial and incriminating. And, despite what the media, movies and popular books portray, forensic science is not absolute or quick.

The young scientific discipline, “microbial forensics,” takes advantage of legacy, current and emerging knowledge and technology from myriad fields, including forensic science and practice and applying legal expectations of forensic science. Recently, it has been realized that advancing and integrating key science and technology components, including microbial forensics, with better investigation, intelligence and knowledge management will shorten the “discovery to decision cycle” and enable senior decision makers to take more informed, definitive and decisive actions more quickly. The scientific, investigative, intelligence, legal, policy and decision making aspects of the biological weapons “work space” will be presented and discussed, both from the present perspective as well as looking forward.

Speaker: Geoffrey Ling, Deputy Director of the Defense Sciences Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and Attending Neuro Critical Care Physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital
Date: February 6, 2014
Title: Lessons from DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program and new investments under the President's BRAIN Initiative

Speaker: Sallie Keller, Professor of Statistics and Director for the Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory within the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech

Date: December 3, 2014
Title: The Role of Statistics and Computational Social Sciences in the Big Data Revolution – Virginia Tech’s New Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory
Abstract: As the big data revolution of the 21st century is beginning to transform science, technology, economic activity, and human behavior, it is critical to embrace this revolution to reshape our future. Human behavior lies at the foundation of the major problems currently facing society, from obesity and health to national security and law enforcement to policy and commerce. The search for solutions to these important and difficult societal issues has created the need for massive information synthesis and the development of new social and decision analytics to support evidenced-based decision making under uncertainty. To address these challenges, the Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory (SDAL) is developing new statistical and computational social science capabilities for the ambitious Virginia Bioinformatics initiative of "Information Biology" -- the study of massively interacting systems ranging from molecular to social phenomena.

Speaker: Leticia Long, director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

Date: November 5, 2013
Title: Turning NGA's Challenges Into Transformational Opportunities
Abstract: A presentation on the challenges and opportunities of leadership in the intelligence community, including delivering timely, relevant, accurate, actionable geospatial intelligence (GEOINT); making GEOINT accessible online, on-demand to customers; supporting mission partners, especially the warfighter; acting as the driver toward a new dimension of intelligence.

Speaker: Jaan Holt, Patrick and Nancy Lathrop Professor of Architecture and Director of the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC)

Date: October 10, 2013
Title: The Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial -- Contributions by Virginia Tech
Abstract: In 2000, Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center held an international competition to select the architectural design for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C. The center’s extensive pro bono work on this distinguished project exemplifies both the university’s commitment to outreach and diversity and the fulfillment of its land-grant mission. In addition to the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, the WAAC has managed several significant design competitions in and around Washington D.C., including the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, The Women in Military Service to America Memorial, and The Four Mile Run pedestrian and cyclist bridge.


Speaker: Major General Richard Engel, director, Environment and Natural Resources Program Strategic Futures Group, National Intelligence Council

Date: April 2, 2013
Title: Water: A Global Security Issue for the 21st Century
Abstract: Discussion of how the scarcity, control, and quality of water is shaping global security especially as it relates to public policy approaches. The presentation will be followed by a panel discussion based on his remarks: Major General (Ret.) Bruce Lawlor, enterprise director, National Security Decision Informatics, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech; Stephen Schoenholtz, director, Virginia Water Resources Research Center and professor, Forest Hydrology and Soils, Virginia Tech; and J. Alan Roberson, director, Federal Relations, American Water Works Association.


  • Thomas Russell, director, Air Force Office of Scientific Research;
  • Leonard Buckley, director, Science and Technology Division, Institute for Defense Analyses;
  • Steven McKnight, director, Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation Division, National Science Foundation;
  • Dorothy Zolandz, director, Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology, The National Academies; and
  • Barry Pallotta, program manager, Defense Sciences Office, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Steven McKnight, Vice President for the National Capital Region at Virginia Tech, NCR, Virginia Tech Research Center, Arlington, VTRC-A

Date: November 15, 2012
Title: Emerging Opportunities in Chemical and Material Science
Abstract: Speakers for this seminar come from a diverse set of agencies. They will discuss emerging trends in chemical and materials science. Presentations addressing the state of the art in these disciplines and highlighting areas of future agency needs will be followed by an interactive panel. This is an important event for researchers who want to understand future directions in basic and applied science.

Speaker: David Lightfoot, Director, Communication, Culture, and Technology Program, Georgetown University
Date: April 3, 2013
Title: The Complexity of Language: How it is Learned and How it Changes

Speaker: Robert Elder, Research professor, School of Engineering, George Mason University

Date: March 14, 2012
Title: Approaches to Leverage Cyberspace for National Security
Abstract: Recognition that cyberspace involves not only virtual, but also physical and social network elements expands the range of opportunities available to both defend cyberspace and leverage its power for national security. These national security opportunities are clearly potential business opportunities as well. The key is to recognize that the future of cyberspace involves much more than just the application of information technology and network security. General Elder’s talk will focus on alternative approaches to protecting cyberspace that require involvement of actors outside the network ops community and on the expanding role of cyberspace as it shifts from a key enabler to a critical element of the nation's national and economic security.

Speaker: Ben Schneiderman, professor and founding director, Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, University of Maryland

Date: February 21, 2012
Title: Information Visualization for Knowledge Discovery
Abstract: The central theme of Dr. Shneiderman’s presentation is the integration of statistics with visualization as applied to temporal event sequences such as electronic health records and social network data, and will review the many growing commercial success stories. Interactive information visualization tools provide researchers with remarkable capabilities to support discovery. These telescopes for high dimensional data combine powerful statistical methods with user controlled interfaces. Users can begin with an over view, zoom in on areas of interest, filter out unwanted items, and then click for details on demand. With careful design and efficient algorithms, the dynamic queries approach to data exploration can provide 100msec updates even for million item visualizations that can represent billion record databases.