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Today’s Challenges Tomorrow’s Solutions

Why I Chose NIU What’s new on the technology and research front at Northern Illinois University? Just about everything. In our quest to find solutions for complex, real-world problems, we are investigating new ways to fight disease and gaining a new understanding of the nanoworld. We’re shedding new light on the building blocks of nature, gathering new and critical information on global climate change and launching a new environmental studies program.

Dream Discover Do The Power of NIU.

I became NIU’s vice president for research and graduate studies in July 2010, after 15 years at Kansas State University, where I was a professor of pharmacology, an associate dean for research and graduate studies and an associate vice president for innovation. I came to NIU because I was impressed with the depth and diversity of research activities and graduate training programs, and I am excited by the opportunity to expand these initiatives. NIU is a student-centered public research university, with 79 graduate-level degree programs and over 20 areas of study leading to doctoral degrees. We’re committed to providing students of all ages with opportunities for direct involvement in research. Leveraging our location near research and development corridors in the dynamic Chicago region, we are building public-private partnerships relevant to teaching, research, outreach and workforce development. And we continue to cultivate long-established collaborations with nearby national laboratories. In the pages that follow, take a good look at some of NIU’s research and technology highlights. I think you’ll be impressed, too.

Lisa Freeman Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies

Nanotechnology and Materials Science

X-ray visionary

Michel van Veenendaal is a theorist in the field of X-ray science, where powerful X-rays produced by synchrotrons are used to probe the atomic structure of materials, particularly those that hold promise for technological breakthroughs.

The NIU physics professor was a member of a team of scientists that examined the orbitals of electrons and uncovered a potential path for manipulating superconductivity at the atomic scale. Cited by the prestigious journal Science as one of the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the year 2007, the research opens up a new area of investigation into ways of designing nanoscale superconductors.

A Small, Small World Laying the foundation for nanotechnology Like early American pioneers or modern-day astronauts, NIU physicist Zhili Xiao is an explorer of a new frontier.

Did You Know? • More than two dozen scientists are associated with NIU’s interdisciplinary Institute for NanoScience, Engineering and Technology. • NIU students and professors collaborate with scientists at nearby Argonne National Laboratory.

Xiao is surveying the mysterious uncharted territory around us, invisible to all but the scientists who use high-powered instruments to probe its landscape. He is making major strides in nanoscience, a field many expect to spur the next technological revolution. Researchers in nanoscience explore how the universe operates at its most fundamental levels. Nanoscientists develop materials, electronics and machines so small they approach atomic scale. In 2005, R&D Magazine named an ultra-fast hydrogen sensor developed by Xiao’s research team at Argonne National Laboratory as one of the world’s top 100 scientific and technological innovations of the year. He also has developed ways to create specifically shaped nanoparticles, nanowires and nanoribbons, documenting their magnetic and superconducting properties and potential functions.

• The Defense Threat Reduction Agency awarded physicist Phillippe Piot a grant of $590,000 to work on novel techniques to accelerate electron beams. The goal is to aid homeland security by developing tabletop accelerators that can detect radioactive material.

Not surprisingly, Xiao’s work attracts major funding, including grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Toyota InfoTechnology Center USA.

• Award-winning chemist and biochemist C.T. Lin is developing a “molecular fan.” The unique thin-film coating contains nanomaterials for use in heat management of nano-electronic devices.

Shedding light on the microscopic nature of the universe You could liken physicist Gerald Blazey to a crash-scene investigator. Only instead of reconstructing car accidents, he helps stage high-speed collisions between protons and anti-protons to identify and study subatomic building blocks of the universe.

Blazey directed an upgrade of the DZero detector, enabling it to process 7 million particle collisions and identify the 50 most interesting—all within a single second. The American Physical Society fellow also helped measure the size of the quark, the smallest bit of matter.

Known internationally in the particle physics community, Blazey served two terms as co-spokesperson of the DZero collaboration at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. DZero is among the world’s most complex, most publicized and most ambitious physics experiments, bringing together the creativity and know-how of hundreds of international researchers.

At NIU, the veteran professor serves as Presidential Science Adviser and heads up the Northern Illinois Center for Accelerator and Detector Development (NICADD). It collaborates with scientists at Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory on the research and development of new particle accelerator and detector technologies.

Top quark collaborators They came from institutions worldwide, built the world’s most powerful accelerator, smashed tiny bits of matter together at nearly the speed of light and produced something remarkable: a fundamental particle that was abundantly present at the creation of our universe but had never before existed on our planet. Experimental physicists at NIU can’t help but feel a pinch of pride knowing they played a part in finding the top quark, the heaviest known elementary particle, one which exists for only a miniscule moment in time (10 -24 seconds). Five current NIU physicists were members of the DZero collaboration, one of two large Fermilab experiments that jointly announced discovery of the top quark in 1995. The NIU contingent also included 50 students.

Particle Physics

No trivial matter

Man in the muon Physicist David Hedin was one of the original members of the famous DZero experiment and collaboration at Fermilab. He helped lead the design, construction and operation of a system for detecting particles known as muons, important signposts in the discovery of the top quark, the heaviest known constituent of matter. He and other NIU colleagues also played a major role in the design and construction of muon detector elements that are now helping scientists shed new light on what the New York Times calls “one of the biggest mysteries of cosmology”—why the universe is made up of matter. But Hedin is most proud of another accomplishment. Since coming to NIU in 1987, he has recruited nearly 175 undergraduate and graduate students to work with the university’s experimental high energy physics group. More than 120 have contributed to DZero.


Quiet, please The incubators found in neonatal intensive care units sustain weak and premature babies who cannot cope with the environment outside the womb. Excessive levels of noise inside the incubators, however, can cause adverse health effects, including hearing impairment.

Special Needs, Special Solutions

Supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, electrical engineering professor Sen-Maw Kuo is hoping to lower the volume. Kuo is developing a computer algorithm that produces anti-noise sound to cancel the undesired din. It also integrates music, intrauterine sound or natural sound to further provide a more soothing environment for improving infant health.

Improving health care and quality of life Tina Grieco-Calub’s research into toddlers with cochlear implants will provide insight into how these children acquire oral language. The audiology professor’s post-doctoral work, funded by a National Institutes of Health grant, informs parents and clinicians that children with cochlear implants need more time to process auditory information, particularly when there is background noise. Otherwise, these children can easily miss new words while sorting out familiar ones—an especially troublesome scenario “when their vocabularies are starting to emerge, right in the middle of the language explosion.” Grieco-Calub and her co-researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison tested nearly four dozen 2-yearolds, 26 of whom had implants. Grieco-Calub is a professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

Patient-centered healing Most of the literature regarding patient-centered occupational rehabilitation assumes the client has substantial independence of movement, thought and judgment. Those qualities are rare in newly injured spinal cord patients, however. Nursing professor Christina Papadimitriou is working to identify critical barriers and facilitators to clientcentered practice for inpatient spinal cord injury rehabilitation. Papadimitriou, a sociologist by training, eventually will create a web-based updateable field guide of best practices and a series of policy-level recommendations.

Did You Know? • Mechanical engineering professor Abhijit Gupta is exploring the “active control” technology typically used to counteract vibration in machinery as a possible drug-free approach to help patients control “essential tremors.” • Chemist Elizabeth Gaillard hopes to slow or prevent blinding disorders such as cataracts and macular degeneration by understanding the molecular basis of their progression and developing ways to negate these deleterious processes. • Timothy Hagen joined the NIU faculty after working in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 20 years. He is already named as an inventor on more than 40 patents. Although Hagen is a chemist, he collaborates closely with biologists and computer scientists in his work. His laboratory at NIU focuses on designing drugs as therapeutic agents for parasitic diseases and bacterial infections.

The power of protons NIU scientists are helping to develop a new imaging process, known as a proton computed tomography, or proton CT, that could lead to a significant improvement in the delivery of proton beam therapy for cancer patients. The proton CT will provide superior mapping of patients’ anatomy for proton treatment planning and proton beam delivery, allowing for more precise treatment that spares surrounding healthy tissue, according to George Coutrakon, a world-renowned medical physicist who heads NIU’s proton therapy research efforts. The greater precision would be especially beneficial in pediatric cases and for tumors located in critical areas, such as at the base of the skull.

CANCER COMBATANTS Seeking better ways to battle disease Narayan Hosmane is a bit of a mystery on the NIU campus— people wonder when he sleeps. Hosmane, a recipient of Germany’s Humboldt Research Award for senior scientists, is among the world leaders in boron chemistry research. At any one time, he has more projects going than you can shake a beaker at, from improved ways to clean up hazardous waste to methods of making better plastics. At front and center of his work, however, is cancer research.

Did You Know? • In 2010, NIU biochemist James Horn received a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation. The estimated $631,000 in funding will support his study of the interactions between proteins and small drug molecules, including those used in cancer treatment.

Along with students in his lab, he is working on the production and study of boron water-soluble nanotubes and nanorods. They could potentially transport drugs directly into cancer cells. He also is exploring the viability of using boron drugs, in combination with neutron capture therapy, as a way of combating cancer while reducing treatment side effects. Funding sources for Hosmane’s research program are as varied as his interests. They include nearly $2.3 million from the National Science Foundation.

• The Northern Illinois University Institute for Neutron Therapy at Fermilab is one of only two sites in the United States offering neutron therapy to cancer patients. • Professor Douglas Klumpp and students in his organic chemistry laboratory class made a discovery that might help fight cancer. They found a simple method for preparing a class of heterocyclic compounds possessing promising activity against certain forms of cancer. Their research was published, with all enrolled students listed as co-authors, in the Journal of Organic Chemistry.

Cancer Research

Mother of Invention Making things—and making things better If manufacturing is the engine that drives the nation’s economy, NIU’s ROCK program pumps the region’s fuel. An outreach initiative of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, Rapid Optimization of Commercial Knowledge is revitalizing the Rockford-area manufacturing sector by helping companies become an important part of the Department of Defense supply chain and by improving their ability to satisfy the commercial market.

C.T. Lin, a Distinguished Research Professor and Distinguished Teaching Professor, introduces chemistry students to the real world as they collaborate to make our planet a better place.

Since 2004, the various partnerships between ROCK and more than 100 small- and medium-sized companies have garnered $19 million in federal funding. The list includes Alion Science and Technology, Atometric, Camcar, Hamilton Sundstrand, Ingersoll Milling Machine, Kaney Aerospace, Reliable Machine, Supply Core and Textron Greenlee.

ChemNova Technologies, Inc., which Lin and NIU launched in 1999, holds several U.S. and international patents and serves as a working laboratory for students. They have developed an environmentally friendly coating for metal that uses a chemical bond to enhance adhesion and inhibit corrosion as well as nanocoatings for killing bacteria.

The collaboration is developing new products for improved processing of precision small parts, as well as parts fabricated out of titanium or other advanced materials. Research efforts have included laser cladding, micro-forming, micro-machining and laser-assisted machining of ceramics and parts fabricated from titanium alloy powder. The program currently is developing more affordable, longer-lasting and lighter-weight components for fuel systems used in aircraft turbine engines. ROCK administrators also connect companies for new endeavors; one is aimed at saving farmers money on fertilizer and allowing them to generate their own electricity by using farm waste products.

Got rust?

Engineering Did You Know? Research at NIU’s Macro/Micro Manufacturing Laboratory includes micro-machining—developing state-of-the-art platforms to perform any micro-scale manufacturing operation—and micro-stamping to stamp titanium up to a thickness of 0.002 inches. The lab also studies ceramic laser-assisted machining—maximizing the volume of material that can be removed in the shortest period of time without damaging a ceramic work piece—and ways to reduce costs, energy consumption and amounts of materials required to perform cladding.


For(e) a greener green Robert Tatara, professor of technology, is teeing up for greener golf courses—and a greener world beyond. Tatara combined fillers derived from the making of ethanol with biodegradable resins to create plastic products that break down naturally instead of cluttering the landscape and clogging landfills. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, he and his team started by making and marketing golf tees. Now they’re exploring a new biodegradable plastic with cornstarch-based resins.

NIU meteorologist David Changnon is pioneering research that finds links between industrialized farming methods and climate. Over the last 80 years, late summer days throughout much of the Midwest have actually been getting cooler and wetter. Changnon has gained national attention with his theory that more densely planted corn and soybean fields are changing the regional climate by releasing more water vapor into the atmosphere. The unintended consequence could be a softening of expected global change effects in the Midwest.

Focus on the environment NIU is establishing a new Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy. It will oversee new academic programs focused on the environment and bring together faculty from various disciplines to ramp up research efforts in environmental and alternativeenergy issues. NIU researchers are world leaders on the issue of climate change and also have strengths in environmental law and policy, energy technology, alternative fuels, environmental restoration, water quality and the links between environment and society.

Environmental Sciences

Did You Know?

MAN VS. NATURE Getting to the bottom of global warming Most people read books to learn about history. Ross Powell and Reed Scherer read rocks. The NIU geologists go to great lengths and the ends of the earth—from Arctic fjords to the bottom of the Antarctic sea—to recover sediments that scientists use to interpret how ice sheets behaved in the past, and evaluate how they will likely react to ongoing and future global climate change. Powell serves as co-chief scientist of the $30 million international Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program, which is providing vital information to scientists and has attracted worldwide publicity. Scherer also is a key member of the ANDRILL team, which includes more than 100 scientists. Powell and Scherer are also leading a multi-milliondollar, five-year investigation of melting near the base of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Scientists will lower a 27-foot-long robotic submarine built for NIU through more than a half-mile of ice into ocean water. The one-of-a-kind submarine is equipped with five cameras, a robotic arm with “fingers” for gathering samples and more bells and whistles than a Mercedes-Benz.

Seeing the forest from the trees

Both projects are supported by the National Science Foundation. The submarine project is also supported by the Moore Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For about 2,500 sugar maple seedlings now growing in Canada’s Lake Superior Provincial Park, global warming has arrived. Supported by a $260,000 National Science Foundation grant, geographers Lesley Rigg and David Goldblum are testing sugar maple seeds and seedlings under simulated conditions of global warming. Working with NIU students, the scientists built rain-exclusion, temperature-controlled structures over existing seedlings in a forested area of Lake Superior Provincial Park. The structures allow

the researchers to simulate temperature increases and drier conditions predicted to occur over the next century. The sugar maple is a keystone species of forests in eastern North America. They thrive in cool, moist climates. Preliminary findings indicate that if temperature increases approach 5 degrees Celsius (as many climate models predict), sugar maple regeneration might be compromised.

Paleontology and Testy Teen-Rex We all know adolescents get testy from time to time. Thank goodness we don’t have young tyrannosaurs running around the neighborhood. Researchers from NIU and the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois, report that adolescent tyrannosaurs got into some serious scrapes with their peers. The evidence can be found on Jane, the museum’s prized juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, discovered in 2001 in Montana.

A Journey Through Time Bringing a new understanding of the past

Jane’s fossils show that she sustained a serious bite that punctured through the bone of the dinosaur’s left upper jaw and snout in four places. The injury wasn’t life threatening, according to the scientists, who determined another juvenile tyrannosaur was responsible for the injury.

Dan Gebo is an internationally renowned anthropologist and paleontologist whose discoveries have graced the front pages of such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune. His research focuses on the locomotion and evolution of primates, including studies of monkeys, apes, humans and lower primates.

Archaeologist extraordinaire Winifred Creamer certainly isn’t afraid to sink her hands in the dirt. What she unearths tells us much about our past. A professor of anthropology, Creamer has proven herself to be an archaeologist extraordinaire. Her research is helping to shed light on the origins of civilization in the Americas, the evolution of civilization in Central America and the ancient Pueblo people of the American Southwest, where her work was featured in a PBS documentary hosted by acclaimed network newsman Bill Kurtis. Creamer holds a permanent appointment as visiting professor at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru. Since 2002, she also has served as a director of the Proyecto Arqueologico Norte Chico (PANC), an investigation on the development of monumental architecture and social complexity in ancient Peru. Over the course of her career, Creamer has received two Fulbright Research Fellowships and numerous grants, including from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

In 2000, Gebo led a research team that announced the fossil discovery of 45-million-year-old, thumb-length primates. Recovered from the fissurefilled sediments of a limestone quarry in China in 1996, the fossils represent the smallest known primates, with one species estimated to have weighed only 10 grams. These distant relatives of monkeys, apes and humans were once the prey of owls. Gebo is currently working in northern China on a quest to discover primate origins dating back 60 million years.


Did You Know?

Clean Burn

NIU engineering students designed and built a vehicle that drove 1,265 miles on a single gallon of gasoline, winning third place in the 2010 Society of Automotive Engineers International Supermileage Competition.

Developing alternative forms of energy Reducing greenhouse gas emissions created during the production, storage and use of energy is widely regarded as a top priority to minimize future climate change. Chemist Tao Xu’s research group is tackling that challenge with a plan to enhance the production of energy while suppressing those negative side effects. Xu and his colleagues are exploring the basic sciences inherent in such processes as solar energy utilization, the degradation of environmentally harmful substances and the environmentally friendly production of useful materials. Armed with this new knowledge, they will design, produce and apply modern nanotechnology to aid energy production and minimize or eliminate impacts to the environment. Nanomaterials are extremely tiny substances that exhibit unique behaviors not commonly found in bulk materials. For example, adding small spaces of air within a nanomaterial’s molecular structure can make it not only lighter but stronger. Nanomaterials also can speed chemical reactions, potentially saving time and money in the production of energy.

Energy Technology

Working on the railroad NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has received $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to help the nation’s railroad industry squeeze more miles from a gallon of fuel and reduce pollution. Faculty and students are collaborating on switching locomotives to bio-diesel, exploring the potential of powering engines with fuel cells, studying the feasibility of alternative materials in the production of locomotives, examining the efficiency of rail lubricants and reducing emissions and heat loss. Researchers also are investigating the possibilities of using batteries to power the next generation of locomotives and developing new bio-fuels from abundant sources such as algae.

Did You Know?

Next-generation A River (of Fiber) Runs through It Enhancing health care, research, economic opportunity Northwest Illinois soon will be transformed into one of the most connected regions in the Midwest, thanks to a $68.5 million grant to Northern Illinois University. The grant, which includes funding from the federal government, the state and private businesses, will allow NIU to extend highspeed broadband service into a region too sparsely populated to be attractive to commercial providers. When completed in about two years, the network will connect every school, library, municipality and hospital within a ninecounty area to high-speed fiber. Most of those institutions will see their Internet speed rocket up to 1,000 times faster, while costs for those services will plummet. Another $12 million grant will provide the same benefits in DeKalb County. The networks are also a powerful economic development tool, says Health Economist and Project Director John Lewis, as they make available a service many businesses today consider a basic utility. Because the fiber also will be available for lease by Internet service providers and cable television companies, the benefits of the network quickly could find their way into more than 280,000 homes. The ability to quickly share technical resources, videos and other educational materials also is expected to enhance university research with local institutions.

• Nicholas Karonis, chair of the Department of Computer Science, and his collaborators work through Argonne National Laboratory to link two or more supercomputers—“grid computing”—to limit the need for larger machines. • NIU’s School of Music harnesses the power of the Internet and Internet2 to webcast concerts to audiences around the world and to interact with other universities in real time.

Communication Connecting communities For hospitals in medically underserved parts of Illinois, NIU’s Illinois Rural HealthNet is just what the doctor ordered. Coalition members, led by John Lewis and Alan Kraus, are creating a fiber-optic communications network that will dramatically improve emergency care and expand medical services in small hospitals. Doctors can make diagnoses and consult other physicians from hundreds of miles away. Patients gain access to specialists without leaving their hometowns. A $21 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission and additional funding from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will make possible the network that extends from Galena in the north to Metropolis in the south, serving 80 small towns and some larger communities.

Bridging the globe NIUNet—a high-speed, fiber-optic network built by the university and running throughout northern Illinois— connects our region to the world while enhancing academic research and bolstering economic development. Professors deliver distance education classes in essentially realtime with DVD-quality picture and sound. Cities share resources for planning, emergency management and economic development. High-tech jobs come and stay instead of fleeing for more “connected” communities on either coast. Partners include local governments, K-12 schools, hospitals, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory. NIUNet also connects to the Metropolitan Research and Education Network (MREN) and the Internet2 network in Chicago.

Among the Sponsors of NIU Research Abbott Laboratories Fund American Chemical Society American Philosophical Society Argonne National Laboratory Baxter Healthcare Corporation Caterpillar, Inc. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/DHHS Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) Defense Threat Reduction Agency Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Federal Communications Commission Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Illinois Department of Natural Resources Illinois Department of Public Health Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Joyce Foundation Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation National Aeronautics and Space Administration National Cancer Institute/NIH/DHHS National Endowment for the Humanities/National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH/DHHS National Institute of Child Health and Human Development/NIH/DHHS National Institute of General Medical Sciences/NIH/DHHS National Institute of Mental Health/NIH/DHHS National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke/NIH/DHHS National Institute of Standards and Technology National Institutes of Health Accreditation and Affiliation National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Park Service • NIU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. National Science Foundation • NIU is a member of the North Central Association. Northern Illinois University Foundation • NIU is included in the Research Universities (high Office of Naval Research research activity) and the Community Engaged Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Universities categories of the Carnegie Foundation for Spencer Foundation the Advancement of Teaching. The Field Museum • NIU is a member of the Association of Public and LandThe J. Craig Venter Institute grant Universities. U.S. Army • NIU collaborates with Argonne National Laboratory U.S. Army Medical Department and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. U.S. Department of Agriculture • NIU is fully accredited by the National Council for U.S. Department of Defense Accreditation of Teacher Education. U.S. Department of Defense (Rock Island Arsenal) • NIU and its colleges have institutional membership or U.S. Department of Education other affiliations in or with the American Association U.S. Department of Energy of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Council U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Education, Association of State Colleges and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Universities, Council of Graduate Schools and the U.S. Department of State prestigious Universities Research Association. U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Pages 2 and 3, photos courtesy Argonne National Laboratory; page 4 bottom, photo courtesy Fermilab. Northern Illinois University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution. Printed by authority of the State of Illinois. 10/10 10M 49533

The Power of NIU:

Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Solutions

Dream. Discover. Do. Located 65 miles west of Chicago in one of the most vibrant regions of the country, Northern Illinois University is one of only four public universities in Illinois that has been designated a high research activity institution by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. NIU is a comprehensive teaching and research institution that encourages and supports undergraduate research experiences. NIU is home to a student body of nearly 24,000 and alma mater for more than 220,000 alumni. Our six locations include the 756-acre main campus in DeKalb and outreach centers in Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon, Rockford and Chicago.

Today's Challenges, Tomorrow's Solutions  

NIU's Research and Technology Highlights

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