The Virginia Tech media relations office has the following experts available for interviews this week surrounding issues in the news. To schedule an interview, please contact

Train Derailment Environmental Concerns

It’s been three weeks since a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Last week an independent analysis of EPA data found nine air pollutants at levels that could pose health risks if they continue. Officials maintain the air is safe. Gabriel Isaacman-VanWertz, an associate professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech, is available to discuss risk assessment and hazardous air pollutants.   

FDA issues guidelines on plant-based milk products, expert shares nutrition advice

New guidelines released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about adding nutritional values to the packaging of plant-based milk products could impact the consumption of dairy milk, says Virginia Tech food science expert Melissa Wright. “Consumers may believe that plant-based and dairy milks are nutritionally similar, but that is not the case. The largest nutritional differences are with protein and carbohydrates.”  Wright says that it’s important for consumers to educate themselves about what food labels tell us about what we are putting into our bodies. Wright is director of the Food Producer Technical Assistant Network at Virginia Tech, which supports the food entrepreneur by assisting with starting a food business, nutrition label content, food safety analysis, and pertinent food regulations.  

Inflation is not done yet, says economics expert 

David Bieri, an economics professor for the School of Public and International Affairs, explains what the latest results from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCE) say about inflation and the Fed’s efforts to reduce it. “The latest figures underscore the risks of persistently high inflation. Much of the easing that was celebrated at the end of last year has largely been erased,” he says. As for efforts to curb inflation, “The Fed has to be patient. If we take the image of interest rates working like a brake pedal, the Fed is driving a car on a windy road with a blacked out windscreen and when it brakes, it can only guess how soon the car — that is, the economy — will slow down, let alone by how much and when the next bend will be.”  

California hit with record-breaking snow and rain

A winter storm dumped massive amounts of precipitation across southern California over the weekend - approximately 6.5 feet of snow and more than 5 inches of rain. The excess rain caused roads to flood and halt air traffic. Virginia Tech geophysicist Manoochehr Shirzaei is available to discuss the storm's impact on transportation, infrastructure, how to mitigate its impact through nature-based and engineering solutions and monitor systems like these from space in near-real-time.  

Ukraine: 1 Year Later

One year later, the economic damage from the war in Ukraine reaches far beyond the borders of Ukraine and Russia. Worldwide, inflation is rising, nations are seeing either fuel and/or food shortages, or sky-rocketing prices, and massive economic pressure on countries where Ukrainian civilians have fled to for sanctuary. Virginia Tech economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani says there are other worries that are not making headlines around the world or attracting the attention of Ukrainian allies - i.e. the plight in developing countries, Iran’s nuclear deal. More here.

U.S. can take the lead in nuclear energy development

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine ongoing, countries in search of stable energy sources are considering construction of small modular reactors, or SMRs, which have technologically advanced design, flexibility in location and uses beyond generating power. The U.S. could create the model the world follows, and speed production of SMRs,  by investing in education and workforce training, says nuclear engineer Alireza Haghhigat. “There is no challenge that we cannot overcome if we have the will and the necessary resources. In my opinion, the major challenge is training of the workforce at all levels and various aspects of a nuclear project,” Haghighat says. More here.

Can the fungus from ‘The Last of Us’ really create zombies?

The HBO television series, “The Last of Us,” a tale of survival in a zombie apocalypse that was already a hugely popular video game before it invaded our screens this year, imagines a zombie plague caused by a fungal infection that exists in nature. Jordan Metzgar, curator of the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech, discusses what humankind realistically has to fear from the millions of species of fungi that live on our planet. More here.

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