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 2015 media appearances

Baseball physics

The Chicago Tribune (March 31) -- The Chicago Tribune (March 31) -- It's hard to know what baseball at Wrigley Field will look and whether the Wrigley renovations will change the game itself. "It could conceivably have an effect," Alan M. Nathan, an Illinois professor emeritus and a researcher of baseball physics, says of Wrigley's new jumbo-sized video board. "Whether or not that effect will carry in a positive or negative direction remains to be seen." 

Physics Frontiers Center

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, March 31) -- The National Science Foundation's newest Physics Frontiers Center awardees represent the leading edge of physics research. The four centers renewed with new focuses and activities include the Center for the Physics of Living Cells at Illinois. 

Improving data center energy efficiency

EE Times (March 30) -- Researchers, led by ECE Associate Professor Pavan Kumar Hanumolu and sponsored by the Semiconductor Research Corp., claim they have extended Moore's Law by finding a way to cut serial link power by as much as 80 percent. The innovation at is a new on/off transceiver to be used on chips, between chips, between boards and between servers at data centers. Also: Phys.Org (Isle of Man, March 31).

Supercomputing & superconductors

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, March 30) -- Illinois researchers are using supercomputing resources at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, a Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility, to shed light on the mysterious nature of high-temperature superconductors. Also: Scientific Computing (Rockaway, N.J., March 30).

CDs/DVDs can shatter at high speed

Newsweek (March 29) -- You might not expect this, since CDs and DVDs are made to be spun around, but if you rotate one of them very quickly it will shatter, appearing to immediately become a bunch of chunks of sharp plastic. because the disc’s polycarbonate material is rather brittle, it can’t stretch much, and so the elastic energy leads stress to build up. At high speeds, it also becomes slightly uneven, like an askew car tire, and begins to wobble or vibrate, says Huseyin Sehitoglu, a mechanical engineer at Illinois.

UI Labs

WREX-13 TV (NBC; from The Associated Press; Chicago, March 24) -- A public-private research laboratory in Chicago plans to develop and test solutions to urban infrastructure problems it hopes can be used around the world. UI Labs said Monday that its new CityWorks program will focus on energy management, water and sanitation systems, transportation and logistical systems and the rest of a city's urban infrastructure.

Related stories: The Chicago Tribune (March 24) -- "One point is that every industry, including manufacturing and retail and a lot of the things that Chicago has had as core industries, will become imminently more connected with information technology," Siri developer Dag Kittlaus told the Chicago Tribune. "Illinois is one of the top computer science schools on earth and needs to have really close ties with the Chicago entrepreneurial community. I think UI Labs is a very important, major step."

The Chicago Tribune (March 30) -- A first look at the University of Illinois’ UI Labs Goose Island facility.

Infrared tissue staining

Medical Daily (New York, March 24) -- Recycling is usually a goal for any resource-conscious scientist. Thanks to new research from Illinois, that mission can now be fulfilled in as faraway applications as tissue staining. Without the hassle of physical stains, researchers will be able to “paint” infrared light onto these tissues and see it digitally as many times as they’d like, for whichever stain they prefer. Also: Phys.Org (March 24), AZoNano (Warriewood, New South Wales, March 25), Science Daily (Chevy Chase, Md., March 24), Odisha Sun Times (India, March 25), (March 25), Phys.Org (March 24), ECN (March 25), Zee News (India, March 25), AzoNano (March 25), MedDevice Online (March 26), Laboratory Equipment (March 27), ScienceBlog (April 1).

Computer science facilities

Network World (Framingham, Mass., March 23) -- Colleges and universities across the country have been building new facilities to keep up with expanding science, technology, engineering and math programs. Illinois, Cornell University, University of California at Merced and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., are just a few of the many schools with slick new facilities for computer science and engineering.

Supercomputers & Smart Grids

Scientific Computing (Rockaway, N.J., March 20) -- Smart grids – power grids that adapt to changes in demand and reconfigure as needed to avoid overloads and other problems – can reduce energy costs, help avoid blackouts and deter cyber attacks. A team led by researchers at North Carolina State University, with partners from the Renaissance Computing Institute at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Illinois, are using cloud computing resources to analyze smart grid data from thousands of sensors.

Adaptive flight control

Phys.Org (March 20) -- MechSE professor Naira Hovakimyan and her research team have developed a predictable, reliable, repeatable, and safe flight control system that was successfully tested for the first time on a manned aircraft—representing an important step toward the introduction of the technology into commercial aviation. Also: Inside Edwards (Air Force Base; March 11), ScienceBlog (March 19), Product Design & Development (March 20), (London, March 23).

Bracketology (March 16) -- "Computer science professor Sheldon H. Jacobson shared these numbers with the News Bureau of Illinois, and we're not too proud to co-opt them for our brackets. Since 1985, an average of 4.45 teams seeded No. 11 or worse have advanced to the round of 32 and an average of 1.69 teams seeded No. 13 or worse have won in the first round. And only in 1995 has a team seeded No. 7 or worse not made the Sweet 16." Also: BuzzFeed (March 16), CBS Sports (March 17).

Related story: Men's Health (March 17) -- Sixty-eight teams going head-to-head in single-elimination games over six rounds leaves some 147 quintillion ways to blow your office bracket, says Sheldon Jacobson, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The number again: 147, followed by 18 zeros. So Jacobson has calculated an edge: The chart below shows the percentage of times each seed has won to advance to a new round since the playoff format was standardized in 1985.

Content-curation algorithms

International Business Times (Australia, March 16) -- You may never see this article because a computer didn’t think it was relevant to you, and that’s a matter of great concern to two researchers who led a debate Sunday scrutinizing the growing influence of algorithms, and the cultural biases -- both subtle and overt -- they sometimes reflect. “It’s a scary prospect out there,” Karrie Karahalios, an associate professor at Illinois, told an engaged crowd here at the South by Southwest Interactive festival. Also: Fortune (March 18).

Related story: Fusion (March 27) -- A majority of everyday Facebook users in a recent study had no idea that Facebook constructs their experience, pushing certain posts into their stream and leaving others out. In the extreme case, it may be that whenever a software developer in Menlo Park adjusts a parameter, someone somewhere wrongly starts to believe themselves to be unloved,” wrote a team of researchers led by Illinois doctoral student Motahhare Eslami, in a new paper on Facebook’s news feed algorithm.

Nano piano demonstrates storage breakthrough

R&D Magazine (March 16) -- Researchers, led by MechSE associate professor Kimani Toussaint, have demonstrated the first-ever recording of optically encoded audio onto a non-magnetic plasmonic nanostructure, opening the door to multiple uses in informational processing and archival storage. Also: Phys.Org (March 16), ScienceBlog (March 16), Controlled Environments Magazine (March 17), (March 17), CNet (March 17), Scientific Computing (March 18), (March 18), Scientific American (blog, March 21), Science Newsline Technology (March 23).

Railroad rules (March 16) -- In the wake of four oil train disasters in North America in the last month, Canadian authorities are proposing tighter rules for railroad tank cars. Chris Barken, professor and executive director of the University of Illinois Rail Transportation and Engineering Center, says the changes will “make it much less likely (for a tank car) to overheat and suffer a thermal tear, such as we’ve seen in a number of these recent accidents.”

DNA packaged like a yo-yo

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, March 16) -- To pack two meters of DNA into a microscopic cell, the string of genetic information must be wound extremely carefully into chromosomes. Surprisingly the DNA's sequence causes it to be coiled and uncoiled much like a yo-yo, Illinois scientists reported. Also: Laboratory Equipment (March 17), Society for Science and the Public (Washington, D.C., April 6).

Supercomputer uncovers biology's strongest bond

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, March 16) -- One of life's strongest bonds has been discovered by a science team researching biofuels with the help of supercomputers. Their find could boost efforts to develop catalysts for biofuel production from non-food waste plants. Renowned computational biologist Klaus Schulten of Illinois led the analysis and modeling of the bond, which behaves like a Chinese Finger Trap puzzle. Also: Science 360 (NSF, March 18), Ethanol Producer Magazine (Austin, Texas, March 19).

Soft electronics

Scientific American (April 2015) -- The work of MatSE professor John Rogers is featured In an article on the future of medicine. "Rogers is building stretchable electronic sheets, just 10 nanometers thick, for devices that could be placed within or around organ such as the heart and do their jobs without causing harm. Rogers calls them 'soft electronics'."

LaValle talks about new technology

Chicago Tribune (March 15) -- CS professor and Oculus researcher Steve LaValle talks about future immersive technologies such as virtual-reality (VR). As LaValle explains, trying to explain virtual-reality technology is like trying to describe "this new thing called television" to someone over the radio.

Recruiting engineering talent

Michigan Chronicle (Detroit, Mich., March 12) -- Tristian Walker, CEO of Walker & Company Brands discussed his non-profit CODE2040, which offers Fellowships to minorities in the tech industry."We find great talent from Illinois and we bring that talent to Silicon Valley to really succeed and learn more about this place and what it has to offer."

New engineering-centric medical school at Illinois

Chicago Tribune (March 12) -- The University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted unanimously to establish the nation’s first college of medicine focused on the intersection of engineering and medicine. The college will be a partnership between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Carle Health System that is specifically designed to train a new kind of doctor. Also: CBS Chicago (March 12), Rock River Times (March 12), Newsroom America (March 12), Bloomington Pantagraph (March 12), ScienceBlog (March 12), Daily Illini (March 12), Bellevillle News Democrat (from The Associated Press, March 12), ASEE FirstBell (March 13), Herald News (Joliet, Ill., from AP, March 12), Northwest Herald (from AP, March 12), Peoria Public Radio (March 12), Fresno Bee (from AP, March 12), Education Dive (blog, March 13), The News-Gazette (March 13), News & Observer (from AP, March 12)

Related story: USA Today (March 22) -- The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be establishing the nation’s first college of medicine, which will have an integration in both engineering and medicine. This will be the first time in history where a university and hospital, Carle Health System, have partnered together to provide first-class education to its prospective medical students. Also: ASEE FirstBell (March 23).

Alumnus chosen to head national lab

Portland Business Journal (Oregon, March 12) -- Battelle has announced the appointment of Illinois alumnus Dr. Steven Ashby (MS, 1985, PhD, 1988, Computer Science) as Laboratory Director for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, WA. Battelle operates the lab for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Graduate school rankings

Chicago Sun-Times (March 9) -- Illinois ranked highest among Illinois universities in its graduate engineering program, tying at No. 6. in U.S. News & World Report’s latest graduate-school rankings. Also: Crain’s Chicago Business (March 10), WMAQ-5 TV (NBC; Chicago, March 10), Chicago Tribune (March 10).

Glacial moraines inspire drug delivery system

Glacier Hub (New York, March 10) -- A recent piece of biomedical research has drawn extensively from an unexpected source, glacial moraines. Illinois researchers, led by Min Kyung Lee, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Taking a cue from nature, the researchers have created a new system to deliver micro-therapies with more precision, by controlling both the speed with which a drug is released and the spatial pattern it takes inside the body.


Crain’s Chicago Business (March 9) -- Chicago has been getting a lot more venture capital investment in the past few years, and there’s no question the startup scene is getting a lot stronger. Thanks largely to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is churning out more startups, such as videoconferencing company Personify and Rithmio, which makes motion-recognition software.

Related article: The Hill (Washington, D.C., March 24) -- Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has introduced legislation that would force federal agencies to review and fix outdated rules. "New innovations, like those coming out of Illinois and our tech start-ups, risk never seeing market if old regulations and rules aren't cleared out and replaced by the agencies that are supposed to be in place to help businesses thrive," Kirk said in a statement Tuesday.

Bio-related ranking

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (New York, March 9) -- Chicagoland is included in the magazine's ranking of the Top 10 U.S. biopharma clusters. Over the past year or so, two research centers have opened—incubator EnterpriseWorks Chicago, whose “Health, Technology and Innovation” (HTI) initiative anchored at Chicago Technology Park offers shared wet and dry labs for startups; and the AbbVie Innovation Center at the Illinois Research Park, where students have started work on several of the biopharma’s R&D IT projects.

CS research funding

Bloomberg (March 6) -- Yale lags behind Cornell University, Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania in U.S. computer science research funding. Yale pulled in $35 million in 2014, compared with the No. 1 school on the list, Illinois, with $170 million. Also: Chicago Tribune (March 6), Daily Illini (March 18).

Breakthrough in material interfaces

Phys.Org (March 6) -- The physical process controlling heat flow between metals and diamond has remained a mystery to scientists for many years. By applying extreme pressure in a diamond anvil cell to metal films on diamond, researchers at Illinois have now determined the physical process dominating this unexplained heat flow, which has implications for understanding and improving heat flow between any two materials. Also: NanoWerk (March 6), ScienceBlog (March 6), R&D Magazine (March 6), (Ontario, March 9).

Engineering graduate school rankings

US News & World Report (March 5) -- A “sneak peek” at its graduate school rankings in listing what it ranks as its top ten engineering schools, though it is actually more than ten due to ties. The schools are: California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Illinois at ​Urbana-​Champaign, University of Michigan-​Ann Arbor, University of Southern California, and University of Texas-Austin. Also: ASEE FirstBell (March 6).

Electronic credentials

The New York Times (March 5) -- The Mozilla Foundation, which brought the world the Firefox web browser, has spent the last few years creating what it calls the Open Badges project. Badges are electronic credentials that any organization, collegiate or otherwise, can issue. Badges indicate specific skills and knowledge, backed by links to electronic evidence of how and why, exactly, the badge was earned. Traditional institutions, including Illinois, are experimenting with issuing badges.

Pop-up circuits

BBC News (March 5) -- Who knew that children's pop-up books could provide so much knowledge? According to Illinois researchers like John Rogers, scientists can now make complex microscopic three-dimensional shapes that model brain circuitry and blood vessels by mimicking classic children's pop-up books.

Greenlight Planet

Crain's Chicago Business (March 5) -- Greenlight Planet, a company co-founded by Chicagoan and Illinois alumnus T. Patrick Walsh, has a new way of providing affordable electricity to people in developing countries. Co-founder and fellow Illinois alumnus Anish Thakkar, the company's CEO, is based in Mumbai, India. Greenlight Planet has sold more than 3 million solar lighting appliances in more than 30 countries, including more than 1.5 million in 2014 alone.

Obesity in America

Bloomberg Business (March 5) -- Obesity is weighing on the U.S. economy. As a panel of scientists considers ways to help Americans trim down, unpublished research shows medical expenses linked to being extremely overweight have skyrocketed. Experts say the damage is augmented by reduced productivity, wider gender and income inequality and even higher transportation costs. As many as one billion additional gallons of gasoline are consumed each year transporting overweight and obese Americans, according to research from Sheldon Jacobson and Douglas King at Illinois. That would amount to about $2.5 billion, according to the average cost of regular gasoline as of March 3.

Related story: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (March 8) -- “Obesity is hurting the economy in surprising ways,’’ Bloomsburg Business scolded, relying in part on a University of Illinois study that said the surge in driving since the 1950s is behind the bump in America’s belt size.Sheldon Jacobson, the University of Illinois researcher, said a few years ago that if every licensed driver reduced travel by a mile a day, it would take only six years before 5 million fewer adults would be classified as obese. Also: The Chicago Tribune (March 6).

Alumnus on engineering rigors and rewards

The Huffington Post (March 4) -- ECE alumnus Sean Safavinejad, a refinery economist at ExxonMobil, writes about the rigor and reward of engineering for the Huffington Post.

Chameleon materials

Chemistry World (Royal Society of Chemistry; London, March 2) -- By unpicking how cephalopods change their looks to match their environment, researchers, including John Rogers, a material scientist at Illinois, are aiming to reverse-engineer a host of novel materials.

Carbon tax revenue

WUIS 91.9 FM (Opinion, March 1) -- Illinois finance professors Don Fullerton and Julian Reif and civil engineering assistant professor Megan Konar have a new essay in “Illinois Issues” magazine on carbon taxes as a potential revenue boon for the state.

Green campus

Mother Nature Network (March) -- The state's flagship public university is aggressively setting and meeting sustainability goals including a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. The campus features nine LEED-certified buildings (three platinum) with eight more seeking certification. Photo: New Electrical and Computer Engineering building.

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