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ASU's Arntzen named to National Academy of Inventors

ASU's Arntzen named to National Academy of Inventors.
December 23, 2015

Arizona State University Regents’ Professor and research scientist Charles Arntzen, Ph.D., has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Arntzen is a pioneer in plant biotechnology and the development of plant-based vaccines and therapeutics for human and animal disease prevention. Referred to as “the godfather of pharming,” Arntzen is best known for playing a key role in developing ZMapp, the first successful treatment against the Ebola virus during the largest outbreak in history. The 2014 Ebola epidemic has resulted in more 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths.

NAI’s highly prestigious honor is presented to inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.

“With this award, Charlie Arntzen has validated our Biodesign Institute mission of improving global health through translational research,” says Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU. “This prominent honor fittingly acknowledges the impact that his developments will have on current and future generations.”

“It has been incredibly rewarding to see how an idea, considered unconventional at the time we first worked it out in our ASU laboratory, could emerge to be the leading therapeutic for the treatment of Ebola,” Arntzen said. “I was lucky to be in an academic environment that tolerated high-risk, high-reward research, and to be able to work with a skilled multi-disciplinary team.”

During the course of a prolific career, Arntzen and his collaborators have used plants as bioactive factories for the production of life-saving vaccines and therapeutics. These have included plant-based anti-cancer agents, therapeutic agents to protect populations from bioterror threats, proteins to combat rabies, plant-derived vaccines against hepatitis C, vaccines to inoculate recipients against noroviruses and many others.

Arntzen's long-standing research interests are in plant molecular biology and protein engineering, producing pharmacologically active products in transgenic plants, overcoming health and agricultural constraints in the developing world as well as the use of plant biotechnology for enhancement of food quality and value.

NAI has named 168 leaders of invention and innovation to Fellow status. Those named today, including Arntzen, bring the total number of NAI Fellows to 582, representing more than 190 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes.

Other ASU researchers to receive the award include Stuart Lindsay, Ph.D., director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics at the Biodesign Institute, and Michael Kozicki, director of the ASU Center for Applied Nanoionics.

Arntzen, a researcher in the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at ASU, is also professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' School of Life Sciences. He was appointed to the Florence Ely Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair at ASU in Tempe in 2000 and named Regents' Professor in 2004. He served as the founding director of the Biodesign Institute until May 2003 and as co-director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology of that institute until 2007. Arntzen was also named the top creative person in business in 2014 by Fast Company magazine.

In their selection for the fellowship, the NAI honors not only Arntzen’s restlessly innovative spirit but also his dedication to the improvement of human society, through research aimed at reducing suffering and mortality caused by infectious disease.

The NAI Fellows will be inducted on April 15 as part of the fifth annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

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Building better roads

ASU engineers are taking concrete pavements to the next level.
December 23, 2015

ASU engineers are ratcheting up research for more resilient concrete pavements

Aging roadways pose a growing threat to transportation infrastructure that’s critical to the health of economies throughout the world.

Beyond the daunting task of funding extensive restoration efforts, there’s an equally pressing challenge to find ways to rebuild major roads that are more sustainable.

The need is one of the main motivating factors behind a new international initiative called Infravation, a combination of infrastructure and innovation.

The European Commission — an offshoot of the European Union — initiated the effort, inviting engineers and scientists in Europe and the United States to propose research projects to develop technological solutions.

The commission considered around 100 proposals. Fewer than 10 have been selected, including two projects to be led by researchers in the United States, one of them by Arizona State University engineer Narayanan Neithalath.

High-performance concrete materials in demand

Neithalath has been experimenting with what are called phase-change materials to produce more resilient concrete surfaces for roads and bridges.

Working with colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he is finishing up a National Science Foundation-funded project that is exploring the use of a phase-change material solution for reducing or preventing temperature-related cracks in concrete pavement.

Through the new Infravation project, he and his UCLA partners will expand their work in collaboration with researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the Swiss Federal Institute for Materials Science (commonly known as EMPA) and the Tecnalia Research and Innovation organization in Spain.

Since cement concrete is a major component of transportation infrastructure, countries throughout the world are extremely interested in long-lasting and high-performing concrete materials, Neithalath said.

His Infravation group has been awarded $1.6 million to find out whether concrete solutions containing a phase-change material can significantly enhance the durability of concrete pavements and bridge decks. 

Guys looking cool in a lab.

ASU engineer Narayanan Neithalath (right) will lead an international project to develop ways of making concrete pavements more durable. Civil engineering doctoral student Akash Dakhane will assist him. Photo by Nora Skrodenis/ASU

Helping pavements cope with stress

Phase-change materials are substances that respond to temperature variations by changing their state from solid to liquid or vice versa, and can be sourced from petroleum (such as paraffin wax) or be plant-based.

“We know how the materials perform under laboratory conditions. Now we have to see if it holds up when applied at larger scales and real-life loading and environmental conditions,” said Neithalath, an associate professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Like other phase-change materials, the substance his team is working with is especially effective at absorbing and releasing thermal energy. It means that over a wide range of temperature variations, it can store significantly more heat per unit of volume than water, rock or masonry.

That ability makes this phase-change material a good choice for mixing with concrete to boost its resistance to crack-inducing stresses. For instance, in hot weather the material can absorb much of the heat, thus protecting the concrete from a level of heat that can trigger fracturing.

“The important thing is to have a material that helps concrete pavements cope with different kinds of stresses put on it,” Neithalath said. “You need materials that can melt or solidify in response to varying environmental conditions without weakening the structural integrity of the pavement.”

Goal is to optimize durability

Beyond how well the phase-change material performs in that particular fashion, his team needs to answer other big questions.

What changes in the road design and construction techniques are necessary to optimize the use of the crack-reducing phase-change materials?

What are the most effective ways to embed phase-change material into vast amounts of concrete?

Can the new system provide enough durability to justify additional costs?

How can this phase-change material be safely disposed of when the new road pavements are eventually replaced?

In addition, it will likely be necessary to devise strategies for use of the material on bridge decks that are different than how the material would be used in pavements for roadways built on solid ground.

Finding answers “will require us to more fully understand the properties of the material and how it will behave in a range of situations,” said Neithalath, who is also on the faculty of the graduate studies program in materials science and engineering.

“I think we can take concrete pavements to the next level.”
— ASU engineer Narayanan Neithalath

Components for progress in place

Fellow ASU civil engineers on the project team, Subramaniam Rajan and Mikhail Chester, will apply their specific expertise to aid Neithalath in pursuit of answers and solutions.

Professor Rajan will provide computer modeling to validate results of extensive experiments with the material.

Assistant professor Chester will perform cost-benefit analysis as well as life-cycle analysis of the new pavement material — a major step in predicting how it will measure up to sustainability expectations.

The project will also provide opportunities for a number of ASU post-doctoral lab assistants and engineering graduate students to get valuable research experience.

“We will have good research teams at each of the institutions in different countries that are partners in this project. We have experts for every component of what we need to accomplish our goal,” Neithalath said. “I think we can take concrete pavements to the next level.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering