West Virginia could be a scientific hub

One probably doesn’t think about advances in science or technology when thinking about West Virginia.

Hard-working people? Sure. Proud traditions? Definitely. Natural beauty? Absolutely. But being part of breaking the boundaries of established science? Probably not.

We have connections, of course. Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier, is from West Virginia. In the last couple of years, more have probably heard of the contributions of Katherine Johnson, born in White Sulphur Springs, who worked for NASA and whose mathematics skills were critical to the nation’s earliest manned spaceflights. Emily Calandrelli, a Morgantown native, and WVU and MIT graduate, has used her scientific knowledge as a professional speaker, television host and author, encouraging youth to get more involved in science and technology.

Then there is Margaret S. Collins, Earl Lemley Core, Paul M. Doty, T.R. Johns, Elizabeth J. Feinler, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, and many others. They were involved in a variety of fields, but made numerous contributions to our world.

Now, there is a chance for the state to make another contribution.

Recently, it was announced Hyperloop One, a company owned by Virgin founder Richard Branson, might be considering West Virginia for its new testing facility.

Hyperloop One’s goal is to test and eventually develop a new high-speed transportation system, and state officials hope the state’s proximity to Washington, D.C., and other East Coast metropolitan areas could help. Gov. Jim Justice and other officials held a press conference at West Virginia University a couple of weeks ago to formally announce West Virginia’s bid for the project.

According to news reports, Hyperloop One is looking for a location six miles long where it can conduct high-speed trials, research and safety tests.

WVU and Marshall University have both offered support for the project, as both universities are involved in various forms of research, and U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito have sent their support.

There’s a lot of competition, of course, as the Mountain State is one of more than 20 to express interest. An announcement of a winner is expected for sometime in the middle of 2020.

There have been several proposals for high-speed transportation. While traditional means, such as highway, rail and air, are sure to continue, there are those who feel there may be faster means. We look at high-speed rail in Japan, which makes it possible to traverse that nation in a matter of hours, as a guide of what could be done here. Of course, there is the thought we could make it even better, creating a land-based system which would cross from one end of the United States to the other in less than a day.

Virgin is just one of the companies which has been looking at such a project. A facility currently is located near Las Vegas where the company has been testing some of its advancements. If West Virginia is added, that could take it one step closer as they discover how best to operate in different types of climates and terrains.

Finding the available area of land could be a hurdle, but, if we aren’t able to close this deal, what says we can’t find others? West Virginia works to preserve its traditional industries, while growing others focusing on fossil fuels and industry. We are proud of our industrial heritage, as we should be.

Why can’t we be proud of our contributions to scientific development, also?

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)