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 2015 media appearances

Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Discover Magazine (Feb. 27) -- How do you physically grab a drink while wearing an Oculus Rift headset that has you immersed in virtual reality? Researchers at Illinois decided to test out several possible scenarios that would allow people to see just enough of the physical world to take a sip of coffee or soda without removing their virtual reality headsets.

Research funding

The Chicago Tribune (Feb. 27) -- Despite spending cuts and sequestration in recent years, Illinois’ universities are capturing record levels of funding for basic, applied and development research in science and engineering (S&E). The combined research expenditures of Illinois’ three largest research universities - the University of Illinois, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago - account for more than three-quarters of all academic R&D expenditures.

Joining physical and virtual reality

Technology Review (Feb. 27) -- Pulkit Budhiraja and colleagues at Illinois have been testing ways of superimposing physical reality onto a virtual reality experience. The goal is to find a way to allow users to interact with real physical objects while they remain immersed in a virtual world—a kind of augmented virtual reality. The researchers have modified an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with a pair of cameras that produce a stereo view of the real world in front of the headset. They then came up with four different ways of superimposing the real world images onto the virtual world for the task of picking up and drinking from a cup, while remaining immersed in the VR world.

Health care app store

Crain's Chicago Business (Feb. 26) -- For virtually every consumer challenge, need or desire, there's an app. And in health care, there are lines of code or formal procedures for everything from managing sepsis to identifying patients at risk for diabetes. But there hasn't been the equivalent of an app store. Illinois computer science alumnus Paul Magelli, CEO of Apervita, aims to change that.


Forbes (Feb. 25) -- ARPANET became operational in 1975. It was mostly text-based, fairly complicated to navigate, and used primarily by scientists. All of this changed in 1993, when Marc Andreessen, a twenty-two-year-old undergraduate student at Illinois, coauthored Mosaic — both the very first web browser and the Internet’s first user-friendly user interface.

CS alum on Oscar-winning team

News-Gazette (Feb. 24) -- On Sunday night, A.J. Christensen, a 28-year-old computer science alumnus who works at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, was glued to the Academy Awards broadcast. When "Interstellar," won for Best Visual Effects, Christensen, who had a hand in the production of those effects, gave an acceptance speech for about 20 friends at the same time Paul Franklin was officially accepting the Oscar in Hollywood.

Teaching machines

The Guardian (London, Feb. 24) -- In the early 1960s, work was underway in a U.S. laboratory on a project that had the potential to revolutionise education. Professor Donald Bitzer, an electrical engineer at Illinois, was creating one of the world’s first teaching machines, PLATO. By 1972, his software had gone from serving a single classroom to being used across America. But with its growth came speculation and apprehension – could a computer replace a teacher?

Computer vision

Medical Xpress (Isle of Man, Feb. 24) -- The University of Arizona and five collaborators from four partner institutions — including Illinois — have been awarded a three-year, $4.5 million grant from the Office of Naval Research for a project designed to improve computer vision.

Mechanical skin

Fast Company (New York, Feb. 23) -- A "mechanical skin," developed by researchers at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, features a sunblock-like wearable device that can detect temperature, blood flow and variations in skin hydration to alert the wearer of potential problems.

High-speed computer networks

Scientific American (Feb. 18) -- In 2011 a group of universities and their surrounding municipalities formed the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project. The project’s goal is to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks in the U.S. by encouraging researchers to develop new applications and services that can make use of ultrafast data-transfer rates. Original players were able to be more ambitious, the best example being Illinois, which installed a fiber network across the entire city as part of their UC2B project.

IGB renamed

Journal Gazette & Times-Courier (from The Associated Press; Mattoon, Ill., Feb. 18) -- Illinois' Institute for Genomic Biology has been renamed in honor of late microbiology professor Carl Woese, who discovered a third major branch of the tree of life. Also: Chicago Tribune (Feb. 18).

Engineering education

The Chicago Tribune (Feb. 17) -- iFoundry co-founder and ISE emeritus professor David E. Goldberg helped change how we share content in 2004 when he co-founded the social sharing startup ShareThis at Illinois. Today, as a resident of Douglas, Mich., Goldberg is working to change how the world teaches engineering.

Related story: The Chicago Tribune (Feb. 20) -- What kind of engineer does the world need? An entirely different one, says David Goldberg, an Illinois engineering administrator who co-founded ShareThis at Illinois. After World War II, he says, “we had big, hierarchical companies with employees and engineers who were socially captive to their organizations. Essentially, we wanted engineers to sit down and shut up and do what they were told.”

Innovate Illinois Advisory Council

WUIS-91.9 FM (Springfield, Ill., Feb. 17) -- With the aim of spurring growth in Illinois' tech sector, Governor Bruce Rauner has created the Innovate Illinois Advisory Council. Co-chairs for the council include Laura Frerichs, director of Illinois' research park.

Crumpling graphene

Phys.Org (Feb. 17) -- University of Illinois researchers led by MechSE assistant professor SungWoo Nam, have developed a unique single-step process to achieve three-dimensional (3D) texturing of graphene and graphite. Using a commercially available thermally activated shape-memory polymer substrate, this 3D texturing, or "crumpling," allows for increased surface area and opens the doors to expanded capabilities for electronics and biomaterials. Also: ScienceBlog  (Feb. 16), R&D Magazine (Feb. 18), (Feb. 18), New Materials News (Feb. 18), (Feb. 19) IEEE Spectrum (Feb. 20), DOE Office of Science (Feb. 23).

Hammack on the Titantic (Rockaway, N.J., Feb. 12) -- Illinois engineering professor Bill Hammack unearthed three journals at the University of Illinois library that detailed the engineering behind the Titanic and its sister ships, the Olympic and Britannic, between 1909 and 1911. Hammack, known as "Engineer Guy" on YouTube, examines the ships’ construction, steering mechanisms, and propulsion systems using photographs from the journals.

RailTEC grant

News-Gazette (Feb. 11) -- Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will work to develop better track components for rail transit systems, thanks to a $2.4 million, two-year grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) will develop new designs for concrete crossties and fastening systems used in light rail, heavy rail and commuter rail infrastructure that take into account their unique loading conditions.

Related story:  (Feb. 9) --  U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), announced today that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been awarded $2,396,981 in funding through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to support research efforts at UIUC’s Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) to improve rail safety and infrastructure. Also: eNews Park Forest (Feb. 9), Progressive Railroading (Feb. 11).

Engineering-focused medical school

News-Gazette (Feb. 10) -- The University of Illinois Academic Senate voted Monday “to establish a small, engineering-focused medical school,” though a “more significant test will come in March” when the school’s Senates Conference and trustees weigh in. Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who backs the plan, said, “This is really a historic vote. We do not start colleges very often.” President Bob Easter is reviewing the plan. Also: ASEE FirstBell (Feb. 10), Miami Herald (from The Associated Press, Feb. 10), WAND-TV (Decatur, Ill., Feb. 10), Herald News (Joliet, Ill., from AP, Feb. 10).

Nanotubes self-organize, wiggle

Phys.Org (Feb. 10) -- Since the mid-20th century, research has pointed to an extension of the second law for nonequilibrium systems: the Maximum Entropy Production Principle (MEPP) states that a system away from equilibrium evolves in such a way as to maximize entropy production, given present constraints. Now, physicists at the University of Illinois have demonstrated the emergence of self-organized structures that drive the evolution of a non-equilibrium system to a state of maximum entropy production. The authors suggest MEPP underlies the evolution of the artificial system's self-organization, in the same way that it underlies the evolution of ordered systems (biological life) on Earth. Also: R&D Magazine (Feb. 10), Nanotechnology Now (Feb. 10), ScienceBlog (Feb. 10).

Since the mid-20th century, research has pointed to an extension of the second law for nonequilibrium systems: the Maximum Entropy Production Principle (MEPP) states that a system away from equilibrium evolves in such a way as to maximize entropy production, given present constraints.

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Measuring cell mechanics

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, Feb. 10) -- A new tool developed in Illinois called a "tension gauge tether" allows scientists to measure cell mechanics at the single-molecule level.

Research Park

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Feb. 10) -- Ameren opened an innovation center Tuesday at Illinois' Research Park. Also: News-Gazette (Feb. 10), St. Louis Business Journal (Feb. 11), Daily Illini (Feb. 11), (Feb. 11).

Related story: Alton Daily News (Alton, Ill., Feb. 20) -- Caterpillar opened its first data innovation lab in the U. of I. Research Park in Champaign. The lab brings together resources for the company’s research and development efforts, including engineering, computer science, operations research and statistics, to produce development through data analysis.

Alumnus Shahid Khan

St. Louis Business Journal (Feb. 9) -- Illinois engineering alumnus Shahid Khan, the auto parts magnate who wanted to buy the Rams and bought the Jacksonville Jaguars for $770 million, listed cold calling as one of three pieces of advice to Illinois graduates in a commencement speech in 2013. In fact, he said, that's how he became an NFL owner.

Railroad safety

The Journal News (White Plains, N.Y., Feb. 8) -- Experts say even though railroad steel is designed to be super strong, it can break in extreme situations and penetrate the train car. In many cases, running rails get destroyed when a train derails. "The third rail is made up of sections that are bolted together," says Conrad Ruppert, a senior research engineer at the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center at Illinois.

High-efficiency solar cells

R & D Magazine (Rockaway, N.J., Feb. 6) -- Ultra-high-efficiency solar cells similar to those used in space may now be possible on your rooftop thanks to a new microscale solar concentration technology developed by an international team of researchers. "We partnered with colleagues at Illinois because they are experts at making small, very efficient multi-junction solar cells," says Noel C. Giebink, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Penn State. Also: Fast Company (Feb. 25).

Spider & the early universe

Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb. 6) -- The Spider experiment – short for the Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation, Dust and the Epoch of Reionisation experiment – sailed through the cold blue skies of Antarctica for 16 days about 35km above the surface of the Earth, searching for elusive gravitational waves in the ancient signals from the early universe. Illinois professor Jeff Filippini, a member of the Spider team, says the landing site was near a few outlying stations in West Antarctica, thousands of kilometers from where it was launched.


Milwaukee Business Journal (Wisconsin, Feb. 5) -- The Milwaukee Institute is partnering with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, bolstering its offerings for clients that include regional industry clusters such as the Water Council, as well as companies including Johnson Controls Inc. The NCSA is based out of Illinois, where it was established in 1986 as one of the original sites of the National Science Foundation's supercomputer centers program.

Carbon sequestration

Discovery News (Feb. 5) -- Tiny liquid-filled capsules could temporarily capture excess carbon dioxide from power plants or factories before it gets into the atmosphere. Developed by a team of scientists from Illinois, Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Harvard University, the microcapsules — just .5 mm in diameter — could help reduce the build up of an atmospheric gas that's at an all-time high. Also: (Ontario, Feb. 9), (Dallas, Feb. 9).

Student startup expands to India and Southeast Asia

The Economic Times (India, Feb. 4) -- Founded in 2007 by a team of student engineers at Illinois, solar energy product company Greenlight Planet has raised $10 million in funding -- led by Fidelity Growth Partners India -- to support its distribution expansion efforts in India and Southeast Asia. Also: Live Mint (Feb. 4), DealCurry (Feb. 4), Business Standard (Feb. 5), VC Circle (Feb. 4), Hindu Business Line (Feb. 4).


Wired (Feb. 3) -- The 3D-printed “bio-bot” developed by Illinois is likely to be really flexible in its movements and navigation. With this breakthrough, researchers are contemplating the possibility of designing machines enabled with sensory responding abilities to complex environmental signals.

Illinois #1 food hub

WUIS 91.9 FM (Springfield, Ill., Feb. 1) -- More food passes through Illinois annually than any other state in the nation, according to a new report. Megan Konar, with Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs, found that of the 400 million tons of food that moves around the country annually, more than 70 million tons passes through the state

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