ASU students learn the ways of science policy-making through immersive summer session

August 4, 2017

Science Outside the Lab (SOtL) is an experiential education program designed to teach participants about the relationships between science, policy and societal outcomes in a place where decisions about these important issues are often made — Washington, DC.

The program was developed in 2002 by Dan Sarewitz, co-director of ASU’s Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, the Center for Science, Policy and Outcomes, and Neal Woodbury, director of ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences. Science Outside the Lab nanotechnology group Ira Bennett (far right, front row) and the nanotechnology group representing one of this summer's Science Outside the Lab sessions at ASU's Washington, D.C. Center. Download Full Image

Beginning with just one session funded by an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship grant from the National Science Foundation, the program has continued to grow steadily, administering five sessions in the summer of 2017 attended by more than sixty students from fifteen universities.

Ira Bennett, associate director for research at ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, was a doctoral student in chemistry in 2002 when he participated in SOtL’s inaugural summer session.  In 2007, Bennett and Jameson Wetmore, associate professor with the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, became co-directors of the program. SOtL remained grant funded until it switched to a fee-based model in 2010, at which point it began to grow year after year to what it is today.

“We realized there was a demand for it,” Bennett said. “Two degree programs from ASU (the Master of Science and Technology Policy program and the Solar Energy Engineering & Commercialization program) recognized the value and made SOtL a degree requirement. That really bolstered growth.”

Now managed by ASU’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society, a multi-disciplinary research center within the Institute for the Future of Innovation in Society, SOtL stays true to its think-tank roots by focusing largely on science policy, while helping participants understand the roles that science plays in shaping society.

SOtL offers one or two-week sessions for both graduate and undergraduate students. Each course in the program presents a range of immersive activities including museum visits, tours of the nation’s capital, and behind-the-scenes views of federal agencies. Students have an opportunity to listen to and question the people actually involved in creating science policy that affects the entire nation, specifically professionals with a broad view of their organization’s operations.

Using ASU’s Washington Center as its headquarters, SOtL shows participants the inner-workings of Washington, DC, the source of much of the country’s national science policy, and over $140 billion in federal science funding.

By leveraging the strong network it has fostered over the years, SOtL’s directors are able to design each session based on the interests and needs of its participants. Students from the solar energy program meet with professionals in the solar industry as well as government employees with energy portfolios. Participants in a session paid for by a nanotechnology grant will have their agendas similarly tailored.

SOtL participants learn the nuances of science communication from Slate magazine’s Torie Bosch, editor of Future Tense. Senior members of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Academy of Sciences provide valuable insight into how science is funded, regulated, critiqued and studied.

By presenting participants with as many viewpoints as possible, SOtL encourages participants to challenge their assumptions and think critically about institutions. One of Bennett’s favorite activities is a visit with Briana Pobiner, research scientist and museum educator with the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Pobiner’s stories reveal unexpected complexities that are typical of her world. 

For instance, a donor might require that the exhibit bear their name for twenty years, forcing Pobiner to think about how to design exhibits that will remain relevant for two decades. In another example, Pobiner had prepared her staff for creationist protests at the installation of a new human origins exhibit, yet protestors arrived representing Greenpeace, incensed not over the content of the exhibit, but rather over the identity of its donor.

“Most of what people learn about science we learn outside of school,” Bennett said. “Museums are one of the places where people are continuing to learn about science and, for that matter, their federal investments.”

Meeting congressional staffers, lobbyists, funding agency officers, regulators, journalists, academics, museum curators, and more introduces SOtL participants to career paths they may never have considered before. The effect these conversations and presentations can have on students is life changing.

“In the professions, as in academia and life in general, there’s so much we take at face value,” Bennett said. “What we try to do with SOtL is push our students to think about the negotiations, the tradeoffs, the personalities — the political action — inherent in many of those experiences.”


Written by Adam Gabriele

Denise Kronsteiner

Director of Strategic Communications, School for the Future of Innovation in Society


ASU engineer Adam Doupé looks to safeguard personal data through advanced automated vulnerability analysis tools

August 7, 2017

Nowadays, when a person wants to buy something over the internet they will type in their credit-card information, name and address without giving it a second thought. But a single vulnerability in a web application can allow an attacker to steal that personal information.

Adam Doupé, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, wants to develop tools that can automatically find such vulnerabilities in a web application, so they can be found and remedied before an attacker can exploit them. Download Full Image

Doupé is developing these tools as part of a five-year, $416,585 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, “Next Generation Black-Box Web Application Vulnerability Analysis.”

“The inspiration for this project was my own experiences as a penetration tester for web applications,” said Doupé. “I realized that, as a human, when I am interacting with a web application, I am not only building a mental model of how the web application works, but I’m also trying to understand how the code of the web application was written. This is essentially reverse engineering the code of the web application.”

Doupé wondered if this idea could be applied to an automated tool. Could an automated tool reverse engineer the code of the web application simply through interacting with it?

“It turns out that there is a branch of machine learning, called inductive programming, that could help,” said Doupé. “Therefore, the project idea is to apply inductive programming techniques to automatically reverse engineer the source code of a web application, simply through interacting with it, then to identify vulnerabilities in the reverse-engineered source code of the web application. This should result in smarter tools that can find vulnerabilities as well as a human.” 

The growing need for secure data solutions keeps research such as Doupé’s in high demand.

“I think that the proposal was chosen because it features the combination of interesting and diverse research areas that are applied to an area with great impact,” Doupé said.

The excitement and potential of innovations helped draw Doupé to ASU.

“Everyone I talked to was positive and excited about their research,” said Doupé. “I knew that I wanted to be a part of the ASU family.”

ASU’s robust support system helped Doupé put together the successful proposal. He credits Steven Ayer, assistant professor of construction management and engineering; Stacy Esposito, director of Research Advancement in the Fulton Schools; and his fellow computer science and engineering faculty in helping to strengthen the proposal.

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering