Highlight all of ASU's renewable energy research.

Climate and governance: Geography PhD candidate represents ASU at UN convention

December 20, 2019

Peter Crank, an Arizona State University geography PhD candidate and climatologist, found his seat in a packed convention hall in Madrid, opened his laptop and listened with intent as nearly 400 United Nation delegates from around the world negotiated policy to address global climate change.

The science underpinnings discussed were already familiar to Crank, so he instead focused on how it was being framed and communicated for decision-making by international leaders. Peter Crank ASU Peter Crank, PhD in geography candidate, at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Photo by Peter Crank Download Full Image

“Knowing the policy outcomes that could come from the general climate science work that I do affects how I frame problems,” Crank said. “It affects how I design my research and how I communicate my results to people. I want to be able to tie my research with the long-term goal of potentially being able to influence U.N. decisions.”

Earlier this month, Crank represented ASU's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning as an observing delegate at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP25.

The annual conference is the gathering of the nearly 200 countries that make up the U.N. to discuss international action on climate change. It is from this conference that landmark international treaties such as the 1998 Kyoto Protocol and the 2016 Paris Agreement were produced.

Crank, along with a delegation of eight other ASU students, was chosen to represent the university based on his articulation of how attending the convention would help deepen his work and contribute to the larger ASU community.

COP Hall

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP25. Photo by Peter Crank

Policy implications of climate science

Crank’s research at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning focuses on extreme heat in cities and its impact on health. He specifically is exploring how built environments influence our experience of thermal comfort and the mechanisms by which local governments and other stakeholders can help reduce health risks for residents.

Crank was nominated to attend the convention by David Sailor, director of the Urban Climate Research Center.

“When I heard about the opportunity to nominate students to be part of the ASU observer delegation to COP25, I immediately thought of Peter,” said Sailor, who is also a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “Aside from his genuine interest in and expertise related to climate science, Peter has a deep interest in the intersection between climate challenges and governance. There are significant connections and parallels between global and local climate mitigation efforts.”

At the convention, Crank participated in the first week of activities with the Subsidiary Body for Scientific Technological Advice, a subcommittee that serves as a key liaison to the policymakers that define the larger conference’s aim and scope. This year COP25’s focus was to finalize changes to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, the mechanism by which the U.N. tracks and quantifies what countries are doing to reverse climate change.

“Being at COP25 really showed me the interconnected nature of trying to address climate change at the global scale and the challenges that come with it,” Crank said. “It’s helped me to better understand the U.N. as a whole and how I as a climate scientist connect into the larger discussion that is going on.”

While focused on the local level, Crank believes his research may have the ability to create ripples of a larger change.

“While the U.N. is addressing the larger-scale issues of greenhouse gas emissions and human rights violations associated with climate change, it puts me at the grassroots side of climate change,” Crank said. “At the forefront of this is a validation of why my research matters, but it also helps me situate it and be able to point to tangible local efforts that can be done to mitigate the impacts of climate change on our daily lives.”

ASU COP25 Delegates

ASU COP25 student delegates in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Peter Crank 

The future of academic climate leadership

Crank joins a select number of ASU students who have attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. ASU has sent a delegation of select students, staff and faculty to attend the convention for a number of years.

“Students like Peter represent the future academic leadership around issues such as climate change,” Sailor said. “The more firsthand experience they can accrue early in their academic careers, the more effective they can be at informing processes such as COP25, and at advocating for change down the road.”

Sailor continued, “Peter was a great choice for the ASU delegation. That said, SGSUP has many students who exhibit a similar depth of knowledge, leadership and professionalism. So, I am hopeful that SGSUP students will continue to be selected to attend future COP meetings.”

Crank is grateful for the experience and plans to share it with his colleagues and the greater community across the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and ASU.

“Being able to have had this experience is not only beneficial to me but to future students, those here at ASU that choose to go to the U.N. and potentially students of my own. I look forward to being able to share my experience with them to help them better understand the intricacies and challenges associated with global governance around climate change.”

David Rozul

Communications Program Coordinator, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


image title

ASU ranks 10th on environmentally friendly campuses list

December 4, 2019

Arizona State University works vigilantly to incorporate sustainability practices in all of its daily environments. In 2006, the university made real headway by establishing the nation’s first school of sustainability. Since then, efforts to become a more environmentally conscious campus have multiplied, and the university’s efforts have earned notice.

U.S. News and World Report recently highlighted ASU as one of 10 environmentally friendly college campuses, citing the university’s Carbon Project, which helps reduce carbon emissions on campuses, and ASU’s Fair Trade designation, which encourages vendors to use products that are produced with fair labor practices and environmental protections.

The ranking came from Sierra Magazine’s 2019 Cool Schools scores. Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada, ranked No. 1. The top 10 includes the University of California, Irvine, the University of Connecticut and Colorado State University. ASU ranked 10th in the nation, ahead of the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Oregon State University and Cornell.

"ASU continues to be recognized for its comprehensive solution-focused approach to sustainability. With efforts across research and education, climate action, water optimization, zero waste, personal action, collaborative action, resilience, community success, and food; we appreciate the recognition of ASU’s success," said Corey Hawkey, assistant director of University Sustainability Practices.

In 2006, ASU increased its efforts to certify its buildings under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. The Fulton Center on the Tempe campus became ASU’s first LEED-certified building by reducing its urban heat island effect through roof and landscape design, using recycled building materials and reducing interior and exterior water usage by more than 30% and 50% respectively. So far, ASU has 54 LEED certifications.

Wrigley Hall, which is home to ASU’s School of Sustainability and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, was also renovated using sustainable products and low-emitting or low-emissions paint. The roof is also lined with 124 solar panels, a reminder that ASU is committed to renewable energy sources.

At the Polytechnic campus, students have a new tool to learn about holistic food systems through the Garden Commons, a community garden which aims to eliminate food insecurity among the ASU community. The locally, organically grown produce supports the campus and nearby food banks.

Learn more about ASU’s sustainability efforts and how students, faculty and staff can make an impact.

Top photo: Three hundred solar panels cover much of the Memorial Union patio and Cady Mall. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Jimena Garrison

Copywriter , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

image title

USPCAS-E: The power of collaboration realized

December 3, 2019

The U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy (USPCAS-E) project launched in 2015 with a $60 million investment from USAID. It was conceived as a five-year partnership between Arizona State University and two leading Pakistani universities — the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) and the University of Engineering and Technology Peshawar (UET Peshawar) — together with supporting partner Oregon State University.

Its charge: develop innovative solutions to Pakistan’s energy challenges through a host of initiatives, from modernizing curriculum and infrastructure within NUST and UET Peshawar to facilitating enhanced learning opportunities for faculty and students through academic exchange programs and joint research projects at ASU and OSU.

Additionally, the project sought to foster partnerships between public and private energy stakeholders in Pakistan, thereby ensuring that the initiative would continue to yield results long after its conclusion in 2019.  

A story of connections made

The origins of USPCAS-E stretch back to 2010, when representatives from Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission and USAID first began discussing an energy-related education initiative. Over the next four years, risk assessments were done, RFPs were developed, competitive bids were submitted, winners were chosen, and in 2014, the project launched.

In the intervening five years, partnership members have worked tirelessly to establish two centers of learning capable of making significant, long-term contributions to solving Pakistan’s energy challenges. The results of their efforts are nothing short of astounding. 

“In just five years, we have established two credible institutions for energy education in Pakistan, with healthy intakes of students, competent faculty and state-of-the-art facilities,” said NUST Deputy Director Ahmad Saeed. “I believe this is particularly impressive because when we started, NUST’s Center of Energy Systems had no building, only rudimentary labs, and a single master’s program in energy systems engineering, and UET Peshawar had nothing.” 

Curriculum development was a major component in the undertaking, Saeed said. A needs assessment was done, and courses were created based on the country’s greatest challenges. Faculty from ASU, NUST and UET Peshawar worked jointly to develop the curriculum, with help from OSU Professors Kendra Sharp and Brian Fronk. 

ASU faculty also engaged Pakistani energy stakeholders in the process, and faculty from NUST and UET Peshawar were encouraged to query stakeholders as to how the centers could help in solving real-world problems through applied research projects. “These relationships will help the centers continue to move forward after the project ends,” Saeed said. “By working closely with stakeholders, we can identify research projects, cultivate funding sources, and help our graduates find work.” 

A series of goals surpassed

Initial results show the project is working just as the partners had hoped.

“It rarely happens that projects such as these achieve their stated goals, but with the USPCAS-E program, NUST and ASU not only achieved their goals, they overshot them,” Saeed said. For example, he says, NUST was charged with awarding 250 merit-based scholarships but gave more than 300. Its center was challenged to start three new programs but launched seven, and when asked to identify 100 students to participate in the exchange program, NUST tapped 110. 

ASU’s dedication to the project was equally important, Saeed said. “From the outset, ASU faculty and administration were committed not just to do something, but to do something great.” 

The support provided by USAID throughout the five-year project was crucial as well, Saeed said. “Anytime there was a problem, USAID staff was there to help. Their oversight and support throughout the project were exceptional.”

Sayfe Kiaei, USPCAS-E project director at ASU, is also pleased. “Within five years, we have developed 14 new master's and PhD degree programs and more than 150 new courses; graduated more than 300 master’s students, nearly one-third of whom were females or underrepresented minorities; and enrolled more than 1,000 students in degree programs at NUST and UET Peshawar,” he said. 

These impressive gains were realized in part due to the technical expertise and research capabilities available through ASU’s multidisciplinary energy centers, said Kiaei. ASU faculty also brought their expertise to bear on issues of energy policy and governance.

“Here at ASU, we’re working to transform energy systems by tackling issues from research and regulation to strategy, entrepreneurship, policy and pedagogy, and through the USPCAS-E project, we were able to share that knowledge with our partners in Pakistan.”

An experience of learning shared 

ASU Associate Professor Zachary Holman was among those who traveled to Pakistan to lead technical training workshops for faculty, staff and stakeholders. He also hosted exchange scholars in his ASU laboratory. 

“I was perhaps most surprised by what my Pakistani exchange students found valuable,” Holman said. “It turns out that the hands-on learning component of working in my lab was critical. To be trusted to use extremely expensive equipment on their own, anytime, was incredibly important to the students, and quite different from their experiences in Pakistan." 

Empowering the exchange students with intellectual responsibility was another important step, says Holman. In Pakistan, faculty typically remain more distant from students, dispensing wisdom in a one-way relationship, whereas at ASU, faculty and graduate students interacted with the Pakistani exchange students on a first-name basis and expected them to carry their weight on research projects.

“This level of responsibility was new to them and transformative,” Holman said. “Many left with a new attitude: ‘I can do more than I realized, I just need to be trusted and trust myself.’” 

Holman also benefited. The professor gained a new doctoral student — after spending a semester in Holman’s lab, Warda Mushtaq elected to return to ASU to pursue her PhD — and his graduate students and postdocs learned more about themselves.

Warda Mushtaq

Warda Mushtaq, USPCAS-E exchange scholar and graduate, is now pursuing a PhD at ASU. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

“Several members of my lab mentored our exchange students,” he explained. “Some realized they liked teaching, and others discovered it wasn’t their calling. In both cases, they got a better sense of what they’d like to do in their own careers.”

In short, says Holman, the USPCAS-E project was tremendously valuable to everyone involved. “The research relationships that have been formed will persist long after the project is completed,” he said.

A path forward set

“Research is an ongoing effort that links faculty on both ends of the project,” agreed ASU Professor A.M. Kannan, the research component lead and joint research project principal investigator for the initiative. “Sustainability was a major component of this initiative, so we wanted to ensure that we helped NUST and UET Peshawar faculty master the elements of a successful research program.”

For example, says Kannan, Pakistani faculty wanted training in writing a successful research proposal, so ASU held a proposal writing workshop at NUST. ASU also assessed the universities’ research facilities and made recommendations as to the equipment they should procure. And when exchange students came to work in ASU’s labs, faculty members guided them in proper protocols.

“Our students returned with a sense of confidence and a determination to pursue research more aggressively,” Saeed said.

Pakistani exchange scholar Maria Kanwal puts it more bluntly.

“Spending a semester working in the lab of Professor Zachary Holman was life-changing,” she said. “Working with PhD students and postdocs, I learned how research is conducted in a focused environment, helping me become immersed in my work and improving my ability to approach problems in the lab.” 

Now back in Pakistan, Kanwal has permanently altered her plans for the future. She has applied for a scholarship and hopes to begin working on her PhD in a U.S. or European graduate program in September 2020. After completing her doctorate, she plans to return to Pakistan and implement what she has learned.

“My degree won’t just be hanging on my wall,” she said. 

Graduate student Mushtaq is similarly enthusiastic. She, too, spent a semester in the states as an exchange scholar in Professor Holman’s lab and has now returned to complete her PhD under his tutelage.

“The main challenge I faced during my research work in Pakistan was limited availability of resources — I wasn’t even sure I wanted to participate in the exchange program when the opportunity arose — but my experience with the faculty, equipment and lab facilities at ASU helped me to focus and determine next steps,” Mushtaq said.

After completing her doctorate, she plans to return to Pakistan and pursue a faculty position at NUST.

Faculty members in Pakistan have also benefited from the exchange program. Affaq Qamar, an assistant professor under an electrical energy system engineering program at UET Peshawar, spent four and a half months at ASU, conducting a joint research project with ASU Professor Bertan Bakkaloglu, participating in the Technology Entrepreneurship Lab under the guidance of Start-Up Program Faculty Associate Kenneth Mulligan, and bolstering his teaching skills through completion of the Advancing Instructional Methods (AIM) certification program with Professor Peter Rillero.

“I learned how to organize lectures, introduce concepts and more actively engage my students in the learning process.” 

Back in Pakistan, Qamar says, the change in his classroom was profound.

“Before the AIM training, my interactions with students were pretty basic — I asked questions and they answered. But when I began applying the concepts I learned while at ASU, the whole dynamic changed. My students began to participate actively in the learning process, challenging me and gaining confidence in their knowledge.”

And that confidence has translated into higher postgraduate job placements, Qamar said. “Electrical engineers here are going through tough times in terms of job placement, but my students are getting jobs because they know their field and believe in their abilities.” 

A future of endless possibilities

“Through the USPCAS-E program, we’ve given individual students in Pakistan opportunities that they never would have had,” Kiaei said. “We’ve established two centers that deliver state-of-the-art, 21st-century energy education, and as graduates begin their careers, this knowledge will propagate throughout the country.” 

Initiatives within the program have also helped to lay the groundwork to develop hybrid energy sources in Pakistan’s rural areas and decrease the number of regularly scheduled power outages, work that Kiaei is confident will continue.

Faculty and administrators at ASU have profited from the experience as well, says Kiaei. “The USPCAS-E project gave us the opportunity to execute an international project and we learned a lot. Our success underscores the fact that ASU’s outreach is global.” 

Clark Miller, a professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and director of ASU’s Center for Energy and Society, served as the USPCAS-E program’s joint research project principal investigator and witnessed firsthand the positive impact of the project on all parties. Miller hosted three Pakistani faculty and 30 students in his lab over the course of the five years, held video conferences with Pakistani faculty every other week throughout the project, and travelled to Pakistan twice. 

The program has allowed structures to be put in place in Pakistan that can drive long-term change in the country’s energy systems, Miller observes. “NUST and UET Peshawar are institutions with durability. Now they have an integrated perspective on energy, together with the knowledge and tools, that will allow them to advance the energy goals of the nation.”

Written by Lori Ferguson

Top photo: Professor Zachary Holman works in the lab with Maria Kanwal as part of the USPCAS-E program. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter

image title

ASU solar awards eclipse other universities in latest round of DOE funding

November 17, 2019

Arizona State University has received five prestigious Department of Energy awards totaling $9.8 million, ranking it first among all university recipients and second overall for this year’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) awards to advance solar energy research and development. 

Overall SETO funding for fiscal year 2019 totaled $128 million for 75 projects designed to “lower solar electricity costs while working to boost solar manufacturing, reduce red tape and make solar systems more resilient to cyberattacks,” according to the DOE.

Among universities, the University of Washington received $4.9 million in funding, followed by the University of Toledo with $4.5 million. The top award recipient among national research laboratories and private industry was the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent, nonprofit research organization, with $10.7 million, followed by ASU and then Sandia National Labs with $7.55 million and the National Renewable Energy Lab with $7.5 million.

“This is the fourth consecutive year ASU has received more SETO funding than any other academic institution, and this year we are second overall among national research labs and private industry,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools of Engineering. “Our faculty members have demonstrated time and again that ASU’s capacity for collaboration and innovation warrants the nation’s investment in our vision for solving the energy needs of the future.”


Graduate research associate
Pablo Guimerá Coll (left) and ASU
graduate student Jacob Clenney talk 
with Associate Professor Mariana Bertoni
about their research in the DEfECT Lab. 

Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

ASU’s 2019 SETO Award recipients:

Mariana Bertoni, an associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, received $2.5 million to address using sound waves instead of a metal saw to create the base, or substrate, of a solar cell, reducing waste and improving the lifetime of the substrate. The team will prove the viability of a sonic wafering process that uses low temperatures and intense sound waves to carefully and accurately remove completed gallium arsenide solar cells from the top surface of a thick wafer to reuse III-V substrates, so named for the semiconductor materials in groups III and V of the periodic table. This work would significantly reduce the cost of producing high-quality III-V substrates, one of the costliest components of this type of solar cell.

Bertoni and Rico Meier, an assistant research professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, received $200,000 to develop a method of using very high-frequency sound waves to characterize the module lamination process, paying particular attention to specific bonding structures in the ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) encapsulation layer, and quantify the achievable resolution and measurement uncertainties. This work will deliver new insights into how defects and lamination are related and how to optimize the lamination process, ultimately at the industrial scale. 

Christiana Honsberg, Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research (QESST) director, and Stanislau Herasimenka, an assistant research professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, received $1.8 million to leverage the advanced cell and module prototyping facilities at ASU to support the companies that aim to prove the viability of new photovoltaic technologies but don’t have access to industry relevant manufacturing equipment. The foundry will focus on post-passivated emitter rear contact silicon solar cell and module technologies, which are built to reduce recombination losses in the cell and are expected to grow to dominate the manufacturing landscape.

Ellen B. Stechel, a professor of practice in the School of Molecular Sciences and co‑director of ASU LightWorks, received $3.3 million for a project to develop long‑term storage for advanced concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) plants. Year‑round, day and night, on‑demand power generation is the next solar frontier and essential to deep penetration of solar energy. The ASU‑led team will develop and integrate technologies that provide multi‑tier energy storage, spanning hours to months, and enable CSP plants to guarantee year‑round power generation and dispatch via a supercritical carbon dioxide power cycle.

Yu Yao, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, received $2 million to develop imaging systems using polarimetry — the measurement of how light rays are polarized. Measuring polarization has the potential to provide much richer information of objects than conventional optical imagers, which measure only intensity and color. The imaging systems will be small enough to attach to drones and be deployed to evaluate the performance of CSP collector systems. They can also be attached to CSP plant power towers. Autonomous imaging will reveal damage and soiling on collector mirrors and reduce errors in mirror alignment, resulting in improved efficiency.

In addition to the ASU awards, Swift Coat, an ASU spin-out company founded by Associate Professor Zachary Holman and doctoral student Peter Firth, received $1 million to make and scale multilayer, antireflective and antisoiling coatings for solar glass that will be deposited by a technique that sprays dry nanoparticles. The coatings have the potential to increase annual energy yield by reducing the loss of energy output that results when light gets reflected or when dirt lands on the modules. They will also reduce operation and maintenance costs because the modules won’t require as much cleaning. The team will perform outdoor testing in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 

Swift Coat also was awarded $400,000 as a subcontractor for an Energy Materials Corporation research project developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar modules using intense pulsed light to fuse cell layers.

“ASU’s leadership in photon-inspired approaches continues to define tomorrow’s energy solutions, said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer at ASU. “Collaborative alliances between industry leaders like First Solar and ASU spinouts like Swift Coat enhance ASU’s ability to deliver meaningful economic impact in the metropolitan area. 

“I’m also incredibly proud of Associate Professor Zachary Holman and doctoral student Peter Firth, who were awarded $1.4 million in SETO funding,” continued Panchanathan. “Their work is evidence of the wealth of research talent we have here at ASU, as well as demonstrates the significant societal impact realized through partnership efforts.”

Top photo: A gallium arsenide wafer cleaved in half using a sonic wafering technology developed in the Defect Engineering for Energy Conversion Technologies (DEfECT) Lab at ASU. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

More than just answers: ASU’s Department of Physics is teaming up for solutions

September 30, 2019

At one time or another, we were all scientists. There is a reason a child’s first questions include: “What is it?”, “Why?” and “How?”

A physicist never loses that sense of wonder, that drive to understand something that, for now, might remain a mystery. Albert Einstein himself claimed that his real talent was not a superior intelligence, but a passionate and never-ending curiosity. The study of physics has always been about a quest for answers. The Department of Physics at Arizona State University is a part of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and has four key research areas, with faculty and students in more than eight collaborative initiatives across disciplines and institutions. Download Full Image

But all the answers in the world wouldn’t do any good if they aren't shared. That is why the Department of Physics at Arizona State University capitalizes on every opportunity to collaborate for greater success — to look beyond answers to solutions.

Through groundbreaking collaborations and new initiatives, the school's faculty are applying the core fundamentals of physics to challenging new problems and teaming up with researchers in other disciplines to tackle some of today’s most urgent problems, such as sustainable energy, advancing technology, global health, and the composition of the universe.

Of course, this mindset does not only apply to the faculty — after all, they are not merely researchers; they are also teachers, and their legacy is their students. They welcome passionate, curious, hard-working students of all ages and give them every tool they need to choose their path and make a difference in the world.

This is why student research — at every level — is at the heart of the department’s operating strategy.

From undergraduate students to postdoctoral scholars, Department of Physics researchers have contributed to many groundbreaking discoveries. Whether testing a process to draw energy from diamond particles using sunlight or patenting a new method of blood analysis that could lead to faster diagnosis, each facet of the Department of Physics contributes to a brighter, sustainable future.

New methods for old problems

Reaching across typical academic unit boundaries, the faculty are bringing their expertise in the principles of physics to explore old problems in a new context. The Center for Biological Physics (CBP) applies tools and methods for gathering, examining and interpreting data to better understand biological phenomena as active matter, potentially changing the way we view life and treat illness.

CBP brings together faculty from physics, chemistry and engineering to study life at different scales, not merely at the organism level — but at the molecular level. CBP Director and Professor Banu Ozkan is working to unravel the recipe of life itself by studying the way proteins are able to form into complex and functional systems based purely on the signals inherent in their DNA. Understanding how these genetic sequences combine to direct life could be the first step toward exerting any control over the process — which would allow us to get ahead of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and develop drugs to target disease with pinpoint accuracy.

An associate professor at ASU, Banu Ozkan and two of her grad students, Paul Campitelli and Tushar Modi, explore correlations between principles of physics and biological systems and look for applications for a better understanding of proteins and evolution.

Steve Pressé, an associate professor in both the Department of Physics and the School of Molecular Sciences, is developing new strategies to extract information on processes occurring deep within living cells. Working within CBP, Pressé recently received two single-PI R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop methods to track individual molecules as well as monitor their chemical changes from imaging data.

"We all know about tracking missiles, but tracking missiles is easy compared to tracking individual molecules inside cells," he said. "Molecules cannot be directly imaged. Rather, we use a smattering of photons collected over a region about a hundred times the size of a single molecule to pinpoint its location. Intersecting molecular paths then cause challenges completely foreign to tracking large objects like missiles."

The ability to track the movement of molecules, their assembly into larger clusters as well as their disassembly within cells, could shed immediate insight into the rules of life.

“What is different today, as compared to even just a few years ago, is our ability to exploit new tools of mathematics and data science to literally exploit individual photons, light particles, emitted by molecules we care about to extract information on molecules at rapid time scales, previously unachievable, at which important biological events occur," said Pressé.

“Because these things we are studying are so incredibly tiny, we are talking about a lot of data, a lot of signals,” he said. “And because of the computers we currently have access to, we have the ability to process so much more information — which allows us to not only be descriptive, but quantitative.”

A coordinated attack on global challenges

Another ASU initiative employing physics principles to tackle biological questions and topics is the Biodesign Institute. Occupying over 550,000 square feet, the Biodesign Institute represents Arizona’s single largest research infrastructure in the biosciences. Faculty, students and researchers are bringing their vast experience and perspective to reimagine the “design rules” found in nature and searching for patterns and clues to tackle current global health challenges in health care, sustainability and security.

In 2018, physics Professor Rizal Hariadi received the NIH New Innovator Award for his proposal focusing on the functionality of a biomolecular system when force is applied, specifically in the context of malaria parasite invasion. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

For Rizal Hariadi, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and an investigator for the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, an intensive interdisciplinary environment was the perfect fit.

Already heavily involved in research combining physics, biology, chemistry and mechanical engineering, Hariadi often evoked the question, "Why are you here?" when applying to departments at other institutions. ASU's Biodesign Institute, one of only a few collaborations of its kind, was a welcome harbor.

Hariadi established the Biomolecular Mechanics and Nanotechnology Laboratory (BIOMAN LAB), a highly inclusive research group looking to gain a greater understanding of the origin of life by exposing the fundamental physical forces that determine how cells respond to mechanical forces.

This ambitious group includes a diverse set of researchers, ranging from high school to postdoctoral scholars. He also employs a far less common addition: comic illustrators.

He encourages students to use their time to get involved and to do everything they can to find the answers to the questions they are most passionate about. Including undergraduates gives them the chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and to explore and develop their interests and creativity.

“Life is short,” he said. “I’m not going to send students to do something that I find less impactful, or not interesting. I want it to be interesting and important.”

And Hariadi is not the only one who feels that way. The Biodesign Institute brings together 132 tenured research faculty with over 200 active research projects, and it has established more than a dozen different research centers and labs.

The only tools for the job

Award-winning facilities and advanced research technology play a significant role in ASU’s research atmosphere and culture. Many of the experimental projects pursued by faculty and students would not be possible anywhere else.

In addition to the use of advanced computational methods and technology, ASU is home to the Eyring Materials Center, three facilities that provide incredible equipment of materials research and the solid-state sciences. Foremost among these is the world-renowned John M. Cowley Center for High-Resolution Electron Microscopy, with its unique collection of advanced electron microscopes used for exploring the atomic structure of many types of emerging materials.

Through the incredible work conducted today and the phenomenal facilities underway, the Department of Physics is crafting a program that will carry forward and establish a legacy for all its future students and researchers.

Technology of this magnitude has never been built to this scale. The Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser will be the only one of its kind, bringing the power of a national lab to Biodesign's Building C.

Construction is ongoing for a one-of-a-kind Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser (CXFEL). Uniquely small and uniquely powerful, the device is the creation of Associate Professor William Graves and will open the door to countless potential breakthroughs in capturing and imaging chemical reactions and material changes in motion. The monumental project, which just received a tremendous boost of $4.7 million from the National Science Foundation, is the result of decades of work from researchers across the globe.

ASU Regents Professors John Spence, the Richard Snell Professor of Physics, and Petra Fromme, the Paul V. Galvin Professor of Molecular Sciences, were part of a worldwide team to develop the first theory and methodology to peer ever deeper into the biological world using XFELs in 2010.

Spence is a crucial member of the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery (BioXFEL), a consortium dedicated to advancing science, medicine, and health with the help of new technology — such as the new CXFEL — that allows scientists to capture biological molecules in atomic detail. Resources like this will lead to momentous discoveries and fuel new collaborations and innovations in the years to come.

Establishing a legacy

Biology is not the only area where physics reaches across boundaries to answer formidable questions. From the microscopic to the astronomical, the Cosmology Initiative bridges the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics to explore the answers of the universe and particle physics.

Physics Professor and Undergraduate Program Director Richard Lebed hopes the next generation of theoretical physicists can build on current research to push even further into the ever-more peculiar subatomic particles that compose our universe.

Lebed is studying the nature of exotic hadrons: particles made up of four or more quarks. Typical hadrons, such as protons and neutrons, are made of two or three quarks. Exotic hadrons were entirely unknown until very recently. And despite being sure of their existence — and their many varieties — science does not currently have a model that accurately describes their properties and structure — something Lebed and his team of students are aiming to fix.

ASU physics Professor Richard Lebed and two of his students, Curtis Peterson and Jesse Giron, explore the theories and properties of subatomic particles.

Perhaps the most mysterious substance at the moment is dark matter. Thought to be approximately 27% of the universe, we currently have a far better idea of what dark matter isn’t than what it is. Professor Frank Wilczek is eager to change that.

Wilczek, who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics, is looking forward to working on several new projects to explore theoretical materials like anyons, quantum particles that exist in two-dimensional spaces, and axions, hypothetical elementary particles that could even be the dark matter science has been looking for.

Shaping the layers of future technology

Seeking to close the gap between theory and practice, The Science Hub is a new ASU initiative that combines interdisciplinary research, teaching and product development. 

The Science Hub, or “SciHub,” is the work of both Wilzcek and Nathan Newman, Lamonte H. Lawrence Professor in Solid State Science in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. This unique collaboration across colleges and disciplines aims to show the process of taking a theoretical idea clear through to the creation of an application in the form of technology or software.

“ASU has created an entrepreneurship atmosphere where this kind of adventure is encouraged, and it is very attractive to me,” Wilczek said.

The Nanoscience and Materials Physics Program is another research area within the Department of Physics with an eye toward possible commercial applications. Faculty, researchers and students are creating and studying new materials at the forefront of the future’s technological breakthroughs.

Multiple faculty collaborators are conducting remarkable work with an equally remarkable material: diamond.

In his lab, ASU physics Professor Robert Nemanich and his research group, including Graduate Research Assistant Yu Yang, have shown that we can make electronic technology using diamond.

Diamond’s uniquely stable molecular structure, as well as its durability under incredible heat and pressure, makes it ideal for countless potential applications. Many of the diamonds used in current experiments are “doped diamonds,” with layers grown and prepared right here on ASU’s campus.

“Everyone looks at it, and they see a beautiful, sparkling gemstone, and the properties we are interested are not that,” said Robert Nemanich, Regents Professor and trailblazer of the research area. “We’re more interested in getting a current to run through a diamond.”

The study of the electrical properties of diamonds has fascinating implications in the fields of electronic technologies and sustainable energy. And the research is well beyond theoretical at this point.

Advent Diamond Inc. is a startup company led by ASU alumna Manupeet Benipal, who serves as CEO. Nemanich and Anna Zaniewski, instructional professional for the Department of Physics, are also a part of the team, taking ideas and materials developed in the laboratory and exploring their commercial applications.

One ongoing project, funded through NASA, involves the design and use of diamond electronics able to function at temperatures of 500 degrees Celsius, potentially enabling a mission to Venus utilizing diamond electronic technology.

A lifelong curiosity

At the end of the day, a physicist is more than papers published and prizes won. It is someone who has developed a mindset of solving problems that will shape the rest of his or her life.

A physicist is never bored — because they see amazing things happening in the world around them and continue to develop new interests and explore novel curiosities.

A physicist recognizes that much of life is a series of experiments. We try, we fail, we make changes and try again, and again, until we finally succeed.

And a physicist knows that there is so much we can learn from each other. Collaboration is often the element that turns answers into long-term solutions.

Dominique Perkins

Events and Communications Coordinator, Department of Physics


image title

'Hurricane Maria ... is still there'

September 20, 2019

ASU professor and students work to improve energy in Puerto Rico

Two years ago, Yiamar Rivera-Matos was at home with her family in Jayuya, a rural mountain town of about 12,000 people in the center of Puerto Rico, when Hurricane Maria hit.

The family lived without power for three months, cooking with small gas tanks and eating canned food and root vegetables that survived the tempest. Her mother had lived through Hurricane Georges in 1998 and knew what to expect. She rationed all their supplies. Everyone got two bottles of water and four potatoes per day.

“I was like, ‘Let’s share food with everyone,’” Rivera-Matos said. “My mom, she said it was going to get worse. ‘Be prepared. We need to count the stuff we have. If you share with everyone, you will be without eating. We will have no food.’ I was like, ‘Hmm. Interesting.’”

Two years later, power has been restored to Puerto Rico, but next-level reconstruction hasn’t happened. Now, Rivera-Matos is a PhD candidate at Arizona State University, where she, her professor and other Puerto Rican students began work this summer to bring renewable energy to the island.

The average median income in Puerto Rico is half that of Mississippi. Energy costs are high because they burn oil in power plants. All of the oil is imported. They import $8 million of carbon per day — $3 billion per year — and it’s burnt. (Arizona imports $15 billion. It’s also burnt.)

“If you could replace importing oil from the rest of the world and burning it, you could invest in local sources, locally owned energy supplies, like solar, wind and so forth,” said Professor Clark Miller. “You take what is essentially a tax on your economy and turn it into an investment in your economy.”

Miller directs the Center for Energy and Society in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. He studies the societal implications of large-scale energy transitions. He is directing a project working with Puerto Rican towns to design solar projects that help, not hinder, the community.

“That’s the goal of the project,” Miller said. “How can we design not just the technical part of the project but the ownership and social organization of the project so that it creates lots of social value of energy? The goal is to design solar projects so that they work in this value-creation way to help the community get out of poverty? It becomes an engine of poverty eradication.”

The project began with a colleague of Miller’s at the University of Puerto Rico. When Maria hit, Rivera-Matos was a student at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. “Everything got destroyed,” she said.

A number of mainland universities offered aid to researchers and students the University of Puerto Rico. Miller asked if ASU wanted to take part. The Office of the University Provost said yes immediately.

“We’ve had this whole big program of collaboration that has developed out of that,” he said.

Three PhD students came to ASU, working on energy justice issues for their research. They found a Department of Energy solicitation looking for projects that explore strategies for using solar energy to help low-income communities.

There was talk about how the island could use solar energy to solve its problems, but not a lot happening on the ground. Two weeks after Maria, there was a flurry of high-level discussions (Elon Musk, the governor) about how solar was going to be the future of Puerto Rico. Islanders were excited about this. Officials set a target of running completely on renewable energy by 2050.

“The flip side is very little has happened on the ground,” Miller said.

Congress has not allocated money for reconstruction. Massive potholes scar roads. Roofs are still covered in blue tarps. The power goes on and off.

Miller and his students proposed looking at how solar energy power and markets had been developing on the island since Maria. They decided to select a number of low-income communities for case studies and collaboratively work with them to design solar strategies using solar energy to “disrupt the energy-poverty nexus,” as Miller says.

“For most of us, energy is a background we really don’t think about,” he said. “We kind of just pay for what we use. Energy is also an important driver of economic growth and development for many communities, businesses and households. But for the poorest it can actually reinforce and make it harder to get out of poverty. We call that the energy-poverty nexus.”

For instance, folks who can’t afford to insulate a roof may use more power to cool their house. If they have an old air conditioning unit, it may not be as energy-efficient as a newer unit. Energy costs eat up more of their income.

Phase one of the $1.3 million project took place last summer. Miller and his students crisscrossed the island for months, trying to understand the current dynamics of solar power.

“We interviewed people from the businesses, policy makers, financing sector, other researchers like us, people from communities across the island, and other actors that are part of the complex energy ecosystem of the island,” said Angel Echevarria, who is earning his PhD in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology from the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

"There is no one-size-fits-all effort, so everyone has had to figure this out for themselves, all driven by the knowledge they could have another hurricane at any time."
— ASU Professor Clark Miller

The idea was to get the whole picture before they identify 12 to 15 candidate communities. Out of those, they will choose four to work with.

Currently there is a fairly active set of solar businesses. Their market has shifted to relatively wealthy people and small businesses, big-box retailers and so forth.

“But there’s a lot bigger demand for this, and a lot of people can’t afford to participate,” Miller said. “It’s tied in with the compete failure of the federal government to deliver reconstruction money to Puerto Rico over the past two years. ... Next-level reconstruction has not happened.”

(One part of the problem is that for a federally funded rooftop solar system to be installed, a house has to be up to code. That shuts out many homes in Puerto Rico.)

One community got a gift of $10,000. They bought five $2,000 solar systems — microsystems that can run a fridge and maybe a few lights. (The typical home system in Phoenix runs $10,000 to $20,000.) Households will buy and install the systems, then the community will buy five more. “It’s kind of a rolling pool,” Miller said.

“All these different models are emerging, in part because there is no government program,” he said. “There is no one-size-fits-all effort, so everyone has had to figure this out for themselves, all driven by the knowledge they could have another hurricane at any time.”

Surviving the hurricane and experiencing firsthand the energy-poverty nexus put a different cast on the work for Echevarria.

It “allowed me to be exposed to all sorts of subtle but intricate relationships between human built environment, human and socially created institutions, our current energy system and many others that, when combined, only reinforce each other and not in the favor of our well-being,” he said. “Those experiences, not only mine, but shared among Puerto Ricans, are one of my main drivers for participating in this research study.”

Memories of eating canned food for three months are stuck in Rivera-Matos’ memories. Other people had it worse, she said; folks in rural areas ate canned food and military rations for a year.

Rivera-Matos is earning her PhD in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology. She has three years to go.

“I want to keep working in energy, but I don’t know from which perspective, if academia will be the best option or getting into Puerto Rico with a nongovernmental organization,” she said. “I’m still exploring that part.”

The hurricane hasn’t ended, she said.

“I would love to go home and work on the energy grid in Puerto Rico, but things are getting worse and worse,” she said. “Not just from a research perspective but from a personal and Puerto Rican perspective, I was like, Wow! It’s worse now. People are getting less jobs. ... I think Hurricane Maria is still going on now. It’s still there. That’s something I have to take into consideration.”

Miller is pleased with his students.

“These are fantastic young people, really passionate about the future of Puerto Rico, really committed to making it a place that works,” he said.

Top photo: A solar system on top of a medical clinic, in the town of Jayuya, Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of Clark Miller

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Building a sustainable world through history

ASU professor's work in environmental history is working to build a cleaner, more sustainable tomorrow

September 20, 2019

Professor Paul Hirt wears many hats at Arizona State University as well as in the community: active public speaker, lecturer and facilitator.

At ASU, he is a professor of environmental history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, an instructor for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a scholar for the School of Sustainability and an associate for the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Melikian Center: Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies. Glen Canyon Glen Canyon during the day. Courtesy: pexels.com Download Full Image

Hirt is involved with many public engagement programs including the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit Water/Ways, an administrative history of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, renewable energy development for the Navajo Nation and many more. He holds an elected position on the board of directors of the Salt River Project as well.

This past year, Hirt was on sabbatical and continued to pursue his current projects, as well as take on a few new ones. He got involved with Just Transition, a project from the Climate Justice Alliance to help communities affected by the closure of coal mines and coal-powered plants as the country moves to clean and renewable energy.

“Most of my work and advocacy has focused on the Navajo Nation, which will suffer a significant loss of jobs and tribal revenue when the Navajo generating station closes at the end of 2019,” Hirt said. “I advocate for economic transition assistance through both my position as a professor at ASU and my position on the board of directors of Salt River project, which manages the Navajo generating station.”

Working on Just Transition ended up becoming one of the most memorable moments of his sabbatical year, Hirt says. He co-organized and co-hosted a workshop for the project in May with four other professors from ASU: Gary Dirks, senior director of Global Futures Laboratory and LightWorks;  Kris Mayes, professor of practice in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society; Clark Miller, associate director for the School for the Future of Innovation in Society; and Maren Mahoney, strategic initiatives coordinator in the School for the Future of Innovation.

“This workshop we organized on May 28 was designed to bring together many of the people who are most active in energy transition research and advocacy in the Southwest to begin a coordinated, regional conversation, and eventually a national conversation, about how to advance energy transition in the most sustainable and just manner possible,” Hirt said.

According to Miller, “the discussions were extremely helpful in framing the nature of one of the biggest challenges we face in the energy transition, namely, the ways in which the transition will bring different benefits and challenges to diverse groups of people.” 

Part of the conversation in transitioning to renewable energy that Hirt had in the workshop includes the acknowledgment that communities will be affected in both good and bad ways.

“As we address climate change and continue the rapid transformation of our energy grid toward clean energy and away from fossil fuels, there will be winners and losers in the energy transition,” Hirt said. “A responsible democracy will do what it can to make that transition smooth rather than wrenching to facilitate a ‘just transition’ for affected communities rather than simply turning our backs on the lives and local economies that are dependent on fossil fuel energy.”

Paul Hirt

Professor Paul Hirt 

Aside from the workshop and involvement in Just Transitions, Hirt continued serving as the state scholar for Water/Ways and advancing his project on the history of Glen Canyon Dam. But another highlight of his year came with his remaining participation with an initiative to commemorate the sesquicentennial of John Wesley Powell’s original exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

For the initiative, Hirt contributed an essay about Powell’s legacy to an anthology; organized a symposium on the past, present and future of the Colorado River; and joined two segments of the commemorative river trip that recapitulated Powell’s 1869 journey.

“I rafted with the Scree team through Desolation and Gray canyons on the Green River and through Grand Canyon on the Colorado River,” Hirt said.  

He spent a total of nine days on the Green River in June and a total of 18 days on the Colorado River in July.

“Obviously, the 18-day whitewater rafting trip through Grand Canyon was the highlight of my year,” Hirt said. “Happily, I can refer to it as both work and play. Not only was it an adventure of a lifetime, but the Scree journey involved a remarkable cast of scholars and researchers and journalists who are all focused on the responsible, sustainable management of water and natural resources in the Colorado river basin. Almost every evening we would have a recorded discussion about the history of the basin, challenges we face, flaws and opportunities in the region’s water laws and policies, potential solutions, how to reach and educate the public.”

There will be many ways Hirt and the rest of the team will be making their research available to the public. Over the next year, there will be blog posts, a conference, presentations, published essays, an art exhibit and a film.

Hirt has continued to be an influential force in the field of studying environmental history. He sees the relationship between nature and culture as something we should always pay attention to.

“Nature is our home, despite the fact that many of us live in constructed artificial environments,” Hirt said. “How we behave in that larger diverse living home on which we depend, whether we abuse it or nurture it, impacts us as individuals, as communities, as nations and as a species.

“History happens in places and those places shape historical development in profound ways. The lack of water shapes the societies that evolve in arid regions like the American Southwest, just as the abundance of ice shapes societies in northern climates or the abundance of rain shapes societies in wet tropical environments. Everything exists in the context of place and time.”

Hirt is back on campus for the upcoming year where he will wrap up many of his projects. Water/Ways will conclude in April 2020, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program History Project will be completed in September 2020 and he will continue to promote Just Transitions as the Navajo generating station is closed this winter and decommissioned over the next several years.

To cap all of this off, in May 2020, Hirt will be retiring from ASU and plans to begin a slow trip around the Southern hemisphere with his wife, Linda, to “mark the transition to a new phase of life.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Inventions for developing world lead to Lemelson-MIT Prize for ASU engineering professor

Cody Friesen will donate $500,000 prize to Colombian community

September 18, 2019

Dedication to inventing solutions for social and economic advancement in the developing world has earned Cody Friesen, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Arizona State University and founder of Zero Mass Water, the 2019 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for invention. The award honors outstanding inventors who translate their ideas into technological inventions that have been adopted and bring significant value to society.

Through his company Zero Mass Water, Friesen is using water and energy technologies to help address the global water crisis. He invented SOURCE Hydropanels — solar panels that use powerful desiccants to generate drinking water from sunlight and air. The technology can make drinking water in conditions with relative humidity as low as 5% and requires no electricity. Cody Friesen wins 2019 Lemelson-MIT Prize ASU Associate Professor Cody Friesen has earned the 2019 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for inventing solutions to address two of the biggest challenges in the developing world: access to fresh water and reliable energy. Photo courtesy of Zero Mass Water Download Full Image

SOURCE has been developed in 33 countries across six continents and is a powerful resource in areas with little to no infrastructure and where water delivery is paramount. The Hydropanels are providing clean drinking water in communities, refugee camps, government offices, hotels, hospitals, schools, restaurants and homes around the world.

“As inventors, we have a responsibility to ensure our technology serves all of humanity, not simply the elite,” said Friesen. “At the end of the day, our work is about impact and this recognition propels us forward as we deploy SOURCE Hydropanels to change the human relationship to water across the globe.”

With more than 100 active patents and 42 granted patents so far in his career, Friesen joins an impressive lineage of inventors to receive the Lemelson-MIT Prize. He is the first winner of the prestigious award from Arizona State University, the nation’s top-ranked university for innovation. Friesen credits much of his success to the support he has been given as a faculty member of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

"As both an engineer and entrepreneur, the Fulton Schools of Engineering uniquely provides an environment to research and grow technologies into real solutions," said Friesen. "The foundational work we did on Hydropanels happened at ASU."

With 24 startups and 192 patents in the last three years alone, the Fulton Schools of Engineering has a strong record of innovation and creativity among its world-class faculty.

“Cody has cultivated a unique path as professor and entrepreneur to build an impressive record of bringing to market solutions to some of the planet’s most pressing challenges,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools of Engineering. “His motivation to make translational impacts while mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs and engineers typifies the innovative spirit we value in our faculty, and is a testament to why he is deserving of this incredible achievement.”

The Lemelson-MIT Prize is the largest cash prize for invention in the United States. Friesen will donate the $500,000 prize to a Zero Mass Water project with Conservation International to provide SOURCE Hydropanels to the Bahía Hondita community in Colombia.

“Cody Friesen embodies what it means to be an impact inventor,” noted Carol Dahl, executive director at the Lemelson Foundation. “His inventions are truly improving lives, take into account environmental considerations and have become the basis for companies that impact millions of people around the world each year. We are honored to recognize Dr. Friesen as this year’s LMIT Prize winner.” 

Friesen will speak at EmTech MIT, the annual conference on emerging technologies hosted by MIT Technology Review at the MIT Media Lab, on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 5 p.m.

Lanelle Strawder

Content & PR Manager, Communications, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


National, international awards recognize faculty innovation in ASU's School of Molecular Sciences

June 7, 2019

The Arizona State University charter describes a commitment to linking innovation with the advancement of research and discovery of public value. The establishment of the School of Molecular Sciences from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry embodies this commitment to research that directly addresses such major public and societal issues.

Current School of Molecular Sciences research takes a molecular approach on issues such as the identification and treatment of disease, the development of new strategies for renewable fuels and the creation of new materials for electronics and nanodevices. Recent School of Molecular Sciences recognized faculty. Download Full Image

Research at the School of Molecular Sciences has previously been recognized in terms of the quality and impact of its publications. The school is consistently in the top 10 among chemistry and biochemistry programs for publications in the journals Science and Nature, and a study by Thompson Reuters ranked the school No. 6 in terms of publication impact, ahead of MIT, Stanford and Berkeley. 

The school has recently been receiving a different form of national and international recognition in terms of faculty awards. The last two to three years have been particularly successful. 

“Amazing discoveries are taking place at the School of Molecular Sciences,” said Neal Woodbury, director of the School of Molecular Sciences. “We need to share our successes and tell our story; if you choose to attend ASU, you will be getting a world-class education and have the opportunity to work with top-tier faculty and do truly innovative research.” Importantly, these recognitions have been earned by faculty at all levels, from the most junior to the most senior.

The school is proud to highlight the recent accomplishments of its faculty who represent both the foundation and the future of innovative research. 

President's Professor Ariel Anbar

2019 European Association of Geochemistry Science Innovation Award — The award recognizes scientists who have recently made particularly important and innovative breakthroughs in geochemistry.

2017 Teaching Innovator Award — Professor Anbar is recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education in their inaugural list of teaching innovators.

Regents' Professor Austen Angell

2019 Gothenburg Lise Meitner Award — The award from the Gothenburg Physics Centre recognizes a breakthrough discovery in physics.

2018 ISPE Galileo Galilei Award — This award from the International Symposium on Polymer Electrolytes recognizes the promotion of ionic liquids in science.

2018 Otto Schott Research Award — The award recognizes outstanding scientific achievement in the field of glass and ceramics.

Regents' Professor Peter Buseck

2019 Roebling Medal — The Roebling Medal is the highest award of the Mineralogical Society of America for scientific eminence as represented primarily by scientific publication of outstanding original research in mineralogy. 

Assistant Professor Alexander Green

2017 NIH New Innovator Award — The award from the National Institutes of Health supports exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects.

2017 DARPA Young Faculty Award — The Young Faculty Award program identifies and engages rising stars in junior research positions.

2017 Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship — The fellowship is awarded to early-career scholars described as the most promising scientific researchers working today.

Professor Sidney Hecht

2019 Senior Member of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) — NAI Senior Members are active faculty who have produced technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society.

Professor Joshua LaBaer

2018 Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors — The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation that has made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.

Assistant Professor Gary F. Moore

2017 National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award — The CAREER award is the most competitive and prestigious awards given by the NSF to junior faculty. 

Emeritus Professor Michael O’Keefe

2019 Gregori Aminoff Prize in Crystallography — The Gregori Aminoff Prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. O’Keefe was selected for his fundamental contributions to the development of reticular chemistry.

Associate Professor Steve Presse

2017 National Science Foundation Career Award — The CAREER award is the most competitive and prestigious awards given by the NSF to junior faculty.

Professor Everett Shock

2019 ACS Geochemistry Division Medal — The American Chemical Society Geochemistry Medal is awarded for outstanding accomplishment in geochemistry.

Assistant Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos

2018 National Science Foundation Career Award — The CAREER award is the most competitive and prestigious awards given by the NSF to junior faculty.

2018 NIH New Innovator Award — The award from the National Institutes of Health supports exceptionally creative early-career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects.

2016 Air Force Young Investigator Award — The Young Investigator Award supports scientists showing exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research.

Associate Professor Ryan Trovitch

2017 National Science Foundation Career Award — The most competitive and prestigious awards given by the NSF to junior faculty.

Milton D. Glick Distinguished Professor Hao Yan

2019 Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2019 — Awarded to visionary leaders who have moved an industry forward in an unprecedented way. Yan received the award for his work using nanobots to fight cancerous tumors by choking off their blood supply.

Alumni and Special Events Coordinator, School of Earth & Space Exploration


13 ASU students earn prestigious NAE Grand Challenge Scholar title

May 15, 2019

Engineers solve some of the world’s biggest problems, but they need more than technical skills to create meaningful solutions.

Ambitious students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University take on more than their engineering degree requirements when they participate in the Grand Challenge Scholars Program. Through GCSP, they become transdisciplinary, collaborative and global problem-solvers. A group of students poses on the steps to the University Club building. Thirteen students from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering graduated as National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholars, having completed coursework and experiential opportunities in service learning, multicultural awareness, entrepreneurship, developing an interdisciplinary perspective and conducting research or a creative project related to one of 14 Grand Challenges designated by the NAE. Pictured from top left to bottom right: Philip Mulford, Stephen Lane, Randee Huffman, Ekta Patel, Cole Brauer, Andrea Kraetz, Eduardo Luciano Huapaya, Jobana Westbay, Diana Chen, Sheena Benson and Bhavna Ramesh. Not pictured: Tyrine Jamella Pangan and Ryan McBurney. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

Endorsed by the National Academy of Engineering, the program tasks students with choosing one of the NAE's 14 Grand Challenges facing society over the next century that span the broader themes of sustainability, health, security and joy of living.

Students accepted into the program must complete coursework and experiential opportunities for five components of the program: service learning, multicultural awareness, entrepreneurship, developing an interdisciplinary perspective and conducting research or a creative project related to their Grand Challenge theme.

During the 2018-19 academic year, 13 Fulton Schools students were added to the official NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Registry as they completed the program requirements and graduated with their bachelor’s degrees. This is the second-largest graduating class of Grand Challenge Scholars from ASU after the graduating class of spring 2017. They join 43 others who have completed the program since its inception at ASU in 2011.

“Through their own individual set of experiences, each of these students has explored different cultures, applied their technical skills to research or creative projects, developed an entrepreneurial mindset, learned to view problems from an interdisciplinary perspective and has already made an impact on local and global communities through service learning projects,” said Amy Trowbridge, director of the ASU Grand Challenge Scholars Program and a senior lecturer in the Fulton Schools. “These students are dedicated to creating value for communities in the world, and I can’t wait to see the positive impact they have in the future.”

The program often attracts often Fulton Schools’ most high-achieving students who take part in ambitious programs that offer well-rounded experiences. A majority of the program's students are in Barrett, The Honors College, others are Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fellows and many take on minors in other subjects in addition to their engineering studies. The program also opens up opportunities for students that are often in the realm of graduate studies. This year, at least two students co-authored research journal articles, four or more presented their work at national conferences and a few even started their own businesses.

The Grand Challenge Scholars Program encourages many students to think outside their majors as well as explore new ways their skills can be applied to developing solutions to the Grand Challenges.

Recent aerospace engineering graduate Ryan McBurney explored how to increase the efficiency of solar energy conversion for the research part of his program requirements.

“It’s a little strange that an aerospace engineering major decided to do this kind of work instead of fluid mechanics of structural stuff,” McBurney said. “But I like to change it up and learn different things.”

McBurney initially sought to complete the Grand Challenge Scholars Program requirements on the Grand Challenge theme of security to prepare for a future career in national defense. But after reaching out to Liping Wang, an associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, he became involved in an energy and heat transfer project as part of the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative.

After graduation, McBurney is starting his career with the Naval Air System Command, a department of the U.S. Navy, as an aerospace engineer in the aeromechanics and thermal analysis branch.

“I get to be in a field that my undergraduate major covered and also relates to all the things I’ve been doing outside the classroom in thermal analysis and heat transfer,” he said. “By participating in GCSP, I got involved with extracurricular programs and classes outside of the typically structured aerospace engineering academic program. I also took classes in national security and defense and a lot of other related courses which looked nice on my transcripts when applying to Department of Defense jobs.”

A student poses in front of a research poster.

Aerospace engineering student Ryan McBurney presents research at the spring 2019 Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative symposium exploring the use of metal films to increase the efficiency of solar energy conversion beyond the current limits of commercial solar panels. As an aerospace engineering major, McBurney’s research was a cross-disciplinary application of his skills. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

The impact Grand Challenge Scholars Program students make extends well beyond U.S. borders, especially because developing innovators and leaders for the global economy is a central goal of the program's multicultural awareness component.

Through the program, McBurney got involved with Engineering Projects In Community Service, or EPICS, for his service learning requirement. He applied his energy focus to create a solar-powered refrigerator for a professor at an agricultural university in Nigeria. The refrigerator, which stores enzymes for biofuel research, was delivered to Nigeria as McBurney wrapped up his undergraduate studies in April.

“More than half of these students worked to develop solutions to fulfill the needs of local or global communities through our EPICS program for a combined total of 16 semesters,” Trowbridge said. “And that doesn’t include the time that this group has impacted the community in other ways through developing educational activities and events, providing mentorship and leading tours and school visits, to inspire future generations of engineers.”

Andrea Kraetz, a recent honors student and chemical engineering graduate who completed her degree and Grand Challenge Scholars Program requirements in three years, took on the Grand Challenge of clean water access. She developed a selective adsorbent templating process to remove harmful selenium from water, thereby providing cleaner water and combating water scarcity by making clean water more accessible.

“We can see there is a 95% removal of selenium with the templating process versus the nontemplated material that absorbs around 40% of the selenium,” Kraetz explained. “It’s all about clean water and healthier water.”

Beyond applying her chemical engineering skills to solving a Grand Challenge, she appreciated the broader education the program provides to students.

“For engineering majors, it is usually just about the STEM subjects, like thermodynamics or math,” Kraetz said. “But with GCSP they try to bring in other elements, like social factors, with courses that can help provide a broader purpose to engineering projects.”

Kraetz will go on to pursue a doctoral degree in chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins University as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, taking on new challenges in sustainable energy research.

A student stands in front of a research poster.

At the spring 2019 FURI symposium, chemical engineering student Andrea Kraetz presents sustainability research into selective adsorbents to remove selenium from water to make water treatment more efficient. Her research was sponsored by W. L. Gore & Associates. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Though the program adds extra work on top of an already packed engineering curriculum, students view it as an experience that helps them to stand out.

“GCSP has given me a lot of opportunities that I never would have imagined having otherwise because the different components really forced me or encouraged me to expand my horizons,” said Bhavna Ramesh, a biomedical engineering graduate and honors student who tackled two health-related Grand Challenges: advancing health informatics and engineering better medicines.

Ramesh studied abroad in Australia and Fiji for three weeks during her sophomore year to explore global health and sustainability as her multicultural component. She is one of five members of the 2018-19 Grand Challenge Scholars Program class who studied abroad. Between them, they studied in nine different countries. For the service learning requirement, Ramesh mentored younger engineering students as part of Engineering Futures.

The program also encouraged her to get involved in entrepreneurship through an internship as a market researcher at a wearable sensor technology startup.

Ramesh is also looking into commercialization aspects for her Grand Challenge Scholars Program research project, which she presented as part of the FURI symposium in spring 2019. She collaborated with a team to develop a pressure ulcer risk assessment device for patients confined to hospital beds. When areas of a patient’s body that don’t have much fat between bone and skin make contact with the hospital bed, the skin can break and cause pressure ulcers, which are painful and can often cause irreversible damage.

Ramesh and her team are working with their clinical mentors at Phoenix Children’s Hospital to obtain a patent on their device.

In completing the project, which also served as her biomedical engineering capstone project, Ramesh stepped well outside the biomedical engineering curriculum to take on an interdisciplinary research approach that involved studying and using machine learning techniques to develop an algorithm to classify individual patients as likely or unlikely to develop pressure ulcers.

Together, the five program requirements made for a rewarding challenge.

“GCSP has definitely made me into a more well-rounded scholar,” Ramesh said. “I have a lot of diverse experiences, I’m more aware of cultural differences whether it is in the health industry or just generally, and I think that will translate really well into being mindful of my research and what other people are pursuing.”

This experience will come in handy as Ramesh begins studies for a biomedical engineering master’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall. She hopes to one day pursue a research career in the mental health care field.

Two students work together on a project.

Biomedical engineering students Bhavna Ramesh (left) and Ekta Patel (right) work on their Grand Challenge Scholars Program research component. They worked as part of a team to create a device to assess the risk of developing pressure ulcers for patients in hospital beds. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU 

Ekta Patel, a fellow recent biomedical engineering graduate and honors student, partnered with Ramesh on the pressure ulcer device project. She took on the triple challenge of pursuing an engineering degree, participating in the Grand Challenge Scholars Program and taking on the pre-medical student track, each of which present their own program requirements, challenges and demands on her time.

Patel says pre-med students can be hesitant about also choosing an engineering major, but she was determined to do both. The program provided her a framework to complete each set of requirements — and get additional valuable opportunities.

“GCSP kept me grounded in engineering, and I was also able to do all my pre-med stuff,” Patel said. “All the experiences I had doing research and entrepreneurship just made me a better student overall. I have a lot more skills added on, and I think I’m better prepared to ultimately apply to medical school.”

The opportunities students are able to take advantage of because of the program requirements can make the challenges of such a strenuous program into an unforgettable journey.

“GCSP has been so awesome,” Patel said. “I’ve loved every second.”

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering