The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

7 months ago

UAH alumna Jessica A. Gaskin leads NASA Lynx X-ray Observatory Mission


Parental influence ignited Jessica Gaskin’s appreciation of the wonders of space at an early age.

“My parents both had science backgrounds. My father in Geophysics and Astronomy and my mother in Geology,” said Gaskin, an alumna of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). “Their influence and my need to know how things worked led me to appreciate the vast unknowns of space,” she added.

As a girl, Gaskin “always knew” she wanted to work for the space giant. “Growing up in Houston, TX, around the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) had a huge influence on me.”


Today, Gaskin is the NASA appointed Study Scientist for the Lynx X-ray Observatory mission concept. “Lynx is one of four missions being considered for prioritization in the Astrophysics 2020 Decadal. If selected, Lynx would fly after the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope Observatory and would be a follow-on to the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Lynx would be many times more sensitive than Chandra and much more capable.”

After graduating from high school in Houston, Gaskin attended the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology on a full scholarship earning a B.S. in Physics and Astrophysics. After graduating, she briefly worked at the NASA JSC as a contractor on orbital debris studies.

When the NASA contract ended, Gaskin began attending Case Western Reserve University where she received an M.S. in Astronomy. Gaskin quickly moved on to UAH, where she earned a PhD in Physics.

“I came to UAH for my doctorate to benefit from the extremely strong physics program, and to work with NASA scientists while I worked on my degree,” said Gaskin. Her doctoral research centered on the development and characterization of a new high-energy detector for astrophysics.

While working on her PhD, Gaskin was awarded a NASA Graduate Student Fellowship. After earning her degree, she became a NASA postdoctoral student and then a Federal Career Intern, before being hired as a tenured Civil Servant at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

She remembers her time at UAH as extremely valuable. “I was given the opportunity to explore different research topics in astrophysics, and take courses in other areas of interest like Materials Science,” she added. “I apply the knowledge obtained at UAH to my job on a daily basis. UAH provided me with the foundation I needed to work and thrive at NASA MSFC.”

Two university professors stand out clearly in her mind as she recalls her graduate school days, Dr. Don Gregory (Distinguished Professor of Physics, and Dr. Yoshi Takahashi (Professor of Astrophysics). “Dr. Gregory specifically influenced my career path,” said Gaskin. “I am extremely grateful for their guidance throughout my time at UAH. And, Dr. Bill Paciesas, who at the time was UAH staff, also played a significant role,” she said.

Gaskin’s favorite experiences at the university also include UAH and NASA MSFC having “a great symbiotic relationship, which allowed me to work at MSFC while I was a student. I was able to gain practical work experience in a realistic environment.”

In addition to Gaskin’s responsibilities for the Lynx X-ray Observatory mission concept, she develops high-energy instrumentation, not necessarily limited to astrophysics. She is also working on developing planetary instruments for eventual operation on the Moon or Mars.

The secret for the successful career woman, wife and mother handling a great deal of stress on a daily basis can be summed up in three words: “It’s a challenge.”

Gaskin is married to Dr. Valentin Korman and she is the mother of three boys: Peter, 8; William, 10; and Jacob, 11.

“I involve my sons in everything I do. I make sure that they know the value of working hard, without sacrificing family and that family always comes first,” she said. “They understand the implications of the projects that I am working on, and understand the constant change in schedule. My husband also takes a huge part of the load, and even though he has a full-time job as well – we work together to find balance.”

Gaskin serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Astronomical Instrumentation, World Scientific, and International Publication, and was a member of NASA Balloon Working Group. Additionally, she enjoys mentoring students of all ages and has mentored a UAH Undergraduate Research Instrument Program team. She has been an advisor to several doctoral students and has spoken at middle schools and to many groups of students with a focus on women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.

Gaskin’s advice to college-bound students — especially young women considering a career in the field of engineering and aerospace is priceless.

“If there is something that you are passionate about, don’t give up. Follow your dreams and be persistent. Don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do or what you should or shouldn’t do (including me),” said Gaskin. “Start as early as possible, working with the people who do what you think you want to do so that you can also get that necessary real-life experience. Finally, it is ok to fail sometimes. It can make you stronger.”

(Courtesy of University of Alabama in Huntsville)

8 months ago

UAH alumna’s gap year program becomes dream career

Raeshaun Jones’ (’18, BA, Psychology) gap year was supposed to be a much-needed break from rigorous academic work. But, after hearing about the unique research opportunities being conducted at the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s (UAH) Psychology Department, Jones made a spur-of-the-moment decision to enroll in the academic program rather than setting off for gap year activities.

The Hartselle, AL, native earned her first undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa). Although Jones’ minor was in psychology, she never considered it a career choice until she heard about the innovative research being conducted at UAH. She remembers close friends boasting about how great UAH was for them.


“My academic interests continued to flourish after working in the UAH Lifelong Learning Laboratory directed by Dr. Jodi Price,” said Jones. “Dr. Price helped me to discover the physical and mental aspects of psychological problems that interested me the most.”

At UAH, Jones said genuine concern for students shown by the professors in the Psychology department changed her academic outlook. “I grew as a person and was able to fully understand my career path. Instead of attending medical school, I applied to the university’s graduate Psychology program. It is the best decision I ever made.”

Jones’ number one priority as a human factors analyst on the Redstone Arsenal is to make sure the human-machine interaction (communication and interaction) work together seamlessly.

“Working in the helicopter division, I am tasked with analyzing helicopters and humans that fly the aircraft. In addition, my tasks include reviewing tests that have been conducted, researching new ideas being implemented in the field, and even thinking of ways to better the experience of pilots throughout flights,” she added.

Jones said the most exciting part of her job is being able to help people. “The pilots are very appreciative of us listening to what they want, and figuring out a way to implement it quickly. Knowing that what I do directly helps the pilots is exhilarating and inspires me to be more innovative.”

Now a UAH graduate student, Jones sums up in two words the value of her education: unlimited potential.

“UAH prepared me well for my current position as a human factors analyst,” said Jones. “I use the academic knowledge I learned from UAH on a daily basis at work. I never expected to use strategic decision making from perception, development, and cognition on the job. But I use the information as a starting point and tailor it to the issue at hand in order to come up with relevant suggestions to fix, or at least mitigate, current or future problems.

“This position requires me to work in tandem with engineers from many disciplines. Going to UAH, an institution that has an international reputation for educating engineers has prepared me for this position even more.”

Jones said her favorite UAH experience will always be attending the Psychonomic Society’s 58th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

“It was the first conference of my academic career through research in the UAH Lifelong Learning Laboratory. People from all over the world attended the conference,” said Jones. “I presented a poster, and it was there I fell for the culture of the psychology community.”

Her advice to anyone seeking a career in the Liberal Arts — specifically psychology is to simply: “do not limit yourself.”

“There is so much to do in the field of psychology,” said Jones. “Find aspects of the field that excite you, and then find a career that utilizes those aspects. When you find a job that doesn’t feel like work, then you know you have found something special.”

In spring 2020, Jones will graduate from UAH with a Master of Arts in Psychology, with an Industrial and Organizational Psychology Specialization.

(Courtesy of University of Alabama in Huntsville)

9 months ago

UAH’s Lance Fulks playing a key management role in Mazda-Toyota plant

At one point, engineering major Lance Fulks (’02, BSE, ISE) decided to “step away” from his university classes and pursue a different path. Today, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) alumnus is the general manager of assembly at Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A.

The only thing that stopped Fulks from withdrawing from UAH’s College of Engineering was a chance meeting with Jerrod K. Young.

At the time, Young served as Assistant Dean for Students at the College of Engineering. After his talk with Young, Fulks continued in the UAH Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISE) program. He graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Engineering in 2002.


Fulks and Nicolas Loyd (’17, PhD, ISE, ’06, MEM, ’98, BSE) were undergraduate students together in the ISE program at UAH.

“Lance and I got along well because he was working toward a career in manufacturing and I was looking to do the same. Even before he graduated, Lance obtained an engineering job at Navistar,” said Loyd, UAH Clinical Assistant Professor, Engineering Management.

“Over the years, his work ethic and skill drove him up all the way to a corporate leadership position at that company; meanwhile, I spent the next 20 years in industry researching and learning Lean Manufacturing Management, which was born from the Toyota Production System,” said Loyd, who also directs the university’s Center for Management and Economic Research and the Alabama Technology Network Center. “So, it’s fun after two decades, to have those careers cross each other again. I’m proud of Lance and hope that Mazda-Toyota and UAH can create a strong relationship that is beneficial to both our students’ and Lance’s success,” Loyd added.

“My time at UAH and the experience gained through those opportunities prepared me for my current role as general manager of assembly for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. (MTMUS),” Fulks said.

The engineering course most memorable to Fulks was the Industrial Systems Engineering senior design class taught by Dr. Bernard Schroer (UAH Professor Emeritus of Engineering). “Professor Schroer did an incredible job of tying the concepts we learned in class to real-world applications.

“I consider joining the MTMUS team to be a once in a career opportunity,” said Fulks. “A project this large and with the level of impact it will have on the North Alabama community is unique.”

While the MTMUS plant is under development, Fulks day-to-day activities center around hiring and project management. As the automobile plant moves into production Fulks will have the responsibility for all vehicle assembly for MTMUS. The company plans to have an annual capacity of 300,000 cars.

Fulks caused an international buzz around the business world when he honored Huntsville’s legacy of space exploration by naming MTMUS production lines after Discovery and Apollo.

“Growing up in the Huntsville area the U.S. Space and Rocket Center was a place I visited multiple times throughout my childhood. I still enjoy visiting and I’ve attended Family Space Camp with my son,” said Fulks. “While the region has diversified economically in recent years it is still best known for the Marshall Space Flight Center and its contribution to space exploration. This inspired me to suggest we honor that legacy by naming MTMUS production lines Discovery and Apollo.”

Fulks said one of the key components of the MTMUS culture is to “Go See.” Making a condition of employment for some team members to spend two to four weeks in Japan learning from Mazda and Toyota at their corporate headquarters.

Not all jobs at MTMUS will require international travel, but for some employees, it will be necessary to train in Japan for three months. “As someone who has devoted their career to manufacturing, this is a tremendous opportunity to learn from two of the best in the industry,” said Fulks.

Gauging the economic impact of the MTMUS plant in North Alabama will be hard according to Fulks. “When the plant begins assembling Mazda and Toyota vehicles in 2021, we will employ up to 4,000 team members. The team I oversee will include about 1,900 of those employees.

“Our suppliers in the area will employ between 1,500 to 2,000 workers,” Fulks added. “Studies have shown that there are six indirect jobs created for every direct job created at MTMUS. Given the location of the site, the economic impact will not only have an effect on Huntsville and Madison County but also Limestone, Morgan and surrounding counties. MTMUS is truly a game-changer for North Alabama and the Huntsville area.”

Fulks sums up his advice for young people considering a career in the field of engineering in one word, “rewarding.”

“You will have the opportunity to work on projects that make a difference and make a positive impact. I also recommend that students, regardless of their major, take advantage of the cooperative education and internship opportunities to get real-world experience before graduating from college,” said Fulks.

(Courtesy University of Alabama in Huntsville)

11 months ago

Three degrees in five years — UAH alumnus Shigeyuki Ueno graduates in record time

(Dr. Shigeyuki Ueno/Contributed)

In a record-breaking time of five years, Shigeyuki Ueno earned bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees (’07, BSE, ’09 MSE, ’12, Ph.D.) in engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

Ueno, from Aomori-shi, the capital city of Aomori Prefecture, in the Tōhoku region of Japan became interested in the field of civil engineering near the end of his sophomore year at UAH.


His priorities for selecting UAH included a school with a strong academic curriculum in science and engineering, safety, and reasonable tuition. In addition, the agency supporting Ueno’s study abroad program in the U.S. had a connection with the university.

He learned the basic knowledge of Engineering — especially the general mechanics of materials, fundamental physics, mathematics, and Civil Engineering courses, which are structural, traffic, foundation, and water system. “Engineering explains and designs physical materials and those behaviors with numbers, and it was interesting to learn them,” said Ueno. “My favorite classes, Continuum Mechanics and Elasticity Mechanics, were taught by Dr. Qiuhai “Ken” Zuo, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering.”

Before coming to UAH, Zuo spent seven years at Los Alamos National Laboratory working on modeling materials under dynamic conditions including high-velocity impact.

Ueno’s research at UAH involved predicting concrete fractures strengthened with fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP) or plastic. FRP composite materials are usually made of glass (fiberglass), carbon or basalt (obsidian).

While earning his graduate degrees, Ueno served as a research assistant on three College of Engineering projects under the guidance of UAH professors Zuo and Dr. Houssam A. Toutanji.

Ueno also served as a UAH teaching assistant for an undergraduate Civil Engineering materials class and laboratory. In addition, he worked during the summer as a laborer for Daisen Construction LTD in Aomori, Japan, on the construction site of the Tohoku (Shinkansen) Bullet Train. The Japanese high-speed rail line is about 420 miles and connects three of Japan’s largest cities, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka.

Ueno graduated summa cum laude from the College of Engineering and co-authored the paper “Prediction of the Interfacial Shear Stress of Externally Bonded FRP to Concrete Substrate Using Critical Stress State Criterion,” in Elsevier Science Direct (2013).

Just as he excelled in his Engineering studies, Ueno also committed himself to volunteer at The Japanese Supplementary School (JSS) meeting Saturdays on the UAH campus. This year, JSS is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Ueno has been teaching at the school since 2009.

The purpose of the school is to teach Japanese language and mathematics to children of Japanese employees transferred to North Alabama. JSS provides a curriculum to help children transition back into the Japanese school system when they return to their native country.

“I started teaching mathematics and Japanese at JSS when I was a graduate student at UAH,” said Ueno. “I always find an interest in teaching something based on my knowledge and experience and in seeing kids eager to learn and achieve new things.

“JSS is not mandatory and is mainly for students returning to Japan, and want a smooth transition from school in the U.S. to Japan,” said Ueno. “Students learn subjects similar to ways taught in Japan,” he added.

Employed as a production engineer in Athens, AL, Ueno’s advice to young people considering careers in engineering: “Find the branch of engineering that interests you the most, develop as many employment opportunities as possible and work hard to achieve your dreams.”

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville)

12 months ago

UAH’s Fitzgerald Dodds adopts positive mindset to become top student researcher in Kinesiology

(Fitzgerald Dodds/Contributed)

Fitzgerald Dodds was in restart mode in fall 2017. It was his first full semester back at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). Dodds was determined to correct the mistakes he made before and “put everything” into earning his degree.

Dodds’ first attempt as a UAH student stalled because of financial problems and other personal matters, resulting in a “lackluster” academic performance.

“I considered changing majors and even dropping out of school altogether. I eventually decided that I needed a break from school to save money and prioritize my life,” said Dodds (’19, BS, Kinesiology).


“After my time away from the university I felt nervous about returning to campus…I felt like I had let my professors down and wasted their time,” he said. “I quickly realized that the Kinesiology staff had not given up on me and had all the faith in me to succeed when I had no faith in myself. That’s when I realized Kinesiology was the major and career for me.”

Kinesiology was always Dodds’s first choice as an academic major. The Lancaster, OH, native knew he didn’t have time to waste. So, he began the fall 2018 semester strong, enrolling in a 17-hour course load, and working on exercise science research projects.

Dodds assisted Dr. Ryan Conners and Dr. Paul Whitehead, professors of Exercise Science in the Kinesiology department with a research project maximizing player performance with the UAH Hockey team. In addition, Dodds sought permission to begin his own research study with the UAH Charger baseball team.

Due to a conflict with teaching schedules the next semester, Whitehead and Conners placed Dodds in charge of all the data collection for the latter half of the hockey study. “It quickly turned into a lot of early mornings at the Huntsville Von Braun Center to catch the team before they got on the ice to practice.”

Dodds’ research team worked with the UAH baseball team exploring the idea of shoulder strength and range of motion (flexibility).

“We took this idea and applied it by separating the team into position players and pitchers and looked to see if there were differences between the two groups,” Dodds said. “We hypothesized that the pitchers would have higher strength and flexibility values since they see most of the throwing volume throughout a season, but what we found was just the opposite and the two groups ended up being pretty even in both strength and flexibility. Group findings from the baseball study have opened the door for more research,” he added.

Academic research for some college students might be discouraging, but for Dodds, it was one of the main reasons he sought a degree in a field that required experimental research.

Recently accepted at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Graduate Exercise Science Program, Dodds also earned a graduate assistant position while at USM to work on concussion research this fall with Dr. Scott Piland. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) funds the USM project. Dodds will also continue to help Conners and Whitehead with ice hockey research at UAH.

“The Kinesiology program at UAH was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and it really prepared me for what I will be doing at USM,” Dodds said. “While the program was difficult I truly believe the required research classes and last project truly prepare you for life after UAH — whether for graduate school or a professional career.

“I would never have made it through the Kinesiology program, or be in the academic position I am in today without the support of Liz Reading, Dr. Whitehead, Dr. Conners, and Dr. Jeremy Elliott,” Dodds said. “I firmly believe this is the best exercise science department in the state because the instructors and advisors have a vested interest in your success if you are willing to put in the time and effort.”

Dodds’ advice for high school and freshman university students entering the UAH Kinesiology program is to come ready to work hard and ask for help when things get tough. “Lean on the department staff because they are extremely knowledgeable and genuinely care about your success in whatever you chose to do with your degree.”

(Courtesy of University of Alabama in Huntsville)

UAH Clinic Corner: The dangers of too much sun

(UAH FCS/Contributed)

The two main misconceptions about skin cancer diagnoses are: too much summer sun and the disease is not deadly.

Wrong and wrong, according to Connie Abbott, Nurse Practitioner, at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Faculty-Staff Clinic (FSC).

“Skin cancer can develop at any time and it doesn’t occur more during a particular time of year,” Abbott said. “It is typically the result of collective effects of sun exposure. And, skin cancer can metastasize or move quickly to other body systems and lead to death.”


Although skin cancer is the most common form of the disease in the United States, Abbott warns sunscreen alone is not enough for prevention.

“Proper application of sunblock is extremely important. Other protective items like long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, umbrellas, sun visor caps and sunglasses are not utilized like they should be,” she said. Abbott noted indoor tanning use has substantially decreased over the years but is still used by some individuals.

Abbott said there are two main forms of skin cancer: Nonmelanoma and Melanoma. “Nonmelanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. Actinic keratosis is a precancerous condition that when untreated can develop into either one of the nonmelanoma forms,” she said.

“Nonmelanoma skin cancers are highly curable although squamous cell carcinomas can cause death if not treated. Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer but is much more malignant and can metastasize or move to other body systems and lead to death,” Abbott added.

The main risk factor for skin cancer is ultra violet (UV) ray exposure, which is responsible for 90 percent of nonmelanoma type skin cancers and 86 percent of melanoma skin cancers. UV exposure is the greatest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. In the United States, UV ray exposure is also greatest during the late spring and early summer months.

Abbott said a person doubles the risk for developing melanoma if they have had five or more sunburns in their lifetime. “Interestingly enough, most melanomas don’t arise from changes in pre-existing moles but from normal skin. Men and women 49 years old and over are at higher risk for the development of melanoma.”

People who are at greater risk for skin cancer include those with fair skin, blue or green eyes or blonde or red hair. Also those who burn easily, have more sensitive skin, or have lots of freckles or moles. Family history of skin cancer also increases risk.

“The best way to decrease sun damage is by wearing a water-resistant sunscreen with at least 15 or higher sun protection factor (SPF) on a daily basis,” said Abbott. “Most dermatologists recommend a higher SPF of 30. Avoiding tanning beds is also recommended, and studies have shown that daily use of sunscreen can lower the development of squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent, and melanoma by half.”

Dermatologists recommend broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. In addition, UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and play a greater role in premature skin aging and wrinkle formation. There are about 500 more UVA rays in sunlight than UVB rays.

UVB rays are responsible for producing sunburn and play the greatest role in causing skin cancers, including the deadly black mole cancer, malignant melanoma.

Abbott offers more tips to prevent getting skin cancer:

  1. Apply sunscreen regularly – at least 30 minutes before going outside, and re-apply every two hours. Also re-apply after each swim.
  2. The scalp can also get burned, regardless of the amount of hair. Gentlemen who are bald should apply sunscreen to the scalp and wear a hat regularly when outdoors.
  3. Use an umbrella while walking or lying on the beach or for prolonged periods outdoors.
  4. Wear sunglasses that wrap around and protect from both UVA and UVB exposure. Wrap around glasses reduces the risk of developing macular degeneration – an eye condition that leads to blindness. Other conditions include heat exhaustion/stroke and rashes.

Abbott said advances in skin cancer research include treatment of melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer. “Surgery remains the mainstay of treatment, however, present research targets therapies that find and attack more specific cancer cells and keep normal cells. And immunotherapy helps the body’s own immune system fight cancer,” she added.

Dr. Louise O’Keefe, Director/CRNP and Assistant Professor of Nursing, and Connie Abbott, MSN, CRNP oversee the UAH clinic. The facility is located in Wilson Hall room 327, 256.824.2100.

(Courtesy the University of Alabama in Huntsville)