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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November 2016 media appearances

Entrepreneurship accelerator

Built-In Chicago (Nov. 30) – The U. of I. is helping to feed Chicago with new startup talent through its iVenture Accelerator.

Alumnus startup: Zero Percent

Chicago Tribune (Nov. 29) – A new app out this week from food waste-fighting startup Zero Percent, founded by Illinois CS alumnus Raj Karmani, could let users indulge their snack cravings while helping feed the needy.

AE student benefits from Carr scholarship

News-Gazette (Nov. 29) -- Today, on Giving Tuesday, Illinois alumnus Robert Carr plans to officially donate $1 million to the UI, enough money to cover the tuition, fees and room-and-board expenses for 50 future students. The gift will come from his foundation, Give Something Back, which he started in 2003 to put students from working-class and low-income families through college. Most of those chosen end up being first-generation college students and about 60 percent are minorities, Carr said. Like Alberto Davila, a UI senior set to graduate in May with a degree in aerospace engineering. The first person in his family to go to college, Davila's tuition has been covered in full by Carr's foundation.

Novel approach yields 3D micro-optics

Phys.Org (Nov. 28) -- A multi-institutional research collaboration, led by MatSE professor Paul Braun, has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon, with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics. Also: ScienceBlog (Nov. 28), U.S. Dept. of Energy (Nov. 29).

Boosting soybean yields

Peopria Public Radio (Peoria, Ill., Nov. 23) – Researchers at Illinois have found that reducing the number of leaves on soybean plants can increase crop yield by 8 percent. Project lead Praveen Kumar, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Illinois, says producing more food without using more land is vital. “We are probably maxed out in terms of available arable lands, so we really need a different strategy to increase productivity.” Also: Science Daily (Nov. 19), The Detroit News (from The Associated Press; Nov. 24), Farm Journal's Ag Pro (Nov. 28), The Guardian U.S. (New York, Dec. 18).

Ethanol production

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, Nov. 23) – New research at the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory at Illinois could significantly change ethanol production by lowering operating costs and simplifying the dry grind process. “There are currently more than 200 dry grind plants that are processing corn to produce ethanol,” says Vijay Singh, the director of IBRL and a professor in agricultural and biological engineering. “The dry grind process requires two different enzymes to convert corn starch to glucose, which is further fermented to ethanol by yeast.” Singh says that process has been simplified by the combined use and optimization of three new technologies. Also: Science Daily (Nov. 23), Ag Week (Nov. 23), ScienceBlog (Nov. 28).

MechSE group creating stronger building materials

Science Daily (Nov. 21) -- During the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics, MechSE assistant professor Randy Ewoldt and MechSE doctoral candidate Jeremy Koch presented their work exploring how air bubbles rise within a complex fluid, like those found while processing wet concrete, wondered if they could actually get them to sink instead by shaking the mixture in the right way. The finding may pave the way for stronger building materials by helping remove large air voids from wet concrete, the authors say. Also: Cosmos (Nov. 24), Science (Nov. 29).

Carle Illinois College of Medicine

News-Gazette (Nov. 17) -- A new research institute intended to complement the planned Carle Illinois College of Medicine will be named for Horizon Hobby founder Rick Stephens and his wife, Jeanene Stephens. Carle said in a statement it expects this institute to become known for groundbreaking research, education and clinical trials and to create a culture that attracts leading physician scientists. Also: WAND-TV (Nov. 16).

Wearable electronics

The Verge (Nov. 16) – A new stick-on wearable, smaller than a penny, can hear the beat of your heart, the sound of your voice and even the whirr of an implantable heart pump. “This opens up a whole additional realm of measurement,” says John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at Illinois. Also: New Scientist (Nov. 16), IEEE Spectrum (Nov. 16), Wareable (Nov. 17), HealthDay (Nov. 17), Quartz (Nov. 17), (Nov. 17), Knowledge Science Report (Nov. 17), Controlled Environments Magazine (Nov. 17), New Atlas (Nov. 18), ASEE FirstBell (Nov. 18), Nanowerk News (Honolulu, Nov. 23).

Computing peptides shaping cell membranes

R&D Magazine (Austin, Texas, Nov. 15) – There are approximately 1,100 known antimicrobial peptides (AMP) with diverse sequences that can permeate microbial membranes. To help discover the “blueprint” for natural AMP sequences, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California, Los Angeles, have developed a new machine learning approach to discover and design ⍺-helical membrane active peptides based on their physicochemical properties. Also: ScienceBlog (Nov. 15), Phys.Org (Nov. 15).

Mantis shrimp-inspires biomedical imaging

NPR (Nov. 15) – A collaborative team of engineers and wildlife biologists, co-led by Viktor Gruev, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois, is working on a set of imaging technologies inspired by the ability of the mantis shrimp to detect polarized light. With the camera the team is developing, Gruev says, cancer surgeons might one day be able to much more clearly see the margins of the tumors they need to remove. Also: WAMU-FM (Washington, D.C., Nov. 15), KPCC-FM (Southern California Public Radio, Los Angeles, Nov. 15), Science Recorder (Nov. 16), Specialty Pharmacy Times (Nov. 16), ASEE FirstBell (Nov. 16), Big Ten Network (Nov. 22), LiveScience (Nov. 26), Yahoo! News (from LiveScience; Nov. 28).

Slow motion waves of jumping genes in the human genome

Phys.Org (Nov. 14) -- A new study by two Illinois researchers has demonstrated that dynamic elements within the human genome interact with each other in a way that strongly resembles the patterns seen in populations of predators and prey. The findings, published in Physical Review Letters by physicists Chi Xue and Nigel Goldenfeld, are an important step toward understanding the complex ways that genomes change over the lifetime of individual organisms, and how they evolve over generations. Also: Science 360 (NSF, Nov. 16).

Nuclear safety

NBC Bay Area (KNTV-TV, San Jose, Calif., Nov. 14) – A new Environmental Protection Agency proposal for the Bay Area could affect communities if a future radioactive release were to occur. Clair Sullivan, a nuclear engineer and physicist at Illinois, says, “It is my opinion that the (Protective Action Guide) is guidance for an accident scenario, which is a one-time event, whereas the (Safe Drinking Water Act) is for our day-to-day lives and is federal law.”

News or not?

Business Insider (Nov. 14) – Facebook is facing criticism over its role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because of the unchecked spread of propaganda disguised as news stories. Just how hard of a problem is it for an algorithm to determine real news from lies? Not that hard. During a hackathon at Princeton University, four college students – including Illinois sophomores Mark Craft and Catherine Craft – created one in just 36 hours. Also: NextShark (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 15), Chicago Inno (Nov. 16), The Washington Post (Nov. 18).

Ag team wins science prize

Agri News (Rochester, Minn., Nov. 11) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation announced the winners, including a team from Illinois, of the first Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology $200,000 prize competition. The U of I team is bringing to market two software packages that make it possible for crop advisers to inexpensively run large-scale, on-farm agronomic trials and create strategies for profitable nitrogen fertilizer management.

CS grad startup Anansi

Built In Chicago (Nov. 11) – A former computer engineering student from Illinois, Nikita Parikh founded Anansi last year along with two fellow alumni. Their original idea was to make a wearable device that would detect a user’s fight-or-flight responses and summon first responders automatically. 

State funding deal

Chicago Tribune (Nov. 10) -- University of Illinois trustees Thursday backed a quid pro quo deal that would secure funding for the university’s three campuses” which would “guarantee state funding for the next five years” in exchange for a commitment “to enrolling a minimum threshold of in-state undergraduates, increasing financial aid and limiting tuition increases to the rate of inflation. Also: ASEE FirstBell (Nov. 11), Inside Higher Ed (Nov. 11), WCBU-FM (from The Associated Press; Peoria, Ill., Nov. 10).

Startup's election predicitons proven

Chicago Inno (Nov. 9) – While pollsters frantically changed their predictions as Donald Trump picked up Florida, Ohio, North Carolina (and eventually traditionally blue Wisconsin and Michigan), Illinois sophomores William Widjaja and Cody Pawlowski weren’t surprised. They predicted he would win in June. The two are cofounders of Tweetsense, a sentiment analysis startup that mines social media and other internet comments to understand public opinion. Since launching their startup last year, they correctly predicted the 2015 Chicago mayoral election and the Brexit vote. And through analyzing the presidential race since June, they correctly predicted that Donald Trump would be the winner.

Winning in Chicago

Crain’s Chicago Business (Opinion, Nov. 7) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel once famously said that a good crisis ought not be wasted. Well, how about a great big victory, which would lead to other successes? “If you need ambassadors in Chicago neighborhoods to fight violence or help spur job creation, tap some Cubs – and perhaps a few Bulls, Blackhawks and others, too. Head back to the Illinois’ engineering school in Urbana-Champaign on another talent-recruitment mission on behalf of Chicago’s burgeoning tech scene like you did in your first term and bring some stars with you.”

Physicists on why materials break

University of Chicago News (Nov. 4) -- New research suggests scientists could eventually help create materials that resist breaking or crack in a predictable fashion. The researchers “link discoveries about different types of cracks—narrow, clean cracks versus widely spread cracks—into a unified picture that explains them as different limits: rigid materials, on one hand, versus low-rigidity materials on the other,” said Karin Dahmen, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who did not participate in the research. “This study will trigger many follow-up studies because it gives us control, as well as a powerful unified understanding of the spatial extent of cracks in many different materials.” Also: Science 360 (NSF, Nov. 8), Futurity (Rochester, New York, Nov. 8).

Illinois a partner in $3.5M I-Corps node

ChicagoInno (Nov. 2) -- Four Midwest universities are getting a grant from the National Science Foundation to transform university tech into startups. The NSF announced a $3.5 million grant to establish a Midwest node for their I-Corps program, which offers funding and programming to help researchers explore customer discovery and commercial potential of their tech. The node will be managed by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Purdue University, and the University of Toledo. “In developing this collaboration, we will leverage each other’s strengths,” said Jed Taylor, director of operations for UIUC's Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) in a statement. The goal is to grow an entrepreneurship ecosystem among the top engineering schools. Also: News-Gazette (Nov. 3), ASEE FirstBell (Nov. 7).

CEE's Parker wins Saudi water prize

ABC News (from The Associated Press; Nov. 2) – Saudi Arabia awarded eight scientists the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water at a ceremony at United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday. The “Surface Water Prize” went to Gary Parker, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Illinois, for his work on meandering rivers. Also: The Hindu (from The Associated Press; Chennai, India, Nov. 4).

Tech talent

Crain’s Chicago Business (Nov. 2) – The state of Illinois is one of the biggest producers of tech talent, thanks to Illinois, Northwestern University, University of Chicago and Illinois Tech. Last year, Illinois universities produced nearly 2,500 computer science grads, second only to California, according to data from the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition.

CS alumna Parisa Tabriz leads Google's Chrome Hackers

Wired (Nov. 3) -- CS alumna Parisa Tabriz leads Google's Chrome Hackers. Her group is responsible for helping billions of people gauge the security of the sites they visit, but there’s only an inscrutable icon to signal the difference between an encrypted site that locks its connections and unprotected sites that leave them vulnerable to threats—which can range anywhere from a hacker sniffing passwords at the next Starbucks table to a hacked home router eavesdropping on emails to an internet provider surreptitiously injecting ads. The confusing collection of hieroglyphics used by most browsers today to draw that line are misleading at best; at worst they’re negligently silent or even dishonest about a site’s lack of security.

Alumnus startup to eliminate food waste

The Huffington Post (Nov. 1) – Raj Karmani, an Illinois alumnus, first built the app that would become Zero Percent during a hackathon. The app allows restaurants, schools and other institutions that sign on to easily note what kinds of food they have available and in what quantity, and when they would like to have it picked up. The system then notifies a local nonprofit, giving them the option to pick up the food.

Election Analytics

News-Gazette (Nov. 1) -- With just one week to go, Election Analytics gives Hillary Clinton a significant, albeit shrinking, lead over Donald Trump in the Electoral College — 321 votes to 217. At this point, no credible website or forecasters give Trump a realistic chance of winning the election.

Related story: Chicago Inno (Nov. 2) -- You've likely seen hundreds of polls over the course of the election, but none like this one. UIUC computer scientists are working on Election Analytics, a real-time, data-driven analysis of the likely outcome of the election ahead. It uses the same available polling data that sites such as Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight use, but also looks at age and size of the poll, then breaks it down state-by-state. Then, it uses an algorithm that takes into account past elections to come up with their prediction. The professor behind Election Analytics, Sheldon Jacobson, said they've been 12 percent more accurate than Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight. As of Wednesday, they predict Hillary Clinton has a 99.96 percent chance of winning the election. Also: The Ledger (Nov. 4).

Related story: One News (Nov. 7) -- Election Analytics founder Sheldon Jacobson from the University of Illinois' computer science department stops by the studio to discuss the latest election polls and how accurate their predictions are at the University. Also: WCIA-TV (Nov. 8). Also: FoxIllinois News (Nov. 9).

Related story: News-Gazette (Nov. 9) -- CS professor Shelden Jacobson’s phone pinged constantly Wednesday morning, with reporters and anxious voters all asking the same question: How did the polls get it so wrong? The University of Illinois computer science professor, who runs an Election Analytics website with his students, didn’t blame the state polling data that they use for their analysis, which gave Hillary Clinton a 99 percent chance of winning. Rather, he said, it was a “once in a lifetime” upset that defied the odds, based on a near-total swing in undecided voters to Donald Trump. That scenario was one of 21 laid out on the website, and it gave Trump a 77 percent chance of winning. Also: Chicago Inno (Nov. 9), Defense One (Nov. 9).

Siebel Design Center

Fortune (Nov. 1) -- Computer science alumnus Tom Siebel is funding a new, $50 million design-thinking-focused institute at the university that he hopes will be a place many disciplines can come together. “The big trend at universities is interdisciplinary efforts,” says Siebel, noting that graduate and advanced research programs like medicine and bioengineering have benefited from the trend. “The design school is the undergraduate version of interdisciplinary thinking.” (Siebel is putting up half the money.)

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