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RESEARCH A New American University

Designed for Discovery


ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.


“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered. The point is to discover them.” – Galileo


Previous page: The “Pillars of Creation” are giant columns of cold gas and dust in a star-forming region of the Eagle Nebula. ASU astronomers Paul Scowen and Jeff Hester produced the famous image in 1995 using the Hubble Space Telescope. In 2015, Hubble revisited the pillars, providing a sharper and wider view, seen here. credit: NASA | ESA | Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) | J. Hester, P. Scowen

A New American University: Designed for Discovery was produced by the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development at Arizona State University. For more information, contact: Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development 300 E. University Drive Tempe, AZ 85287-7205 Phone: 480.965.1225 Fax: 480.965.8293 Persons or publications wishing to reprint articles, illustrations or photographs in this book should contact the editor at: Use of trade names implies no endorsement by Arizona State University. © 2016 Arizona Board of Regents


CONTENTS Introductions


Legacy of discovery


The inner workings of outer space Exploring the future of our past Thriving today, protecting tomorrow A global leader at the atomic scale

2 8 14 18 22

Research at the New American University

Leverage Our Place Locally tailored programs put peer pressure in its place Phoenix: A living lab for sustainable cities

30 34

Transform Society Soap’s dirty secret A flexible future for today’s technologies

38 42

Value Entrepreneurship HealthTell aims to disrupt diagnostics Student venture advances jaundice treatment globally

46 50

Conduct Use-Inspired Research Empowering an energy transformation ‘Pharming’ tobacco to beat Ebola

54 60

Enable Student Success Students build ability through CUbiC A global look at how we treat water

64 68

Fuse Intellectual Disciplines Complexity: More than the sum of its parts Arts and culture harmonize with health

72 78

Be Socially Embedded Modern abolitionists work to end human trafficking CompuGirls plants the seeds of STEM careers

82 88

Engage Globally Tweeting terror: Understanding extremism on social media HEEAP helps Vietnam re-engineer education

92 96

On the frontier

Building on nature's foundation Digital tools connect humanities to humanity Making movies of molecular machines More perspectives for a positive future


102 108 112 118 145



Since its establishment as a university in 1958 and its designation as a Research I institution in 1994, Arizona State University’s dedicated and gifted faculty and researchers have evolved a rich, diverse and groundbreaking discovery environment unlike any other. Founded in creativity and hard work, and buoyed by our core commitment to advancing use-inspired research as a model for the New American University, ASU’s world-class team of innovators, scientists and thought leaders have heeded the call to solve society’s biggest challenges and excelled beyond our greatest expectations. Thanks to their unlimited imaginations, abilities and collaborations, ASU can claim a proud legacy of discovery that grows more each passing day. Driven by intellectual curiosity, our researchers look up to the cosmos, down to the sands that hold the secrets of our origins, inside the mysteries of our own bodies or even ahead to explore how science fiction shapes our future. In any manner of idea or material, whether it be social, biological, artistic or organizational, ASU’s talented researchers and faculty share a common passion for making the unknown known, applying that knowledge to the creation of a better world, and perhaps most importantly, preparing new generations of investigators. This book aims to share some of ASU’s greatest research achievements and provide a glimpse behind the discoveries to the pioneering minds who have changed our understanding of our world in meaningful ways. I invite you to peruse its contents and follow ASU’s amazing and rapid journey from territorial teachers college to “the #1 most innovative school in the U.S.” as recognized by U.S. News & World Report. I hope that you will walk away with a better understanding of the quality, variation and impact of our knowledge enterprise and a heightened sense of pride for the great work performed by ASU’s research community. If you like or are inspired by what you learn here, I encourage you to follow the ongoing research progress by visiting for frequent updates. We have many more incredible discoveries underway, and we look forward to sharing them with you. Enjoy.

Michael M. Crow President Arizona State University vii


As the New American University, Arizona State University has designed an ecosystem for innovation and discovery called the Knowledge Enterprise. This environment enables lifelong learners to collaborate seamlessly across disciplines, engage with communities and organizations, and ultimately create solutions for global grand challenges. Our gifted students and faculty continually exceed our vision for research and innovation in the New American University. They demonstrate a combination of imagination and hard work that translates into groundbreaking discoveries. For example, an ASU graduate student scouring for fossils in Ethiopia found a jawbone that provides the oldest known evidence of the human genus. ASU scientists and engineers have designed, built and controlled instruments on multiple space missions, and now lead their own NASA mission. When the Ebola epidemic raged through Africa in 2014, a plant-based drug developed at ASU was given to two infected aid workers, who both recovered fully. In this book, we tell the stories of researchers and innovators who are moving ASU’s rich legacy of discovery forward through curiosity, creativity and collaboration. We offer a glimpse of how our researchers are leading the exploration of new frontiers, using new technologies as well as new ways of perceiving and approaching challenges. These are the results of building a knowledge enterprise driven by a focus on access, excellence and impact, and a commitment to engaging with local and global communities. We welcome your collaboration in working to shape a positive future and invite you to share your stories of innovation through discovery.

Sethuraman “Panch� Panchanathan Executive Vice President for the Knowledge Enterprise Chief Research and Innovation Officer Arizona State University



A legacy of discovery Established as a university in 1958, Arizona State University quickly advanced its research enterprise, earning the prestigious Research I designation from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 1994. Today, ASU is one of the fastest-growing research institutions in the United States, having more than tripled the size of its research enterprise since 2002. This growth has enabled high-quality research that produces new knowledge, new ideas and new technologies. ASU research is helping us to understand our world and our universe and to solve local and global challenges. This section offers a sampling of the milestones along ASU’s legacy of discovery.


Access. Excellence. Impact.




ASU receives Research I status from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for the volume and quality of its research efforts.

NOV. 7




A research team that includes ASU anthropologist Curtis Marean finds bone tools and pieces of ochre in South Africa’s Blombos Cave. The artifacts suggest modern behaviors began earlier than previously believed — by more than 30,000 years. The findings disrupt assumptions that modern human intellect developed in Europe.

Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA launches the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, which includes a thermal emission spectrometer (TES) designed and created by ASU researcher Phil Christensen.

Photo by: Christopher S. Henshilwood, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.


2000 1995

JUN. 20

JUN. 19


Phoenix becomes a living “urban laboratory” as one of only two National Science Foundation LongTerm Ecological Research (LTER) sites located in a city. Researchers explore every aspect of how humans interact with their environment.



The Eagle Nebula, imaged by ASU astronomers Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen using Hubble Space Telescope data, appears on a U.S. postage stamp.


The Institute of Human Origins, led by Donald Johanson, the anthropologist who discovered the famous “Lucy” skeleton in 1974, moves to ASU. A replica of Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, is on public display at the institute.

APR. 10


ASU scientists led by chemist Robert Blankenship discover the first living photosynthetic organism that does not take energy from sunlight. The green sulfur bacterium lives near hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean.

AUG. 1998 A team of archaeologists, including ASU-based Saburo Sugiyama, discover a man buried near the center of the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Mexico. The scientists are perplexed to find a human sacrifice surrounded by riches such as animal figurines and obsidian knives.

Photo by: Antonio Gracia Ibarrola, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

AUG. 2007 ASU and the Johnson Space Center begin scanning all of the original Apollo flight films and creating an online digital archive. The archive, led by Mark Robinson, makes images taken by NASA Apollo astronauts available to the public in high resolution.

NOV. 17 Photo courtesy of: NASA/ASU

JUN. 17


NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launches. ASU planetary geologist Mark Robinson leads the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter Camera, a system of three cameras that capture high-resolution photos of the moon’s surface.


Conventional wisdom says Neanderthals were less fit than modern humans and died out due to competition. Research led by anthropologist Michael Barton contradicts this notion. His data suggests that Neanderthals were so successful they interbred with modern humans, thus dying out as a recognizably separate population.


AUG. 12

AUG. 30

ASU researchers discover fossilized animal bones marked by stone tools, within walking distance of where the famous Australopithecus afarensis “Lucy” was found. The fossils indicate that Lucy’s species used sharpedged tools to remove meat from bones, pushing back the origins of technology by around 800,000 years.


The Decision Center for a Desert City launches WaterSim, an online model that integrates climate, land use, population growth and water policy information to enable users to gauge future water supplies.


JAN. 11


Traces of oxygen appeared in Earth’s atmosphere earlier than previously thought–50 to 100 million years before the “Great Oxidation Event” around 2.3 billion years ago. Two international teams of scientists, including four ASU researchers, reported the results in a pair of papers in the journal Science.



Researchers at ASU’s Flexible Electronics and Display Center successfully manufacture the world’s largest flexible color organic light emitting display (OLED) prototype using advanced mixed oxide thin film transistors.


Scientists at ASU’s Biodesign Institute develop the world’s first gene detection platform made up entirely from self-assembled DNA nanostructures. The results offer broad implications for gene chip technology and could revolutionize the way gene expression is analyzed in a single cell.

SEPT. 28

MAY 31


Photo by: James Rhoads

JUN. 1


ASU astronomers find an extremely distant galaxy, ranked among the top 10 most distant objects currently known in space. Light from the galaxy left the object only about 800 million years after the beginning of the universe.

ASU psychologist Miguel Arciniega and his colleagues develop an academic scale —  a “Measure of Machismo”  —  to define what it means to be either a gentleman or a “macho” man in Mexican-American culture.


JUL. 2


MAR. 18

Scientists led by ASU biologist Gro Amdam discover that older honeybees effectively reverse brain aging when they take on nest responsibilities typically handled by much younger bees. While current research on human age-related dementia focuses on potential new drug treatments, these findings suggest that social interventions may be used to slow or treat the decline.

Photo by: PARC


The Flexible Electronics and Display Center and PARC, a Xerox company, manufacture the world’s largest flexible X-ray detector. Flexible X-ray detectors offer capabilities ranging from detecting broken bones on the battlefield to finding leaks in natural gas pipes.



SEPT. 12


The U.S. Department of Energy selects ASU as the location for the first-ever national algae testbed. The Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) supports companies and research institutions in scaling up and commercializing algaebased biofuels.

Image by: Joshua Podlevsky

MAY 4 MAR. 6


A research team led by physicist Francisco Salamanca finds that the excess heat released from air conditioners raises outdoor temperatures, leading to increased electricity consumption for cooling. The effect is stronger between late afternoon and early morning.

Photo by: Mary Zhu

DEC. 21

Photo by: Laurence Garvie

NOV. 20


Scientists have argued for half a century about the existence of a form of diamond called lonsdaleite, which is associated with impacts by meteorites and asteroids. A group of scientists based mostly at ASU show that what has been called lonsdaleite is in fact a structurally disordered form of ordinary diamond.


Researchers from ASU and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai publish a first-of-itskind study looking at the enzyme telomerase on an atomic level. Telomerase is connected with aging and cancer. The researchers’ findings could contribute to human health in those areas.

JUL. 31


The journal Science lauds an international research team led by chemist Petra Fromme in its “Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2012” list. The team used ultra-bright, ultra-fast X-ray lasers to determine the 3-D structure of a protein. The new process allows researchers to study chemical reactions involving proteins in real time.


Devoney Looser, an ASU English professor, and her colleague Ruth Knezevich, of the University of Missouri, discover previously unpublished historic letters that shed new light on the life of novelist Jane Austen.

FEB. 11


ASU doctoral student Leigh McLean and psychology professor Carol Connor find that students who began the year with weaker math skills achieved smaller mathematics gains in classrooms where teachers reported more depressive symptoms.


Two aid workers infected with the Ebola virus are given an experimental treatment called ZMapp. The antibodies used to make the drug were grown in specially modified tobacco plants, a process developed by Charlie Arntzen, founding director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute. Both patients recover fully.

FEB. 19


A new study from the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU breaks down the formula for a winning app. Free app offers, high debut ranks, expanding into less popular categories, continuous quality updates and high userreview scores all have a positive impact on an app’s success.

THE FUTURE Imagine the possibilities

JUN. 10 FEB. 27


In a first-of-its-kind study, ASU chemist Petra Fromme joins an international team using X-ray crystallography and high-speed lasers to study the structure of opioid receptors and drugs that bind to these sites. The work paves the way for development of new, non-addictive painkillers.

JUN. 22 MAR. 3


Inspired by the poison dart frog, ASU engineers develop a system to prevent ice buildup on planes in flight. The technique pairs a highly water-resistant coating with a backup system that secretes antifreeze.

MAR. 4


Scientists in ASU’s Institute of Human Origins report the earliest evidence of our human genus—Homo. A fossil jawbone, discovered in Ethiopia, has been dated to 2.8 million years ago. This predates previously known fossils of the Homo lineage by about 400,000 years.


Dinosaurs didn’t roam the Grand Canyon, according to research from the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Using computer analyses to evaluate erosion patterns, the researchers have determined that the canyon is definitively less than 6 million years old, compared to previous hypotheses that put the age as old as 70 million years.

AUG. 13


A team of researchers co-led by ASU discovers a Jupiter-like exoplanet—the first exoplanet discovery by the Gemini Planet Imager. The planet, called 51 Eridani b, could serve as a “decoder ring” for understanding how planets formed around our sun.


Under the direction of ASU geologist Phil Christensen, a NASA-certified instrument has been built and tested completely on the ASU Tempe campus for the first time. The OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) is a key piece of equipment for a 2016 mission that will launch from Cape Canaveral and head for an ancient asteroid in our solar system.

Photo by: ASU/Nature Nanotechnology

JUL. 27

Photo by: Julien Rameau (UdeM) and Christian Marois (NRC Herzberg)

AUG. 28


A study led by ASU psychologist Amy Boddy brings new understanding to the role of fetal cells on maternal health—during and after pregnancy. The findings could transform the way we approach, treat and prevent a variety of diseases that affect women, especially new mothers.


A team led by ASU engineer Cun-Zheng Ning produces the world’s first white laser, an accomplishment that has been sought after since lasers were invented in 1960. The leap in technology paves the way for lasers to become a mainstream light source to be used in visible light communication.

Back to Table of Contents










The Crab Nebula is all that remains of a tremendous supernova located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. This 2007 mosaic image, one of the largest ever taken by Hubble, spans 12 light-years. credit: NASA / ESA / Jeff Hester (ASU)

The inner workings of

outer space ASU has been involved in space exploration since the early days of the Space Race. In 1961, the university opened the Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS), which is now the largest universitybased meteorite collection in the world. It houses more than 30,000 pieces from 2,000 distinct meteorites. Researchers at ASU and around the world use the collection to learn about the origins of our planetary system. In the 1970s, ASU began its long-standing relationship with NASA with the arrival of Ronald Greeley, one of the founders of planetary geology. Before coming to ASU, Greeley helped select landing sites for NASA’s Apollo missions and assisted in geologic training for astronauts. He participated in numerous space missions to Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Another planetary geologist, Phil Christensen, launched ASU’s foray into building space instruments. In the early 1980s, he began developing infrared imaging systems that help us to understand the physical makeup of the surface of Mars. These devices include the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES), Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), Mini-TES and OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES). In 1990, NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits outside of Earth’s atmosphere, taking high-resolution images of deep space. ASU researchers have been involved in Hubble projects since its inception, producing images recognized around the world. In 2009, NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a robotic spacecraft now circling the moon. Mark Robinson, an ASU planetary geologist, leads the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which captures highresolution images of the lunar surface.


A life-sized replica of the Mars Curiosity Rover in ASU's Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4

ALSEP equipment

Surveyor 3

Apollo 12 landing site credit: NASA | GSFC | ASU

Infrastructure for exploration




Intrepid descent stage

ASU has built an ecosystem that enables the collaborative, creative approach needed to excel in space exploration. In 2006, ASU created the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE), bringing together planetary geologists, astronomers and engineers who work together to take missions from idea to instrument. In 2012, the 300,000-square-foot Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 became a “home base” for space researchers to Carleton Moore, founding director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies. credit: University Archives Photographs, ASU Libraries

collaborate, innovate and communicate. The facility houses publicly viewable labs, clean rooms with vacuum chambers that simulate space, a 250-seat auditorium, a public gallery of space exploration and one of two mission operations centers on campus. Looking forward, ASU recognizes that the traditional model for space research—massive, government-funded missions—may not be sustainable for the future. The NewSpace Initiative, launched in 2013, connects ASU researchers with private space companies to explore new ways to solve problems and answer questions.

A thin slice of the Admire meteorite, magnified. Polarized light turns normally green into a kaleidoscope of colors. 10 peridot

credit: Laurence Garvie, Center for Meteorite Studies

“This kind of big science can’t be done everywhere. It requires a commitment to working between traditional disciplines; a commitment of institutional support; a dedication to big questions and the long timelines big projects require; and a positive, team-oriented, collaborative culture. The combination of these things together is rare in academia. We have these things at ASU.” Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director, School of Earth and Space Exploration

Pillars of Creation 1995

Mars Odyssey 2001

Revisiting the moon landing 2009

ASU astronomers Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen image a portion of the Eagle Nebula using the Hubble Space Telescope. The iconic “Pillars of Creation” image shows three columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching UV light from a cluster of young, massive stars. (see p. ii)

NASA’s Odyssey orbiter launches, carrying Christensen’s THEMIS instrument, which will help determine the distribution of minerals on the Martian surface— particularly those that form in the presence of water.

The ASU-led LROC photographs the Apollo 12 landing site, which clearly shows the Surveyor 3 spacecraft; lunar module descent stage, Intrepid; and Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP). It also shows tracks made in 1969 by astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean.

Mars Global Surveyor 1996

Roving Mars 2004

Curiosity rover 2011

NASA launches the Mars Global Surveyor, which carries a Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) designed by ASU planetary geologist Phil Christensen. MGS is the first successful U.S. mission to Mars since the Viking mission in 1976.

ASU-designed Mini-TES instruments touch down on Mars aboard each of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity (launched in 2003). The rovers search for signs of past water activity on Mars.

Three SESE researchers are members of the instrument science teams for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover: Jim Bell (Mastcam, MAHLI, MARDI cameras), Jack Farmer (CheMin instrument) and Meenakshi Wadhwa (SAM instrument).


Only 30 institutions in the U.S. can build spacecraft. Only 7 institutions can build interplanetary spacecraft. Arizona State University is one of them.

Galactic discovery 2012

The moon’s north pole 2014

OTES send-off 2015

ASU astronomers discover a faraway galaxy that is ranked among the 10 most distant objects currently known in space—13 billion light-years away. The research team, led by James Rhoads, Sangeeta Malhotra and Pascale Hibon, identifies the remote galaxy using the Magellan Telescopes at the Carnegie Institution’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

By combining 10,581 narrow angle camera images collected over four years, the LROC team produces a complete picture of the moon’s northern polar region in stunning detail.

ASU scientists and engineers, led by Christensen, complete the first space instrument built entirely on the ASU campus. The OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer will travel aboard a 2016 NASA mission to collect a sample from an asteroid and return it to Earth.

Meteorite molecules 2013

Martian mineral map 2014

ASU leads CubeSat mission 2015

Scientists led by ASU chemist Sandra Pizzarello find that the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, which exploded in a blazing fireball over California in 2012, contains organic molecules not previously found in any meteorites. This suggests a greater availability of extraterrestrial organic molecules than previously thought.

ASU’s THEMIS instrument on board the Mars Odyssey orbiter provides data to create the most detailed map yet made of Martian surface properties. The map was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with ASU.

The first completely ASU-led space mission, the Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper (LunaH-Map), is awarded to postdoctoral scholar Craig Hardgrove. This shoebox-sized CubeSat will create a map of water-ice on the moon. Lunar resources such as hydrogen could enable astronauts to manufacture fuel and other provisions for a journey to Mars, reducing the amount of fuel (and weight) needed to leave Earth.

On the launchpad...

AOSAT 1 CubeSat (Earth orbit) 2017

Emirates Mars Mission 2020

NASA Europa mission 2022

Science lead: Erik Asphaug Engineering lead: Jekan Thanga

(first space mission from the United Arab Emirates) Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer: Phil Christensen

E-THEMIS instrument: Phil Christensen

Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper (moon) 2018

Mars 2020 rover 2020

Mission lead: Craig Hardgrove

Mastcam-Z cameras: Jim Bell

Learn more

A map of the moon’s northern polar region, comprised of 10,581 LROC images. credit: NASA | GSFC | ASU

This false-color THEMIS image shows sand dunes inside a crater in Arabia Terra on Mars. credit: NASA | JPL | ASU

The surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, shot from NASA’s Galileo mission. ASU geologist Ronald Greeley was part of Galileo’s camera team. credit: NASA | JPL-Caltech

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Exploring the future of

our past


“Lucy,” a 3.2-million-year-old fossil skeleton, was discovered in 1974 and recognized as a new human ancestor species—Australopithecus afarensis—in 1978.

Where do we come from? What sets us apart from other species? How does the deep past inform us about our complex relationship to a changeable planet? Human origins researchers study the natural processes by which we became human. It is a broad, transdisciplinary endeavor that unites research on the evolutionary biology, behavior and culture of our extinct ancestors, living populations of humans and our primate cousins. In July 1997, the Institute of Human Origins (IHO) moved from Berkeley, California, to Arizona State University. Led by Founding Director Donald Johanson, who discovered the famous “Lucy” skeleton in 1974, IHO has been moving the science of human origins forward through groundbreaking discoveries of fossil and archaeological evidence for the emergence of our species over six million years of evolutionary history. Now, under Director William Kimbel, IHO has attracted many more high-achieving scientists with

ASU students find a bone in the dusty hills of Hadar, Ethiopia—the site where the 3.2 million-year-old fossil skeleton “Lucy” and more than 400 specimens of her species have been found.

an expanded agenda—linking the study of the past to lessons from the behavior and genetics of modern primate and human societies. IHO is achieving a position of preeminence in these vital areas of inquiry as well. IHO scientists are embedded in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, launched in 2006. Through the school, anthropologists and archaeologists come together with experts in health, biology, environmental science, applied math and other disciplines to examine the origins and implications of human uniqueness. Their work helps us reimagine the best solutions to some of our most pressing challenges, such as reducing conflict, creating sustainability and improving health.

The large cave opening at Pinnacle Point in South Africa looks out onto the confluence of the Indian and southern Atlantic Oceans. ASU scientists working at the site study how climate-driven shifts in resource use and demography may have led to the emergence of conflict and cooperation.

ASU doctoral student Chalachew Seyoum found jaw fragments with teeth in Ethiopia in 2013. The 2.8-million-year-old fossils help to fill in the 200,000-year gap in our knowledge of the evolutionary transition from Australopithecus to Homo.

These spear points replicate stone tools made by ancient human ancestors more than 500,000 years ago.


Along the southernmost coast of South Africa at Pinnacle Point, high cliffs hug a rocky coast. The cliffs protected coastal caves from people and animals that could have disturbed artifacts left by early modern humans from 160,000 to 50,000 years ago. For the last 15 years, an international team led by ASU archaeologist Curtis Marean has explored and excavated these caves, making key discoveries about how our ancestors lived.

Earliest human evidence 1997

A place for modern minds 2000

Forging stone tools 2009

A team led by IHO Director William Kimbel describes the discovery of a 2.35-million-year-old upper jaw from Hadar, Ethiopia. Associated with crude stone artifacts, it is the oldest specimen of the genus Homo known up to that time.

ASU anthropologist Curtis Marean launches international field research on modern human origins at Pinnacle Point, South Africa. Discoveries made at the site point to complex cognition at a surprisingly early period in modern humans.

Early modern humans living on the southern tip of Africa 72,000 years ago used fire to increase the quality and efficiency of their stone tool manufacturing, reports an international team of researchers, including three from IHO.

Baby Selam

Introducing seafood 2007

IHO postdoctoral scholar Zeresenay Alemseged, working at the 3.3-million-year-old site of Dikika, Ethiopia, discovers an infant skull and skeleton of Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis. Known as “Selam,” the fossil is one of the most complete specimens of an early human ancestor.

New research shows that huntergatherers on the coast of South Africa were consuming shellfish and other seafood 164,000 years ago—far earlier than previously documented. An international research team, including Marean, announce this discovery along with evidence of pigment use and bladelets (very small blades) at the Pinnacle Point site.


The savannah diet 2013

The roots of human uniqueness 2014

Carbon isotopes preserved in ancient teeth help a research team, including Kimbel and IHO Research Associate Kaye Reed, to identify the diet of African human ancestors from 4.5 to 1.5 million years ago. Based on the concept “you are what you eat,” they show that by 3.5 million years ago, our ancestors first expanded their diets to include plant-food resources that grow in open grassy environments, which we, almost alone among primates, continue to consume today.

A team coordinated by IHO Director William Kimbel receives a $4.9 million, three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation for research on the evolutionary foundations of human uniqueness. The largest award for human origins research of its type, the grant funds 11 projects and educational outreach on how complex cognition, cumulative culture and advanced cooperation evolved in the human lineage.

Sticks and stones 2012


Core clues

New oldest human fossil 2015

IHO postdoctoral scholar Jayne Wilkins heads a team describing the earliest evidence for the hafting of stone tips to wooden spears, creating a compound hunting tool, dated to 500,000 years ago in South Africa—200,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Earth scientist Christopher Campisano co-leads a $10 million international field project to drill deep cores in ancient rift valley lake sediments. The cores reveal a detailed record of environmental change over some six million years of human evolution in eastern Africa. The goal of this research is to study the connections between past climate and human evolution in Africa’s Rift Valley.

Scientists report the discovery of the earliest fossil evidence of the human genus, Homo. The lower jaw with teeth, discovered at Ledi-Geraru, Ethiopia, is dated to 2.8 million years ago, predating previously known fossils of the Homo lineage by almost 400,000 years. IHO researchers Reed, Campisano and Kimbel lead the team reporting the discovery.

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Thriving today

protecting tomorrow

In 2004, Arizona State University President Michael Crow convened a meeting in Temozón, Mexico, that mobilized a small but distinguished group of intellectual leaders who were exploring a new idea– sustainability science. These scientists and practitioners gathered to consider how a large, public research university could best commit itself to sustainability as a core value in its teaching, research and outreach activities. Universities have always played a role in finding answers to critical issues, but solving highly complex, global-scale sustainability challenges requires fundamental change. ASU is firmly grounded in the belief that sustainability – in the context of people, the environment and the economy – should transcend all academic disciplines. In 2004, the university launched the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability with a $15 million gift from Julie Ann Wrigley. Building on ASU’s foundational expertise in sustainability-related disciplines, the institute provides a hub for supporting research, education, outreach, solutions and operations. Approximately 375 faculty members from across the university now hold joint appointments as sustainability scientists and scholars, embedding sustainability in every school and college at ASU. In addition, the institute connects researchers with practitioners from business, industry, municipalities and government to collaborate on solutions for sustainability challenges.


Leading by example ASU’s sustainability operations and practices serve as a model to other institutions around the country. • The university’s comprehensive solar energy program provides a total solar generation capacity of more than 24 MW equivalent. • ASU aims to eliminate 100 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions from building energy and waste-related sources by 2025, and 100 percent of its carbon emissions from transportation by 2035.

• ASU requires, to the fullest extent practicable, LEED Silver certification or better for all new university construction. • ASU is moving toward zero waste through recycling, composting, reuse and aversion. • Low-flow water fixtures in campus buildings use approximately 30 percent less water than their conventional counterparts. ASU composts about 12 tons of landscaping trimmings monthly.

Solar testing lab 1992

Decisions in the desert 2004

LightWorks 2009

The Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory (PTL) is established at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. It is the only lab in the United States accredited for photovoltaic design qualification and type approval. In 2008, ASU-PTL joins forces with TUV Rheinland Group to form the spinoff company TUV Rheinland PTL.

The Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) opens. DCDC conducts climate, water and decision research, developing tools to bridge the boundary between scientists and decisionmakers. One of those tools is WaterSim 4.0, an integrated simulation model to help local water stakeholders explore decision tradeoffs for a range of climate and policy futures.

ASU launches LightWorks, an initiative that pulls light-inspired research under one strategic framework. The program is directed by Gary Dirks, who was formerly president of BP China and Asia-Pacific. LightWorks capitalizes on ASU’s unique strengths in renewable energy fields, including artificial photosynthesis, biofuels and next-generation photovoltaics.

A hub for urban ecology 1997

First School of Sustainability 2006

A plastic problem 2010

ASU becomes home to the Central Arizona–Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) program, led by ASU ecologist Nancy Grimm. CAP is one of only two LTER sites funded by the National Science Foundation that specifically studies urban ecology. Since its inception, CAP LTER scientists have made impactful discoveries that have shaped the field of ecology. (see story p. 34)

ASU establishes the first-ever School of Sustainability in the United States as part of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. In 2007, the school welcomes the nation’s first master’s degree student in sustainability and in 2008 honors its first graduate.

ASU engineer Rolf Halden finds that plastic in the world’s water sources poses hazards to human health and the ecosystems we depend on. His research shows that there is six times more plastic than plankton in some regions of the world’s oceans. This includes patches of oceanic garbage– some as large as the state of Texas –with a high volume of nonbiodegradable plastics.

Sustainable P 2010

Save the whales 2012

Artificial leaf 2014

Pricing nature 2016

Phosphorus is a key component of the fertilizers used to produce our food, but it is a finite resource, and our current use is unsustainable. ASU launches the Sustainable P Initiative as a solution-driven response to what might be called “the biggest problem you’ve never heard of.”

Leah Gerber, a population ecologist at ASU, develops a new strategy for saving whales: put a price on them. Working with an economist and a marine scientist, Gerber proposes the use of quotas that can be bought and sold, creating a market that is economically, ecologically and socially viable for whalers and whales alike.

Working with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory, ASU chemists use X-ray crystallography and optical and magnetic resonance spectroscopy techniques to capture a step in the natural photosynthesis process in order to mimic it in an “artificial leaf.” The ultimate goal of this project is to convert water cheaply and efficiently into fuel using solar energy.

What is the dollar value of untouched natural resources like groundwater? ASU economist Joshua Abbott and colleagues from Yale, California State University at Chico, Michigan State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration developed an equation grounded in economic theory to find out. In their latest study, they discover that the state of Kansas lost about $110 million per year of capital value by depleting groundwater.

QESST for solar 2011

Citizen climate science 2013

Locusts and land use 2015

ASU is chosen to lead a new national Engineering Research Center (ERC) focused on harnessing solar power in economically viable and sustainable ways. The ERC for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) is led by ASU engineer Christiana Honsberg. Also this year, ASU exceeds 10 megawatts (MW) of solar-energy capacity, making it the only higher education institution in the United States to have a solar capacity of this size.

ASU climate scientist Kevin Gurney launches a first-of-its-kind online “game” to better understand the sources of global warming gases. By engaging citizen scientists, Gurney and his colleagues aim to locate all the power plants around the world and quantify their carbon dioxide emissions. The game is housed on a website called “Ventus,” where people around the world can play.

ASU sustainability scientist Arianne Cease is lauded in Popular Science’s Brilliant 10 for developing an integrated understanding of the ecological and socioeconomic connections between locusts, crops and livelihoods. Her groundbreaking research shows for the first time that heavy livestock grazing promotes locust outbreaks by lowering plant nitrogen content.

Back to Table of Contents







A global leader at the

atomic scale

Through its program for imaging atoms using electron microscopes, Arizona State University has made a remarkable impact over nearly half a century in fields ranging from materials science to the earth sciences, semiconductor physics, chemistry and now biology. Look around the international community of electron microscopy (EM) and materials science and you will find many leaders who were trained at ASU, from the founders of nanoscience to the inventors of the aberration-corrector in the latest electron microscopes.

In 1970, the year that atoms were first observed directly by electron microscope, John Cowley joined ASU’s Physics Department. Cowley, already an internationally recognized authority in electron microscopy (EM), soon obtained a large NSF Regional Center grant, one of the first major research programs at ASU. It has become a leading international center for the development of new techniques for imaging and analyzing atomic structures in matter. In 1974, ASU launched the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science (LE-CSSS), named for its founder, who joined ASU in 1961 as chair of the Chemistry Department. The center provides researchers with open access to sophisticated techniques for materials characterization and highresolution EM. In the 1980s, Cowley’s Regional Center, now part of the LE-CSSS, grew rapidly with the establishment of an annual Winter School in EM that is still running today; an industrial affiliates program; new faculty in surface science, EM technique development, solid-state chemistry, physics and materials science; and an annual conference. These conferences established ASU as a leading international research center in the physical sciences, due in part to the steady stream of visitors it attracted from around the world. ASU scientists were among the first in the world to realize that the ability to image atomic structures and defects in materials directly in the EM could make a powerful contribution to understanding the properties of matter. Since then, researchers at ASU have advanced EM techniques and made key discoveries enabled by the technology.


100 µm A scanning electron micrograph of a flower’s anther—part of the stamen—filled with spherical pollen grains, created for a collaborative project between ASU’s School of Life Sciences and School of Art. credit: Kyle Horace, undergraduate, under direction of Robert Roberson, SOLS

Crystal mystery solved 1977

Carbon nanotubes discovered 1991

Orbital observation 1999

ASU researchers solve the long-standing mystery of what causes “non-stoichiometry” in oxide crystals such as minerals. This means that the number of one type of atom in a crystal is not an exact multiple of another type. Using EM, Cowley and post-doctoral researcher Sumio Iijima show details of the “mistakes” in the ordered pattern of atoms that make this possible— findings with later applications in the chemical industry.

Iijima discovers carbon nanotubes using a high-resolution transmission electron microscopy technique he developed at ASU. A founding member of the LE-CSSS, Iijima has been a major contributor to the rise of nanoscience throughout the world.

John Spence, another early member of the LE-CSSS, his student J.M. Zuo, M. Kim and O’Keefe develop a method for imaging the chemical bonds between atoms in cuprite (Cu2O) crystals, resulting in a famous picture on the cover of Nature. The images resolve a controversy about the types of bonds in superconducting copper oxides and provide the first direct observation of electron orbitals.

Crystallography breakthrough 1978

Aberration correction 1997

Improving climate models 2008

ASU chemist Peter Buseck, along with Iijima and another post-doc Michael O’Keefe, develops a new technique for high-resolution imaging of crystal structures using transmission electron microscopes. In July 2014, the journal Nature hails their paper as a milestone in the science of crystallography.

Physicist Ondrej Krivanek, an early member of the LE-CSSS, is co-inventor of the aberrationcorrection device, which has revolutionized the field of EM by improving resolution to less than one-tenth of one nanometer. In the same year, Krivanek founds Nion. This highly successful venture is the only U.S. company that manufactures transmission electron microscopes.

ASU engineers Peter Crozier and James Anderson use a novel EM technique to determine the optical properties of brown carbon nanoparticles in the atmosphere. The particles, particularly those produced by fossil fuel combustion, are among the least understood components in global climate change. The ASU team’s contributions could lead to more accurate climate modeling.

Special facility for sensitive equipment 2012

Structurally bizarre diamonds 2013

Antibacterial clays 2016

ASU dedicates the new Southwestern Center for Aberration Corrected Electron Microscopy, constructed to house new aberration-corrected EM instruments. Because this equipment is extremely sensitive, the windowless building is designed to eliminate vibrations, noise, electrical fields, temperature changes, air currents and pressure pulses—even from people working inside. The center is used by the ASU community, other universities and industry.

ASU scientists use EM to debunk the existence of a new form of diamond called lonsdaleite, which is associated with meteorite and asteroid impacts. Péter Németh, a former ASU visiting professor, and ASU research professor Laurence Garvie show that what has been called lonsdaleite is in fact a structurally disordered form of ordinary diamond.

A former ASU doctoral student, Keith Morrison, and ASU claymineral scientist Lynda Williams use a variety of instruments at the LE-CSSS to help identify two metallic elements in certain blue and green clays that can kill infectious bacteria.

Carbon under pressure 2013

Simplifying the nanodiamond alphabet 2015

New tech to image biomolecules 2016

Buseck and his colleague Jun Wu demonstrate another novel EM technique, studying samples under high pressures and temperatures. Their findings show that inner-Earth materials subjected to high heat and pressure develop faults that concentrate carbon along them. The new method could help solve the mystery of where large amounts of carbon reside in the Earth’s interior.

Németh, Garvie and Buseck make another diamond discovery. In recent years, scientists have identified various kinds of nanodiamond structures and named them by letters, such as h-diamond, n-diamond, etc. Using ASU’s ultra-high-resolution EMs, the team finds that all of these structures are ordinary cubic diamonds (c-diamonds) with intimately “twinned” crystals that create unpredicted structural complexity.

ASU acquires a state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope for imaging biological molecules at the atomic scale for solving molecular structures. Such structural biology is involved in processes as varied as human vision, drug development, virus infection and the host of molecular machines on which life depends.

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Research at the New American University

Arizona State University has become the foundational model for the New American University, a new paradigm for the public research university that transforms higher education.


Design aspirations


Leverage Our Place

Transform Society

ASU embraces its cultural, socioeconomic and physical setting.

ASU catalyzes social change by being connected to social needs.

Value Entrepreneurship

Conduct Use-Inspired Research

ASU uses its knowledge and encourages innovation.

ASU research has purpose and impact.

Eight design aspirations guide ASU’s ongoing evolution as a New American University. ASU integrates these institutional objectives in innovative ways to demonstrate excellence, access and impact. This section tells the stories of a few of the scholars and scientists whose work exemplifies these aspirations.

Enable Student Success

Fuse Intellectual Disciplines

ASU is committed to the success of each unique student.

ASU creates knowledge by transcending academic disciplines.

Be Socially Embedded

Engage Globally

ASU connects with communities through mutually beneficial partnerships.

ASU engages with people and issues locally, nationally and internationally.



Keepin’ it REAL program poster

The Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center is a national Exploratory Center of Excellence on minority health and health disparities. Researchers at the center develop interventions to prevent and reduce health problems such as substance abuse, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and sexually transmitted diseases. They work among disadvantaged groups including Latinos, American Indians, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Somali refugees, women and juvenile offenders.


Locally tailored programs put peer pressure in its place Culturally relevant interventions developed at ASU empower young people to evade the peer pressure that can lead to substance abuse.

Madison Placencio is a 13-year-old eighth-grader

or other drugs. Marsiglia and his colleagues

in San Tan Valley, Arizona. She’s at the age when

wanted to find out what strategies these kids use

peer pressure becomes increasingly common

to evade peer pressure. They interviewed hundreds

and tougher to resist. But Placencio handles it

of Phoenix middle school students and identified

with finesse.

four main tactics: refuse, explain, avoid and leave.

For example, one time her friends tried to

“Refuse” can be a simple “no” or a gesture,

convince her to go to a party she didn’t want to

like shaking the head. “Explain” also involves

go to. She already had plans that day for an outing

saying “no” but includes a reason why. “It gives me

with her family.

a headache,” “my parents will be upset,” “I don’t

“I was like, ‘no, I’d rather go with my family',”

believe in that,” and “I don’t need it to have fun” are

Placencio says. “I just explained to them why I

all examples Marsiglia has heard from kids. “Avoid”

couldn’t go.”

could mean staying away from a party where drugs

It might sound simple, but for a middle school

and alcohol are likely to be present. “Leave” is a

student, having the confidence to say “no” is

tactic used by kids who are already at the party

critical – and not always easy. A 2014 survey found

when trouble shows up.

that 11 percent of eighth-graders in the United

With funding from the National Institute on

States had used marijuana and nine percent had

Drug Abuse, Marsiglia and his team developed a

used alcohol. These substances are particularly

program based on their research called "keepin’

dangerous for children because their brains are

it REAL"—an acronym of the four strategies. The

still developing.

intervention was evaluated in central and south

“It’s not healthy for a young person to use a substance, legal or illegal. Their brain cannot tell

Phoenix with the participation of more than 7,000 middle school students and their teachers.

them when to stop yet, so they reach addiction very

The keepin’ it REAL intervention includes

quickly,” says Flavio Marsiglia, a Regents' Professor

manuals and videos for teachers to use in the

in Arizona State University’s School of Social Work

classroom. Placencio has been participating

and director of ASU’s Southwest Interdisciplinary

in keepin’ it REAL at her school for three

Research Center (SIRC).

years, and says that she looks forward

For the past two decades, Marsiglia has

to it each week. The program is so

been working to develop culturally relevant health

effective that it has been adopted

interventions for youth.

by schools in 48 states and nine

The good news is that most middle school

countries outside the U.S.

students, like Placencio, choose not to use alcohol Madison Placencio


The perfect social laboratory

ethnic backgrounds who received this version were

Keepin’ it REAL was designed with Phoenix

more likely to employ the REAL techniques.

demographics in mind. The city is home to the

The Native American population in Arizona

third-largest population of Native Americans,

has a unique set of needs and challenges.

and more than 40 percent of the population is

A SIRC team led by ASU Professor Stephen Kulis,

Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 U.S.

in partnership with the Phoenix Indian Center,

Census. There are also many elderly people in

developed an intervention called Living in Two

the Phoenix metro area, as well as young Latinos.

Worlds, designed for Native American children

This mirrors the expected future population of the

living in urban settings. The program is based

whole country, Marsiglia says, making Phoenix the

on keepin’ it REAL, but Living in Two Worlds

“perfect social laboratory.”

emphasizes cultural identity much more. “We found that American-Indian kids in


the city sometimes don’t know who they are,” Marsiglia says. Learning more about their cultural history, and the tribe they come from, helps kids develop a stronger sense of identity, which protects them from risky behaviors. “That inspires them,” Marsiglia says. “They can be leaders in their community and learn not to be Flavio Marsiglia, director, Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center

Because ASU is embedded in these diverse communities, researchers have the opportunity to develop interventions that are culturally grounded. The keepin’ it REAL program was created with input from the local children it is intended to

ashamed of who they are.”

ASU ranks #6 in the nation for social sciences research expenditures. –National Science Foundation HERD Survey FY2014

serve. It has also been tweaked to represent a multicultural audience. That way, kids from different ethnic backgrounds can relate to characters in the

Parenting in Two Worlds

workbooks and videos. This sets keepin’ in REAL

Living in two worlds can be a challenge for Native

apart from previous interventions that have failed.

American children. Researchers have found that it’s

“If the child doesn’t identify with the

difficult for their parents, too. As a result, many of

intervention—nobody in the video looks like them,

the interventions that Marsiglia and his colleagues

speaks like them or dresses like them—they will

develop include companion programs for parents.

say, ‘oh this isn’t about me, this is about somebody else,’” Marsiglia says. After creating different versions of keepin’

Parenting in Two Worlds was designed with and for Native American parents living in urban Phoenix. These parents face the complex challenge

it REAL, researchers found the multicultural

of being part of their tribal cultures, but also

adaptation to be the most effective. Students of all

living day-to-day immersed in a different culture.

Parenting in Two Worlds is the only program of

“Everything is a little bit more raw. It’s right in front

its kind in the nation. The project is funded by the

of you.”

National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

After the widespread success of keepin’ it REAL, researchers at ASU are now working to

“Now we’re getting calls from other

adapt the intervention for other countries. The

urban American Indian communities and tribal

National Institutes of Health recently awarded

communities,” Marsiglia says. He is hoping to test

Marsiglia’s team and their Mexican collaborators

the program in partnership with Indian reservations

a five-year grant to implement a nationwide

and in other urban centers besides Phoenix, so that

adaptation and evaluation of keepin’ it REAL in

it can be adapted for other parts of the country.

Mexico. In addition, Marsiglia is working with

The keepin’ it REAL program provides training

colleagues in Seville, Spain, to create a prevention

for parents as well. This is especially useful for

intervention aimed at the Roma people, also known

parents and guardians from different ethnic

as the Gypsy community.

backgrounds who are trying to assimilate in the U.S.

“They are a very oppressed, misunderstood,

Children tend to adapt to new cultures and learn

stigmatized community with a lot of substance

new languages faster than adults. This can make

abuse issues,” Marsiglia says.

children feel power over their parents, changing the relationship dynamic and creating conflict. “Language is power,” Marsiglia says. “There is a role reversal, and that creates a problem when the parents need to set boundaries and set limits and assert their authority.” The parenting program for keepin’ it REAL, called Families Preparing the New Generation,

The team will develop an intervention that is grounded in their culture, just as the keepin’ it REAL program was designed for local communities in the U.S. Placencio is a testament to the program’s success. She uses the REAL strategies in real situations and says they have served her well. “I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have

equips parents with effective communication tools.

them—I’d probably be stuck in a bad situation,”

It also allows them to share tips and strategies with

she says.

one another. Some parents benefited from the program in other unintended ways. Marsiglia’s research found that some parents were dealing with substance abuse issues of their own—particularly binge

Instead, she is thriving. Her favorite subject in school is science, and she wants to be a movie director one day. “And I want to go to ASU,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to go to ASU.”

drinking. After completing the program, the parents reported a significant decrease in that behavior. “Through a prevention program that was

At Placencio’s school, keepin’ it REAL is

not intended to treat them, they got some help,”

funded by the Arizona Parents Commission on

Marsiglia says. This suggests that before the

Drug Education and Prevention, administered by

program, parents may not have had access to

the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family.

treatment resources. “That’s an example of the unique things that

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Minority Health

happen in Arizona, and that maybe happen in other

and Health Disparities are part of the National

places, but here you can see it,” Marsiglia says.

Institutes of Health. Back to Table of Contents



Phoenix: A living lab for sustainable cities


Cities have unique and complex ecosystems that affect people and nature profoundly. Using Phoenix as a model, ASU is helping us understand the long-term dynamics of urban environments. A new day dawns, and morning light filters through

“Phoenix, and cities in general, are

the towering stems of an ocotillo, casting striped

microcosms for the kinds of changes that are

shadows on the ground. Although the thorny plant

happening globally,” notes Grimm, the CAP LTER

looks a bit lackluster, it provides an adequate perch

principal investigator and project director. “In

for a zealously chirping curve-billed thrasher. An

biogeochemical cycles, for example, they show

abundance of black widow spiders lurk unseen in

symptoms of the imbalances in nitrogen, carbon

the cracks and crevices below.

dioxide, ozone and other chemicals that they help

By all appearances, this is a typical morning in

to create globally.”

Arizona’s Sonoran desert. In some ways it is, but in many ways it isn’t. Many residential yards in Arizona are designed with xeric landscaping, which requires little water and looks like the wild desert surrounding the city. Ecologically speaking, however, these yards are

“It’s an imperative to understand how we make cities sustainable, because like it or not, that’s where most people are going to be living.” – Nancy Grimm, professor, School of Life Sciences

“functionally not at all like the desert,” according to Nancy Grimm, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. That ocotillo, for instance, is drowning. Homeowners tend to shower too much water on their yards even when they mimic an arid landscape. Desert birds like the curve-billed thrasher seem to exhibit more aggressive territorial behavior in the city than those living out in the desert. What about the black widows? To homeowners’ distress and exterminators’ delight, their populations are denser in urban areas than in rural ones, nourished by the insects that swarm to the oasis of the city. Less visible changes are happening, too. Biogeochemical cycles in the soil, water and air are all different between residential yards and wild Sonoran sites. These are just a few of the findings from ASU’s

Human activities create these changes, which in turn affect humans. As people adapt to

Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological

the altered environment, they change the natural

Research (CAP LTER) program, funded by the

world further. This circular relationship within

National Science Foundation (NSF) since 1997.

the urban socio-ecosystem is the basis of CAP

The NSF supports 26 LTER sites across the United

LTER’s overarching research question: How do the

States, but only two focus on urban environments:

services provided by evolving urban ecosystems

the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and CAP LTER.

affect human outcomes and behavior, and how


does human action (responses) alter patterns of

In their zeal to maximize the number of

ecosystem structure and function, and ultimately,

waterfront properties they can sell, developers

urban sustainability, in a dynamic environment?

often create unnaturally shaped lakes with many

Sociologists, geographers, anthropologists,

narrow inlets. However, this may have ecological

ecologists, biologists, climatologists, engineers

effects that can lead to algae overgrowth and

and others all contribute their expertise to

fish death.

finding answers. Designer ecosystems are one of the major research themes in CAP LTER. Residential

the impacts of their choices. Studying the urban

landscapes, like the xeriscape described above,

ecosystem is particularly compelling in a desert city

are one example of these. Others include things

like Phoenix, which presents unique challenges.

like storm retention basins and artificial lakes. ASU PhD student Libby Larson, working with L E V E R AG E O U R P L AC E

Findings like these reveal the motivations behind people’s environmental modifications and

“There’s this idea, which we dispute, that there shouldn’t be any cities in the desert, that it’s a crazy

Grimm, identified about 1,000 artificial lakes in the

place to have a city because there’s not enough

Phoenix metropolitan area, using remote sensing

water here,” Grimm says.

imagery, GIS data and state impoundment-permit

Yet arid lands take up over 40 percent of

information. These lakes provide habitat and water

the Earth’s land surface, according to the United

for many animals, and could help rid the city of

Nations, and account for some of the highest

excess nitrogen.

population growth rates in the world. Those people

They also boost home values. Waterfront properties are valued $31,271 higher, on average, than similar houses further from a lake, according

aren’t going anywhere. Even if they could, where would they go? “If you’re going to put 8 billion or 10 billion

to research from Joshua Abbott, an associate

people on the planet, what’s the best distribution of

professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability,

them?” Grimm asks. “Should they be evenly spread

and his colleague H. Allen Klaiber at the Ohio

out? Or should they be in cities? Where should

State University.

those cities be?” Understanding Phoenix can offer insights into other urbanizing areas of the world. The city’s rapid growth means that its transition from desert to farmland to city has been relatively

One of many xeric residential landscapes in the Phoenix metro area Courtesy of Marcia Nation

Aerial view of a suburban neighborhood with man-made lakes

recent, providing an evolving “before” and “after” laboratory. This makes it particularly useful for studying land-use change, land-cover change and land legacies. It is also useful for studying water resources. Arizona’s population is more concentrated in urban areas than most other states, because people need to live where water is accessible. Harnessing and redirecting so much water has dramatically altered the natural environment of the region, from the water system to the climate. CAP LTER research provides a rich array of data on the long-term impacts—on both humans and nature—of urban living in an arid region. Cities are becoming dominant ecosystems, housing most of the human population and affecting the world far beyond their boundaries. The more we understand about how these ecosystems change over time, the better prepared we’ll be to make changes beneficial to all—humans, ocotillos and even black widows.

Ecology Explorers is an educational outreach component of CAP LTER. Since 1998, Ecology Explorers has reached more than 15,000 K-12 students and 2,000 teachers through classroom presentations, workshops, training and outreach events. Students who participate in Ecology Explorers can study arthropods, beetles, seeds, birds and vegetation in the urban Phoenix ecosystem, using the same protocols in their schoolyards that CAP LTER researchers do in the field. Their results are even compiled in an online portal that is available to the public. Back to Table of Contents


Soap’s dirty secret Antimicrobial consumer products are ineffective and pose a serious environmental hazard. Research from ASU is informing efforts to regulate these pervasive chemicals.

seconds. That’s how long 95 percent of people spend washing their hands. TRANSFOR M SOCI ETY

However, to kill germs effectively, you need to spend at least 20 seconds scrubbing, about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice through, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people buy soaps containing antimicrobial chemicals like triclosan (TCS) and triclocarban (TCC) in the hopes of cleaning more efficiently. However, studies show that these products are no more effective than plain soap and water. And the 20-second rule still applies. In our zest for cleanliness, we not only fail to kill germs correctly, but also may have unwittingly contributed to an environmental and human health mess. “Most people don’t use personal care products correctly and are unaware of the legacy that they are leaving behind, which lasts decades or longer,” says Rolf Halden, director of the Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University. “The widespread use of antimicrobial compounds offers no measurable benefit for the average consumer yet creates a legacy pollution that can be traced back for half a century in the sediments of our drinking water resources.” Every day, those scant seconds send the active ingredients from thousands of products—antimicrobial soaps, cosmetics, disinfectants and sanitizers— cascading out of our homes into sewers. From there, a significant fraction breaks through wastewater treatment units to eventually settle into lakes and rivers, where it can persist for decades.


Halden, a professor in ASU’s School of

mostly foreign to nature. This leaves natural

Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment,

breakdown mechanisms and enzymes ineffective

studies the broad interconnectedness of the water

in destroying them.

cycle and human health, with special emphasis on

“In the built environment, it is us, the creators

the role of man-made products and human lifestyle

and inhabitants, who store the non-green,

choices on environmental quality. It has increasingly

recalcitrant chemistry in our bodies, mostly in

led him on a journey from scientific discovery to

adipose tissue, and in women also in breast milk,”

reforming public policy.

says Halden.

Following the water

blood and urine. The compound TCS was even

“It’s very powerful to look into water, and to

found in 97 percent of breast milk samples, placing

understand what is left over after treatment, and

an unnecessary risk on newborns’ health.

Antimicrobials have been detected in human

to trace the fate of what happens,” says Halden,

TCS and TCC are known endocrine

whose “follow the water” mantra has served as a

disruptors. These mimic hormones found in

guidepost to his scientific career.

people and wildlife, with potential adverse

Halden’s team was the first to find significant

impacts on sexual and neurological development.

concentrations of TCC and TCS dating back to

In collaboration with Laura Geer from the State

the 1950s in sediments of New York’s Jamaica

University of New York, Halden and his team found

Bay and Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay, where they

various antimicrobials in newborns in Brooklyn and

were discharged in treated domestic wastewater.

observed decreased gestational age at delivery in

More recently, Halden found the same antimicrobial

mothers exposed to TCC.

ingredients contaminating Minnesota’s freshwater lakes, released into nearby waters from various human activities. “We first discovered TCC pollution in Baltimore, and over the years added hundreds of cities and streams to reveal nationwide contamination,” he says. “It turns out, if a chemical

The Center for Environmental Security is one of 15 centers in ASU’s Biodesign Institute and is jointly supported by ASU’s Global Security Initiative.

as nitrogen and phosphorus, but also undesirable,

The Biodesign Institute addresses global challenges in healthcare, sustainability and security by developing solutions inspired from natural systems and translating those solutions into commercially viable products and clinical practices.

harmful chemicals that may end up in crops and the

Since 2003, Biodesign researchers have:

is not removed from water or destroyed during the wastewater treatment process, it leaves the plant in either reclaimed water or in sewage sludge.” Sludge is often applied to agricultural land, where it recycles not only desirable nutrients, such

food supply. Halden’s team found a strong correlation between the level of contamination of wastewater treatment plant discharge and the population density of the surrounding region. The problem with these substances is that their chemical structure is

• Garnered more than $500 million in research awards • Disclosed more than 500 inventions • Secured 45 patents • Launched 12 startup companies


Rolf Halden, director, Center for Environmental Security Halden and team in the field testing a device to monitor groundwater for harmful contaminants

Geer says the study also yielded a link between women with higher levels of butyl

Survey published a landmark study showing that

paraben, an antimicrobial commonly used in

80 percent of 139 streams sampled from across

cosmetics, and shorter newborn lengths. The

the U.S. contained measurable levels of various

long-term consequences of this are not clear, but

organic wastewater contaminants.

Geer adds that if this finding is confirmed in larger


A decade ago, the U.S. Geological

With an array of new tools and support from

studies, it could mean that widespread exposure

the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, Halden

to these compounds will cause a subtle but

has built the first nationwide monitoring network,

large-scale shift in birth sizes.

called the Human Health Observatory. It measures,

The Minnesota legislature was so alarmed

using mass spectrometry, some 230 chemical

by these and other researchers’ findings that it

and biological markers contained in wastewater

instituted the first ban of problematic antimicrobials

that can serve to gauge the health of a city. The

from all state agencies. Some companies, such

project began as a national effort and is now

as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble,

expanding internationally.

have announced that they are phasing out the

The beauty of this wastewater-based

compounds from some products. At the federal

analysis strategy is that it can be performed on

level, the Food and Drug Administration and the

differing scales, from buildings to city blocks to

Environmental Protection Agency are reviewing the

neighborhoods or to the nation as a whole.

use and effects of TCC and TCS, drawing in part

“Today, we have information on the chemistry

on information relayed by Halden in publications

used by and contained in 10 percent of the U.S.

and a congressional briefing.

population—some 32 million people residing in over 160 cities across the nation,” says Halden. The

The sewage never lies

tools are sensitive enough to measure everything

TCS and TCC are at the top of modern

from a spike in illicit drug consumption from a

society’s trash heap, ranking among the top ten

weekend rock festival to the use of birth control

pharmaceuticals and personal care products most

pills to emerging public health threats.

frequently contaminating the environment and U.S. drinking water resources. They are emblematic of something much

the cities rather than individuals,” he adds. “The sewage never lies. It’s giving real information

larger– our 20 -century chemical legacy.

on what’s happening and provides an entry point

Thousands of chemical byproducts, together with

for health interventions that can save lives by

the pharmaceuticals we use, end up in our sewage

the thousands.”


and, ultimately, in surface waters.


“So now our clients, or our patients, are

Halden envisions the sewage pipeline

soaps contained these chemicals. Levels of TCC

becoming an information superhighway of all the

and TCS in people have increased by an average of

public health data of a city—a treasure trove of

50 percent since 2004, according to the Centers

information, all coming from human waste.

for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s what we are working on right now.

“And so, we are now bathing in the chemistry

We want to develop a dashboard of public health

that was made in the 1950s, 60s and 70s,” says

for the United States and ultimately the world, and

Halden. “I started to sit on the FDA committee

compare how different regulatory environments

in 2005; now we write the year 2016. The FDA

lead to different chemistries and different exposure

entered into a consent decree that something

and health profiles,” he says.

needs to happen soon, but years of unnecessary exposure and pollution have taken place, leading

Trickling into regulation

to degradation of resources and threatening public

Halden knows that monitoring alone will not

health. That’s not a good path.”

quell the rising tide of emerging contaminants.

Halden believes the regulatory agencies should

Regulation holds the key to truly effecting change.

also encourage industry to make products from

In February 2011, Halden participated in a

benign or “green” chemicals. These are composed

congressional briefing panel in Washington, D.C.,

of basic, ubiquitous building blocks and chemical

about the public health dangers of TCC and TCS.

bonds, not ones that are rare in nature and cannot

Unfortunately, Halden has studied and seen firsthand how slowly the regulatory gears turn at the federal level. “We just completed an analysis of 143,000

biodegrade. Safer options are feasible and available. Synthetic chemicals are vital to our society. Halden believes we can make and use them responsibly to create a safer and better chemistry

peer-reviewed research papers to track the

and public health of tomorrow. Ultimately, the power

progress of what we call chemicals of emerging

of consumers may trump the current chemical

concern,” he says. “We found that it takes around

logjam at the federal regulatory agencies.

14 years from the point at which safety issues are

“The culture of fear leads people to make

raised about a chemical before scientists’ concern

impulsive decisions and buy a lot of antimicrobial

peaks and regulators act.”

products that are not really needed. It’s a profitable

The pathway from a chemical’s introduction

market to be in, but not one that is ultimately

into society to a regulatory ban can take decades.

sustainable or a good idea,” Halden says. “What’s

For instance, TCC and TCS were first patented in

much faster is if people vote with their pocketbooks.

1957 and 1964, respectively. Antimicrobials made

Consumers need to be better informed so they

their first appearance in commercial hand soaps

don’t buy stuff that is not good for their bodies or

in the 1980s. By 2001, 76 percent of liquid hand

the environment.”

Learn more

Back to Table of Contents


A flexible future for today’s technologies


From X-ray machines that can wrap around gas pipelines to computer displays that could be embedded in soldiers’ uniforms — ASU is developing technologies that stretch the possibilities of electronic devices.

A Gen-II photolithographic alignment and exposure tool at FEDC

Imagine a medical clinic operating in a remote

One solution would be to build an X-ray

African village. It is the only place within hundreds

detector that’s virtually indestructible. That is the

of miles where villagers can go to receive health

goal of a project led by Arizona State University’s

care, and the doctors treat 40 or more patients per

Flexible Electronics and Display Center (FEDC),

day. They have one X-ray machine.

where researchers are building a durable, rugged

Traditional X-ray detectors are made of glass. If they break, they are rendered useless and must

and flexible X-ray detector. The center was founded in 2004 through a

be replaced. That might not be a problem for

partnership with the U.S. Army. FEDC experts

hospitals and clinics with the funding and access

collaborate with government, academia and

to buy new devices, but for isolated, low-income

industry to provide comprehensive flexible

sites, a broken X-ray machine could be devastating.

electronics capabilities that bridge the high-risk,

That would be hugely beneficial to organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, which provides health care to thousands of people each year at rural sites in developing countries. In addition to being durable and rugged, flexible X-ray detectors have the ability to bend and conform to a curved surface. This allows them to give a more accurate reading than current detectors, which are flat and rigid. One potential application could lie in helping companies that have long pipelines with welds or seams that must be monitored for leaks. Whether the pipes hold water, gas, oil or some other substance, having a flexible X-ray could mean catching a leak early and preventing a potentially catastrophic accident. The Army is interested in using flexible X-ray machine to detect bombs. The size, weight and ruggedness of the device makes it much more practical for explosive ordnance detection in military missions. “The fact that it allows the people who protect us to do something—that’s a huge application,” Strnad says. “If you make one detector that saves a life, that’s a phenomenal gain.” FEDC is also one of the only places in the United States that produces flexible displays. In 2012, researchers at the center created the world’s largest flexible full-color organic lightresource-intensive gap between innovation and

emitting diode (OLED), which at the time was

product development.

7.4 inches. The following year, FEDC scientists

Located at the ASU Research Park, the facility offers unique manufacturing pilot lines in a Class 10 clean room. It provides an informationsecure environment for process, tool and materials development and evaluation. With a normal digital X-ray machine, even a

broke their own world record, producing a 14.7-inch version of the display. Compared to previous devices, these flexible displays are thinner and much more lightweight. “It’s as thin as a sheet of paper. Think of a display that you could roll up and tuck away

small bump could chip the edge of the glass and

somewhere or put in places you can’t normally find

shatter it.

displays because they’re big and heavy and bulky,”

“With our X-ray being plastic, you could bump

says Nick Colaneri, the director of FEDC.

into it all day and it’s not going to ever break,” says

The Army is also interested in flexible

Mark Strnad, associate director of FEDC.

displays because they are ideal for integrating into



A Gen-II OLED deposition tool at FEDC, the largest of its type in North America

soldiers’ clothing, where they can provide real-

Ito America Corporation is an engineering

time information to enhance safety. This was a key

sales group that specializes in semiconductor

design feature the Army asked FEDC researchers

packaging and LCD assembly. As one of the

to consider as they built the displays.

original partners of FEDC, Ito brought expertise,

“As long as displays are big, heavy, bulky and made out of glass that can break, it’s obviously not ideal for a soldier that already has 100 pounds

equipment and a tool set that is used for the assembly of the flexible displays. “We looked at it as we’re helping out the

of stuff that he or she has to carry around,” says

future of soldiers in harm’s way with a way to

Colaneri. “The Army funded this project because

communicate. We thought that was a noble effort,”

they had an interest in pushing for displays that

says Tim Martinez, technical sales manager at Ito.

are thin, lightweight and don’t break. They imagine

In addition to producing devices that could

more and more electronic devices that are going to

help soldiers stay safe and work more effectively,

allow soldiers to do their jobs or keep them safe on

FEDC offers unprecedented hands-on experience

the battlefield.” Building highly complex flexible displays and X-ray detectors requires expertise in many areas. That’s why FEDC brings together industry partners in one central hub. “Think of it like building a car,” Strnad says. “You’ve got the engine, transmission, suspension, electronics, all these things. Everybody has a piece of it, but nobody could put it all together by themselves.” FEDC works with about 50 partners to make these cutting-edge technologies a reality.

to the next generation of engineers through its

treated more as an engineer,” he says. With this

internship program.

experience, Hartke was able to figure out what he

Zachary Hartke is a junior in ASU’s School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. He is majoring in chemical engineering, minoring in materials science and is an intern at FEDC. “I’ve been working on integrating new materials into the processes that we already have here,” Hartke says. He tests new chemicals and

loves and is now better positioned to pursue his dream job in the electronics industry. As a world-class manufacturing facility with a high level of research activity, FEDC is not only an asset to students seeking hands-on experience, but also to ASU as a whole. “I think the fact that the university can provide

substances to see how they might work better for

things that potentially make a better society is a

the products that FEDC develops, including OLEDs,

very unique opportunity,” says Strnad. “To not only

X-ray detectors and electrophoretic displays.

do the research, but also supply some of the

Specifically, Hartke is finding ways to make their materials more flexible and easier to manipulate.

sub-components, gives ASU an even higher level of visibility.”

This work allows him to apply some of the concepts he’s learning in class, as well as gain valuable professional experience. “Before I worked here, I hadn’t done anything related to my major at all. My first job was actually at Men’s Warehouse,” Hartke says, referring to a chain of men’s clothing stores. Despite being new to the field, Hartke has been an asset to the team, according to his supervisor Emmett Howard. “I would say, in hindsight, my expectations were exceeded. He’s done very well,” Howard says. Hartke was able to work full-time at FEDC for a semester through the internship program, something that was important to the center. “In the efforts that Zachary is involved with, one day’s activity might be critical at 10 a.m., the next day it might be at 2:30 p.m.—it’s not something that can be easily scheduled,” Strnad says. The immersion also allowed Hartke to be fully integrated into the team and become an active participant in engineering projects. “He’s gone from sitting and listening in the meetings to actually making presentations at a couple of them,” Strnad says. Hartke was grateful for the opportunity to work in a professional environment. He says his coworkers provided guidance and support, but also gave him the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. “One thing I appreciated right away is that I wasn’t really treated like a student. I was Back to Table of Contents


HealthTell aims to disrupt diagnostics What if we could detect diseases before symptoms even appear? Spurred by ASU’s culture of innovation, a spinout company is developing technology that could revolutionize health care. Almost one out of every five dollars in the U.S.

happening early to them,” says Stephen Albert

economy is spent on health care.

Johnston, director of the Center for Innovations in

Despite spending far more on health care than


any other country, Americans have gotten a poor

Medicine at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. In 2005, Johnston teamed up with Neal

return on their investment, ranking middle of the

Woodbury, an ASU chemistry professor, to pursue

pack worldwide for metrics such as infant mortality

this goal.

rates and longevity. Two Arizona State University researchers had

“We spent a long time trying to come up with an invention that could do that sort of thing. And

an idea that could radically change the way we

it had to be cheap. Because if it’s too expensive,

approach health care, a fresh take on Benjamin

people won’t use it, and people in the developing

Franklin’s well-worn adage, “an ounce of prevention

world would never use it,” Johnston says.

is worth a pound of cure.” What if we could detect disease at its earliest

The like-minded mavericks were in the right place to cultivate their ideas. In 2002, ASU

stages, perhaps even before symptoms appear?

President Michael Crow first conceived of a new

This would allow health care providers to address

approach to science, the Biodesign Institute.

problems before serious—perhaps irreversible—

His vision was simple but bold: throw out the

damage has occurred, with better outcomes and

traditional academic silos between disciplines and

lower costs.

bring together leading biologists, engineers and

“The idea was to change medicine from post-

computational science experts under one roof

symptomatic to pre-symptomatic. To do that, you

to nurture paradigm-shifting advances inspired

have to monitor healthy people and figure out what’s

by nature.

To get an immunosignature, a single drop of blood is spread across an array of 10,000 random sequence peptides. Anything that provokes a change in the antibody portrait—such as exposure to a pathogen or a vaccine—can be seen. A chemical marker causes an antigen-antibody pair to fluoresce, with different colors representing a pair’s binding strength.

Woodbury was among the first scientists recruited to the new institute. He had been at ASU since 1987, studying the early events of photosynthesis, the process through which plants convert sunlight into fuel. He had seen firsthand the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to science,

More than 80 companies have launched based on ASU innovations, and have attracted more than $500 million in external funding, including $40 million in FY2015.

working with a 20-faculty-member team toward unraveling the exact chain of events that occurs in

“I finally came upon this really simple concept,”

those first trillionths of a second when light powers

says Johnston. “And that was, you have millions,


billions of antibodies in your body. And if those

For his next endeavor, Woodbury wanted to

antibodies were always registering your health

contribute to the area of chemical spaces and

status, and we had a way to look at that whole

biological information.

repertoire, to get a signature of your antibodies,

“If you look at the chemistry of biological systems, we actually generate a huge amount of diversity in what life can do from a relatively simple

and do so in a simple way, we might be able to revolutionize diagnostics.” Some of the leading causes of death—both

group of building block chemicals. They are strung

infectious and chronic diseases like cancer—

together to make proteins, to make DNA, to give

give rise to immune responses fairly early in the

rise to much of the diversity of life,” he says.

course of disease. If Johnston and Woodbury

Johnston came to ASU to establish the Center

were right, simply taking a snapshot of the immune

for Innovations in Medicine. He relishes the outlaw

system could provide an in-depth picture of a

role of the scientific disruptor and fit in seamlessly

person’s health.

with Biodesign’s Wild West scientific culture. Johnston came up with the idea that would

The challenge would be to measure this antibody diversity in a single drop of blood or in

lead to the spinout company HealthTell before he

saliva. The team drew inspiration from the computer

came to ASU. But the Biodesign Institute, with

industry, which uses silicon wafer technology for

its mix of expertise and a culture that encouraged

ever-faster and cheaper computer chips.

researchers to try anything, was the ideal environment to bring that idea to fruition.

“The technical problem was how to make these peptide arrays. We knew that if we could display on a small number of peptides from random

A new frontier

space, we could develop what we called an

The idea centered around a huge, untapped

‘immunosignature’ of disease,” says Johnston.

natural resource found in every person—the immune system.

For the first test, in 2006, they contracted with a company called LC Sciences to place 4,000 short pieces of protein, called peptides, in neatly arranged 10-micron (a millionth on an inch) rows on a microscope-sized glass slide. Next, they took blood serum from a test subject and a control to see the differences between the two. “I have to be honest, after those first arrays, I didn’t believe much of any of it,” says Woodbury. “I thought, ‘This looks like it could be anything to me.’ You see a difference in a few peptides out of a

Neal Woodbury (left) and Stephen Johnston (right),

thousand, and you say to yourself, ‘I don’t know.’”

co-directors, the Center for Innovations in Medicine


The initial picture looked like a random bunch

peptides onto ever-denser arrays, first 10,000,

of multi-colored dots on a Lite-Brite toy. One sees

then 100,000, to now, 350,000 peptides on a

different signals with different dots, depending

single chip.

on where the antibodies are binding on the slide.

“The trick was to splay these peptides

The beauty of the innovation is that there is not a

out cheaply, so we went to an Intel-type of

specific antibody for a specific disease, but rather a

manufacturing. We had a number of ideas to

whole picture, or signature, of disease.

work through and spent about 10 years working

“I give Stephen a huge amount of credit for this. He first thought the signal was real and we should pursue it, and was willing to back it all the

on our platform for making the peptide arrays,” says Johnston. This critical stage, leaping from proof-of-

way to the bank,” says Woodbury. “Eventually,

concept to spinout, is often referred to as the

I agreed with him, but had it just been me,

"Valley of Death" for tech startups.

I probably would have said, ‘It’s not enough.’” In fact, differences between the test and control sample in just two spots out of the 4,000 peptides on the array convinced Johnston to forge ahead. VALU E E N TR E P R E N E U R S H I P

“The key was that peptides were from random space—not disease specific,” says Johnston.

In FY2015, ASU innovators • launched 12 new startup companies • received 63 U.S. patents • signed 81 major licensing/ option agreements • filed 270 invention disclosures

“No one thought antibodies would bind to these peptides, let alone be informative.”

“We put the money up initially ourselves to start HealthTell,” says Johnston. “We received some

True grit

good federal contracts with the Department of

Fostering a biotech startup is not for the faint of

Defense initially, and then we brought in a CEO,

heart. “We went out and made investments based

and have steadily grown the company to the point

on our early success that no federal funding

where we are on the brink of commercialization.”

agency would have considered,” says Woodbury. Early stage, high-risk research can be mired in issues of reproducibility and validation. To confront these challenges, Woodbury and

CEO Bill Colston, a Silicon Valley start-up veteran, was attracted to joining HealthTell because of a unique opportunity in the Valley of the Sun. “First off, the genetic space is pretty crowded,

Johnston assembled a posse of pros, including

with dozens of new DNA testing companies,” he

bioinformatics expert Phillip Stafford (who co-

says. “And there is only so much information to get

patented the technology for spearheading the

from genetics. I’ve been interested in getting closer

interpretation of the data), immunologist Kathryn

to where the action is, the immune system. For the

Sykes, and chemists Bart Legutki, Chris Diehnelt,

first time, we can use millions of years of evolution

Zhan-gong Zhao and others.

in the immune system and leverage that biology in

Each member’s expertise was essential to continuing the momentum of the project, expanding the prognostic power of the technology while working out the bugs in the chemistry and costs. Just to enter into the highly competitive

a more universal way. I think you are starting to see that shift with cancer.” HealthTell now employs about 35 people in Chandler, Arizona. Colston has been raising additional capital for HealthTell, with $26 million to

diagnostics marketplace, they needed to reduce

date, according to a recent regulatory filing. The

the costs to $100 a test. And to enhance

company will expand the number of employees to

diagnostic power, they needed to pack more

70 and release its first product by 2017.

Fast draw diagnosis For HealthTell’s tests, only a single microliter of blood—or 1/20 of a drop—is needed. This is spotted onto a piece of filter paper and dropped off in the mail. At HealthTell, the blood is diluted and put on a piece of a silicon wafer.

HealthTell was named “Start-up of the Year” at the Arizona Governor’s Celebration of Innovation in 2012, and more recently by Silicon Valley as one of the top 5 startups to watch.

“The chip is agnostic,” says Johnston. “It just binds to any antibody. Any antibody you put on there will have its own distinctive pattern.” The same chip can be used for all diseases in

20 percent of the patients,” says Colston. “One of the clinical trials better informs physicians on

all species. It detects any type of antibody. There is

how the drugs are working, and we have several

no sample preparation. You can use samples up to

more underway.”

20 years old. And it is 10-100 times more sensitive

One goal is to set up a central lab within

than standard tests on the market, such as ELISA.

HealthTell to handle processing of samples mailed

“When they hear about the technology, most

in from consumers. One of the first areas for

people have the same response,” says Johnston.

consumer diagnostics testing will be for better

“‘This can’t be true. It’s too simple to be true.’ But

detection of autoimmune disorders like lupus and

I assure you it’s true. The signature is reproducible

rheumatoid arthritis.

and informative.” To date, HealthTell has been able to identify Valley Fever and outperform the best diagnostic test on the market. They can distinguish between

“It’s taken a long time, but it’s getting there. There is really no other technology like this out there,” says Johnston. “It’s time to start putting some of those diseases

15 different diseases simultaneously, including

in the rear view mirror,” adds Woodbury. “We would

Alzheimer’s disease, and have tested it on more

really like to put cancer in the rearview mirror or get

than 1,500 individuals with 95 percent accuracy.

it to where it’s manageable. The best way to get it

For the past several years, HealthTell has

to where it’s manageable is to see it earlier.”

focused on improving the performance and reproducibility of the chips.

Learn more

“We are getting great results,” says Colston. “We have two major business lines, a pipeline for pharmaceutical customers that pay us for developing tests for them to make drugs more effective, and the second is a diagnostic program in partnership with physicians for the early detection of infectious disease, cancer and autoimmune disorders.” The pharmaceutical services are designed to fill in the gap in the early years of HealthTell as the future of their commercial diagnostics

The Biodesign B building on ASU’s Tempe campus

marketplace takes shape. Recently, they have been testing a new class of cancer drugs that turn off pieces of immune system inhibitors known as checkpoint inhibitors. “These are very effective but only work on Back to Table of Contents Artist’s rendering of the future Biodesign C building



Student venture advances jaundice treatment globally Millions of babies fail to receive adequate treatment for jaundice each year, particularly in developing countries. ASU entrepreneurs teamed up to create a solution.

In 2012, 21-year-old engineer Sivakumar

Palaniswamy and Vivek Kopparthi, a childhood

Palaniswamy witnessed a heartbreaking sight at

friend and electrical engineer, often spent evenings

a hospital in India: a single halogen bulb hung

discussing societal challenges around them and

from the ceiling, illuminating several newborns in

how their engineering education could help solve

bassinets. The bulb was intended to treat infants

them. When Palaniswamy brought up the scene at

with jaundice.

the hospital, they knew they were on to a problem

Jaundice, a yellow discoloration of the skin, affects nearly 14 million newborns each

that had been largely ignored. In 2013, Kopparthi and Palaniswamy moved

year. It comes from an accumulation of bilirubin,

to the United States to pursue graduate degrees

a byproduct of the breakdown of red blood

at ASU in business management and biomedical

cells. Without treatment, some infants develop

engineering, respectively. They joined forces with

dangerously high levels of bilirubin that can cause

Chase Garrett, a master’s student majoring in

deafness, cerebral palsy and other forms of

business and legal studies, and Deepakshyam

brain damage.

Krishnaraju, a mechanical design engineering

Fortunately, most infant jaundice cases can be treated through phototherapy—exposing a newborn to certain wavelengths of light for prescribed

major, to brainstorm paths to a solution for treating infant jaundice. However, to progress any further, the team

periods of time. However, Palaniswamy quickly

needed funding, mentors and other resources.

realized that a single halogen lamp wasn’t an

Branding themselves as NeoLight, the team

appropriate or adequate solution to the problem.

applied to ASU’s 2014-2015 Edson Student

An idea was born that day in the neonatal unit,

Entrepreneur Initiative and began to develop

one that would grow into a startup company with

technology that would help newborns with jaundice

support from entrepreneurship programs at Arizona

and their families.

State University. “I found out that phototherapy devices were

“We couldn’t have made the progress we made if it hadn’t been for the Edson program,”

either too expensive or required a steady supply of

says Kopparthi. “It not only gave us funding

electricity to provide adequate care to newborns

and desk space, but also access to mentors,

in need, resources that aren’t easily available in a

entrepreneurship training, ASU’s networks and

developing country,” Palaniswamy says. “Infants

Techshop at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center

were suffering due to a condition that is entirely

to build the prototypes ourselves.”

treatable. I realized that the entire approach to treating infant jaundice needed improvement.”


effective jaundice treatment isn’t just a challenge in

The Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative is an ASU student accelerator program that provides seed funding, office space, individualized mentoring and customized services for the most advanced student ventures. From 2005 to 2015, the Edson program has awarded over $2.5 million to more than 250 student startups.

the developing world. “Most of the commonly used phototherapy devices in the U.S. are unwieldy,” says Kopparthi. “Additionally, the technology used doesn’t allow for a quicker and energy-efficient way to treat an infant with jaundice based on the severity of the case.” To address the challenges of treating the condition in radically different parts of the world, the team produced two versions of their device. SunLife, a low-cost, solar-powered version with a simple on-off option, can protect infants from jaundice in low-income regions.


SkyLife is a more expensive and more advanced device, offering multiple levels of light As they built their venture, the team

intensity to treat varying levels of severity of

experienced plenty of growing pains. They quickly

jaundice. Parents of newborns could also use

realized that funding would be hard to come by

SkyLife for at-home treatment to avoid a costly

if they didn’t have a prototype in hand to show

return to the hospital.

potential investors. Then there was the matter of

The team has continued to improve the

their approaching graduations and the temptation

devices, seeking counsel from experts available

of a regular job with a steady income.

through ASU’s mentor networks.

“After the initial few months, it was much

With the help of the university’s investor

harder to keep ourselves motivated,” says

networks, they have raised nearly $600,000 in

Kopparthi. “We’d pitched at least 100 times,

seed funding to gain approval from the U.S. Food

of which only a small percentage of attempts

and Drug Administration. They have also connected

had been successful. It was hard to not have

with medical centers in Phoenix and Los Angeles to

means to support ourselves. However, our families

continue testing the device.

continued to believe in our mission and supported

“ASU supported us so much during our

us financially while our ASU mentors kept

journey that we knew if we couldn’t succeed here,

us motivated.”

we would not be able to do it anywhere else,”

The team developed a working prototype that is slightly bigger than a computer tablet. The device

says Kopparthi. “NeoLight is an example of how much

is fitted with six to 10 LED bulbs that produce a

is possible when a public research university

stronger intensity of light distributed evenly to an

commits to access, student success, research

infant’s entire body. This results in quicker, more

and discovery, and instills a responsibility for

energy-efficient treatment of high bilirubin levels

the communities it serves. An interdisciplinary

with no side effects, such as burns or rashes from

team of engineering and business students who

exposure to ultraviolet light.

can identify a problem, design a solution and

Taking advantage of ASU’s networks and

persist in bringing an idea to life is education at

connections, the startup was able to test the

its best,” says Garret Westlake, associate dean

device at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical

of student entrepreneurship in ASU’s Office of

Center in Phoenix. There, the team discovered that

Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“The passion and purpose with which the NeoLight team works is contagious. NeoLight has inspired their mentors, fellow students, faculty and members of the global community through their unending quest to make the world a better place through design, collaboration and hard work,” he adds. NeoLight is now transitioning from a productbased company to a technology-based company, developing effective treatments for not just infant jaundice but also hypothermia – problems that often go hand in hand. “While major private and public organizations NeoLight team working in their SkySong office space

are targeting bigger health problems, startups like NeoLight are in the unique position of identifying and developing solutions for health challenges that are yet to receive sufficient attention,” says Kopparthi.

Startups and spinoffs from ASU’s entrepreneurial ecosystem raised more than $239 million in external funding from 2012 to 2015.

Using the conscious capitalism model of business that emphasizes purpose beyond profit, they hope to help U.S. hospitals conserve precious resources. They also hope to collaborate with other companies to treat infant jaundice in the developing world. “We don’t see other organizations working

SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, is home to a global business community that links technology, research, education and entrepreneurship to position ASU and Greater Phoenix as global leaders in the knowledge economy. The mixed-use development houses more than 70 tenant companies from 14 countries.

to prevent infant jaundice in developing countries as competition,” says Garrett. “This entirely preventable health condition requires that we support each other and build upon our successes.” “Every year, nearly six million babies suffering from jaundice don’t receive adequate care,” adds Kopparthi. “If we can reduce that number by even a tiny margin, we’d consider ourselves successful.”

Learn more

Back to Table of Contents


Empowering an energy transformation


The transition to a sustainable energy system will generate massive social, economic and environmental transformation. ASU researchers are helping to guide the process in positive ways. Think about all the ways you use energy on a

create significant amounts of pollution, including

typical day. The shower and coffee that kick off

greenhouse gases that contribute to global

your morning require hot water. The clothes you put

climate change.

on were made in a factory run on electricity. You

As a result, transitioning to a more

probably get to work using a car, bus or train that

sustainable energy system is an urgent task.

consumes fuel.

It is also a complex one, because energy is not

Your lunch was transported to the

just a technological phenomenon; it is profoundly

supermarket, stored in a refrigerator and cooked

social. Changing the system that delivers it will

with a stove or microwave. For most people, it

generate far-reaching social, economic and

is easier to list the parts of life that don’t require

environmental transformation.

energy than those that do. Most of this energy (82 percent in the U.S.)

At Arizona State University, researchers from a variety of disciplines—law and policy, economics,

comes from burning fossil fuels: oil, coal and

humanities, engineering, and the physical and

natural gas. Of course, fossil fuels are finite

social sciences—are partnering with businesses

resources that will eventually run out. They also

and policymakers to help guide that transition in a way that is sustainable and equitable.

Ocotillo Power Plant in Tempe, Arizona

Inevitable evolution The energy industry accounts for one-third of the U.S. economy, and the other two-thirds heavily depend on it. Between the economic significance of energy, its multifaceted nature and its centrality to our daily lives, any sort of energy transition is

Clark Miller

going to be “large and complex and messy,” says

associate director for faculty, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Clark Miller, the associate director for faculty in ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS). It is also inevitable, according to ASU

“Thirty years ago it was all conventional oil,”

LightWorks Director Gary Dirks. In fact, it’s

Miller says, referring to oil in liquid form that is

already happening.

easily extracted by drilling a hole.

“The distributed energy model has been

Today, most oil comes from unconventional

heavily promoted–globally, but certainly in the U.S.

sources, embedded in rock in some way. The

and Europe–through government policy in the form

Canadian tar sands are one example. Extracting

of subsidies for both wind and solar power. The

unconventional oil is difficult and expensive.

result is that the majority of new power generation capacity is renewable,” he says. Conventional power stations are large and

“Twenty-five to 50 years from today we will produce and consume energy very differently,” says Miller. “But we don’t know how.”

centralized, requiring electricity to be transmitted over long distances. Distributed systems, on

The social side of energy

the other hand, involve smaller, localized and

This is the challenge. Technology, environments,

increasingly renewable energy sources. This is

social norms and energy resources are all changing

disrupting the business models of traditional

rapidly. We cannot predict where we will end up

energy utilities.

and whether it will be environmentally and socially

“U.S. utilities at the moment are regulated

sustainable. We can, however, work to steer the

monopolies,” says Miller. “They work in a certain

transition in a positive direction. In fact, Miller sees

set of ways, and they’ve got well-developed

it as an opportunity.

rules that govern them that are matched to the

“We can think of clean energy transitions

technologies they’re using. So as they change out

as design problems, where the goal is to design

those technologies, we’re going to have to change

energy systems that help communities thrive,”

all those rules. And that just takes time and energy

he says.

and thought, even if everybody agrees. And then inevitably not everyone agrees,” he says. Despite these challenges, Miller concurs that

For instance, 1.5 billion people lack reliable access to electricity. Miller believes we must address inequalities like this when planning for a

a transition is inevitable. The energy system is

new energy system. This is one reason why policy,

fundamentally unstable, he says, although most

social science and the humanities are essential to

consumers don’t see it. We drive our cars; we

a successful transition: technology alone cannot

don’t necessarily know where or how our gas

ensure an equitable energy system.

is produced.


Miller directs the Energy and Society group, which works with individuals, communities, businesses and regulators to navigate an energy transition and work toward a positive outcome. In his own work, Miller integrates engineering and technology with the social and policy dimensions of energy. For example, he has collaborated with ASU’s Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Engineering Research Center on the sustainability of large-scale C O N D U CT U S E -I N S P I R E D R E S E A R C H

photovoltaic energy production. He also works with the Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy to help Pakistan develop research on energy, policy and society as part of a larger U.S. Agency for International Developmentfunded project. Kristin Mayes, a professor of practice at SFIS and the School of Sustainability, leads ASU’s energy policy efforts. She co-directs the Energy Policy Innovation Council, which informs and educates policymakers on current, complex issues

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz visited ASU in December 2014 and learned about faculty and student energy research.

in energy policy that impact Arizona and beyond. She also co-directs the Powering Tomorrow project, a collaboration among major energy

report begins to outline the kinds of utility industry

industry stakeholders to develop new business

structures and associated regulatory packages that

models and regulations to help the industry

could be helpful as we move into an era of greater

transition smoothly to a decentralized system.

levels of customer-sited distributed generation,

Powering Tomorrow published the results of its second phase of work in January 2016. The

energy efficiency and utility-scale renewable energy.” In its next phase, Powering Tomorrow will bring

report identifies two potential future utility industry

together utilities, third-party energy companies and

structures and lays out a set of regulatory reforms

other stakeholders to draft model regulations and

for each. It also addresses issues affecting low-

legislation needed to implement new utility

income customers in an age of decentralization, as

industry structures.

well as policies for the construction of new highvoltage transmission lines, which many believe will

Flexible tech

be necessary to secure a clean energy future.

Intersecting with all of the social and policy

“Change is happening at a rapid pace in the


aspects of energy is the technology that makes it

energy sector, and how we approach it from a

work. Continued advances in energy technologies

regulatory standpoint will make all the difference to

are needed to transition to a sustainable and

consumers and companies alike,” says Mayes. “This

decentralized energy system.

Nathan Johnson, an assistant professor of

“It allows you to use, for example, small solar

engineering at ASU’s Polytechnic School, develops

panels, large solar panels, different battery sizes and

off-grid solutions, such as microgrids. Just like it

voltages, and different sizes and voltages of electric

sounds, a microgrid is a miniature version of the

loads,” he says.

large electric grids powered by big electric utility companies. “A microgrid is a combination of multiple sources of electricity generation that can be

In other words, the controller allows for phased expansion and room for experimentation without the need to worry about expensive technologies becoming unusable due to changing circumstances.

isolated from a larger electric grid and typically includes renewables, storage and demand response,” explains Johnson. “Microgrids can be used to increase power reliability, provide backup generation, improve renewable penetration, and transfer ownership of energy production and management to a local entity or possibly an individual.” Nathan Johnson assistant professor, the Polytechnic School

Johnson is also working on a universal charge controller, which allows different technologies to work together. This unifying hardware can help manage energy transitions by allowing for flexibility in the types of energy technologies and business models used by different groups.

A microgrid at Johnson’s testbed, developed through a partnership with NRG Renew. The containerized microgrid is designed for rapid deployment during disaster response. It can be packed and shipped, then deployed in a few hours to provide reliable power to a clinic or mobile command center. credit: Nathan Johnson


Johnson’s team operates a half-acre microgrid

“Change is inevitable. The question is, what

testbed on ASU’s Polytechnic campus, where

is the goal and what is our trajectory to reach that

they perfect their designs and take them from

goal?” Johnson asks. “We seek to provide the

concepts to physical reality. The testbed includes a

strategic foundation and practical stepping stones

Sustainable Community space, which incorporates

to see the energy transition through.”

various dwellings from around the world to offer a confluence of engineering, culture, social norms and environmental constraints to mimic real living conditions in developing countries. There, the team tests solar home systems, battery charging stations C O N D U CT U S E D -I N S P I R E D R E S E A R C H

and a remotely controlled DC microgrid, among other things. In order to get their work to the people who need it, the researchers partner with multiple private companies. For example, they collaborated

Gary Dirks

with the Scottsdale company NRG Energy to

director, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU LightWorks

create a containerized microgrid for use in disaster relief, inspired by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The microgrid is relatively portable and can be used to power medical stations or villages, for example. The team also contracted with the IEEE Smart Village project to bring reliable power to people currently going without. “Our hardware—namely the universal charge controller—is meant to be a key piece in the progression of IEEE Smart Village's efforts to provide electricity to 50 million people,” says Johnson. The team is also involved with the NEPTUNE program, sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research. The program supports research on optimizing energy systems while also providing skills and experience to military personnel and veterans. Johnson is currently training 25 veterans on microgrid design and operation. They will be

ASU LightWorks pulls light-inspired research at the university under one strategic framework. It is a multidisciplinary effort that supports the discovery and design of energy systems that convert sunlight into useful and sustainable products. ASU’s solar energy projects explore: • • • • •

Photovoltaics Solar thermal Photosynthetic microbial biofuels Artificial photosynthesis Energy and society

prepared to succeed in a field with tremendous future potential and value.

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59 59

‘Pharming’ tobacco to beat Ebola


The Ebola virus has devastated communities for 40 years without a vaccine or cure. One promising new approach, pioneered at ASU, grows a treatment in plants.

September 1976: In the remote village of Yambuku,

outbreak is the largest epidemic of the disease in

in the north of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic

history, claiming over 11,000 lives.

of Congo), a mysterious disease outbreak ravages

In the nearly 40 years since Ebola first struck

the community. The disease, a type of hemorrhagic

the tiny village of Yambuku, no vaccine or treatment

fever, starts with a fever, severe headache, and joint

has been developed to prevent or cure the disease.

and muscle pain. This is followed by vomiting and

Charles Arntzen, a plant biologist, infectious

diarrhea. Later, the “hemorrhagic” part may set in,

disease specialist and founding director of Arizona

with internal and external bleeding. The agonizing

State University’s Biodesign Institute, grimly recalls

disease is fatal in up to ninety percent of cases.

the moment in 2014 when Ebola reemerged from

An international team dispatched to the region hunts down the culprit: a highly contagious,

its refuge in the African bush. “Hearing that the virus was once again

thread-like virus that has never been seen before.

causing disease and death was not surprising,

They name the new pathogen after a nearby river

but seeing the rapid spread as it entered densely

snaking through the region: Ebola. The word means

populated cities was scary,” he says.

“black river” in Lingala, the local language. In the following decades, more than 20 similar outbreaks occur. January 2014: The still-obscure disease

At the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, Arntzen had been pursuing a way to develop low-cost vaccines and therapeutics to fight infectious diseases in the

strikes again, this time blazing across the country of

developing world by growing them in plants, or

Guinea before radiating to neighboring Liberia and

“pharming.” His plant of choice is tobacco, a fast-

Sierra Leone. Hospitals are overrun as desperate

growing, large-leafed organism that Arntzen says

efforts to contain the spread of Ebola are outpaced

is an ideal bio-factory for producing disease-

by the virus’s implacable wave of destruction. The

fighting proteins.

They name the new pathogen after a nearby river snaking through the region: Ebola. The word means “black river” in Lingala, the local language.


2,187 dead 60% fatality

Sierra Leone Liberia

3,655 dead 33% fatality 4,162 dead 58% fatality

World Health Organization (Dec 2013 – Feb 2016)


“You need a living system to manufacture

In 2001, with funding from the U.S. Army,

proteins, and we tried a number of plants,” Arntzen

Arntzen set out to design a manufacturing system

says. “But we settled on tobacco because it

that could be rapidly mobilized, producing drugs

produces a lot of biomass quickly, and there is

that could be stockpiled and deployed in the event

a lot known about viruses that infect it. We

of a bioterror emergency. His ASU research team

reengineer these plant-infecting viruses and design

collaborated with Larry Zeitlin and Kevin Whaley

them to make the proteins we want.

of Mapp Biopharmaceutical, a small San Diego-

The tobacco plant becomes a Xerox machine

based startup.

producing a massive amount of the drugs, such as monoclonal antibodies.” C O N D U CT U S E -I N S P I R E D R E S E A R C H

In addition to naturally occurring disease

In 2011, Arntzen and his colleagues at Mapp published back-to-back papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Recognizing

outbreaks, another threat plagued researchers and public health officials, coming into sharp focus in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Publications by former Russian scientists described how pathogens like Ebola could potentially be weaponized and unleashed on

Charles Arntzen was ranked #1 among Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” in 2015.

populations in acts of bioterrorism.

“It’s been a creative wonderland within the Biodesign Institute that has allowed us to chase ideas that maybe initially sounded a little crazy.” – Charles Arntzen, Regents' Professor, School of Life Sciences

the possibility of an Ebola disaster, they proposed a novel means of combating the virus, using plantmade vaccines and antibodies to bind with and neutralize it. Experiments using a mouse model

The U.S. government has awarded $25 million for a massive manufacturing scale-up of ZMapp.

demonstrated that both a tobacco-derived vaccine as well as a potent cocktail of plant-derived monoclonal antibodies (plantibodies) could produce a robust, system-wide response to Ebola. The vaccine could inoculate the recipient against future exposure to the virus, while the antibodies could be used as a post-exposure therapeutic. Subsequent research showed the protective potential of the new therapy, called ZMapp. In animal studies, ZMapp offered 100 percent protection from Ebola virus disease, even five days after the onset of infection. The 2014 catastrophe in West Africa reinvigorated concerns about the threat of emergent pathogens. The lethality of the virus, combined with a crippled health infrastructure in the afflicted region, produced a deadly mix. Additionally, local burial customs that accelerated spread of disease and lack of adequate protection for medical personnel created a perfect storm. In a remarkable turn of events, ZMapp would face its ultimate test. Under the provisions of compassionate use, intravenous doses of ZMapp were delivered to physician Kent Brantly and health care worker Nancy Writebol. The pair had been infected with Ebola while serving as volunteers

The experimental drug was used in a desperate effort to save the two Ebola patients, even as their families were contemplating funeral arrangements. Both patients made a remarkable turnaround within hours of receiving treatment and were transported home to the U.S., where both made a full recovery. “When I heard the details of the recovery of these two health care workers, it was an amazing moment,” Arntzen recalls. “It was possible to draw a straight line from a bench-top idea that many would have called zany, to a life-saving event.” Arntzen stresses that ZMapp’s startling results to date must still be experimentally and statistically replicated. Mapp has been granted approval to conduct human clinical trials to fully assess the drug’s effectiveness. Meanwhile, Arntzen’s Biodesign colleagues, including Qiang “Shawn” Chen, Hugh Mason and Tsafrir Mor, continue to pursue plant-based vaccines and therapeutics to combat other health threats such as West Nile virus, dengue fever, nerve agents and even cancer.

in Africa.

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Students build ability through CUbiC


Whether they are creating training tools for surgeons or assistive devices for the visually impaired, students in ASU’s CUbiC lab are enhancing many people’s abilities while developing their own.

When Troy McDaniel was a senior at Arizona State

Undergraduate and even high school students

University, he thought he had the next chapter of

are welcome in the lab, where they are paired up

his life planned out. After completing his bachelor’s

with graduate student researchers based on their

degree in computer science, he would enter the

skills and interests.

workforce and find a job in the programming industry. But a few months before graduation,

Simulating surgery

McDaniel started an independent study at ASU’s

As an undergraduate, McDaniel wanted to explore

Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing

the world of computer simulations and multimedia

(CUbiC), and his whole plan changed.

information systems. He took a class co-taught by

The center focuses on machine learning and

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, the founding

pattern recognition, human-computer interaction

director of CUbiC, and was inspired by a lecture

and haptics, with applications for assistive and

to join the lab. Through his independent study,

rehabilitative technologies.

McDaniel had the opportunity to apply his

“The idea of developing something that could go toward helping someone with an impairment was really motivating to me,” McDaniel says.

research interests and help surgical residents at a local hospital.

Specifically, the residents were training for laparoscopic surgery. This type of procedure, also called bandaid or keyhole surgery, is minimally invasive for the patient but can be challenging for surgeons. “They have to hone some very precise skills,” McDaniel says. “Instead of opening the abdomen up, you make small incisions, stick the tools in, get

ASU alumnus Shantanu Bala

the work done and get out of there.” Because the incision is so small, surgeons

science and rejoined CUbiC as a student

must develop precision fine-motor skills. They

researcher. He began exploring ways to help

practice by using the surgical tools to perform

visually impaired people have more enriching

certain tasks, like placing a ring on a peg.

social interactions.

McDaniel and his mentors at CUbiC saw an

Sighted people take for granted a multitude

opportunity to improve the training procedures.

of visual cues that enhance interpersonal

The team connected the laparoscopic surgery

communication. These include the location of

tools to a device that could provide haptic, or

others, which way they are facing, body language,

touch-based, feedback. This mimicked what the

facial expressions and hand gestures. Bala wanted

residents would feel during an actual surgery.

to develop technology that could convey

McDaniel developed a simulated graphical

facial expressions.

model of surgeons’ hand movements, driven

“We were looking for some way of

by “cybergloves,” which are wearable gloves

communicating information that wouldn’t interrupt

embedded with sensors for detecting joint angles

the conversation,” Bala says, “You can’t really wear

in the fingers.

headphones or have a speaker or something like

“We were able to capture how many mistakes

that, so we were left with the sense of touch and

they made, how much time it took, and provide

figuring out how to communicate things entirely

some real-time feedback,” McDaniel says.

through touch.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree,

The CUbiC team developed and tested two

McDaniel continued his studies and ultimately

devices to address this challenge. One is a chair

received his PhD from ASU with Panchanathan as

connected to a camera. When a visually impaired

his advisor. He secured a postdoctoral fellowship

person sits in the chair, the camera can record

that turned into an assistant research professorship

another person’s facial expression and send that

and led to his current role as associate director of

information, based on a predefined visual-tactile

CUbiC. Now, McDaniel mentors other students so

mapping, to vibrotactile motors on the chair.

they can experience and benefit from research in

The motors cause the chair to vibrate in different

the lab.

formations to indicate a smile, frown or other facial expression, helping the user better gauge

"Seeing" through touch One of these students was Shantanu Bala.

the interaction. Another device Bala worked on is a variation

As a high school student, Bala was interested

of the cyberglove. Instead of mimicking the

in assistive and rehabilitative technologies.

sensations of surgery, Bala’s glove provides haptic

He volunteered at CUbiC for two years to gain

feedback in the shape of a facial expression on

experience and learn more about the field. After

the back of a user’s hand. It is another option for

graduating from high school, he enrolled at ASU

visually impaired people who are unable to access

with a double major in psychology and computer

visual, nonverbal cues during social interactions.


Haptics to Enhance Social Interactions

Bala worked at CUbiC for a total of six years – two during high school and four as an ASU undergraduate. The semester before he graduated with his bachelor’s degree, Bala was offered a Thiel Fellowship. These competitive awards are marketed as an incentive for talented young entrepreneurs to drop out of school and pursue their ventures full-time. Bala, however, was able to finish his studies and start the fellowship after graduating instead. Now, he’s continuing the assistive technology work he started at CUbiC, this time with a wearable wristband he hopes to patent and bring to market. The device is similar to a smart watch, except it


doesn’t have a screen. Instead, it communicates via Troy McDaniel (right) developing wearable cyberphysical systems for stroke rehabilitation with undergraduate student Bijan Fakhri

sensations that move across the skin. For example, if the user is following directions and needs to make a left turn, the wristband can provide those cues entirely through the haptic feedback. Like McDaniel, Bala was inspired to pursue research at CUbiC because he wanted to help people. “I don’t think I would be as engaged with the research if I felt that the end product wouldn’t be contributing to someone’s life in a very tangible way,” Bala says. “It makes me feel much better about the work, and I really enjoyed working with people at CUbiC because everybody has that shared goal or shared enthusiasm for building projects like that.”

VibroGlove (2010)

Do-it-yourself solutions Other students at CUbiC have been motivated by a problem they were facing firsthand. That was the case for ASU student David Hayden, a double major in computer science and mathematics. Hayden is legally blind, and his impaired vision was hindering his ability to keep up in his upper-division math

Haptic Chair (2014)

ASU alumnus David Hayden (left) and Notetaker (right)

Troy McDaniel (front) and Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan

Hayden is now a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working on computer vision and machine learning projects. He wants to use technology to improve social interactions for people at all levels of the ability spectrum. “I imagine wearable computers that stay out of our way, that don’t interrupt us when we’re engaging with others, but at small points in time classes. He had an optics piece that made the board easier to see, but would lose a lot of time between looking up and reading the board, then looking back down to write his notes. “I was struggling with the assistive technologies that already existed, and at some point I realized they just weren’t solving my problems,” Hayden says. Hayden approached Panchanathan to find out if the CUbiC team had a solution, but

can give us little bits of useful information just in the moment,” Hayden says. For him, disability has been a personal “call to arms” to create solutions. Hayden credits CUbiC for providing the tools he needed to solve his own challenges. “CUbiC was really a nurturing space for me to build a worldview that enabled me and continues to enable me to work on technological solutions to everyday problems, whether they’re for people who are disabled or not.”

Panchanathan had a different idea. “I said, ‘You’re a very bright student. Why don’t you come and work in my lab with the other students to see how we can solve this problem? Who better understands this problem than you?’” Panchanathan recalls. Hayden rose to the challenge. Working with a team of mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and industrial designers, he conceived an idea and secured funding from the National Science Foundation to help bring it to fruition. He developed a device that combines a custom-built camera and a tablet computer. The camera can zoom and tilt as needed to capture a classroom lecture. It uploads video footage to the tablet, which has a split-screen interface. That way, the user can watch the video on one half of the screen and make typed or handwritten notes on the other half simultaneously. Hayden called the device NoteTaker. After he graduated from ASU, his team formed a company to make the invention widely available. Today, about 50 people ranging in age from 7 to 55 are using NoteTaker. Hayden’s team also won first place in the Software Design category of the Microsoft

Pamela Robles-Franco, an undergraduate student in civil engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, spent six weeks working in the CUbiC lab on technology to help with stroke rehabilitation. Robles was among the first class of Mexican students traveling to the U.S. in 2013 as part of President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative.

Imagine Cup U.S. Finals, and then went on to take second place in the same category of the Imagine Cup World Finals.

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A global look at how we treat water People’s attitudes and perceptions affect conservation efforts as much as scientific knowledge. ASU students are exploring how different cultures perceive wastewater reuse.

Over the past century, the amount of water that humans use has increased at more than twice the rate of our burgeoning population. In many places, we are draining clean freshwater sources faster than we can replenish them. And one out of every nine people in the world does not have access to safe drinking water. Everyone can agree that clean water is a precious resource. That consensus breaks down, however, when it comes to how we should conserve it. Arizona State University student Sarah Patel has been exploring differing views about water over the past two-and-a-half years. Patel is an undergraduate researcher in the Culture, Health and Environment Lab, part of ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change (SHESC). For her honors thesis, she used data from the 2013 Global Ethnohydrology Survey to examine how people from different cultures perceive wastewater. The survey is part of a transdisciplinary, multiyear study of water issues around the globe, led by SHESC anthropologists Amber Wutich and Alexandra Brewis Slade. Patel’s research sites— Guatemala, Fiji, New Zealand and Spain—provide a cross-section of cultures in both developed and developing countries. Through interviews with local residents, Patel analyzed people’s attitudes and perceptions about wastewater. She also studied drawings the participants made depicting the routes they thought wastewater should take to become drinkable again. Wastewater is water that has been contaminated by human activities. In the United States, most wastewater is treated to remove harmful substances and then discharged into the ground, lakes or reservoirs. Eventually it returns to our water supply, but the process can take years, and the water may end up far from where it was released.



A student researcher gathers data in Fiji for the Global Ethnohydrology Survey.

Scientists have made great strides in

At all four sites, people were more inclined to

developing methods to filter wastewater. In

consider reusing wastewater in order to preserve the

fact, treatment technology can produce water

resource for future generations. Participants from all

that is cleaner than the bottled water sold in

four countries also said they would use the treated

stores. Scientifically speaking, recycling treated

water if it would help save wildlife in the local rivers

wastewater directly into the water supply could be

and streams.

part of the solution to water scarcity. In fact, a few communities are already doing this. But science is only part of the answer. Even if health experts say that water is clean enough to drink, that doesn’t mean people will. “Even the most purified water, that had

“Most of the people we interviewed were geared toward sustainability and preventing shortages for the future,” Patel says. In Fiji and Guatemala, cost was another motivating factor for participants. This was not the case for the majority of respondents in Spain

one part out of 1,000 parts wastewater, was

or New Zealand, where participants expressed

still deemed undrinkable by a percentage of

the highest levels of disgust associated with

people in all four research sites,” Patel says. This

wastewater reuse.

phenomenon is widely known as the “yuck factor.” Patel also found that participants in both Spain

Patel is a senior in ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College, double majoring in global health and

and Guatemala were concerned about health

political science. As a pre-med student, she joined

risks associated with wastewater reuse. With high

the Culture, Health and Environment Lab to develop

levels of wastewater treatment in Spain, however,

a global, culturally sensitive view of health issues.

health issues are less of a risk there than at sites in developing countries such as Guatemala. “In Guatemala, the site that was chosen was in

“Sarah was selected from a competitive pool of 30 applicants to intern in the lab,” says Amber Wutich, an associate professor in SHESC,

a rural location where the community was used to

who co-directs the lab. “She immediately set

seeing contaminated water or wastewater near and

herself apart from other students with her reliability

around villages,” Patel says.

and efficiency.”

Sarah Patel was selected to present a research poster at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. She has also been accepted to the M.D. program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix.

Sarah Patel displays her research findings.

Patel says she appreciates the opportunity

fascinating. It shows how ingrained gender roles

that undergraduate research provided her to work

are in our society and how girls are taught from a

independently and explore a project more deeply

young age to take on the domestic role—even when

than she could in a semester-long class. But she

it comes to something as seemingly simple as

says the best part has been getting to know the

using water,” Vins says.

other students in the lab. One those students is Holly Vins. A double

After graduating, Vins pursued a Master of Public Health degree at Emory University and now

major in global health and justice studies, Vins

works for the Centers for Disease Control and

worked in the Culture, Health and Environment Lab

Prevention. She helps support disease surveillance

during her junior and senior years. She helped lead

projects at the National Center for Immunization

a project called “The Science of Water Art,” which

and Respiratory Diseases. Vins credits her

became the foundation for her honors thesis. Vins

undergraduate research experience at ASU

published her findings as first author in the peer-

with inspiring her to pursue a career in public

reviewed journal “Human Organization.”

health. She still remembers the rush of her first

“We asked about 1,500 Arizona 9- to 11-yearolds to draw how they view water being used in

“aha” moment. “That project was really like my baby,” Vins

their lives today and in the future,” Vins says. She

says. “I learned so much from that struggle and

used codes, developed collaboratively in the lab, to

then that moment of clarity when it all came

analyze the drawings based on what they depicted,

together. It’s a feeling that’s so hard to beat—

such as pollution, vegetation, water scarcity or

even now.”

commercial water use. Vins found that many kids had negative views of the future. The drawings also displayed interesting gender differences. “Girls were a lot more likely to draw domestic uses of water, which I thought was really

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Complexity: More than the sum of its parts ASU’s interdisciplinary approach offers an ideal environment for studying the complex systems underpinning life, society and advanced technology.


f ” t o en. n e fm em o ov ess m n he mad t e lat t the ton u w c al t no c Ne c a u Isa n ca , b “I tars ted to u s ib




th hat ph at I Ne un en un wto de om der n w –D rs en st av ta a an as id nd –p d sa Kr ak co hys com yin au g m ic er, pl s– plic wa pr e es xi bu ate s ide ty t I nt .” ca d ,S an n’ ta t F eI





When birds


fly together in a flock they seem to move as one—a great serpent in the sky, twisting about as if controlled by one brain.

Systems to advance understanding of problems that stretch across complex systems. It is one of four centers

Then again, aren’t individual humans made up of a

under the umbrella of ASU’s Biosocial Complexity

vast number of cells, each with its own life? Maybe

Initiative. The others are the Center for Social

that flock in the sky is a serpent of sorts, and all the

Dynamics and Complexity (CSDC); the Simon A.

birds are its “cells.” Perhaps people are cells in the

Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling

“organism” of a city.

Sciences Center; and the Center for Behavior,

The science of understanding such systems of interdependent parts is aptly named “complexity.”

Institutions and the Environment. Michael Barton, director of the CSDC, likes

The field is young, highly interdisciplinary by

to use the metaphor of a watch when introducing

necessity and so cutting-edge it is often off the

the concept of complex systems (CS).

edge of the map. But many of the challenges

“If you dismantle [a watch] and study the parts

we face today involve complexity. Arizona State

separately, it would be very difficult to understand

University is transforming the way we study the

what it does or how it does it,” says Barton, a

dynamics of these interconnected social and

professor of anthropology in ASU’s School of

natural systems.

Human Evolution and Social Change. The pieces of a watch working together and

What is complexity?

creating a timepiece is an example of emergence,

The Santa Fe Institute, an independent research

just like cells creating higher-order life forms.

and education center that addresses complex

An emergent system can’t be broken down into

problems, defines complexity as “the evolved order

individual parts, because the system behavior

inherent in the living world.” This order occurs

does not arise directly from the individual pieces.

in “ubiquitous patterns that repeat throughout living nature: networks, conflict and cooperation, distributed decision-making, the structured flow of energy, and elements of invention and novelty. These patterns are found at all scales, from the molecular, through tissues, individuals, technology, the economy, and cultures.” In 2015, ASU and the Santa Fe Institute launched the ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial

Michael Barton, director, the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity


Emergence is one of the characteristic properties of CS. Others include dynamic interactions and hierarchical or nested groups– often represented using networks. These shared characteristics are the best way to identify a CS and the closest thing to a definition the field has. Many of the complexity programs around the country, which are rare, emphasize computation and networks—sort of the pure physics of complexity. ASU is a leader in exploring complex adaptive systems in the life and social sciences. A complex adaptive system (CAS) is a type of CS. A watch is a CS, but not a CAS. If it is submerged in water or if one of the gears breaks, F U S E I N TE L L E CTUAL D I S C I P L I N E S

it cannot adapt to the situation. It simply ceases to function. A CAS, however, will react to changes in both its internal and external environments. “Although most of the universe is not a CAS, a lot of the universe that we are most concerned with is a CAS. This includes all life, all society (that emerges out of living CAS), and the technological systems that we depend on (that emerge out of social CAS),” says Barton. “Trying to understand these important systems as a CAS gives us better insight into how they work, how they break down, how they can be improved and how they change.” Adaptive insects One example of a CAS is a colony of social insects, such as ants, bees, wasps or termites. Yun Kang, an associate professor of mathematics in ASU’s College of Letters and Sciences, is developing a network model of division of labor in social insects to examine how adaptive complexity arises within colonies.

Yun Kang, associate professor, College of Letters and Sciences

She collaborates with Jennifer Fewell, a behavioral ecologist in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, and Dieter Armbruster, an applied mathematician in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, on the National Science Foundation-funded project. The researchers combine their modeling approach with empirical tests of how differently sized insect colonies regulate the division of labor. They have discovered that small colonies invest more resources into colony growth, directing more worker ants toward riskier jobs like foraging. In larger colonies, more workers perform safer tasks inside the colony. The team also found that “social interactions among different task groups play an important role in shaping task allocation, depending on the relative cost and demands of the tasks,” according to Kang. Social insects make excellent research subjects for studying complexity. “They live in intricately governed societies that rival our own in complexity and internal cohesion,” says Kang. “For example, ant and bee colonies can select the best among several nest sites that differ along multiple dimensions by a consensus-decisionmaking process that resembles a voting procedure.” In 2009, ASU biologist Stephen Pratt explored this decision-making process among ants and found that the insects can actually make more rational choices than humans. “This paradoxical outcome is based on apparent constraint: most individual ants know of only a single option, and the colony’s collective choice self-organizes from interactions among many poorly informed ants,” explains Pratt, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences.

Stephen Pratt, associate professor, School of Life Sciences


When choosing where to nest, each ant typically visits only one site. An ant will rate a site’s

targeted drug delivery,” says Berman, an assistant

suitability and return to the colony to “advertise”

professor in the School for Engineering of Matter,

its value. The more she likes it, the more she tells

Transport and Energy.

other ants about it. They then visit the site and might come back and advertise it more. Anyone who uses the Internet is familiar

Kang also envisions many opportunities for applying insect-based models to human problems. “Research on how information spreads can

with this kind of positive feedback loop. Google

be applied to looking at how disease spreads and

ranks websites in part based on how many other

looking at how social insects restrict the spread

sites link to them. Many sites promote their “most

of disease can be beneficial to disease control

popular” content, leading even more viewers to

in cities,” she says. “Furthermore, balancing efficient

look at it. Social media sharing has similar effects.

movement and communication within the colony

But what’s popular on the Internet isn’t always the content with the highest quality or accuracy. The fact that ants don’t make comparisons F U S E I N TE L L E CTUAL D I S C I P L I N E S

micro-nano scale, such as medical imaging and

with effective nest defense could have military applications.” Kang and her team have already developed

between options actually helps them to make more

a set of network and multiscale models to test

rational decisions than people do. When Pratt

hypotheses on how social groups function and on

forced ants to consider multiple options, they made

dynamical behavior. They used empirical tests of

the same irrational decisions that humans make.

insect colonies to help refine their models, which are general enough to be applied to human societies.

Applied ant algorithms

Armbruster has used similar models to examine

Studying insect societies can enhance our

social interactions among the Maasai people of

understanding of complex human social and

Kenya and Tanzania.

technological systems, with a multitude of potential

They are also interested in the origins of

applications. For example, ASU engineer Spring

cooperative behavior. The team is comparing

Berman has enlisted Pratt’s help in developing

two species of ants, one in which queens start

effective multi-robot systems, or robot “swarms,”

colonies on their own and another in which queens

that imitate the ways social animals act individually

work together.

and collaboratively to achieve a common goal. “I’m excited to be working in swarm robotics because it’s a fairly new and highly interdisciplinary field, with many applications ranging from environmental monitoring, exploration and disaster response to biomedical applications at the

“What causes them to collaborate?” Kang asks.

In Fewell’s lab, normally solitary queens are

factors and decisions,” says Sander van der Leeuw,

being paired up to see what types of environments

co-director of the Biosocial Complexity Initiative

might encourage collaboration to take place. The

and a foundation professor in the School of Human

results of their project could help answer questions

Evolution and Social Change.

about human cooperation. Cooperation and other interactions that take place between individuals can have a big effect on the behavior of a system as a whole. This goes back to the themes of hierarchy and emergence. If one cog doesn’t fit with another, the whole watch breaks. If one bird flies out of sync, the flock’s flight pattern changes. If one cell goes rogue, the body develops cancer. Complexity research can help us address local and global challenges from traffic jams to climate

ASU’s complexity research includes topics such as: • Predicting pandemics • Decision-making and collective action • Developing more sustainable human-land interactions • Predicting and directing innovation • Urbanization

change, from local disease outbreaks to the global spread of extremist violence. “As an overall theme, I think we can argue that

To address these challenges, ASU has created

[ASU’s complexity research] is about developing a

its own complex network of collaboration and

new vision for solving so-called ‘hairy’ problems–

innovation, connecting scholars from many disciplines

problems for which there are no easy solutions

and creating new paths for modern research.

because they are too complex, involving too many

Learn more

Back to Table of Contents


Arts and culture harmonize with health


By infusing health care with humanities, ASU researchers and community partners are making a positive impact on people’s health and well-being.

Phoenix Symphony musicians perform varied repertoires for residents of the Huger Living Mercy Center. credit: The Phoenix Symphony

A violinist bows an expectant note as she tunes

loud or quietly meditative. Soon, even the people

her instrument alongside other Phoenix Symphony

who seemed unaware of the performance become

musicians. They assume the “ready” position,

actively engaged.

waiting for the cue to begin. The small group sitting

Music can help people living with Alzheimer’s

before them in a semi-circle is a somewhat unique

connect to long-term memories and emotions in a

audience. It is made up of men and women living

positive way, according to David Coon, associate

with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia,

vice provost and professor in ASU’s College of

their professional caregivers, and a few family

Nursing and Health Innovation.

members. They are participants in Arizona State

“Music is capable of improving the quality of

University’s Music & Memory project at the Huger

life of individuals with dementia, even at the end of

Living Mercy Center, an assisted living facility.

their life,” says Coon.

The musicians begin their piece, an energetic and upbeat melody. Some of the men and women clap along to the lively tune as music fills the room.

Or as one family member eloquently states: “Music is the key to their memory door.” Listening to music can also be a positive

Others, at first, look past the performers as if they

experience for the loved ones and caregivers

are not there.

of people living with Alzheimer’s, who can be

As the concert continues, the musicians vary the repertoire with pieces that are triumphantly

under a great deal of stress. Family members described music as a shared experience and a

vital communication tool across the trajectory of Alzheimer’s. “Music is the guide in many ways...for them, for us, or for anyone,” one of them noted. The power of music to evoke emotions and memories and to ease suffering is at the heart of the Music & Memory project, a partnership between ASU health and music therapy researchers, the Phoenix Symphony and the Huger Mercy Living Center. It is one of several medical humanities

credit: The Phoenix Symphony

efforts at ASU that bring together experts from health-related fields, arts and humanities to create new types of care and outreach that have a profound impact on people’s lives. Coon leads the Music & Memory project with colleagues Robin Rio, director of the ASU Music Therapy Clinic in the School of Music, and Marianne

ASU ranks #18 in the nation for humanities research expenditures. – National Science Foundation HERD Survey FY2014

McCarthy, associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. In the beginning of the project, the musicians

As Alzheimer’s advances, a person needs help with even the most personal tasks, such as bathing.

performed planned selections, but progressively the

This can be stressful for both resident and caregiver.

music became more improvised and responsive to

Knowing this, the researchers used bathing as an

the residents. From fight songs to hymns to complex

event for assessing stress levels. They collected

classical pieces, the musicians took cues from the

saliva samples before and after bath time on days

residents about what music to play. When someone

with and without a symphony performance.

requested a polka, the performers readily complied. The study evaluated the effect of live music

Their results indicate that listening to live music improved the mood of people living with Alzheimer’s

on the moods of residents, caregivers, musicians

immediately after performances and also likely

and loved ones before and after performances. The

helped to ease stress at other times, such as during

caregivers, musicians and loved ones rated their

a bath. The moods of musicians, caregivers and

own moods, while a nurse or activity coordinator

loved ones were also more likely to be positive after

evaluated the residents.

a performance. The musicians said they felt the

In addition, researchers collected saliva samples from participants before and after some symphony performances. Scientists from ASU’s

project had a profound impression on them, both personally and with regard to their music. Watching the performances, Coon witnessed

Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience

the emotional impacts firsthand. For example, he

Research analyzed these samples for known

remembers one couple getting up to dance to

biomarkers of stress, giving further insight into the

“their song.”

effect of music on mood.

Another time, a friend of one of the residents entered the room during a performance, but paused when he saw his friend actively engaging with the music. With tears in his eyes, the man said to Coon, "I haven’t seen [my friend] like this in five years. He is alive and connected in a way that I haven’t seen

David Coon, associate vice provost and professor, College of Nursing and Health Innovation

in five years. I’m going to leave and not let him know I was here today, because I want him to stay in this moment and not be pulled into a moment with me.” 79

Mero Cocinero (the People’s Cook)

Where theater and food intersect

theater piece together, they are also promoting

Another aspect of human experience

behavior that will help prevent type 2 diabetes.

that can be profoundly emotional is food—both cooking and eating it. In ASU’s teaching kitchens in downtown Phoenix, a different kind of

A tall white chef’s hat bobs energetically about the room as the lead chef demonstrates tortillamaking techniques or asks someone to elaborate on a meal or recipe they remember. The man

music fills the air. The din of cooking activity is

beneath the hat calls himself Mero Cocinero, the

peppered with the sounds of friendly conversation.

People’s Cook. Periodically, he gestures broadly

Just an hour ago the white-aproned amateur chefs knew each other only casually. Now they are cooking shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing stories inspired by the food, such as eating nopales cactus and making tortillas with their grandmothers. They also discuss their roles in the cooking show they will record. As the group cooks, shares and later crafts a

with a wooden cooking spoon or praises the participants in a booming voice. The role of Mero Cocinero is played by Robert Karimi, a chef and performance artist. He joined faculty from ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the School of Transborder Studies to create Cultural Engagements in Nutrition, Arts and Sciences (CENAS, which is the Spanish word for “dinners”). CENAS combines theatermaking and cooking to promote behavior changes linked to healthy eating and diabetes prevention in populations at risk for the disease. At the same time, the program honors the cultural food pathways each participant brings to the table. Tamara Underiner is associate dean for research in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. She leads CENAS with colleagues Seline Szkupinski-Quiroga, faculty research affiliate with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center; and Stephani Etheridge Woodson, associate professor in the School of Film,


of eating, which recommends filling half a plate with vegetables, one-quarter with starches and one-quarter with protein. Karimi emphasizes that eating culturally important foods is not inherently unhealthy, a message that some of the participants Tamara Underiner, associate dean for research, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

unfortunately have received, even from medical doctors. Instead, he explains, returning to the recipes and foods cooked by older generations

Dance and Theatre. The research is supported by

and based in ethnic cuisine can be both healthy

the National Endowment for the Arts and by ASU’s

and empowering.

Institute for Humanities Research. The team designed the research methods and cooking curriculum for CENAS to evaluate the impact of a series of lively, immersive cooking

“Food is the beginning, not the end. Food is both educational and is bringing the community together through food culture and joy,” says Karimi. After the cooking experiences, participants

experiences on the attitudes and behavior of

reported eating more fruits and vegetables and

participants. Over a three-week period, students,

having a more open attitude towards healthy eating.

community leaders and professionals in south

Importantly, participants also reported viewing

Phoenix donned aprons and began to mix, mince

healthy eating as a practice they could embrace

and marinate under the direction of Mero Cocinero.

and one that made them feel empowered.

Mero Cocinero enthusiastically guided

Quantifying the effects of theater-making

participants to put on cooking shows, role-play as

on behavior change and healthy eating is novel in

farmers or chefs, or learn a new skill in the kitchen.

the field of medicine. The results of this study are

With encouragement from Karimi and trained ASU

now being used to design broader intervention

students, participants shared stories about the

research that will comply with National Institutes

recipes their grandmothers made, favorite holiday

of Health standards.

foods and memories of a childhood garden. “Making theater together, honoring the stories

Karimi likens ASU’s transdisciplinary culture to the comedy improvisation rule of “yes, and,”

your grandmother told while she was cooking the

which commands actors to consider unexpected

beans over the cook stove, those are the kinds

outcomes and to collaborate with other performers.

of things that help people move to a position of

The CENAS project would not be possible

strength to honor who they are and where they

anywhere but ASU, says Underiner, because of

came from and to continue to cook together for the

the “yes, and” willingness of faculty to collaborate

whole family’s benefit,” says Underiner.

across academic disciplines and the support from

The CENAS team introduced ways to incorporate traditional foods into meals using the American Diabetes Association’s “plate method”

university leadership to try something new. “This is the place to do this kind of work,” says Underiner. “If you have a good idea you can do it here.”

Since 2003, ASU has collaborated with Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education. The partnership includes joint educational programs, seed grants, research collaborations, joint faculty appointments and a key collaboration on the Mayo Medical School – Arizona Campus, opening in 2017. In 2014, ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research launched a partnership with the Center for Humanities in Medicine at Mayo Clinic, which offers programming for patients, families, staff, learners and the public to “promote the artful and compassionate delivery of health care.” Back to Table of Contents

Learn more 81

Modern abolitionists work to end human trafficking


Human trafficking remains one of the great human rights abuses of our time. Several ASU organizations are taking innovative steps to fight it.

“ No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” – Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN General Assembly (1948)


On December 10, 1948, the United Nations

of by definition a hidden population,” says Erin

General Assembly adopted the Universal

Schulte, co-founder of All Walks Project, a social

Declaration of Human Rights, which officially

venture that raises awareness about sex trafficking

denounced slavery and the slave trade. On

through education.

December 2, 1949, it adopted the Convention for

Sometimes victims are ashamed or afraid,

the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of

either of law enforcement or of their traffickers.

the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This

Many times, they don’t perceive themselves as

day is now known as the International Day for the

victims. How is that possible?

Abolition of Slavery.

Schulte explains.

For the millions of people who are still

“Let’s say a 13-year-old girl runs away from

victimized by human trafficking worldwide,

home for whatever reason. Then the girl spends

however, these declarations provide little comfort.

a night or two on the street, and an older guy

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.

approaches her and offers her a place to stay. She

Loosely defined, it is the use of violence, fraud or

stays with him because she has no other option, in

other forms of coercion to force people into labor

her mind at least. It seems fine at first. He gives her

or commercial sexual exploitation.

gifts, he takes her shopping and says, ‘Here, we'll

Three distinct groups at Arizona State

go to the mall, pick out whatever you want.’ She's

University are taking a multifaceted approach

thrilled, ecstatic. She thinks that she's found the

to this problem. The Office of Sex Trafficking

guy for her,” Schulte says.

Intervention Research is part of ASU’s School of

“And then it turns into a situation where he

Social Work. The All Walks Project is a student-

brings his friends and says, ‘Here, I want you to

led social venture. And The McCain Institute for

have sex with these people,’” she continues. “The

International Leadership, based in Washington,

girl might agree to it at first–although she's a minor

D.C., is a “non-partisan do-tank,” a more action-

so she can’t give consent–but it often turns into

oriented version of the traditional think tank.

something where he is pressuring or forcing her

Although they are separate entities, these

to perform sexual acts on other people for money.

groups frequently collaborate to amplify their

That girl might not consider herself to be a victim

impact. They also work closely with schools,

of sex trafficking, but by the very definition of sex

law enforcement, community organizations and

trafficking, she is.”

governments to help raise awareness, shut down traffickers and support victims.

Schulte, Jessica Hocken and Jasmine Anglen, all students in ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College, founded All Walks Project in

The hidden population

2014. They incorporated in May that year and

Calling attention to human trafficking is important

were laterselected for ASU’s Edson Student

because many people don’t know what it looks

Entrepreneur Initiative.

like. For example, people may be surprised to

“We really focus on peer-to-peer education

learn that domestic sex trafficking victims are

on sex trafficking. We believe that's the best way

often U.S. natives, not just migrants from far away.

to prevent trafficking from occurring within at-risk

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know just how many

student populations,” Schulte says.

people are trafficked in the U.S. or worldwide. “It's almost impossible to get numbers that

The group focuses on high school students as well as college students, whose frequent financial

have any actual meaning behind them when it

struggles can make them targets. By partnering

comes to sex trafficking, because it's so hard to

with The McCain Institute at ASU, they’ve been

reach that population, for a lot of reasons. It's kind

able to amplify their message.


All Walks Project and The McCain Institute hosted a Sex Trafficking Awareness week at ASU in January 2015. From left to right: Brittney McCormick, Meera Doshi, Jessica Hocken, Brittany Ater, Cindy McCain, Erin Schulte, Shalae Flores

in January 2015. The event reached more than 20,000 students, faculty and staff, and inspired the institute’s Student Alliance Against Trafficking program. "I am proud of The McCain Institute’s integrated partnership with the ASU student group All Walks. Involving groups like All Walks on campus and in the broader community and empowering them to carry the important message about the signs and dangers of human trafficking to B E S O C IA LLY E M B E D D E D

other students is extraordinarily important. Students are often targets of traffickers through online A hub for human rights

solicitations, social media and thinly disguised

The McCain Institute was launched with a

offers to help for college expenses. The McCain

$9 million gift from The McCain Institute

Institute and All Walks are together at the front

Foundation, a charitable trust funded by Arizona

of the fight providing information and tools to

Senator John McCain. It is a nonpartisan and

students, starting at ASU," says Cindy McCain.

nonprofit education and research center, focused

She also hosted a conversation and film

on promoting character-driven leadership,

screening of “A Path Appears” at ASU in

particularly in humanitarian work, human rights

partnership with All Walks Project, and has

and democracy, and national security.

appeared in public awareness videos aimed at

Much of The McCain Institute’s work has national and international reach, like the Human

college students. The McCain Institute is also working to build

Trafficking Conversation Series, which convenes

awareness through the No Such Thing campaign,

leading experts and practitioners combating human

a partnership with Google and the Human Rights

trafficking to further public discourse in different

Project for Girls. The campaign draws public

parts of the country. However, the institute is

attention to the legal and moral fact that there is

heavily invested in the Arizona community as well.

no such thing as a child prostitute. Minors used

Cindy McCain, the wife of Senator McCain,

for sex by adults are by definition abuse victims.

serves as co-chair of the Governor’s Arizona

Pimps are by definition human traffickers. “Johns”

Human Trafficking Council and chair of The McCain

are by definition child rapists. Calling a survivor of

Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council.

child rape a prostitute “diminishes the violence,

She is a lifelong humanitarian who has committed

harm, trauma and coercion that a trafficked child is

herself to the cause of human trafficking.

subject to,” according to the campaign website.

Cindy McCain lends her expertise to various

The campaign urges media outlets, politicians,

human trafficking events, such as the inaugural

social services and law enforcement to stop using

ASU Sex Trafficking Awareness Week, presented

the term “child prostitute,” in order to reshape the

by The McCain Institute and All Walks Project

way the public thinks about child sex trafficking.

All Walks Project invited ASU students to make stop signs that raise awareness about human trafficking. credit: Erin Schulte

“We have worked to raise public awareness,

circuits of sex trafficking, that most sex buyers are

support original research, support best practices in

from the local area, and there are indicators of sex

state legislation, provide technical assistance, train

trafficking in many of the sex ads online,” says Roe-

law enforcement and social services, and develop

Sepowitz, an associate professor in ASU’s School

new technologies to aid law enforcement and

of Social Work.

speed up identification of victims.”

Before she came to ASU, Roe-Sepowitz was a clinical social worker who helped people that were

Information supporting action

sexually abused, as well as incarcerated women.

The institute recently sponsored a two-year study that examined the impact of large sporting events, such as the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, on sex trafficking, using Phoenix as one of its case studies. The study was led by Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, co-director of ASU’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research (STIR). The research team used ASU’s Decision Theater Network to display the findings and give policymakers and law enforcement officials a tool to examine real-time data on sex trafficking at Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix. “We learned some important pieces of information, including the way the sex market works during large events, the presence of networks and

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, associate professor, School of Social Work


“I realized that prostitution was a theme

on Arizona House Bill 2454, which increased

that ran between all of the clients that I saw in

penalties for sex traffickers and buyers and

some way or another. Many of them had significant

created protections for victims.

negative impacts from it. They were really

“In my work with thousands of prostituted

traumatized by it, really affected–their self-esteem

persons, only a handful were engaged in

and the way that they looked at the world–because

prostitution because it was the best choice

of those experiences,” she says.

for them,” says Roe-Sepowitz. “The rest were

Upon arriving at ASU in 2005, she immediately began building connections with existing community programs that help ex-prostitutes.

prostituting due to a lack of options or being conned, manipulated or threatened to do it.” In 2015, STIR trained 1,100 Arizona

Both STIR and The McCain Institute also provide

Department of Child Safety workers and 547

guidance to law enforcement and policymakers.

juvenile probation officers in sex trafficking

For example, the institute sponsored a

awareness. The work was funded by the Department of Health and Human Services

in Maricopa County to better identify and work

Administration for Children, Youth and Families

with victims of sex trafficking. They also advised

and the Arizona Governor’s Office, respectively.


STIR-based study to train adult probation officers

“The goal is to develop research to help

Whether they are raising awareness,

those workers identify sex trafficking within their

conducting research or providing services, all of

cases as well as increase their ability to help

the ASU groups involved in anti-trafficking efforts

prevent sex trafficking victimization of their clients

rely on strong relationships within the community to

by recognizing the risks and having the skills to

promote positive changes for the community.

intervene,” says Roe-Sepowitz. STIR also organizes the Phoenix 1st Step

“Between the city and the governor's office and the collaborators that we work with, it's really

pop-up drop-in center, which provides medical,

a great opportunity that uses the expertise of

mental health, substance abuse, housing, and

the university, not to get in the way of services

other supportive social and medical services

and entrepreneurship and innovation, but to

to individuals who are or have been involved in

support it,” says Roe-Sepowitz. “We’ve really

prostitution or sex trafficking situations. More

had that opportunity here. And the attitude of our

than 20 community partners, including All Walks

administration to go out and make changes and

Project, have participated in the one-day events

be socially embedded and active has been a great

held in January (right before the Super Bowl) and

asset to me.”

November 2015.

ASU’s Decision Theater Network provides an immersive visualization and simulation environment to guide stakeholders in the choices they make. It offers: • Seven-screen panoramic HD displays • High-performance computation for analysis and simulation • Large-capacity data storage • Collaborative software for sharing applications across platforms • Locations in Tempe, Arizona, and Washington, D.C.

Learn more

Back to Table of Contents



CompuGirls plants the seeds of STEM careers Girls in high-needs school districts lack the technology classes and resources needed to succeed in STEM careers. ASU’s CompuGirls program is helping to level the playing field.

When Kimberly Scott worked as a teacher in a

CompuGirls is a multimedia platform for girls

high-needs school district operated by the state

aged 13-18 in underserved school districts

education department, she had a hunch that her

that don’t have access to high-quality technology

female students weren’t reaching their full potential.

classes and resources. Since its inception, the

She decided to explore the issue further.

program has helped more than 1,000 teenage girls

“I completed this study looking at how girls were making sense of themselves in this highly politicized environment,” Scott says. Her findings suggested that girls weren’t

increase their technical literacy and computational thinking skills. “The program encourages girls to become digital innovators,” says Scott, an

receiving enough technology training in the

associate professor in ASU’s School of Social

classroom. In a world where computer skills are

Transformation. “The point is that they will learn

essential for success, Scott worried that her

these skills in order to advance their community.”

students would fall behind. She presented the

CompuGirls also aims to address the lack

results to her students, their parents and the school

of women, especially women of color, in science,

administrators, who all shared her concerns.

technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

By happenstance, around the same time the

Women made up only 25 percent of the computer

Girl Scouts of America contacted Scott. They

and math sciences workforce in the U.S.,

wanted her help in piloting an e-troop for girls

15 percent of engineers, and 12 percent of

who were physically unable to attend meetings

physicists and astronomers in 2012, according

in person. Scott is an avid proponent of the Girl

to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Scouts, having been a member and troop leader

For African-American women, these numbers

herself. She saw an opportunity to address two

drop to 6.1 percent, 3.6 percent and 3.5 percent,

needs – a lack of technology programming in her

respectively. These are all below African-American

school and an online e-troop for the Girl Scouts.

women’s overall proportion in the workforce,

She created a program called Teaching, Learning

which is 11 percent.

and Community. In 2006, Scott accepted a faculty position

According to Scott, girls—and especially girls of color—face low expectations from teachers

at Arizona State University and brought Teaching,

and family. Schools often “code and treat” African-

Learning and Community with her. Collaborating

American girls as overly aggressive and sexual,

with other ASU researchers, she revamped the

Latina girls as destined for teen pregnancy, and

program and renamed it CompuGirls.

Native American girls as future alcoholics.

Seniors Yazmin Flores, 17 (left), and Theresa Ruiz, 18, de-bug their coding in the “From Big Data to Big Ideas” workshop put on by ASU graduate student Jessica Guo for high school girls at Mesa Public Schools Educational Technology Training Labs. credit: Charlie Leight/ASU Now


“Our program is not only about technology; it’s about identity and transformation for girls.” –Kimberly Scott, associate professor, School of Social Transformation

In addition, “computer science” is often interpreted as programming, which girls may perceive as boring. They don’t see how technology can be used to create, discover or solve a problem. B E S O C IA LLY E M B E D D E D

“Unlike most technology programs, CompuGirls is very focused on having the girls identify and research a social or community issue that is important to them,” Scott says. “The

The U.S. White House named Kimberly Scott a STEM Access Champion of Change, an initiative that honors individuals who are working to support and accelerate STEM opportunities for African-American students, schools and communities.

technology becomes a means to that research, to analyze that issue and ultimately come up with and present a solution.” CompuGirls participants learn how to manipulate the latest technologies in digital

“We’re taking robotics to another edge and

media, game development and virtual worlds.

including in the offerings the idea of culture, identity

In one project, two students collaborated to

and certainly social transformation – things that are

produce a short documentary on whaling. Other

not often discussed when we think about robotics,

documentaries have explored issues such as teen

or programming for that matter,” Scott says.

pregnancy or bullying in school. The students

Currently, there are CompuGirls sites in

learned how to use a video camera and several

Arizona and Colorado. Scott was recently awarded

types of editing software.

a scale-up grant from the NSF to develop more

In other projects, students use an online

sites in California and beyond. Her team has

platform called Scratch to program their own

published several research papers based on the

games. All CompuGirls students are also required

program, and they’ve developed an instrument

to complete both quantitative and qualitative

to measure its impact—the Culturally Responsive

research components, and to make use of five to

Computing Scale.

10 external sources. With a grant from the NSF’s National Robotics

Another indication of the program’s success is that Scott is starting to see CompuGirls graduates

Initiative, Scott and a team of researchers are

enrolling as students at ASU. One of them is Mitzi

expanding the CompuGirls curriculum to include

Vilchis, now a senior double-majoring in secondary

a robotics plan. Participants will still research

education and English.

social issues and make presentations in their

Vilchis joined CompuGirls when she was a

communities, but they will also be able to program

freshman in high school. She says the program

a robot to co-teach with them.

gave her a big boost in self-confidence.

Brianna Gonzales (left) and Anel Hernandez credit: CompuGirls

“There was an instance in high school where I was presenting, and as I was reading from the paper my hands started shaking because I was so nervous. My voice started quivering and I ended up

ASU has built a strong relationship with the National Science Foundation, the only federal agency that supports all fields of fundamental science and engineering.

crying,” Vilchis says. “In CompuGirls we would do presentations all the time, and we did sandwich compliments,” she says, referring to a way of giving feedback



in the nation for NSF-funded research expenditures (FY2014)

that starts and ends on a positive note, with a constructive critique in the middle. “It was a very different environment. My confidence was through the roof by the time I got out of there.” After enrolling at ASU, Vilchis returned



out of 91 universities for NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) grants awarded (2014)

to CompuGirls as an undergraduate research assistant. She has also helped recruit new participants for the program. Before participating in CompuGirls, Vilchis hadn’t even planned to go to college.


faculty members have received NSF’s prestigious CAREER awards

“Now my goal in life is to get a PhD, and I don’t see it any other way,” Vilchis says. “I think CompuGirls and Dr. Scott’s guidance and mentoring had a lot to do with that.” Back to Table of Contents


Tweeting terror: Understanding extremism on social media Extremist organizations use social media to promote their ideology and recruit new members globally. ASU professors are collaborating to track, analyze and understand this threat.


At least 46,000 Twitter accounts are used by Islamic State supporters, according to a Brookings Institution report (March 2015).

Extremist organizations like the Islamic State group (ISIS or ISIL) and Al-Qaeda have recruited more than 25,000 foreign fighters from over 100 countries, according to the United Nations. Their numbers increased 70 percent from 2014 to 2015. How are these groups able to attract so many followers so quickly? Although extremist groups appear to advocate for a return to the Dark Ages, they show a sophisticated mastery of modern social media technology. When a terrorist organization disseminates a message through social media,

Mark Woodward (middle), associate professor in ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

it doesn’t just reach the citizens of one country

Hasan Davulcu (right), associate professor in ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering

or region.

“It has a global footprint,” says Hasan Davulcu, an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. When the Islamic State group posts an

Building this tool was a daunting prospect. It would require incredibly sophisticated software that had the ability to analyze multiple languages

execution video, for example, every “share”

and multiple cultural contexts. Davulcu is skilled

accelerates its spread across the Internet. Once

at mining data online from websites and social

an online message has gone viral, it becomes

media platforms, but he needs to know what

extremely difficult to counter.

to look for. That guidance comes from social scientists providing extensive on-the-ground

The social side of security

cultural knowledge of each of the nine countries

Davulcu has been addressing this challenge with

included in the project: the UK, Germany, France,

a global, interdisciplinary team of experts. In 2009,

Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Malaysia, Singapore

ASU received a highly competitive Minerva Initiative

and Indonesia.

grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The

For example, Woodward, an anthropologist,

Minerva Project initiative seeks to understand the

has traveled to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore

social, cultural, behavioral and political forces that

since the late 1970s. He builds rapport and gains

shape various regions of the world.

local knowledge by talking with a wide range of

Davulcu and Mark Woodward, an associate

people in everyday settings, such as schools or

professor in ASU’s School of Historical,

mosques. This allows him to learn about the

Philosophical and Religious Studies, led the five-

issues that are important to a community and

year project. They collaborated with researchers

gauge their experiences in dealing with radical

from around the world who specialize in

extremist groups.

communications, anthropology, religious studies,

“These are the people that have to deal with

political science and sociology. Their task was to

the likes of Al Qaeda every day,” Woodward says.

create a tool that could track and analyze online

Over the course of the Minerva Project grant,

messages produced by radical and counter-radical

researchers identified all the known radical and

Muslim groups in Southeast Asia, West Africa and

counter-radical Muslim organizations in the nine

Western Europe.

countries of interest. Social scientists provided



cultural knowledge about the groups, while Davulcu scoured the web for Twitter feeds, Facebook posts,

discovered some social factors that are associated

recorded speeches and other related content.

with information cascades, or viral messages.

Together, the research team began to construct

For example, he says that the number of distinct

an extensive map of the Muslim religious extremist

communities someone follows, rather than the

landscape in different regions of the world.

number of individual people, is more predictive of

In addition to many scientific publications, presentations and awards, a product of this


In his initial research, Shakarian has

how that person will be influenced online. To understand this concept, imagine that you

ambitious effort was a tool called LookingGlass.

have a large social network made up entirely of

LookingGlass is a computer program that maps

former college classmates. They all start posting

and analyzes the radical and counter-radical

on social media about a company they believe is

Muslim groups based on variables such as

engaging in corrupt practices. They share their

religion, political affiliation, levels of tolerance and

intention to boycott the company and all of its

engagement in violent behavior. For the first time,

products. After seeing these messages, you might

researchers could visualize and track hot spots of

be persuaded to do the same.

social networks, their narratives and activities, and

Now, imagine instead that your social network

the sociocultural, economic and political drivers

consists of a few people from college, a few from

behind them.

high school, some former coworkers, some current

“The DOD was impressed over and over

ones and some people you know through a shared

again by the fact that we can map multiple

hobby. All of these people from different groups

contexts, multiple languages, and through a single

start posting about the corrupt company and their

methodology,” Davulcu says.

plans to stop buying its products. These groups live in different parts of the country and have never met,

Predicting viral posts

yet they’ve come to the same conclusion about the

The project was such a success that in June 2015,

company. How would this influence your opinion?

ASU was awarded a second Minerva Initiative

Shakarian’s research suggests that your

grant, led by Davulcu and Paulo Shakarian, an

collective network in the second scenario would

assistant professor in the School of Computing,

be more persuasive than the first.

Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering.

“Because then you start thinking, ‘Oh, well

Once again, the researchers are collaborating with

I’m getting this from all kinds of different places,’”

scientists from different disciplines and different

he says.

countries. Their goal is to discover why certain

This is a strategy that extremist groups have

messages on social media spread more rapidly

used to increase their reach. They recruit many

than others and develop ways to predict when

people all over the world to flood social media with

something will go viral.

their messages. This effort is hard to counter and

That capability could be a game-changer. It would allow governments to effectively counteract the online recruiting effort of radical groups. The challenge is that researchers don’t

attempts to do so could backfire. “You’re showing that it’s important enough to be responded to,” Shakarian explains. However, if the messages aren’t refuted, they

have many examples of how a viral post unfolds

run the risk of going viral. Having the ability to

within a given data set, such as Muslim extremists.

predict their impact is critical.

In addition, messages online go viral for very different reasons.

Through his initial research on the spread of messages across people and communities,

Shakarian has been able to predict whether a post will go viral with about 50-60 percent accuracy. This is significant, because guessing is only correct about two percent of the time. To further increase his predictive accuracy, Shakarian will need more information about the people and communities that are producing these messages. That’s where the social scientists come in. “Qualitative people with their very deep


insights can carry the computer types and the


quantitative people from the first ‘aha’ moment to the next ‘aha’ moment,” Davulcu says.


Social scientists are on the front lines, which is important in places like the Middle East, where national boundaries are rapidly changing. The Minerva Project grants awarded to ASU have been successful because the research team has taken


an interdisciplinary approach to this global problem.


To describe it in another way, Davulcu invokes an old Indian parable: “You are not going to understand an elephant like this by looking at parts of it.”

# #

Learn more



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HEEAP helps Vietnam reengineer education ASU partners with Intel and USAID to help Vietnamese universities develop world-class engineering programs for an emerging knowledge-based economy.


Like many developing countries, Vietnam is

“It works at a community-building level. The

diversifying its physical and human resources

alumni are a part of something together for four

beyond manufacturing and heavy industry into a

to six weeks. They are active during this time, with

knowledge-based economy. Accessible, high-quality

colleagues from their own schools as well as with

education and market-based workforce development

faculty members from other parts of Vietnam. Since

programs—particularly in technology and innovation—

this workshop is more than just a training or a

are key to making this transition.

vehicle for delivering content, these faculty return to

Arizona State University is helping to address the growing demand for highly skilled and trained engineers to support Vietnam’s expanding high-tech

Vietnam connected with each other and with ASU,” he says. The program’s approach refocuses the

economy. The Higher Engineering Education Alliance

schools’ curriculums from lectures and exams to an

Program (HEEAP) is a collaborative effort between

active, project-based model.

ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Intel Corporation, and the top engineering and vocational universities in Vietnam. HEEAP focuses on three primary goals: improving the quality and rigor of university and vocational programs; making these programs

Intel received the U.S. Secretary of State’s 2012 Award for Corporate Excellence for its work with ASU and USAID on the HEEAP program.

more relevant to students and employers; and increasing access to engineering education for women and minorities. To boost educational quality, HEEAP offers support and mentorship to selected schools and their faculty. The program provides instruction in curriculum design and applied and hands-on instructional approaches, and conducts student projects and events. HEEAP is designed to provide its participants with more than just new or updated curriculums to take back to their classrooms, explains David Benson, HEEAP academic director.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (in red) presents the Award for Corporate Excellence.

ASU has joined forces with universities around the world to find research-led solutions to complex global challenges and expand access to education. For example: • ASU, King’s College London and the University of New South Wales in Australia have formed the PLuS Alliance to address issues related to sustainability, health, social justice, and technology and innovation through joint research and more than 20 online degree programs. • Through the Transatlantic Higher Education Partnership, ASU and Dublin City University combine research strengths in areas such as smart cities, health technology, education, healthy aging, water and more.

HEEAP participants from Vietnam design and build an elevator in the Startup Labs at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus.


ASU’s New American University model offers ideas uniquely suited to the developing world—countries seeking to educate increasing numbers of students to world-class standards while producing research to confront epochal challenges in education, climate, sustainability, health and economic growth. Ba-Hai Nguyen, a former HEEAP participant, developed “smart glasses” to help people with visual impairments. courtesy of Ba-Hai Nguyen


“Most of these faculty members have ‘grown up’ in lecture-only or teacher-centered

several small results step-by-step during the last

environments, where the focus was on facts,

three years,” he says.

derivations and single ‘correct answer’ questions.

He adds: “The HEEAP program has given me

The experiences that molded their own teaching

a really good chance to learn new working styles,

practices were primarily behaviorist,” says Benson.

the knowledge of a new model of transforming

“It is a great pleasure to work with them to open

higher education learning and research.”

their minds to other ways of teaching and to

In 2014, Ho Chi Minh City University of

provide them with experiences that inspire them

Technology, a HEEAP partner institution, received

to develop classroom activities that capture

accreditation by the Accreditation Board for

the joy, creativity and intensity that comes with

Engineering and Technology in the fields of

doing engineering.”

computer science and computer engineering.

Ba-Hai Nguyen is a lecturer at the Ho Chi

This is the “gold standard” for engineering schools,

Minh City University of Technology and Education

according to Goss, who is also the executive

who participated in a HEEAP cohort in 2012.

director for the Office of Global Outreach and

Recently, Nguyen developed “smart glasses” that help visually impaired people by recognizing

Extended Education in the Fulton Schools. HEEAP has transformed the schools’

obstacles and vibrating to alert users. Currently,

curriculums to be more relevant and directly

1.2 million people in Vietnam are sight-impaired,

applicable to the needs of students and employers

and about 300,000 of them are legally blind. After

alike. As a result, Vietnamese schools are

Nguyen presented his invention in September

producing graduates who are far better prepared

2015, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn

to begin and advance their engineering careers.

Dũng decided to finance a million-dollar project

“We’re teaching students to work in teams

manufacturing the glasses for all Vietnamese

to solve engineering challenges in a real-world

people that are visually impaired.

environment,” says Goss. “This produces work-

Nguyen credits HEEAP Director Jeffrey Goss with being a positive influence on his career. “I get a lot of inspiration and innovation from


moments during my research career and gain

ready students who are attractive to employers and facilitates an environment of entrepreneurship.” Increasingly, these students are young women,

his mindset, working method and expertise. These

who have traditionally been excluded from high-

give me more confidence to overcome tough

paying, high-tech jobs in Vietnam. HEEAP has

provided more than 400 scholarships to women and girls who may not have otherwise had access to higher education. Presently, 18 to 20 percent of the students enrolled in schools participating in the HEEAP program are women. The goal is to increase the number of female degree holders to at least 25 percent of their graduating classes. Educators trained at HEEAP-sponsored schools have implemented a variety of clubs, workshops and competitions, which allow students to apply the skills and knowledge they acquire in the classroom. Students are regularly invited to attend “hack-a-thon” events, collaborating intensively on software projects in competition with other teams. They also participate in maker forums—online workshops that allow participants to build and design with other students throughout the world. “These events foster linkages between students, faculty and employers,” says Goss. “It also gives potential employers the opportunity to ‘test drive’ these students as potential employees before they graduate.” Nguyen, who will be leading the University of Technology and Education’s newly launched School of Innovation Entrepreneurship, said his biggest takeaway from his involvement with HEEAP is

ASU collaborates with USAID on more than 30 projects, including the following: US – Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy (USPCAS-E) is a world-class education and applied research center in partnership with the National University of Sciences and Technology and the University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan. SolucionES is a project to combat citizen insecurity and strengthen municipal response to crime and violence in El Salvador. Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC), a partnership among ASU, USAID and the International Renewable Energy Agency, has provided training to more than 380 technicians in 14 developing countries. India Support for Teacher Education Program (In-STEP) brings teacher educators from India to ASU to participate in a three-month teacher education program.

the inspiration to innovate and make sustainable changes in both education and research in Vietnam, with the slogan, “learn globally and apply locally.”

Learn more A HEEAP participant builds a circuit in the ASU Startup Labs.

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On the frontier Tomorrow’s challenges will not be solved with yesterday’s tools. ASU researchers seek out— and create—new technologies, techniques and thought processes to advance human health, prosperity and overall well-being. This section shares a few of the areas in which ASU is pushing the boundaries of discovery and innovation.


an extraordinary



Building on nature’s foundation

How can we make infrastructure safer and more dependable? ASU engineers and scientists are using natural systems as a guide. Built of concrete and steel, rooted in the ground and towering above it, urban infrastructure looks like the epitome of permanence. Yet these structures—highways and bridges, skyscrapers and electrical grids—are embedded in the natural world, which is changing with increasing severity and regularity. Storm winds and rain pummel ON TH E FRONTI E R

exposed surfaces, earthquakes literally shake foundations, and rising sea levels threaten to inundate coastal structures. How can we build safe, dependable infrastructure while accounting for the unpredictability of the natural world? Engineers and scientists at Arizona State University are answering these challenges with new designs, materials and knowledge aimed at making infrastructure resilient. Unlike traditionally designed infrastructure, resilient infrastructure is designed with dynamic environments in mind. With two new multiinstitutional awards, ASU is leading the charge to advance resilient infrastructure research and practices that may change the way cities are built in the future.

Edward Kavazanjian, director, CBBG

Looking to ants, moles and microbes

temperament, the researchers will explore solutions

Researchers at the new ASU Center for Bio-mediated

that nature has already devised. This includes

and Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG) Engineering

microbes that are able to harden porous soils and

Research Center are designing new materials

tree root systems that can stabilize soils and

and developing methods to engineer durable,

prevent erosion.

adaptable infrastructure that is also environmentally

“In billions of years of evolution, nature has

sustainable. They are approaching the issue through

come up with some very elegant solutions to

biogeotechnical engineering, an emerging field that

the problems we want to solve,” says Edward

explores how soils behave and how that behavior

Kavazanjian, director of CBBG. “By employing or

affects structures.

mimicking these natural processes, we should be

CBBG is a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC). The $18.5 million, five-year award is the nation’s largest investment in geotechnics to date. In order to create infrastructure with optimal performance in the face of nature’s mercurial

able to devise some of our own elegant solutions.” Ants offer another intriguing muse. “Ants are a hundred times more energy-efficient at tunneling than our current technology. They excavate very carefully, and their tunnels almost never collapse,” says Kavazanjian, who is also a Regents’ Professor in ASU’s School of Sustainable

ASU is one of only 2 universities in the U.S. to lead 2 NSF Engineering Research Centers: • Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG) • Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST), jointly supported by the Department of Energy

Engineering and the Built Environment. “If we could do what ants do, we could make underground mining much safer.” CBBG draws on collaboration and expertise from across ASU, including the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the School of Life Sciences and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. In addition, the center partners with 16 universities around the world, more than a dozen private companies, and multiple public infrastructure systems—including

ASU is also a partner on 2 additional ERCs: • Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems Center (FREEDM), led by North Carolina State University • Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT), led by Rice University

the Arizona and New Mexico transportation departments, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Port of Los Angeles. In addition to developing new nature-inspired engineering techniques, CBBG will focus on environmental protection and restoration. For example, if engineers could design a probe with sensor technology and guidance systems that allow it to dig and tunnel through soil like a mole, it would significantly improve subsurface exploration and characterization. Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, an


associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, will lead these efforts. “We want to reproduce the beneficial effects that biological and biogeochemical processes can achieve, accelerate them and then employ them on larger scales,” says Kavazanjian. Standing up to extreme weather The idea of harnessing nature-inspired designs that work with the environment, instead of against it, is central to the work of another research team at ASU, the Urban Resilience to Extreme WeatherRelated Events Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN). The network seeks to minimize the devastating effects of extreme weather on the infrastructure that enables transit, electricity, water and other crucial urban services.


The NSF awarded ASU $12 million over five years through its Sustainability Research Networks program, which focuses on urban sustainability. The international UREx SRN network includes researchers and partner organizations across nine cities in North and South America: Portland, Oregon; Syracuse, New York; New York City; Baltimore, Maryland; Phoenix, Arizona; Miami, Florida; Hermosillo, Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Valdivia, Chile. The three UREx SRN co-directors each viewed our current approach to infrastructure through the lenses of their own fields. Project Director Charles Redman, an anthropologist, recognized that infrastructure does not always serve populations equally. He gives the example of retention basins, used to collect stormwater. In some neighborhoods, these are developed into parks. “When you drive around, the retention basins that have soccer fields in them are in the better neighborhoods. Yet it rains the same in other neighborhoods,” says Redman, founding director of ASU's School of Sustainability. Co-director Nancy Grimm is an ecologist and professor in the School of Life Sciences. She says infrastructure that incorporates elements of the natural environment may be more effective over the long term. For example, coastal wetlands and sand dunes are types of natural infrastructure that protect urban areas from storms and flooding.

Charles Redman (left), founding director, School of Sustainability Mikhail Chester, assistant professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

“We’re interested in letting a little bit more of

says Redman. “Safe-to-fail has to be built on less

nature back into the city. We can actually benefit

certainty but it also has to be built on restructuring

quite a lot from using some of the characteristics

the dynamics of the system, and that’s where SETS

of natural systems and incorporating those into our

comes in. We think we need to really understand

designs,” she says.

these dynamics better than people currently do.”

Mikhail Chester, the other co-director, is an

One example of a safe-to-fail system exists

engineer and assistant professor in the School of

in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Indian Bend Wash

Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

Greenbelt winds through the city in a swath of green

He had a “light bulb moment” while driving with

and dappled shade. Bike paths, parks and golf

Grimm through north Phoenix.

courses along the wash improve social well-being

“Nancy said to me, ‘How do engineers

for residents in the area. Trees and plants provide

use landscape design to minimize indoor heat

numerous ecosystem services such as habitats for

exposure?’ I thought about it and realized that

animals, cooler air temperatures, carbon capture and

engineers don’t think about that. Landscape

oxygen production.

architects do. We realized there’s an opportunity to

After it rains, the wash fills with stormwater

rethink how disciplines can come together to design

drained from the surrounding roads and

infrastructure to be more resilient to extreme events,”

neighborhoods. Because the wash is designed to

he recalls.

be safe-to-fail, floodwaters do occasionally wash out the bike path and create a river instead of still ponds

From fail-safe to safe-to-fail

and grassy parks. But repairs are easily made.

Taking a holistic approach, the team will evaluate the social, ecological and technical systems (SETS) related to infrastructure. This includes recognizing the values of all stakeholders, from city decisionmakers to the residents who use and are affected by infrastructure. It also involves understanding a city’s natural environment and evaluating available technology. The result will be a suite of tools to help implement urban infrastructure that is tailored to its location and safe-to-fail. “Fail-safe is built on a risk management principle. It’s all about how often does it happen, how potentially bad is it, who does it affect? Those are the parameters you work with, and you work with acceptable levels of those parameters. It leads you to build things that are bigger and heavier,”

Fail-safe infrastructure, like the Los Angeles River, does not offer the multifunctionality of resilient infrastructure. It may also be susceptible to the kinds of extreme weather events that are predicted with global climate change. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


Alternatively, the Los Angeles River channel is designed to be fail-safe. Devastating flooding of the river in the 1800s resulted in a push to tame it. In the 1930s the river was converted – through feats of engineering and hundreds of hours of manual labor– from natural and meandering to cemented and controlled. While directing the river through a built channel has helped to control flooding, it has also removed the ecosystem services that a river typically provides. In addition, the entire system could be paralyzed if one part of the structure sustains significant damage, such as from an earthquake. As a result, the City of Los Angeles is now planning to transform parts of the river to recapture parts of the lost ecosystem. Creating safe-to-fail infrastructure requires consideration of SETS and the current and future ON TH E FRONTI E R

needs of a city. UREx SRN teams led by one engineer, one social scientist and one environmental scientist will be based in each partner city. This ensures an interdisciplinary approach that will produce a rich understanding of infrastructure needs and impacts across cities and cultures. “There is a lot of opportunity to think about who is vulnerable to climate change and where they live in the city, to tailor redevelopment of infrastructure to protect the people who are the most vulnerable,” says Chester. “We’re going to build infrastructure to be more resilient and equitable and not just more efficient.” Through projects such as the UREx SRN and the CBBG ERC, ASU researchers are helping us transform our understanding of and approach to infrastructure. New research from these initiatives will contribute to more resilient, equitable and sustainable cities today and well into the future.

Indian Bend Wash in Scottsdale is safe-to-fail resilient infrastructure. The wash is multifunctional, offering habitat for plants and animals as well as recreational areas for public use. It is designed to flood and sustain damage during heavy rains, instead of nearby neighborhoods.

Learn more

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Digital tools connect

humanities to ASU’s Nexus Lab is plugging in major processing power to help humanities researchers connect with communities in a more immediate and effective way.

Carlos Montezuma was an intellectual, activist,

collection and created a web application that

medical doctor and member of the Yavapai, a Native

allows users to view and interact with it online.

American tribe in what is now Arizona. Between

Then they hosted a public presentation to

1916 and 1922 Montezuma self-published a

introduce the site.

newsletter called Wassaja—his Yavapai name—that was a vital source of news about Indian affairs in an

so overcome with what the team had done in

era that had few outlets for such information.

the web application that they were responding

“This monthly signal rays is to be published only ON TH E FRONTI E R

“Some of the Yavapai tribal members were

in their native language. That was the only mode

so long as the Indian Bureau exists. Its sole purpose

in which they could do that kind of expression

is Freedom for the Indians through the abolisment

of how much that had impacted them,” says

(sic) of the Indian Bureau….Its object is not to

Jacqueline Hettel, a linguist who helped create

form a society, but to free the Indians by exposing

the web application.

the actual conditions of their imprisonment,” wrote

Hettel is the deputy director of ASU’s

Montezuma in Wassaja’s inaugural issue in

Nexus Lab, part of the Institute for Humanities

April 1916.

Research. The lab advances digital humanities,

Despite Montezuma’s cultural significance,

using computation and data analysis to connect

many Yavapai had never seen the material of his

humanities research with other disciplines and

legacy. That changed when Arizona State University

with the community.

researchers digitized the Carlos Montezuma archive

HUMA “ Indians, what are we, anyway? Are we freaks? Have we no souls? Are we possessed with venomous fang? Is there no living with us until the Indian Office makes us fit subjects? Must we live muzzled and dominated by the hellishness of human government? Are we so low that we cannot thrive within human justice? " – Carlos Montezuma (Wassaja, Vol. 2, No. 12, March 1918)

“It’s a place where the banner of digital humanities

“Digital Humanities, as we do it at ASU, is

can feature the humanities alongside collaborators

particularly innovative because we’re constantly

from fields as diverse as engineering, biology, decision

seeking new ways to leverage humanities concepts in

science, sustainability, computer science, design and

transformational ways where they have significant impact

complexity science,” says Michael Simeone, director of

to communities outside of the university,” adds Hettel.

the Nexus Lab.

The Wassaja project illustrates how ASU leverages digital tools to make the humanities relevant to

Crafting connections


Importantly, the digital humanities are still humanities at their core, Simeone notes. Hettel explains that they are a “toolbox” of methods that can make the humanities more relevant to wider audiences and aid humanities researchers in their work. Processing power, big data and interdisciplinary collaborators are meant to add depth, relevance and connections to these essential ideas, not eclipse them. “It helps connect the humanities to other problems, and I think that it helps to be able to speak to different audiences,“ Simeone says.

Jacqueline Hettel, deputy director, Nexus Lab

Michael Simeone, director, Nexus Lab


“It takes important, largely one-of-a-kind archival material, which comprises the Carlos Montezuma Collection, and makes it part of the online culture in which we all live,” says David Martinez, an associate professor of American Indian Studies. Martinez worked on the project with Joyce Martin, an associate librarian and curator of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center at ASU Libraries, and Jodi Flores, a postdoctoral research associate with ASU Libraries and the Center for Digital Antiquity. After the collection had been digitized, Hettel invited the team to work with the Nexus Lab’s workshop series, Developing—a project-based professional-development program for students, faculty and staff—in order to create a web application to go with the newly digital database. They agreed, ON TH E FRONTI E R

and Developing Wassaja came into being.

The word “humanities” brings to mind history, art, language, literature, philosophy and religion— the traditional humanities fields. But in the 21st century, the humanities are playing an increasingly vital role in society by tackling the social, cultural, technological and scientific changes facing the world. Scholars at the Institute for Humanities Research explore socially significant issues and concepts such as sustainability, human origins, immigration and natural disasters. They use historical, philosophical and creative perspectives to achieve a deeper understanding of causes, effects and cultural meanings.

The resulting web application is more than just a digitized database. It’s now a user-friendly learning environment and a curated online exhibit, according

to have someone in the humanities included,” says

to Martinez.

Simeone. “So if you’re going to be doing some

In the future, the Developing and Wassaja

modeling or analysis of how people interact in an urban

Project teams plan to develop more partnerships,

environment, then you would want some people from

increase the available digitized content in the exhibit

public health, you would want some people from urban

and expand the web application.

planning, you would want a sociologist, but you also

“I think that the Developing Wassaja workshop and the resulting web application is a really good example of the New American University’s goals and

might want someone who does, say, history of energy. That might be a very important person.” Simeone and Hettel are principle investigators on

a really good demonstration of that legacy we want

a new Energy Leadership Informatics project, part of a

to leave,” Hettel notes. “It was a great way for us to

$1.5 million grant from the Office of Naval Research.

instill digital humanities skills into the people that

The project will train U.S. veterans to use digital

needed and wanted them, but most importantly, we

humanities methods to better understand safety trends

were able to use digital humanities as a conduit

by examining the language of nuclear industry incident

for doing something truly important and great for

reviews. Their insights can then be used by the energy

that community.”

industry, which has an enormous impact on all sectors of life in the U.S. and beyond.

The flip side

“Many places try to take digital and computational

Nexus Lab researchers not only explore how digital

tools and apply them to literary and historical work,”

tools can benefit humanities research, but also

Simeone notes. “Here at ASU, we want to add to

how humanities can contribute to other types of

that conversation by flipping things. I want to take the

research projects.

deep knowledge of humanities—the kind developed

“One of the things that we like to encourage

from the study of literature, language and history—and

here is that if you’ve got a multidisciplinary team

connect it to experts conducting informatics and

working on a problem, we think it would be important

engineering research.”

Learn more

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Making movies of molecular machines The structures of some of the most scientifically important biomolecules have been impossible to determine — until now. ASU researchers helped pioneer a technique for observing these proteins in action.

They never wavered from the belief that the technique would work, despite many people telling ON TH E FRONTI E R

them it was simply not possible. How can you subject a tiny biological molecule to temperatures of more than 1 million degrees Celsius – equal to that of the solar corona – in less than a trillionth of a second and expect to get any useful information from it? The extremely bright light alone from the laser can punch a hole through steel. The biomolecule doesn’t stand a chance. But John Spence and Petra Fromme, two Arizona State University professors, persisted in their beliefs. That determination has led to a new, exciting technique that is building a track record of advances and gaining widespread acceptance in scientific circles.

The technique is called Serial Femtosecond Crystallography (SFX), and it has already unveiled the structural details of several proteins not seen before. SFX has been used to map out the structure of proteins involved in sleeping sickness, a fatal disease caused by protozoan parasites. It has been used to reveal the fine details of how an experimental drug, called an angiotensin II receptor blocker, works to regulate blood pressure, paving the way to developing better hypertension drugs. And it has provided the first snapshots of photosynthesis in action as it uses sunlight to split water into protons and electrons to make food for plants and oxygen for all of us.

Time-resolved SFX was lauded as one of the “top 10 breakthroughs of 2012” by the journal Science. Research teams from all over the world have published hundreds of scientific papers describing in new detail the inner workings of biological molecules that were revealed by SFX.


“It’s the birth of a new field of science,” says

“SFX will revolutionize the field of structural

Spence, one of the pioneers of the technique.

biology,” says Fromme, a key contributor to both the

Spence is a Regents' Professor of physics at ASU

SFX method and the science it reveals. Fromme is

and director of science for the National Science

a Regents’ Professor in ASU’s School of Molecular

Foundation’s BioXFEL Science and Technology

Sciences and director of the Center for Applied

Center, a consortium of institutions devoted to the

Structural Discovery in ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

use of X-ray lasers for biology.

ASU researchers laid the foundation for

Most of the SFX work currently is carried

development of the SFX method. They played key

out at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

roles in developing much of the instrumentation

(SLAC), a national facility and home to the world’s

essential for the SFX experiments at the LCLS, they

first hard X-ray laser, the Linear Coherent Light

have developed growth and detection techniques

Source (LCLS).

of nanocrystals from huge molecular complexes,

In a delicate dance of target molecule and high

they were involved in the first time-resolved SFX

energy X-rays, researchers have been successful in

experiments, and they developed the methods of

shining the X-ray laser on molecules and grabbing

analyzing the huge amount of data from diffract-

the data from the diffraction pattern it produces,

then-destroy experiments. For ASU students,

all before the sample is fried by the laser. In SFX,

the technique has provided an unparalleled

everything takes place in femtoseconds


educational experience.

seconds). For scale, a femtosecond is to a second what a second is to 32 million years. The “diffract then destroy” method of SFX operates on an ultrafast time scale to obtain pictures of the protein before the laser obliterates the sample. With tens of thousands of “pictures” taken for each protein, researchers can construct movies of molecular machines at work or interacting with specific molecules, providing a level of understanding that was previously unimaginable in structural biology.


Capturing elusive proteins

structure determination. Membrane proteins are

As scientists developed methods to use X-rays to

extremely important biomolecules, playing key roles

unravel the structure of biomolecules, they were

in photosynthesis, respiration, cell transport, cell

dismayed to find that the very high radiation dose

communication, nerve function, vision and hearing.

needed at the highest magnification destroys the sample before a useful image can be recorded.

are targeted to membrane proteins. However,

But following earlier suggestions, in 2000 Janos

knowledge of the structures and dynamics of these

Hajdu and Richard Neutze, biophysicists at

biomolecules lags far behind. While more than

Uppsala University in Sweden, created a simulation

100,000 structures of soluble proteins have been

proposing that on a femtosecond timescale, even

determined, fewer than 600 membrane protein

molecular explosions may unfold slowly.

structures are known to date.

They proposed that it would take roughly 10

SFX turned this practice on its head. Rather

femtoseconds for atoms to start moving significantly

than using large crystals held to position, SFX uses

from their original positions. So if one could take

nanocrystals free-floating in solution. Because

a snapshot with a pulse of X-rays briefer than 10

they don’t need to be frozen, SFX can get X-ray

femtoseconds, it should be possible to “outrun”

snapshots of the molecules in the crystal changing

radiation damage.

shape, and make molecular movies to reveal

The X-ray laser, which amplifies the intensity of ON TH E FRONTI E R

Some 60 percent of all current drugs

an X-ray beam exponentially, can pack a thousand

their function. “Small is beautiful!” exclaims Fromme. Large

billion photons of X-rays into each pulse. The LCLS

crystals containing trillions of molecules can take

reads out 120 of these scattering patterns from

years or decades to grow but often suffer from

biomolecules every second, so that the scattering

long-range defects. Nanocrystals, on the other hand,

from tiny crystals running across the pulsed

often contain only a few hundred molecules and

X-ray beam (each destroyed after scattering) can

are much better ordered.

be detected. In December 2009, just two months after the

Refining the process

LCLS began operation for users, an international

But using nanocrystals created new challenges.

group including the ASU team, Hajdu’s team and

How do you detect nanocrystals too small to be

Henry Chapman’s team from the German DESY lab

seen under a microscope, characterize them and

in Hamburg, focused SFX on protein nanocrystals

position them in front of X-ray pulses that will make

of Photosystem I made in Fromme’s ASU lab.

them explode, and do it consistently 120 times

Photosystem I is a membrane protein that functions

each second?

as a biosolar energy converter that catalyzes the first step of photosynthesis. Conventional protein crystallography, mostly

New methods had to be applied to detect the nanocrystals. SONICC (Second Order Nonlinear Imaging of Chiral Crystals) does this through

undertaken at synchrotrons, determines the

second harmonics generation—when two infrared

structure of molecules from large crystals containing

light pulses hit a chiral crystal with less than 10

trillions of molecules. For biological samples,

femtoseconds between the pulses, frequency

such as proteins, the difficult part is to coax the

doubling occurs and the crystal emits a green

biomolecules into a crystalline structure and then

photon. It can then be detected like fireflies in

freeze the structure in place to minimize radiation

the night sky.

damage. In the past, this meant trying to grow large crystals and mounting them at a precise angle to the X-ray beam, then rotating the crystals in the beam until diffraction from all crystal planes is recorded. However, many of the most scientifically interesting biomolecules, including membranebound protein complexes, have long evaded

Petra Fromme, Regents’ Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences (left) speaks with John Spence, Regents’ Professor in the Department of Physics.



Rebecca Jernigan (right), an ASU undergraduate in microbiology, began working in Petra Fromme’s lab as a high school student. Her work on new methods for combating viral infections earned her a Future Innovators of the Year Award, presented at Arizona’s 2015 Governor’s Celebration of Innovation.


Spence worked with physicists Uwe

active. When they are exposed to multiple pulses of

Weierstall and Bruce Doak on the sample delivery

light, oxygen bubbles can be seen coming out of the

injection challenge. They came up with a device

crystals. A future goal is to unravel all conformational

that functions much like an ink-jet printer, firing

states and determine the full “movie” of the water

tiny droplets of solution across the X-ray beam in

splitting process.

a continuous stream with the nanocrystals in suspension. A key component of this system is a sample

SFX can potentially yield 120 snapshots per second resulting in a huge amount of data. The team developed special software to handle the influx of

injector that delivers a “fresh” crystal between each

data from the SFX method and to take the data and

of the X-ray shots. Early versions of the injector had

recreate the molecules it detected. The software

one major problem—the nozzle clogged. Weierstall,

helps the researchers build an accurate image of the

an ASU research professor, began work on a new

molecule from the large number of snapshots taken

clog-free design, which was further developed by

during the experiment.

ASU physics professor Doak and given to SLAC for all SFX users. Weierstall designed a nozzle with a capillarylike tube surrounded by an opening through which

With the SFX technique and tools continuing to prove their usefulness in structural biology, ASU researchers are turning their attention to what’s next. Fromme is working with her collaborators

helium gas is forced. As the solution exits the

at DESY to build a much smaller version of a

tube, the gas pushes it, thinning the solution and

free-electron X-ray laser. This one will operate

speeding up its motion.

on even shorter time frames, at attoseconds

“This gives you focusing of the beam without

(10–18 seconds), and is combined with X-ray

a physical hole,” Spence says. “We can have a big

and optical spectroscopy to unravel the secret

hole where the solution exits that doesn’t clog and

of photosynthesis. The group will build a second

still have a very fine jet.”

compact X-ray source at ASU in collaboration with

A further refinement was the delivery of

groups from MIT and DESY.

the sensitive membrane proteins in their native

To aid in that effort, ASU recently hired

“lipid-like” environment. Scientists doubted that

physicist William Graves from MIT. Graves is in

this would be possible, as this medium has the

charge of designing and eventually building a

consistency of grease. However, the new injector

compact X-ray free electron laser on the ASU

not only delivered the crystals in this “toothpaste”

campus that would shrink the two-mile long

jet but also improved the method, so that the

accelerator at the LCLS to a laboratory-sized device.

crystals could be delivered with 100 times

This would greatly reduce the price of such a

less consumption of the precious membrane

machine and its operating costs.

protein crystals. “Uwe showed us how he could make toothpaste fly,” Fromme says.

If successful, ASU will be the first public university with a compact “synchrotron” and attosecond free-electron laser.

Setting it in motion Until now, most structures determined with conventional methods provide a static picture of the molecule. But complex biological processes like photosynthesis are very dynamic. To understand them, one would need a molecular movie of the biomolecules at work. The Fromme group led the first time-resolved femtosecond crystallography studies on the water splitting process in plants. It is based on

Back to Table of Contents

nanocrystals of Photosystem II, which are fully 117

More perspectives for a positive future


Many other research centers and academic units at ASU are looking toward tomorrow and pushing the boundaries of research as we know it. The following are just a few of the groups working to design a brighter future.

Planning the future we want

ASU Futurist in Residence Brian David Johnson talks with students about futurism and robotics at Mater Christi School in Burlington, VT.

Audacious ideas and thoughtful optimism ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination

The influence of science, technology and innovation

brings writers, artists and other creative thinkers

in how we live our lives has never been greater.

into collaboration with scientists, engineers and

We are facing new technologies that would have

technologists to reignite humanity’s grand ambitions

seemed like science fiction a few years ago: the

for innovation and discovery. The center serves as

legacies of fossil fuels and nuclear power; the

a hub for audacious moonshot ideas and a cultural

complex interactions between water, energy,

engine for thoughtful optimism. It provides a space

transportation, food and health; and the persistent

for productive collaboration between the humanities

gaps between technological haves and have-nots.

and the sciences, brings human narratives to

In the School for the Future of Innovation in

scientific questions, and explores the full social

Society, innovation is the object of systemic study

implications of cutting-edge research.

and informed critique. The school makes the future its focus, planning now for the kinds of futures that

we will want to inhabit.

When values collide Religion wields extraordinary influence in public affairs. Although a rich reservoir of values, principles and ideals, it is also a powerful source of conflict and violence as diverse traditions—religious and secular—collide. Globalizing trends that are making the world smaller are also unleashing dynamics that are creating some of the most complex and challenging problems of our age. The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict promotes interdisciplinary research and education on the dynamics of religion and conflict with the aim of advancing knowledge, seeking solutions and informing policy.

The Center for Games and Impact investigates, innovates and cultivates the power of digital games to create sustainable solutions for social, cultural, scientific, economic and educational challenges. These efforts are built on the assumption that the power of games lies not in the bits and bytes of the game world, but in the ways that the designed components are integrated into a larger infrastructure and local ecosystem. Through partnerships with learning scientists, game developers and socially responsible entrepreneurs, the center studies and innovates around the full life cycle of impact games—from research, design and development to publishing, assessment and optimization.

Exploring our origins Games as a way of life

Back to Table of Contents

The Origins Project explores some of humankind’s most fundamental questions about our origins—the origins of the universe, life, modern humans, consciousness, culture, complex systems and technology. To tackle these questions, the project brings together a diverse collection of the world’s leading scientists, scholars and public intellectuals to discuss—and if possible, create—new research opportunities. The project also provides unique opportunities for experts and the general public to engage, share information and ultimately work together to address the numerous challenges of the 21st century. 119





Excellence. Impact.


Research and innovation can be small or large contributions to knowledge and understanding of how the world works.


All scales of research and innovation are necessary because collectively they form the

building blocks for truly


transformational � knowledge. Elizabeth Wentz dean of social sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

“ 125

“ 126

Research is a process that allows us to investigate

the unknown,

and to hypothesize about what is, and ask very specific questions‌

but ...


it also allows us to build a world that we can only dream of today. Anna Barker professor and director, Transformative Healthcare Networks




Value Entrepreneurship [Neolight]


This is a quest ...


which is driven just as much from the heart as from the head.

And if we’re not passionate human beings, if we don’t really believe that we live in


a wonderful universe and

that life itself is wonderful, then I’m not sure that’s a society I’d want to live in. Paul Davies

Regents’ Professor, Department of Physics director, the BEYOND Center



The human population is now exhausting the


resources needed to support

life on this planet.

The United Nations has just released

17 Sustainable Development Goals needed to put things back in balance. Research on how to meet any and all of the 17 goals is desperately needed.


Leland Hartwell chief scientist Center for Sustainable Health, the Biodesign Institute


“ 134


is critically

important to improve economic development.

With research we make

better decisions

with significantly better outcomes. Innovation is a key driver of businesses' ability to create value for society.


Amy Hillman dean, W. P. Carey School of Business


By relentlessly

expanding the boundaries of knowledge, aspiration and applications,

research provides the


for creative solutions to global challenges and improvement of conditions for humanity.

George Poste Regents’ Professor founding director of the Biodesign Institute


137 137

Real research is standing at the very

edge of human

knowledge. Everything that you’re looking at in your horizon is stuff that hasn’t been done yet, and...


everything behind you is what’s already

been done. You’re really at that cutting edge. Joshua LaBaer

interim director, the Biodesign Institute director, Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics 139


We take on these challenges as we see them in different parts of the world.

How might we be able to bring the right team, the right partners,

such that we may be able to actually create the impact?

That is what a knowledge enterprise is all about. 140

This is but a reflection of the spirit that permeates ASU in everything that we do at the university. The knowledge enterprise at ASU is empowering our students, community, faculty and alumni to thrive and prosper well into the future. Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan


executive vice president for the knowledge enterprise chief research and innovation officer Arizona State University



An invitation to the future


CONTRIBUTORS Published by The Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development Arizona State University

Marketing and Communications


Creative director

Diane Boudreau

Patrick Cheung

Editorial team

Design team

Allie Nicodemo Kelsey Wharton Iti Agnihotri

Candy Choi Charles Shockley Annette Fuentes Chad Musch

Student writers

Student designers

Erin Barton Susan Beauchamp

Wade Bies Dain Williams

Contributing writers Joe Caspermeyer, Biodesign Institute Skip Derra, Media Relations and Strategic Communications Richard Harth, Biodesign Institute Julie Russ, Institute of Human Origins John Spence, Department of Physics

Printed by The ASU Print & Imaging Lab

You can find stories and videos about the research in this book and other ASU discoveries and innovations at: PO Box 876311, Tempe, AZ 85287-6311 480.965.7260 Back to Table of Contents





Designed for Discovery  
Designed for Discovery