2 months ago

UAH alumnus and NASA inventor Jonathan Lee is driven to battle COVID-19 after losing his father

For NASA inventor Jonathan Lee, an alumnus of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), part of The University of Alabama System, the global pandemic could not be more personal: it took away his father last year, spurring Lee to join the battle against the virus himself.

Lee earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering from UAH in 1982 and 1984, respectively. He joined Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in 1988, and since 1990 has worked in the Materials and Processes Laboratory’s Metallic Materials Division. An avid inventor, he co-invented NASA 398, a lightweight, high-strength aluminum alloy suitable for high-temperature applications in everything from outboard motors, motorcycles, scooters and Arctic Cat snowmobiles to blades in emergency ventilation fans in underground streets and traffic tunnels in cities across the globe. Lee has supported NASA’s space flight programs as well, including the Orion Launch Abort System that will be part of the Artemis I and II lunar missions. The inventor was inducted into the Space Foundation’s Space Technology Hall of Fame in 2018.

But it was the tragic events of 2020 that have driven the alumnus to create the innovations that are likely closest to his heart. Last spring Lee’s father, David V. Lee, was hospitalized in critical condition and later succumbed to the virus. Due to hospital safety protocols, the elder Lee was not allowed visitors and died alone. When NASA requested suggestions to help fight COVID-19, his son seized on the opportunity to channel his grief and shock into ingenuity, submitting six ideas aimed at combating the virus.

“My inventions explore the usage of novel sterilization techniques from certain electromagnetic wavelengths and anti-microbial materials,” Lee explains. “These ideas are relatively low-cost methods to kill many common bacteria and virus, including COVID-19, and to prevent the transmission of diseases through high-touch surfaces, such as door handles, elevator buttons, gas pump handles, bathroom fixtures, etc. A person could potentially get infected with harmful pathogens if they touch a contaminated surface and then later touch their mouth, nose or eyes. In a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine (2020), it was found that the COVID-19 virus was able to live up to three days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces, which are usually the material of choice for design of common high-touch surfaces in modern society.”

Lee’s experience and lively curiosity enabled him to successfully apply a wide range of skills in materials and alloys as a structural materials engineer into methods to help reduce bacterial and viral transmission.

“I have a keen interest for studying unique material properties that can be exploited for different applications beyond the structural-strength purpose for NASA space vehicles,” the alumnus says. “For example, I want to share a little bit of what I learned about the anti-microbial properties of copper, which has been exploited by human civilizations for centuries. The ancient Egyptians used copper to sterilize chest wounds and drinking water between 2600 and 2200 B.C. The Aztecs gargled with a mixture containing copper to treat sore throats. In the 19 th century, a new awareness of copper’s antimicrobial was spawned by the observation that workers in copper factories appeared to be immune to a cholera pandemic that occurred in Europe around 1832, and subsequent outbreaks in Paris, France. Recently, copper has been proven scientifically to kill a host of pathogens, including the influenza Type-A virus.”

Some of these inventions have a dual use for commercialization and for NASA’s in-space sterilization to minimize the risk of exposure of the flight crew to harmful pathogens.

“Previous NASA research has given some indication that bacteria and viruses may be more virulent in space, and crew immune systems may be weakened, in response to the human bodies being exposed to the long-term microgravity environment and cosmic radiation from deep space, which could potentially make the crew more susceptible to infections,” Lee notes. “All of my ideas have to do with the usage of novel anti-microbial sterilization techniques and advanced materials, which can be implemented on the International Space Station (ISS). Some of these ideas could be applied to discarded materials such as cutlery, utensils and even medical devices, with the view to re-purpose or recycle what previously was disposed as waste from the ISS.”

Some of Lee’s ideas are already in the process to be commercialized and business plans are in the making.

“I was asked to support a collaborative effort with The University of Alabama. In this collaboration, a group of college MBA students was presented with the opportunity to gain real-world work experience by exploring the commercial potential from my inventions. Essentially, NASA is providing an opportunity for college students to be young entrepreneurs with the benefits of using NASA innovative technologies for commercial applications. I’ve learned recently that UAH also has a STEM collaborative program with NASA.”

Originally from Vietnam, Lee’s family made a fortuitous connection to Huntsville that led to their being settled in north Alabama after the war.

“In the spring of 1975, my family was airlifted from Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, to America, and there we spent our first four months at two refugee’s camps,” he recalls. “The first one was at Camp Pendleton Marine Base in southern California and the second at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Through the Vietnam Humanitarian Assistance & Evacuation Act of 1975, our family was sponsored by an American family that happened to be in Huntsville. So, we finally departed our refugee camp in Florida and were excited to make Huntsville our new home. Our settlement effort was sponsored by the Grace Lutheran Church in Huntsville.”

The government program proved to be a godsend for the Lee family as they strove to make their way in a new world.

“I have been told that on April 30, 1975, when Saigon fell, there were dramatic and painful scenes of South Vietnamese trying to flee with the last U.S. personnel,” Lee says. “That month, President Gerald Ford set up a taskforce to resettle up to 120,000 refugees over the coming months. He was committed to making sure that we just didn’t abandon the Vietnamese, who were innocent victims, and many had been allies of the U.S. Unlike most of the foreign-born from Asia, those from Vietnam came to the United States mainly as refugees and political asylum seekers. President Ford also gathered a coalition of church groups, humanitarian organizations, etc., to secure housing and jobs for the resettlement. When my family left the refugee camp in the summer of 1975, it was a well-organized effort done by many good people.”

Getting used to a new country as an asylum refugee brought certain challenges, but Lee reports that he was able to adapt quickly to his new home.

“Research has shown that the younger you are, the easier it would be to adapt to new things or even to a new way of life,” he says. “I was only sixteen years old and was being “Americanized’ rather quickly while attending Huntsville High School. Like most American teenagers, I loved eating fast foods, listening to rock and roll music, and playing basketball after school. I also was befriended by several American students, who were kind enough to help me along the way with my English and getting used to new things. Many of them also went to UAH with me after we graduated from high school. Even after 46 years since I first came to Huntsville, I still see some of them on a regular basis. It has been said that there are friends, there is family, and then there are friends that become family.”

As for academics, UAH soon became a natural choice for a budding engineer pursuing a degree.

“UAH was ranked quite high among the nation’s top 10 engineering schools, as I recall from the U.S. News & World Report. So, my decision to choose UAH for an engineering degree was obvious.”

The NASA inventor turns once more introspective when pondering the new path his life has taken since the onset of the pandemic and the loss of his father.

“At first, I didn’t really know how I should feel,” he muses. “I just plunged myself into this whole inventive work only to use it as a mental therapy to cope with the sudden loss of my father due to COVID 19. Along the way, I realize that my strong desire to do something to help fighting this global pandemic has promoted in me a deeper sense of gratitude of what is already a great blessing for me, to live in America and to have an opportunity of giving back and contributing to the society. There is a saying that goes something like this: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Well, I must agree that there is a lot of truth to this wisdom, because I do feel very blessed, indeed.”

(Courtesy of UAH)

29 mins ago

In Alabama, conservation is for the birds

Whether it’s the Yellowhammer State or the Cotton State, whatever you call the state of Alabama, an abundance of birds call it home. “Yellowhammer” in fact refers to the common name for the northern flicker woodpecker — which just happens to be the state bird of Alabama.

Specifically, coastal Alabama is home to a treasure trove of avian species that nest on the beach and use the area for stopover on their migratory journeys around the world. Coastal Alabama is a particularly vulnerable area, as well as the other four Gulf state coasts. The Gulf’s coast is subject to battering from hurricanes and storm surge, land loss from a lack of sediment transfers, and increased development — making coastal restoration projects all that more important.

The incredible amount of bird habitat in the Yellowhammer State is good news for outdoors enthusiasts. Birding trails and hunting opportunities are prevalent, and per Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, birding as a sector of tourism is huge. Roughly $17.3 billion is spent on wildlife-watching trips and related expenses, with an estimated 20 million Americans traveling for birding.


“While our 32-mile stretch of sugar-white sand beaches is what draws people to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for their vacations, the broader nature and outdoors are part of our core marketing focus, especially in the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Beth Gendler, Chief Operating Officer of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “The Tourism Office learned during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill just how vital it is that we protect our special environment for residents and visitors to enjoy and appreciate in the future. Birding and bird conservation efforts are a key component of this because our area is part of the winter and spring migration routes.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Gulf Restoration Office is working to implement projects ensuring these opportunities continue to exist far into the future. Within these efforts, some Service biologists are focused on land restoration, while others are looking to the sky — literally — as they track birds’ migration patterns.

Dauphin Island’s West End

Amid settlement negotiations and cleanup efforts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred in April 2010, one spit of land remained in focus for some Service biologists. Roughly 840 acres of coastal habitat, which until recently was privately owned, is known as the West End of Dauphin Island. Located near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island is a 15-mile long barrier island. The U.S. Census Bureau has designated the area as 166-square-miles, which includes about 96% open water. It offers invaluable habitat for coastal bird populations.

A major milestone on the path to restoring the Gulf of Mexico was marked recently as the state of Alabama acquired the West End of Dauphin Island. The acquisition conserves habitat for coastal bird populations that are dependent on the area. The Dauphin Island West End Acquisition project was approved as part of the Alabama Restoration Plan III and Environmental Assessment in December 2019. The 840 acres is a diverse coastal habitat made up of dunes, marshes, and beaches. Sea turtle and several bird species use these habitats for nesting. Migratory birds use the area as a prime resting spot during migrations. The Service’s team will work in close coordination with the State of Alabama and Mobile County to restore this valuable property.

“Public ownership of the West End of Dauphin Island will allow for the protection and management of its habitats,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Through the collaborative work of the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group, and the local stakeholders, the acquisition of this land will have a tremendous benefit for coastal and water birds injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Among the bird species present at the West End are the piping plover and red knot. These two shorebirds are a threatened species within their Alabama range, and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Piping plovers frequent Alabama’s quiet shoreline throughout fall, winter and spring. Red knots are known for their more than 9,300-mile annual migration, one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. Conserving this parcel of land will ensure that the sensitive coastal habitat is protected for years to come.

Tracking birds on the go

Conserving bird habitat is vital for species conservation, but so is knowing where Alabama’s coastal birds are going and staying. A project to track seasonal movements and habitat use of two species of colonial wading birds is providing valuable information for future planning to restore wading bird species in Alabama still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The project relies on the use of electronic transmitters attached to captured birds.

The Colonial Nesting Wading Bird Tracking and Habitat Use Assessment project has been underway since last July. Biologists will use the information to better understand important colonial wading bird foraging, resting and nesting areas in coastal Alabama which will allow for more efficient and effective restoration.

“This project gives us an important way to understand the many impacts that affect colonial nesting wading bird populations, including human disturbances such as the Deepwater Horizon spill. The data provided through this project will help us to more effectively restore bird species injured by the spill,” said Kate Healy, a Service biologist who works in the Gulf restoration office.

13 hours ago

WBRC’s James-Paul Dice signing off after 26-year career in television

One of the most familiar faces on Alabama television is signing off the air tonight.

WBRC-TV’s James-Paul Dice has been the chief meteorologist at the Birmingham TV powerhouse for 13 of his 26-year career in television.

The beloved weatherman is starting a new career as a corporate pilot, flying Gulfstream IV business jets for Birmingham-based Drummond Company.

Dice will deliver his final weather forecast Friday night at 10 p.m. on WBRC TV Fox-6.

In a tweet, WBRC thanked Dice and wished him well on his new journey.

15 hours ago

Gov. Ivey announces final recipients of Public School and College Authority bond

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday announced the remaining $23.5 million of the Public School and College Authority (PSCA) bond issue to five entities across the Yellowhammer State.

“I’m pleased to announce the more than $23.5 million to worthy infrastructural projects and upgrades to our educational facilities,” Governor Ivey said. “These remaining PSCA funds will make needed improvements to our public educational facilities, which will have a lasting impact on future generations of Alabamians. I am extremely grateful to Alabama’s retiring Finance Director Kelly Butler for his diligence on this project to ensure we are investing wisely in meaningful education and workforce efforts.”

“There is no question these dollars will provide a positive return on investment to the citizens of Alabama,” Kelly Butler said. “Despite the challenges of the last year, Governor Ivey and the members of the Alabama Legislature displayed great leadership by pursuing this important and meaningful initiative to transform our educational institutions.”

The PSCA projects announced today are as follows:


University of Alabama:

The $16.5 million for the Smart Communities & Innovation Building will provide the critical research infrastructure for the transportation industry in Alabama. Ivey said the investment will position Alabama to be a national leader in innovation relating to mobility and be able to power and connect smart and resilient communities. This project will facilitate a public-private partnership between the state, the University of Alabama, Alabama Power Company and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International with the likelihood of additional partnerships in the near future.

Senators Greg Reed (R-Jasper), Gerald Allen (R-Northport) and Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) applauded the announcement.

Reed says the investments will strengthen the state’s research efforts relating to automotive manufacturing.

“I fully believe that this investment by the state will modernize Alabama’s research and development in the next generation of electric vehicle technology in a manner responsive to industry and with an eye for future growth,” said Reed.

Allen praised the teamwork that was necessary to make the project come to fruition.

“This is great news for the Tuscaloosa community, the University of Alabama and our state as a whole,” said Allen. “A number of highly motivated people and organizations have come together and created a mission to set our state on a path towards a bright future in this important, fast-growing industry.”

Singleton says the investment will place the state in a strong position to supply global markets.

“Alabama will be on the forefront of this technology, which will lead to new and greener jobs for the people of our state,” said Singleton. “The international community is demanding battery-powered vehicles and this investment by the state will make West Alabama a global leader in this field.”

Snead State Community College:

$4 million to assist in establishing a regional workforce training center in Marshall County.

Talladega County Schools:

$1.75 million to create the East Alabama Rural Innovation and Training Hub.

Alabama A&M University:

$508,754.17 to be applied toward various capital improvement and deferred maintenance projects.

Alabama State University:

$763,600.00 for the Southern Normal School in Brewton (Escambia County) is the oldest African-American boarding school in Alabama. This investment will provide immediate improvements to seven buildings on the campus.

During the 2020 State of the State, Governor Ivey announced her support of SB 242, the PSCA Bond Issue for public schools to use toward construction, safety improvement or technology upgrades. The PSCA is comprised of Governor Kay Ivey, State Finance Director Kelly Butler and Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey.

SB 242 authorized the PSCA to sell up to $1.25B in bonds and allocated money to every city and county K-12 school system and to higher education institutions. 73% of the funds went to K-12 schools and 27% to two-and four-year colleges.

Due to low interest rates, the bond sale resulted in the PSCA receiving over $300 million in premium revenues. The true interest cost of the bonds is 2.145% over the 20-year repayment period.

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News

16 hours ago

Landing commits $1 million to growth of Birmingham tech ecosystem

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Landing, a fast-growing company building a nationwide network of furnished apartments available to members, today announced a $1 million investment in Birmingham’s expanding tech ecosystem as it hosted officials at an event to unveil its new headquarters.

The announcement follows last month’s announcement that the company planned to move its headquarters from San Francisco to Birmingham, where it will hire over 800 people as it accelerates its growth plans.

“Landing has seen incredible growth since the company launched in 2019, and we couldn’t be more excited to share that success with Birmingham,” said Landing Founder and CEO Bill Smith, a founder of grocery delivery marketplace Shipt, also based in Birmingham.

“We are proud to be part of one of the fastest-growing tech hubs in the country, bringing new jobs and economic opportunity to the region,” he added.


Smith joined Governor Kay Ivey and local officials today at Landing’s new headquarters in the John Hand Building in downtown Birmingham.

“We are delighted to welcome Landing to Alabama,” Governor Ivey said. “We hope this is a message to the citizens of Alabama and people everywhere that we, as a state, are focused on driving innovation and opportunity.”


Landing said it is committed to serving as a leader in the evolution of Birmingham’s workforce and the city’s booming technology industry, bringing 816 new, full-time jobs and $1.3 billion in payroll to the city over the next 20 years.

“Landing’s decision to accelerate its growth plans in Birmingham speaks volumes about the potential the company sees there,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We hope this project becomes another milestone development that points the way for expanded innovation opportunities in Birmingham and across the state.”

Landing’s $1 million investment will be used to continue to nurture the city’s technology and innovation community by developing top tech talent across the region and attracting high-potential tech startups.

Alongside recruitment efforts, Landing will launch Landing Fellows, a two-year, advanced fellowship program for early career applicants, recent grads and career changers who will work full time in Landing’s Birmingham headquarters. Recruitment for this fellowship program will start in the area in the fall, with the program launch slated for next summer.

“We are a rapidly expanding tech hub here in the Magic City,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said. “It’s fitting that Bill is again a part of growing our technology industry, as Shipt propelled Birmingham’s tech reputation and now Landing continues that growth with elite recruitment and training opportunities.

“Birmingham is quickly becoming a destination for some of the top tech talent in the country, and this significant investment by Landing will continue adding to our ever-growing workforce,” he added.

Birmingham has already seen investments in its tech ecosystem from global giants like Apple, which is growing a diverse STEM workforce in Birmingham through local nonprofits including Ed Farm and TechBirmingham.

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) this month recognized Birmingham as the one of the nation’s Top 10 metro areas for month-over-month tech job postings during the first half of 2021.

“The addition of Landing and Landing Fellows is a huge win for Birmingham,” said Ron Kitchens, CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance. “We cannot wait to continue growing Birmingham as a haven for businesses and a destination for some of the top talent in the state and the region.”

“Landing’s move to Birmingham offers us a chance to showcase Jefferson County,” added Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons. “We are proud to continue supporting businesses that bring jobs to Birmingham from around the country, and particularly those that invest proactively in tech talent and ecosystems.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

19 hours ago

Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest opens August 2

The 2022 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest will begin accepting entries on Monday, August 2, 2021. This year’s contest is a joint project between the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the Alabama Tourism Department. The deadline to enter is October 31, 2021.

The 2022 photo contest will focus on traditional photography techniques and the use of hand-held cameras. No cellphone, smartphone, game camera, or drone photography will be chosen as winning photos for nine of the 10 categories. Smartphone and tablet photos will be accepted in the Young Photographers category.

The photo contest is open to state residents and visitors alike, but qualifying photos must have been taken in Alabama in the past two years. Any amateur photographer not employed by ADCNR is encouraged to enter.


A total of eight photos per person may be entered in the following categories. You may enter all eight in one category or among several categories.

2022 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Categories:
• Alabama State Parks
• Birds
• Bugs and Butterflies
• Cold-blooded Critters
• Nature-Based Recreation
• Scenic
• Shoots and Roots
• Sweet Home Alabama
• Wildlife
• Young Photographers (ages 17 and under)

First, second, third and one honorable mention will be awarded in each category. Winning images will be featured online and in an exhibit traveling to various venues across the state during 2022.

Art teachers are encouraged to incorporate participation in the Young Photographers category into their art instruction this fall.

An exhibit of the 2021 winning photos will be on display at the Johnson Center for the Arts, 300 E. Walnut St., in Troy, Alabama, from August 11, 2021 – September 11, 2021. To view the winning photos online, visit here.

For complete 2022 category descriptions and contest rules, visit www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-alabama-photo-contest.