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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December 2013 media appearances

Smart drones

CNN (Dec. 31) -- A new video from the U. of I. Aerospace Robotics and Control Laboratory depicts a swarm of drones that can sense their surroundings to respond to commands and avoid obstacles. Also: DVICE (New York City, Jan. 1).


Physics (College Park, Md., Dec. 30) -- Among Physics’ “highlights of the year”: U. of I. researchers generated two of the quasiparticles at either end of a nanowire connected to superconducting leads and then used a magnetic field to cause the states to annihilate, as expected when a particle meets its antiparticle. Finding examples of Majorana states in solids could be a route to making quantum computers that are more resistant to noise.

Mike Hopkins

The Sydney Morning Herald (from The Washington Post, Dec. 29) -- A profile of astronaut Mike Hopkins, former captain of the U. of I. football team.

The Coolest Science of 2013, in GIFs

Smithsonian Magazine (Dec. 24) -- Over the past few years, the U. of I. lab led by materials science and engineering professor John Rogers has engineered all sorts of amazing devices that bridge the gap between biology and technology: stretchable batteries that could be used in wearable gadgets or medical implants, tiny LEDs that can be implanted in the brain to manipulate individual neurons and ultrathin electronics that can graft circuits onto human skin. Perhaps the most amazing creation, though, is their entirely dissolvable electronic circuit, which could someday be used in environmental monitoring and medical devices so that circuitry disappears after it’s no longer needed. Smithsonian ranks it tops among “the coolest science of 2013, in GIFs.”

UI Labs

Crain’s Chicago Business (Dec. 23) -- There’s a big competition worth keeping an eye on between the eggnog and Christmas cookies this holiday season – the race to land a $70 million grant to establish a digital manufacturing center in Chicago, a race that’s critical to the future of the still-budding UI Labs and of Chicago’s hopes to spread the extend the prosperity of the Loop’s office towers to people in the neighborhoods who desperately need the kind of well-paying factory jobs that once were Chicago’s economic foundation.

Net-zero energy building

The Republic (from The Associated Press, Dec. 21) -- The new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building at Illinois has been designed to be a net-zero energy use structure. The $95 million building is under construction on the Urbana-Champaign campus. It will have 1,200 roof solar panels, low-energy lights and other environmentally friendly features. Also: The News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, Ill., Dec. 21), The Southern (from the AP, Dec. 21), Daily Chronicle (Dekalb, Ill., from the AP, Dec. 21), Kansas City Star (from the AP, Dec. 21), Register-Guard (Eugene, OR),

Chicago start-ups

The Economist (London, Dec. 19) -- A greater availability of venture capital has helped Chicago startup companies, as has a rich seam of local talent from the U. of I., Northwestern, the University of Chicago and other institutions across the Midwest. (The problem has always been persuading the graduates to stay. The founders of Netscape, PayPal, Yelp and YouTube all studied at the U. of I. but then left after graduation.)


Wired (San Francisco, Dec. 19) -- MC10 is a Wonka-like factory of crazy electronics concepts, from tiny skinborne “biostamps” to balloon catheters that can communicate back to doctors when they’re positioned correctly inside a clogged blood vessel. The company’s underlying technologies have been developed by U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers, who serves as the company’s chief technology officer.

HIV capsid

io9 (San Francisco, Dec. 18) -- The discovery of the structure of the HIV capsid is the result of a study led by U. of I. physics professor Klaus Schulten, who used the Blue Waters supercomputer at Illinois to break down the capsid – which includes more than 1,300 identical proteins and more than 64 million atoms – and to reassemble it into an accurate structural model.

Biodegradable batteries

Technology Review (Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 18) -- John Rogers, a materials scientist who makes biodegradable electronics at the U. of I., says more power will be required for more sophisticated edible and implantable electronics. He is working on biodegradable batteries for medical use. In a paper that will be published in the journal Advanced Materials, his team describes batteries made out of the dissolvable metals and trace minerals magnesium and molybdenum. Biodegradable batteries, Rogers says, will enable “devices that go into the body monitor wound healing, deliver therapy as necessary, and then naturally disappear after the wound is completely healed, thereby eliminating unnecessary strain on the body.” Also: Gizmodo (Sydney, Dec. 18), The Financial Express (New Delhi, Dec. 29).

Implantable electronics

“On Point” (WBUR-FM (90.9); NPR; Boston, Dec. 18) -- U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers was a guest on the radio program at 10 a.m. CST today and talked about the new frontier of implantable electronics.

Alum's first space walk

CBS Chicago (Dec. 18) -- Illinois' favorite astronaut will strap on a spacesuit and go for a 6-hour walk outside of the International Space Station on Saturday. NASA has ordered up a series of what it termed urgent spacewalks to fix a broken cooling line at the station. Officials decided Tuesday to send former Illini football team captain Mike Hopkins and fellow American astronaut Rick Mastracchio out as soon as possible to replace a pump with a bad valve. Hopkins' first spacewalk is set for this Saturday. Also: News-Gazette (Dec. 18), NBC News (from The Associated Press, Dec. 17), Christian Science Monitor (Dec. 17), NPR (blog, Dec. 17), (Dec. 17), University Herald (Dec. 18), Long Island Newsday (from the AP, Dec. 17), CBS Miami (from AP, Dec. 17), Alton Daily News (Illinois, Dec. 23). Editor's note: This story has been covered by hundreds of media outlets around the world.

Related article: USA Today (Dec. 24) -- U. of I. alumnus Michael Hopkins and a fellow astronaut have floated outside the International Space Station on Christmas Eve in hopes of finishing urgent cooling system repairs. It’s only the second Christmas Eve spacewalk in NASA history. Also: KMOV-Channel 4 (from The Associated Press; CBS; St. Louis, Dec. 24), WLS-Channel 7 (from AP, Chicago, Dec. 24).

Photocopier--how it works

Science 360 (National Science Foundation, Dec. 13) -- In his characteristic style, ChemE professor Bill Hammack personally decommisions a photocopy machine to explore its components and explain how it works.

Illinois Manufacturing Laboratory

News-Gazette (Dec. 12) -- The University of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity are close to launching the Illinois Manufacturing Laboratory, a Chicago-area entity that would be a home for research and development of manufacturing technology and offer workforce training in new tools and software. Also: Crain's Chicago Business (Dec. 13), Chicago Sun-Times (Dec. 13), Chicago Tribune (Dec. 13).

Related story: Chicago Tribune (Dec. 12) -- As Caralynn Nowinski helps flesh out plans for the University of Illinois’ Chicago-based UI Labs to team academia with industry, she taps all of her earlier experiences as a U of I student, entrepreneur and investor. Nowinski is Associate Vice President for Innovation & Economic Development at the University of Illinois.

Solar energy

Energy Harvesting Journal (Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 9) -- Scientists at the U. of I., Stanford and North Carolina State have created a heat-resistant thermal emitter, an element used in specialized solar cells, that could significantly improve the efficiency of the cells.

Lemelson alumnus featured

Forbes (Dec. 9) -- Many social good organizations have been successful using lean startup methods. In a video, student entrepreneur Muhammed Fazeel, a U. of I. alumnus and founder of Benecure Inc., shares how to gain momentum to pursue a startup idea. Fazeel is a recipient of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's "Fifty for the Future" award 2011 and the only undergraduate finalist in the Lemelson MIT-Illinois Student prize.

Human batteries

New Scientist (Cambridge, England, Dec. 9) -- Your body may use melanin to “catch a tan,” but now the skin pigment has been repurposed – to make batteries. “This paper describes a really clever route to producing batteries out of biodegradable materials,” says John Rogers, a materials scientist at the U. of I. Although the current version isn’t fully biodegradable, it shows how batteries could one day be made to dissolve harmlessly in the body.

Solar cells

Science Daily (Chevy Chase, Md., Dec. 9) -- Researchers from the U. of I. and the University of Central Florida may be one step closer to tapping into the full potential of solar cells. The team found a way to create large sheets of nanotextured, silicon micro-cell arrays that hold the promise of making solar cells lightweight, more efficient, bendable and easy to mass produce. Also: AZoNano (Warriewood, New South Wales, Dec. 10), (Pittsfield, Mass., Dec. 10), EE Times India (Manila, Philippines, Dec. 11), Daily Fusion (New York City, Dec. 12), Printed Electronics World (Cambridge, England, Dec. 25).

Conductive ink

Broadway World (New York City, Dec. 9) -- Electroninks Inc. and the U. of I. have entered into a license agreement under which Electroninks will use conductive ink technology developed by Jennifer Lewis, formerly at Illinois and now at Harvard University, and her graduate students Brett Walker and Analisa Russo. The conductive inks exhibit high conductivity and can be applied to a wide range of substrates, such as paper and plastic, with numerous applications in printed electronics. Also: VizWorld (Dec. 10), ONET.technowinki (Poland, Dec. 14), TechLi Chicago (Jan. 7), TICbeat (in Spanish, Jan. 4), GMA News (Jan. 2), (blog), Designboom (Nov. 22).


Railtec program featured (Dec. 9) -- The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Rail Transportation and Engineering Center's (RailTEC) is featured as one of the world's top programs in an article about educating the future of railway engineering.

International students

Reuters (Dec. 8) -- When Mohammad Hamedi Rad arrived in the United States last year, he carried his Iranian passport, a hard-won student visa and a backpack containing $14,000 in hundred dollar bills, because there was no simpler way of getting money into the country. "It was scary," Hamedi Rad, a chemical engineering graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said of his late-night arrival in Chicago, where he declared the funds to airport customs officials. "I've never carried that much money before. I was extremely nervous."

Underrepresented students in engineering

State Journal-Register (Springfield, Ill., Dec. 8) -- The city of Springfield, Sangamon County and a local engineering firm are partnering to create a program designed to encourage minority students to pursue careers in engineering and related fields. Mayor Mike Houston said the goal of the initiative is not only to encourage minority students who show an aptitude for math and science to consider engineering careers, but also to get them thinking about Springfield as a place to pursue those careers.Also: State Journal Register (Dec 16), ASEE FirstBell (Dec. 17).

Railroad safety

National Public Radio (Dec. 7) -- A commuter train crash that killed four passengers in New York is raising questions about whether a high-tech safety system could have prevented the derailment. Across the country, all railroads are supposed to install and implement the high-tech positive train control systems by the end of 2015. But rail industry experts say it's proving to be a very difficult task. "This is a massive systems integration problem," says Chris Barkan, executive director of the Rail, Transportation and Engineering Center at the University of Illinois. "We're talking 60,000 miles of track that have to be fitted with complicated new hardware and software. There's something like 20,000 locomotives that will need the onboard equipment."

Alumni online education company funded

TechCrunch (Dec. 5) -- Bloc, a company focused on teaching anyone the fundamentals of web development, has raised $2 million in seed funding. Founded by U of I grads Roshan Choxi (CEO) and Dave Paola (CTO), Bloc's online program--that can be accessed anywhere a student has a computer and Internet access--also retains the human element of teaching through a one-on-one connection between a learner and their mentor.

Electronic skin

AZoRobotics (Manchester, England, Dec. 6) -- “Electronic skin” originally developed by U. of I. materials science professor John Rogers enables the continuous monitoring of a patient’s temperature. Also: Nanowerk News (Honolulu, Dec. 9), Printed Electronics World (Cambridge, England, Dec. 12).

Related story: Los Angeles Times (Dec. 6) -- The future is here: Doctors at UC San Diego can now monitor patients’ health with a high-tech sticker. “Tattoo electronics,” as the stickers are called, are flexible microchips that adhere to the skin and pick up signals from a patient’s brain, heart and lungs, with wireless transmitters that relay vast amounts of data. Todd Coleman, a professor in the University of California at San Diego’s department of bioengineering, first developed this futuristic microtechnology in collaboration with John Rogers, Coleman’s former colleague at Illinois. Rogers is a professor of materials science and engineering.

Biomolecular research

Hispanic Business (Santa Barbara, Dec. 10) -- U. of I. researchers have demonstrated a technique to quantitatively investigate the relative thickness of complex biomolecular structures using a nanoimprinted plasmonic crystal and laboratory microscope.

Biochip diagnoses HIV/AIDS

Medical Daily (Dec. 4) -- A new sensor technology developed by researchers at the University of Illinois and collaborators at Daktari Diagnostics can diagnose HIV/AIDS using just a drop of blood. The device could provide less costly, easy-to-use, immediate disease diagnostics, especially useful in remote areas of the world and locations with limited resources. Also: ScienceBlog (Dec. 4), Voice of America (Dec. 5), AllAfrica (from Voice of America; Washington, D.C., Dec. 5), News-Gazette (Dec. 10), ASEE FirstBell (Dec. 12), SingularityHUB (Jan. 4), DVICE (New York City, Jan. 8).

A new sensor technology developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and collaborators at Daktari Diagnostics can diagnose HIV/AIDS using just a drop of blood. The device could provide less costly, easy-to-use, immediate disease diagnostics, especially useful in remote areas of the world and locations with limited resources. - See more at:
Crowdsourced search engine

New Scientist (Dec. 4) -- DataSift is new kind of search engine that uses crowdsourced human intelligence to answer vague, complex or visual questions, even when the users are not sure what they are searching for. "Take someone like my mother," says its developer Aditya Parameswaran of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "She has recently purchased this piece of electronic equipment which has a port that she has no idea what to do with. With DataSift, she can just take a photo of the port and say 'find me the cable that works with this'."

Protein transport

Nanowerk News (Honolulu, Dec. 2) -- Researchers have tried for decades to understand the undulations and gyrations that allow transport proteins to shuttle molecules from one side of a cell membrane to the other. Now U. of I. scientists report that they have found a way to penetrate the mystery. The transporter in the study belongs to an ancient family of proteins that carry large molecules across membranes, says Emad Tajkhorshid, a professor at the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology who led the research. Also: R&D Magazine (Rockaway, N.J., Dec. 3), Technobahn (Austin, Texas, Dec. 2), ZeitNews (Dec. 2), ScienceBlog (Dec. 3).

Low-cost solar

Technology Review (Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 3) -- A thin sheet of dyed plastic could cut the cost of solar power, particularly for applications that require solar cells to be highly efficient and flexible. U. of I. researchers are using the plastic to gather sunlight and concentrate it onto a solar cell made of gallium arsenide in an experimental setup. Doing so doubled the power output of the cells. “It’s lower cost compared to what you would have to do to get the same efficiency by completely coating the surface with active solar material,” says John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering and of chemistry at Illinois. The work was presented at the Materials Research Society conference in Boston this week.

Electronic tattoos

io9 (San Francisco, Dec. 3) -- U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers’ invention of flexible electronic “tattoos” is cited (No. 5) among “12 real life inventions that science fiction is neglecting at its peril.”

Google Glass Safety

CIO (Dec. 2) -- Early Google Glass adopters, called "Glass Explorers," already praise the Internet-connected eyewear's potential for surgery, firefighting, identifying criminals and much more. However, there are some concerns that wearing Google Glass may compromise the safety and health of its users, especially when walking, biking, or driving. Google Glass Explorer Charles Webster, who has an M.S. degree in industrial engineering from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, says he doesn't feel wearing the headset while walking is inherently unsafe.

CompGen (Douglas, Isle of Man, Dec. 2) -- Through the CompGen initiative, the U. of I. Institute for Genomic Biology and the Coordinated Science Laboratory in the College of Engineering are bringing together top faculty in genomic and computational sciences to create a dynamic team that will develop new technology for genomic breakthroughs. Also: Crain's Chicago Business (Dec. 2), Chronicle of Higher Ed. (Nov. 25).

Alumnus running for Calif. governor

Bloomberg News (Dec. 1) -- MechSE alumnus Neel Kashkari, the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive chosen by ex-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to help rescue the U.S. banking system, is readying a challenge to California Gov. Jerry Brown even as state’s economy reaches its highest level in more than three decades. Also: San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 2), Akron Beacon Journal (Dec. 2), Business Insider (Dec. 2),

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