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Locked labs delay degrees

By Sue Lindsey
Associated Press Writer

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Locked in the laboratories of the Virginia Tech building where 31 people died are the keys to its future — for its graduate students and for the engineering program itself.

University officials announced this week they will reopen Norris Hall this month to allow engineering programs with offices and laboratories there to return to work, although no classes will be held in the building again. The building had been locked and barricaded with a chain-link fence since April 16, when student Seung-Hui Cho shot 30 people and himself in its classrooms after killing two in a dormitory.

Virginia Tech’s specialized engineering science and mechanics department — one of only three in the nation — is the primary occupant of the three-story building. Department head Ishwar Puri said he made a plea to university officials to find laboratory space as his students fell further behind in their research, putting their funding, and in some cases degrees, in jeopardy.

“I just didn’t feel right holding their future hostage,” he said. “Their careers are now on hold.”

Norris contains sophisticated equipment that cannot be moved. Nearly half of the department’s students used other labs. But Puri said the work of 50 graduate students and some undergraduate students has been held up along with research proposals from the department’s 25 faculty members.

Graduate student Nathan Post had tests under way in Norris on the durability of a lightweight composite material the U.S. Navy is preparing to use in ship hulls. He said Friday he may not be able to complete his doctorate in December as planned because of the delay.

“I am so far behind schedule now that I am not sure if it will be possible,” said Post, of Barnard, Vt.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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