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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September 2016 media appearances

Alumnus Levchin

Forbes (Sept. 29) – Max Levchin, the technical co-founder at PayPal and one of the most respected technical minds in Silicon Valley, built most of the early engineering team at PayPal out of his classmates at Illinois.

Illinois ranked among "Most Innovative Universities"

Chicago Inno (Sept. 28) – The University of Illinois system is ranked 22nd on Reuter’s “Most Innovative Universities,” based on 10 metrics that center on patents and academic papers. Also: Reuters (original rankings story; Sept. 28).

Digital agriculture

Farm Futures (St. Charles, Ill., Sept. 28) – The National Science Foundation announced $10 million in “Big Data Spokes” awards to initiate research at institutions like Illinois, in specific areas identified, supported and organized by the Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs.

Profiling and Israeli security

FiveThirtyEight (Sept. 28) -- On several occasions, the Republican presidential nominee has suggested that law-enforcement agencies should consider profiling as part of their counterterrorism plans. Security experts distinguish profiling in general — which is based on behavior that’s been displayed by terrorists in the past — from demographics-based profiling and say that the former is inescapable in security. “The concept of profiling, in its root form, is using past information to predict future performance,” said Sheldon Jacobson, who is a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has researched aviation security.

Alumnus Andermann honored

Chicago Tribune (Sept. 23) – The Darien Historical Society will honor Illinois alumnus Ralph John Andermann, who helped develop and advance radar systems during World War II. Andermann graduated from Illinois in 1940 with a degree in electrical engineering.

MatSE's Chen on "SN 10 Scientists to Watch" list

Science News (Sept. 21) -- For the second year in a row, Science News is highlighting 10 early- and mid-career scientists on their way to widespread acclaim. Among the "SN 10: Scientists to Watch" is Qian Chen, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Illinois, is coaxing nanomaterials to self-assemble in new and unexpected ways.

Supercomputing and gerrymandering

Chicago Inno (Sept. 21) – Using the Blue Waters supercomputer at Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications, a team of researchers generated 800 million voter district maps that could be used as an objective way to measure the fairness of a legislative map.

Computer security - flash drives

CNET (San Francisco, Sept. 21) – The idea of plugging a random USB flash drive into your computer may sound absurd, but a 2015 experiment conducted by CompTIA found that one in five people who picked up a stray USB flash drive would plug it into their computer. Even worse, a study done this year at Illinois showed that 48 percent of people who picked up a USB flash drive in a parking lot would insert it and open files.

Rail engineering and augmented reality

Chicago Tribune (Sept. 19) – The popularity of Pokemon Go, a game that has users hunt small cartoon characters who appear on smartphone screens as though in the real world, has created a trespassing hazard, says Chris Barkan, a rail engineering expert at Illinois. Barkan suggested that the game makers should have players lose a cartoon “buddy” if they trespass near tracks.

Grid capacity

Midwest Energy News (St. Paul, Min., Sept. 18) – Solar power’s “duck-curve” problem – where solar production and demand peaks don’t align – is rearing its head where grid operators are at the cutting edge of clean energy, recent analysis shows. “The units that we have and the amount of capacity that have that ramping capability is limited,” says George Gross, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. “I can’t tell a solar unit to ramp up … [but] I can do that with gas-powered units.”

Student team wins 3D printing competition

The Tennessean (Knoxville, Ten., Sept. 17) – A team of engineers working to create a miniature additive manufactured excavator that could be 3-D printed on Mars unveiled the excavator at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The excavator driver’s cab was the result of a competition among five universities, won by a five-person engineering team from Illinois. Their prize was $2,000 and a trip to ORNL. Their elegant 3-D-printed cab looked as if it had been forged from a black iron cobweb. "We were inspired by shapes found in nature like curved and arching tree branches," team member Sharon Tsubasa says. Also: Knoxville News-Sentinel (Sept. 17), ASEE FirstBell (Sept. 19), Machine Design (Cleveland, Sept. 21), Construction Equipment (Chicago, Sept. 29).

Election Analytics

WAND-TV (Sept. 15) -- A group of computer science students at the University of Illinois campus are predicting the presidential and senate elections using election analytics. Making this site unique besides that it is run mostly by undergraduate students, is that it is updated constantly, making it the only site that gives real time predictions on who is projected to win. "What we don't do that other sites try and do is predict what is going to happen two months on election day. We feel when you do that you create an extensive amount of uncertainties, we give you a snapshot of what would happen if the election was held today" said Sheldon Jacobson, Computer Science professor at the University of Illinois. "What makes our site very valuable, it doesn't simply look at the popular vote, people read a lot about you know one candidate is ahead by one or two points. We look at it state by state. Because you don't win the white house by popular vote, you win the White House by Electoral College vote." Also: News-Gazette (weekly update, 9/20), WCIA-TV (Sept. 27).

Calculating nitrogen age in crop fields

Omaha World-Herald (Opinion, Omaha, Neb., Sept. 14) — Agricultural research often demonstrates its practical value. A new example from Illinois: Engineers have developed an analytical model to calculate the age of nitrogen in corn and soybean fields.

Research reunion

The Current (UC-Santa Barbara, CA, (Sept. 14) --  A new program enables visiting scientists to return to the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics to work together again in small groups. “Those extra two weeks at the KITP significantly strengthened our collaborations and gave us the time and space to initiate new synergistic group efforts,” said Karin Dahmen, a professor of condensed matter physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Not only did the program provide a unique opportunity to finish discussions and joint work that we had started at the KITP, it also helped us think up new ideas and design new projects that could lead to groundbreaking larger research projects for the next decade or longer.”  

Water quality

The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif., Sept. 13) – The number of northeast Fresno homes in which tests reveal lead in the water coming from faucets has climbed to almost 300, including nearly 120 in which lead levels exceed the acceptable threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Civil engineering professors Vernon Snoeyink of Illinois and Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech say the problems are related to the corrosion of galvanized pipes or lead-containing fixtures in homes in that part of the city, and what happens when a blend of water from the treatment plant and water pumped from wells flows through the galvanized household plumbing in affected homes.

More women enrolled in CS

Networkworld (Sept. 13) -- Carnegie Mellon University is boasting that nearly half (48%) of incoming School of Computer Science undergraduates are women, a new diversity record for the institution. This echoes results at another top-notch computer science school, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's College of Engineering, which says 46% of its 190 incoming freshmen CompSci students are women. That's up from 24% the year before.

Air passenger screening

News-Gazette (Sept. 11) -- Sheldon Jacobson thinks most air travelers should not have to wait in long security lines. Screening all passengers, their carry-ons, shoes and coats is time-consuming and expensive. And it isn't making flying safer. "The vision that we had — this is talking weeks after Sept. 11, just to give you the perspective — is that we can't do 'one size fits all,'" said Jacobson, a computer science professor and the director of the Simulation and Optimization Laboratory. "We started to do the research to create what we now know as (TSA's) PreCheck."

Illinois ranked for venture capital availability

Entrepreneur (Sept. 9) -- What students do achieve once they have their diplomas in hand is another way to think about what makes a university education worth the investments of time and tuition. The schools that are worth investing in are the ones whose alumni get invested in -- by venture capitalists, that is. That’s the thinking behind a recent report from investment data provider PitchBook. Illinois is at #10! Also: Chicago Inno (Sept. 13), Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Sept. 14).

Smartphone spectrometer

Scientific American (Sept. 8) – Amateur apple pickers will be happy to know that researchers can now divine when an apple is ready to eat, using a small hand-held device and a smartphone. Scientists at Illinois and LensVector, a San Jose, California-based maker of solid-state autofocus lenses, in 2013 built a spectrometer into an iPhone case and used the smartphone’s camera to collect light for analysis.

NSF "Academic Redshirt" program

The Seattle Times (Sept. 8) – A program to help more low-income and minority students major in engineering has been so successful that the National Science Foundation is expanding it. Illinois is one of six universities involved.

CS alumna named Polycom CEO

Business Wire (Sept. 8) -- Polycom, Inc., a global leader in helping organizations achieve new levels of teamwork, efficiency and productivity by unleashing the power of human collaboration, and Siris Capital Group, LLC, announced that Mary McDowell will succeed Peter Leav as Polycom’s CEO effective and contingent on the closing of the merger of Polycom with an affiliate of Siris Capital. McDowell earned her bachelor's degree in computer science from Illinois in 1986.

Drone startup Reconstruct raises $850K

Chicago Inno (Sept. 6) -- Born out of the University of Illinois, Reconstruct uses drones to create 3D modeling for construction management. The startup, which raised $850,000 in the latest funding round, uses aerial drones to take video and images of construction sites to provide construction progress monitoring. Reconstruct's technology was used in the construction of the new $500 million arena for the NBA's Sacramento Kings. The funding round was led by Serra Ventures, with participation from Grand Angels Venture Fund, Illinois Ventures and Harbor Street Ventures.

CME innovation center

Chicago Inno (Sept. 7) – As the global financial industry continues to rapidly evolve, one of the world’s largest options and futures exchanges is turning to U. of I. students to help manage the pace of innovation. Chicago-based CME Group, “the world’s most diverse financial marketplace,” is set to open a new innovation center this Friday at the Research Park at Illinois.

Drones & Robotics

Chicago Inno (Sept. 7) – Illinois professor of mechanical science and engineering Naira Hovakimyan has 25 years of experience in control theory and engineering, and she’s now bringing her expertise to two of the fastest growing industries in tech: drones and robotics.

Rithmio helps parathletes prepare

Chicago Tribune (Sept. 7) --  When U.S. wheelchair racing athletes compete at the Paralympic Games in Rio this month, they will have a training advantage, thanks to a new app developed by an Illinois start-up company. The wheelchair athletes have been using an Android Wear smartwatch application that measures their stroke cadence, helping them better understand their stroke efficiency. Cadence Counter was developed by Chicago-based Rithmio, which was co-founded by Illinois alumnus Adam Tilton and CSL and ECE faculty member Prashant Mehta. Also: Inc. (New York City; Sept. 8).

Alaska in 3D

Travel and Leisure (Chicago; Sept. 2) – The White House has unveiled the first-ever 3-D topographical maps of Alaska, which were created using commercial satellites. The project, called ArcticDEM, is the first big international collaboration between the science, technology and defense industries. The National Science Foundation and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, among other entities, were part of the project. Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ Blue Waters supercomputer was used to create the digital elevation models for the maps. Also: National Geographic (Sept. 1), Science Daily (Sept. 1), Engadget (Sept. 2), Live Science (Sept. 2), Alaska Dispatch News (Sept. 3), The Washington Post (Sept. 7), Gizmodo (Sept. 8).

Super maps

Daily Mail (London, England; Sept. 1) – The White House recently unveiled interactive 3D maps of Alaska in order to better track the effects of climate change in the Artic. While the project is led by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Science Foundation, many other organizations are involved as well, including the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at Illinois and its Blue Waters supercomputer.

Tabletop explosives

Scientific Computing (Rockaway, N.J., Sept. 1) – The most detailed studies of explosive charges have been conducted at national laboratories using a gun as big as a room to fire a flat bullet – the flyer plate, typically 100 millimeters in diameter – into an explosive charge inside a thick-walled chamber that contains the fierce blast. The tests require enormous facilities. Though cumbersome, the flat plate impact is the only way to precisely recreate the conditions inside a detonating explosive – and now researchers at Illinois have recreated this in miniature on a tabletop.

Pigeons homing

The Scientist (Ontario, Canada; Sept. 1) – In 2001, Michael Winklhofer, then at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and colleagues reported their identification of magnetite in the beaks of homing pigeons. A year earlier, Klaus Schulten of Illinois and colleagues proposed that cryptochromes in the bird’s eye might also play a role in avian magnetoreception.

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