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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February 2014 media appearances

Soluble chips

Financial Times (London, Feb. 28) -- U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers “is a magician of materials science, particularly when it comes to combining electronics with biology. His latest trick is to conjure up silicon circuits that disappear when their job is done.”

UI Labs keeps talent close to home

Crain's Chicago Business (editorial, Feb. 28) -- Among the many reasons to applaud the research consortium that just won a $70 million federal grant to create a digital manufacturing tech center in Chicago: its potential to stem the brain drain of computer science graduates from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

Related editorial: State Journal-Register (Springfield, Ill., Feb. 27) -- “There’s a lot of talk in Illinois these days about job creation, how to attract and retain companies here, and the past and future roles of manufacturing in the state’s economy. The new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute coming to Chicago has the potential to redefine Illinois’ place in the global manufacturing sector and its ability to foster innovative, high-tech achievements in manufacturing. …The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s UI Labs and its Blue Waters supercomputer will be in the thick of it all, directing sophisticated research across the country. Blue Waters is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world and the fastest on a university campus. …”

$50-million-plus partnership to revolutionize health care

Peoria Journal Star (Feb. 28) -- With the backing of a $62.5 million endowment, a group of engineers, doctors and students will come together to improve and develop devices that will help train medical students, devices that for example simulate how a patient with an "overwhelming infection" responds to their various treatments, according to Dr. John Vozenilek. The team includes the University of Illinois College of Engineering, Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center at OSF HealthCare in Peoria, the UI's College of Medicine in Peoria, and OSF HealthCare, the network of Catholic hospitals and medical clinics. And in the coming years, officials with those entities expect opportunities for further collaboration on a variety of projects, such as improving medical devices, creating new ones and enhancing training tools. Also: News-Gazette (Feb. 28), WMBD-TV (Peoria, Feb. 28), (Feb. 28), The Peorian (Feb. 27), WCBU (Peoria Public Radio, Feb. 28), Crain's Chicago Business (Feb. 28), WCIA-TV (Champaign, Feb. 28).

The $50-million-plus Jump Applied Research for Community Health through Engineering and Simulation (Jump ARCHES) will create joint research projects between the Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center (Jump) at OSF HealthCare in Peoria and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering. - See more at:
Making cells easier to see

News-Gazette (Feb. 27) -- Biological researchers can get faster, more sensitive images of live cells and tissues thanks to a company building on technology developed at the University of Illinois. The company, Phi Optics, recently launched a system that helps scientists using optical microscopes to get highly accurate images fast. A big advantage for researchers is they can get images of cells without killing them in the process, said Gabriel Popescu, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UI and the company's CEO.

Marc Andreessen

USA Today (Feb. 27) -- U. of I. alumnus Marc Andreessen, who was one of the creators of the first Web browser, says he is “more bullish about the future of the news industry over the next 20 years than almost anyone I know.”

Astronaut alumnus passes

The New York Times (Feb. 27) -- Dale A. Gardner, 65, an astronaut who helped lead the first salvage operation in space, steering a jet-propelled backpack to corral two wayward satellites and bring them aboard the space shuttle Discovery, all while orbiting 224 miles above Earth, died on Feb. 19 in Colorado Springs. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at Illinois.

Obama touts new federally funded manufacturing hubs In Chicago & Detroit

Chicago Tribune (Feb. 25) -- In officially announcing  that Chicago will house one of the latest public-private innovation institutes, President Barack Obama said he hoped efforts to revitalize America's manufacturing economy would help the country catch up to competitors such as Germany. The Illinois project has been named the Digital Lab for Manufacturing and will be funded with $70 million from the Defense Department plus an additional commitment of $250 million in state and private-sector money and other contributions. The total includes $16 million from the state and up to $10 million from Chicago. UI Labs, the emerging research hub affiliated with the University of Illinois, will manage the digital lab. At the digital lab, UI Labs hopes to employ 80 to 100 people after five years and have an annual operating budget of $20 million to $25 million, said Caralynn Nowinski, interim executive director at UI Labs. Also: Champaign-Urbana News Gazette (White House annnouncement release, Feb. 25), USA Today (Feb. 26), Reuters (Feb. 26), The Associated Press (Feb. 26), Washington Times (Feb. 26), ASEE FirstBell (Feb. 26), Cleveland Plain Dealer (Feb. 26), Chronicle of Higher Education (Feb. 25), Miami Herald (from The Associated Press, Feb. 25), IndustryWeek (Cleveland, Feb. 27). Editor's note: News of the President's announcement ran in more than 500 publications nationwide and internationally.

Related story: Crain's Chicago Business (Feb. 26) -- In a guest editorial, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said that the new manufacturing institute will serve as an incubator for Illinois' transformation. "I share the president's vision and have taken several actions to make possible this infusion of federal support. At my direction, the state of Illinois embraced DMDI from the start, working closely with UI Labs, the city of Chicago, and many others in the design of the initiative, providing seed money and working with our partners to bring together the many higher-education participants and corporate funders committed to seeing this work," Quinn wrote. "The DMDI is not some elaborate think tank or an ivory tower center devoted to studying business problems in the abstract. It will be a resource for all manufacturers, inventing, analyzing and testing new processes and techniques that will make production more adaptable and efficient. It will help large manufacturers transform their supply chains. It will be an incubator for makers, the people whose invention and toil are the core of our economy."

Electric sock for the heart

National Geographic (Feb. 25) -- Researchers at Illinois and Washington University in St. Louis have developed a new device that may one day help prevent heart attacks. Unlike existing pacemakers and implantable defibrillators that are one-size-fits-all, the new device is a thin, elastic membrane designed to stretch over the heart like a custom-made glove. U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers co-led the team that invented the new device. Also: KWMU-FM (90.7) (NPR; St. Louis, Feb. 25), The Scientist (Feb. 25), New Scientist (Feb. 25), Science 360 (National Science Foundation, Feb. 26), Business Standard (from Asian News International, Washington, D.C.; New Delhi, Feb. 26), Bioscience Technology (Rockaway, N.J., Feb. 27), Discovery News (Feb. 27), KRCU-FM (90.9) (NPR; Cape Girardeau, Mo., Feb. 27), New Electronics (London, Feb. 28), Daily Mail (London, March 3), Smithsonian (March 10).

Related story: ABC News (text & video; March 3), (New York City, March 3), The Independent (London, March 4), Popular Science (March 3), Irish Independent (Dublin, March 4), Technology Review (Cambridge, Mass., March 4),

Illinois lands nation's digital manufacturing hub

 Chicago Tribune (Feb. 22) -- The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded $70 million to create the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute. It will be based in Chicago and led by the University of Illinois' UI Labs. Areas of focus include using supercomputers to do virtual prototyping, using software to link bigger pools of vendors and customers in a virtual supply chain and using wireless sensors to create "smart factories," said Bill King, a University of Illinois professor of mechanical engineering who will be chief technology officer for the project. Also: Chicago Tribune (blog, Feb. 24), Crain's Chicago Business (Feb. 23), Inside Indiana Business (Feb. 24), DoD Buzz (Feb. 24), Galesburg Register-Mail (Feb. 24), WGN TV (Feb. 23), Chicago Sun-Times (Feb. 23), Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette (Feb. 22) WLS (ABC7, Feb. 25), Inside Higher Ed (Washington, D.C., Feb. 25), San Francisco Chronicle (from The Associated Press, Feb. 25), Marketplace (Feb. 25). Editor's note: As a national story, the pre-announcement, official presidential announcement, and details regarding the new Digital Labs project have generated several hundred news articles across the country.

Related story(ies): Chicago Tribune (Editorial, Feb. 25) -- A who's who of Illinois political leaders rose as one over the weekend to celebrate the selection of Chicago as the site for a new research hub to be financed in a broad government-private partnership. What's most exciting is that 73 companies, universities, nonprofits and research labs have pledged more than $200 million for the project. Among them are industry giants known for making smart bets such as General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Dow Chemical. Leading the project is the respected UI Labs, a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Illinois. The organization will resemble a hub-and-spoke, with a brain center in Chicago coordinating R&D performed across the country. Also: Crain's Chicago Business (Feb. 24), Channel 2 (CBS, Chicago, Feb. 25).

Chicago Sun-Times (Feb. 25) -- Chicago’s new national Digital Lab will launch in a 50,000-square foot building on Goose Island to house software teams and a small demonstration factory where prototypes could be tested. According to the proposal to the DoD, the Digital Lab, when it ramps up, will have 80 full-time employees and an annual operating budget of $22 million. University of Illinois staffers at UI Labs — a U. of I. nonprofit spinoff — are the nucleus of the group, working out of Microsoft offices in the AON Building in Chicago until the Goose Island facility is open.

Crain’s Chicago Business (March 3) -- A profile of the CEO of UI Labs, Caralynn Nowinski.

Efficient solar cells

The Economist (Feb. 22) -- Even the best silicon solar cells – by far the most common sort – convert only a quarter of the light that falls on them. Silicon has the merit of being cheap: Manufacturing improvements have brought its price to a point where it is snapping at the heels of fossil fuels. But many scientists would like to replace it with something fundamentally better. John Rogers, a materials science and engineering professor, is one. The cells he has devised are indeed better. By themselves, he told this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, they convert 42.5 percent of sunlight. Suitably tweaked, he says, their efficiency could rise to 50 percent. Their secret is that they are actually not one cell, but four, stacked one on top of another.

Illinois web leader honored

Crain's Chicago Business (Feb. 19) -- Larry Smarr, a physicist who started out studying black holes at University of Illinois and ended up helping create the web browser and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, was named a recipient of a Golden Goose award over the weekend. Smarr, now a professor at University of California-San Diego, wrote the grant proposal that brought the NCSA to Urbana in 1986.

Organ power on Science 360 Radio

Science 360 Radio (provided by CBC Radio, Feb. 18) -- In this radio interview, MatSE professor John Rogers describes device that generates electricity from the movement of organs inside the body.

Stretchy, wearable, flushable electronics

MacLeans (blog, Feb. 17) -- John Rogers, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is working on electronics that can integrate into the body and are even water soluble. His team has found a way to reduce wafers to tiny, flexible “nanoribbons.” (He says it’s like comparing the rigidity of a plank of wood to the bend in a sheet of paper.) By bonding nanoribbons to stretchy rubber, his team can create electronics with “skin-like properties,” biocompatible, and even dissolveable.


Science Codex (San Jose, Calif., Feb. 18) -- In May 2011, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used explosives to breach a levee south of Cairo, Ill., diverting the rising waters of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to prevent flooding in the town, about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland were inundated. It was the largest flood of the lower Mississippi ever recorded, and researchers from the U. of I. took advantage of the occurrence to study the damage. Their results, published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, demonstrate that landscape vulnerabilities can be mapped ahead of time to help communities prepare for extreme flooding. “There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the characteristics of extreme rainfall under climate change are going to be different,” says Praveen Kumar, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Illinois and project leader on the study. Also: Nature World News (Feb. 18), Science Daily (Chevy Chase, Md., Feb. 18), ScienceBlog (Feb. 18).

Related story: Drovers Cattle Network (Feb. 18) -- According to a recent University of Illinois study, the Cache River Basin’s agricultural lands dodged a bullet due to the timing of the great flood of April 2011 when the Ohio River approached the record high of 332.2 feet above sea level. The floodwaters eventually drained back into the Ohio River and upper Mississippi River ultimately leaving approximately 1,000 acres of agricultural land flooded from a backup in the middle and lower Cache River Valley, which flooded the adjacent forest-covered alluvial soils and the slightly higher cultivated soils. Also: Pork Magazine (Feb. 18).

Flexible electronics

Toronto Star (Feb. 17) -- While the biggest trend in electronics right now seems to be making computer chips ever smaller, U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers says his research group has a very different goal: to change the properties of the chips themselves, making them stretchy and soluble rather than rigid and long-lasting. This isn’t a theoretical problem. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago on Monday, Rogers showed videos of an actual temporary tattoo made in his lab that has circuitry embedded in it. The circuitry can flex and twist just like the tattoo can, and peels off just as easily.

Related article:  Nanalyze (Feb. 17) -- Elastronics or “stretchable electronics” are an emerging class of electronics that mimic human skin in that they can retain full functionality while being stretched. This technology opens the door to many interesting applications such as cyber skin for robotic devices, screens that can double in size when stretched like rubber, fabrics that can illuminate, wallpaper lighting, seamless wearable health monitors, and the list goes on. One company making progress in commercializing stretchable electronics is MC10.

Return on investment

The Sacramento Bee (California, Feb. 17) -- The U. of I. is ranked No. 1 in the Midwest for return on investment for students.

Transient electronics

Fox News (Feb. 17) -- Millions of patients have benefited from the innovative development of electronic medical devices – gadgets such as pacemakers or medicine dispensing agents implanted in the body for either diagnostic or therapeutic benefit. But rather than remove these devices through surgery, what if they could simply disappear? This is the concept behind “transient electronics” – newly developed electronic devices that are designed to dissolve inside the body once they have served their purpose. John Rogers, the pioneer behind these disappearing devices, presented his latest research accomplishments at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago.


Daily Herald (Crystal Lake, Ill., Feb. 16) -- “There certainly is a boom in startup culture,” says Laura Frerichs, the director of the Research Park at the U. of I. “Many people are seeing the opportunity to start companies. Governments are becoming more excited about growing their economies with startups.”


Chemistry World (London, Feb. 17) -- Scientists in the US have combined a synthetic polymer with living heart cells to make a tiny robot that swims by undulating its tail, in a similar way to sperm. U. of I. mechanical science and engineering professor Taher Saif and colleagues at Illinois made the head and tail out of polydimethylsiloxane, a flexible silicon-based polymer.

Cellular research

Phys.Org (Douglas, Isle of Man, Feb. 12) -- Ribosomes, the cellular machines that build proteins, are themselves made up of dozens of proteins and a few looping strands of RNA. A new study, reported in the journal Nature, offers new clues about how the ribosome, the master assembler of proteins, also assembles itself. “The ribosome has more than 50 different parts – it has the complexity of a sewing machine in terms of the number of parts,” said University of Illinois physics professor Taekjip Ha, who led the research with U. of I. chemistry professor Zaida Luthey-Schulten and Johns Hopkins University biophysics professor Sarah Woodson. “A sewing machine assembles other things but it cannot assemble itself if you have the parts lying around,” Ha said. “The ribosome, however, can do that. It’s quite amazing.” Also: Bioscience Technology (Feb. 13), ScienceBlog (Feb. 12), Red (Dallas, Feb. 13).

Prof. creates "decision-wizard" website

News-Gazette (Feb. 11) -- ISE Professor Ali Abbas has created the website to help people navigate decisions, from major ones like, "Should I start my own business" or "Should I get a divorce?" to relatively minor ones such as, "Should I buy a laptop or a tablet?" Ahoona, modeled after social networking sites like Facebook, invites users (either anonymously or using their name) to post decisions they're facing, solicit information and feedback from others and then run their decision though a "decision wizard." Also: WREX-TV (Rockford, Ill.,Feb. 11), Belleville News Democrat (from The Associated Press, Feb. 11), Peoria Journal Star (from AP, Feb. 11), Journal-Gazette & Times Courier (Mattoon/Charleston, Ill., from AP, Feb. 11), Freeport Journal Standard (from AP, Feb. 11), ABC7 (Chicago, Ill., from AP, Feb. 11), The Republic (from AP, Feb. 11), ASEE FirstBell (Feb. 12), Dubuque Telegraph Herald (from AP, Feb. 12), Rockford Register Star (from AP, Feb. 13), The Daily Journal (from AP, Kankakee, Ill., Feb. 13).

Related story: “Chicago Tonight” (WTTW-Channel 11; PBS; Chicago, Feb. 20) -- Wish you could get decision-making down to a science? U. of I. industrial and systems enterprise engineering professor Ali Abbas is a leader in the decision analysis field and has created a social website called Ahoona that breaks down theory and practice for its users to make quality life choices.

International students

CNN Money (Feb. 7) -- The U. of I. is ranked No. 2 among most popular schools for international students.

Eden elected to NAE

Nanotechnology Now (Feb. 6) -- J. Gary Eden, the Gilmore Family Professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering, He was cited "for development and commercialization of micro-plasma technologies and excimer lasers." Also: Chronicle of Higher Education (full list; Feb. 7).

Self-healing materials

Phys.Org (Sept. 4) -- Thanks to new dynamic materials developed at the University of Illinois, removable paint and self-healing plastics soon could be household products. According to U. of I. materials science and engineering professor Jianjun Cheng, the key advantage of using this material is that it's catalyst-free and low-temperature, and can be healed multiple times. After the polymer is cut or torn, the researchers press the two pieces back together and let the sample sit for about a day to heal – no extra chemicals or catalysts required. Also: Science Codex (Feb. 4), ScienceBlog (Feb. 4), Science 360 (NSF, Feb. 5), Business Standard (Feb. 5), (Feb. 5), ANI News (Feb. 6), Geek (Feb. 5), RedOrbit (Feb. 5), Overclockers Club (Feb. 5), Extreme Tech (New York City, Feb. 6), Gizmag (Melbourne, Australia, Feb. 6), Printed Electronics World (Cambridge, England, Feb. 13).

After the polymer is cut or torn, the researchers press the two pieces back together and let the sample sit for about a day to heal – no extra chemicals or catalysts required. The materials can heal at room temperature, but the process can be sped up by curing at slightly higher temperatures (37 degrees Celsius, or about body temperature).

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Thanks to new dynamic materials developed at the University of Illinois, removable paint and self-healing plastics soon could be household products.

Read more at:
Thanks to new dynamic materials developed at the University of Illinois, removable paint and self-healing plastics soon could be household products.

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Phys.Org (Douglas, Isle of Man, Feb. 5) -- Located in Madison, Wis., and designed by researchers from the Morgridge Institute for Research, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Indiana University and the U. of I., the Software Assurance Marketplace provides a suite of assurance tools and software packages that serve to identity vulnerabilities and reduce false positives.

New Yahoo facility in Research Park

Wall Street Journal (Feb. 5) -- Yahoo! Inc. has broken ground on a new state-of-the-art facility that will serve as an important expansion of its Champaign, IL technology hub. Leaders from Yahoo, State of Illinois, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and City of Champaign announced plans for the new building and expanded workforce. Champaign is the home of several Yahoo engineering teams working on critical technologies for the company. Yahoo currently occupies 24,000 sq. ft. of office space and is the largest full-time employer in the University of Illinois Research Park. The new 40,000 sq. ft. building will be solely constructed for Yahoo. Plans include recruitment of engineers over the next 12-24 months. Also: Business Wire (Feb. 5), Talking News Media (Feb. 5), Chicago Sun-Times (from The Associated Press, Feb. 6).

Computer science

Wired (Feb. 3) --  Computer programmers often use tools that translate slower languages like Ruby and Python into faster languages like Java or C. But that faster code must also be translated — or compiled, in programmer lingo — into code that the machine can understand. Using LLVM, a compiler developed by a team of researchers at the U. of I. and enhanced by the likes of Apple and Google, California graduate student Stefan Karpinski and others are building a new language they hope will be suited to practically any task.

Health monitoring

Scientific American (Feb. 3) -- Startups like mc10 and Scanadu seek to enable personal monitoring of physiologic parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and blood oxygenation. Tracking this information provides a richer set of data for clinicians and scientists, and individuals are empowered to understand their own data, potentially leading to greater engagement with their health issues. For instance, mc10, building on research by John Rogers, a professor of materials science at Illinois, is prototyping ultrathin, flexible, skin-adherent devices akin to smart Band-Aids. One potential application is continuously monitoring blood sugar – without needles. Also: The Journal News (White Plains, N.Y., Feb. 6). Also: USA Today (Feb. 6)


Chicago Tribune (Feb. 3) -- To gauge the performance of Illinois universities in facilitating start-ups, the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition conducted its first University Entrepreneurship Survey, which examines the role of educational institutions in launching new ventures by supporting research, technology transfer and entrepreneurship centers. The U. of I. leads institutions outside Chicago with 54 start-ups in the past four years; 48 of which are currently active and making significant contributions.

New preventative medicine

Scientific American (blog, Feb. 3) -- As part of a 3-fold plan for a new preventative medicine, startups like mc10 and Scanadu seek to enable personal monitoring of physiologic parameters like blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and blood oxygenation. Tracking this information provides a richer set of data for clinicians and scientists, and individuals are empowered to understand their own data, potentially leading to greater engagement with their health issues. For instance, mc10, building on research by John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is prototyping ultrathin, flexible, skin-adherent devices akin to smart Band-Aids. One potential application is continuously monitoring blood sugar—without needles.

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