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ASU professor wins PLuS Alliance prize for SolarSPELL innovation

SolarSPELL creator wins international award for portable digital library.
Laura Hosman's SolarSPELL device brings a suite of learning resources anywhere.
No Wi-Fi or power? No problem with SolarSPELL, designed for learning anywhere.
September 3, 2017

Laura Hosman's solar-powered digital library brings resources, educational opportunities to remote, off-grid communities

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2017, click here.

In a highly connected world where nearly everyone is just a text or tweet away, there still exist many remote, off-grid regions where communities don’t have access to information and resources that open up educational opportunities.

Arizona State University Assistant Professor Laura Hosman is working to change that with SolarSPELL, a portable, solar-powered digital library that comes with its own digital Wi-Fi hotspot, able to function without electricity or existing internet connectivity.

Her innovative device was awarded one of the inaugural PLuS Alliance Prizes this weekend at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in London. The $50,000 prizes recognize research and education innovation.

The PLuS Alliance is a unique international collaboration between ASU, King’s College London and UNSW Sydney. Launched in February 2016, the PLuS Alliance enables research-led solutions to global challenges while expanding access to world-class learning.

“I've been working with students in project-based classes to come up with technologies that would be both useful and appropriate,” Hosman said. “It's been a process of continually simplifying technology to make it more relevant for people. Now, we have a library that can fit inside a backpack.”

ASU Assistant Professor Laura Hosman works with a local teacher in Somoa

ASU Assistant Professor Laura Hosman shows a Samoan teacher how to use the SolarSPELL digital library at a training in Samoa, which took place with both Peace Corps volunteers and their local counterpart teachers. Photo by Bruce Baikie

The SolarSPELL library is full of educational resources. The only thing needed to access the information is a laptop, smartphone or iPad.

Hosman was recognized in the Education Innovation category. UNSW Professor Veena Sahajwalla was awarded the Research Innovation award for her work in recycling science to enable global industries to safely utilize toxic and complex wastes as low-cost alternatives to virgin raw materials and fossil fuels.

“Dr. Hosman and Professor Sahajwalla are contemporaries in research and education innovation,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “They’re truly impacting their fields and bringing about a positive difference with proven global application. The level of competition for the inaugural PLuS Alliance Prize was awe-inspiring, and we’re already looking forward to the nominees for the 2018 Prize.”

The information in SolarSPELL is curated to include as much localized information as possible. This allows the device to teach things like science and mathematics, but also to preserve local indigenous knowledge.

Like a community library, it’s meant to be a hub for people of all ages, aligning with ASU’s mission of expanding access and serving communities.

“This project hits on a lot of ASU's charter aspirations,” said Hosman, who holds a joint appointment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “I'm all for engaging globally and providing access to those who don't have it.”

Hosman and ASU engineering students brought SolarSPELL to a handful of Pacific islands this summer, creating content specific to the region in addition to hands-on lesson plans. The trip also provided the ASU students with an eye-opening experience.

“Two of my students who traveled with me had never left Arizona before,” Hosman said. “These opportunities are always transformational for ASU students, and I love that aspect of it.”

Video by John Hebrank and Brandon Main

Judging the shortlisted PLuS Alliance Awards candidates from across the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia were six industry leaders including former LinkedIn Vice President Ellen Levy, now managing director of Silicon Valley Connect.

“Innovation in research and education is vital to advancing society in a positive direction, whether by addressing some of the biggest challenges our world faces today, or creating new impactful opportunities,” said Levy, who also will be co-chairing the ASU Innovative Network Council with Crow.

The panel included the three presidents of the PLuS Alliance universities, NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O’Kane and former Vice President of GE Medical Europe Timothy Irish.

Two additional awards recognized global excellence. Narayana Murthy, an Indian IT industrialist and co-founder of Infosys, received the PLuS Alliance Prize for Global Leadership, and CRISPR researcher Francisco Mojica won the PLuS Alliance Prize for Global Innovation.

Top photo: Assistant Professor Laura Hosman has traveled with ASU students to a number of Pacific Islands (including Vanuatu, pictured), where they worked with Peace Corps volunteers on training and implementation of the SolarSPELL digital library. Photo by Bruce Baikie

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer , ASU Now

ASU scholar collaborates on solar research, benefits Arizona and Pakistan

The U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy is making gains in research

August 28, 2017

It can be tricky balancing affordable electricity bills for customers and profits for utility companies, but the happy medium might lie in solar energy storage.

Abdul Kashif Janjua, a fall 2016 exchange scholar from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy at Arizona State University, analyzed data and patterns to find an equilibrium for both sides of the equation. Above: Abdul Kashif Janjua, exchange scholar from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy, known as USPCAS-E, with his certificate of completion from the Power System’s Lab in fall 2016. Photo courtesy of Abdul Kashif Janjua. Above: Abdul Kashif Janjua, exchange scholar from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy, known as USPCAS-E, with his certificate of completion from the Power System’s Lab in fall 2016. Photo courtesy of Abdul Kashif Janjua Download Full Image

Kashif collaborated on a research paper titled, “Customer Benefit Optimization for Residential PV with Energy Storage System” under the tutelage of George Karady, a professor of electrical engineering at ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Fellow.

Different combinations of solar panels and different sized batteries were tested in concert to find the right combination. The research accounted for variables like load, temperature and battery discharge rates to derive the best result for both customers and utilities.

The paper was presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power Engineering Society’s general meeting in Chicago in July. Presenting the paper at the Power Engineering Society was significant because the organization acts as one of the largest forums for sharing the latest in technological developments in the electric power industry, for developing standards that guide the development and construction of equipment and systems, and for public and industry education.

Dr. George Karady representing the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Energy and ASU, surveys posters at the IEEE PES 2017 General Meeting . Photo credit: IEEE PES

Kashif compared the climates of Arizona and Pakistan saying that, “they are quite similar so photovoltaic systems are feasible in both areas.”

The research can be used to optimize variables like the size of the photovoltaic system and various charging strategies, “[with] the only difference being the tariffs which can be programmed into the developed algorithm,” Kashif explained. This leaves a door open for computers to eventually determine the right balance, possibly even using artificial intelligence in the future.

Over the next five years, Arizona is expected to install 3,380 megawatts worth of solar electric capacity, ranking it fourth in that time period in the United States. Meanwhile, Pakistan has been suffering from rolling blackouts from six to 16 hours a day. Both areas have much to teach each other about renewable energy.

The collaboration process with Pavan Etha and Anil Chelladurai, electrical engineering graduate students at ASU, as well as the mentorship he received from his time at ASU has been an invaluable asset to his education. Of Karady he stated that, “he was [the] most supportive, helpful and encouraging professor.”

He went on to say that Karady’s “knowledge and experience with electrical systems can be rarely found even in the best universities of the world and he was not reluctant to share each of his experiences related to our field."

This type of collaboration between the United States and Pakistan is a hallmark of USPCAS-E because it allows for progress in energy research for the countries’ mutual benefit.

Kashif’s time at ASU rolls into the eventual completion of his master’s degree at Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology in the field of energy systems engineering. Plans are in the works for him to pursue a doctorate and then potentially apply his research in the commercial sector. In the meantime, he is in the process of publishing another research paper along similar lines in Pakistan.

The USPCAS-E project has now reached a point in its evolution where the return from this type of investment in education is now resulting in exciting research findings. Outcomes from USPCAS-E’s scholars are timely as they fall at the heels of Pakistan celebrating its 70th anniversary of independence and its continued collaboration and development with the United States.

Erika Gronek

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU team shines new light on photosynthesis

August 25, 2017

A team of scientists from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences and Pennsylvania State University has taken us a step closer to unlocking the secrets of photosynthesis, and possibly to cleaner fuels.

Their discovery was recently published online in Science and describes the structure of a reaction center (from a heliobacterium) which preserves the characteristics of the ancestral one, and so provides new insight into the evolution of photosynthesis. THis study will be in print on September 15. Scientists from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences Raimund Fromme, Christopher Gisriel and Kevin E. Redding ASU team (from left to right) Raimund Fromme, Christopher Gisriel and Kevin Redding, researchers in the School of Molecular Sciences. Download Full Image

Photosynthesis is the most important biological process driving the biosphere. It harnesses the energy of sunlight, and provides us with our main sources of food and fuel. The study of photosynthesis has allowed scientists not only to understand the intricacies of how organisms use light to drive their metabolism, but has also paved the way for technological advances into sustainable energy sources.

“The photosynthetic process first came into being roughly 3 billion years ago, before Earth's atmosphere contained oxygen,” said Kevin Redding, a professor in the School of Molecular Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose group is leading the research at ASU. “Photosynthesis works by using specialized membrane proteins, called photosynthetic reaction centers, which collect the energy from light and use it to pump electrons across a biological membrane from one cellular electron carrier to another, resulting in conversion of electromagnetic (i.e. light) energy into chemical energy, which the organism can use.”

A great deal of research has determined that these reaction centers appeared just once on the planet, and have since diversified to perform different sorts of chemistry.

Despite the diversification, the reaction centers retain the same overall architecture, reflecting their common origin. During the last 3 billion years these proteins have been elaborated and changed and it has been difficult to reconstruct what happened over this enormous period of time. However, we do know that one of them developed the ability to oxidize water, releasing oxygen. This changed the world irrevocably, and allowed for life as we know it today.

The team believes that the first reaction center (RC) was simpler than the versions that exist today. In terms of the protein structure, it was a homodimer — that is, two copies of the same polypeptide came together to form a symmetric structure. The reaction centers whose structures we know are all heterodimers in which this inherent symmetry has been broken, although at their heart they still retain the vestiges of the original symmetric architecture.

The heliobacterium of the article in Science is a member of the most primitive of the photosynthetic bacteria, bacteria that do not make oxygen — in fact, they are intolerant of oxygen, like the first organisms. They also cannot fix carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and must use organic carbon sources. Important for this study, their RC is a homodimer.

Thus, this is the first homodimeric RC structure and it sheds light in several ways on what the ancestral RC may have looked like. In several ways the overall architecture of the protein is very similar to the photosystems of plants and cyanobacteria and the RC of the purple sulfur bacteria. However, built upon that common architecture are some crucial chemical differences that result in chemistry different from that of the known RCs, including their ability to use both water-soluble and lipid-soluble carriers, a capability previously thought to be restricted to one or another type of RC.

This work is the result of a collaboration between Kevin Redding, Raimund Fromme, associate research professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and a researcher in the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Applied Structural Biology, and John Golbeck from Pennsylvania State University. Raimund Fromme as protein crystallographer is the corresponding author of the present study.

Structure of the Heliobacterium modesticaldum photosynthetic reaction center-photosystem

Structure of the Heliobacterium modesticaldum photosynthetic reaction center-photosystem. Image credit: Christopher Gisriel

Redding and Golbeck had decided 8 years ago to join forces to tackle the heliobacterial RC. They combined their individual Department of Energy grants into a joint grant, which has since been renewed twice: the third iteration started a year ago. Fromme started on his initiative, the crystallography of the RC with Iosifina Sarrou, a postdoctoral fellow in the Redding group who had optimized its purification.Fromme officially joined the grant as Co-PI four years ago.

Fromme and Sarrou produced the first diffracting crystals to ~ 6 Å resolution.

The work truly took off when Christopher Gisriel, a doctoral student in the Redding group, started working with Fromme to crystallize the RC.

“I credit Chris and Raimund with doing what was necessary to get this structure,” said Redding, who is also the director of ASU’s Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis.

“Raimund Fromme's expertise in the crystallization of membrane proteins and the solution of their structure was crucial. Chris did the very hard work of improving the purification, optimizing the crystallization conditions, and taking his crystals to the beamlines numerous times. And because the protein is inherently oxygen-sensitive, he had to do all the purification and crystallization in a glovebox!”

“This is the moment a crystallographer is waiting for,” said Fromme, explaining the years it can take to grow the perfect protein crystal suitable for X-ray studies.  

Redding continued, “They were able to get the diffraction quality from a resolution of ~10 Å to 2-2.5 Å in a few years of very hard work … and then came the Herculean task of solving the structure.  Chris started with a very stripped down model of what the RC might look like, based on expected similarities with the cyanobacterial Photosystem I, and then worked constantly on it for months. He had to teach himself new software and work long nights to get there. Once he had something that was looking real, Raimund was able to take that and push it to the next level. And working together they have produced a truly beautiful structure at very high resolution.”

“Chris is a veteran of the U.S. Army, having served in Afghanistan,” Redding said. “He came to ASU as a biochemistry major and started working in my lab as an undergraduate researcher. Having never seriously considered the possibility of a career in research before, he was unsure at first how far he wanted to go down this path. However, he soon developed a taste for it, and then pushed me to allow him to take on the RC crystallography project as a Master’s student. I cautioned him against it, knowing how hard it would be and the low chances of success, but he persisted, and I eventually relented. He later decided to pursue a doctorate. He will defend his dissertation later this semester and I could not be prouder of him.”

“This reaction center is only found in organisms that can live in oxygen-free environments, like that of early Earth,” Gisriel said. "This work has opened the door for scientists all over the world to compare the primitive reaction center's characteristics with those of more advanced reaction centers that reside in oxygen-tolerant organisms. As a result, we are gaining a more clear and informed picture of how nature optimized light-driven energy collection.”

The team included Christopher Gisriel, Kevin E. Redding and Raimund Fromme of ASU; Iosifina Sarrou (formerly of ASU, now at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science, DESY); Bryan Ferlez and John H. Golbeck of Pennsylvania State University. This work was funded by the Division of Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the U.S. Department of Energy through Grant (DE-SC0010575 to KR, RF, and JHG) and supported by X-ray crystallographic equipment and infrastructure provided by the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery at ASU. 

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


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ASU’s photovoltaics program earns 6 Energy Department SunShot Awards

July 17, 2017

Awards, which total $4.3 million, ranking the university first among recipients in the Photovoltaics Research category

Arizona State University has earned six prestigious U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Awards, totaling $4.3 million, ranking it first among recipients in the Photovoltaics Research category for 2017.  

This year’s awards, which come with grants totaling $20.5 million overall for 28 projects, supports the development of new commercial photovoltaics technologies that improve product performance, reliability and manufacturability. In this round, ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering placed ahead of other leading solar research centers — the University of Central Florida ($3.18 million), Stanford ($1.59 million) and Colorado State ($1.28 million) each earned two awards. Last year, ASU photovoltaics researchers also received the majority of SunShot PV awards, taking six of 19 and $3.75 million in funding.

SunShot was launched in 2011 with a goal of making solar cost-competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020; the program is now at 90 percent of its goal of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour and recently expanded its target to $0.03 per kilowatt-hour by 2030.

ASU’s Quantum Energy and Sustainable Technologies (QESST) NSF-DOE research center and testbed in Tempe has established ASU’s engineering program as a powerhouse in photovoltaics, playing a key role in SunShot objectives. QESST is the largest university solar research facility in the United States, drawing researchers from around the world in the mission to advance photovoltaic technologies. QESST will continue to play a major role in the photovoltaics industry as SunShot moves to double the amount of national electricity demand provided by solar.

“ASU receiving six DOE SunShot Initiative grants — many more than any academic institution on the awardee list — is a testimony to our faculty’s excellence in building innovative solutions that help power the future in a reliable and cost-effective way,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU.

“For the second year in a row, our faculty won more SunShot awards than any other institution in the country, reaffirming our leadership in the research, development and advancement of photovoltaic science and technology,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “Photovoltaics are a key component of tomorrow’s energy solutions, and this recognition from the Department of Energy highlights not only our faculty’s research excellence and the inherent value of their ideas, but also the breadth and depth of research in the Fulton Schools of Engineering.”

This year’s award recipients include:

Mariana Bertoni, assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, was granted two awards. 

Award 1: Spalling, or the process of exfoliating a wafer from a silicon block, has shown promise as an efficient, waste-reducing production method for wafers. Bertoni’s first study is exploring a new spalling technique that relies on sound waves and low temperatures, to mitigate contamination of the wafers, while achieving industry relevant thickness and surface planarity.

“During our previous DOE award we have shown that the technique works; now we need to fine-tune the parameters to evaluate the potential for upscaling,” Bertoni said. “This could be a disruptive technology with applications well beyond silicon.”

Award 2: Bertoni’s second project will be studying the correlation between electrical properties, structure and composition at the nanoscale in thin film modules of cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide. The team will be designing a multimodal hard X-ray microscopy approach to probe non-destructively different regions of modules under operating conditions. Detailed characterization could lead the way to improved module efficiency, lower degradation rates and longer warranties. Additionally, Bertoni is serving as co-principal investigator on Assistant Professor Owen Hildreth’s award (see below), and is co-PI on a fourth award, working in conjunction with Assistant Professor David Fenning of the University of California San Diego to develop a way to detect water present in photovoltaic modules. Using this methodology, the pair hopes to model performance degradation from water exposure.

“Understanding the origin of performance loses and how variations in illumination or temperature affect thin film modules will help us engineer high efficiency, long lasting devices,” Bertoni said.

Stuart Bowden, associate research professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, is designing a novel photovoltaic cell architecture known as M-CELL. This structure is a single silicon wafer, which allows integration and interconnection of multiple cells in series to enable higher voltage and lower current than existing modules.

Owen Hildreth, assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, is researching ways to drastically reduce solar cell cost through the reduction of silver consumption. His project is investigating the how material and growth properties of reactive metal inks impact the reliability of solar cells metallized using these new inks. Hildreth’s work has potential for use both traditional silicon wafer technologies and next-generation heterojunction architectures, which currently employ costly metallization techniques due to temperature sensitivity.

“The solar cell industry currently spends more than $14 billion per year screen printing silver electrodes on the top of solar cells; this project aims to reduce those costs by a factor of 10 and reduce solar cell wafer production costs by 27 percent — making solar energy even more affordable to consumers,” said Hildreth.

Govindasamy Tamizhmani, associate research professor at the Polytechnic School, is investigating new methods for rapid and accurate characterization of photovoltaic modules in operation. Current methods are time-consuming and costly and lack the ability to account for differences between lab and field conditions — a vital component to understand the physical causes of performance variation in the field.

“Obtaining string and module I-V curves simultaneously is of great importance to plant owners and service providers to identify the underperforming modules and to determine the degradation rates and module mismatch losses,” Tamizhamani said.

Meng Tao, professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, is working on a two-layer aluminum electrode to replace its silver counterpart currently used in silicon photovoltaic cells. This could reduce processing expenses and improve device lifetime and reliability while maintaining high efficiency.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Solving a sweet problem for renewable biofuels and chemicals

June 30, 2017

ASU scientists harness the trial-and-error power of evolution to coax nature into revealing answer to energy challenge

Whether or not society shakes its addiction to oil and gasoline will depend on a number of profound environmental, geopolitical and societal factors.

But with current oil prices hovering around $50 dollars a barrel, it won’t likely be anytime soon.

Despite several major national research initiatives, no one has been able to come up with the breakthrough renewable biofuel technology that would lead to a cheaper alternative to gasoline. 

That research challenge led ASU scientists Reed Cartwright and Xuan Wang to enter the fray, teaming up to try to break through the innovation bottleneck for the renewable bioproduction of fuels and chemicals.

“My lab has been very interested in converting biomass such as agricultural wastes and even carbon dioxide into useful and renewable bio-based products,” said Wang
(pictured above, right), an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences. “As a microbiologist, I’m interested in manipulating microbes as biocatalysts to do a better job.”

To do so, they’ve looked into a new approach: harnessing the trial-and-error power of evolution to coax nature into revealing the answer.

By growing bacteria over generations under specially controlled conditions in fermentation tanks, they have test-tube-evolved bacteria to better ferment sugars derived from biomass — a rich, potential renewable-energy source for the production of biofuels and chemicals. Their results appeared recently in the online edition of PNAS.

The research team includes postdoctoral scholar Christian Sievert, Lizbeth Nieves, Larry Panyon, Taylor Loeffler and Chandler Morris, and was led by Cartwright and Wang, in a collaboration between the ASU’s School of Life Sciences and the Biodesign Institute.

A sweet problem

The appeal of plants is ideal. Just add a little carbon dioxide, water and plentiful sunshine, and presto! Society has a rich new source of renewable carbons to use.  

Corn ethanol (using starch from corn for alcohol production primarily in the U.S.) has been one major biofuel avenue, and sugarcane another alternative (abundant in Brazil) — but there is a big drawback. Turning the sugar-rich kernels of corn or sugarcane into ethanol competes with the food supply.

So scientists over the past few decades have migrated to research on conversion of non-food-based plant materials into biofuels and chemicals. These so-called lignocellulosic biomasses, like tall switchgrasses and the inedible parts of corn and sugarcane (stovers, husks, bagasses, etc.) are rich in xylose, a five-carbon, energy-rich sugar relative of glucose.

Lignocellulosic biomass has an abundance of glucose and xylose, but industrial E. coli strains can’t use xylose because when glucose is available, it turns off the use of xylose. And so, to date, it has been an inefficient and costly to fully harvest and convert the xylose to biofuels. 

Benchtop evolution

Wang and Cartwright wanted to squeeze out more energy from xylose sugars. To do so, they challenged E. coli bacteria that could thrive comfortably on glucose — and switch out the growth medium broth to grow solely on xylose.

The bacteria would be forced to adapt to the new food supply or lose the growth competition.

They started with a single colony of bacteria that were genetically identical and ran three separate evolution experiments with xylose. At first, the bacteria grew very slowly. But remarkable, in no more than 150 generations, the bacteria adapted and, eventually, learned to thrive in the xylose broth. 

Next, they isolated the DNA from the bacteria and used next-generation DNA sequencing technology to examine the changes within the bacteria genomes. When they read out the DNA data, they could identify the telltale signs of evolution in action, mutations.

Nature finds a way

The bacteria, when challenged, randomly mutated their DNA until it could adapt to the new conditions. They held on to the fittest mutations over generations until they became fixed beneficial mutations.

And in each case, when challenged with xylose, the bacteria could grow well. Their next task was to find out what these beneficial mutations were and how did they work. To grow better on xylose, the three bacterial E. coli lines had “discovered” a different set of mutations to the same genes. The single mutations the research team identified all could enhance xylose fermentation by changing bacterial sugar metabolism.

“This suggests that there are potentially multiple evolutionary solutions for the same problem, and a bacterium’s genetic background may predetermine its evolutionary trajectories,” said Cartwright, a researcher at ASU’s Biodesign Institute and assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences.  

The most interesting mutation happened in a regulatory protein called XylR whose normal function is to control xylose utilization. Just two amino acid switches in the XylR could enhance xylose utilization and release the glucose repression, even in the non-mutated original hosts.

Through some clever genetic tricks, when the XlyR mutant was placed back in a normal “wild-type” strain or an industrial E. coli biocatalyst, it could also now grow on xylose and glucose, vastly improving the yield. Wang’s team saw up to a 50 percent increase in the product after four days of fermentation. 

Together, Wang and Cartwright’s invention has now significantly boosted the potential of industrial E. coli to be used for biofuel production from lignocellulosic materials. In addition, they could use this same genetic approach for other E. coli strains for different products.

Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) is filing a non-provisional patent for their discovery. Wang hopes they can partner with industry to scale up their technology and see if this invention will increase economic viability for bioproduction.  

“With these new results, I believe we’ve solved one big, persistent bottleneck in this field,” Wang said. 

Top photo: ASU undergraduate Eric Taylor (left) and Xuan Wang demonstrate the fermentation tanks used in the benchtop evolution experiments.​

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences) , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


ASU professor leads gender workshop for STEM careers in Pakistan

U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy makes headway in gender quality

May 22, 2017

The U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy (USPCAS-E) held a workshop in Islamabad, Pakistan this spring with the hopes of improving gender equity for women in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The three-day workshop was helmed by Professor Chad Haines of Arizona State University, who specializes in cultural anthropology and topics related to the contemporary Muslim world. The prominence of women in STEM fields from Pakistan differs greatly depending on the region according to Haines. In the Punjab region for example, 20 to 30 percent of STEM students are women. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, the percentage of women is actually much lower. Participants of the ASU/USPCAS-E workshop on gender. Photographer: Hassan Zulfiqar/USPCAS-E Participants of the ASU/USPCAS-E workshop on gender. Photo by Hassan Zulfiqar/USPCAS-E Download Full Image

Haines summarized that the challenge in the region, “is creating a foothold where women are encouraged and supported and based on that, there is much greater potential for increasing the number of Pakistani women in the STEM fields.”

The workshop is part of a greater effort by USPCAS-E, which is a project funded by USAID as part of a 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 (UET) Peshawar. The goal is to focus on applied research relevant to Pakistan’s energy needs and help produce skilled graduates in the field of energy. Fostering student and faculty exchanges are part of a greater goal, which also includes an emphasis in gender equality.

The workshop attracted a variety of participants including students, educational administrators, professors, researchers as well as professionals from the engineering field.

Muhammad Asad, a professional engineer who attended the workshop said that the subject of gender equality was eye-opening for him. “I [had] never heard about this type of topic being discussed on this kind of platform before.” Asad had high hopes about the workshop saying, “it all starts from self-development you know. If you learn something then you practice it yourself.” The workshop has the potential to ripple beyond its original audience. Asad has plans to disseminate what he has learned throughout his social circles.

There was a mix of both men and women attending the event, some of whom were seeking role models and others, inspiration. H. Masooma Naseer Cheema, a scientist and assistant professor said she attended to, “revitalize my passion and keep my spirit high by knowing that I am not alone in the journey of becoming a successful professional female.” Speaking from experience she said, “the life of a professional career women is not an easy task.”

Following the workshop, another attendee, Anaiz Gul Fareed, who is a graduate student at NUST hoped to spread, “awareness to different localities and [various] under-developed areas of my country regarding girls education.”

Ishtiaq Hussain, who is self-described as being from a very conservative family expressed that, “Before attending the workshop I was not really in favor of females getting an equal opportunity everywhere, but now I have learned how to help females and provide them with an equal opportunity to become a successful.”

Cultural anthropologist Professor Chad Haines of Arizona State University speaks on a panel about gender equity to an audience in Pakistan. Photographer: Hassan Zulfiqar/USPCAS-E

Content is king ... and queen

The format of the workshop was less of a lecture, and more of an open exchange of ideas.

Cheema praised the event saying that, “most of the gender equity-related workshops usually address women. But [the] good thing about this workshop is that it addressed both genders.”

Participants weighed and analyzed the difference between, equality, equity and justice. “I would like to get justice rather than equity and equality,” Cheema said.

Anaiz Gul Fareed reflected on several examples of gender inequity, citing, “that there are several offices in Pakistan where there are no facilities for women restrooms.” He also learned that, “more than 50 percent of girls who opt for medical sciences,” may do so, “just because they can get a well-settled boy to marry.”

“While attending this session, I decided to help my three daughters to grow without limiting them,” Fareed said. “I promised myself that I would help them to achieve whatever they want to.”

The workshop hoped to reach individuals because it is the everyday administrators, faculty members, professional and students who become empowered to speak up that possess the potential to foster a culture of gender equity and encourage women in the STEM fields.

Gender issues in Pakistan are also addressed by the project through a scholar exchange program in which ASU which has had an exponential growth of female participants.

To date, this is the fifth workshop that USPCAS-E and ASU has held in Pakistan on various topics related to the project, including green building practices and photovoltaics to name a few.

USPCAS-E will continue to deliver workshops in Pakistan through 2019.

Erika Gronek

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU Fulton Schools graduates 17 more Grand Challenge Scholars to tackle global challenges

May 15, 2017

Engineers strive to better the world through technology and new ideas. However, engineering alone can’t solve the world’s problems.

High-achieving students in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering go above and beyond the typical engineering curriculum in the Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP), as they learn to be collaborative, transdisciplinary, global problem solvers. 13 of the 17 Spring 2017 Grand Challenge Scholars pose for a group photo at the Grand Challenge Scholars Program Graduation Reception. Thirteen of the 17 Grand Challenge Scholars graduating in spring 2017 celebrated at the Grand Challenge Scholars Program Graduation Reception on April 19. This semester's group is the largest cohort of graduating GCSP students. Photographer: Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU Download Full Image

This spring, the GCSP program graduated 17 students — the largest cohort yet. These graduates will be added to the official Grand Challenge Scholars Registry.

“I am extremely proud of all the students’ accomplishments, and the people they have become,” says Amy Trowbridge, lecturer and director of the ASU GCSP. “Our graduates this year have published their research in journal articles, started entrepreneurial ventures, immersed themselves in new cultures through studying or implementing projects abroad, and have completed service learning projects that have impacted the community, both locally and globally.”

Students prepare to solve global challenges

The National Academy of Engineering has designated 14 Grand Challenges facing society over the next century.

  • advance personalized learning
  • make solar energy economical
  • enhance virtual reality
  • reverse-engineer the brain
  • engineer better medicines
  • advance health informatics
  • restore and improve urban infrastructure
  • secure cyberspace
  • provide access to clean water
  • provide energy from fusion
  • prevent nuclear terror
  • manage the nitrogen cycle
  • develop carbon sequestration methods
  • engineer the tools of scientific discovery

GCSP scholars choose one of these grand challenge or a broader grand challenge theme — education, energy, health, security or sustainability — and complete five program requirements around that theme.

Students engage in research relating to their selected grand challenge, explore interdisciplinary coursework, gain an international perspective, engage in entrepreneurship, and give back to the community through service learning.

After completing these program requirements, students are designated Grand Challenge Scholars by ASU and the National Academy of Engineering, and added to the official Grand Challenge Scholars Registry.

A growing program

Arizona State University’s Grand Challenge Scholars Program began in 2011 as the largest participating school in the United States.

The program started with about 60 students admitted, and has grown to more than 400 scholars at all levels.

These scholars are a diverse group, with 31 percent female students and 23 percent underrepresented minorities, Trowbridge says.

More than half of GCSP scholars are also in Barrett, the Honors College, and others are Entrepreneurship + Innovation Fellows, both of which are highly ambitious programs that offer a well-rounded experience.

Since the Grand Challenge Scholars Program produced its first graduate in 2013, graduation rates have grown significantly.

  • 1 graduate in 2013
  • 3 graduates in 2015
  • 11 graduates in 2016
  • 17 graduates in the spring 2017 semester

Trowbridge believes this growth is due to a variety of factors on the program side and student side.

Coordinator Senior for Undergraduate Student Engagement Jade Silva, recent biomedical engineering graduate Mariama Salifu and Lecturer and Director of the ASU Grand Challenge Scholars Program Amy Trowbridge. Photographer: Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Left to right: Jade Silva, coordinator senior for Undergraduate Student Engagement, recent biomedical engineering graduate Mariama Salifu, and Amy Trowbridge, lecturer and director of the ASU Grand Challenge Scholars Program. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

“Over the past few years we have implemented several efforts to provide opportunities and support for students to enhance their experience and success from their first day in the program,” Trowbridge said, adding that “students have worked hard to provide additional support and opportunities for each other through the affiliated student organization, the Grand Challenge Scholars Alliance.”

Jade Silva, coordinator senior for undergraduate student engagement, also credits an increase in dedicated staff and resources to help scholars understand the program’s requirements and how to progress without significantly increasing their course load.

“The focus on adding more staff and faculty support to the program, as well as the summer institute, made it something that was a hands-on learning experience for incoming first-year students into the program,” Silva said.

Support continues for students through checklists, required meetings and degree audits that have a positive effect on keeping students engaged and progressing through program requirements.

“The support from Jade Silva and Amy Trowbridge is overwhelming,” said Kaleia Kramer, a biomedical engineering recent graduate. “They do everything they can to help you succeed, so there is less concern for the students. We can just focus on doing well in the classes.”

A dedicated community of scholars

When introduced to the program, students are excited to see the exceptional opportunities GCSP presents.

“I saw that it was a nationally recognized program … and I also liked the emphasis on things such as research and service learning,” says chemical engineering spring 2017 graduate Lyle Bliss.

Students looking for a well-rounded education find that GCSP requirements help them meet their academic goals.

“I decided to apply because I believed it was an amazing program that would help me customize my college experience,” said Mariama Salifu, a recent biomedical engineering graduate. “Having [the GCSP requirements] gave me discipline to do extracurricular activities like research.”

The program also aligns well with activities students are often already involved in, including Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS), the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiatives (FURI) and others.

“The requirements list seemed like the perfect recipe for engineers to be prepared after graduating,” Kramer saod. “In addition, most of the requirements were things I was already looking to do — I was already in a research lab, enrolled in EPICS and was very interested in entrepreneurship.”

As students have these positive experiences, word of mouth helps get their peers involved and has led to program growth, Silva said.

A connection between GCSP students in the program is also a key factor to their success, Trowbridge said.

“The students’ connection to each other and the community they built was one of the biggest factors for their success and engagement in the program,” Trowbridge said. “Several of the students have mentioned that staying connected with our ASU GCSP community kept them motivated to succeed in the program.”

A once-in-a-lifetime experience

It’s a challenging program, but one that ultimately pays off, Kramer said.

“It wasn’t until my junior year that the rewards of the program started to come back to me,” Kramer said. “As a freshman and a sophomore it seemed like I was just taking extra classes and I could see why some students were dropping out.”

Staying involved in the program provided her with many unique opportunities, including an invitation to the first annual White House BRAIN Conference in 2014, followed by a trip to the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing, China, in 2015.

Scholars graduating this semester have studied global issues, and some even traveled the world, with studies and ventures taking them to Aruba, the United Kingdom, Ghana, Kenya, Israel, India and China.

Photo of Raquel Camarena and Tirupalavanam Ganesh.

Raquel Camarena, industrial engineering recent graduate, and Tirupalavanam Ganesh, GCSP mentor, associate research professor and assistant dean of engineering education. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Students also gained new perspectives on engineering issues through courses across the university in related subjects such as biology and sustainability, but also the seemingly unrelated topics of anthropology, sociology, urban planning, cultural geography, political science and management.

“The experiences that students have as part of GCSP have helped them to better understand how and why they as engineers need to work with people from other disciplines to develop solutions to the interdisciplinary, global problems we face,” Trowbridge says.

These experiences also give them purpose.

“Students can find meaning — social and personal relevance — in their chosen profession, and know that they can impact the world in significant ways, improving life locally and globally through their work while pursuing their undergraduate degree and beyond,” said Tirupalavanam Ganesh, GCSP mentor, associate research professor and assistant dean of engineering education.

Kramer and Bliss have obtained internships through the connections they made while completing the program requirements, and feel confident that their experience has prepared them for industry jobs and grad school, respectively.

Finding other callings through GCSP experiences

Though hundreds of students are involved in GCSP, few complete all program requirements, but Silva says this is not an entirely negative outcome.

“When students leave the program, it’s not a loss,” Silva said. “It means that the program did what we wanted it to do — to get students to start to explore, get that experience and find who they want to be as problem solvers.”

In completing research, entrepreneurship, service learning and other requirements, students might find passion in one of the five areas of the GCSP requirements, like an Engineering Projects in Community Service project, a startup, research in a specific faculty member’s lab, or leadership in a student organization.

No matter where they end up, they’re prepared to help the world.

“These students really are the future of engineering and technology, and they are committed to solving some of the world’s toughest problems,” Silva said. “It’s really breaking down this idea that engineers are just technical people, that they are just doing the behind-the-scenes work. These students really understand the importance of what they’re doing, how it impacts society and their role in society. I’m excited to see how they impact the world for the better.”

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Postcards from the ledge

Hoover Dam excursion for Pakistani scholars bridges knowledge, culture

May 4, 2017

A group of 27 Pakistani engineering scholars from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Energy, better known as USPCAS-E, set off on an adventure over spring break, learning what nature can engineer, what people can engineer and the power their imagination has to inspire innovation.

An $18 million United States Agency for International Development grant supports the project with Arizona State University as the hub for the energy component of the project in partnership with the National University of Science and Technology — Islamabad (NUST), the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar and Oregon State University. “Big dams in Pakistan are normally earth and rock fill dams, so there is a need to build concrete arc dams like Hoover Dam in Pakistan that are more impressive, efficient and modern,“  says Muhammad Ahsan Amjed, NUST. Photo courtesy of Muhammad Ahsan Amje “Big dams in Pakistan are normally earth and rock fill dams, so there is a need to build concrete arc dams like Hoover Dam in Pakistan that are more impressive, efficient and modern,“ say Muhammad Ahsan Amjed, National University of Science and Technology. Photo courtesy of Muhammad Ahsan Amjed Download Full Image

The scholars are part of the third cohort to visit the United States in order to study renewable energy at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering as part of a larger effort to boost development of solutions for Pakistan’s growing energy needs. Spring break offered a respite from their classes and lab work, and provided a chance to see engineering in action.

The scholars kicked off their journey by visiting one of nature’s greatest engineering wonders, the Grand Canyon. The canyon stood as a compelling example of the power found in nature, as seen by the river carving away at the landscape for millennia. The challenge for the scholars was to learn from nature and learn how to harness that energy.

Their next stop at Hoover Dam illustrated just that. The scholars saw first hand how the Colorado River was used as a source of renewable hydroelectric power through ingenuous civil engineering.

USPCAS-E Scholars, Left to right: Farah Akram, Anam Zahra, Maham Akhlaq, Atoofa Zainab, Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

“The sheer brilliance that the engineers displayed in [their] era with such a megastructure was a rarity, [and] is a sight to behold. It solved the water distribution problems for seven different states,” said Haider Saif Agha from NUST.

Learning about this pinnacle of clean energy was key for the scholars because many of them are studying photovoltaic, wind and hydroelectric energy options. The USPCAS-E project set out to explore renewable energy as a means for resolving the energy crisis happening in Pakistan today, leaving the country with rolling blackouts that last 6–16 hours a day.

The dam was created for the purposes of flood control, irrigation and power production, all of which are applicable to Pakistan’s needs.

“I see a comparison with Pakistan’s Kalabagh Dam,” said Asfand Yar Ali, of the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar. Kalabagh Dam is proposed dam that could help Pakistan with flood control. “We are facing minor and major floods every year in [the] monsoon [season]. Similarly, the dam will help Pakistan rejuvenate its agriculture and overcome [the] energy crisis.“

Hoover Dam was an example of what could be implemented back home for the scholars.

“I learned that we can solve all of our country’s energy problems by just mixing innovation and engineering in the right proportions,” said Usman Salahuddin of NUST.

To shake things up, the scholars next visited the California Science Center. Atoofa Zainab of NUST had a personal favorite there – the earthquake simulator.

“I learned about the how certain buildings are made in case of an earthquake. The lesson that I learned is that Pakistan is in dire need of these types of services and technologies.”

Inspiring the heart and the exchange of culture

Inside Hoover Dam. Photo credit: Usama Khalid, NUST/ASU.

Though engineering is the primary point of USPCAS-E, other aspects of the initiative like promoting gender equality and engaging in cultural exchange are key aspects as well. The scholars expressed heartfelt thanks to be a part of a program that educates not just their inner engineer, but also cements their role as a global citizen.

“I have honestly no words to define my experience I had on spring break. It was both fun and a learning experience,” said Farah Akram of NUST. “The places we visited showed us a new face of the world. The views of the Grand Canyon, [the] innovative construction of Hoover Dam, fun and virtual reality-based rides of Universal Studios, learning at the California Science Center and [having a] playful time in Santa Monica gave us the most beautiful time of our lives.”

“Something that really impacted my heart was the celebration of diversity in America. America celebrates its diversity, be it in L.A., Tempe, Las Vegas or any other city. I was impacted by views on tolerance, freedom of speech, action,” reflected Haider Saif Agha of NUST.

Muhammad Ahsan Amjed of NUST ruminated that, “if you really want to understand the culture and people of any particular area, you will have to travel across that region in order to better understand their traditions, their peculiarities, cultural idiosyncrasies [and] subtle differences in their way of living. Such excursions help us renew our perspective about our research, our lives and our goals.”

The cultural exchange component of the program provides unlimited opportunity for visitors and Americans to engage with each other, allows visitors to find their place in the global community, breaks down prejudices and misunderstandings, and in the long-term expands and strengthens relationships between the two countries.

Erika Gronek

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU engineer looks to improve next-gen materials for solar cells

April 25, 2017

New findings by an Arizona State University engineer outline new advances in solar cell technology and point to the incredible potential of the material used to fabricate the cell — gallium nitride.

A research paper published April 17 in Applied Physics Letters details electrical engineering Assistant Professor Yuji Zhao’s efforts to use gallium nitride to create a high-performance solar cell capable of operating under extremely high temperatures. Electrical engineering Assistant Professor Yuji Zhao stands in his Metal-Organic Chemical Vapor Deposition lab on the Tempe campus, where he works with gallium nitride, a compound with unique properties. Zhao's research is focused on exploring gallium nitride's use in optoelectronics and high-power and high-frequency devices. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU Download Full Image

Gallium nitride is a unique compound, the properties of which make it an excellent candidate for use in optoelectronics and high-power and high-frequency devices.

“This material is remarkable and has such high potential,” Zhao said.

Zhao notes that some have called gallium nitride the next silicon — the ubiquitous material that serves as an integral component of many of our electronics, from computer chips and solar cells to transistors and integrated circuits. Gallium nitride could prove to be superior to silicon, and Zhao’s work is paving the way toward faster, more efficient and higher-powered devices of all kinds.

Zhao first began working with the material under pioneering researcher Shuji Nakamura of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Nakamura was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014 for developing efficient blue-light-emitting diodes, which has enabled bright and energy-saving white-light LEDs.

While working toward his doctorate, Zhao focused on employing gallium nitride for use in LEDs and lasers. Now he’s taken the material far beyond optoelectronics, expanding its use for solar panels, power systems and more. His exploration of the material’s myriad uses has earned him support from both NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense.

In 2015, Zhao was awarded a prestigious Early Career Faculty Space Tech Research Grant from NASA, a first for Fulton Schools faculty. The award supported the focus of his Applied Physics paper to create high-temperature resistant solar cells.

“They have high hopes for this project. They seem to believe this is one of the most promising methods to achieve their goals,” Zhao said.

Currently, Zhao is prototyping the solar panels, and will begin thermal testing soon.

“It’s not a question of whether or not the panels will work under high temperatures, but of how efficiently they will perform,” Zhao said.

More recently, he received a $300,000 award from the DOD’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which supports basic research to counter weapons of mass destruction. Zhao’s work with the DTRA is focused on using aluminum nitride to create transistors that can withstand high voltage and resist radiation damage.

To test this, he and his team will construct a Schottky Diode — a basic two-terminal electric component — and place it in a radioactive environment, subjecting it to different types of radiation in varying doses and rates of exposure. This radioactive stress test will eventually cause degradation in performance in the diode. That’s when Zhao will turn to materials studies to determine how to improve the material’s resistance and performance.

The applications are far reaching, such as for more robust power electronics and communications systems, but the DTRA is primarily interested in military devices that would remain operational following a radiation event, Zhao said.

Zhao credits his success in attracting funding to refine materials and explore their uses to the work being done in his cutting-edge Metal-Organic Chemical Vapor Deposition lab on the Tempe campus.

“One of the key reasons I was awarded these grants was first my background with this work, but also the capability of the MOCVD lab,” Zhao said. “The equipment we use is industry standard, not different from what you’d find in a major company.”

The lab required an estimated investment of $800,000 to set up and became fully operational in fall 2016.

He envisions the lab as a truly interdisciplinary space, and not only because his research draws on the expertise of physicists, materials scientists and device designers. Zhao wants the MOCVD lab to be an unparalleled resource for all of the Fulton Schools.

His ultimate goal mirrors the Nobel Prize description: developing science and tech for the betterment of humanity. He’s chosen refining and improving next-generation materials, such as gallium nitride, as his avenue to do so.

“The idea is to benefit as much of ASU as possible, which will hopefully extend outside of the university as well,” Zhao said.

Pete Zrioka

Managing editor, Knowledge Enterprise


image title

Federal officials tour ASU's photovoltaics lab, the nation's largest

ASU boasts nation's largest photovoltaic research facility, key to solar power.
ASU expert says a trillion dollars will be invested into solar in next 20 years.
April 24, 2017

Solar research facility on Tempe campus poised for big developments

Federal representatives are visiting Arizona State University’s powerhouse photovoltaics lab this week to review progress made in research on the energy of the future.

ASU’s Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center is the largest photovoltaic research facility in the country, and the only one funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

In the past year, more solar has been installed than any other source of electricity. Photovoltaic installations were up 95 percent in 2016. There are more jobs in solar than exist in oil or gas extraction. It’s a power source supported by all sides of the political spectrum.

Society’s advancement is tied to the amount of energy it can harness, center director Christiana Honsberg said. Right now, compared with automotive technology, solar cells are at a Ford Model T level.

Solar is at a tipping point, Honsberg said. In the next 20 years, about a trillion dollars will be invested.

“In a lot of ways, the goal is to define a path that helps that trillion-dollar industry become more sustainable and addresses a lot of the critical issues,” she said.

The center identifies technical barriers to sustained improvement — high efficiency, scalability and sustainability — and tackles them by breaking down research barriers.

“Our central defining feature is that you can continue to improve both the cost of solar at the same time you improve its performance,” Honsberg said. “You continue to get higher efficiency and lower cost simultaneously. That’s a little bit hard to do. As cars improve, they get more expensive. … Semiconductor technologies get better and cheaper, but most things don’t get better and cheaper.”


 ASU Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering researchers deposit one of many layers while building a solar cell. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

 ASU’s center opened in 2010 and has been ramping up every year, adding facilities and faculty. It started with two faculty members and now has seven.

It holds several world records.

“Some of them are true world records, and some are voltage records,” Honsberg said. “The term ‘world record’ is very precisely defined in solar. … The fact that we hold the voltage record in every commercially relevant material is significant in that our physics and ideas are better than anything else out there.”

Engineering Research Centers are the largest awards bestowed by the National Science Foundation. At any given time, there are only 20 ERCs operating in the country. It’s a prestigious and rare award. Only one-quarter of 1 percent of applicants to the program win funding. It’s a 10-year award, given only after five stringent reviews.

ASU has two of them.

“ASU has really ramped up in the ERCs,” Honsberg said. “There aren’t a whole lot of ERCs, given the very, very broad mission that NSF funds in.”

This week’s visit by a 15-member team is one of three funding reviews during the 10-year period of the award. As well as learning what taxpayer dollars are discovering, they’ll get a look inside how ASU operates.

“We are absolutely embedded into ASU’s mission,” Honsberg said. “Every single aspect of what we do fits in directly. One of the key things we want to do is change the standard university picture of people just sitting in a lab producing papers in obscure journals to actually being able to tackle larger problems and make a larger impact.

“If you’re going to do that, the single-faculty, single-lab model is not the right model. … We want to not only make an impact on a big problem, but we’re also working to develop how you optimally combine many different universities, different (principal investigators), how you integrate education in.” 

Top photo: Solar cells — such as this one being examined by researchers at ASU’s Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center — are poised to become more efficient and cheaper thanks to an influx of investments. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now