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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June 2015 media appearances

Start-up Rithmio lands $3 million in funding

Built in Chicago (June 30) -- Rithmio, a gesture recognition platform founded at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013, announced that it has secured a $3 million seed round. After founding the company with his advisor, MechSE Associate Professor Prashant Mehta, Rithmio CEO Adam Tilton won the 2014 Cozad New Ventures competition, which enabled the team to open offices in both Champaign and Chicago. Also: Chicago Tribune (Blue Sky, June 30), Crain's Chicago Business (June 30).

Groundwater & food security

Smithsonian (June 29) --  CEE professors Ximing Cai and Megan Konar, along with graduate student Landon Marston and Lehigh University professor Tara Troy, studied groundwater consumption from three main aquifer systems. Reliance on these aquifers intensified so much from 2000 to 2008 that it accounted for 93 percent of groundwater depletion in the U.S. Also: ScienceBlog (June 29), Phys.Org (June 30), Central Valley Business Times (Calif., June 30), Feedstuffs (June 30).

$10 million Jump Simulation Center

Crain's Chicago Business (June 29) -- The new College of Medicine at Illinois has received its first major gift, a $10 million donation from the financial technology firm Jump Trading. The money will support a new center, to be built in Everitt Laboratory, where medical and engineering students will work together designing and learning to use new medical devices, simulation tools and bio-fabrication techniques. Also: Chicago Inno (June 29), News-Gazette (June 29), WAND-TV (Decatur, Ill., June 29), WCIA-TV (Champaign, Ill., June 29), Washington Times (from The Associated Press; Washington, D.C., June 30), (June 30), Bellingham Herald (June 30), Chicago Inno (June 30), Sacramento Bee (Calif., from AP, June 30), ASEE FirstBell (July 1).

Self-healing materials

CNN (June 25) -- The field of self-healing is teeming with possibilities. From Hendrik Marius Jonkers' concept for regenerating concrete, to Illinois' plastic 'blood clots,' and airplane wings that repair themselves, materials are being given a second chance.

Related story: BBC News (June 29) -- Scientists from the University of Illinois have developed "self-healing" coatings for metals and pipelines. The researchers say the coatings contain micro-capsules which release materials to repair metals when they are damaged or corroded. Also: Financial Times (subscription required; June 29).

Quantum compass in mammals

Science 2.0 (June 25) -- New research suggests that wood mice, commonly found in Europe, have a built-in compass that exploits quantum processes, the first seen in a wild mammal. Theorists see the study as a solid, early step toward a better understanding of the quantum compass, which has also been observed in amphibians. In fact, Klaus Schulten – the Illinois biophysicist who first hypothesized this compass setup – says that "there is no element of surprise" to Malkemper's discovery, given what's been found already in non-mammals. Also: Inside Science (June 22).

Fermentation process for biofuels

Phys.Org (June 24) -- Researchers, led by BioE Assistant Professor Ting Lu, have, for the first time, uncovered the complex interdependence and orchestration of metabolic reactions, gene regulation, and environmental cues of clostridial metabolism, providing new insights for advanced biofuel development. Also: Nanowerk News (Honolulu, June 24), R&D Magazine (June 24), ScienceBlog (June 24), Laboratory Equipment (June 25), Ethanol Producer Magazine (Austin, Texas, June 30).

Hyperloop student projects

Chicago Inno (June 24) -- Last week, Elon Musk's SpaceX made a call to colleges, universities and independent engineering teams, asking them to design and build human-sized pods for his proposed Hyperloop transportation solution that could potentially be tested on an actual track in June 2016. That’s good news for Illinois; two student groups were already working on Hyperloop designs for a class project. Also: Motherboard (June 26), Popular Science (June 26), Business Insider (Australia, June 28), Geek (June 28), Clapway (June 29), Tech Times (June 29), ZD Net (June 29), Daily Mail (UK, June 29), ASEE FirstBell (June 30).

New battery

Gizmodo (June 23) -- A team from Illinois used a technique called holographic lithography to make a three-dimensional battery. 

3D shapes from 2D graphene

Phys.Org (June 23) -- A team of University of Illinois researchers, led by MechSE assistant professor SungWoo Nam, have developed a new approach for forming 3D shapes from flat, 2D sheets of graphene, paving the way for future integrated systems of graphene-MEMS hybrid devices and flexible electronics. Also: R&D Magazine (June 23), Tech Fragments (June 23), ScienceBlog (June 23), Controlled Environments Magazine (June 24), ECN Magazine (June 24), AZoNano (Warriewood, New South Wales, June 25), Tech Times (June 25).

Climate change

Crain's Chicago Business (Opinion, June 23) -- Illinois faculty members Don Fullerton, Megan Konar (CEE) and Julian Reif argue that Pope Francis' call for action on climate change is an opportunity for the state of Illinois. Their Climate Change Policy Initiative seeks to understand how good policy can protect Illinois from the effects of climate change.

Biodegradable battery

The Guardian (London, June 22) -- Research into new battery technology is not new. Last year scientists at Illinois and Tufts University in Massachusetts developed a biodegradable battery that could dissolve in water.

Illinois in Top 20 globally for patents issued

NAI/IPO (June) -- It is relatively common knowledge that Illinois has some of the top research institutions in the country. But recent rankings compiled by the National Academy of Inventors and Intellectual Property Owners Association show that three universities in the state are also leaders in owning that research. The U. of I. came in at number 18. Also: Chicago Inno (June 22).

Adaptive optics

Gizmodo (Austrailia, June 22) -- Adaptive optics have been around since the mid-2000s, but the hardware has been too expensive for the average clinic. Now, researchers say they’ve developed computer software that can correct the blurring without extra hardware. Illinois professor of electrical and computer engineering Stephen Boppart and his colleagues published a paper on their new technique in the journal Nature Photonics. Also: Gizmodo (June 22),  ScienceBlog (June 22), (Rockaway, N.J., June 24), Science 360 (NSF, June 29), PhysicsWorld (June 30), (July 7).

Carbon nanoparticles for biomedicine

Science Daily (Chevy Chase, Md., June 18) -- Illinois researchers have found an easy way to produce carbon nanoparticles that are small enough to evade the body’s immune system, reflect light in the near-infrared range for easy detection, and carry payloads of pharmaceutical drugs to targeted tissues. Also: Phys.Org (June 18), R&D Magazine (June 18), ScienceBlog (June 18), AzoNano (June 19), TechRadar (June 19), International Business Times AU (June 22).

Social app

Louisville Business First (June 17) -- Say you want to go shopping in 20 minutes. Or go to the park in an hour. Or grab a coffee down the street. You text your friends, but no one is available. Two Louisville brothers, one a CS senior at Illinois, have developed an app to allow users to see if their friends can hang out on a moment’s notice.

Inkjet printed silk for medical applications

Medgadget (El Granada, Calif., June 17) -- It is now possible to utilize silk inks containing growth factors, nanoparticles, antibodies, antibiotics and enzymes in inkjet printing, turning it into a new and more effective tool in bio-sensing, regenerative medicine and therapeutics, according to research led by biomedical engineers from Tufts University. The research included work from Illinois' John Rogers. Also: Tech Times (New York, June 23).

STEM Scholarship

The Washington Post (June 16) -- Incoming Illinois freshman Annie Thomas won a $3,000 scholarship from Elon Musk’s Space X to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math. During her four years in high school, Thomas helped build a six-foot, 120-pound robot, competed on the swimming team, and earned a 4.37 cumulative grade-point average. She plans to study computer engineering at Illinois in the fall.

Wearable electronics

Popular Science (June 16) -- John Rogers has a patch on his forearm about the size of a quarter. It’s reminiscent of a child’s temporary tattoo meant to look like a miniature sand dollar. But Rogers, a materials science and engineering professor at Illinois, is actually wearing an electronic device “that allows wireless data transmission and storage – about 100 kilobytes, for things like passwords and medical identifiers,” he says. Also: MIT Technology Review (June 25).

Related stories: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, Ark., June 23) -- Last year, the cosmetics company Maybelline introduced a beauty app that uses advanced facial mapping technology so consumers can try out new looks in real time by turning their iPhone or iPad front-facing camera into a virtual mirror. It is partnering with engineers at Illinois to develop flexible wearable electronics to help researchers and consumers better understand skin.

Crisis mapping for Nepal

Forbes (June 15) -- Kathmandu Living Labs is a small nonprofit, started by an Illinois alumnus, that needs to get bigger in a hurry. The data-driven team, led by Illinois alumnus and KLL executive director Nama Budhathoki, has been leading efforts to “crisis map” Nepal over the past six weeks, using online tools to work out which neighborhoods are in need of medical help and supplies following April’s devastating earthquake.

Student startups

Chicago Inno (June 15) -- The Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), a community incubation and innovation space, is hosting 10 Chicago college student startups as part of its Summer@CIE program, including startups from Illinois.

Limits of vision revealed

Popular Science (June 11) -- For decades researchers have been trying to find out the minimum number of photons our eyes can see--three photons is the eye’s lower limit. The study, which involves firing photons into the eyes of people sitting in a dark room, could ultimately show whether people can sense single photons, according to Rebecca Holmes, a physicist from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Also: Nature News (June 11).

Stain-free biopsies

AZoNano (Warriewood, New South Wales, June 10) -- Rohit Bhargava, a professor of bioengineering at Illinois, has developed a technique that eliminates the need for stains or dyes entirely when it comes to biopsies.

College of Medicine

The Washington Times (from The Associated Press; Washington, DC, June 10) -- Illinois is now asking faculty leaders to weigh in on the name of a planned new medical school. According to The News-Gazette, university rules require that the Faculty Senate weigh in on any new college within the university.

New VR class

Chicago Inno (June 10) -- The lead scientist for Oculus Rift brought cutting-edge virtual reality to campus here in Illinois. This spring former lead Oculus Rift scientist and Illinois computer science professor Steve LaValle taught CS498SL: Virtual Reality, a course that introduced students to the inner workings of virtual reality tech while asking them to propose and create their own virtual reality projects.

Gene regulation computed

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, June 9) -- In an Illinois study recently published as a breakthrough article in Nucleic Acids Research, computer scientists, led by CS professor Saurabh Sinha, and molecular biologists demonstrated the utility of a novel approach to deciphering how networks of genes are regulated.

Photographing science

The Boston Globe (June 9) -- Felice Frankel has staked out her own small corner of the photography world: science. Since her first image ran on the cover of Science in 1992, her images have landed on some 30 journal covers. “Certainly if you look back 30 years ago ... it’s just night and day and I think she’s played a significant role in that transformation,” says John Rogers, a researcher at Illinois who designs stick-on sensors for the human body and has worked with Frankel.


Chicago Inno (June 9) -- We've put together a list of 10 Chicago startups to watch heading into the midway point of the year, including Flipword. Built by Illinois computer science graduate student Thomas Reese, FlipWord makes learning a language as easy as surfing the web. 

Heat can manipulate nanoscale magnets

Phys.Org (June 8) -- MatSE researchers, led by David Cahill, have uncovered physical mechanisms allowing the manipulation of magnetic information with heat. These new phenomena rely on the transport of thermal energy, in contrast to the conventional application of magnetic fields, providing a new, and highly desirable way to manipulate magnetization at the nanoscale. Also: Nanotechnology Now (June 8), ScienceBlog (June 8), Product Design and Development (June 9), R&D Magazine (June 9),  AZoNano (Warriewood, New South Wales, June 10).

First epidermal photonic sensors

Smithsonian Magazine (June 8) -- A team of researchers from Northwestern University and Illinois has designed a small wearable pad that measures temperature changes on a user’s skin, and from that, it can detect the individual's blood flow rate and skin hydration levels. “These results provide the first examples of ‘epidermal’ photonic sensors,” said John A. Rogers, the paper’s corresponding author and a Swanlund Chair and professor of materials science and engineering at Illinois. “This technology significantly expands the range of functionality in skin-mounted devices beyond that possible with electronics alone.”

Cyber Infrastructure Center announced

Homeland Security Today (June 8) -- The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been selected to house the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new Critical Infrastructure Resilience (CIRC) Center of Excellence, DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) announced. Supported by a consortium of U.S. academic and industry institutions, S&T will provide CIRC with a $3.4 million grant for its first operating year, DHS said. Also: News-Gazette (June 11), WCIA-TV (June 9), WICS-TV (June 12), The Bloomington Pantagraph (from The Associated Press; Bloomington, Ill., June 11), Crain's Chicago Business (June 11), ASEE FirstBell (June 12).

Computational linguistics

The New York Times (June 4) -- Many of the algorithms used by Google and Skype Translator have been developed and honed by university researchers. In May, a computational linguist named Lane Schwartz, who teaches at the U. of I., hosted the first Machine Translation Marathon in the Americas, a weeklong hackathon to improve the open-source tools that those without Google resources share.


Chicago Inno (June 3) -- More than 21 million Americans have a disability that renders them unable to climb up and down stairs, many of whom are confined to wheelchairs. A group of Illinois engineering alumni are hoping to change that, with EscaWheel. Their venture, patent pending, allows the wheelchair-bound to roll right into a lift that glides up stairs.

Social media algorithms

The Washington Post (June 3) -- By now, it should be common knowledge that the News Feed does not show you every post your friends put on Facebook. Unfortunately, there’s still a major misconception around how News Feed works: in a recent study by CS associate professor Karrie Karahalios and others, 62.5 percent of participants had no idea Facebook screened out any posts. Also: Chicago Tribune (June 3).

RoboBat drone (June 3) -- Scientists at Illinois are working on a fully autonomous bat-like drone to supervise construction sites. According to the University’s website, the drones would be used to make sure the project is proceeding as it’s supposed to. “The bats would fly around, pay attention, and compare the building information model to the actual building that’s being constructed.” Also: (June 3), Entrepreneur (June 4), UPI (June 4), Big News (from UPI), Chicago Inno (June 9), Quartz (New York, June 12).

Airport screening

Defense One (June 2) -- Security measures at airports often allocate too many resources to passengers who pose little risk, diverting screening time and attention from those who may be a real threat, according to Sheldon H. Jacobson, a CS/ISE professor at Illinois, who has been doing research on aviation security for more than 20 years and is considered a leading mind in risk-based modeling for aviation. Jacobson says that the “worst thing” that could happen for airport security at this point is to reverse the progress made in this so-called risk-based screening, and instead subject higher numbers of people to screening that doesn’t reflect the likely threat they pose.

Nanobots in the bloodstream

Tech.Mic (New York City, June 2) -- One early issue with nanobots is the risk of creating clots in the bloodstream when the 'bots are packed in tighter quarters. "When you talk to clinicians, one thing that makes them go white and never want to talk to you again is any kind of notion of putting something solid in the bloodstream," says, John Rogers, a MatSE professor at Illinois. "There are just really serious consequences of any kind of structure that's free-floating and just traveling around."

Chinese students at Illinois

BBC (June 2) -- There are more than a quarter of a million students from China in colleges in the United States--a third of all international students in the country--and almost a fivefold increase since 2000. ECE undergraduate Junfeng Guan has already overcome far bigger challenges since making the move from China to America's mid-west to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Illinois boasts the largest number of international students of any public higher education institution in the US, nearly 5,000 of whom are Chinese.

MSI robotics exhibit

The Chicago Tribune (June 2) -- Not too long ago, robots were science fiction. Today robots are not only fact, they're also a lot of fun at the Robot Revolution exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. This interactive exhibit features cutting-edge robots from around the world demonstrating some of their possible uses. Steven LaValle, an exhibit adviser from the department of computer science at Illinois, says, "I think we can make parallels to PCs and computers. Not that long ago computers were just for nerds and most people were afraid of them. Today they are social and such a part of life. I hope they'll get inspired.”

Washington State landslide

The Seattle Times (June 1) -- An aerial map compiled a year before the deadly Oso, Washington, landslide shows that the upper portion of the hillside was being dangerously undercut, which could point the way to identifying other high-risk slopes, according to a new analysis. Illinois engineering professor Timothy Stark says he and his colleagues are convinced that the slide originated high on the slope, not lower down as previous investigations suggested. 

UI Labs

BBC News (June 1) -- Around three dozen people are working on an initiative that could transform the future of U.S. manufacturing. It's a clean, quiet, and largely vacant 94,000-sq.-ft. space - not unlike the factory of the future, according to its tenants, the UI Labs' Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute.

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