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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March 2014 media appearances

Computer security

Reuters (March 31) -- Security industry pioneer RSA adopted not just one but two encryption tools developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, greatly increasing the spy agency’s ability to eavesdrop on some Internet communications, according to a team of academic researchers. A group of professors from Illinois, Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere now say they have discovered that a second NSA tool exacerbated the RSA software’s vulnerability. Also: New York Post (from Reuters, March 31), ECNMag (from Technology Review, Cambridge, Mass.; Rockaway, N.J., March 31), Sydney Morning Herald (April 1), The Times of India (from Reuters, April 1), The Washington Post (April 3).

Nuclear safeguards

Oak Ridge Today (Tennessee, March 31) -- A research and development consortium including the U. of I. has received a $25 million grant for nuclear arms control verification technologies, including nuclear safeguards effectiveness. Also: WEMU-FM (NPR; Ypsilanti, Mich., April 1).

Shahid Khan

Forbes (March 27) -- U. of I. alumnus Shahid Khan talks about finding the American dream and washing dishes for $1.20 an hour when he first came to the U.S. Today he is the head of an auto parts company and the owner of two professional sports teams.

Synthetic biology

Smithsonian Magazine (March 27) -- An international team of researchers has built a yeast chromosome and integrated it into a living yeast cell. Their work marks a significant advance in the field of synthetic biology – and a cautious step toward the ability to create designer genomes for plants and animals. “This work reports the first designer eukaryotic chromosome that has been synthesized from scratch, which is an important step toward the construction of a designer eukaryotic genome,” says Huimin Zhao, a professor of biomolecular engineering at Illinois.

Oculus recently acquired by Facebook; Illinois CS connection

Fortune Magazine (March 26) -- Today, Facebook announced that it has acquired Oculus VR, the maker of a virtual reality gaming headset called Oculus Rift for $2 billion. Illinois' computer science professor and alumnus, Steve LaValle (BS CompE ’90, MSEE ’93, PhD ’95), is currently on leave, working at Oculus. Combined with sensing and filtering algorithms that were the subject of LaValle’s most recent book, Sensing and Filtering, their simulation goggles have revolutionized the virtual-reality industry. In addition, Andreessen Horowitz, an investment firm established by Illinois alumnus and Netscape cofounder Mark Andreessen (BS CS ’94), provided the lead funding for a $75 million investment in Oculus. Also: TechCrunch (March 25), The Atlantic (March 26), Business Week (March 25), ABC News (March 26), CNN Tech (March 26), Forbes (March 25), Huffington Post (March 25).


Peanut app

Medical Daily (New York City, March 26) -- An app developed by Brian Cunningham, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois, helps spot allergens such as peanuts in foods.


Inc. Magazine (March 25) -- The U. of I. was included on a list of “The 20 Public Colleges With the Smartest Students.”

3-D heart sock

Health Canal (Melbourne, Australia, March 25) -- U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers is developing a device engineered not only to fit like a glove, but also perhaps someday to save a wearer’s life. Also: Jagran Post (New Delhi, March 27), Business Standard (from Press Trust of India; New Delhi, March 27), Financial Express (Mumbai, India, March 27), Edmonton Journal (Alberta, March 28), The Vancouver Sun (from the Edmonton Journal, Alberta; British Columbia, March 28), Calgary Herald (from the Edmonton Journal; Alberta, March 28).

Healthcare partnership

Modern Healthcare (Chicago, March 25) -- 3-D printing offers new opportunities for medical training and diagnosis, but the high cost of equipment and facilities remains an obstacle. New partnerships among private corporations, universities and clinical providers may be the solution. The U. of I. College of Engineering and OSF Healthcare, with a $25 million investment from trading firm Jump Trading LLC, are exploring this model in Peoria, Ill.

Biodegradable battery

Business Standard (from Indo Asian News Service, New Delhi; New Delhi, March 25) -- A four-cell biodegradable, implantable battery developed by U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers and collaborators, uses anodes of magnesium foil and cathodes of iron, molybdenum or tungsten. All these metals would slowly dissolve in the body and their ions are biocompatible in low concentrations. Also: Zee News (March 25), Huffington Post (March 25), Nature (March 24), (March 25), The Scientist (Midland, Ontario, March 26), Health (Mumbai, March 25), The Verge (New York City, March 25), Time (March 26), The Independent (London, March 26), New Electronics (Dartford, England, March 28), Clean Technica (San Francisco, March 31).

Non-invasive imaging

Science Codex (San Jose, Calif., March 24) -- A new technique, developed by researchers in the Quantitative Light Imaging Laboratory at the Beckman Institute at Illinois, provides a method to noninvasively measure human neural networks in order to characterize how they form. Using spatial light interference microscopy techniques developed by electrical and computer engineering professor Gabriel Popescu, the director of the lab, the researchers were able to show for the first time how human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons within a network grow, organize spatially, and dynamically transport materials to one another. Also: AZoNano (Warriewood, New South Wales, March 25), NBC News (March 28), Extreme Tech (March 28).

Improving nanowire performance on solar cells

Product Design & Development (March 24) -- U. of I. researchers have achieved new levels of performance for seed-free and substrate-free arrays of nanowires from class of materials called III-V directly on graphene. These compound semiconductors hold particular promise for applications involving light, such as solar cells or lasers. “Over the past two decades, research in the field of semiconductor nanowires has helped to reshape our understanding of atomic-scale crystal assembly and uncover novel physical phenomena at the nanometer scale,” says Xiuling Li, a U. of I. professor of electrical and computer engineering. Also: eScience News (March 24), ScienceBlog (March 24), (March 25), Tech Fragments (March 25), ECN Magazine (March 25), Compound Semiconductor Magazine (March 25), Science Codex (San Jose, Calif., March 24).

Microplasma technology start-up

News-Gazette (March 23) -- EP Purification, a startup commercializing microplasma technology, was formed at the University of Illinois by J. Gary Eden and Sung-Jin Park. Eden and Park to use ozone purifying water and preserving food. Using microplasma technology, the company has developed tiny ozone generators that are more efficient than regular ozone generators. Also: ASEE FirstBell (March 25).

Deere & Company to expand research center

The Associated Press (March 22) -- Deere & Company plans to almost double the size of its on-campus research center at the University of Illinois Research Park. The Moline-based company is increasing the size of its John Deere Technology Innovation Center to 13,500 square feet. The company plans to be able to accommodate 50 interns as well as its staff. Also: KFVS-12 (Cape Girardeau, Mo., March 22), Quad City Business Journal (March 21), News-Gazette (March 21), ASEE FirstBell (March 24).

Take a hike

San Antonio Express (March 18) -- Short walks or jogs to bus stops and train stations may seem like small potatoes in the fight against obesity, but they can add up and make a difference, says U. of I. computer science professor Sheldon H. Jacobson, who has led research on the subject. Late last month, Jacobson published research in the journal Preventive Medicine hypothesizing that reducing daily automobile travel by 1 mile per driver and walking a mile instead would be as effective as reducing caloric intake by 100 calories per day.

Plot thickener

CBS (March 18) -- Tuesday night’s episode of “Person of Interest” on CBS Television included a fictional plot involving the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the U. of I. link to “Person of Interest”

RFID tags that melt

Chemistry World (London, March 18) -- A water soluble radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag that can melt away in a matter of minutes has been developed at the U. of I. by materials science and engineering professor John Rogers. RFID tags are widely used for tracking consumer products, livestock and people – billions are produced each year. Most end up in landfill after a short period of time, but Rogers’ team have developed a prototype that could be easily recycled or reabsorbed into the environment once discarded.

Stretchable circuits (Douglas, Isle of Man, March 17) -- For U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers, the inspiration to develop ground-breaking stretchable circuits that are compatible with human tissue came from an unlikely source: a child’s stick-on tattoo.

Related story: (Douglas, Isle of Man, March 17) -- Tackling health and sustainability issues simultaneously, U. of I. materials science and engineering professor John Rogers is developing a vast toolbox of materials – from magnesium and silicon to silk and even rice paper – to make biodegradable electronics that can potentially be used in a range of applications.

Style app places

Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J., March 17) -- A team headed by a Seton Hall University student won the top prize at last week’s South by Southwest festival for an app they developed for sharing digital sticky notes. The second place prize went to a team from the U. of I.--co-led by two computer science graduate students--that developed StylePuzzle, a mobile app that provides personalized daily outfit recommendations based on the users own clothes.

Blue Waters key to Chicago's planned digital lab

Chicago Tribune (March 16) -- Although the supercomputer at U. of I., dubbed Blue Waters, was built for scientists, the machine is a big reason that Chicago won a bidding war to be the home of a digital lab designed to improve the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers.

Engineering Open House

Springfield (IL) State Journal Register (March 16) -- A group of about 35 local middle school and high school students attended the University of Illinois’ annual engineering open house this weekend as part of a program designed to encourage minority students to pursue careers in engineering and related fields. Also: ASEE FirstBell (March 18). Also: News-Gazette (March 15), ASEE FirstBell (March 19).

Female Engineer Statue Proposed

News-Gazette (March 15) -- Sakshi Srivastava, a University of Illinois electrical and computer engineering student, has “created an online petition and helped develop resolutions that the Illinois Student Senate and Academic Senate have supported” calling for the installation a statue of a female engineer on campus. Originally, Srivastava said the “idea was for a statue to be erected near the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building” currently under construction. However, Srivastava said she is open “a location anywhere on the engineering campus.” Also: ASEE FirstBell (March 17).


Newsweek (March 13) -- Newsweek has reprinted its first story about the Internet: “Mosaic is a system for linking information through the Internet’s international network of computers; users have access to sound, graphics, and text not available through traditional Internet connections. Just a few months ago, Mosaic was hailed as the latest salvation of Western civilization (or, at the very least, a major technological breakthrough). Developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the U. of I., Mosaic was one of the first popular ‘browsers,’ the term for software used to navigate the Web.”

Student startup competition

St. Louis Business Journal (March 12) --  StylePuzzle, an app created by U. of I. students, lets users pick out outfits based on the users’ clothing and was named a finalist in SXSW’s “Startup Madness” championship.

Internet anniversary

Entrepreneur (Irvine, Calif., March 12) -- Wednesday was the Internet’s 25th birthday. Mosaic, the Web’s first widely used graphical browser, is often credited with bringing the Internet out of geeky obscurity. Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina developed the iconic black, gray and blue browser at the U. of I. National Center for Supercomputing Applications in 1993.

Related story: PC Magazine (New York City, March 12) -- Mozilla is the true heir of Tim Berners-Lee’s 25-year-old dream, with the pedigree to prove it. Staunchly nonprofit, it’s a spinoff of Netscape, which was a spinoff of Mosaic, which was created by the U. of I. as the first widespread Web browser.

Driving and body weight

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill., March 12) -- Maybe that old notion about running for the bus isn’t such a bad idea after all. “The most docile activity is sitting behind the wheel of a car. If you can change that by just a few minutes a day, the impact can be quite significant,” U. of I. computer science professor Sheldon Jacobson says. Late last month, Jacobson published research in the journal Preventive Medicine hypothesizing that reducing daily automobile travel by 1 mile per driver and walking a mile instead would be as effective as reducing caloric intake by 100 calories per day. Also: Dallas Morning News (March 13).


International Business Times (New York City, March 12) -- March Madness kicks off this Sunday when the sages of the NCAA announce the lineups and seeds for the college basketball championship tournament. The science of March Madness brackets isn’t necessarily an arcane mess of equations. Sheldon Jacobson, a computer scientist at Illinois, thinks that you don’t even really need to comb through a team’s statistics and performance in the regular season to fill out your bracket. He prefers to look at the way the teams are seeded and thereby calculating their odds of advancing.

Related story: Bleacher Report (March 17) -- In a video feature, Professor Sheldon Jacobson, a statistician at the University of Illinois, uses 29 years of statistical bracket data to break down, analyze and predict the outcome of March Madness. In this first story, he talks about the Midwest Regional bracket. Jacobson also lent his insights to the West, South, and East regional matchups.

The State Journal-Register (Springfield, Ill., March 19) -- Sheldon Jacobson, a U. of I. professor of computer science, is a college basketball fan and has found a way to combine his love of sports and numbers. He developed a formula incorporating the past 29 years of the NCAA tournament to predict which seeds will advance. By taking the focus from teams, he aims to avoid the normal bias that get in the way of fans filling out brackets.

Home design

Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln, March 11) -- U. of I. students have designed three preliminary models of sustainable homes that could be quickly constructed and assembled for families who have lost their homes to natural disasters. The designs are the results a 2010 Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. While in the planning stages of the competition, an EF2 tornado hit an Illinois town, inspiring the students to design a solution for displaced families. The students came up with a 1,000-square-foot solar-powered modular come they called “Re_home.”

Astronaut alumnus

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (March 10) -- U. of I. alumnus Michael S. Hopkins came home Monday night after 166 days in space. Hopkins had been on the International Space Station.

Road conditions

Newsday (Melville, N.Y., March 9) -- Imad L. Al-Qadi, a professor of civil engineering at the U. of I, is among the many experts who blame pavement conditions on the pounding inflicted by increased heavy-truck traffic. “The most important thing we have seen is the increase in the percentage of trucks using roads and not because the roads are weaker than they used to be,” he said.

Digital Lab for Manufacturing

Chicago Tribune (March 9) -- Harold L. Sirkin, a partner in The Boston Consulting Group, writes: “Chicagoans are understandably excited about the new $320 million Digital Lab for Manufacturing that Washington just awarded the city. And they should be. The institute could be for Chicago what Stanford Research Park was to Silicon Valley: the birthplace of something very big. …”

Alum's solar lamps help rural villages (March 6) -- In Asia and Africa, nearly 1.5 billion people live in "off the grid" villages with an acute electricity shortage. Often their only source of light is kerosene lamps, which expose families to toxic fumes and risk of home fires. Illinois engineering alumnus Patrick Walsh launched Greenlight Planet to change that. The Chicago-based company produces solar-powered lamps geared toward these rural communities. Since launching in 2009, the startup has sold 1.8 million lamps, which cost between $11 and $40, the equivalent of about two weeks wages in those communities. One million were sold in the last ten months alone.


Business Insider (New York City, March 5) -- U. of I. is listed among 11 schools that are the best for specific academic programs; for Illinois, the programs are civil and structural engineering, chemistry, and computer science and information

Student inventors

Fire Engineering (Fair Lawn, N.J., March 5) -- Three senior design students in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois have prototyped a device that could protect firefighters from an invisible danger: searing temperatures.

Unlocking virus and microbes

Phys.Org (Douglas, Isle of Man, March 4) -- The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $2 million grant to Rachel Whitaker, a professor of microbiology at the U. of I., and an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional team--that includes MechSE professor Sascha Hilgenfeldt--to explore the idea of viruses and their hosts co-evolving.

Train efficiency

The Washington Post (March 3) -- Trains trump trucks aerodynamically. Every vehicle has to “punch a hole in the atmosphere,” says Christopher Barkan, the executive director of the rail transportation and engineering center at Illinois. When a locomotive punches its hole in the atmosphere, each car that follows can sneak into that same hole, saving a tremendous amount of energy.

Leading UI Labs

Crain's Chicago Business (Feb. 3) -- Everyone from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to President Barack Obama is counting on Caralynn Nowinski, chief operating officer of UI Labs, to show that an industry often identified more for outsourcing and lower wages can revitalize itself through the lab's innovative projects. On Feb. 23, UI Labs struck it rich, winning a $70 million grant from the Pentagon in a national bid for a digital manufacturing institute. The federal funds were matched by $250 million from private industry and state and city government.

PlantLink ready to ship

News-Gazette (March 2) -- Oso Technologies has won plenty of acclaim for its idea of a system that monitors how much water your lawn, garden or houseplant needs. For the last couple weeks, the company's five full-time employees have been programming PlantLink base stations and links in their office in downtown Champaign. They've also been packaging the systems for shipment to a distribution center in California, which in turn will send the products to supporters of PlantLink's successful Kickstarter campaign.that generated $96,690 within a month.

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