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: firstname.lastname@example.org Use of trade names implies no endorsement by Arizona State University. © 2016 Arizona Board of Regents
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
Transform Society Soap’s dirty secret A flexible future for today’s technologies
Value Entrepreneurship HealthTell aims to disrupt diagnostics Student venture advances jaundice treatment globally
Conduct Use-Inspired Research Empowering an energy transformation ‘Pharming’ tobacco to beat Ebola
Enable Student Success Students build ability through CUbiC A global look at how we treat water
Fuse Intellectual Disciplines Complexity: More than the sum of its parts Arts and culture harmonize with health
Be Socially Embedded Modern abolitionists work to end human trafficking CompuGirls plants the seeds of STEM careers
Engage Globally Tweeting terror: Understanding extremism on social media HEEAP helps Vietnam re-engineer education
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 research.asu.edu 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 ASUâ€™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 â€œPanchâ€? 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 ASUâ€™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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Photo by: James Rhoads
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.
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.
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
Photo by: Laurence Garvie
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Photo by: Julien Rameau (UdeM) and Christian Marois (NRC Herzberg)
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.
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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
Apollo 12 landing site credit: NASA | GSFC | ASU
Infrastructure for exploration
L E GACY O F D I S C OVE RY
S PAC E E X P LO R AT I O N
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 research.asu.edu/book
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
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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LE GACY O F D I S C OVE RY
H U MAN O R I G I N S
Exploring the future of
“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.
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
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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LE GACY O F D I S C OVE RY
S U STAI NAB I LITY
protecting tomorrow research.asu.edu/book
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
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.
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L E GACY O F D I S C OVE RY
E L E CT R O N M I C R O S C O PY
A global leader at the
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 ASUâ€™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, Cowleyâ€™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.
Leverage Our Place
ASU embraces its cultural, socioeconomic and physical setting.
ASU catalyzes social change by being connected to social needs.
Conduct Use-Inspired Research
ASU uses its knowledge and encourages innovation.
ASU research has purpose and impact.
Eight design aspirations guide ASUâ€™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
ASU connects with communities through mutually beneficial partnerships.
ASU engages with people and issues locally, nationally and internationally.
L E V E R AG E O U R P L AC E
Keepinâ€™ 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
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”
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
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
L E V E R AG E O U R P L AC E
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
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
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
L E V E R AG E O U R P L AC E
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
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
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
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.
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
TRANSFOR M SOCI ETY
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,
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
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
Back to Table of Contents
A flexible future for today’s technologies
TRANSFOR M SOCI ETY
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
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
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
TRANSFOR M SOCI ETY
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
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
VALU E E N TR E P R E N E U R S H I P
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
“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
VALU E E N TR E P R E N E U R S H I P
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
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
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.
VALU E E N TR E P R E N E U R S H I P
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,
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.”
Back to Table of Contents
Empowering an energy transformation
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
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
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.
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 donâ€™t require
energy than those that do. Most of this energy (82 percent in the U.S.)
At Arizona State University, researchers from a variety of disciplinesâ€”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 sciencesâ€”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
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
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
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
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.
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
well as policies for the construction of new highvoltage transmission lines, which many believe will
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
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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‘Pharming’ tobacco to beat Ebola
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
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
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
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.
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Students build ability through CUbiC
E N A B L E ST U D E N T S U C C E S S
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,
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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
E N A B L E ST U D E N T S U C C E S S
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.”
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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E N A B L E ST U D E N T S U C C E S S
A global look at how we treat water Peopleâ€™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.
E N A B L E ST U D E N T S U C C E S S
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
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
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.
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
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 U S E I N TE L L E CTUAL D I S C I P L I N E S
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
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
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
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
Back to Table of Contents
Arts and culture harmonize with health
F U S E I N TE L L E CTUA L D I S C I P L I N E S
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,
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
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
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
B E S O C IA LLY E M B E D D E D
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
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.
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
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.
B E S O C IA LLY E M B E D D E D
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.”
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.
Back to Table of Contents
B E S O C IA LLY E M B E D D E D
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
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.
E N G AG E G LO BA L LY
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
“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
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
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
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
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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
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
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.”
Back to Table of Contents
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.
E N G AG E G LO BA L LY
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
E N G AG E G LO BA L LY
“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
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.
Building on natureâ€™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 structuresâ€”highways and bridges, skyscrapers and electrical gridsâ€”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,
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
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.
ON TH E FRONTI E R
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
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
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.
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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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
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
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
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
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 research.asu.edu/book
Petra Fromme, Regentsâ€™ Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences (left) speaks with John Spence, Regentsâ€™ Professor in the Department of Physics.
ON TH E FRONTI E R
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
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
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nanocrystals of Photosystem II, which are fully 117
More perspectives for a positive future
ON TH E FRONTI E R
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 ASUâ€™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 humanityâ€™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
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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
ON TH E FRONTI E R
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 â€? knowledge. Elizabeth Wentz dean of social sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
â€œ 126 research.asu.edu/book
Research is a process that allows us to investigate
and to hypothesize about what is, and ask very specific questionsâ€Ś
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 weâ€™re not passionate human beings, if we donâ€™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
â€œ 134 research.asu.edu/book
important to improve economic development.
With research we make
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
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
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 research.asu.edu/book
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
Allie Nicodemo Kelsey Wharton Iti Agnihotri
Candy Choi Charles Shockley Annette Fuentes Chad Musch
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: research.asu.edu PO Box 876311, Tempe, AZ 85287-6311 480.965.7260
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