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Postcards from the ledge

Hoover Dam excursion for Pakistani scholars bridges knowledge, culture

May 4, 2017

A group of 27 Pakistani engineering scholars from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Energy, better known as USPCAS-E, set off on an adventure over spring break, learning what nature can engineer, what people can engineer and the power their imagination has to inspire innovation.

An $18 million United States Agency for International Development grant supports the project with Arizona State University as the hub for the energy component of the project in partnership with the National University of Science and Technology — Islamabad (NUST), the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar and Oregon State University. “Big dams in Pakistan are normally earth and rock fill dams, so there is a need to build concrete arc dams like Hoover Dam in Pakistan that are more impressive, efficient and modern,“  says Muhammad Ahsan Amjed, NUST. Photo courtesy of Muhammad Ahsan Amje “Big dams in Pakistan are normally earth and rock fill dams, so there is a need to build concrete arc dams like Hoover Dam in Pakistan that are more impressive, efficient and modern,“ say Muhammad Ahsan Amjed, National University of Science and Technology. Photo courtesy of Muhammad Ahsan Amjed Download Full Image

The scholars are part of the third cohort to visit the United States in order to study renewable energy at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering as part of a larger effort to boost development of solutions for Pakistan’s growing energy needs. Spring break offered a respite from their classes and lab work, and provided a chance to see engineering in action.

The scholars kicked off their journey by visiting one of nature’s greatest engineering wonders, the Grand Canyon. The canyon stood as a compelling example of the power found in nature, as seen by the river carving away at the landscape for millennia. The challenge for the scholars was to learn from nature and learn how to harness that energy.

Their next stop at Hoover Dam illustrated just that. The scholars saw first hand how the Colorado River was used as a source of renewable hydroelectric power through ingenuous civil engineering.

USPCAS-E Scholars, Left to right: Farah Akram, Anam Zahra, Maham Akhlaq, Atoofa Zainab, Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU


“The sheer brilliance that the engineers displayed in [their] era with such a megastructure was a rarity, [and] is a sight to behold. It solved the water distribution problems for seven different states,” said Haider Saif Agha from NUST.

Learning about this pinnacle of clean energy was key for the scholars because many of them are studying photovoltaic, wind and hydroelectric energy options. The USPCAS-E project set out to explore renewable energy as a means for resolving the energy crisis happening in Pakistan today, leaving the country with rolling blackouts that last 6–16 hours a day.

The dam was created for the purposes of flood control, irrigation and power production, all of which are applicable to Pakistan’s needs.

“I see a comparison with Pakistan’s Kalabagh Dam,” said Asfand Yar Ali, of the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar. Kalabagh Dam is proposed dam that could help Pakistan with flood control. “We are facing minor and major floods every year in [the] monsoon [season]. Similarly, the dam will help Pakistan rejuvenate its agriculture and overcome [the] energy crisis.“

Hoover Dam was an example of what could be implemented back home for the scholars.

“I learned that we can solve all of our country’s energy problems by just mixing innovation and engineering in the right proportions,” said Usman Salahuddin of NUST.

To shake things up, the scholars next visited the California Science Center. Atoofa Zainab of NUST had a personal favorite there – the earthquake simulator.

“I learned about the how certain buildings are made in case of an earthquake. The lesson that I learned is that Pakistan is in dire need of these types of services and technologies.”

Inspiring the heart and the exchange of culture

Inside Hoover Dam. Photo credit: Usama Khalid, NUST/ASU.

Though engineering is the primary point of USPCAS-E, other aspects of the initiative like promoting gender equality and engaging in cultural exchange are key aspects as well. The scholars expressed heartfelt thanks to be a part of a program that educates not just their inner engineer, but also cements their role as a global citizen.

“I have honestly no words to define my experience I had on spring break. It was both fun and a learning experience,” said Farah Akram of NUST. “The places we visited showed us a new face of the world. The views of the Grand Canyon, [the] innovative construction of Hoover Dam, fun and virtual reality-based rides of Universal Studios, learning at the California Science Center and [having a] playful time in Santa Monica gave us the most beautiful time of our lives.”

“Something that really impacted my heart was the celebration of diversity in America. America celebrates its diversity, be it in L.A., Tempe, Las Vegas or any other city. I was impacted by views on tolerance, freedom of speech, action,” reflected Haider Saif Agha of NUST.

Muhammad Ahsan Amjed of NUST ruminated that, “if you really want to understand the culture and people of any particular area, you will have to travel across that region in order to better understand their traditions, their peculiarities, cultural idiosyncrasies [and] subtle differences in their way of living. Such excursions help us renew our perspective about our research, our lives and our goals.”

The cultural exchange component of the program provides unlimited opportunity for visitors and Americans to engage with each other, allows visitors to find their place in the global community, breaks down prejudices and misunderstandings, and in the long-term expands and strengthens relationships between the two countries.

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April 29, 2017

ASU student Garrett Fleetwood invents rock-categorizing process that could someday be used in space exploration

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

When the Apollo astronauts trained in Arizona, Ron Greeley, one of the founders of planetary geology and the father of Arizona State University’s space program, helped educate them about geology.

Early astronauts tended to be fighter jocks who weren’t terribly interested in rocks. Greeley succeeded in educating them to be more sophisticated than describing rocks as big or little, and how to differentiate between an interesting rock and a more prosaic sample.

Arizona State University student Garrett Fleetwood, about to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering from the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport & Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and another degree in economics, wrote an undergraduate thesis tackling that exact problem.

The Corvallis, Oregon, native invented a computerized process to identify rock samples and put them into categories. His approach can learn from human experts and extrapolate their decision processes to identify interesting rock samples.

The thesis — “A Concept for Using Superformula and Information Theory to Identify and Prioritize Interesting Objects in Autonomous Exploration” — may someday help create a geologic scanning instrument used in space exploration.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I’ve always known I was destined for engineering. I was the sci-fi nerd: "Let’s make this happen." ... The thing that really gets me is the idea of establishing a permanent base on the moon or Mars. That’s just something I’ve always wanted to see happen. I can help.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: One of the fun things you learn about engineering and the sciences in general is that the more you know, the less you know. You realize that really quickly.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: It was the scholarship.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: College Avenue Commons. It’s a really nice building.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Grad school.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: There’s so much to choose from. And that’s really not a lot of money. It used to be. I’m going to go generic and say world hunger. You could probably make a dent with a distribution center or something.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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XL Hybrids vehicles have gone 42 million miles, saving 788,000 gallons of fuel.
April 20, 2017

XL Hybrids sells electric drive systems to companies including Coca-Cola, which showed 20 percent reduction in fuel use in fleet

The saying about solar power is that it pays for itself, but not in your lifetime: The same thing could be said about hybrid vehicles. Yes, they run cheaper and they’re better for the environment, but the initial investment can be daunting.

If that’s true for individual consumers, consider the plight of fleet managers who oversee hundreds or thousands of vehicles. 

But a company nurtured by Arizona State University has hit upon a solution, offering systems to convert new or existing fleets to hybrid vehicles.

It’s a technology that has been snapped up by Coca-Cola, the city of Boston, the Seattle Fire Department, ThyssenKrupp Elevator Americas and AmeriPride Services.

XL Hybrids sells electric drive systems that use regenerative braking to cut back on fuel use. An electric motor helps slow the vehicle during braking, which charges the hybrid battery. When the driver accelerates, the hybrid battery releases the stored energy to the electric motor, helping to propel the vehicle.

To date, XL Hybrids converted vehicles have driven more than 42 million customer miles. That’s more than 87 round-trip journeys to the moon. XL converted hybrids have saved almost 788,000 gallons of fuel. That’s 49,250 fillups for an average SUV. They have kept more than 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the air, and saved 6,300 hours of driver productivity by being on the road longer and not returning for gas topoffs. That’s more than 157 work weeks, or roughly a year’s work of three employees.

Companies attracted to the technology tend to have put 30,000 to 40,000 miles per year on vehicles they keep for about a decade. Add that up, and it’s the equivalent of about 14 trips from Los Angeles to New York. They can cut fuel bills for urban driving by 20 percent and CO2 emissions by the same percentage. 

“It can definitely turn into a very meaningful number when they have tens of thousands of vehicles in the fleet,” said XL Hybrids chief executive officer and founder Tod Hynes.

The XL3 Hybrid Electric Drive System installs in a day, underneath the vehicle body.

“The hybrid system is easy to deploy and easy to rollout,” Hynes said. “We tried to fit into the existing infrastructures.”

Coca-Cola converted 280 service vans with the XL3 Hybrid system. After 9 million service miles, the converted fleet showed 20 percent less fuel use than conventional vans. The move also contributed to the company’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 20 percent by 2020. The hybrid vans are expected to eliminate about 6,000 total metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions that conventional fuels would produce over their 10-year life span.

Read more: View a PDF of the Coca-Cola case study 

“This technology offered an option that provided low maintenance and fuel savings,” said Tony Eiermann, Coca-Cola North America fleet assets manager. “It was also able to work with our existing fleet structure.”

Coca-Cola continues to place orders with XL Hybrids. 

“We are scaling up,” Hynes said. “Most of our sales are repeat orders.”

A new plug-in product that converts Ford F-150s — the most popular truck in the country — is getting a lot of interest from utility companies that use them.

Hynes has a background in renewable-energy sources. As the industry took off, in 2008 he wanted to catch the next big thing to compete with oil.

“The thinking behind XL Hybrids was, ‘How can we start a company that is a good competitor with oil?’” he said.

Cody Friesen, an associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and EnergyThe School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy is part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering., reached out to Hynes and said the Avnet Innovation Lab could be helpful. Friesen is a veteran of two startup companies and founded the Avnet Innovation Lab.

ASU has inspired or assisted in the formation or growth of an estimated 1,000 startups. More than 500 people are now employed at ASU-linked startups. ASU inventions have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in external funding, including $96 million in fiscal year 2016.

The Avnet Innovation Lab, in partnership with the Fulton Schools of Engineering, is designed to spur economic growth in the technology sector and enable aspiring entrepreneurs to advance their innovations.

“It really was a helpful connection for us, because we have a pretty extensive supply chain,” Hynes said.

As a startup, it’s hard to negotiate good deals. Starting a year ago, Avnet helped XL Hybrid review contracts and helped bid on some new agreements. The company continues to work with Avnet to get costs down.

“We’re open to talk if ASU wants us to make some shuttle buses more efficient,” Hynes said.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU professors submit diverse list of influences for International Women's Day.
March 7, 2017

For International Women’s Day on March 8, a range of female professors at ASU shared names of women they consider to be influential and inspiring.  

The historical figures come from all over the world. They’re writers, researchers, activists and monarchs.

Some are well-known, such as Marie Curie or Frida Kahlo, but most are less famous, though no less important.

Read on to learn about the women who ASU professors — from fields that include engineering, English, history and math — say shaped the world. The subjects have been arranged by region and era. The list is by no means complete, but it provides an opportunity to learn just how wide-ranging the impact has been.

Africa - South America and Central America - Europe - Asia - United States 


 Women of Africa

education building in Africa

Fatima Al-Fihri 
late 800

This Muslim woman helped to create a center of learning more than a thousand years ago that still functions to this day (pictured above). 

“Al-Fihri founded the world’s oldest degree-granting university, Al Qarawiyyin University in Morocco. Having come into wealth through the death of her family, Al-Fihri focused her efforts on her community.” 

— Jacqueline WernimontShe is also affiliated faculty with the School of Social Transformation and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. , assistant professor in the Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Lizzy Abrahams

Abrahams, born in the Western Cape of South Africa, dropped out of school at age 11 to help her family. She became involved in labor politics and took on issues of apartheid at a time when activists were routinely jailed, harassed and murdered. 

“Despite the risk, she courageously helped organize strikes and protests, both overtly and covertly, and she helped to organize the United Democratic Front in 1983. With the election of a Democratic Parliament in 1994, she was elected to serve on the labour committee, where she remained until 2000."

— Denise Bates, assistant professor of leadership and interdisciplinary studies in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts 



Nawal El Saadawi

El Saadawi has written more than 50 titles in Arabic, graduated as a medical doctor and has advocated to end the cultural practice of female genital mutilation.

“A controversial Egyptian feminist, doctor and novelist who continues to fight the oppression of women and the poor. Her novel, 'Woman at Point Zero' (1973) broke with many traditions, revealing the realities of women’s lives, made even more difficult by state oppression.”

— Pamela Stewart, senior lecturer of languages and cultures in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Louisa Hanoune

The current leader of Algeria’s Workers’ Party and known as a political activist and feminist, Hanoune was the first female candidate for president in the Arab world in 2004.

“Louisa Hanoune is an inspiring female political leader and role model for North Africa and beyond. As a feminist and left-wing politician, her ideological platform is not in line with Islamists; yet, when the Algerian government shut down the democratic process after an Islamist party won local elections, she supported the rights of the Islamist leaders to engage in the democratic process.

— Mary Jane ParmentierShe is also affiliated with the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes and the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts., clinical associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society 


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This Nigerian author is an award-winning novelist whose writing on feminism and identity, along with a 2013 sampling on Beyonce’s single "Flawless," have led to international recognition of her work.

“Through the representations of strong and empowered female characters in her novels who deal with everyday contemporary struggles, Adichie beckons to postfeminist women in language and themes familiar to the young generation. Her message, often subtle, is loud: The goal of true gender equality has not yet been achieved.”

— Patience Akpan, associate professor of science, technology and society in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts 

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 South and Central American Women

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Born in San Miguel Nepantla, Mexico, she is renowned for her intelligence and scholarship and immortalized in the painting above by Andrés de Islas.

"Through her writing she critiqued colonization and the notion that men were believed to be superior to women. She is considered to be an early example of feminism and is a popular archetype within Chicana literature. I am drawn especially to her religious poetry and writings as an example of her ability to practice her faith while critiquing the institution."

— Vanessa Fonseca, assistant professor of interdisciplinary humanities and communication in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Gabriela Mistral, born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga

The first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Chilean Mistral was a lyrical poet.

"She was born into deep poverty and overcame extraordinary odds to become one of the most influential Spanish-speaking women of her time. A gifted poet, literary and educational celebrity, she rose form the bottom to the top of three different professions: education, journalism and diplomacy."

— Elizabeth HoranShe is also a professor in the Partnership for Community Development and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics., professor in the Department of English 



Frida Kahlo

The famous Mexican painter was at the center of intellectual and cultural life in both Mexico and the U.S.

"Her work serves as a model for drawing upon the personal (for example: infertility, injury and depression) to express collective experiences that women grapple with. Her boldness, resilience and energy continue to inspire generations of feminists and artists today."

— Breanne Fahs, associate professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences


berta caseres

Berta Cáceres

An indigenous environmental rights activist from Honduras, Cáceres was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and was fatally shot in her home in 2016.

"She organized indigenous communities against the Agua Zarca dam near the Gualcarque river, which is considered sacred for those communities. She was the mother of four and did not give in after multiple threats to her livelihood and that of her family."

— Valeria FernándezShe also leads the Cronkite Noticias/Mixed Voces newsroom, in an interim role, which reports on news in Spanish for the region's Latino communities., associate faculty at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication


estela de carlotto

Estela Barnes de Carlotto 

This Argentine grandmother stood up to the military government as it abducted and killed dissidents, by organizing the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo). The group advocated the return of remains of family members abducted and killed by Argentina's dictatorship and worked to reconnect the children of dissidents who were abducted and adopted to allies of the regime. 

"Since the organization was founded, they found 114 children. Among them was de Carlotto's grandson Guido, who was born after her daughter was abducted. Her daughter Laura was murdered, and her remains were returned to de Carlotto in 1978, a year after she was killed."

— Valeria Fernández, associate faculty at the Cronkite School and leader of Cronkite Noticias/Mixed Voces

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Women of Europe

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen
12th century

The German Benedictine abbess (pictured on the wood engraving above) was a noted writer, composer and church reformer and founder of monasteries.

"Besides writing theological works based on her own visionary experiences, such as Scivias (Know the Ways), she wrote an extensive group of liturgical songs and works of medicinal and natural history including Physica. As a measure of her influence, she made preaching tours and corresponded with popes, emperors and clergy."

— Lori Eshleman, instructor of interdisciplinary humanities and communication in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Margaret Cavendish

Considered the first female science fiction writer as well as a natural philosopher, the English Duchess of Newcastle worked on vitalist theories, which examined the difference between organic and inorganic compounds, that are related to today's quantum philosophers and physicists. 

"She was also a playwright and poet and her book 'The Blazing World' is one of the first science fiction novels in the Western canon. Her vision for the peaceful powers of poetic worlds is an important part of how I understand the power of fiction today."

— Jacqueline Wernimont, assistant professor in the Department of English


Rosalind Franklin

This British chemist and chrystallographer is most famous for not receiving a Nobel Prize. Franklin's work with Watson and Crick was critical to the development of the double-helix model of DNA.

"Unfortunately she died too early, of breast cancer, and the Nobel is only given to living scientists. Her work with X-ray crystallography was brilliant, and her work clearly gave Watson and Crick the idea of a double helix. She excelled in her work and succeeded in her career, but was clearly held back by being a woman."

— Jane MaienscheinShe is also University Professor of history of science, President's Professor and Parent Association Professor, as well as director of the Center for Biology and Society, related faculty in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics., Regents' Professor in the School of Life Sciences



Gertrude Bell

Bell helped shaped British foreign policy following her work mapping large areas of the Arabian Peninsula in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Wild exploration is one of the hardest things for women to break into, and she did it. There are so very, very few women explorers! It's much easier to break the mold and work on things society doesn't support while you are alone in your drawing room or shed, but to lead expeditions staffed with men into areas controlled by other cultures ... that takes a very special brand of determination and leadership."

— Lindy Elkins-TantonShe is principal investigator for a mission to explore Psyche, an asteroid composed primarily of nickel and iron, ASU's first deep-space NASA mission. , director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration


maria montessori

Maria Montessori

Italian physician and educator Montessori's methods are in use in Montessori schools across the world. Although Montessori was able to attend the University of Rome, she was originally unwanted at the institution. The university gave her students they considered unable to learn in any capacity.

"She studied them and decided that if these children were given child-size tools they could learn to work them. Being wealthy she was able to have miniature plates, forks, spoons, brooms, water pitchers, trays, etc. made for use by the children. First she taught them simple living skills, then taught them to read and write. She created a pedagogy that is used worldwide today and identified by her name, Montessori."

— Heide McIlwraith, lecturer of science and mathematics in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Maria Sklodowska Curie

Better known as Marie Curie, this Polish physicist was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in any field.

"Her first prize was in physics in 1903, shared with her husband Pierre Curie, and her second was in chemistry in 1911. She is still the only person to receive the Nobel Prize in more than one science. Because of her many achievements, on par with or superior to those of any man of her time, she made it acceptable to be both a woman and a scientist."

— Valana Wells, associate professor in the School for Engineering for Matter, Transport and Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


victoria kent

Victoria Kent

This first female lawyer in Spain, in 1928, was also one of the first three women to be elected to serve in Parliament when Spain became a republic in 1932.

"When the Spanish Civil War broke out, she worked to create asylums in France for children orphaned by the war and to move refugees to safety in Mexico and elsewhere. She survived WWII, hiding in Paris, working with the Resistance and lived more than 40 years in exile in New York until Spain returned to a democratic government."

— Elizabeth Horan, professor in the Department of English 

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 Women of Asia

Empress Theodora
6th century

The Byzantine empress born to a bear-keeper of Constantinople's hippodrome worked as a performer and advocated for women after her position was raised with the ascension of her husband, Justinian, to emperor. 

"She supported the Monophysites against her husband, Justinian, in their struggle with orthodox Christianity and was instrumental in passing laws that expanded women's rights including property rights, guardianship of children and prohibition of forced prostitution."

— Lori Eshleman, instructor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Unnamed female physicians
18th century

These female physicians worked in the 18th century treating women of the Harem of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul while the term "physician" was reserved for men. These early female practitioners cared for women and received salaries.

"Drawing on a female health team that included a patient's 'mistress' and assistant, the warden of patients and the female physician, or hekime kadin. Harem women depended on these female health providers to handle their general well-being as well as reproductive medicine."

— Jacqueline Wernimont, assistant professor in the Department of English


Clemencia Lopez

In the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States, effectively thwarting the Philippine Revolution. Lopez was involved with the Anti-Imperialists who were critical of the U.S. policies in the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

"She resisted American imperialism in her homeland ... also arguing for the release of her brothers after their arrest and imprisonment due to their resistance to the American presence. She headed to the U.S. to argue for their release becoming the first Filipina to visit the White House, meeting Theodore Roosevelt in 1902."

— Pamela Stewart, senior lecturer in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


qiu jin

Qiu Jin

Jin, an activist and publisher, spoke out for women's rights and worked toward the abolishment of the practice of foot binding.

"She is perhaps the most well-known advocate for women in China during her short life, pursuing an education and starting a women's magazine. Her life experience, including her father noting about daughters, 'What rotten luck; another useless thing,' led her to ask, 'Why is there no justice for women?' She was beheaded in 1907 due to her involvement in revolutionary circles hoping to overthrow the Qing Dynasty."

— Pamela Stewart, senior lecturer in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts

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 Women of the United States

Sarah Redmond Parker

Sarah Redmond Parker

The 19th-century African-American abolitionist and physician (pictured above) lectured throughout England about the inhumanity of slavery but found medicine as her calling.

Denied entry into medical schools in both the United States and England, "she emigrated to Italy where she studied Italian and graduated from the Santa Maria Nuova Hospitalin Florence. She was a practicing physician in Italy for 20 years, never returning to the U.S. Redmond followed her bliss and refused to have her potential as a scientist diminished just because she was a woman."

— Angelita Reyes, professor of African and African-American studies in the School of Social Transformation and in the Department of English


mary garrity

Ida B. Wells

Wells, born in Mississippi, was a journalist, publisher, activist and one of the founding members of the NAACP. Seventy-one years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Wells sued the Memphis and Charleston Railroad train after she was forcibly removed from a first-class train car.

"While too few know her story, her investigative journalism crusaded for justice throughout her life, developing and employing tactics that would be the foundation of many civil rights movements as she resisted Jim Crow laws and fought for federal anti-lynching legislation. Her autobiography, 'Crusade for Justice,' and anti-lynching pamphlets demonstrate her unrelenting arguments."

— Pamela Stewart, senior lecturer in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


grace hopper

Grace Hopper

The U.S. Navy rear admiral was also a trailblazer who fought to be admitted to the Navy as she was below the weight limit to enlist.

"She is widely credited with creating the first compiler, which essentially means that without her, we would still have to write our code in assembly language, which is not fun. It is because of her that we have high-level languages enabling all sorts of software applications, and compilers were considered an early form of AI, so she did AI way before it was cool."

— Nadya BlissShe is also a professor of practice in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and is related faculty in the School for the Future of Innovation and Society., director of the Global Security Initiative 


Maya Angelou

The poet and civil rights activist has been influential in contemporary women's history.

"When many students read Dr. Angelou's poetry or her classic autobiography, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,' they are so drawn to her wisdom for living and her belief in the oneness of the human family. Even my male students become engaged with her profound autobiography and obstacles she had to overcome in her youth."

— Angelita Reyes, professor in the School of Social Transformation


audre lorde

Audre Lorde 

The African-American poet and social justice activist was well known for her poetry.

"She wrote very specifically in the context of black rights, women's rights and LGBT rights movements of the 1960s, and she wrote for and about as well as to artists from whom all else but the word has been taken. It was a very important statement at the time, but today we realize it has become timeless, crossing the decades and oft-invoked. Each generation encounters it, renews and revises its relevance."

— Cynthia Hogue, professor in the Department of English 


Valerie Solanas 

Solanas became famous for shooting and nearly killing pop artists Andy Warhol and was the author of "SCUM Manifesto," a (maybe) satirical manifesto calling for the elimination of all men.

"A symbol of women's rage in the late 1960s, Solana's life and work asks us to consider: In what ways are women driven mad by a patriarchal society? What role does satire and linguistic reversal have in exposing and challenging sexist and misogynistic thinking? How can we better legitimize women's anger? Her work is one of the most fascinating examples of an outsider, pro-violence text written by an unlikely champion for women's legitimate 'complaints.'"

— Breanna Fahs, associate professor in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences


wilma mankiller

Wilma Mankiller

The first female chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. 

"She ushered in many positive changes having to do with community development and helped to grow the tribal rolls exponentially by elevating that tribe's visibility and welcoming many Cherokee people back into the community's fold. She really inspired a whole generation of Native women across the country to step into leadership roles within their own tribal communities, which has had a positive impact."

— Denise Bates, assistant professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Graciela Gil Olivarez

The Arizona-born Olivarez was the first woman to earn her law degree from Notre Dame in 1970, served in President Jimmy Carter's administration as director of community services and was the first female DJ at a Spanish-language radio station where she also served as a radio engineer and announcer.

"I chose her because it's important to shed light on the history of Chicana radio and media producers as innovators of communication technologies. Women like Olivarez learned the importance of advocating for marginalized communities."

— Monica De La Torre, assitant professor in the School of Transborder Studies

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Portrait credit in order of appearance by: Anderson Sady, Gigi Ibrahim, Andrés de la Islas, Guillermo Kahlo, Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Presidencia de la Nación Argentina, engraving of Hildegard von Bingen, Gertude Bell Archive, The New Students' Reference Work, Mundo Gráfico, The Yorck Project, unknown photographer of the Qing Dynasty, unknown photographer, Google Cultural Institute, U.S. Navy, K. Kendall and Phil Konstantin. 

ASU center helps Southwest manufacturers improve energy efficiency

March 7, 2017

In business, a better bottom line means better profitability, competitiveness and overall success. For energy-intensive businesses in the manufacturing sector, improving energy efficiency can reduce costs and send those savings straight to the bottom line.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy seeks to help make the U.S. manufacturing industry more energy-efficient, productive and secure through a nearly $35 million Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) program. Mechanical engineering undergraduate student Katilin Kreck takes a measurement in a manufacturing facility. Arizona State University received $1.5 million over five years from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to create an Industrial Assessment Center to help make the U.S. manufacturing industry more energy-efficient, productive and secure. Faculty and students from ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering perform free site-specific, independent evaluations as part of this initiative, and students like manufacturing engineering undergraduate Kaitlin Kreck get hands-on experience performing industrial assessments. Photo courtesy of Sarah Johnston Download Full Image

IACs make site-specific recommendations to improve efficiency while providing undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity for firsthand exposure to industry manufacturing processes, energy assessment procedures and energy management systems.

Arizona State University is one of 28 universities the DOE tasked with establishing IACs in 2016. The DOE awarded ASU $1.5 million for the five-year project. The ASU IAC is led by faculty in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering: director and industrial engineering associate professor Rene Villalobos, assistant director and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Pat Phelan, and manager and assistant research technologist Jon Sherbeck.

Villalobos and Phelan — faculty members in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering and the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, two of the six Fulton Schools — bring their experience running an IAC at ASU for more than 15 years, a center that ended its work in 2006 after completing more than 400 assessments. Over the 40 years the DOE has funded the IAC program, centers have provided more than 17,000 assessments and more than 130,000 recommendations for improvement.

A large and growing manufacturing state

Arizona’s total manufacturing output in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, was at the highest value ever recorded at $21.9 billion. Between 2009 and 2013, manufacturing exports increased by 25 percent, representing about 84,000 jobs.

The state’s top five manufacturing industries, ranked by their contributions to the state’s gross domestic product, are computer and electronic products, transportation equipment, food and beverage and tobacco products, miscellaneous products and chemicals, according to In Business Greater Phoenix magazine.

The ASU IAC serves an area beyond Arizona into southern Nevada/Las Vegas and western New Mexico, an area “which is not served by any other IAC,” Phelan said.

The area also represents the states with fast-growing populations relative to the country as a whole, driven in part by high job growth — Arizona was ranked eighth and Nevada sixth in 2014 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.  

A mutually beneficial service

ASU’s IAC and the 27 others conduct free assessments for small manufacturers with fewer than 500 employees, gross annual sales below $100 million and energy bills between $100,000 and $2.5 million per year.

“ASU, as an independent and experienced third party, provides an unbiased assessment that plant managers can use to justify capital expenditures for energy-efficiency improvements, or to seek out specialists from the private sector to perform a more in-depth analysis,” Phelan said.

In addition to energy efficiency, the ASU IAC also assesses a manufacturer’s cybersecurity strengths and weaknesses, making recommendations on security measures such as using two-factor authentication to protect them against cyber attacks.

The IAC assessment team includes not only faculty members but students in undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs who help take measurements, come up with improvement ideas, and calculate cost savings.

During the one-day assessment visit, Sherbeck said the team looks for opportunities to improve energy efficiency as well as to reduce water consumption and waste streams.

“We look at their manufacturing processes and try to suggest productivity improvements, which might be how to track quality so you have fewer scrap parts, or how to arrange your processes so that there’s a minimum amount of travel of the hardware,” Sherbeck said.

It’s also a way for companies to get a fresh set of eyes on their operations and to break them out of the lull of “this is the way we’ve always done it,” Sherbeck said.

Sherbeck brings valuable experience to the team from his years of hands-on manufacturing experience, having put himself through university by working as a machinist and later full-time building all kinds of systems in industry.

After the assessment, the IAC team develops recommendations and delivers a confidential report to the client within 60 days.

“We attempt to determine how much cost the company can save, how much it’ll cost them to implement improvements and determine what the payback period would be,” Sherbeck said.

Six months after the assessment, the team conducts a follow-up visit and reports to the Department of Energy what improvements the company implemented.

In its first year, the ASU IAC plans to do 13 assessments, followed by 20 assessments in subsequent years.

The team has already started conducting assessments and is ramping up a marketing campaign to increase the manufacturing community’s awareness of these free services.

Community partners round out the team

The ASU team partners with other local organizations to identify potential clients and works with power companies to identify energy-efficiency improvement opportunities.

RevAZ, a business improvement and training organization that is part of the Arizona Commerce Authority, also helps identify potential clients for the ASU IAC.

Lincus Inc., a sustainability and efficiency evaluator, helps the ASU IAC with energy-saving alternative practices.

Outside Arizona, Nevada Industry Excellence helps with industrial business productivity and productivity recommendations.

Educating the next generation of engineers

Besides the costs of measurement equipment purchases and travel to and from industry clients, the nearly $1.5 million in funding supports student involvement in the program.

“These funds are used to support a large number of undergraduate and graduate students, mostly from engineering, who identify the clients, perform the assessments, develop the analysis and, finally, prepare and deliver the reports,” Phelan said.

Students involved get a “tremendous educational experience” where they can apply coursework to real manufacturing facilities, Phelan said, and soon they also will be able to participate in a new planned educational program in “clean-energy manufacturing.”

Both students and faculty get to learn what really matters to industry through the experience.

“Participating companies are helping ASU students and faculty become more knowledgeable about industrial practices and problems, which in turn helps make ASU’s engineering research and educational programs more relevant and impactful,” Phelan said.

Mechanical engineering doctoral candidate Nicholas Fette said his involvement in the ASU IAC has been a great learning experience. After a few months as student lead of the ASU IAC, he said he has a better understanding of manufacturing issues in Arizona in addition to better insight into how the university conducts business and the challenges of planning and communicating effectively with large organizations.

“Now having conducted a few site visits, I feel I have been exposed to many more aspects of this industry than were touched on in my academic training, and I’ve found some problems and unanswered questions worthy of research effort,” Fette said. “It has been a great experience, and I hope that we can develop more hands-on opportunities for students like this one.

Sherbeck notes that the experience will help lead to better-qualified graduates.

“The DOE considers that there are not enough qualified people to do this kind of [assessment] work,” Sherbeck said. “The program is intended to help small manufacturers, but it’s also intended to lead to more graduates capable of doing this kind of work.”

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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ASU ranks top 10 for DARPA Young Faculty Awards, ahead of Columbia, others.
'Managed research' concept expands through government, private companies.
January 30, 2017

University researchers leverage concept known as 'managed research' to drive innovation and development

During World War II, the government assembled the nation’s top scientists and tasked them with solving problems to win the war. The most famous result is the Manhattan Project, which created nuclear weapons on a windswept plateau in New Mexico.

Fast forward to the late 1950s. The Soviets launched Sputnik, catching the U.S. flat-footed. The government decided that couldn’t happen again. In response, Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The object: to create and prevent strategic surprise.

In the years since, the agency has created the internet, GPS, drones and stealth technologies, among many other innovations that have trickled down to domestic use. Now called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, it's the American version of James Bond’s Q branch.

The concept is called managed research, and Arizona State University has leveraged it as well as anybody. Faculty members are working on 23 DARPA projects. Six faculty in the past three years have won the DARPA Young Faculty Awards, bestowed on rising research stars in junior faculty positions at universities. ASU is eighth out of 115 universities — MIT is No. 1, with ASU coming in ahead of such institutions as Columbia and University of California-Berkeley — with the number of awards.

DARPA projects at ASU include a brain-drone swarm control interface created by Panagiotis Artemiadis (pictured above), an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Engineering professor Tom Sugar has created five wearable exo suits, including a jet pack that helps wearers run faster. Spring Berman, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is working on a way for average people to tell a robot insect swarm to perform a task in unpredictable environments where comms and GPS don’t work well.

A student wears a jetpack while running.

An ASU student demonstrates his speed using the jet pack from professor Tom Sugar’s Robotics Lab on the Polytechnic campus. The jet pack is designed to allow a person to run much faster for a relatively short period of time. Sugar concentrates on wearable robotics to enhance the person’s mobility, many projects of which are DARPA-related. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


DARPA operates on tight timelines, towards tightly defined goalsCurrent projects include exoskeletons for humans to carry heavy loads, a system to store payloads on the ocean floor and retrieve them when necessary, an air-launched hypersonic boost glide missile, and a robot like an earthworm.. They basically hire expert scientists to solve specific problems. If projects don’t pan out, they get canned.

The method is spreading across government and industry, including tech giants. Google has ATAP, the Advanced Technology and Projects group. Facebook has created Building 8, a similar tech incubator. (ASU in December announced it is partnering with Facebook to supply brainpower to the Building 8 project.)

Jamie Winterton is director of strategy for the Global Security Initiative, ASU’s primary interface to the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. She also chairs the university's DARPA Working Group, matching researchers with projects and shepherding them through the application process.

DARPA is high-risk, high-reward, Winterton said. “They’re not afraid of failure like a lot of the other government agencies or industry would be,” she said.

Managed research at ASU

“Sponsored research,” as it is dubbed at ASU, is an external entity with goals a university researcher is a likely candidate to solve. The client compensates the scientist to do the research. It has to be a realistic goal, with a good chance of completing the work in the allotted time frame.

Jamie Winterton

“Managed research is a good way to get money and time for things we might not be able to do on our own,” Winterton said. “Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Fundamentally you have to have a good match between the sponsor and the researchers. You have to have the same goal. If the sponsor’s goal is, ‘We want to make 50 percent more widgets,’ that’s not a good match for university researchers. That’s not the kind of basic research we do here.”

Dan Bliss, an associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, studies wireless communications, including how radio and radar can work together. He is a managed research veteran, involved with three DARPA projects and a recently completed Google ATAP project.

Managed research “is really, really effective,” Bliss said. “It’s very good at technology developments. It’s very good at getting you from ‘Gee, we need to solve this problem,’ to actually getting it done. It’s not as good at solving the problem of ‘What’s out there?’ Basic science is often about fumbling around, so it doesn’t necessarily work as well for that.”

Daniel Sarewitz, professor of science and society in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and co-director and co-founder of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes, published an article in The New Atlantis in August about managed research.

He cited digital computers, jet aircraft, cellphones, the internet, lasers, satellites, GPS, digital imagery, nuclear and solar power, all of which came not from “the free play of free intellects,” but from the leashing of scientific creativity to the technological needs of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Of the 13 technological advances essential to the development of the iPhone, 11 — including the microprocessor, GPS and the internet — can be traced back to military research investments.

Managed research is not telling scientists how to do their science, however.

“I think there’s a continuum,” Sarewitz said. “What I really have in mind and was trying to explain in the article is the key point of managed research is accountability to end users for the work that’s being done.”

Government agencies outside of Defense are copying the DARPA model. Intelligence has IARPA. The Department of Energy has EARPA. It’s no accident tech is turning to the model.

“People have recognized how effective it is as a research organization and have tried to mimic in both inside the government and in the corporate environment,” Bliss said.

Fundamental research

Tech giants are seeing things they can do that rely on fundamental research, the kind that universities are really good at, Winterton said. 

“It would be cost-prohibitive, even for one of the big tech companies, to retain all these people to work on projects that may or may not come to fruition,” Winterton said. “So they come to us.

Facebook and Google are recognizing they need to get things done, Sarewitz said. Traditionally, the world has George Washington Carver expectations of science. Shut the scientist alone in their lab, and they will produce solutions.

Sometimes it works, but for the most part, Sarewitz says, it’s “a beautiful lie.”

“Historically, we know it’s not true,” he said. “When you leave science alone, there’s no way to hold it accountable.”

The high risk and tight timelines aren’t applicable to all science.

“If we only had the DARPA model, that wouldn’t be a good thing,” Sarewtiz said. “You want some ability for scientists to not make quick progress. It’s an irony in the academic system that the pressure to publish so fast has the worst incentives of all, because productivity is justified only by more productivity. In the service of what?”

ASU engineer posing with bio-inspired robots

ASU engineer Spring Berman's work includes developing robotic technology to perform security surveillance, search-and-rescue missions, and detection of chemical, biological and nuclear materials — supported by a grant from DARPA. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU


The pressure can be intense to produce, Bliss said. He recalled working on a Google ATAP project.

“It was like trying to do six years of research in two years,” Bliss said. “We accomplished a lot, but it was a little stressful. We had program reviews every two months. It was intense.” He laughed.

“The model is aggressive, and it makes a professor like me a little crazy,” he said. “In a perfect world, I have a four-year grant I can sign up to, and I can hire a grad student and fund them, and I’m stable and I have no one looking over my shoulder. The problem with the DARPA model is that the program manager basically has to resell the program every year to their boss. If things aren’t going well, they’ll kill the program. There is a lot of pressure.”

Bliss has two reasons why managed research is becoming more widespread: It works, and corporate research labs have been cut.

“It seems like over the last 20 years there has been a de-emphasis on the corporate research lab,” Bliss said. “As a consequence, they need to bring in technologies from the outside, because they’re not building them as quickly on the inside.”

You either buy into small companies, or you go to universities and ask them to be a little bit more applied, and they do your research, Bliss said.

“You can see how you take a little bit of the DARPA model, which is very problem-centric, and you bring it into companies, and you do that,” he said. “Google and Facebook have both done this. Other organizations in different ways have done this.”

Bliss anticipates the model spreading. He pointed to former DARPA director Regina Dugan moving from Motorola to Google to Facebook. (“Celebrate impatience,” Dugan said at Google.)

“She champions this sort of approach, and for a lot of applications it works really well,” Bliss said.

We wouldn’t want all science to be like that, Sarewitz said.

“It’s important to keep in mind all public science is justified in trying to achieve something or another,” he said. “But you can do science that’s both patient and accountable to the end user. … The story I want to tell is that this is an empowering thing for science. It will make science better.”


Top photo: ASU assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Panagiotis Artemiadis, shown with drones from his laboratory, is the director of the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab at ASU's Tempe campus. He has created a brain-drone swarm control interface. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Center adds new dimension to ASU’s materials science research

January 30, 2017

A new research center, devoted to studying the structure of advanced, high-performance materials in three dimensions was established within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering this month.

Headed by Nik Chawla, professor of materials science and engineering, and funded by a collaboration between Arizona State University, Zeiss and the Office of Naval Research, the Center for 4-D Materials Science, or 4DMS, provides a unique and groundbreaking dimension to materials research — time. Researchers, stakeholders and partners view a demonstration of new equipment in the Center for 4D Materials Science, or 4DMS, to gain an understanding of the center's new capabilities for materials science research. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU Download Full Image

The foundation of materials science and engineering is the understanding a material’s structure and how that affects properties and performance. 4DMS will build on that foundation by granting researchers the ability to monitor and analyze materials in real time.

“We typically think of sectioning a material and looking at its structure in two dimensions, which can often lead to limited or erroneous results and interpretations. With the new center, we are looking at a new paradigm in materials science — studying the structure of materials in three and four dimensions,” said Chawla at the outset of a two-day kickoff event for 4DMS.

4DMS will explore materials science with multiscale modeling and characterization of materials under different stimuli, such as mechanical, thermal, electrical and more, over time. The center has new, state-of-the art equipment and capabilities, including X-ray microtomography, which boasts resolution of less than 1 micrometer and focuses ion beam microscopy with resolution at the nanometer scale. In addition, the center will house a first-of-its kind lab-scale diffraction contrast tomography system to study the crystallography of materials in 3-D and 4-D.

The cutting-edge equipment enables researchers to witness and analyze occurrences such as the deformation of microelectronic packaging in materials as it happens on a macro- or nanoscopic level. This capability will not only lead to a broader understanding of materials’ chemical and physical structures, their limitations and strengths, but will lead to the fabrication of the next generation of materials for a variety of applications.

Along with Chawla, additional faculty from the School for the Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy will be working in the Center, contributing to research projects, including Associate Professors Yongming Liu and Kiran Solanki as well as Assistant Professors Yang Jiao, Konrad Rykaczewski and Jagan Rajagopalan. True to 4DMS’ interdisciplinary nature, Professor Narayanan Neithalath of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment will bring his expertise in sustainable construction materials to the Center as well.

4DMS held a kickoff event on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21, convening stakeholders and collaborators to discuss the new center and its research.

“This is about partnerships,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools, at ASU's University Club. “We can’t achieve big goals without partners who are really invested, and Nik’s center is a good example.”

Though a joint investment of $4 million from ASU, Zeiss and the Office of Naval Research got 4DMS started, additional sponsorship came from government agencies Los Alamos National Lab, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and industry partners Qualcomm, Toyota and Intel.

Squires also lauded the Fulton Schools faculty as integral to the future success of 4DMS and its research: “The scale and the depth of what they’re working on is impressive. It’s as good as any place else, and I think that was an attractor for Zeiss. Everyone here is working at the top of their field.”

Arno Merkle, of the Materials Science Group at Zeiss, echoed Squires’ thoughts on the importance of partnership.

“We have a thousand ideas, and we can only invest in a few to do them well,” Merkle said. “Part of our process of doing that is going out to Nik, who is one of the leaders in the community and seeing beyond the next five, 10 years and really validate a certain modality will have utility for the science in the future.”

During the event, Chawla noted that Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, Executive Vice President and Chief Research and Innovation Officer of Knowledge Enterprise Development, was instrumental in getting the center started. He recalled walking into Panchanathan’s office years ago to pitch him the idea.

“Many people walk into my office,” Panchanathan said. “But it’s very easy to invest in initiatives when you know the idea is fantastic, when you know we have a fantastic leader with a fantastic team.”

Researchers, partners and stakeholders in the Center for 4-D Materials Science, or 4DMS, gather before Old Main on the Tempe Campus for a group photo during the center's two-day kickoff event. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Director of the Advanced Materials Initiative at ASU Bill Petuskey’s remarks centered around the university’s status as a leader in materials science.

“ASU has had a long history in developing new technologies and applying them in characterizing materials at very fine scales,” said Petuskey, pointing to the LeRoy Eyring Center For Solid State Science as a particular example of the university’s excellence in the field.

Holding up his mobile phone, Petuskey said, “We can think of this as a collection of many materials that are slapped together to create functionality, but in a sense, it’s one very complex material that consists of individual components, interfaces as well as the software that is embedded. Looking at making materials more complex gives us that functionality we need.”

Jim Sharp, president of Carl Zeiss Microscopy LLC, spoke of the importance of keeping close ties with researchers working with his company’s equipment.

“Typically, the day we ship a new machine, we know more about it than anyone else in the world. About six months later, guess who knows more about that machine than we do? You do,” he said to the room of researchers. “Because you’re doing things with it we couldn’t possibly do. And if we don’t stay collaborative with you, we’ll go out of business.”

The second day of the event consisted of interactive sessions hosted by representatives from both Zeiss and ASU in the 4DMS facilities housed within Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4. 

“This truly reflects what ASU stands for, which is bringing together a transdisciplinary group of people to work,” said Panchanathan, pointing to the array of disciplines involved in 4DMS, from materials science, mechanical and civil engineering to chemistry, physics and computer science. “Problems are not one-dimensional. It requires inspiration from multiple disciplines to bring real solutions to problems, and that what ASU prides itself on.”

Pete Zrioka

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU's first Churchill Scholarship awarded to chemical engineer

January 26, 2017

Today Christopher Balzer became the first student from Arizona State University to ever receive the prestigious Churchill Scholarship.

Since 1963, the Churchill Scholarship has been awarded to exceptional science and engineering students to fund graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. Christopher Balzer, the first ASU student to receive the prestigious Churchill Scholarship, works in chemical engineering assistant professor Bin Mu's lab. Balzer credits his research experience with Mu as a contributing factor to receiving the scholarship. Photo by Robert Mayfield/ASU Download Full Image

After graduating from the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy with his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in this spring, Balzer will make the trip across the pond to the United Kingdom in September. He’ll begin pursuing his master’s degree in advanced chemical engineering come October.

Scholars are chosen based on outstanding academic achievement, personal qualities and a demonstrated interest in research. The Churchill Scholarship was established to honor Winston Churchill’s vision of U.S.-U.K. scientific exchange with the goal of advancing science and technology and helping to ensure the prosperity and security of both nations.

Balzer, a student in Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, said he first heard about the opportunity from the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at Barrett. ASU has been participating in the scholarship program run by the Churchill Foundation for only the past four years.

“I’m the first but definitely not the last,” Balzer said of receiving the scholarship. “It’s an honor to be first, considering some of the great scholars who have applied from ASU in the past few years. Someone had to be first, and I’m happy I get the chance to represent ASU at Cambridge.”

A component of the scholarship revolves around research, which Balzer is no stranger to as a three-semester participant in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative. At Cambridge, he’ll work with professor David Fairen-Jimenez, who heads the university’s Advanced Materials Research Group. Balzer will contribute to ongoing work with modeling metal-organic frameworks for carbon capture.

“While alternative technologies are developing, carbon-capture technology can be implemented into current systems to ‘stop the bleeding’ in a way,” said Balzer, who noted that his future work will align closely with his current research in chemical engineering assistant professor Bin Mu’s lab.

In fact, Balzer credits his extensive experience under Mu as a factor in his success.

“It’s clear that my research experience in Dr. Bin Mu’s lab has put me in the position to be competitive for a program like this,” he said. “I’ve had incredible support along the way, especially from doctoral student Mitchell Armstrong and Dr. Mu. They’ve trusted me to take on my own projects and work on a lot of different projects. Not many undergraduates get the chance to present at several conferences, be a part of publications early on, and even first-author a publication. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without their help.”

Balzer also credits support from internal ASU scholarships, as well as the Goldwater Scholarship for allowing him to focus on his research and studies. Balzer was one of three ASU engineering students to receive the Goldwater Scholarship in 2016, which recognizes excellence in science, math and engineering.

Christopher Balzer

Balzer said he’s interested to see the difference in curriculum at Cambridge.

“While the core classes in the program are mostly the same as they would be in the U.S., some of the electives focus more on the managerial and business aspects of chemical engineering, which is something you don’t really see in U.S. graduate programs,” he said. “I’m excited to get a new perspective from the classes as well as from the diverse instructors and students at Cambridge.”

In addition to looking forward to the research and educational opportunities of the scholarship, Balzer is also excited to study and live in the United Kingdom.

“I’ve never studied abroad before,” said Balzer. “With the breaks between terms being so long, I plan to travel to some of the countries I’ve always wanted to go to — mostly to see historical sites and museums that I’m interested in.”

After completing his studies at Cambridge, Balzer plans on pursuing his doctoral degree.

In addition to his research colleagues, he extends gratitude to Kyle Mox, Brian Goehner and Laura Sells at the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at ASU for all their help with both the Goldwater and Churchill scholarships.

“Other than that, I’d like to thank my family for their support of all of the opportunities I pursue,” Balzer said. “No one gets these scholarships alone — it’s something built over years of support.”

Pete Zrioka

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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Flexible, unbreakable X-ray detector could benefit doctors in rural areas.
August 15, 2016

Researchers building durable X-ray detector with broad health-care implications

Imagine a medical clinic operating in a remote foreign village. It's the only place within hundreds of miles where people can go to receive health care, and the doctors treat 40 or more patients per day. They have one X-ray machine.

Traditional X-ray detectors are made of glass. If they break, they're rendered useless and must be replaced. For isolated, low-income sites, it could be devastating.

One solution would be to build an X-ray detector that’s virtually indestructible. That is the goal of a project led by Arizona State University’s Flexible Electronics and Display Center, where researchers are building a durable, rugged and flexible X-ray detector.

The center was founded in 2004 through a partnership with the U.S. Army. Center experts collaborate with government, academia and industry to provide comprehensive flexible electronics capabilities that bridge the high-risk, resource-intensive gap between innovation and product development.

Located at the ASU Research Park, the facility offers unique manufacturing pilot lines in a Class 10 clean room. It provides an information-secure environment for process, tool and materials development and evaluation.

With a normal digital X-ray machine, even a small bump could chip the edge of the glass and shatter it.

“With our X-ray being plastic, you could bump into it all day, and it’s not going to ever break,” said Mark Strnad, associate director of the center.

That would be hugely beneficial to organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, which provides health care to thousands of people each year at rural sites in developing countries.

In addition to being durable and rugged, flexible X-ray detectors have the ability to bend and conform to a curved surface. This allows them to give a more accurate reading than current detectors, which are flat and rigid. One potential application could lie in helping companies that have long pipelines with welds or seams that must be monitored for leaks. Whether the pipes hold water, gas, oil or some other substance, having a flexible X-ray could mean catching a leak early and preventing a potentially catastrophic accident.

The Army is interested in using flexible X-ray detectors to detect bombs. The size, weight, and ruggedness of the device make it much more practical for explosive ordnance detection in military missions.

The Flexible Electronics and Display Center is also one of the only places in the United States that produces flexible displays. In 2012, researchers at the center created the world’s largest flexible full-color organic light-emitting diode (OLED), which at the time was 7.4 inches. The following year, the center staff broke their own world record, producing a 14.7-inch version of the display.

Compared to previous devices, these flexible displays are thinner and much more lightweight.

“It’s as thin as a sheet of paper. Think of a display that you could roll up and tuck away somewhere or put in places you can’t normally find displays because they’re big and heavy and bulky,” said Nick Colaneri, director of the center.

The Army is also interested in flexible displays because they are ideal for integrating into soldiers’ clothing, where they can provide real-time information to enhance safety. This was a key design feature the Army asked center researchers to consider as they built the displays.

Flexible display in Army jacket

Flexible displays have the potential to be integrated into military clothing.


“As long as displays are big, heavy, bulky and made out of glass that can break, it’s obviously not ideal for a soldier that already has 100 pounds of stuff that he or she has to carry around,” Colaneri said. “The Army funded this project because they had an interest in pushing for displays that are thin, lightweight and don’t break. They imagine more and more electronic devices that are going to allow soldiers to do their jobs or keep them safe on the battlefield.”

Building highly complex flexible displays and X-ray detectors requires expertise in many areas. That’s why the center brings together industry partners in one central hub.   

“Think of it like building a car,” Strnad said. “You’ve got the engine, transmission, suspension, electronics, all these things. Everybody has a piece of it, but nobody could put it all together by themselves.” The Flexible Electronics and Display Center works with about 50 partners to make these cutting-edge technologies a reality.

Ito America Corporation is an engineering sales group that specializes in semiconductor packaging and LCD assembly. As one of the original partners of the center, Ito brought expertise, equipment and a tool set that is used for the assembly of the flexible displays.

“We’re helping out the future of soldiers in harm’s way with a way to communicate. We thought that was a noble effort,” said Tim Martinez, technical sales manager at Ito.

In addition to producing devices that could help soldiers stay safe and work more effectively, the Flexible Electronics and Display Center (FEDC) offers unprecedented hands-on experience to the next generation of engineers through its internship program.

Zachary Hartke is a junior in ASU’s School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. He is majoring in chemical engineering, minoring in materials science and is an intern at the center.

“I’ve been working on integrating new materials into the processes that we already have here,” Hartke said. He tests new chemicals and substances to see how they might work better for the products that FEDC develops, including OLEDs, X-ray detectors and electrophoretic displays.

Specifically, Hartke is finding ways to make their materials more flexible and easier to manipulate. This work allows him to apply some of the concepts he’s learning in class, as well as gain valuable professional experience.

“Before I worked here, I hadn’t done anything related to my major at all. My first job was actually at Men’s Warehouse,” Hartke said, referring to a chain of men’s clothing stores. Despite being new to the field, Hartke has been an asset to the team, according to his supervisor Emmett Howard.

“My expectations were exceeded," Howard said. "He’s done very well.”

Hartke was able to work full-time at the Flexible Electronics and Display Center for a semester through the internship program, something that was important to the center.

“In the efforts that Zachary is involved with, one day’s activity might be critical at 10 a.m., the next day it might be at 2:30 p.m. — it’s not something that can be easily scheduled,” Strnad said.

The immersion also allowed Hartke to be fully integrated into the team and become an active participant in engineering projects.

“He’s gone from sitting and listening in the meetings to actually making presentations at a couple of them,” Strnad said.

Hartke was grateful for the opportunity to work in a professional environment. He said his coworkers provided guidance and support, but also gave him the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.

“One thing I appreciated right away is that I wasn’t really treated like a student. I was treated more as an engineer,” he said. With this experience, Hartke was able to figure out what he loves and is now better positioned to pursue his dream job in the electronics industry. 

As a world-class manufacturing facility with a high level of research activity, the Flexible Electronics and Display Center is not only an asset to students seeking hands-on experience, but also to ASU as a whole.

“I think the fact that the university can provide things that potentially make a better society is a very unique opportunity,” Strnad said. “To not only do the research, but also supply some of the sub-components, gives ASU an even higher level of visibility.”


Written by Allie Nicodemo, Knowledge Enterprise Development


image title
ASU engineers' edible supercapacitor can wipe out E. coli or power a camera.
Interdisciplinary invention a recipe that cracks a number of problems.
May 17, 2016

ASU engineers create edible supercapacitors with range of health-application possibilities

Health food just took on a whole new meaning.

Engineers have created an edible supercapacitor that can wipe out E. coli or power a camera from inside the body.

Foods like activated charcoal, gold leaf, Gatorade, seaweed, egg white, cheese, gelatin and barbecue sauce can store and conduct electricity. Sandwich them together, and you have a supercapacitor — a high-capacity electrical component that can store electrical energy temporarily.

“We know it’s possible to make devices from food,” said Hanqing Jiang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Researchers proved in the lab that the devices (seen above) can kill E. coli. “We’re trying to kill other bacteria as well,” Jiang said.

They also proved the devices can power a camera while in the stomach.

“The main application is to pass through a (gastrointestinal) tract, doing whatever a GI doctor needs,” Jiang said.

The supercapacitor could replace endoscopies with real-time monitoring of the gastrointestinal tract.

You wouldn’t want to pass them around at a party. Asked what the combination tastes like, Jiang replied, “It is cheese.”

The paper (not the recipe) was published Monday in Advanced Materials Technologies (not Bon Appetit). Recipes usually don’t read like this:

“The slurry was coated on the current collector by doctor’s blading followed by overnight drying in ambient environment and 6 hours drying in room temperature, low pressure (10 Pa) chamber to avoid thermal stress as well as remove the water in the electrode.”

Ingestible electronics do exist, but they need to be passed from the body. There are other concerns as well, Jiang said.

“The concern is that it’s not digestible,” he said of the previous ingestible electronics. “If it breaks, there is a possibility of contamination.”

The invention cracks a number of problems. Implantable electronics require surgery. Biodegradable electronics exist, but they have low energy density and battery size is limited. Edible materials proposed in the past have toxic components that can cause stomach pain and nausea.

Jiang and his team went interdisciplinary, weaving together the food industry, material sciences, device fabrication and biomedical engineering.

Carbon is already used in supercapacitors. Jiang chose activated charcoal and gold leaf because they both have high electrical conductivity and chemical stability. Gold is used extensively in Indian cuisine, and the European Union classifies gold as a drug. It acted as a current collector in the research.

Edible supercapacitors.

Hanqing Jiang (left) and his students, chemical engineering student Wenwen Xu and mechanical engineering student Xu Wang, with the ingredients for the supercapacitor "recipe" in Jiang’s lab on May 10 on the Tempe campus. Photos and video by Ben Moffat/ASU Now


The devices were made by hand. In future they’ll be made by 3-D printers and will be much smaller than the “sandwiches” made by Jiang and his students, which are a little bit bigger than a soy sauce packet.

Jiang and three students have been working on the project since August. Currently he is discussing the next steps in application with Mayo Clinic officials.

Meanwhile, business operations managers thought Jiang was catering a party on the university dime when he filed his expense report.

“The funny thing is when we got all the materials in, I had a hard time getting reimbursed,” he said. “It was all food.”

Professor Shelley E. Haydel, Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, the Biodesign Institute, and professor Lenore Dai, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, collaborated with Jiang on the research. Other co-authors were 2016 ASU grads Prithwish Chatterjee, currently working at Intel Corporation; 2016 ASU graduate Zeming Song; mechanical engineering PhD student Cheng Lv; and PhD student in Biodesign John Popovich.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now