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US Navy awards ASU $1.5M for energy research, military engagement

October 29, 2015

Six Arizona State University energy-related research projects that will engage veterans or active-duty military are getting support from the Navy in the form of $1.5 million in seed grants over two years.

ASU’s LightWorks InitiativeASU LightWorks pulls light-inspired research at ASU under one strategic framework. It is a multidisciplinary effort to leverage ASU's unique strengths, particularly in renewable-energy fields including artificial photosynthesis, biofuels and next-generation photovoltaics. announced the funding through the Office of Naval Research’s Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Excellence (NEPTUNE) pilot program.

Each of the projects include a component that involves military members, with the goal of providing experience, skill training and resume building that will benefit them in their post-military careers.

There will also be program engagement designed to impact the ASU veteran community and — to the greatest extent possible — local bases with active-duty military personnel. ASU’s NEPTUNE program will work with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center to reach out to the more than 4,000 veterans enrolled at ASU, as well as military personnel from local bases.

Energy issues are both technology and people challenges, and the newly funded projects recognize that.

“People are an important part of alternative energy systems,” said Bill Brandt, director of strategic integration for ASU LightWorks and lead principal investigator of the projects. “Practical input from veterans with hands-on experience in military operations is critical to use-inspired energy innovation for the U.S. Navy.”

In exchange for participation in various meetings and workshops, veteran students will have the opportunity for independent-study credit hours, co-authorship of publications and other resume-building experiences. Participants will also build their career networks through corporate mentorship.

Engagement will include critical skills training in entrepreneurship, project management, leadership, technology to market and engineering problem solving.

The six NEPTUNE-funded research projects will contribute to new knowledge including training veterans to design and manage resilient energy systems. The projects are:

Self-organizing microgrids

The “grid” is the basic electric power infrastructure — power plants, transmission lines and power storage devices — by which our electricity is delivered. Microgrids can be disconnected from the grid, perhaps after a disaster or during extended military missions, and still provide electricity. This project will improve the way microgrids integrate with the grid and with each other to increase reliability and efficiency while lowering cost.

Remote sensing for smart renewable power

Renewable wind energy is generated only when the wind blows. The wind does not blow consistently, and it doesn’t always blow hardest when electricity demand is highest, so energy providers must turn to stored energy or backup generation. This project will use a cloud- and wind-detecting tool called 3D Scanning Doppler LIDAR to predict wind-energy generation, allowing energy providers to balance their sources for a more reliable supply.

Energy leadership informatics

For the military and many other organizations, including those in the energy sector, leadership makes decisions based on available data. If more data on how people interact with energy systems can be collected and assessed in a short time, this can improve the decision-making process. This project will deploy computational tools designed to improve operational performance and safety. Insights gained from the assessment will inform decisions and help promote institutional change.

Positive resilience case studies

Most energy infrastructure systems have plans to withstand and recover from disaster. When systems fail, there is deep scrutiny. We all learn from these failures. But we can also learn from positive outcomes where catastrophe was avoided. This project will assess positive case studies to define the characteristics of resilient systems, and will include such factors as organizational communication and consumer-driven response.

Monitoring underwater conditions

Optical communications technology uses light, rather than sound, to send and receive data. Traditional acoustic methods that use high-bandwidth radio frequencies cannot go underwater. This project will advance the use of optical communications technology to monitor underwater conditions. In the future, optical networks may replace underwater cables over high-risk sections of the sea floor and form sensing perimeters around ships and other structures.

Cyber threats to critical infrastructure

A sixth project capitalizes on the university’s Global Security Initiative and will focus on preventing and responding to cyberattacks on critical energy infrastructure.

“Many of ASU’s greatest points of pride are represented in this project — use-inspired research, fusing intellectual disciplines, enabling student success, veteran engagement and sustainability,” said Gary Dirks, director of  ASU LightWorks and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU. “These are the strengths that ASU brings to the Navy project.”

ASU LightWorks is a unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

Associate Director , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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ASU’s spooky hotspots brought out of the shadows

ASU full of tricks and treats that will get you in the Halloween spirit.
October 29, 2015

'Tis the season to get spooky, and ASU has a few spots that could amplify the mood this Halloween. From reports of haunted buildings to labs full of spiders, the university's various campuses have all sorts of potential frights to inspire the mood this weekend. 

West campus

black widow spider hanging from stick
Chad Johnson, assistant professor of the New College Division of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, displays some of the spiders they show children and visitors at the black widow lab at the West campus. The research Johnson and his students are conducting focuses on how spiders survive urban and desert environments. Deanna Dent/ASU Now


On the West campus, students work on scientific research that focuses on the behavior and evolution of urban pests, black widows being chief among them.

“In the research lab we have thousands of black widows in individual containers,” said Chad Johnson, associate professor at the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. “If they were in the same tank they’d eat each other because they’re highly cannibalistic and we’d end up with one spider. We have tubs out in the lab filled with black widows that we invite people to come and tour.”

Johnson said that he and his students are constantly doing projects on the black widows and occasionally getting published for their work.

“Just last semester we had a lab published wherein we studied baby black widows and ‘ballooning’,” he said.

According to Johnson, ballooning is when black widows jump off high structures and disperse webbing, allowing them to float for miles.

“My students and I set up an indoor environment where the spiders can do this on a smaller scale,” he said. “We make sure to set up netting though, because I don’t think the neighboring professors would appreciate it if we allowed [the spiders] to escape.”

fake crime scene for forensic lab
Is this a crime scene? A mannequin has come to a bad end in the forensic lab of professor Kim Kobojek on the West campus, where the focus is on reconstructing an incident through discovery and forensic science. Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Also on the West campus, a special treat awaits those who enjoy shows such as “Law and Order” — a crime scene investigation lab.

Kim Kobojek, program director for the lab, teaches students all about the grisly world of violent crime, specifically its aftermath.

“One of the first things we teach students is the principles of forensic science,” Kobojek said. “I have a space downstairs in the basement that I call the crime scene lab. All our crime scenes have to be staged due to legal issues, but throughout the program [students] get the opportunity to tour real crime scenes with practicing forensic scientists.

“We’re looking at bloodstain spatter and forensic entomology (maggots) as well as biological material like blood, tissue, skulls and possibly even human bones,” Kobojek said. “I try to make the scenes as realistic as possible. We use mannequins placed in realistic poses with gunshot and stab wounds. We also purchase sheep’s blood, which after it sits for awhile has a nice little smell to it.” 

Polytechnic campus

water tower on ASU's Polytechnic campus
The ASU Polytechnic campus was built on what was once the Williams Air Force base. Alyssa Pakes/ASU


The Polytechnic campus has a fascinating history in that it was built on what was once the Williams Air Force base.

Some parts of the old base are still visible on the campus grounds, most notably the base’s infirmary that’s located where the ASU Preparatory Academy now stands. Inside the ASU Prep building is an old operating room, now just a defunct relic from the site’s military days. 

The campus is on many lists of "most haunted places," with often-mentioned reports of a male ghost wandering the old infirmary and voices heard in what used to be the officers club.

Sadly for those seeking the unusual, there have been no sightings of swamp monsters in the big tanks of green goo at the campus' Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology — but one can only hope.

Downtown Phoenix campus

The Downtown Phoenix campus boasts one of the spookiest facilities by far: the cadaver lab. The bodies there have been donated to school for dissection, and ASU students have the privilege of working on the dead in pursuit of medical knowledge.

“We have dry labs and wet labs, the latter being more cadaver-based,” said Jennifer Drake, course manager at the College of Letters and Sciences. “When students are dissecting the bodies, we normally keep the face covered. We’ll ask them if they want to see the face, and the students that don’t will leave the room.

“We also have real human body parts called plastinates,” Drake said.

She explained that plastinates are body parts that have had all their water and fat replaced with plastics, which prevent them from decaying.

“We’ve done this with just about every organ in the body and displayed them all in a big glass case. We even have a human head on display,” she said. 

view of Westward Ho in downtown Phoenix
A view of the Westward Ho at the University Center on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Deanna Dent/ASU Now


Anyone who’s ever been on the Downtown Phoenix campus has no doubt seen the massive radio tower perched atop the Westward Ho building. Once the tallest building in Arizona and one of the oldest, Westward Ho has multiple claims to fame in the world of spooky allure.

One such claim is the network of tunnels that lie below the building. They were once used for hiding and transporting alcohol during prohibition, but today are abandoned. Nothing remains but a cold draft blowing though the darkened cement corridors.

(Film buffs will also recognize the building from the opening of the 1998 remake of "Psycho.")

Tempe campus

hallway of Community Services Building

The ASU Community Services Building on Curry Road used to be a children’s hospital. It now houses a preschool and other ASU offices. Trevor Fay/ASU Now


What many don’t know about ASU’s largest campus is that the Community Services Building on Curry Road used to be a children’s hospital — and according to ASU staff members, some of the children haven’t left.

There have been reports of hearing children playing — even though the children’s preschool that is now housed there was closed at the time — and also seeing objects out of place.

Elsewhere on the Tempe campus, it doesn’t get much better for art lovers this Halloween than the Ceramics Research Center at the Brickyard. The museum, along Mill Avenue, is home to a collection of spine-tingling ceramic dolls and sculptures.

Ceramic doll and ceramic skull
Left: “Girl with Crow” by Margaret Keelan. Right: Skull by Nicholas Klofkorn. Photos courtesy of the ASU Art Museum


Visitors can currently view a sculpture by artist Margaret Keelan, called “Girl with Crow.” Keelan’s work uses clay “to cleverly mimic the weathered surfaces of 19th-century dolls, riding a line between beauty and horror.”

There are also a number of skulls by local artist Nicholas Klofkorn for sale, for anyone interested in adding a touch of macabre to their home.

Trevor Fay

reporter , Media Relations and Strategic Communicatons