ASU, UC Berkeley teach journalism for the digital age

September 26, 2012

Editor's Note: Arizona State will take on the University of California, at 1 p.m., Sept. 29, in Berkeley. Learn more about ASU's collaborations with Pac-12 schools.

“Read all about it: journalism has a future!” Cronkite School Download Full Image

So shouts the headline of a recent National Times article by Katharine Murphy. In the article, she addresses the concerns of many who fear an impending demise of the field.

“Printed newspapers might be entering their twilight ... but journalism is not down for the count,” writes Murphy. “Journalism's future is digital; this transformation is required to sustain our enterprise.”

One place where that fact is of extreme importance is in the institutions whose task it is to prepare the next generation of journalists for a career during a time of exponentially advancing technology.    

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University strives to do just that. It is their mission to be “the journalism school for the digital age” and train undergraduate and graduate students as multi-media journalists and communicators who are well-prepared to enter today’s changing media landscape with the skills necessary to adapt to the field of the future.

In 2008, The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded a $7.5 million grant to Arizona State University to direct the News21 initiative – a bold, experimental digital media program in cooperation with 12 leading U.S. universities. Later, in 2011, the two organizations announced a separate $2.32 million grant to make ASU not only the headquarters for the program, but the national incubator for the next decade. The program is now open to competitively selected students from all journalism schools.

The News21 program was founded in 2005 with the hopes of changing the way journalism is taught in the United States in order to produce students capable of reshaping the struggling news industry and bringing it into the digital age.

One of the original five member schools to participate in News21 was fellow Pac-12 school University of California at Berkeley. Robert Gunnison, director of Cal's School Affairs, describes their graduate journalism program as “an intensive multi-media program that focuses on the digital aspect of journalism while still honoring the traditional principles of news reporting.”

It appears that approach is working – just this month, UC Berkeley News21 student Catherine Traywick reported on an American company’s proposed expansion into the Philippine mining industry, which was published on

Meanwhile, this past summer ASU saw the News21 initiative bringing together top journalism students from 11 universities across the country to conduct a national investigative report on voting rights. The project, titled “Who Can Vote?” garnered much national attention, with stories from the project published by the Washington Post,, NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, among other prominent media outlets.

Besides the opportunities provided by News21, Cronkite students have had the privilege of getting hands-on experience in the school’s several other innovative professional programs, which include Cronkite NewsWatch, a live, 30-minute newscast airing on Arizona PBS four nights a week; Cronkite News Service, now with a brand-new Washington news bureau that allows students to report from the nation's capital on the most critical issues affecting the country; and the New Media Innovation Lab, a research and development lab that pioneers cutting-edge digital innovations for major media companies.

“All of these exciting initiatives are happening in a spectacular new facility in the center of the nation’s sixth-largest city,” says Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan, referencing the school’s downtown Phoenix location. And with the school’s new career development center, he believes students will have even greater opportunities for success. “Because, after all, the most important measure of a professional journalism program is where students go after graduation and beyond.”

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

ASU scientists bring the heat to refine renewable biofuel production

September 27, 2012

Perhaps inspired by Arizona’s blazing summers, Arizona State University scientists have developed a new method that relies on heat to improve the yield and lower the costs of high-energy biofuels production, making renewable energy production more of an everyday reality.

ASU has been at the forefront of algal research for renewable energy production. Since 2007, with support from federal, state and industry funding, ASU has spearheaded several projects that utilize photosynthetic microbes, called cyanobacteria, as a potential new source of renewable, carbon-neutral fuels. Efforts have focused on developing cyanobacteria as a feedstock for biodiesel production, as well as benchtop and large-scale photobioreactors to optimize growth and production. Roy Curtiss and Xinyao Liu Download Full Image

ASU Biodesign Institute researcher Roy Curtiss, a microbiologist who uses genetic engineering of bacteria to develop new vaccines, has adapted a similar approach to make better biofuel-producing cyanobacteria.

"We keep trying to reach ever deeper into our genetic bag of tricks and optimize bacterial metabolic engineering to develop an economically viable, truly green route for biofuel production,” said Roy Curtiss, director of the Biodesign Institute's Centers for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and Microbial Genetic Engineering as well as professor in the School of Life Sciences.

Cyanobacteria are like plants, dependent upon renewable ingredients including sunlight, carbon dioxide and water that, through genetic engineering, can be altered to favor biodiesel production. Cyanobacteria offer attractive advantages over the use of plants like corn or switchgrass, producing many times the energy yield with energy input from the sun and without the necessity of taking arable cropland out of production.

Colleague Xinyao Liu and Curtiss have spent the last few years modifying these microbes.  Their goal is to bypass costly processing steps (such as cell disruption, filtration) for optimal cyanobacterial biofuel production.

“We wanted to develop strains of cyanobacteria that basically can process themselves,” said Curtiss. “A couple of years ago, we developed a Green Recovery process that is triggered by removing carbon dioxide to control the synthesis of enzymes, called lipases, that degrade the cell membranes and release the microbes’ precious cargo of free fatty acids that can be converted to biofuels,”

However, when growth of cyanobacteria is scaled up to meet industrial needs, they become dense, and the self-shading that occurs in concentrated cultures, does not let in enough light to produce enough of the lipases to efficiently drive the process. Thus the original Green Recovery was light dependent and maximally efficient at sub-optimal culture densities.

Curtiss’ team looked again at nature to improve their Green Recovery method. The process uses enzymes found in nature called thermostable lipases synthesized by thermophilic organisms that grow at high temperatures such as in hot springs. These thermostable lipases break down fats and membrane lipids into the fatty acid biodiesel precursors, but only at high temperatures. The team’s new process, called thermorecovery, uses a heat-triggered, self-destruct system. By taking a culture and shifting to a high temperature, the lipases are called into action. This process occurs with concentrated cultures in the dark under conditions that would be very favorable for an industrial process. 

They tested a total of 7 different lipases from microbes that thrive in hot springs under very high temperatures, a scorching 60-70 C (158F). The research team swapped each lipase gene into a cyanobacteria strain that grows normally at 30 C (86 F) and tested the new strains.

They found the Fnl lipase from Feridobacterium nodosum, an extremophile found in the hot springs of New Zealand, released the most fatty acids. The highest yield occurred when the carbon dioxide was removed from the cells for one day (to turn on the genes making the lipases), then treated at 46C (114F) for two days (for maximum lipase activity).

The yield was 15 percent higher than the Green Recovery method, and because there were less reagents used, time (one day for thermorecovery vs. one week for Green Recovery) and space for the recovery.  Thermorecovery resulted in an estimated 80% cost savings.

Furthermore, in a continuous semi-batch production experiment, the team showed that daily harvested cultures released could release a high level of fatty acid and the productivity could last for at least 20 days. Finally, the water critical to growing the cultures could be recycled to maintain the growth of the original culture.

“Our latest results are encouraging and we are confident of making further improvements to achieve enhanced productivity in strains currently under construction and development,” said Curtiss. “In addition, optimizing growth conditions associated with scale-up will also improve productivity."

The results appear in the online version of the Journal of Biotechnology:

Joe Caspermeyer

Managing editor, Biodesign Institute