In The News

This monthly summary includes excerpts from Illinois in the News, a daily service provided by the University of Illinois News Bureau and other media search tools. This collection of recent stories focuses on engineering topics and faculty contacted for their expertise by print and broadcast reporters around the world.

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May 2016 media appearances

Smartphone fingerprint

Motherboard (May 31) -- Recent research has pointed to a method of device fingerprinting that uses the minuscule, unique imperfections in each phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope to create a profile of that phone that can be used to track its user’s activities across the web, without the user’s knowledge. “Smartphone users who use private browsing or clear their cookies to avoid tracking would find that these protection measures are rendered ineffective by fingerprinting, and they can still be tracked,” says Nikita Borisov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois.

CS alumni in Scientific American

Scientific American (May 31) -- “DNA is an unbelievably dense, durable, nonvolatile storage medium,” says Olgica Milenkovic, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Illinois. Two computer science alumni--University of Washington computer scientist Luis Ceze (PhD ‘07) and Microsoft Research computer architect Karin Strauss (PhD ‘07)--were also quoted in this article about DNA-based data storage.

Student entrepreneurs

Chicago Inno (May 30) -- Last summer, the U. of I. launched iVenture, a startup accelerator for students. The aim was to offer a home to entrepreneurs in central Illinois, so they don't have to leave to grow their startup. Students took interest: 104 students applied from eight different colleges across the campus. Thirteen startups were selected, and all are still active today.

Airport security breaches

Chicago Daily Herald (May 25) -- O'Hare International Airport wasn't the worst in the nation for intruders penetrating security fences and gates in a 13-year study of 30 major U.S. airports. With about 26,000 commercial flights daily in the U.S., 345 breaches "is not good but it's not that bad either," University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign aviation security expert Sheldon H. Jacobson said. "It's very possible they're catching 99 percent and a small percentage is getting through. There are layers of security beyond the perimeter fencing ... and no one reports the attempts that are stopped."

Alumnus Shahid Khan

Detroit Free Press (May 25) -- Flex-N-Gate owner and Illinois alumnus Shahid Khan says his company will invest $95 million to build a new plant in Detroit that will supply parts to Ford that will initially create about 400 jobs. Khan, a Pakistani-born immigrant, is widely recognized as an American success story. Khan came to the U.S. at age 16 to attend the University of Illinois College of Engineering.

College of Engineering to launch country's first entrepreneurial degree program

Chicago Tribune (May 24) -- The College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign plans to launch a new degree program that will let students pursue ideas that could develop into companies. The Innovation, Leadership and Engineering Entrepreneurship program will be project-based and build on classes and programming already offered through the university’s Technology Entrepreneur Center. The degree will join an already robust entrepreneurial system at Illinois. The university’s Research Park is home to an incubator, a venture fund and dozens of startups and companies. Also: Chicago Inno (May 24), News-Gazette (May 25).

Avoiding TSA lines at airports

WCIA-TV (Champaign, May 23) -- Experts at the U of I are saying if you have to fly, skip the trip to Chicago and try going local. Travelers in the Windy City have seen lines upwards of two or three hours long this month. TSA cut some of their workers after they rolled out the "pre-check" program. The executive director at Willard Airport says more than 1,700 registered there, which was a great turnout for them. Sheldon Jacobson, who teaches at the U of I, says money may have been an issue. It costs 85 dollars for the check which lasts five years. He says if you fly a few times a year, it's only about as expensive as a cup of coffee.

Agricultural water study

AG Web (from The Associated Press, May 23) -- The flow of nitrates from farm fertilizer and treated wastewater into the Illinois River that contributes to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico has fallen, a new study from the U. of I. says. "The varieties (of corn) that are planted these days and in the last few years are more robust in a lot of different ways," co-author and agricultural engineering professor Greg McIsaac said, calling the reductions a "promising sign."

Post-harvest loss

Deutsche Welle (Bonn, Germany, May 23) -- In developed countries, the biggest problem associated with post-harvest loss is food going to waste, (but) … the problem in many poorer countries lies in the production process. “Post-harvest loss has been an issue for decades, but people did not take it very seriously,” says ABE professor Prasanta Kalita, director of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Post-harvest Loss at Illinois.

Computing the job market

Big Ten Network (May 18) -- A team at Illinois’ Coordinated Science Lab is using sophisticated mathematics and applying it to the job market. “A main difficulty is matching work to workers in the best possible way, to maximize the number of tasks that can be done by qualified people,” says Lav Varshney, a professor of computer and electrical engineering at Illinois. “We develop algorithms that are able to do this nearly optimally, while also maintaining the freedom of choice that people like in work.”

IT security: strange flashdrives

PC World (May 18) -- Maybe you know not to plug strange USB drives into your computer, but trends indicate that most people think nothing of it. In a recent experiment, a group of researchers from the U. of I., University of Michigan and Google, dropped nearly 300 USB thumb drives around six campus locations and found that at least 45 percent of them were plugged into a computer and perused by the person who found them.

Wearable solar power cells

Discovery News (May 17) -- There’s one big obstacle holding back flexible electronics and conformable wearables, and that’s stiff and bulky lithium-ion batteries. Now, a team of scientists has developed a stretchable mesh of power cells that sticks to surfaces like a Band-Aid to skin – and it can even charge itself. The device was built by a team of international scientists led by professor John Rogers from Illinois. Also: Inverse (May 16), ABC Online (May 16), Popular Mechanics (May 17), Android Community (May 18), Gizmodo (May 18), ReadWrite (May 18), BGR (May 19), Gizmag (May 19), The Drive (May 20), Design News (May 24).

Venture fund in Research Park

Chicago Tribune (May 13) -- A venture fund focused on Midwestern companies is on its way to raising $50 million, and it’s already eyeing a handful of potential investments. Serra Ventures, based at Illinois' Research Park, aims to nearly triple the size of its last fund and invest in 40 to 50 startups.

Baseball physics

The Star (Toronto, May 12) -- By altering one’s delivery, a pitcher can apply sidespin rather than backspin. “The more sidespin gives you arm-side movement, a tailing action,” says Alan Nathan, a physics professor at Illinois who specializes in the physics of baseball.

Flying robots

Gizmodo (May 12) -- Researchers from Illinois' Coordinated Science Lab, think mimicking nature is the best way to help robots take flight.

Research partnership

News-Gazette (May 11) -- Illinois State University and Illinois say they have created a partnership to help ISU get the most out of research it believes could help build the state's economy. Also: WAND-TV (May 11), WCIA-TV (May 11), State Journal-Register (May 12), Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill., May 13).

Facebook bias

Christian Science Monitor (May 11) -- A former Facebook employee’s contention that the site’s “news curators” routinely omitted popular conservative news from its “trending news” feed has reignited a long-running debate about online news, media bias, and what political scientists say is a trend toward increasing political polarization. Several “folk theories” – including a “Narcissus Theory” that users will see more from friends similar to them and a perspective that suggests Facebook is all powerful and unknowable – shaped how some users manipulated the site, says Karrie Karahalios, an associate professor of computer science at Illinois. Karahalios and several colleagues collected these folk theories together in a recently published paper by giving users access to an interface disclosing “seams” that provided hints into how Facebook’s algorithm works. “We found that it got people thinking a little bit more and it got them to try things on Facebook that they wouldn’t have thought of before, they had a bit more knowledge and they had a tool set available to them that they could put action into their news feed.”

Electronics for the eye

Quartz (May 10) -- A patent granted on April 28 calls for surgically removing the cornea, and replacing it with an electronic lens that captures digital media and communicates with wireless devices. Patent applications, of course, are not commercial hardware. “Most of these are fantasy drawings of the future,” says Sung-Woo Nam, a researcher at Illinois who is working on transparent and flexible composites that can support electronics for the eye.

High-speed, wireless signals through meat

The Week (May 10) -- If you ran into electrical engineer Andrew Singer in the grocery store recently, you may not have given his shopping basket – filled with a few beef livers and some pork chops – much notice. But Singer was buying that meat for his lab, not for his plate. Back at Illinois, he hung the pork chop and beef liver on hooks, pointed ultrasound devices in their direction, and proved that data can be wirelessly transmitted through flesh as quickly as Netflix streams movies. Also: Illinois Magazine (Summer 2016).

Alumnus Huber is Engineering Commencement speaker

Chicago Inno (May 9) -- Several Illinois universities, including the Illinois Institute of Technology, the U. of I. and DePaul University, are featuring tech leaders in their commencement ceremonies. Jeff Huber, a former Google executive and the current CEO of Grail, will speak at Illinois. Also: Daily Illini (March 31), Smile Politely (March 31), Network World (April 4), News-Gazette (May 4).

Related story: Chicago Tribune (May 17) -- Jeff Huber, CEO of Silicon Valley biotechnology startup Grail, and former executive at the Google X research lab and eBay, spoke at his alma mater, the U. of I., about how failure at a job turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him.

Illinois alumni, Chicago entrepreneurs

Chicago Inno (May 9) -- Big 10 universities feed into Chicago at a higher rate than any other city. Unsurprisingly, Illinois and Northwestern University are the most likely of any Big 10 universities to send their entrepreneur alums to Chicago. Illinois has more than 3,500 founders living in the Chicago area, and more than 5,100 list themselves as part of the “entrepreneurship” industry.

Everitt Lab construction project kicks off

News-Gazette (May 6) -- Bulldozers have set up shop around Everitt Lab, where legendary Nobel Laureate John Bardeen taught the first-ever university course on semiconductors and transistors. Soon, the building at the corner of Wright and Green streets will be headquarters for research on cancer diagnoses, high-tech artificial limbs and other biotechnology breakthroughs, in conjunction with the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

Hacker alumna

The Next Web (May 6) -- CS alumna Parisa Tabriz offered her insights in the article, "5 amazing lessons from famous women in tech": So how about being employed as a hacker to attack the company that you work for? That’s what Tabriz gets to do everyday as a professional “white-hat” hacker. While studying computer engineering at Illinois, Tabriz was inspired by early hacker John Draper.

Patterning graphene

EE Times (May 5) -- Graphene is easily grown with chemical vapor deposition on copper foil, but a simple way of etching out the necessary circuit patterns and transferring them to a non-metallic substrate has eluded engineers. Now researchers at Illinois claim to have a one-step room temperature process for quickly patterning and transferring graphene circuits to flexible substrates using a simple shadow mask.

Virtual reality class

ChicagoInno (May 2) -- Steve LaValle and Anna Yershova's virtual reality class in the Department of Computer Science at Illinois one of just a handful of classes nationwide that explore the new tech. The course, which has run three semesters so far, offers students the chance to get hands-on with Oculus, Gear VR, Magic Leap, and other virtual reality tech in order to develop applications, games, and explore the myriad of uses for the tech.

Two Engineering Alums among Wired's "25 Geniuses..."

Wired (May 2016) -- Two Engineering at Illinois alumni are among Wired's "25 Geniuses Who Are Creating the Future of Business." Inside Apple, CS alumnus Chris Lattner leads the team that built Swift, one of a new breed of programming languages that give coders real power. ECE alumnus Arvind Krishna wants to overhaul Wall Street. And Wall Street is OK with that. Krishna is the head of research at IBM and the driving force behind the Hyperledger, a new twist on the enormously powerful idea that underpins bitcoin.

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