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 2016 media appearances

Reinventing the cast

Chicago Inno (Feb. 29) -- Three senior engineering students at Illinois are setting out to reinvent the cast. Their startup, called Cast21, uses a proprietary application process to immobilize bones through a waterproof material that forms to the patient’s body, while giving the skin room to breathe.

Alumnus Levchin on Apple-FBI feud

CBS News (Feb. 26) -- Over the course of the ongoing battle between Apple and the government over unlocking the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist, Max Levchin -- CS alumnus, PayPal co-founder, and CEO of financial tech company Affirm -- said his views have changed from a "clear-cut, black and white" stance of helping the FBI to supporting Tim Cook. Levchin said the court order to "write code to surveil its customers is unprecedented." Since the very beginning, the government has reiterated that this would be a one-time case, but Levchin has sided with Apple, suggesting there were are no absolute guarantees.

International Clean Water Project

WCIA-TV (Feb. 26) -- Students at the University of Illinois are helping people all over the world get access to clean drinking water. The environmental engineering majors just got back from a week-long trip to Rwanda. While they were there, they met up with locals to see the issues they face first-hand. The wells there are contaminated with E Coli. And the water has too much iron, manganese and fluoride. Students say they want to help in any way they can.

Drones that fly like birds

Inside Unmanned Systems (Feb. 26) -- Despite the many design improvements being made as industry strives to implement drone-based applications, even the most advanced drones simply don’t have the agility and grace that comes so naturally to birds. “We think nature offers a lot of solutions to current engineering problems,” said Aimy Wissa, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. “The same UAS can’t perform all the tasks a bird can, including taking off, hovering, perching, landing and cruising. Birds can do all these things efficiently, where UAS are based on point design. They’re good at one thing but not the other. That’s the reason we work on adaptive structures.”


Westword (Denver, Colo., Feb. 23) -- In 1993, Mosaic, the first Web browser to use graphics and a point-and-click interface rather than rely on text commands, was developed by graduate student programmers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at Illinos.

Collaboration and technology

EdTech (Opinion, Vernon Hills, Ill., Feb. 23) -- Senior applications specialist Thomas Kunka of Illinois writes for EdTech about how today's technical deep divers can't achieve success without collaboration.

Research Park

Chicago Inno (Feb. 23) -- Student teams, along with Illinois Math and Science Academy chief innovation officer Britta McKenna, traveled to Facebook and Twitter's offices in Silicon Valley, as well as local innovation hubs such as Northwestern's Garage, the Chicago Innovation Exchange, Illinois' Research Park and Northern Illinois University's EIGERlab, to research design and programming.


Live Science (Feb. 23) -- As “smart” electronics get smaller and softer, scientists are developing new medical devices that could be applied to – or in some cases, implanted in – our bodies. And these soft and stretchy devices shouldn't make your skin crawl, because they're designed to blend right in, experts say. Nanshu Lu, who previously studied with John Rogers, a soft-materials and electronics expert at Illinois, focuses her research on stretchable bioelectronics.

Self-healing materials

Popular Science (Feb. 23) -- A new class of smart plastics can heal breaches all on their own, to mend cracked phone screens or stitch up airplane wings. Illinois professor of materials science and engineering Nancy Sottos helped pioneer this field in the ’90s. Her team has developed composites that can repair themselves using a range of methods.

Research Park

Chicago Tribune (Feb. 19) -- Illinois' technology hub, Research Park, is feeling the pinch of the state's budget woes: It's absorbing a 6 percent funding cut that impacts support to faculty and startups.

Alumnus Kashkari

Reuters (Feb. 16) -- The U.S. Federal Reserve's newest policymaker called on lawmakers to consider "bold, transformational" rules including the breaking up of the nation's largest banks to ensure taxpayers are no longer on the hook should they fail. In his first speech as head of the Minneapolis Fed, engineering alumnus Neel Kashkari urged a radical shakeup of Wall Street's banks, straddling the line between the Fed's policymaking remit and political advocacy. A former senior Treasury official, Kashkari managed a key part of the banking and auto industry bailouts during the financial crisis. Also: Los Angeles Times (Feb. 16).

Quieter jets

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, Feb. 16) -- Daniel Bodony, a professor of aerospace engineering at Illinois, is using the Blue Waters supercomputer to investigate the science surrounding the aeroacoustics of jet engines and researching how to make them quieter.

Alumnus' Zero Percent

DNAinfo (Chicago, Feb. 15) -- After the success of Chicago Restaurant Week and the newly launched Black Restaurant Week, a Chicago nonprofit started by an Illinois alumnus is rounding up nearly 100 restaurants and charities for Restaurant Giving Week. Zero Percent, launched at Illinois by CS alumnus Rajesh Karmani in 2012, has grown exponentially over the past two years, serving as a go-between for restaurants with extra food and nonprofits that need it. Also: Chicago Tribune (Feb. 24).

Why spiders' silk is so elastic

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, Feb. 15) -- While working to improve a tool that measures the pushes and pulls sensed by proteins in living cells, biophysicists at Johns Hopkins say they've discovered one reason spiders' silk is so elastic. Lead researcher Taekjip Ha says the new discovery came during a follow-up to research he and his team, then at Illinois, described in the journal Nature in 2010. Also: Gizmodo (Feb. 15), Science 360 (Feb. 17).

Research Park

Crain’s Chicago Business (Feb. 13) -- About 150 miles south of Chicago, past open fields and small-town water towers like pushpins on the Illinois map, you'll find a surprising corporate outcropping. Twenty-five big-name businesses—from Dow Chemical to Yahoo—have set up shop in a cluster of buildings at the University of Illinois Research Park in Champaign. The draw: The university is one of the country's biggest producers of computer science, math and engineering students, a resource corporate America is desperate to tap.

Gravitational waves discovered

News-Gazette (Feb. 12) -- A billion light years from Earth, two dense objects known as black holes collide at enormous speed, sending giant ripples through the fabric of space-time. Albert Einstein predicted such an event a century ago as part of his theory of relativity, and scientists have been searching for those ripples, known as gravitational waves, ever since. The announcement of their discovery sent waves of excitement around the globe Thursday, including at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Urbana, created 30 years ago to help scientists solve enormous computational puzzles like this one. Also: WCIA-TV3 (Feb. 11), Discover (Feb. 11).

Alumnus Bill Tai

Men's Journal (Feb. 11) -- In the early 1990s, before kiteboarding became the Valley's cool-kid test, Illinois alumnus Bill Tai was a young banker who windsurfed at San Mateo's Third Avenue Beach. After studying electrical engineering at Illinois and a stint at Harvard Business School, Tai moved to Silicon Valley to work as an analyst at an investment bank.

Social media research

Christian Science Monitor (Feb. 10) --  A study led by researchers at the University of Illinois of a small group of users found that more than 60 percent did not know that Facebook was filtering their feeds. After learning of the features, the researchers noted, most of the survey’s participants said they were still satisfied with the site’s features after learning of the filtering. Some also said they began using the features more after learning of them. Also: Fortune (Feb. 8).

IntelligShop app

WCIA-TV3 (Feb. 11) -- Researchers from the Advanced Digital Sciences Center (ADSC, a Coordinated Science Lab research center in Singapore) and Singapore Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) developed IntelligShop, an app that uses a phone’s camera and location-tool to automatically detect nearby businesses and pull up reviews from multiple sources on the same screen. Users can easily and efficiently scan nearby retailers and peruse reviews all in the same app.

Email security

International Business Times (Feb. 10) -- Google has announced a number of changes to its Gmail platform that aim to bolster the security of incoming emails by alerting users if they are sending messages over an insecure connection. The news come in the wake of research published in 2015 that was commissioned to analyze the ongoing trends and emerging threats of email security, gathered in collaboration with the University of Michigan and Illinois.

New center for molecular drug imaging

News-Gazette (Feb. 10) -- A new industry-supported center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign plans to image molecules, live cells and tissues in the body before, during, and after drug treatment in order to understand the efficacy of the drugs and the response of the body to treatments. The GSK Center for Optical Molecular Imaging is a partnership between the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and the Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. Also: WILL-AM/FM (Feb. 10), ScienceBlog (Feb. 10), ASEE FirstBell (Feb. 11).

Smartwatch cybersecurity

CBS (Feb. 9) -- Smartwatches are a hot thing, replacing the wristwatch. They can do so much, but are they safe from hackers? Researchers at Illinois demonstrated how they could determine what users were typing simply by tracking a sensor.

Research ethics

Nature (Feb. 8) -- Fabricating, falsifying or plagiarizing data can get a grant yanked or a researcher blacklisted for breaking the professional code of science. Now, some funders are facing a fresh challenge: what to do with grants given to scientists who commit sexual transgressions. “The public has a right for us to conduct publicly funded work honorably and with integrity,” says C. K. Gunsalus, director of the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics at Illinois.

Engineering alumnus passes

Chicago Tribune (Feb. 5) -- Sidney Epstein, a former Chicago engineering firm chairman, dies at age 92. Epstein received his civil engineering degree from Illinois in 1943.

Cyberpatriot program

Chicago Tribune (Feb. 5) -- CyberPatriot, a contest which introduces teens to the booming field of cybersecurity, is just one of many contests that may spark interest in college cybersecurity programs. Illinois has one that offers scholarships that students pay back with two years of government service.

Desalinization+new battery

Gizmag (Feb. 4) -- Much scientific effort goes into shoring up both our energy and water supplies for the future, but what if both problems could be addressed by the same technology? Researchers at Illinois have come up with a new battery design that not only relies on salt water to store and release electricity, but removes the salt ions from the water in the process. Also: (Feb. 5), ScienceBlog (Feb. 1), The Engineer (UK, Feb. 5), Nanowerk (Feb. 4), Crazy Engineers (India, Feb. 4), NDTV (Feb. 4), Science Codex (Feb. 4), Microfinance Monitor (Feb. 5), SlashGear (Feb. 5), Economic Times (India, Feb. 6), Tech Times (Feb. 6), The TeCake (Feb. 6), The Siasat Daily (Feb. 5), BGR India (Feb. 6), WaterWorld (West Chester, Pa., Feb. 15), Environmental Leader (Feb. 26).

Ultrathin semiconductor laser

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, Feb. 2) -- A new type of ultrathin semiconductor laser under development at The University of Texas, Arlington, can be integrated with mainstream electronics on the same silicon substrate with increased capacity and energy efficiency. The team will be working in collaboration with professors Shanhui Fan at Stanford and Xiuling Li at Illinois.

Robotic falcon

Inside Unmanned Systems (Feb. 1) -- Soon-Jo Chung, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and Coordinated Science Laboratory researcher is developing a robotic falcon that chases birds away from airfields. “The premise here is to figure out how to reverse engineer bioinspired flight from the robotics standpoint,” Chung said. “How can we create a robotic falcon that can scare away real birds from the airfield? To achieve this goal, we have to understand bioinspired flights. It’s a complicated problem.”

Computer programming eduction

Fast Company (Opinion, New York, Feb. 1) -- The assumption that there aren't any good programmers outside of San Francisco is absurd – and a strategic liability. Many of the leading computer programs (Illinois' is ranked fifth in the country by U.S. News and World Report) are found far outside today's tech hubs.

Color-changing indicators highlight microscopic damage

Nature Reviews: Materials (Feb. 1) -- Cracks in polymer coatings and composites can lead to faster degradation of the underlying substrates or a reduction in the mechanical performance of the composite over time. In the case of polymer-coated steel structures -- for example, ships and bridges -- the detection of cracks at an early stage is essential to prevent corrosion, particularly in marine settings. Materials science and engineering professor Nancy Sottos and her colleagues at Illinois show the visual detection of mechanical damage in epoxy polymer coatings using microcapsules containing a chemical indicator.

Daycare Discover app

Chicago Inno (Feb. 1) -- For busy working parents, finding quality day care is a tough and time-consuming process. Illinois engineering alumna Mo Zhou knows firsthand. Now she has launched a startup, Daycare Discover, that offers a host of mobile-oriented solutions for busy working parents looking to make the right day care decisions.

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