Home Page Display: 
image title

ASU launches Center for Imagination in the Borderlands

ASU professor, poet Natalie Diaz launches a center to reimagine the borderlands.
MacArthur Fellow Natalie Diaz at center launch: "At ASU, our future is now."
January 24, 2020

New center brainchild of MacArthur Fellow Natalie Diaz, who aims to reimagine what America’s borderlands can be

The energy at Arizona State University's Katzin Concert Hall on Thursday night was mostly celebratory, sometimes solemn and decidedly female.

The university’s own wunderkind, MacArthur Fellow and renowned poet Natalie Diaz, served as master of ceremonies for an evening of readings, performance and discussion, all of which served to launch the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands, a brainchild of Diaz’s that she and her collaborators hope will spark inquiry, action and, ultimately, a reimagining of what America’s borderlands can be.

“I’ll ask that you consider the stories and energies of the lands we are on tonight,” Diaz said in her opening address to the audience, which had filled the hall to capacity. “What does it mean that we are here and some people are not?”

Diaz, who will serve as director of the center, thanked ASU President Michael Crow “for the energy to catalyze my own imagination,” as well as President’s Professor of indigenous education and justice Bryan Brayboy for his support.

“It’s not easy to be the body I am,” she said. “Queer, Native, Mexican, Latina, woman. It is lucky to have found ASU, that ASU found me, and that I am among these collaborators and provocateurs.”

woman speaking on stage, behind a lecturn, to an audience

ASU Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands Natalie Diaz addresses the audience at the center's launch event Thursday. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

An impressive roster of artists rounded out the bill at Thursday’s launch event, taking the stage in the following order:

• President and CEO of United States Artists Deana Haggag, who spoke with passion about the power of art — but also how powerless we are to face today’s challenges in America and across borders without it.

• Tohono O’odham Nation Poet and MacArthur Fellow Ofelia Zepeda, who read a selection of her poems, including “In the Midst of Songs,” a sonorous tribute to the songs of indigenous peoples and the land that inspired them.

• Award-winning poet and ASU Assistant Professor of English Solmaz Sharif, who also read a selection of her poems, including the searing “Drone,” about the stark realities of life and death in a war-torn country.

• MacArthur Fellow and author of “Lost Children ArchiveValeria Luiselli and White Mountain Apache musician and National Artists Fellow Laura Ortman, who took the stage together in an impromptu collaborative performance in which Luiselli read excerpts of an untitled work in progress about the history of violence against women and the land in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, intermittently punctuated and finally concluded by Ortman’s unorthodox instrumentals.

four women sitting and talking on a stage with a photo of cacti in the background

From left: ASU Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands Natalie Diaz; Tohono O’odham Nation Poet and MacArthur Fellow Ofelia Zepeda; President and CEO of United States Artists Deana Haggag; and MacArthur Fellow and author of “Lost Children Archive” Valeria Luiselli. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

A brief interlude between Sharif and the joint performance of Luiselli and Ortman included remarks from ASU Dean of Humanities Jeffrey Cohen, who acknowledged that there is a lot of work to be done in the humanities.

“Too often in the past, humanities have functioned as a kind of country club, with all the exclusivity that entails,” Cohen said, “letting some people know they might be ‘more comfortable’ somewhere else. We need to abandon that model.”

The interlude also included a discussion between Diaz, Zepeda, Haggag and Luiselli on what imagination means — and what lands, stories and people inhabit it — in the borderlands.

“We tend to focus on what’s terrible about imagination when thinking of borderlands,” Diaz said. “Imagination can be a very terrible place … those fences ... it’s an incredible waste of the imagination.”

Her discussion with Zepeda, Haggag and Luiselli explored what might be possible if we were to imagine differently.

“For centuries, we have all lived in very hierarchical institutions, all of them imagined by men,” Luiselli said. “Churches, universities … congresses. And there’s a very vertical relationship of power in those imagined structures, and I think that the way I am trying to re-understand my work and everyday life is precisely against that idea … and in finding more fluid and horizontal ways of reimagining how we constellate, how we discuss, how we think in communities and, therefore, how we produce whatever it is that we produce.”

The launch event itself seemed a meta confirmation of Luiselli’s sentiments.

“There is a way of Mojave thinking where we say, ‘It’s been dreamed,’” Diaz said. “It doesn’t mean you fell asleep and a vision came to you. It means there are things set in motion that we have yet to arrive at. … This idea of collaboration is one of the ways we’re trying to arrive there.”

Other ways the center plans to work toward arriving at its goals remain to be seen. However, Diaz feels its location makes it uniquely suited to doing so.

“Arizona is a crucible for the many questions we find ourselves asking locally, nationally and throughout the world,” she said. “Arizona and ASU are unique spaces with incredible capacities to broaden these conversations because Arizona is a place of tension that necessitates the kind of thought capable of influencing and catalyzing the futures we believe we deserve. At ASU in particular, we understand that our future is now.”

Top photo: White Mountain Apache musician and National Artists Fellow Laura Ortman performs in the Katzin Concert Hall on ASU's Tempe campus during the launch of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands on Thursday. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

ASU Law’s Academy for Justice tackles reentry for its inaugural event

January 24, 2020

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University created its Academy for Justice in 2016 to help improve the criminal justice system by bridging the gap between academia and on-the-ground reform efforts.

The academy took a big first step in bridging that gap by producing and distributing a comprehensive four-volume set of criminal justice reform issues and policy recommendations, authored by some of the nation’s foremost legal and criminal justice scholars. photo of reentry sumit The summit launched with a reentry simulation — run by Tasha Aikens (left), a reentry specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice — in which participants played the role of just-released inmates. Download Full Image

The academy is now taking the next steps, bringing various criminal justice stakeholders together to work toward solutions. In December, it hosted a daylong summit on one of the most critical issues plaguing the criminal justice system: reentry. Specifically, the vast number of imposing challenges that incarcerated individuals face as they try to rejoin society after serving their sentences.

Executive Director Dawn Walton said she and the academy’s founder, Faculty Director Erik Luna, have been gathering feedback from those involved with criminal justice reform, and it was those conversations that gave rise to the summit.

“It started off with Erik and I going on a listening tour,” she said. “Once I came on board, we spoke with individuals in the community, different reform groups, different government agencies and people who had been active on the ground for criminal justice reform.”

In opening remarks at the summit, Luna highlighted the many challenges facing the formerly incarcerated throughout the reentry process:

• Compared with the general public, they have higher rates of health problems, both physical and mental, along with substance abuse issues.

• They struggle to find housing, along with reliable means of transportation.

• They have difficulty finding gainful employment, and that is sometimes a condition of probation. They often have poor job skills and limited work experience, and even if they are qualified, employers may be reluctant to hire.

photo of Erik Luna

In opening remarks at the summit, Academy for Justice Founder and Faculty Director Erik Luna highlighted the many challenges facing the formerly incarcerated throughout the reentry process.

“Recognizing these and other challenges facing former inmates, a broad coalition has grown in support of evaluating and reforming the reentry process,” Luna said. “The movement brings together policymakers, community activists, experts at think tanks and nonprofits, elected officials, religious groups, business leaders and others, all seeking to understand and improve reentry in the United States.”

More than 120 attendees took part in the summit, a diverse group representing all facets of that broad coalition.

Simulation exposes the challenges

The summit launched with a reentry simulation, in which participants played the role of just-released inmates. It laid bare the sometimes insurmountable challenges these men and women face.

Stations were set up throughout the simulation room, and each person had to try to reestablish themselves in society. They had to find work, but first they had to get proper ID. They had to find housing, pay rent, feed themselves and their children, go to the bank, show up for — and pass — drug tests, and check in with their probation officers. They needed to buy bus tokens to get from one place to the next, and with extremely limited budgets, they were forced to visit pawn shops and plasma donation centers, or take out predatory loans with outrageously high interest rates, all in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. At each stop, they were met with long lines, and they only had so much time to complete their tasks.

Many wound up homeless or back in prison. Others were barely able to get by.

The simulation was run by Tasha Aikens, a reentry specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice.

“These are the obstacles, challenges and barriers that many of these people face upon their return to the community,” she said.

Afterward, Aikens posed questions to the participants.

“How many of you thought it was frustrating and crazy?” she asked.

Throughout the room, heads nodded and hands shot up.

“How many of you thought the directions were unclear, that this was all too much? That you couldn’t find where you needed to go? How many of you thought the long lines were crazy?”

Again, there was unanimous agreement.

“Well, that’s reality,” Aikens said.

As the conversation continued afterward, one of the participants raised his hand to speak.

“I am somewhat of a plant, since I am a former member of Congress,” he said.

It was Gary Franks, a Republican who represented Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 until 1997. He was one of the participants and admitted that he simply gave up halfway through, too frustrated to continue.

“But I am very impressed with this program,” Franks said. “And I strongly recommend that you invite the chiefs of staff of members of Congress to participate in a forum like this, because I served in Congress when the 1994 Crime Bill was passed, and I regret it. Also, I was chairman of the Welfare Reform Task Force for the Republican Party when I was in office, and I’ve seen some of the difficulties that you face. If you have a child, certain things should kick in automatically, and they do not. And if people knew — people who are in power to legislate and make decisions — if they knew about the challenges that everyone had to go through, it would be so worthwhile. For them to come here and participate in this, it could really allow for some differences to be made, not just in Arizona but across the country.”

Former inmate Benny Garcia was in the audience and agreed with Franks that it would be useful for policymakers to take part in the simulation. Garcia talked about being released from prison with a mere $7 to his name. He has since worked his way up to a management position at a Phoenix restaurant, and he said he had recently purchased his first house.

photo of Andrew Fleming

Andrew Fleming (left) works as an advocate for Banner Health, sharing his story to try to help others. Here he assists in the simulation exercise. 

“But it’s been a struggle,” Garcia said. “And this simulation portrays everything that you’re having to go through. Getting your ID, getting treatment, finding ways to pay for everything.”

Andrew Fleming, who helped run the courthouse area of the simulation, concurred. A former inmate himself, he now works as an advocate for Banner Health, sharing his story to try to help others.

“The struggle is real when you get out,” he said. “That’s why I do what I do with these simulations. Because I think it’s crucial for the general public and people in the system and in the industry — mental health and criminal justice — to understand that it’s not as simple as just doing your time, getting out and making your own way. There are significant barriers that are still in place.”

Focusing on solutions

After the simulation, panel discussions were held on some of the more pressing issues facing former inmates:

• Barriers to housing and, specifically, “not in my backyard” objections.

• Employment and economic considerations, highlighting models for employer engagement.

• Treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues.

Attorney Kurt Altman works with the Right on Crime criminal justice reform group, serving as its state policy director for Arizona and New Mexico. He moderated the discussion on employment barriers, and he said the problems are fixable but that there needs to be more focus on raising awareness.

“The biggest message is that people need to realize there are barriers — and they are significant barriers,” he said. “Maybe some of the barriers have to be there, but we can remove most of them in different fashions and put these folks back to work. The two biggest issues that cause recidivism are lack of employment and lack of housing, and those are the two largest barriers to reentry once somebody has paid their debt to society. So we need to take a really close look at those issues and fix them, because they’re fixable.”

Valena Beety, the academy’s deputy director, said the summit was successful in not only helping people understand the difficulties facing those in the reentry process, but in generating and sharing creative solutions.

photo of Valena Beety

Valena Beety, the academy’s deputy director, speaks on a panel during the summit.

“These citizens are leaving prisons, and they are coming back to our communities,” she said. “Eighteen thousand inmates are released in Arizona each year, and the majority come to Maricopa County. It's happening. So what are the ways to make reentry successful so that prison isn’t a revolving door, so that we can reduce recidivism? And I really thought that there were a number of interesting ideas.”

For example, she said, there was discussion of incentivizing landlords to rent to the formerly incarcerated by creating a risk management fund, mitigating the risk of those tenants failing to pay rent. Another proposal focused on reentry navigators, who could work in prisons and help inmates prepare for and better handle the challenges of the reentry process.

Walton said the diverse backgrounds of the participants — activists, policymakers, religious and business leaders, former inmates — made for productive and informed discussions.

“That's really what the goal was, to bring out all of these different ideas, put these different perspectives on the table and have an open-minded and fair discussion about what we've been doing that has been working or what we haven't been doing that needs to happen,” she said. “I'm really happy with the amount of dialogue and interaction that we had.”

She said the academy intends to compile a list of recommendations that came out of the discussions, then disseminate those not only to the summit’s participants but to others involved in criminal justice reform, both locally and nationally.

Luna said there are a wide variety of motivations behind the criminal justice reform movement, but everybody is working together toward common goals.

“The people who support these efforts have different rationales,” he said. “They may be concerned about taxpayers footing the bill for the revolving door of incarceration. Or they may be progressive believers in human improvement. Others may be victims’ advocates, seeking to prevent further injury to the innocent. Still others may be supporters of social justice for the poor and communities of color. Some are people of faith, committed to the possibility of redemption. And many are Americans who view our nation as a land of second chances. But regardless of motivation, everyone has an interest in seeing former inmates successfully reenter society.”

Altman said simply getting all of these different people together in one place to share ideas was important and beneficial.

“The biggest thing that I found was how enlightened the participants became,” he said. “People didn’t realize — everybody knows there's a problem — but people didn't realize how important reentry is to making our communities better in the long run, helping the folks that need it, and how little we actually do in that area when people get released.”

And he hopes this is just the beginning for these types of forums.

“I appreciate the Academy for Justice and ASU Law participating in something like this,” he said. “I think the more symposiums or summits that we have that bring in a bigger and bigger cross section of the community, the better we’re going to be.”

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law


image title

Annual MLK Day lecture considers range of perspectives on activism

January 23, 2020

Scholars discuss intellectual, ideological diversity of civil rights movement at ASU

Two of the nation’s most respected scholars of race and politics visited Arizona State University’s Tempe campus Wednesday to participate in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day lecture, “Citizenship and the African American Experience.”

The lecture is part of the school’s continued efforts to foster civic discourse, featuring a variety of public programming and dialogues.

School Director Paul Carrese welcomed a crowd of nearly 100 faculty, students and community members before introducing the invited speakers, Angela Dillard, the Richard A. Meisler Collegiate Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan, and Peter Myers, professor of political science and U.S. constitutional law at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Carrese noted that earlier in the day, the scholars had visited with students and faculty on campus, where they had viewed the Civics Classics Collection at the recently remodeled Hayden Library. The collection is a collaboration between the library and the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership to build a body of rare books and manuscripts intended to support the school’s mission of civic education through use in classroom environments and public programming.

The collection includes copies of King’s first two books, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story” and “Strength to Love,” as well as a first edition of the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, another civil rights leader who was discussed at Wednesday evening’s lecture.

“The Martin Luther King books help to tell the story of political figure who had enormous influence, even though he was never elected to political office,” Carrese said.

The focus of the lecture was how “the civil rights movement was marked by an intellectual and ideological diversity that incorporated a wide range of perspectives in debates about the nature of citizenship and the ‘proper’ strategies for civil rights activism.”

In her introductory remarks, Dillard discussed some of the topics and figures she will explore in her forthcoming book, “Civil Rights Conservatism,” which she said highlights the extraordinary diversity in black political culture. Among those featured in her book are: James Meredith, the first African American admitted to the University of Mississippi, known for his opposition to affirmative action; Mildred Jefferson, the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School; and Joseph H. Jackson, whom Dillard called “one of the most influential civil rights activists you’ve probably never heard of,” notable for his denouncement of King and the demonstrations he employed.

Dillard’s book also addresses what she refers to as the problem with monumental history, wherein historical moments become so revered that facts become distorted.

“The (March on Washington) has been so broadly celebrated today that it’s easy to forget how divisive it was in 1963: 22% of the population had a favorable view of the march, while 63% of the population had an unfavorable view,” she said, adding that the efficacy of the march was even debated within the NAACP.

Myers began his address with a question he asks of students in his American political thought course: What is America’s birth year?

“Answers vary,” Myers said. “Some say 1776The United States Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4, 1776. or 1787The Constitution of the United States was signed by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787.. Some say 1492Italian explorer Christopher Columbus introduced the Americas to Western Europe during his four voyages to the region, beginning in 1492. or 1607Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, was founded in May of 1607.. Some say 1865In 1865, the American Civil War ended with the surrender of the Confederate States, beginning the Reconstruction era of U.S. history.. Every once in a while, some say 1954In 1954, racial segregation in public schools was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Brown vs. the Board of Education.. But to the best of my recollection, no one yet has said 1619. I expect that will change.”

Myers was referring to The New York Times’ 1619 Project, an ongoing endeavor that began in 2019, 400 years after the arrival of the first enslaved people in America from West Africa. The project means to reexamine the legacy of slavery in the United States.

The project was met with criticism in the form of a letter to The Times from a group of historians expressing their reservations about its intention “to offer a new version of American history in which slavery and white supremacy become the dominant organizing themes,” and The Times’ plan to make the project available to schools in the form of curriculums.

Carrese asked Dillard and Meyers what they thought of the project.

“I’m a huge fan,” Dillard said. “I love it because it’s public history. It was a project put together to be able to say that we want to harness professional historians and speak to a larger public, repair some of the damage that’s been done in the American educational system for how slavery is taught or not taught … but it also tells the lived experiences of the African Americans themselves.”

Later, during the audience question and answer session, an attendee asked whether Dillard and Myers agreed with the historians’ concerns that using The Times' project as curriculum in schools might obfuscate the more positive aspects that played a role in America’s founding.

“Our job as educators is to tell the truth as best and as honestly as we can understand it,” Myers said, and that means teaching opposing arguments and contradictions, as well.

For the past two centuries, Myers said, the two greatest advocates of justice and race relations have been Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. In their speeches, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” and “I Have A Dream,” respectively, “both ask the questions: Who are the true sons of the fathers? Who are the legitimate offspring of the founders? They answer, not the slave owners and segregationists but the abolitionists and the integrationists.”

Other civil rights leaders felt differently about the founders, such as Malcom X. “How marginal was a figure like him,” Carrese asked, in his opinion that there was nothing of value in the Constitution for black leaders?

“The relationship of African American thinkers, artists, activists and leaders to the past is fraught,” Dillard said. They have to ask questions like, “Is this our past? Is there something usable there? Is there something about which we can be critical but still salvage something of value?

“There are a range of positions. Malcom X famously said you didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on you. It’s a clever, relatable quip but it’s a serious position to take to say that we are the people under that rock, this is not part of our own heritage. And it’s hard to find a figure whose relationship to the past isn’t contradictory.”

And King was no exception. He wrote sometimes about being the “good son” of the founders, Dillard said. “Other times, he said the dream has become a nightmare. … So one speech doesn’t define everything they have to say about a topic that is so complex and so deeply vexing.”

Top photo: School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership founding director Paul Carrese (left) moderates a discussion with Angela Dillard, a professor at the University of Michigan, and Peter Myers, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, during the school's annual Martin Luther King Day lecture, Citizenship and the African American Experience, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at Carson Ballroom. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Pipe down: Preventing pipeline degradation using analytics

January 23, 2020

Natural gas pipeline infrastructure in the United States is aging, triggering deterioration rooted in multiple causes. Constructed in the 1930s and 1940s, the weakening pipelines are at risk of bursting and unleashing catastrophic consequences.

Those risks are the foremost reason why Yongming Liu, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is developing diagnostic and prognostic tools in efforts to improve how we maintain the structural integrity of the pipelines. Man and robot looking down pipe Yongming Liu prepares to send a robot equipped with a camera and sensors to detect internal pipe damage. Liu and his team are working to develop a computer vision-based inspection tool that uses deep learning methods to provide real-time automated pipeline anomaly detection. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

To identify the specific pipelines posing threats, Liu and postdoctoral researcher Yang Yu are leading a project supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to develop a computer-vision-based inspection tool that uses deep learning methods to provide real-time automated pipeline anomaly detection.

The new tool makes possible a nonintrusive way for pipeline in-line inspection. Once the location, size and type of threats are identified, researchers can perform prognostics to predict the remaining service life of pipelines.

“This is especially critical for the decision-making on pipeline integrity management,” Liu said. “To enable more accurate predictions, we have been working on developing an information fusion framework that combines multimodal data sources in a statistically meaningful way to reduce the variance of the prediction.”

The nation’s pipeline infrastructure is vulnerable. Pipelines work in harsh environments, facing corrosion, cyclic fatigue loading, soil movement, excavating force and road traffic force. They are subject to continuous operational pressures combining the aforementioned environmental loads that contribute to complex stress conditions.

Additionally, many pipelines are made of steel and thus are prone to material deterioration such as cracking and pitting (small holes in the metal) due to aging and corrosion.

“The mechanical stresses due to operational loading and electrochemical reactions due to deterioration often interact with each other to accelerate the damage process, which is known as threat interaction,” Liu said. “We recently received funding from DOT to address the detection and characterization of interactive threats.”

Liu’s team has been awarded two grants from PHMSA’s university research program and two from the PHMSA core research program for industrial applications of state-of-art safety assurance technologies. 

“All of these projects aim for the safety assessment and management from different perspectives,” Liu said. “Two of them are focusing on diagnostics using advanced data analytics and imaging techniques. The other two are focused on the hybrid physics-based statistical learning for prognostics — in other words, the remaining life prediction.”

The goal of the team’s research is to improve the safety and efficiency of pipeline infrastructure, which will not only benefit utility companies by enabling better management of pipeline operations but also benefit the general public by raising the standard of living.

The team is collaborating with Gas Technology Institute, a leading research, development and training organization for energy and environmental systems located in Chicago.

“We are not only impressed by the high-quality research by Arizona State University and Dr. Liu’s group, but also the high-quality ‘product’ of ASU — its students,” said Ernest Lever, the research and development director of energy delivery and utilization at Gas Technology Institute. “Several interns and full-time employees from ASU here at GTI clearly demonstrate the importance of safety-related training for next-generation engineers.”

Improving safety

Natural gas is a critical source of energy in the United States. The National Academy of Engineering identifies maintaining the natural gas infrastructure as one of its Grand Challenges.

Liu and his team are also working to address safety concerns related to the nation’s aging natural gas pipelines, especially as the demand for natural gas increases.

“Safety is always the priority for large complex engineering systems,” Liu said. “Recent progress for data science and other technology opens new doors for multidisciplinary integrated research to solve these grand challenges.”

While there has been tremendous progress in the past few decades to improve pipeline safety as new technologies, procedures and protocols have been developed to manage pipeline integrity, there are still significant challenges to pipeline safety.

“However, today, with the advances in sensing technology and the emergence of big data analytics, we now have an opportunity to fill the remaining gaps and better protect our pipeline infrastructure,” Liu said.

Beyond the pipes

Liu’s work stretches beyond pipelines. He is also the director of the newly formed Center for Complex System Safety.

Supported by the Arizona Board of Regents’ Regent Innovation Fund, the new three-campus center — which includes ASU, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University — focuses on applying general management methodologies to many different infrastructure-related systems, like bridges, nuclear power plants and unmanned air traffic systems.

Each university will provide faculty members with multidisciplinary skills and expertise to form the center’s core researchers. 

Funded through a five-year, $10 million NASA project on safety assurance and prognostics, the current work focuses on next-generation air transportation. It addresses the ongoing work of Liu’s team, as well as projects focusing on the future of Urban Air Mobility, aging infrastructure safety (including gas pipelines) and forestry safety. Expertise for the latter work is coming from NAU researchers.

Along with Liu directing the ASU research, Samy Missoum, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, will lead the project’s efforts at the University of Arizona and David Auty, an assistant professor of wood science, will manage the research at NAU.

Missoum, an expert in computational design and reliability, will strengthen the center’s core objectives by developing approaches to design resilient systems and infrastructures. UArizona will also lead an effort in risk assessment in public health and biosystems as well as problems involving human behavior.

The work at NAU will focus on multidisciplinary approaches and strategies to predict and mitigate risks to natural ecosystems and inform better decision-making by working on projects such as wildfire hazard reduction, threats to forests and people, and forest resistance/resilience to abiotic and biotic stressors.

“We are expecting the CCSSCenter for Complex System Safety to serve as a platform and umbrella to cultivate future collaborations among different universities in Arizona on safety-related research,” Liu said. “It is also for bridging academia, research and industrial applications. It is expected that an external advisory board will be formed in 2020 to bring together leading experts from governmental agencies and industrial partners.”

Because the center is also directly related to Liu’s current NASA project, the center will also promote the long-term development of integrating the complex data sources to support aviation safety for the air traffic system.  

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


News Co/Lab lands Facebook grant to boost media literacy ahead of elections

January 23, 2020

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication today announced it has received a grant from Facebook to help improve digital media literacy among adults ahead of the 2020 elections.

The award is part of Facebook’s $2 million initiative aimed at supporting projects that empower people to identify and seek out credible information to read and share.  News Co/Lab, Cronkite School, media literacy News Co/Lab managing director Kristy Roschke works with Cronkite student Caroline Veltman. Download Full Image

“We can all agree that we need to foster and support better information sources in this age of overwhelming supply, too much of which is misinformation,” said Dan Gillmor, co-founder of the News Co/Lab at the Cronkite School. “We also need to get better ourselves at sorting out what we can trust, and understanding our roles as part of a digital ecosystem in which we’re sharers and creators as well as consumers. Facebook's support for the project helps us do this at scale.”

The funding will support work already being conducted by the News Co/Lab, founded in 2017 and supported, in part, with seed funding from the Facebook Journalism Project to help the public better understand and engage with the news. 

“These are lifelong skills people need, but it is especially important as we head toward the divisive November 2020 election,” said Kristy Roschke, managing director of the News Co/Lab. “The civic health of our country depends on an informed public, which will be making important decisions about our future in the coming months and years. These types of initiatives can make a real impact.”

For this project, the News Co/Lab will create a series of educational videos in collaboration with Arizona PBS, which is owned and operated by the Cronkite School. The videos will help inform viewers about the evolving media landscape in an effort to boost media literacy, especially for young adults and seniors. The initiative also will include:

• A series of media literacy outreach events across the U.S. in partnership with local community organizations. The events will be designed to teach techniques for spotting misinformation and finding credible sources.

• Creation of a massive online open course, or MOOC, on digital media literacy through the Cronkite School, which will include tips for spotting misinformation, finding trustworthy sources and best practices for sharing and commenting on news and information, among other topics.

• Digital and social media content.

“As an institution that thrives on innovative practices, we are in perpetual pursuit of solutions that better our industry and, in turn, society,” Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan said. “The evolving landscape of digital journalism demands a new vigilance and a greater level of scrutiny. Our News Co/Lab is positioned at the leading edge of literacy and responsible media consumption.”

Facebook executive Katie Harbath said the platform embraces a similar sentiment with regard to misinformation.

"Helping to stop the spread of misinformation is an important part of our work to help protect elections but we know we can’t do it alone. That’s why we’re partnering with organizations and experts in media literacy like the News Co/Lab out of Arizona State University to launch media literacy resources that will help empower people from senior citizens to first-time voters, on how to trust the information they see,” said Harbath, Facebook’s public policy director for global elections.

The new media literacy project launches just months after the News Co/Lab received a gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to support a project that will combat misinformation by improving the reach and effectiveness of media-issued corrections. 

Through that initiative, the News Co/Lab is partnering with researchers, technologists and journalists across three newsrooms owned by the McClatchy media company. The goal is to design and deploy a web-based tool that efficiently reaches consumers on social media platforms with corrected versions of stories they may have already shared. 

Director of communications, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Arizona PBS

ASU researcher explores the quantum realm to international acclaim

January 23, 2020

Scientific progress is impossible without materials: understanding them, manipulating them and finding efficient uses for them in modern industrialized society.

While 3D materials have made countless technologies possible, one Arizona State University researcher believes confining materials to two dimensions is the key to the technological breakthroughs of the future. Sefaattin Tongay in his lab. Sefaattin Tongay, an associate professor of materials science in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, synthesizes next-generation 2D quantum materials and works to understand their various properties through advanced transmission electron microscopy and other techniques. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

Sefaattin Tongay, an associate professor of materials science in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, is synthesizing next-generation 2D quantum materials and working to understand their various properties through advanced transmission electron microscopy and other techniques.

These 2D crystalline materials are made of a single layer of atoms, which gives them unique properties unlike those of 3D materials. They have the potential to transform technologies, including light-emitting diodes, batteries, smartphones, flexible electronics, biosensors and photovoltaic cells.

After more than two decades of research into 2D materials, Tongay has earned a reputation as one of the most influential researchers in his field. His work has been supported by numerous high-profile agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation — from which he received a coveted NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award.

He has published more than 130 SCIScience Citation Index-indexed research articles in prestigious journals such as Science and Nature and holds several patents on 2D materials. 

After finishing the past decade strong, earning a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers among other international honors, he’s gearing up to continue his impactful research into the materials that will improve all aspects of our lives.

Tongay shared some thoughts on his influential research career so far.

Question: What are the big picture goals and challenges of your materials science and quantum materials research?

Answer: My team and I are trying to discover entirely new types of materials with properties that cannot be explained easily within the established laws of physics. While doing so, we are also on the lookout for new material properties or functionalities that cannot be attained in other conventional materials.

The primary challenge in this field is material quality, the lack of available synthesis techniques and the difficulties in probing their quantum properties. My team discovers new synthesis techniques to innovate new materials and aims to either perfect them or introduce select types of imperfections for added functionalities.

Q: How did you get started in quantum materials and why do you enjoy it?

A: I am honestly not sure. I remember as a little boy I was fascinated by materials, types of materials or new composites, and I was also interested in physics. I feel like these two interests eventually came together and ended up with me studying quantum materials.

I love everything about this field. It is not incremental science, but the impact is always large. The field evolves very quickly, which is really cool and never gets boring.

Q: How does your work impact society and your field of study?

A: In the past, the impact has been through my seminal work in graphene/semiconductor devices, touchscreens and solar cells.

My team is introducing manufacturing techniques to synthesize new materials, which are applicable for national security and energy solutions.

The future impact of our work will likely lay the foundations for materials synthesis, which is much needed to introduce quantum applications into our daily lives.

My major contribution to the field of materials science and quantum materials has been the discovery of 2D anisotropic materials (a new class of materials that can enable quantum computing), the ability to engineer the quasi-one-dimensional chain directions (atomic chains that can carry information, photons, electrons and other information in a particular direction), the discovery of Moire excitons (information-carrying photons useful for quantum information technologies) and the discovery of graphene or semiconductor diodes and solar cells.

I do not know how my work will age in time, but, at the moment, the discovery of exotic exciton complexes and defects engineering in layered materials appear to be the most impactful.

Q: Where do you think the U.S. research community stands in comparison to the rest of the world’s work on quantum computing solutions, in which quantum materials are the building blocks?

A: In my view, the U.S. still has a lead on the rest of the world in this field. That being said, the gap is closing very quickly. This is in part because everyone is recognizing the immense potential of quantum computing solutions and they are investing heavily in this field. But it takes a village to raise a child and my work isn’t possible without my collaborators from Germany to the U.K. and more. 

Q: In the past year you’ve received national and international awards for your influential work. Which awards have meant the most to you?

A: By far my most prestigious award was given by President Donald J. Trump in July 2018 — the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, known as PECASE. 

Then in December, I received an award from the Web of Science, the largest scientific and engineering database in the world, which identified my work as some of the most influential research in the past decade.

I was also named one of the 10 Outstanding Young Persons of the World by the Republic of Turkey, where I am from. This award, organized by the Junior Chamber International, recognizes 10 young people under 40 years of age and aims to provide development opportunities that empower young people in the world to create positive change. In Turkey, the selection committee consists of university presidents, deans, famous professors and previous winners, and they give the award to individuals who show distinction in science and engineering at a global scale and have a well established academic record. I was given the award focusing on leadership in sciences and technology.

This recognition means that the direction that my team and I are taking is making the impact we hope it would. It gives us confidence in the kind of work we do. Knowing that people read, enjoy and appreciate the work coming out of my lab, in return, makes it more enjoyable for everyone on our team. It gives me confidence to take more aggressive steps.

I am hoping the recognition will help me to establish myself as one of the innovators in the field. 

Q: How have Arizona State University and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering helped you to be successful?

A: From the first day, the Fulton Schools and ASU have always been 100% behind my endeavors. Materials Initiative Director Bill Petuskey, School for the Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy Director Lenore Dai, Professor Nate Newman and Fulton Schools Dean Kyle Squires have all assisted and supported me along with so many others within ASU who have helped behind the scenes. I am forever thankful to everyone from staff members all the way up to ASU President Michael Crow.

Q: What’s next?

A: In the future, I would like to be able to have a library of quantum materials that people will closely link to my name. I want to sustain a strong materials synthesis and characterization team and build a center or cluster effort focusing on quantum applications.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


image title

Industry leaders gather at ASU to address state of U.S. competitiveness

Top experts gather at ASU to brainstorm ways to increase U.S. competitiveness.
January 21, 2020

CEOs, university presidents, researchers brainstorm ways to promote innovation

Many of the country’s top experts in technology and business met at Arizona State University last week to address the urgent issue of enhancing the United States’ competitiveness.

The group, which included CEOs, university presidents and accomplished researchers, was meeting for the first time to launch the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers, part of the National Council on Competitiveness.

The daylong conference Thursday on the Tempe campus was the first step in a brainstorming process to tackle problems that have allowed the rest of the world to catch up with, and in some cases surpass, the structural competitive advantage of the U.S. Among the critical issues discussed were the decline of manufacturing in the United States, climate change and the rise of China on the global stage.

The commission members must come up with applied solutions, said Mehmood Khan, chairman of the commission and the CEO of Life Biosciences Inc.

“We’re not here to do hypothetical thinking around the distant future of a policy that might change things,” he said.

Khan said that the U.S. rose to dominance for two reasons: embracing immigrants and sharing its innovations.

“Federal investment and research into agriculture was responsible for the single biggest innovation in terms of lives saved. The dwarf wheat program saved a billion lives from famine and not one of them was American.”

mehmood khan

Mehmood Khan, CEO of Life Biosciences and co-chairman of the National Commission on Competitiveness, speaks at the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers’ Launch Conference at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

But American dominance is waning, Khan said.

One reason is demographics: A shrinking pool of young people is expected to support a huge generation of old people.

“Our entire infrastructure assumes a large, youthful base to support an older base. However, that system is not viable financially, operationally and most important from a manpower point of view,” he said.

ASU President Michael Crow is university vice-chair of the Council on Competitiveness. In his opening address to the group, he cited ASU as an example of an institution that improved by embracing systemic change.

“We decided that most universities were archaic, bureaucratic structures incapable of serving the United States to the level they needed to serve,” he said.

“More than half the people who go to college in the United States never graduate. Half the money that’s been spent on Pell grants has produced nothing.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

After Crow became president in 2002, ASU eliminated 80 academic units, restructured 30 transdisciplinary entities and embraced hundreds of technology partnerships. The four-year graduation rate doubled.

Crow described how the engineering school was reinvented.

“We had a terrible weed-out culture we could not get rid of,” he said. “It was, ‘If you don’t have an A in calculus, too bad for you.’ You could be the greatest dreamer of something that could solve some huge problem but your calculus score was too low.”

So 11 engineering departments were eliminated and five “grand challenge” schools were created, along with the Polytechnic School.

“Ten years later we didn’t have 6,000 engineering students on campus with a 68% freshman retention rate, we had 17,000 engineering students on campus with a 90% freshman retention rate, from a broader spectrum of families. We’ve added thousands of women and thousands of minority students,” he said.

The transformation at ASU is important because it’s a microcosm of what the country needs, Crow said.

“What we need is more innovation, more innovators, more perspectives, more solutions, more energy,” he said, as well as an attitude that extends beyond wishing for more money from the government.

“This is our opportunity to do a reset.”

During the conference, the members divided into working groups and came up with several key issues for further work. Among them was concern about the rise of China. Long a hub of cheap manufacturing, the country is heavily investing in research and development of its technology industry.

Jennifer Curtis, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Davis, said she’s seen a change in the students who are getting PhDs.

“I would say the U.S. is still preeminent in attracting international students to come here, but the big change was that, early in my career, those students would stay in the U.S., but now they are going back for great research and development positions. It will have a huge impact,” she said.

Some members worried about the technology supply chain.

“What China is doing is claiming a lot of territory in that area — not just manufacturing but materials. They’ve cornered the rare earth market,” said Edlyn Levine, lead physicist of the Emerging Technologies Group at the MITRE Corp. and a research associate in the Department of Physics at Harvard University.

She said that the American system isn’t always efficient for innovation.

“When you talk about prototyping or commercializing, if I have something I want to sell to you that I built, what is the barrier of entry in terms of the tax structure, environmental regulations, privacy regulations?” she said.

“Our government is never going to be China, but we should look at what’s hampering us.”

Education and training was another area of concern.

“The innovation engine needs fuel and the fuel is talent and it’s evaporating at the high schools. They don’t understand why it’s important to study calculus and math,” said Andre Doumitt, director of innovation development at the Aerospace Corp., who created an internship for high-school students at his company.

“You can tailor programs and link them to the opportunities that math and science bring because in the aerospace industry, we’re losing these kids to Google and Facebook.”

Deborah Wince-Smith, president and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness, said the new commission draws from all sectors of American business and is a “call to action” to transform the country’s innovation’s capacity.

“We have big challenges around our economic growth numbers,” she said. “Unless we return our productivity levels to historic standards of up to 1.5% to 2% or more per year, we will see, over time, a decline in our standard of living,” she said.

The experts on the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers are expected to not only contribute their expertise, but also to leverage their powerful networks, Crow said.

“We should just get stuff going,” he said. “Figure out if there’s some way to get something going now — form a network or an alliance, or a new kind of business development methodology, or think about educational progress in a new way.

“We have to find a way to make innovation and competitiveness more egalitarian across the entirety of our society.”

Top image: Edlyn Levine, lead physicist of the Emerging Technologies Group at the MITRE Corp. and a research associate in the Department of Physics at Harvard University, speaks at the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers Launch Conference at ASU last week. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU-led NASA Psyche mission offers free online course on team building from leadership experts

January 21, 2020

While the spacecraft and instruments of the NASA Psyche Mission are being designed and built in preparation for launch to the Psyche asteroid in 2022, the mission management team at Arizona State University has recently developed a series of free online courses based on the real-world challenges of running a space mission.

The course series, called the NASA Psyche Mission Innovation Toolkit, is offered free worldwide to anyone with internet connection and is available via ASU’s Continuing and Professional Education platform. The courses feature interviews and experts from NASA, ASU and Psyche Mission team members. The new Psyche Mission Innovation Toolkit online course is designed to help learners understand the unique challenges of a diverse team and provides tools to help address these challenges and take actions to be more successful in working with others. Image by ASU Continuing and Professional Education Download Full Image

The latest addition to the Psyche Mission Innovation Toolkit focuses on team building and team diversity. Titled “The Inclusive Mindset: Tools for Building Positive Team Culture,” the course features global leadership expert Mansour Javidan, a Garvin Distinguished Professor at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and director of the Najafi Global Mindset Institute.

“Today’s organizations are increasingly encouraging and supporting workforce diversity,” said Javidan. “So, it is critical for students, employees and managers to learn the tools that will help them work effectively in diverse teams. Such training can improve efficiency of the team and quality of its work, and reduce stress and misunderstanding.”

This course is designed to help learners understand the unique challenges of a diverse team and provides tools to help address these challenges and take actions to be more successful in working with others. It also provides both self- and team-assessment instruments to help learners gain understanding of their own — and their team’s — strengths and weaknesses.

Video by ASU/NASA Psyche Mission

The course is divided into seven modules that cover topics of team culture, diversity, bias and inclusivity, as well as developing an inclusive mindset and building and maintaining a successful team. During the course, enrolled learners can create their own online portfolio — called an “ePortfolio” — of their work and reflections. Participants who complete the course receive a downloadable and printable certificate of completion.

“Every endeavor is a human endeavor, and going to space is truly about the team,” said Psyche Mission principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton. “So, for a successful mission, we want to build the very best teams and we are so fortunate to have one of the world's experts on teams, Mansour Javidan, help us with this course."

The only prerequisite to enroll is an interest in the behind-the-scenes work that goes in to running a successful team. It is also recommended that participants have a persistent internet connection and the ability to read, write and understand English or use a language translation program.

Additionally available is the first course in the Innovation Toolkit series, “The Process and Lifetime of a Space Mission.” Learners in this course are given the opportunity to follow the creation of a NASA robotic space mission, from preparation and submission of a proposal, to team-building, design, construction, modeling, testing, launching, tracking and data collection and analysis.

The Psyche Mission team has plans to offer several more courses over the life of the mission and is currently working on a third course on this platform, which will focus on asteroids, meteorites and comets. 

The Psyche Mission

Psyche, an asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, is likely made largely of nickel-iron metal. As such, it offers a unique look into the violent collisions that created Earth and the terrestrial planets. 

The Psyche spacecraft is planned to launch in August 2022 and travel to the asteroid using solar-electric (low thrust) propulsion. After flying by Mars in 2023 for a gravity assist, the spacecraft will arrive at Psyche in 2026 and spend 21 months orbiting the asteroid, mapping it and studying its properties.

The scientific goals of the Psyche Mission are to understand the building blocks of planet formation and explore firsthand a wholly new and unexplored type of world. The mission team seeks to determine whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to the Earth's core and what its surface is like.

The spacecraft's instrument payload will include a magnetometer, a multispectral imager and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer. The mission will also test a sophisticated new laser communications technology, called Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC).

The Psyche Mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program. Psyche principal investigator is Elkins-Tanton, professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. Other ASU researchers on the Psyche Mission team include Jim Bell (deputy principal investigator and co-investigator), David Williams (co-investigator) and Catherine Bowman (co-investigator and student collaborations lead).

The mission is led by Arizona State University. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and testing and mission operations. Maxar Space Solutions, formerly Space Systems Loral, is providing a high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.

Psyche Mission intern Kaxandra Nessi contributed to this story.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


image title

Disrupting the closet-to-landfill problem

ASU students, alums work to disrupt the closet-to-landfill problem in fashion.
January 16, 2020

ASU students, faculty, alumni working on creating a more sustainable fashion industry

January is a time of resolving to improve, and people who want to be more mindful of their effect on their environment are starting to think more about the clothes on their back. The fashion industry, with its global reach, has been highlighted as a driver of pollution.

Many people in the Arizona State University community are examining this issue and thinking of ways to reduce the impact of fashion on the environment. Among the problems:

• Overproduction of clothing is leading to massive waste. Both luxury retailers and “fast fashion” stores have admitted to burning many tons of unsold goods.

• Clothing made of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, is not biodegradable in a landfill and consumes fossil fuels during the manufacturing process. And clothing made of cotton requires the use of pesticides on the crops.

• The process of dyeing textiles can release pollutants into the atmosphere and into groundwater.

According to the United Nations Environment Program: “The fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions. This is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.”

In addition, recent catastrophes like a deadly fire in India last year highlighted the often dangerous conditions facing factory workers in developing countries, where people work long hours for low pay.

One ASU student group that’s considering this issue is the Business of Fashion organization. Kaylah Melendez, a fashion major and the operations director of the group, said the focus this year has been on the supply chain — the entire process of producing an item, from sourcing materials to manufacture to the consumer.

“We’re always trying to promote sustainability and I think it’s because we understand how clothes are made,” she said. The group has held clothing swaps and brought in professionals as speakers.

Melendez believes her fellow students are more attuned to the problems of “fast fashion” — brands that sell vast quantities of cheaply made clothing.

“We really want sustainability to be seen as something serious and not just a trend, and for people to see the morals of the clothes that they’re wearing, which were most likely made in a sweatshop.”

As a fashion major, she learns ways to avoid waste in the design process.

“In any studio class where we’re sewing, we’re always trying to cut down on creating scraps. We’re taught how to lay out the fabric the right way,” she said.

“This fashion program is at a school that’s so sustainably focused, and we’re going to be the people working in the industry in the future, so we can create that change as we go into the field,” she said.

Last fall, the Business of Fashion group held a “Sustainability Night” to highlight problems and solutions in the industry. The event included a “radical fashion” panel and a pop-up shop of resale and sustainable brands.

Connor Damaschi, who spoke on the panel, graduated in 2018 with a degree in painting. While he was at ASU, he became interested in fashion and now designs a streetwear brand called Yellow Zone Limited, using fabric repurposed from old tents, tarps and anything else that would be typically be thrown out.

“Sustainability may seem like an abstract, complex term, but to me it’s a function of social and environmental equity,” he said. “To relate that to the fashion industry, it’s about how we’re buying and how we’re producing.”

As a small business owner, Damaschi has trouble with sourcing.

“It’s hard to source something that is really sustainable. Everyone talked about how bamboo rayon is sustainable, it’s really not. It’s made with solvents that end up in the environment,” he said.

“It’s hard to find fabric that’s sourced ethically and responsibly and it’s difficult financially to justify the resulting price to a consumer.”

The fashion event was held at FABRIC, a fashion incubator in Tempe whose president is Sherry Barry, an ASU MBA alumna. FABRIC stands for "Fashion And Business Resource Innovation Center."

Barry described how the fashion industry became so wasteful.

“In the 1980s and ‘90s, apparel manufacturers went overseas to manufacture products, which they did so they could lower the prices and load up their retail stores with products,” she said.

“If you were a big brand, you just opened up more stores and produced more for the stores.”

But now with online retailing, all that production is creating massive amounts of waste.

“Thirty percent of clothing manufactured every year is never sold and ends up in the landfill or being burned,” she said. “There’s so much extra apparel on the market that right now that it can’t even be given away to third-world countries.

“And because most textiles are not biodegradable, it’s causing huge problems in the environment.”

FABRIC provides several solutions to small design firms who want to be sustainable. For example, many suppliers and manufacturers require a minimum number of orders, which might be too much for a single designer. FABRIC allows designers to make clothing with no minimum. The nonprofit also helps designers with launching and marketing a business, and it holds fashion events throughout the year.

“At FABRIC, we believe that small, responsible, sustainable brands that are making what their clients want — one is ordered, one is made and one is sold — is the future,” Barry said.

“That can be done today and we have the technology to do it efficiently here in Arizona.”

Owner of Eternal Noir Michelle Sasonov (left) talks to Malcom Brea about her jewelry at a sustainable fashion event at FABRIC in Tempe last fall. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

Traceable supply chains

While designers and small firms struggle with sourcing, large companies also have difficulty with their supply chains and the ability to guarantee ethically acquired materials at every step in the process, according to Kevin Dooley, Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain Management in the W. P. Carey School of Business and a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. He also is chief scientist of the Sustainability Consortium, where he leads a global research team that works with more than 100 of the world’s largest retailers to track progress on sustainability issues. The consortium’s tools are the basis of the Walmart Sustainability Index.

The supply chain also includes what happens to an item after someone buys it, Dooley said.

“What we tend to think of as the supply chain, where raw materials are harvested or grown or extracted and eventually get a product to market, also includes the use of the product and the end of its life,” he said.

“That whole chain of events has the potential for environmental or social impacts that are negative due to the activities at the various stages.”

Sustainability requires both “traceability” and “transparency,” he said.

“When you know where the yarn for your textile is being produced, then you can identify the social and environmental risk that exists and then you can ask about the state of those suppliers relative to those hot spots,” he said.

Dooley has been involved with developing the Walmart Sustainability Index, which has been operating for five years and has been used by other major retailers, such as Kroger.

“Our supplier surveys enable the product manufacturer to tell their story of how sustainable their consumer products are,” he said.

“Walmart and other retailers make the performance on those sustainability scorecards part of the overall supplier scorecard. Traditionally, they would look at cost and innovation, and they’re now incorporating sustainability in the decision-making.”

Consumers are now demanding this, he said.

“There’s a growing recognition that the end consumer is more interested in sustainable attributes, especially in the food category, and it’s spreading to other categories,” he said.

In general, consumers think of sustainability in terms of “in me, on me and around me.”

“People are most concerned with what they put inside themselves, food and pharmaceuticals,” he said.

“Then ‘on me’ is with beauty and personal care products and to some extent clothing, especially baby clothing. And ‘on me’ also would include things that consumers touch, so that’s why packaging has been an issue.

“And for ‘around me,’ if it’s near me, like whether my refrigerator is efficient and I have to pay out of pocket if it’s not, it’s easier to be concerned than if it’s far away from me, like the North Pole melting.”

Dooley said that improving sustainability in the supply chain doesn’t necessarily have to drive up the price of a product. For example, reducing waste and cutting energy or water usage could save money for a company, and those savings could be passed on to the consumer.

This semester, Dooley is working with his students on Project WearEver, in which they’ll put tiny digital tags into clothing to track where it goes.

“The end goal is to create a system whereby manufacturers who are designing clothing that has better usefulness and longer first lives can have a platform to proclaim that performance,” he said.


One solution to reducing fashion’s impact on the environment has turned into a popular social media hashtag: #NoNewClothing, a challenge to buy only secondhand items — or none at all.

ASU graduate student Annie Hall has lived by that guideline ever since she returned from her two-year Peace Corps stint in Ecuador last year.

“Living in a country where I had fewer resources made me more creative in the way I reused all materials,” said Hall, who’s now pursuing an MBA at ASU.

“Peace Corps volunteers tend to be resourceful — there’s a lot of sharing of clothing and recycling that happens among us. And that’s a priority I wanted to bring back with me.”

Americans are less inclined to embrace the concept of sharing items with friends and family before going out to buy something new, she said. But since she’s returned, she’s been committed to buying secondhand.

“Whether it’s been furniture, clothing or even small household items, sometimes I have to dig a little harder but it’s been worth it to me and I feel better about making those choices,” she said.

Last fall, Hall worked on applying her personal passion to a business idea in the PLuS Alliance Circular Economy ResourCE Hack, which focused on fashion. The team members, Andrew John De Los Santos and Meghan Marrin, both graduate students in the School of Sustainability, and Hall, met through the Net Impact graduate student organization.

“Our idea was essentially a clothing library,” Hall said. “It’s a business where young people or people who need to update their wardrobe can rent business professional and business casual clothing instead of having to buy a new wardrobe.

“For a lot of people, it’s very expensive and it’s also clothing that doesn’t get a lot of use and sits in peoples’ closets. People need to dress professionally to go on interviews but not necessarily in their everyday job.”

Hall herself wants to pursue a career in sustainable fashion design. She worked for two years as a designer at Nestor Hosiery, a small manufacturer of performance socks based in North Carolina that prioritized sustainability.

“My goal would be to create clothing that is sourced out of the postconsumer waste stream,” she said.

“But I wouldn’t do it in the traditional recycling sense of taking a bunch of fabric and trying to shred it and make a product. I want to focus on keeping the fabric in as close to the original form as possible, and using damaged or torn or stained pieces — the type of pieces that are thrown away — that with creativity can be repurposed into a unique garment.”

Hall’s team, which won the ASU contest, didn’t win the grand prize in competition with UNSW Sydney, King's College London and Tec de Monterrey. But she found the experience valuable.

“It opened my mind to not only the opportunities for creating a sustainable business but also how much interest there is from the world at large in supporting sustainability,” she said.

Sophia Toomb (at far right) moderated a panel devoted to "radical fashion" at the sustainable fashion event at FABRIC in Tempe last fall. Toomb, an ASU alum, has started a website devoted to sustainable fashion. From left are designer Eartha Hubbell, fashion designer and ASU alumn Connor Damaschi and Herman Plank, an expert on plastics. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

Sustainable brands

Sophia Toomb has been passionate about sustainable fashion since her freshman year, when she joined the Business of Fashion group. A 2019 graduate with a degree in supply chain management, she wrote her honors thesis on the “circular” supply chain of the fashion resale industry — when items are kept in circulation rather than ending up in a landfill.

“Sustainable fashion has been the biggest passion in my life and I try to do everything I can to make sure I shop consciously,” she said.

Toomb has seen the industry from different angles. She worked at the resale store Buffalo Exchange in Tempe while a student and is now an assistant buyer for a department store. She believes consumer demand is driving major brands to make changes.

“There are so many retailers that are starting to source more sustainable brands or brands that are more fair trade or use more sustainable fabric content,” she said.

Toomb sees two ways that consumers can promote sustainability: Don’t buy new clothing, but if you do, consider brands that are committed to sustainability.

“My biggest recommendation is to shop secondhand. You can find so many current styles, designers and even clothes with the tags still on them at secondhand stores,” she said.

“It’s cheaper, more sustainable and you’re buying something that’s already in the system.”

She likes Buffalo Exchange and Goodwill, plus the web sites The RealReal and ThredUp.

But for people not inclined to buy used clothing, she supports brands that are working to be kinder to the environment.

“Do your research and see what steps they’re taking,” she said.

Toomb recently launched a web site called Moda Verde that curates sustainable brands. Some retailers on her site make clothing out of recycled water bottles or repurposed scraps of fabric.

“I think there are more and more sustainable designers emerging and that will continue,” she said. “But you have to do your research and that’s why I created my website. I curate the brands and do the research.”

Toomb wants consumers to consider the environment when they acquire clothing.

“I hope everyone recognizes that the planet is at stake, honestly,” she said.

Top image: A sustainable fashion event held last fall by two student groups, Business of Fashion and Sun Devils for Fair Trade, featured a pop-up shop of vintage clothes at FABRIC in Tempe. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


image title

Tips for living well in 2020

January 10, 2020

ASU professors on mindfulness, heart health, smoking cessation and more

The hard part of setting goals for the New Year isn’t necessarily deciding what resolutions to make — it’s keeping them. Fortunately, Arizona State University abounds with experts on everything from heart health to screen time to mindfulness.

So if you’re in the market to make some lifestyle changes in 2020, here are some suggestions from experts at ASU’s College of Health Solutions and Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, along with helpful tips for making them stick.

Be more mindful

Before you start getting down on yourself or dismiss New Year’s resolutions as a lost cause, ASU’s Chief Well-Being Officer and Edson College Professor Teri Pipe advises you to take a moment and consider self-acceptance as the first step toward personal growth.

“Resolutions often take us to a place of negativity or remedying a perceived weakness,” she said. “Instead, please remember that you can accept yourself as you are and at the same time be inspired to become a better, more generous or deeper version of yourself. Self-acceptance and becoming a better person are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they go hand in hand.”

And as the founding director of ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience, Pipe knows that the practice of mindfulness has benefits for both mind and body.

Improve your heart health

Strapped for time but still want to keep your ticker in tip-top shape? Have no fear. College of Health Solutions Assistant Professor Siddhartha Angadi conducts research on the effects of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT — characterized by short bursts of intense activity — on cardiovascular and metabolic physiology in severe chronic diseases.

He has found that not only can shorter bouts of physical activity produce the same benefits as longer bouts, but that if the shorter bouts are ramped up from a moderate level (something akin to a brisk walk) to a vigorous level (where you’re almost out of breath but not quite), they may even produce more health benefits than longer, moderate-level bouts.

“Less can be more for a fitter you,” Angadi said. “Just 10 minutes of high-intensity interval training three times a week can improve your cardiovascular and metabolic fitness.”

Get more fiber

Though he recently published work outlining a new tool that allows consumers to weigh both the nutritional quality and the environmental impact of protein, Chris Wharton, College of Health Solutions assistant dean of innovation and strategic initiatives, said the average person probably doesn’t need to worry much about their protein intake.

“Chances are, you’re doing just fine getting (more than) enough protein,” he said. Instead, focus on fiber. Adults should shoot for 30 to 50 grams daily, primarily from vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes and fruits for the best returns on health.

You may not be the most popular guest at dinner parties, but, he said, “The more gas you have, the healthier your diet likely is.”

Reduce your screen time

If a food-based diet isn’t your speed, Wharton suggests going on a screen-time diet. He and colleagues are working to develop more accurate ways to measure people’s screen time usage, associated health effects and potential interventions.

According to Wharton, the benefits of logging off are exponential.

“Reducing the time you spend with screens simultaneously opens time to plan healthier meals and cook, be active and spend time with family, friends and neighbors,” he said. “Because screen time is one of the greatest sources of sedentary time behind sleep and work, it is actually a gateway behavior. It’s really hard to be healthier in other areas in life if you don’t give yourself the gift of time to pursue healthier habits. Your screens are eating all the time you need to be healthier and happier.”

Lower your carbon footprint and reap health benefits

Apologies to Blue Man Group enthusiasts, but “Blue Zones” are not secretly designated practice spaces for the indigo-hued performance artists. A relatively new term, “Blue Zone” was coined by writer Dan Buettner in his 2005 National Geographic magazine cover story to describe areas around the world where people live longer than average lifespans — places like Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, California.

“Here is what no one in those societies ever did: go into ketosisKetosis is a metabolic process that occurs when the body begins to burn fat for energy because it does not have enough carbohydrates to burn. The popular “ketogenic diet” is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that puts the body into a state of ketosis. or obsess over hitting the gym,” Wharton said. “The take-home: Low-carb diets and cultish exercise regimens are not the foundation of longer life and more functionality in older age.”

Instead, Wharton suggests opting for a diet rich in fibrous plant foods and days anchored by modest, utilitarian physical activity.

“Enjoy your beans, avocados, salads and grains,” he said. “Take walks for the fun of it or hop on a bike to run errands. You’ll do incredible good for your health (and for the environment).”

Make the switch from processed foods to whole foods

More than just a trendy grocery story, whole foods are plant foods — such as whole grains, tubers, legumes, fruits and vegetables — that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible. Carol Johnston, College of Health Solutions professor of nutrition and associate dean for faculty success, suggests that transitioning to a whole-foods, plant-based diet is easier than you might think.

Simply start out by identifying the heavily processed foods in your diet (convenient/fast foods, such as pre-packaged and/or frozen meals) and slowly decrease your reliance on those foods by introducing food prepping and cooking at home to your daily routine.

You can also gradually decrease the amount of animal products in your meals by exploring recipes that use plant proteins such as nuts, edamame, quinoa and hemp seeds. In particular, Johnston has found mung beans to be a great protein supplement.

“The whole-foods, plant-based diet is flexible,” she said. “Focus on plant-based whole foods and eat eggs, poultry, seafood, meat and dairy sparingly; emphasize local/seasonal foods, meatless meals and colorful veggies.”

Stay hydrated

Most Arizonans know the immediate importance of hydration in the desert, but it turns out water intake can have effects on long-term health as well. Stavros Kavouras, College of Health Solutions assistant dean of graduate education and professor of nutrition, directs the Hydration Science Lab at ASU, where he is studying the impact of water intake on health and performance, as well its effects on chronic disease outcomes.

Most recently, Kavouras found that drinking more water could improve the quality of life for patients with Type 2 diabetes and potentially help prevent the disease in others.

He calls water “the forgotten nutrient,” and was quoted in a May 2019 ASU Now story saying, “People forget to drink water, forget to study water, they just forget to include water in anything. The MyPlate, the USDA’s current nutrition guide, does not even include water because every dietary guideline needs to be evidence-based and we have little evidence for water.”

In order to ensure you’re well hydrated, Kavouras recommends monitoring the number of times you use the restroom throughout the day (if it has been several hours and you haven’t been to the bathroom, that’s an indication you haven’t been drinking enough water), as well as the color of your urine: Dark yellow urine indicates dehydration. He also suggests his own personal habit of keeping a full glass of water in front of him at all times.

Sit less, stand more

Sitting is not the new smoking — College of Health Solutions Associate Professor Matt Buman and colleagues successfully debunked the insidious health myth in a paper published in September 2018 — but it can still be detrimental to your health. Too much sitting, Buman said, can lead to health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure — all of which can be life-threatening.

Because many modern-day jobs require employees to be sedentary at a desk, Buman’s research is focused on developing interventions for excessive sitting in the workplace.

“While reducing your sitting time at work doesn't take the place of regular exercise, adequate sleep or a healthful diet, it's an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Consider wearing comfortable shoes so you’re more likely to want to move throughout the day, breaking up long periods of focused work with a short standing or moving break (as a bonus, the quick break can improve your focus and productivity), using the restroom on a different floor or getting up to talk to your coworker face-to-face instead of sending an email.

Kick that bad habit

Speaking of smoking … It’s 2020, not 1985. So maybe now is the time to finally say good riddance and flush that pack of Pall Malls (actually, you probably shouldn’t flush them; that could be bad for the environment and your plumbing.)

It’s a notoriously difficult habit to kick, though, so don’t fret if you need a little help.

“Tobacco addiction is a hard addiction to break because even though there are far fewer people smoking than there used to be, it’s a legal drug and it’s a very addicting substance,” said College of Health Solutions Professor Scott Leischow, who directs the Arizona Tobacco Control Program at the college and is a former senior advisor for tobacco policy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a January 2019 opinion piece for JAMA, Leischow argued that the smoking-cessation drug varenicline should be made available over the counter, as it is the single most effective medication for smoking cessation. He is now in the midst of a three-year, NIH-funded study to prove that point and hopefully get varenicline approved as an over-the-counter medication. Until then, you can always call the Arizona Smokers Helpline at 800-55-66-222.