ASU News

ASU engineer to join high-powered leaders in Aspen Institute fellowship

May 7, 2015

ASU associate professor Cody Friesen doesn’t fit the usual profile of those selected for the high-profile Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellows.

Only 20 people – mostly civic and business leaders, not academics and researchers like Friesen – are chosen each year to participate in value-based leadership training with a focus on solving society’s biggest problems. Cody Friesen materials science and engineering Download Full Image

“Many of the fellows are in the corporate world, where you succeed by being very careful and not making mistakes,” said Friesen, who is on the faculty of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“But in what I do, my way is to make as many mistakes as possible as quickly as possible. That’s a very different approach to doing things than most of the other people who will be on this team.’

As part of the institute’s 2015 fellowship team, he will engage in a series of seminars, workshops and retreats over the next two years that build leadership skills and help guide Crown Fellows in employing their expertise and talents in enterprises to serve their communities and beyond.

Friesen does fit in with the group by virtue of his entrepreneurial drive – the key trait the Aspen Institute considers in selecting new Crown Fellows. Entrepreneurship “is in my DNA,” Friesen said.

His research has produced technological innovations that are the foundation of two growing business start-ups.

Promising start-ups

Fluidic Energy is based on advances in battery technology. Friesen has developed the first rechargeable metal-air battery, one that significantly decreases the cost of storing energy. 

This has led to the batteries being deployed in emerging markets at commercial sites where the power grid has very low reliability. Fluidic Energy’s batteries have already covered more than half a million power-grid outages, many lasting for more than 10 hours.

The second start-up, Zero Mass Water, uses technology Friesen’s team has developed to produce potable water, using solar energy to power the machinery that performs the process.

The system could potentially enable water supplies to be produced locally and affordably without the need to be connected to infrastructure systems, Friesen said.

Both ventures are attracting investors and partners, and Zero Mass Water is setting up pilot projects in locales in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East where water is scarce.

Friesen’s promising work has brought four grants from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy – an especially high number for a single researcher.

The early success of the two companies has led to the establishment of Zero Mass Labs at ASU, which Friesen said he hopes will lead the way in establishing a more advanced platform for university research labs to move emerging technologies to product development and then into the marketplace.

Maximizing potential

Friesen is looking forward to his experience as a Crown Fellow to give him an “immersion in leadership culture at a high level that will help me evolve into the kind of leader I will need to be to maximize the potential positive impact of the technologies we are developing,” he said.

His fellowship team members “are fascinating people with very impressive accomplishments, and I am excited to get to work with them.”

Friesen graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering and went on to earn a doctoral degree in the field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He joined the ASU faculty in 2004 and has since been named one of the Fulton Entrepreneurial Professors in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, as well as a Fulton Professor of Innovation. He also is a senior sustainability scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

Friesen has 32 worldwide patents and 11 U.S. patents, and in 2009 he was named one of the leading innovators in the world under the age of 35 by MIT Technology Review magazine.

Recently, he began a second term on the U.S. Manufacturing Council of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Read more about the Aspen Institute, the Henry Crown Fellowship program and the 2015 fellowship team.

Joe Kullman

Senior media relations officer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU News

ASU grant supports 'biomimicry' as a way to solve human challenges

May 6, 2015

The emerging field of biomimicry – in which researchers emulate the natural world to develop products – may help make life better for people with visual and mobility impairments, thanks to a grant from Women & Philanthropy, a philanthropic program of the ASU Foundation for A New American University.

Women & Philanthropy will give its largest annual award, $99,072, to the project "Life in Motion: Exploring Biomimicry-based Mobility for People with Visual and Mobility Impairments." Download Full Image

The funding will enable researchers working out of the InnovationSpace Biomimicry Center, within The Design School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, to study models from the natural world in order to engineer new technologies that improve the lives of those with disabilities.

The grant was one of five announced by Women & Philanthropy. In total, the group awarded five grants totaling $324,301. Since 2003, Women & Philanthropy has awarded almost $3 million to 79 programs and initiatives in four categories: education innovation, community outreach, student scholarships and health care at ASU.

Women & Philanthropy is one of three engagement programs housed within the ASU Foundation for A New American University. Its grants are generated from the individual contributions of investors, who now number 255. Each member's annual contribution – a minimum of $1,000 – is pooled with others to allow the group to have a greater investment impact on ASU programs and scholarships.

Grant proposals are solicited and reviewed each year by the Women & Philanthropy investment committee and narrowed to a handful of finalists. The entire membership then votes on those that they believe best demonstrate ASU’s leadership and national standing in academic excellence, research and discovery, and local and societal impact. This structure empowers each investor to steward her gift and witness its impact.

The remaining 2014-2015 Women & Philanthropy grant recipients are:

Development of Next Generation Therapeutics to Combat Alzheimer's Dementia and Neurodegenerative Disorders

New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Development of Next Generation Therapeutics seeks to eradicate diseases associated with neurodegenerative disorders, including the widely prevalent Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s diseases. Researchers aim to re-engineer an FDA-approved drug for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma that is currently being evaluated in two human clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease. They also will explore potential collaborations with other groups at ASU who possess expertise that could benefit the project’s goal of designing and identifying a potential drug compound to treat Alzheimer’s disease. 

Scholarships for Needy Students to Pursue Research in Mathematics and Statistics

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences

Academically-qualified students with financial need will receive the scholarship support they need to pursue research under the guidance of mentors from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. This grant will support ten mathematical science majors who have a GPA that exceeds 3.0 and who have financial need of at least $5,000 – the approximate cost of in-state tuition and fees for the fall 2014 semester. An additional $5,000 will fund student travel to professional conferences so recipients can present their work.

Optimized Prenatal Supplement for Preventing Autism

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering
School for Engineering of Matter, Transport & Energy (SEMTE)

New research has demonstrated that the risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorders can be reduced by 40 percent by folic acid supplementation within one month of conception. Folic acid is known to be important for preventing other birth defects, and now the evidence is strong that it also helps prevent autism. This study will examine the effectiveness of folinic acid, an active form of folate, in reducing the risk of autism.

Bridging Success Early-Start Program for Former Foster Youth Entering ASU

Office of the University Provost
University Academic Success Programs

Arizona now offers a tuition waiver to former foster youth up to 23 years old. To enable their success at ASU, the Bridging Success Early-Start program will offer former foster youth the opportunity to begin their experience in a welcoming community with peers who have had similar challenges and to gain access to support that will ease their transition to the university. Bridging Success will bring together services from across the university and government spectrums, including academic workshops, tutoring, and specialized activities to support former foster youths’ unique needs.

ASU News

Changemaker Challenge winners reach out to those expressing thoughts of suicide on social media

April 27, 2015

Expressions of suicidal thinking or intent should never be ignored. But what happens when a message of desperation is lost in the noise of internet chatter?

ARKHumanity – which came about at a hackathon co-sponsored by ASU – was inspired by this question and developed technology that scans Twitter for messages that suggest a risk of self-harm and connects the author with immediate support. The project has won the Arizona State University Changemaker Challenge’s top prize of $10,000 seed money. Download Full Image

Two facts drove the creation of ARKHumanity: In the U.S., one person dies by suicide on average every 13.3 minutes, and the incidence of suicide lowers when someone takes an empathetic interest and cares about a person’s well-being when he or she is in crisis. ARKHumanity extends this effort further by connecting people to resources such as a lifeline chat or hotline.

“It is an unfortunate reality that messages indicating distress in social media often receive no reply. This failure to respond can greatly exacerbate feelings of worthlessness and isolation that contribute to suicidal thinking,” said Jordan Bates, ARKHumanity’s team leader and an ASU doctoral student. “Technology is rapidly changing how we interact, and we should make sure we don’t lose our humanity along the way. Every person matters. No call for help should go unanswered.”

The $10,000 prize from Changemaker Challenge will significantly help the project by covering server costs, legal expenses and conference presentations to introduce it to local, state and national organizations. The group's goal is to make the technology available to select mental-health professionals by October 2015 and to update the technology as necessary to be able to expand response capacity. Ultimately, the team wants to develop an impactful platform that can be adopted by mental-health organizations locally and globally.

Kelli Donley, project manager and suicide prevention coordinator for the Arizona Department of Health Services, is a community supporter of the project.

“This technology is greatly needed to identify the warning language often used as cries for help before suicide attempts," Donley said. "Using social media to identify suicidal ideations is a creative idea that should be supported."

ARKHumanity was conceived in September 2014 at the Hacks4Humanity hackathon, a 36-hour event co-sponsored by ASU Project Humanities and EqualityTV. The goal of the program was to engage creative thinkers, artists, programmers, designers and anyone interested in creating technologies for the greater good.

The five-member team of ASU graduate and undergraduate students and community members came from varying backgrounds. They had never met beforehand and worked together over the two-day period to develop a working prototype of the innovative technology. They also won first place in that competition.

Under the guidance of faculty mentor and Project Humanities director Neal Lester, the team entered the Changemaker Challenge in November.

“This technology has proved an excellent demonstration of cross-disciplinary community-building and the impact that collaboration can and does have,” Lester said. “The ARKHumanity team members have become very close.”

The team says it’s important to include the humanities when trying to solve social problems, and believes outreach cannot be automated and still have the same positive effects. Ultimately, people will be needed to review a flagged tweet to verify it needs a response, and then separate, trained responders to do the outreach from existing partner organizations.

Teen Lifeline, an Arizona crisis response hotline that also uses social media to reach its demographics and which is also rolling out a text-message lifeline, is on board as a community partner. In describing the value of ARKHumanity, Clinical Director of Teen Lifeline Nikki Kontz remarked, “With hundreds of millions of people online, this has high potential to save lives.”

About the ARKHumanity team

Jordan Bates is a doctoral student at ASU in the Applied Mathematics for the Life and Social Sciences program. He is  working with the Center for Policy Informatics and was a fellow at Data Science for Social Good in 2013. He received his B.S. in computer science from Purdue University.

Bin Hong Lee is an undergraduate student at ASU majoring in software engineering. He has served as a judge for the First Lego League series in 2014 and is a former member of the Global Shapers Community Georgetown Penang.

Pat Pataranutaporn is a first-year student majoring in biological sciences at ASU. He is a researcher at the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and a member of the Gifted Young Scientist Society.

Ram Polur is an epidemiologist at the Office of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Ram has bachelor's in biology with a minor in biochemistry, a bachelor's in computer science with a minor in applied physics, and a Master of Public Health.

Kacie McCollum is the doctoral chair for the School of Advanced Studies and a faculty member for the College of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Phoenix. She is also the CEO of Shiny Bird Farms. She received her bachelor's in political science from Benedict College and her master's and doctor of education in STEP/curriculum design and instruction from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

ASU News

ASU engineering student awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

April 24, 2015

For her impressive achievements in the classroom, in the laboratory and in community service, Arizona State University chemical engineering student Morgan Kelley has been awarded a Goldwater Scholarship – considered the premier undergraduate scholarship for mathematics, science and engineering majors.

From more than 1,200 nominees she is one of 260 students – and one of 68 engineering majors – selected to receive the award that provides up to $7,500 per year to support completion of undergraduate studies. Morgan Kelley Goldwater Scholarship Download Full Image

The Goldwater Scholarship Program, honoring the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, is intended to encourage outstanding students to pursue graduate studies and careers in engineering, science and mathematics fields.

Kelley, who grew up in Glendale, Arizona, said she more or less decided in the sixth grade to become a chemical engineer when her mother “just told me that is what I should be, though I don’t think she had much of an idea of what chemical engineers do.”

Finding purpose

She graduated from Xavier College Preparatory High School in Phoenix three years ago and was accepted into ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College, enrolling in the chemical engineering program in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“But when I came here, I didn’t want to go to graduate school,” she recalled. “I just wanted to get through school and get a job right away. But then I fell in love with research.”

The opportunity to work in the lab with graduate students and be mentored by professors about how to do research has broadened her perspective on what she might be capable of achieving.

“With a four-year degree I could get a good job, but with a graduate degree and research experience I feel I could get to do something that gives me a more meaningful purpose, that I might be a part of a some really important discovery or breakthrough someday,” she said.

Taking on challenges

Now finishing her junior year, she is set on earning a doctoral degree. Getting a Goldwater Scholarship should help open doors to that pursuit. The award has traditionally served as a stepping-stone into top fellowship programs that support graduate students.

Kelley is in the Grand Challenge Scholars program, which maps out courses of study that train students to take on what the National Academy of Engineering deems the biggest challenges for engineering in the 21st century.

She’s preparing for that role by performing well in more than class assignments and tests.

Through the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI) she is delving deep into research aimed at engineering more effective ways to keep oceans and other water environments cleaner and healthier.

Her FURI research project was the basis for the research proposal that helped Kelley win the Goldwater Scholarship.

Branching out

Through the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program in the Fulton Schools of Engineering, she has led or been co-leader on student projects to develop and deliver portable technologies to provide nighttime lighting to students in Fiji and Uganda, places where electrical power is limited and unreliable. She is also serving as a teaching assistant to help fellow students develop their EPICS projects.

She has won awards in student science and engineering competitions, including a semi-finalist award in the national Dell Social Innovation Challenge.

In 2014 Kelley completed an internship in research and development for the Henkel Corporation, a major consumer goods manufacturing company.

She has been serving as a Fulton Ambassador, giving campus tours to prospective ASU engineering students and visiting local high schools to tell young students about college engineering studies and careers.

She’s been a peer mentor to fellow students and a counselor at E2, the Fulton Schools of Engineering freshman experience.

Opportunities to grow

“Morgan is an outstanding student in all aspects of her studies and efforts outside the classroom,” said professor Lenore Dai, chair of the chemical engineering program and Kelley’s research mentor. “She is especially talented in research. She is co-author of a paper published in a prominent research journal. As a junior, she presented her research at an annual meeting of the American Chemical Society. These are unusual accomplishments for an undergraduate.”

Winning a Goldwater Scholarship “is recognition of Morgan’s exemplary accomplishments in the classroom, in the lab and in community service,” said Kyle Squires, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. “It’s really gratifying to see students like Morgan capitalize on all the opportunities we are working to provide our students to help them grow as scholars, researchers and leaders in the community.”

Gaining confidence

Kelley plans to graduate with her bachelor’s degree next spring and begin graduate school soon after.

That will mark a new stage of higher education for her that only a few years ago she wasn’t expecting to reach.

“When I began college I didn’t think I was one of the really smart people and wasn’t sure how I would do,” Kelley said. “But I found myself at ASU. I came to understand the style of learning that works for me, and I’ve gained confidence.”

Scott Shrake, director of the EPICS program, foresees Kelley continuing to expand on her achievements.

"Morgan is without a doubt academically gifted, but her strengths go well beyond that,” Shrake said. “She’s incredibly well-rounded, with an affable personality, a big heart and the desire, drive and skill set to have a huge impact. She’s going to be one of those people who makes a dent in the world, and I can’t wait to see it.”

Joe Kullman

Senior media relations officer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU News

Advancing first-generation college students up the ladder

March 27, 2015

Arizona State University has launched a new program for first-generation undergrads that emphasizes the benefits and opportunities in advancing to graduate school.

The program, First Generation Pathways to Success (1stGPS), joins the many resources at ASU that encourage persistence in achieving a degree. ASU faculty Terry Alford, Eduardo Pagan and Marlene Tromp Download Full Image

As the first in their families to aspire to a four-year or graduate degree, first-generation college students often face unique challenges.

Parents who have not completed college themselves may lack the ability to guide them through the process. Students from low-income families must work during college and can take longer to complete their degree. They may spend less time interacting with faculty or mentors who can support their career and graduate school aspirations.

Despite high motivation, the obstacles can create a higher drop-out rate.

At the first program event, first-generation faculty and graduate students talked candidly about their life stories, obstacles and challenges faced, and how it is possible to succeed in graduate school and career. Read more on these faculty stories.

“If I stopped at every obstacle that came along, I never would have made it,” said Eduardo Pagán, a vice provost in ASU’s Office of Academic Excellence and Inclusion and a history professor. The first in his family to achieve a degree, he advised, “you empower yourself by asking questions. You can’t learn if you don’t ask about what you don’t know.”

The keys to success emphasized throughout the conference were finding a good mentor, taking advantage of financial support available through scholarships, networking with fellow students, and utilizing resources at ASU.

First Generation Pathways to Success is supported by Graduate Education, the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, First-Year Success Center, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, School of Social Transformation and School of Community Resources and Development. Funding was provided by the Office of the Provost and the Office of Academic Excellence and Inclusion. For more information on the program, please contact

Some of the resources available to help first-generation ASU students achieve success include:

First-Year Success Center: A coaching program for freshman and sophomores to help them adjust to college life.

Shades Multicultural Peer Mentoring Program for undergraduates and graduate students to network and be matched with a personal mentor.

Academic Excellence and Inclusion has resources, events and news for ASU’s diverse student population.

Your Future: Finance is a guide to financial services, resources and advice from ASU for undergraduate and graduate students.

Pay for your graduate education with fellowships, work opportunities and loans.

Explore Graduate School Seminars provides prospective graduate students with tools and resources, including free and low-cost test preparation courses.

ASU News

Study reveals novel technique for handling molecules

March 23, 2015

Like trading companies, biological systems pick up freight items (in the form of small molecules), transport them from place to place and release them at their proper destination.

These processes are critical for activities ranging from photosynthesis in plants to neuronal signaling in the human brain. The efficient capture, transport and release of molecules is also vital for the maintenance of equilibrium, essential to all living things. hydrogel-aptamer capture and release Download Full Image

In research appearing in the current issue of the journal Nature Chemistry, Ximin He and her colleagues describe a method capable of mimicking nature’s ability to sort, capture, transport and release molecules. The technique sets the stage for continuous and efficient manipulation of a broad range of molecules of relevance to human and environmental health.

Professor He is a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, where she recently joined the Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics.

Material world

Much of He’s research, the current project included, centers around the design of energy-efficient, environmentally-responsive materials and devices capable of reacting to environmental cues, adapting their behaviors and exhibiting self-regulation. Such biomimetic materials have broad implications in diverse fields, ranging from biotechnology and biomedicine to chemical engineering and environmental cleanup.

“Biological systems use feedback as a crucial component to provide efficient performance. Yet, the use of feedback has not been exploited to a sufficient extent in the design of new material systems,” He said. “We must learn how to engineer responsiveness to environmental changes and the ability to perform important functions into the framework of new materials. In this research, the components are integrated to enable adaptive functionality and encompass feedback.”

The highly interdisciplinary research combines chemistry, materials science and mechanical engineering, in addition to biology.

Recipes of nature

Continuous self-monitoring and self-regulation are hallmarks of living systems, which seamlessly convert chemical to mechanical energy and vice versa, subtly adjusting their state as environmental conditions change. Transformations of chemical and mechanical energy are essential for organismic self-regulation and survival, and are responsible for things like muscle contraction.

Researchers would like to create synthetic materials that can copy this behavior, but the task has been challenging. Typically, synthetic materials operate in only one direction, either transforming chemical to mechanical energy or the reverse, and tend to be responsive only to certain chemicals.

In contrast, the method described in the new study offers great versatility, permitting the capture, transport and release of specific molecules. The approach described could be used for sustained-release drug delivery systems, new generations of ultra-sensitive diagnostics and chemical sensing devices.

In addition to applications in biomedicine, the new method could be used to create an energy-efficient means of removing waste from the environment, capturing valuable minerals, performing desalination of sea water or trawling for hazardous substances like radioactive nuclides or heavy metals in rivers and streams.

Unlike most existing methods, the new technique can operate autonomously, mimicking the self-regulatory nature of living systems without the need for conventional external energy sources like laser, infrared, magnetic or electric fields.

Sifting for molecules

At the heart of the new system is a substance known as a hydrogel, a highly absorbent polymer that can mimic certain properties of living tissue.

Some hydrogels – referred to as ‘Smart Gels’ – can sense subtle changes in their surroundings, including alterations of temperature, pH or metabolite concentration. In response, the hydrogel may expand or contract, and in the process, cause the binding or release specified target molecules under proper conditions (see Figure 1).


The new technique offers a significant advance over conventional methods of sorting biomolecules, which typically involve molecular modification, numerous experimental steps and energy input from external sources.

The reversible nature of the capture, transport and release system allows for multiple recycling of biomolecules and high rates of target recovery. The use of complementary responsive materials permits the system to be custom designed to meet a broad range of needs.

In addition to her appointment at the Biodesign Institute, Ximin He is an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and graduate faculty of chemical engineering at the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The research is sponsored by the Department of Energy, Basic Energy Science Division, Biomolecular Materials Program.

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU


ASU News

Fortifying national defense with robot swarms, resilient materials

January 6, 2015

ASU engineering faculty members awarded highly sought-after research grants

Three Arizona State University engineers are undertaking research to make technological advances that would strengthen the capabilities of the nation’s military forces. Berman research Download Full Image

Panagiotis Artemiadis, Spring Berman and Yang Jiao have received Young Faculty Awards from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to support their separate projects.

DARPA, a part of the U.S. Department of Defense, selected 33 researchers from universities across the country to receive Young Faculty Award research grants in 2014. With the awards to Artemiadis, Berman and Jiao, ASU garnered the second highest number of grants for faculty members of any of the universities. The three are assistant professors in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Brain-machine connections

Artemiadis will work on human-machine interface systems enabling someone to control multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) solely through brain activity.

The system would not only establish brain-machine communication between the controller and multiple UAVs – referred to as a “swarm” – but will allow a controller to receive information from the vehicles and use it to guide a swarm in carrying out its mission.

According to DARPA, the research in “brain-swarm perception and control interfaces” looks beyond current state-of-the-art brain interfaces that involve control of only a single machine. It will instead tackle the challenge of using brain signals to coordinate the collective behaviors of a swarm of vehicles in performing complex tasks.

Artemiadis is already doing similar work for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Read more.

He will develop systems able to control swarms of various types of unmanned vehicles. The swarms may consist of hundreds of small robots (each only two to three inches long), hovercraft with four sets of propellers, called quad copters (each about a foot long), airplanes that could be about half the size of a Boeing 707 jet airliner, or “hybrid swarms,” such as combinations of aircraft, boats and underwater vehicles.

To achieve this, he will explore the capacities of the human brain to perceive, collect and process information from artificially intelligent technology.

Using electrodes placed on the head, current technology can receive and transmit signals from more than 120 specific locations in the brain, Artemiadis said. This will enable him and his research team to study activity in areas of the brain that process visual and auditory information, control muscle movement, and enable memory, learning and computational ability.

“We want to fuse all that information into looking at how the brain reacts to all the different kinds of events a person may experience when interfacing with a swarm,” he said. “It will be important to understand how the brain and the vehicles differentiate between the signals they send and receive to each other, and how that factors into human decision-making in controlling swarms.”

The technology would allow many military operations to be performed by remote control, making it unnecessary to risk the safety of soldiers by sending them into threatening environments.

His DARPA grant provides $250,000 a year for two years, with an option for an additional $500,000 in the third year of the project.

Controlling robot swarms

Berman is developing a system that would allow swarms of robotic machines to perform reliably in situations in which there is little prior data about the environment the swarms are operating in, and when Global Positioning Systems signals and radio communication are limited and unreliable.

The swarm-control strategies she is devising are designed to mimic nature.

“You see ant colonies and bee colonies, schools of fish and flocks of birds that have hundreds or even thousands of individuals that all act autonomously but still work toward a collective goal,” she explained. “My project is about getting robotic swarms to act like that. In a way, we are engineering robotic ants.”

That will require making small robots that can interact with each other and with their environment, with the ability to collaborate in performing tasks.

Such technology could perform security surveillance, search and rescue activities, and detection of chemical, biological and nuclear materials. Swarms could also monitor weather and climate conditions, transport materials, and collect and transmit data from underwater environs or from planets and asteroids.

“I hope to be able to design a swarm-control framework that lets you give directions to robotic swarms using normal language,” Berman said. “And that framework would also be able to generate programs that tell you what kind of robots and how many robots you need to effectively perform specific tasks in a particular environment.”

Her DARPA grant will provide $250,000 a year for two years, and possibly an equal amount for a third year of work on the project.

Recipes for resilient materials

Jiao’s research will focus on titanium alloys, composite metals widely used in aircraft and space vehicles. He’ll work to gain deeper knowledge of the microstructures of the materials so that he can devise a “recipe” for processing and fabricating stronger alloys.

He will need to come up with a set of mathematical tools and computational formulas that enable exact quantifications of complex multi-level microstructural patterns. That quantification can yield more precise predictions about how various environmental conditions or varying degrees of applied force will affect the microstructure of the alloys, Jiao said.

Beyond the quantification goal, Jiao will look to reveal what conditions are required to produce specific microstructures with properties that will result in more resilient titanium alloys.

“The idea is to show how to set up processing and fabrication systems to make an alloy with certain characteristics and properties so that you get a better and more predictable performance from the materials,” he said.

He wants to formulate a set of instructions for software programs that provide the mathematical recipes for such custom-tailored microstructures.

His methods will likely have the potential to be applied to improving on a wide array of other composite materials for myriad uses beyond aerospace applications, he said.

His DARPA grant will provide more than $300,000 over two years for the project and a possibly $160,000 for the third year.

Jiao’s project, and those led by Berman and Artemiadis, will give engineering graduate students opportunities to assist in the research.

Joe Kullman

Senior media relations officer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU News

US Marine Corps prepared veteran for career in engineering

November 10, 2014

Growing up in a family of military men, R. J. Mitchell had one goal in mind: to be a warrior in service to his country. Two weeks before his 21st birthday, he proudly became a U.S. Marine.

During his four-year enlistment, Mitchell would be deployed twice to fight the war in Iraq. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions during the Second Battle of Fallujah. The award is the second-highest military decoration for valor that may be awarded to a member of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps or U.S. Coast Guard. R. J. Mitchell, mechanical engineering student Download Full Image

Mitchell recalled the instance, almost 10 years ago this November, that put him front and center in some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since Vietnam.

“Some of our men were wounded and down inside a house. We went in to get out the injured, and got everyone out,” he said, then thought for a moment, “except one.”

Mitchell expected to spend his career as a marine. When asked how his journey took another path, he said, “I felt I used up most of my lives.”

When he left the service, Mitchell was a young husband in search of a profession. He struggled through high school and admitted that “the education scene” was not in his immediate plans, and he certainly couldn’t see himself in a “traditional” college.

Putting the G.I. Bill to use, he came to Arizona to attend the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute to learn to work on Harleys. The man who disliked school was hooked.

A friend and mentor tried to convince him to get a law degree, but Mitchell was more intrigued by figuring out how things work, mechanically, and he loved math and science. After attending Glendale Community College to study communications, he enrolled in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, where he is studying to be a mechanical engineer.

A father of a nine-year-old son and five-year-old daughter, Mitchell holds down a job at APS when he is not in class. He said it is the perfect place for a mechanical engineer to work and explore.

“They have lots of big equipment, and it’s fascinating to learn about power generation, how to make it more sustainable, smarter and more efficient,” he said.

His experience at APS has complimented his classroom studies perfectly and has seeded one potential aspiration for Mitchell: to focus on how to make the generation process as efficient as the new devices that are hitting market.

Another ambition is influenced by a more personal experience. “One of my friends had his legs shot off in Fallujah. I’m interested in designing new prosthetics that could make his life, and other veterans’ lives, easier,” Mitchell said.

While some may think that military and college life are polar opposites, Mitchell said life as a soldier prepared him well for being an ASU student.

“School gives me a daily plan, a goal, and that has been a big help in the transition,” he said.

The Pat Tillman Center has been an anchor for helping Mitchell find a sense of place. When he first enrolled at ASU, it was just becoming operational. He was going to school and working full time, and decided to hang out at the center when he had a few hours between classes. He would eventually end up working there.

“It was awesome working with vets, helping with their benefits and all,” Mitchell said. “And things like Salute to Service week and all the support ASU gives its student veterans is great.”

A self-declared “super freshman,” he is forging a new path, embracing the challenges of being in what sometimes feels like a foreign environment – the classroom – while relishing the new knowledge his professors are teaching him. He knows that engineering is “hard,” but said, if he picked one thing the Marines taught him, it is this:

“There is a reward for hard work.”

Sharon Keeler

associate director, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU News

Advances in robotics promise performance boost in prosthetic hands

October 27, 2014

Work on the design, development and testing of next-generation prosthetic hand technology by a team of researchers from Arizona State University, Mayo Clinic and the Italian Institute of Technology will proceed with support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Neurophysiologist Marco Santello, physician Karen Andrews and roboticist Antonio Bicchi are collaborating on a project that employs new advances to simplify the control of grasping movements by a robotic hand. Marco Santello robotic hand Download Full Image

Santello is a professor and director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Andrews is the director of Amputee Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and director of the Vascular Ulcer/ Wound Healing Clinic in the Gonda Vascular Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Bicchi is a professor of robotics at the University of Pisa and a senior scientist at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa.

Their progress has earned an NIH R21 grant that will provide them approximately $400,000 over two years to pursue improvements in artificial hand technology.

Despite advances in prosthetic hands, current technologies still provide only limited functionality and lack adequate grasping capabilities, Santello said.

Costs, the weight of devices, durability and maintenance are additional drawbacks to existing hand prostheses, he said.

To improve the technology in each of these areas, a new prosthetic hand will be fashioned using designs originated by Bicchi and his collaborators at IIT and the Italian Centre for Health and Safety at Work (INAIL). They have been developing a prosthetic hand based on the innovative robotic hand called the Pisa/IIT SoftHand, developed by the researchers at the University of Pisa and IIT.

The design of the SoftHand is based on “soft synergies” that capitalize on human hand synergies and novel “soft” robotics technologies.

The Softhand was initially designed and used for robotics applications, but preliminary data indicate it can be adapted to enable people to grasp and manipulate a wide variety of objects with minimal training.

The key is a design based on natural finger coordination patterns, making it easier to control.

Typically, prosthetic hands require motors to control the movement of each joint. In contrast, the SoftHand uses a technique described as underactuation, meaning that one motor can control movement in more than one joint. That capability provides for more simplified and user-friendly hand motion and reduces the weight of the device.

The patterns of finger motions that can be generated by the SoftHand are based on experimental observations by Santello and his colleagues of how multiple joints in the hand move together. The SoftHand also features compliance control, making it effective for both delicate and forceful manipulation tasks.

The ASU, Mayo and IIT research project will focus on the adaptation of the SoftHand to people with amputations, with the aim of providing clinical feedback that will guide design modifications of the SoftHand to develop new myoelectric prosthetic hands.

Myoelectric pertains to the electrical impulses generated by muscles. The impulses can be amplified and used to control artificial limbs by activating the motors of prosthetic devices.

“We expect that by using a very small number of extrinsic hand muscles in the forearm, people with a transradial amputation (an amputation below the elbow) will learn to use the new myoelectric hand and perform grasp and manipulation tasks to a greater level of proficiency relative to what they can do with the prosthetic hand they are now using,” Santello says.

Myoelectric hands are controlled by the users’ signals associated with tensing and relaxing of their extrinsic muscles individually or together.

Electrodes in contact with the skin on the forearm will pick up electrical signals and transmit them to a controller. The unique feature of the SoftHand is that the controller processes and analyzes the electrical signals and maps them to one actuator (a motor) that moves multiple joints in a coordinated fashion.

The research team will analyze the mapping of electrical signals to specific hand postures and forces, as well as the extent to which grasping and manipulation performance can benefit from adding force-feedback mechanisms to the SoftHand.

The project will quantify the functional capabilities of the SoftHand for prosthetic applications. Biomechanical tests and movement tasks used by clinicians will allow researchers to assess the functionality of the new device on individuals with limb loss.

Santello and his collaborators believe that users of the SoftHand will learn to use it to perform grasp and manipulation tasks more easily than with current devices.

They expect the outcome of the project to provide the basis for further refinement of design and development of a high-performance prosthetic hand that has superior functional capabilities and could be produced at a comparatively low cost.

Mayank Prasad contributed to this article.

Joe Kullman

Senior media relations officer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU News

Mayo grant will advance ASU's development of device to aid diabetics

September 18, 2014

An award of $65,000 from Mayo Clinic in Arizona will help Arizona State University bioengineer Jeffrey La Belle continue development of a tear-based glucose meter designed to help people living with diabetes monitor their health.

The funding will enable La Belle’s research team to take the next step toward preparing for clinical trials of the device that can assess glucose levels by drawing tear fluid from the eyes. Current devices for measuring blood glucose levels require piercing the skin to draw blood samples. Jeffrey La Belle Download Full Image

La Belle is an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering. He’s been working on the tear glucose sensor for more than three years in collaboration with Curtis Cook, chair of endocrinology at Mayo Clinic-Scottsdale, and Dharmendra Patel, the clinic’s chair of ophthalmology.

The tears sensor project began with support from a Mayo Clinic seed grant in 2011. BioAccel, an Arizona nonprofit that works to bring emerging biomedical technologies to the marketplace, is also supporting development of the tear glucose sensor.

Clinical trials are to be conducted at Mayo Clinic. The project team will seek additional support from the National Institutes of Health and industry to fund the trials.

“We have to make something we can ensure will be safe and effective outside the lab, and that is ready for a manufacturer,” La Belle said.

About 29 million people – more than 9 percent of the population – in the United States have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. The disease is one of leading causes of death in the country.

Monitoring and managing blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels helps people with diabetes control the symptoms of the disease.

The tear sensor has been attracting interest from medical professionals and industry. Progress reports on development of the device have been published in four research journals, and La Belle has made about 25 conference presentations on the device.

He has provided research experience to more than 20 ASU engineering undergraduates and graduate students through their assistance with lab work related to the project.

Joe Kullman

Senior media relations officer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering