Former Latvian president joins ASU as scholar-in-residence

January 22, 2018

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former president of the Republic of Latvia (1999–2007), and current president of the World Leadership Alliance/Club De Madrid, has joined Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State Unviersity as a scholar-in-residence under its Distinguished Global Leader Series.

From late-January through March, Vike-Freiberga will be the featured speaker at a series of large campus events and guest lectures in Barrett Honors courses. She also will meet with Barrett students in small group formats to discuss current events and her experiences as a global leader. See a schedule of her appearances on the Barrett website. Vaira Vike-Freiberga Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former president of Latvia and Barrett, The Honors College scholar-in-residence. Download Full Image

"The faculty, students and staff of Barrett, The Honors College warmly welcome Dr. Vike-Freiberga, and her husband, Dr. Imants Freibergs, to Tempe and Arizona State University and extend our gratitude to her for her time and efforts in sharing her immense knowledge and expertise with our students and faculty," said Mark Jacobs, dean of Barrett, The Honors College.

Vike-Freiberga has an interesting and extensive biography, filled with service to her country and activities on the world stage.

She played an instrumental role in achieving membership in the European Union and NATO for her country and raised the nation's recognition in the world through her international activities. She was appointed special envoy on United Nations reform in 2005 and was an official candidate for the post of UN secretary general in 2006.

Since the end of her presidency in 2007, Vike-Freiberga has been solicited as an invited speaker on social issues, moral values, European historical dialogue and democracy. In December 2007, she was appointed vice-chair of the Reflection Group on the long-term future of Europe. In 2011–2012, she chaired the High-Level Group on freedom and pluralism of the media in the EU. Since 2014, she has been president of the Club de Madrid, which has a membership of over 100 democratically-elected former heads of state and government. In 2015, she was a member of two High-Level Groups on European security and defense. In 2016, she was a member of the High-Level Independent Team of Advisors to the UN Economic and Social Council Dialogue on UN development.     

Born in Riga in 1937, and having left Latvia as a child refugee, Vike-Freiberga started schooling in a refugee camp in Germany in 1945, continued in French Morocco, and pursued higher education in Canada. In 1965, she received a doctorate in experimental psychology at McGill University in Montreal. Vike-Freiberga emerged as a prominent spokesperson on politics and science policy while a professor of psychology and interdisciplinary scholar at the University of Montreal (1965–1998). She returned to her native country in 1998 to head the Latvian Institute. Less than a year later, she was elected president by the Latvian parliament and re-elected in 2003.

Vike-Freiberga is a member, board member or patron of 30 international organizations, including the World Leadership Alliance (president), the Board of Trustees of the Nizami Ganjavi International Centre (co-chair), the Global Leadership Foundation, as well as five academies, and an honorary fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford University. She has been awarded 34 Orders of Merit (first class) and 19 honorary doctorates, as well as many medals, prizes and honors, for her distinguished work in the humanities and social sciences. She has published 15 books and authored more than 200 articles, book chapters, reports, and audiovisual materials.

See what Vike-Freiberga has to say about global politics, her role as president of Latvia, an encounter with Oprah Winfrey and other topics in this Q&A.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


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ASU sustainability scientist addresses Silicon Valley's 'raw water' craze

January 22, 2018

Silicon Valley: the place that invented the Juicero, PetChatz and countless apps to solve problems you never knew you had. And now comes the idea of drinking water from a puddle.

A “raw water” craze — drinking water that is untreated and unfiltered — is afoot in California, and like many retro trends there it’s spurring big sales and controversy. Do raw water's proclaimed benefits of better health hold, ahem, water? Or is drinking untreated, unfiltered water simply a bad idea? ASU Now checked in with Morteza AbbaszadeganAbbaszadegan's research expertise includes contemporary water-quality issues related to health-related water microbiology including microbial detection methodologies, pathogens inactivation and removal mechanisms during water-treatment processes, water quality in distribution systems and microbial monitoring of source waters. He has developed many new techniques for the detection of viruses, bacteria and parasites in water environments. , an Arizona State University professor and researcher, to see if this growing trend has legitimacy.

Man in tie wearing glasses
Morteza Abbaszadegan

Question: Some boutique retailers in Silicon Valley are commanding top dollar for unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water, fueling a new debate on whether it’s safe to drink. What’s your reaction about all this?

Answer: I don’t drink untreated or raw water. Spring waters seem to be safe and potentially untouched by humans. However, there are some pathogens that can be transmitted to humans from animals, for example Giardia or enterotoxigenic E. coli or other pathogenic bacteria.

Q: Some of these retailers believe that public water has been poisoned with fluoride or chloramine and even have birth-control drugs in them. After the lead fiasco in Flint, Michigan, should we trust our public tap water?

A: There’s no data to support that, and I don’t believe in such assumptions. Please note in the case of Flint, Michigan, the tests indicated water contamination with lead. The tests worked, and that’s how the lead contamination was detected and reported.

Q: Do our water filtrations remove beneficial minerals as touted by raw water proponents?

A: The conventional water-treatment filtration does not remove minerals.

Q: What kind of health problems does drinking raw water pose?

A: It is pertinent to point out that spring water flowing on ground can be contaminated by animal wastes on earth and air. Earth is a complex and continuum system and the areas secluded from human activities or anthropogenic pollutants might be visited by animal or bird, increasing the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases.

Water is known to contain different pathogenic microbes such as viruses, parasites and bacteria that can be transmitted to humans and cause illnesses. There are many waterborne disease outbreaks reported in the United States annually. One may assume that raw water is protected from human wastes and contamination; however, animals may contaminate water in the natural environment and due to lack of treatment, the end users of raw water may be exposed to the microbial pathogens resulting in a variety of gastrointestinal illnesses.

Cryptosporidium is an intestinal parasite infecting a variety of animals. Cryptosporidium parvum can cause illnesses in humans, a species that can also affect domestic animals. It can cause severe diarrheal diseases and be potentially fatal in immune-compromised individuals.

Giardia is a cyst-producing parasite and it is capable of causing severe diarrheal diseases in human.

Salmonella can cause enteric infections and is considered one of the zoonotic diseases.

Abbaszadegan is a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; director of the NSF Water and Environmental Technology Center; a senior sustainability scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; and a professor in the School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Award-winning sports journalist joins ASU as executive editor of Sports Knowledge Lab

January 22, 2018

Kathy Kudravi, a veteran award-winning sports journalist who has led news teams at ESPN and CNN, has been named the executive editor of a new international sports research and knowledge lab at Arizona State University.

Kudravi will lead the Sports Knowledge Lab based at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The lab is part of ASU’s Global Sport Institute, an international sports research and knowledge lab that connects people to the power of sport by translating and amplifying complex sports research to broad, global audiences. Kathy Kudravi Kathy Kudravi, a veteran award-winning sports journalist, is the new executive editor of the Sports Knowledge Lab, part of ASU’s Global Sport Institute. Download Full Image

In the Sports Knowledge Lab, Kudravi will oversee the publication of GlobalSport Matters, a dynamic multimedia storytelling platform that will be the go-to source for must-read and must-know data and advice from across the world of sport.

“I could not be more pleased that Kathy has joined us to launch and lead what will essentially be the concierge for the Global Sport Institute,” said Kenneth L. Shropshire, Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport who serves as CEO of the Global Sport Institute. “Her experience to guide this effort is unmatched.”

Kudravi will oversee and teach a team of students at the Cronkite School in the production and presentation of a variety of curated and original content that will examine the impact of sport on society and provide context for top sports headlines from around the world. Content will include long-form writing, documentaries, articles, newsletters, data visualization and podcasts.

In addition to students enrolled for credit in this professional immersion experience each semester, Kudravi will hire and supervise student workers and student volunteers to assist in content production.

“I am thrilled to be joining the world-class team at ASU, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with aspiring sports journalists as they prepare for careers in today’s multi-platform media environment,” Kudravi said. “What excites me most is exploring how old-school research, which forms the foundation of great storytelling, can combine with today’s digital tools to create even stronger storylines thereby showcasing the interconnectivity between sport and society.”

Kudravi previously served as a coordinating producer at ESPN from 1999–2012, where she managed reporters, producers and camera operators across the country for reporting on “SportsCenter” and other network programs.

From 2012–2014, she was editorial director of sports at CNN, where she led the direction of sports content across CNN U.S., CNN International and HLN. She also served as the editorial lead on the award-winning “World Sport Presents” documentary series.

“Kathy has worked in leadership roles at some of the most respected outlets in sports media,” said Brett Kurland, director of sports programs at Cronkite. “Plus, she brings so much passion, energy and creativity to Cronkite. That combination of her rich experience and infection enthusiasm are an incredible asset for our students and our school.”

Most recently, Kudravi was the executive producer and digital director of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s American Sports Network, where she created a website focused on college sports and minor league baseball and grew social media followings.

A graduate of Kent State University in Ohio, Kudravi has significant newspaper experience having worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas, The Tennessean in Nashville, Tennessee, and The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

She is the recipient of two Emmy Awards for Best Daily Sports Show and has been recognized by the Foreign Press Association.

The Sport Knowledge Lab will be the 14th immersive professional experience at the Cronkite School that uses the school’s “teaching hospital” approach to education. Programs include a nightly television newscast that airs on Arizona PBS, an innovation and entrepreneurship lab where students create new digital products and services, a news reporting bureau in Washington, D.C., and a Spanish-language bureau where students report and produce news content across media platforms for Spanish-speaking audiences.

In the past several years, the Cronkite School has significantly expanded its sports journalism programs, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sports journalism, reporting bureaus in Phoenix and Los Angeles, a summer camp for high school students, and new faculty hires that include Paola Boivin, the award-winning sports columnist for The Arizona Republic.

Cronkite students have covered major sporting events, including the Super Bowl in 2015, the Summer Olympics Games in 2016 and the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 2017.

Communications manager, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication


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Unlocking the magic of the 'dry Atlantis'

ASU professor says mysterious Teotihuacan was his "first love" in archaeology.
Ancient Teotihuacan city may hold solutions to wealth inequality.
January 19, 2018

Meet the ASU professor working to bring the cutting-edge ideas of mysterious, ancient Teotihuacan back into the light

Have you ever felt a deep, instant bond with a city? A place where the people, culture and even the architecture all seem to whisper, “This is where you belong”?

Arizona State University’s Michael Smith experienced this feeling as a student in the '70s — but for a city that had sat unoccupied for more than 1,000 years.

“Teotihuacan was my ‘first love’ in archaeology,” he said.

So he threw himself into a world of artifacts and ruins to piece together what life was like in Teotihuacan’s heyday. While it’s known the city hosted a peak population of 80,000 and influenced culture in the surrounding area during — and even after — its time, just who built and ran the place is something of a mystery. Along the way to uncovering those secrets, however, Smith is finding valuable lessons for our own modern cities.

In the last year, he has studied everything from inequality in the world’s ancient settlements to buying and selling in the Aztec empire. But for the Teotihuacan Research Laboratory director and School of Human Evolution and Social Change professor, the journey to get there didn’t start with amazing discoveries.

It started with a wide-eyed undergraduate who connected with an ancient city.

A legend sparks a lifelong passion

After reading a book during college that suggested ancient Mesoamericans were from the lost city of Atlantis, Smith read up on the Aztecs and Maya. Though he quickly dismissed the story as “a bunch of baloney,” the lure of a civilization with unknown mysteries stuck with him. Through archaeology, he realized, the sealed doors of time could indeed be cracked open.

He took courses from Professor George Cowgill, a world authority on Teotihuacan, and lost himself to the ancient city after a summer research project there.

photo of Smith as a student at Teotihuacan in 1974
Michael Smith at Teotihuacan as a student in 1974.

“I found the experience of walking the fields, finding traces of ancient sites and visiting major ruins very exciting, something I wanted to devote my career to,” Smith said. “I also fell in love with Mexico — the country, the people, the food, the music.”

After earning his graduate degree, Smith spent nearly 15 years doing fieldwork on Aztec daily life in Cuernavaca, Mexico, before returning to Teotihuacan to support the site’s research laboratory and eventually replace Cowgill when he retired as lab director.

“Switching my research from the Aztec period back to Teotihuacan was a natural development,” he said, despite the thousand-year difference between the two societies.

His research had undergone another change — one activated when the ASU Department of Anthropology broke down the barriers between anthropology’s subdisciplines and added new areas of study around applied math, health and the environment, becoming the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Though he was skeptical at first, Smith now describes this as a “turning point” for himself and the school, as it prompted him to work with researchers from other fields and study cities through the ages. This gradually became his main research focus, and his work at Teotihuacan only reinforced it.

“During this process, I was transformed from an archaeologist with comparative interests into a truly transdisciplinary scholar of urbanism,” Smith said. Today, he admits he’s as likely to read a sociological paper on neighborhoods as he is an archaeological account of the Aztecs.

At Teotihuacan, the expanded possibilities of interdisciplinary work bring revelations that manage to surprise even one of the men who know it best.

Shocking levels of equality in an ancient society

Despite our progress in many areas since the time of Teotihuacan, modern cities still grapple with increasing gaps between the rich and poor. Some of the solutions for the future, however, may lie in the past.

Smith’s recent work, published with Timothy Kohler of Washington State University in Nature, explored the roots of inequality, starting with ancient settlements around the world. Working with a team of researchers from other institutions, Kohler and Smith found that once people made the switch to farming, inequality kept climbing in the Old World, yet stayed the same in the New World.

The culprits, according to their study, were draft animals. Horses, cows and the like allowed the wealthy Old World farmers who owned them to plow more land and grow extra food, making them even richer. In the New World, meanwhile, draft animals weren’t available, so farming was limited by the use of human labor.

He and the team used the differences in house size at various settlements to calculate their Gini indexes — a standard measurement of inequality where zero means everyone has the same amount of wealth and one means a single person holds all the wealth.

photo of Teotihuacan housing compound "Palace of the Sun"
Palace of the Sun, a housing compound at Teotihuacan.

Naturally, one of the settlements measured for the study was Teotihuacan. Though it was one of the largest ancient cities in the New World, its index is a surprisingly low 0.12.

“In fact, this is the lowest Gini index for any state-level society ever studied,” Smith said. He explained that the widespread use of large homes and the absence of a big royal palace give Teotihuacan its low score.

This society stands in contrast to that of the Aztecs, whose economy Smith researched for his new book, "Rethinking the Aztec Economy."

The Aztecs were a people of strict social classes, which shows in the way they viewed wealth and ownership.

They used currency (cacao beans for small purchases, set sizes of cotton cloth for large purchases) to measure and track wealth. Some members of the middle class, like merchants, could occasionally become richer than nobility — but they had to hide it. Commoners were also barred from land ownership, which was only for the nobles who ruled the government.

At Teotihuacan, meanwhile, signs of high wealth-equality abound. Luxurious apartment compounds with colorful mural paintings on the walls and open-air patios were the standard for the average home.

Smith and Kohler will explore the topic and its takeaways for modern cities even further in their upcoming book, "Ten Thousand Years of Inequality: The Archaeology of Wealth Differences."

“One basic lesson is that it is possible to have a large and prosperous city without having a huge underclass of poor, disenfranchised people,” Smith said. “If the ancient people of Teotihuacan could figure out how to do this, then perhaps today’s cities can, too.”

Where the mysteries are hidden in plain sight

After being inducted as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science next month, Smith plans to immerse himself in research at Teotihuacan — but amazingly, none of it involves him picking up a shovel.

That’s because decades of archaeologists have done the digging for him. In fact, the lab facility at Teotihuacan is stuffed to the brim with artifacts and records, and many of them have never even been studied. ASU students often travel to the lab and spend their summers trying to help catalog it all.

photo of Smith working in the Teotihuacan lab
Smith working in the Teotihuacan lab.

“Much can be learned about ancient Teotihuacan without carrying out new fieldwork,” Smith said. “Like all archaeologists, I love fieldwork, and the thought of digging at Teotihuacan is tantalizing. But I realized that I can create more and better knowledge of the site — more ‘bang for the buck’ — by concentrating on the existing data.”

One project based on this concept is the completion of the Teotihuacan Mapping Project, an effort to map the entire ancient city that began in the 1960s. Smith recently received a National Science Foundation grant to finish many of the outstanding tasks and archive the data and results in ASU’s the Digital Archaeological Record, an online archive of archaeological data managed by the Center for Digital Antiquity.

Another major focus will be analyzing Teotihuacan’s unusual form of standard housing, called the apartment compound, to begin uncovering the mystery of why everyone lived in luxury villas. Smith believes that understanding this aspect of Teotihuacan life will open a window into even more areas of their society, from economics to their ever-elusive form of government.

It’s easy to see why, nearly 40 years later, Smith continues to have such a passion for this ancient city. With each new generation of researchers come fresh insights into its past — of the archaeological, rather than the Atlantian, variety.

Now a respected authority in his own right, Smith is able to instill that same passion in even more wide-eyed students, setting them on a path to unknown discoveries and ensuring that Teotihuacan lives on as a scientific and cultural model for thriving future cities.

Mikala Kass

Editorial Communications Coordinator , School of Human Evolution and Social Change


Award spotlights ASU engineer's wide-ranging impact on transportation field

January 19, 2018

Contributions over the past 25 years to education and research, along with endeavors that have made him an international leader in the transportation engineering field, have earned Arizona State University Professor Ram Pendyala high recognition from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

The far-reaching impact of his work was emphasized in the organization’s announcement of Pendyala’s selection as the S.S. Steinberg Award winner recently at the annual meeting of its Research and Education Division in Washington, D.C. Fulton Schools Professor Ram Pendyala receives an award Professor Ram Pendyala (right) was presented the ARTBA S.S. Steinberg Award by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jose Holguin-Veras. The award recognizes outstanding contributions in teaching and research in transportation engineering and related areas. Photo courtesy of Ram Pendyala Download Full Image

The professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering was honored for research that has advanced multimodal transportation systems planning, travel behavior modeling, time use and activity pattern analysis, freight and passenger transportation demand forecasting, travel survey methods, microsimulation approaches and the study of transformational technologies in transportation.

His expertise extends also to sustainable mobility management strategies, analysis of public transportation systems, and integrated modeling of land use, transportation, energy and air quality systems.

Pendyala has conducted research and served as a consultant on numerous local, regional, national and international transportation projects, including acting as a transportation infrastructure evaluation consultant for the World Bank.

His accomplishments include winning the U.S. Transportation Research Board’s Pyke Johnson best paper award in 2011 and 2013, and being named the director of the U.S. Department of Transportation Tier 1 University Transportation Center for Teaching Old Models New Tricks that is led by ASU.

He is an associate editor for Transportation Research Part D, the leading journal dedicated to transportation and the environment and a member of the editorial boards of a number of other prominent journals. He is also chair of the Planning and Environment Group of the Technical Activities Division of the Transportation Research Board, providing oversight for the activities of more than 25 technical committees.   

The award also recognizes success in nurturing the next generation of transportation professionals. Pendyala’s exceptional accomplishments in that area were stressed by the colleague who nominated him for the Steinberg Award.

Pendyala’s priorities “are clearly the educational and professional growth of his students,” wrote Chandra Bhat in his nomination letter. Bhat is the Joe J. King Chair Professor in Engineering and director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Pendyala, who teaches courses in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the Fulton Schools, has inspired many students to choose transportation as a career path, encouraging them to pursue graduate studies, get involved in professional organizations, and to prepare for their careers by co-authoring papers and participating in funded research projects while still in school.

He has mentored more than 50 graduate students, including a dozen who earned doctoral degrees, and has seen those students and others rise to leading positions in industry, at academic and research institutions, and in government agencies.

Pendyala is “a very good mentor and … clearly an articulate and passionate teacher,” Bhat wrote. “I would find it difficult to think of another individual with Ram’s combination of drive, passion for education and research, dedication to his chosen field, leadership and mentorship skills.”

Pendyala says he is especially humbled to be recognized with the S.S. Steinberg Award “because previous winners include highly accomplished scholars and teachers who have greatly inspired and influenced my own career. So, I am tremendously honored, and it motivates me to want to continue making a difference.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU's Cronkite School expands digital audiences faculty

January 19, 2018

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is expanding its pioneering digital audiences programs with the addition of two award-winning scholars in audience behavior, engagement and analytics.

Syed Ali Hussain and Jacob Nelson are joining the Cronkite School as assistant professors, where they will conduct research in audience engagement and analytics and teach students the skills to identify, measure, engage and grow digital audiences through content and data-driven strategies. Hussain and Nelson will start in August. Syed Ali Hussain (left) and Jacob Nelson are joining the Cronkite School as assistant professors in audience engagement and analytics. Download Full Image

“These two young scholars will add richly to our fast-growing digital audiences initiatives on the graduate and undergraduate levels,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “We are excited to welcome Ali and Jake to the Cronkite family.”

Hussain, who is completing his doctorate at Michigan State University, conducts research on human emotions for health communications and mobile phones for social development. He currently is working at MSU on a grant-funded project by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to research which effective and low-cost health care practices from other countries could be successful if implemented in the U.S.

Hussain previously led communications campaigns for Save the Children International, the United States Agency for International Development and several health care organizations in Pakistan. He has presented his research at international academic conferences, including the National Institutes of Health, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the International Communication Association. He also has published scholarship in a book chapter as well as Communication Research Reports, among other journals.  

A Fulbright Scholar, Hussain holds a master’s degree in health and risk communication from MSU, a bachelor’s degree in business from Foundation University, Pakistan and a post-graduate certificate in public health from the University of Manchester, U.K.

“One of the things I like about the Cronkite School is its hybrid focus on both research and practice,” Hussain said. “It’s the human-centric design and implementation of digital innovations that makes the school so unique. I’m looking forward to teaching students about audience acquisition and engagement.”

Nelson, who is completing his doctorate at Northwestern University, studies the changing relationship between journalists and their audiences. His research has been published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly and Digital Journalism, and featured in Columbia Journalism Review and MediaShift.

Nelson previously was an editor with, a hyperlocal news platform that encourages community engagement. He has also worked at comScore, an online audience data provider. In 2017, he was named a Knight News Innovation Fellow by the Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

Nelson holds a master’s degree in media, technology and society, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism and creative writing, both from Northwestern University.

“I love how the Cronkite School’s research and instruction focuses on making a positive contribution to the profession of journalism,” Nelson said. “As someone who has worked in the field, I find that kind of environment very fulfilling.”

The Cronkite School has been a leader in the growing field of digital audiences. The school offers an online minor, and the curriculum will soon include new degree programs.

Hussain and Nelson will join the Cronkite School’s growing team of thought leaders in digital and social media audiences, including Assistant Professor K. Hazel Kwon and Ethics and Excellence Professor of Practice Jessica Pucci, who serves as director of Cronkite Digital Audience Programs.

“Jake and Ali’s cutting-edge research into how audiences react and respond to content — and how organizations apply that information — will directly impact our students, and propel our industry forward,” Pucci said.

Communications manager, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication


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When fake 911 calls lead to real danger

January 18, 2018

'Swatting' — making a false emergency report to 911 operators to prompt a response by police SWAT teams — is a trend on the rise

A Los Angeles man gets into an online gaming dispute over a $1.50 wager and retaliates by sending a SWAT team to his opponent’s home. That address turns out to be fake and police end up at a Kansas residence, fatally shooting the homeowner at his doorstep.

Sound confusing? It’s called “swatting,” which refers to the act of deceiving emergency services into sending a police tactical unit to respond to an adversary or random person’s address. The FBI reports that approximately 400 of these fake calls occurred last year. The Kansas swatting incident is the first known perpetrated hoax that has resulted in death.

To understand more about this disturbing trend and what can be done to prevent it in the future, ASU Now turned to Michael S. Scott, a clinical professor at ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, a research center that produces and disseminates information about how police can effectively address specific public-safety problems.

Man in suit and red tie
Michael S. Scott

Question: What is swatting, and when did we first see this phenomenon emerging?

Answer: Swatting is making a false report of an emergency to 911 operators in order to prompt an emergency response by a police SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team. Typically, the caller disguises the telephone caller ID from which the call is actually being placed to make it appear to 911 operators that the call is emanating from a telephone and location elsewhere. This other location might be miles — even states — remote from where the false report is actually emanating. The motive behind such false reports is usually pure mischief, but it could also be an act of aggression or revenge against someone at the falsely reported location.

This phenomenon emerged as a relatively common problem nationwide about 10 years ago. Swatting is one of several policing problems that fall into the larger category of misuse and abuse of police services.

Q: Is it preventable, given that the intent is to deceive?

A: It is preventable, largely through technological changes to telephone 911 systems. Some 911 centers have made changes that make it harder to disguise caller locations — many as part of the so-called Next Generation 911 package of upgrades. But there is a certain technological cat-and-mouse game to this problem, with hoax callers constantly looking for new ways to disguise call locations and 911 technicians constantly looking to defeat those ways.

Q: How can law enforcement agents deal with swatting if it becomes a bigger trend? 

A: Much of the response will have to continue to be technological changes of the sort mentioned above. Additionally, 911 operators can be trained, first to recognize the possibility of a swatting call, and second to ask callers certain questions that can readily be verified or disproved to ascertain whether the claimed emergency is real. The obvious trade-off is between delaying responses to genuine emergencies and preventing wasteful and hazardous responses to false emergencies. One option available to police is to restrict sending out full SWAT teams only to verified incidents, and relying on one or two patrol officers to make the initial response to verify whether the incident appears real and gauge what level of further response is warranted. Here, too, this involves some trade-off of time for certainty.

Q: What is the cost associated with a swatting call?

A: If a full SWAT team response is launched, depending on the protocols and costs of the particular team, a swatting call could cost tens of thousands of dollars, largely in the form of the responding officers' wages. Because not all SWAT teams operate on a full-time basis, part-time teams often must be called into service from off-duty, thereby generating considerable overtime compensation costs. 

The real costs of the problem come if and when the SWAT response leads to injuries or fatalities of either civilians or officers. There are also opportunity costs that come from wasting officers' time (when they can't be doing other productive tasks). 


Top: A SWAT team prepares to respond to an emergency call. Photo illustration courtesy of Pixabay

ASU student shows STEM, language work together

January 18, 2018

Some people think that STEM and liberal arts don’t go together. Arizona State University student Jenna Robinson, however, is showing that the two fields support each other by studying both French and astrobiology.

“I’ve been taking French since I was in sixth grade, as part of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme,” Robinson said. “I was also always interested in science as a kid, really interested in space science … My junior year of high school I read a book by a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU.” Download Full Image

Her freshman year, Robinson started as an astrobiology major and added French in the spring, wanting to advance her language skills while adding new interests.

Double majoring is challenging, but Robinson did find that during her STEM work, studying French provided a good balance.

“Communication skills are a big part of my French major that I’m learning how to use in science. As a science major, they don’t teach you to communicate but it is a big part of what we do. Also, I’d say having my French ability allows me to see things from a different perspective, and a big part of astrobiology is keeping an open mind,” Robinson said.

At the School of International Letters and Cultures, Robinson has appreciated the sophistication and nuance of French language, seeing it as a living thing. During a summer study abroad program in Quebec City, she enjoyed taking language classes, but also experiencing “canoeing while talking in French, hiking, (and) learning how to play volleyball with French vocabulary.”

For Robinson, French helps her with astrobiology more than astrobiology helps her with French, at least in the university setting. Currently in her third year at ASU, however, she plans to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate, at which point she’d like to work in astrobiology abroad.

She’d have no lack of regional options, given that French is one of the world’s most prominent languages. France especially has strong scientific options in Robinson’s field.

Robinson has enjoyed the interest School of International Letters and Cultures professors take in her science work. And the interest has gone beyond her coursework. She is currently working with faculty to develop a science communication class for French majors, in which students would develop lesson plans intersecting language learning and STEM.

“I absolutely love the faculty,” Robinson said. “They’re very interested in students as humans. For example, I took a French literature class with Professor Cruse, and he would always make it a point to bring in science or technology aspects that he thought I would enjoy … He really made an effort.”

Between course development, serving as president of the French Club last year and study abroad, Robinson continually demonstrates that dual majoring with a language isn’t just possible, but immensely rewarding.

“Don’t be afraid to make yourself known to the professors and the departments,” Robinson advised. “That’s how you’re really going to succeed, get these cool opportunities like I have.” 

Gabriel Sandler

ASU In the News

ASU nuclear-emergency research project moves to product development phase

When a false alarm warning of an impending nuclear missile launch recently panicked Hawaiians, it raised bigger questions on U.S. emergency preparedness.

ASU has been at the research forefront with a multi-million, multi-year project aimed at helping to triage a population in the event of a nuclear emergency. ASU has been at the research forefront with a multi-million, multi-year project aimed at helping to triage a population in the event of a nuclear emergency.

Recently, GenomeWeb updated its readers on the progress of Project Bioshield, funded by the US Department of Defense’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA.

One of the BARDA projects featured was from ASU’s Biodesign Institute, led by Biodesign executive director Josh LaBaer to develop tests to rapidly measure radiation exposure, or biodosimetry tests.

The test from ASU is meant to quantify how much radiation a person was exposed to after a single explosive event.

"This particular tool was specifically for detecting gamma radiation exposure to civilians if a nuclear bomb were detonated in a city or populated area," Josh LaBaer, told Genomeweb.

In the article, reporter Madeleine Johnson told of the research issues that had to be overcome to be one of the few funded to advance from project discovery to the product development phase.

“The researchers had to grapple with things like proximity to a blast and whether or not people were directly exposed or behind concrete walls.

"If it is detonated 1,000 feet above the ground it is going to have one radiation angle at which it is going to hit people, whereas if it is exploded from the inside of a shopping center that is going to have a different angle of exposure — our tool doesn't worry about how the radiation gets to you, but focuses on how much radiation did you absorb," LaBaer said.

The ASU test looks at the effect of radiation on gene expression in white blood cells and runs on real-time PCR systems from Thermo Fisher Scientific such as the Applied Biosystems 7500 Fast Dx and QuantStudio Dx, as previously reported. The choice of platform was meant to enhance the ability to utilize qPCR instruments that already exist, and are regularly maintained in clinical labs.

"The last thing you want in the event of a nuclear explosion is to have to dust off a brand-new machine and pull out the instruction manual," LaBaer said.

It will assess the level of exposure, from the moment of an event until seven days after, gauging exposure levels up to 10 gray, where somewhere in the 4 to 6 gray range is a lethal dose, LaBaer said.”

The group has whittled down a large pool of potential biomarkers to around 13 or so, LaBaer said. It used animal models and has done verification studies, and is gearing up for a large validation study.

The project was also a good example of ASU creating a win-win scenario when academia partners with industry to advance the science.

During the multi-year, nearly $40 million project, the Biodesign Institute partnered with industry leader Thermo Fisher Scientific's Life Sciences Solutions business, which has since been licensed to MRIGlobal for further development.

LaBaer said MRIGlobal won funding worth $100 million over 10 years using the ASU technology, and they will now be developing it further. "We're shifting from discovery to product development," LaBaer said. 

The funding involved in-process review sessions at BARDA where a team of 40 experts would review data and presentations. "We got reviewed probably a half-dozen times, over the course of that period and the majority of people in the program were not continued for funding."

Article Source: Genomeweb
Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences), Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Navigate your way through Dash, Bitcoin and smart contracts

January 18, 2018

Many consumers are still confused by cryptocurrency, blockchain; ASU director explains how the technology works

Dash is up and Bitcoin is down. U.S. Nasdaq Market Technology and Switzerland’s SIX Securities Services are exploring digital ledger technologies for stock market trades. IBM and Microsoft have introduced blockchain platforms. 

But despite the growing buzz about crypto-technologies, most consumers remain puzzled by what it all means.

Dragan Boscovic, an Arizona State University computer science professor and director of the Blockchain Research Lab, provides some answers.

Dragan Boscovic, Blockchain Research Lab director
Dragan Boscovic, ASU computer science professor and director of the Blockchain Research Lab.

Question: What is cryptocurrency?

Answer: Digital currencies, like Dash and Bitcoin, are also known as a “cryptocurrencies.” They are a decentralized form of online money that doesn’t require or rely on government controls, banks and credit card companies.

Cryptocurrencies offer a form of money that is portable, inexpensive, divisible and fast. It can be spent easily and instantly online at merchants across the globe, at much lower fees than credit and debit cards.

Since the original cryptocurrency — Bitcoin — was launched in 2009, more than 1,300 different cryptocurrencies have been introduced. Dash, short for digital cash, is among the top 10 digital currencies. It was built from Bitcoin’s code base, but implemented with a number of improvements.

Dash has partnered with Arizona State University to launch the Blockchain Research Lab.

RELATED: Read more about the ASU-Dash partnership

Q: What is a blockchain?

A: Blockchain is a decentralized, digital ledger system that serves as the foundation upon which Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies operate. Just as a public record of a town’s transactions enables the community to verify property ownership, blockchain uses a wide network to keep track of digital transactions, whether they are cryptocurrency, property transfers or contracts for goods or services. It’s a chain because additions or changes can only be made by adding new information to the end.

This means the blockchain cannot be surreptitiously edited or changed. Once the transaction is encoded in the blockchain and becomes part of the “chain,” the parties cannot reverse or alter it without mutual agreement and the creation of a new transaction record that affirms the change.

Each digital currency platform has its own blockchain network, as does each business platform — such as IBM’s blockchain business platform for smart contracts and the array of Hyperledger platforms from Linux.

Blockchains can be public, open-source networks or private ledgers that require explicit permission to read or add transactions. 

Q: Where is the blockchain?

A: Blockchains are replicated on networked computers around the globe and accessible to anyone with internet access.

However, a specific group of network participants, called “miners,” are responsible for inputting and validating transactions from users. Only after these transactions are validated and encrypted by miners are they added to the blockchain.

Q: How do blockchain transactions work?

A: Using the Dash cryptocurrency blockchain as an example, transaction ownership is determined by two cryptographic keys. A public key is visible to anyone who has access to the blockchain. A private key is held by the owner and not made visible on the blockchain.

• Peter wants to transfer a single Dash unit to Paul.  
• Paul sets up a digital address to which Peter will send the cryptocurrency, plus a digital “key” that will enable Paul to collect the payment once it arrives.
• When Peter sends the Dash, it is encoded with a chunk of text that includes the amount and Peter’s “address.”
• The transaction record is sent to every computer running “mining” software for the Dash currency.
• The transaction is added to the distributed blockchain ledger. 

Next transaction:

• Paul wants to send Michael a single Dash unit.
• Michael sets up an address and a key.
• Paul takes the Dash unit he got from Peter, uses his address and key from that original transfer, and signs the Dash unit over to Michael.
• This new transaction is sent to all of the Dash-mining computers to make sure that Dash unit is still in Paul’s account.
• After validating the funds are there, the Dash miners authorize the transaction.
• The transaction is added to the distributed blockchain ledger.

Q: What makes blockchain attractive?

A: Blockchain’s technological infrastructure has a number of elements that make it desirable.

1. The identities of the transaction participants are encrypted; it is unnecessary to share those identities unless all parties agree. Despite the lack of identity, the transaction is verified; there is no “backing out of the deal” once the blockchain has done its job.

• When Peter makes a cryptocurrency exchange with Paul, they don’t need to know each other’s identity for the transaction to be executed.  
• This ensures that Paul can’t later hack the account from which Peter funded the transaction.

2. The blockchain ledger confirms the “spendable balance” for each transaction, ensuring in advance that the exchange won’t “bounce” for lack of funds or property.    

3. Blockchain transactions bypass bureaucracy. If Peter lives in the U.S. and wants to execute an agreement with Paul in France, he can do so without worrying about currency exchanges or trade regulations in the two countries. Blockchain transactions are especially valuable in countries without banking systems.

4. Blockchain transactions bypass intermediaries, like banks and credit card companies, and their fees. These third parties have historically served as the “keepers of trust,” notarizing documents, releasing funds from accounts and verifying the transactions have taken place — all steps that take time and cost money. Blockchain technology itself serves as the keeper of trust, providing a permanent record of verified transactions.

5. Because using cryptocurrency can lower transaction fees and, thus, minimum transaction amounts, some believe that micro-transaction blockchains may transform how consumers pay for services and products such as music and individual news articles.

6. Increasing numbers of merchants are accepting cryptocurrency because it eliminates credit card fraud.

Q: Who owns and manages the blockchain?

It depends on the type of blockchain.

• Public blockchains, like most that deal with cryptocurrencies, have no governing bodies. They are designed to bypass third parties and support peer-to-peer transactions. Anyone can join and participate in the network (although identities of those making transactions remain private). 

• Private blockchains are controlled by one organization that determines who may have access to read the data or participate in transactions. In some cases, users are authorized for only specific transactions. Because one entity controls the blockchain, transactions are faster and fees are lower.

• Consortium blockchains are hybrids of public and private blockchains. A group of companies may share a blockchain platform, but access to read transactions is granted for specific purposes. For example, if Company A is trading only with Company B, Company A will have access only to those transactions — not to Company B’s transactions with Company C.

At the moment, no one entity owns the blockchain. However, if 51 percent of the blockchain became controlled by a group of cryptographers working in collaboration, that group could take over the chain.  

Currently, cryptocurrency mining requires lots of electrical power, and as a result, miners are located in countries where power is not expensive. Because such countries tend to be those in which government has overriding control of business, there is concern that a government may claim ownership of a public blockchain.  

Q: If banks are not a part of cryptocurrency exchanges, where are my assets stored?

A: Cryptocurrency is stored in a digital “wallet” which, for each transaction, holds elliptic curve digital signature algorithm (ECDSA) keypairs. These pairs are comprised of a public key that identifies the transaction, and a private key known only to the “owner” and used to decrypt the transaction to transfer the “coins” for goods or cash.

Q: How can I spend my cryptocurrency? Do merchants accept all of them?

A: The list of merchants that accept cryptocurrencies is expanding and includes merchants like Overstock and Expedia. But for now, most users can cash out via their wallets and have the funds deposited into a specified bank account. Several digital-asset exchanges around the world provide trading pairs with fiatFiat money is currency such as paper bills that is not convertible into coins. and other digital currencies, as well as bank wire transfers.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications