ASU Cronkite School alumni win Knight Foundation Innovation Grant

March 23, 2015

Four Arizona State University graduates working at news organizations across the country are recipients of the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant, a special journalism innovation fund for alumni of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Cronkite School alumni Nora Avery-Page of the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon, Lauren Gilger of ABC15 News in Phoenix, Natasha Khan of PublicSource in Pittsburgh and Kerry Oslund of Schurz Communications in Mishawaka, Indiana each received up to $15,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The alumni are the second group to receive this grant in the past year, with applications for the third round opening March 23. Cronkite alumni Download Full Image

The Knight-Cronkite Grant, created by Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen specifically for Cronkite alumni working in newsrooms, aims to disrupt the status quo in journalism and stimulate new cutting-edge technologies, practices and ideas. Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School, said the selection committee was impressed by the latest proposals from alumni.

“Our outstanding graduates are leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship at news organizations around the world,” Callahan said. “We were impressed with the trailblazing ideas proposed by Nora, Lauren, Natasha and Kerry and look forward to seeing them in action.”

Khan, a 2012 graduate who covers the environment and energy for PublicSource, will use the grant to equip families living near shale gas operations in Pennsylvania with cameras and air quality monitors to document how fracking affects quality of life. Khan plans to publish a series of multimedia stories on the collected data.

“I am very honored to be chosen for this incredible opportunity,” she said. “There are still many unanswered questions on how shale drilling affects people’s health. We at PublicSource believe this could be a turning point in the conversation in Pennsylvania and elsewhere about fracking and health.”

Gilger, a 2011 graduate, is a Peabody Award-winning investigative journalist at ABC15. She plans to use the grant to establish a digital source database that would streamline and archive news tip submissions, making it easy for reporters to locate and manage contacts and story ideas. The technology could be expanded to other newsrooms across the country.

Oslund, a 1983 graduate, is senior vice president of publishing and emerging media at Schurz Communications, a national multimedia company. He will use the funding for RedPost iBeacon applications. RedPost is a new kind of newspaper rack that is a digital display affixed atop shelves at stores. With iBeacon, it can send real-time information, including news alerts and video, to mobile devices.

“The students Dean Callahan and his A-list professors at Cronkite are sending into the media space are remarkable,” Oslund said. “With the Knight Innovation grant, we can together fast-track development of mobile proximity triggering from RedPost digital displays. Editorial teams will be able to send ultra-local push notifications and mobile messaging to the smartphones and smartwatches of people on-the-go – particularly millennials.”

Avery-Page, a 2010 graduate who serves as a reporter at the Herald and News in Oregon, will use the grant to implement an augmented reality technology that merges traditional print content with new digital features. The technology allows readers to use their smartphones with print materials to unlock dynamic features such as video or animation.

Ibargüen announced the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation program during the Cronkite School’s May 2014 convocation ceremony. Ibargüen pledged $250,000 from Knight Foundation, challenging Cronkite graduates to disrupt the status quo in newsrooms. In November 2014, the Cronkite School awarded inaugural grants to National Journal correspondent Weston Phippen and Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting executive director Brandon Quester. To date, nearly $75,000 in grants have been awarded to Cronkite alumni.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. More information is available at

Logan Clark

Media Relations Officer, Department of Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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