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 2016 media appearances

U of I startup: Rithmio

Chicago Inno (March 31) -- For the past three years, Chicago-based Rithmio, which began as a U. of I. startup, has been developing software that integrates with existing wearable technology to more accurately measure movement.This week, the company debuted EDGE, an app for Android wear devices that helps athletes and weightlifters track their workouts and measure progress.

Data Science Master's Degree MOOC

The Next Web (San Francisco, March 30) -- Coursera has announced a new Data Science program in partnership with the U. of I. The program, which promises a full tuition at under $20,000, combines courses from the University's top-ranked computer science school with the top library and information sciences school to teach concepts like data visualization, machine learning, data mining and cloud computing. Also: The Economic Times (March 30), ScienceBlog (March 30), Marketwired (March 30), iProgrammer (March 30), ITProPortal (March 30), insideBIGDATA (March 30), BusinessBecause (March 30), Inside Higher Ed. (March 31), News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, IL, March 31), Indian Express (March 31), eCampus News (March 30), EdSurge (March 30), Crain's Chicago Business (March 30), (WCIA-TV, March 30), The PIE News (March 30), Education DIVE (March 31), Chicago Inno (March 31), Campus Technology (March 31), Quartz (March 31).

Related story: The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 30) -- As the costs of graduate education skyrocket and students demand cheaper, more-convenient ways of learning, colleges and universities are increasingly experimenting with so-called "stackable degrees." Think Lego blocks of college education, letting students start with a MOOC, then add a few more MOOCs to get an online certificate, then add yet more courses to get a traditional master’s degree. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced such a degree on Wednesday.

Hall of Fame alumnus passes

The New York Times (from The Associated Press; March 30) -- ECE alumnus Steven B. Sample--and member of the College of Engineering Hall of Fame--died on Tuesday. He was 75. Sample served president of the State University of New York at Buffalo for nine years and, later, led the University of Southern California for 19 years. Also: Los Angeles Times (March 29).

Alumnus Kaplan: digital manufacturing pioneer

Chicago Tonight WTTW (March 30) -- Zach Kaplan, founder of Inventables, graduated from Illinois with a degree in engineering. But while he was a student 15 years ago, the digital manufacturing program was still in its infancy and took a long time to create a finished product. But a lot has changed in the digital world since then and Kaplan is now a digital manufacturing pioneer.

Fluidic particle trap

Phys.Org (March 28) -- Precise control of an individual particle or molecule is a difficult task. Controlling multiple particles simultaneously is an even more challenging endeavor. Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new method that relies on fluid flow to manipulate and assemble multiple particles. This new technique can trap a range of submicron- to micron-sized particles, including single DNA molecules, vesicles, drops or cells. Also: WAND-TV (Decatur, IL, March 28), ScienceBlog (March 28), Science 360 (NSF, March 30).

State budget impasse

Chicago Inno (March 28) -- Last week two of Illinois' top centers for tech talent, the Illinois Math and Science Academy and the University of Illinois, discussed how they would continue to keep their offerings strong despite going without funding for ten months due to the budget impasse.

Ebola travel screening

ScienMag (March 28) -- As of January 31, 2016, a total of 28,639 cases and 11,316 deaths have been attributed to Ebola, figures may significantly underestimate the actual scope of the 2014 outbreak in West Africa. One strategy recommended by the World Health Organization required exit screening at airports for passengers who depart from countries with Ebola. In a recent study, published in Preventive Medicine, CS professor Sheldon Jacobson and his colleagues provide an alternative policy for Ebola entry screening at airports in the United States. Also: Science Daily (March 28), (March 28), ScienceBlog (March 28), Infection Control Today (March 29), (March 29), (March 29), Vaccine Daily News (March 31).

Water tech

Chicago Tribune (March 28) -- A new project, called Current, wants to unite Chicago's entrepreneurs, researchers and utility companies to solve water problems - and fan Chicago’s economic flame along the way. The project will have three focus areas: a research consortium, a network for innovation in water tech and a program to encourage the reuse of resources from wastewater. Other partners include the city of Chicago, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the University of Illinois.

IT security

The Christian Science Monitor (March 24) – A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan and Illinois in partnership with Google suggests that maliciously designed systems on the Internet could still interfere with secure email.

DNA molecular interaction

Science 360 (NSF, March 24) -- Proteins play a large role in DNA regulation, but a new study finds that DNA molecules directly interact with one another in a way that’s dependent on the sequence of the DNA and epigenetic factors. This could have implications for how DNA is organized in the cell and even how genes are regulated in different cell types, according to postdoctoral researcher Jejoong Yoo, and Aleksei Aksimentiev, an associate professor of physics at Illinois. Also: Phys.Org (March 23), News-medical (April 13).

Fiber optic data transmission record

Digital Trends (Portland, Ore., March 24) – Researchers are finding ways to meet a future of increasingly big data: Engineers at Illinois have set a new record for fiber-optic data transmission, breaking previous theories that fiber optics have a limit in how much data they can carry. Also: Engadget (March 24), Gizmodo (March 25).

Genome-wide binding

ScienceBlog (March 24) -- Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California-Davis are combining in vivo experimentation with computation for highly accurate prediction of the genome-wide binding pattern of a key protein involved in brain disorders.

Airport security

Quartz (March 23) -- In an invited Op-Ed article, Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of computer science at Illinois and recognized expert in airport security wrote: "When passenger screening at airports the United States and Europe intensified almost 15 years ago following the Sept. 11 attacks, advanced imaging technologies and enhanced procedures made airports and planes more secure. However, as targets become more secure, terrorists generally shift their own strategy, identifying and exploiting more vulnerable targets. The devastating attacks in Brussels this week highlight the lethal efficacy of such shifts: terrorists seek out locations that have softer security and where they can cause a lot of damage.

Water conservation grant

Las Vegas Review-Journal (March 23) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave several universities, including Illinois, a $3.3 million grant to fund new water conservation research.

Alumnus Marcin Kleczynski

Lifehacker (New York, March 23) – At age 14, future Illinois alumnus Marcin Kleczynski had a problem: After downloading video games from shady online sources, he accidentally infected his family computer with malware. Kleczynski taught himself to code, and what started out of necessity eventually grew to be its own product and company. Malwarebytes has a team of over 320 employees, and its various products have been downloaded about a half billion times.

Mega-wind turbine

Digital Trends (March 22) -- Bigger is better, even in the world of renewable energy. The latest example is a proposed mega-wind turbine being developed by a research team from several universities, including Illinois, and national laboratories.

Protein folding

Phys.Org (March 21) -- Understanding the sequence-structure-function relationship—the “protein folding problem”—is one of the great, unsolved problems in physical chemistry, and is of inestimable scientific value in exposing the inner workings of life and the rational design of molecular machines. A study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign lays the foundations to recover the protein folding landscapes directly from experimental data, providing a route to new understanding and rational design of proteins. Also: ScienceBlog (March 21), R&D Magazine (March 22).

Invisibility cloak

Tech Times (March 21) -- The invisibility cloak that the fictional Harry Potter used to move around Hogwarts undetected may have promising applications in real life, particularly when used in the battlefield. The material used to create a cloak, which was originally developed by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Illinois, attempts to replicate the special ability of cephalopods such as the octopus and squid to blend in with the environment to evade their predators.

Critical Zone Observatories

National Science Foundation (March 21) -- With support from the National Science Foundation, civil and environmental engineer Praveen Kumar at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, co-director Thanos Papanicolaou of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and an interdisciplinary team of researchers from nine universities run the Intensely Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory. The observatory focuses on areas in the upper Midwest where human activities have dramatically transformed the land over time.

Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows at Illinois

Tech Transfer Central (March) -- Proof-of-concept funding is great, but what if faculty innovators also have the gift of time to prove out the viability of their discoveries, the guidance of successful entrepreneurs, and the ability to take students along on the ride? This is the thinking behind the new Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows program in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Jed Taylor, the director of operations of the Technology Entrepreneur Center at Illinois. "What we do is give [faculty innovators] some proof-of-concept funding, a release from teaching and other obligations for 12 months, and we give them space on campus,” explains Taylor. "And then we put some curriculum and coursework around it as well, so students are involved in the process and it is really an educational experience.”

Alumnus Tejash Patel

U.S. News & World Report (March 18) -- It's a rare kid who dreams of working in supply chain management, a field where responsibilities typically divide into four parts: plan, source, make and deliver the product. Illinois alumnus Tejash Patel certainly didn't. He grew up intrigued by the computers his father, an engineer, brought home, and he studied computer science at Illinois.

Supercomputer recovers black women's history

Chicago Inno (March 16) -- A new collaboration between University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign sociology researchers and the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) uses supercomputing to recover the stories and experiences of black women thought to be lost to history. "A lot of times when people think about big data, they think about it in ahistorical times…outside of this political context," said Ruby Mendenhall, an associate professor of sociology at UIUC. "It's really important to think about whose voice is digitized, in journals and newspapers." Also: Phys.Org (Feb. 25).

Graduate school rankings

Chicago Tribune (March 16) -- The Chicago area's top-tier universities enjoyed a mixed bag of success in the latest rankings of the nation's top graduate schools by U.S. News & World Report. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fell one spot, to tied for seventh, in the list of engineering schools. Also: Atlanta Business Chronicle (March 16).

Alumnus Max Levchin

Yahoo! Finance (March 16) – “If you are from any country in the world with a computer science degree, you are imminently employable.” Those are the words of Illinois alumnus Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, CEO of financial technology startup Affirm and former chairman of Yelp. Also an immigrant, Levchin says the American dream he was able to pursue is in danger.

Starter League acquisition

Chicago Tribune (March 15) -- The Starter League, a pioneering coding school launched in Chicago in 2011, has been acquired by Fullstack Academy, a larger competitor based in New York City. Fullstack CEO David Yang and co-founder and CTO Nimit Maru, both Illinois alumni, said their high admissions standards – they take on amateur programmers, not complete beginners – will help qualify graduates for entry-level developer roles, something coding bootcamps are sometimes criticized for not achieving.

Chinese students

Wall Street Journal (March 15) -- Chutian Shao moved from China to the Midwest college town of Champaign, Ill., a few years ago. Some days, he says, it feels as if he hasn’t traveled very far at all. On a recent Monday, the 22-year-old woke up in the apartment he shares with three Chinese friends. He walked to an engineering class where he sat with Chinese students. Then, he hit the gym with a Chinese pal before studying in the library until late into the night.

Social media

Fortune (March 15) -- When it comes to using an algorithm to display relevant content, Instagram may be following in the footsteps of its parent company, Facebook. Sixty percent of Facebook users don’t even realize the company filters their news feed, according to a study by Illinois researchers.

Quantum many-particle problem

Phys.Org (March 14) -- One of the grandest and most impactful frontiers of physics is the quantum many-particle problem. Scientists today still don’t well understand what happens when many quantum particles—like electrons, protons, and neutrons—come together and interact with each other. Now, two teams at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, working together and attacking the problem from different physics disciplines, have shed new light on our understanding of disordered quantum materials. Also: ScienceBlog (March 14).


Cosmos Magazine (Australia, March 14) -- Using the new technology of optogenetics, Illinois researcher Rashid Bashir’s group has genetically engineered muscle cells to respond to blue light. A flash of light causes the muscle cells to contract, and the bug-sized frankenbot crawls forward like an inchworm. Also: Popular Science (March 14), Discovery News (March 14), MIT Technology Review (March 14), Headlines & Global News (March 14), Engadget (March 18), (March 21).

HIV biosensor

Business Standard (India, March 14) -- Scientists have developed a new highly sensitive biosensor that can quickly and accurately count sub-populations of white blood cells that are key to diagnose HIV/AIDS. “There are 34 million people infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide, many in places that lack testing facilities,” says Rashid Bashir, head of the Department of Bioengineering at Illinois.

Cold atoms & superconductors

Forbes (March 10) -- Blog post from Chad Orzel: "...I was on the road last week giving a colloquium at the University of Illinois. As is typical for these trips, I visited a bunch of faculty research labs while I was there, including Brian DeMarco’s group, where they work in the same ultracold-atom field that is my own home in physics. They start with a gas of potassium atoms, cool them to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero, and place them in an “optical lattice,” which uses light to create an array of places where the atoms would “like” to sit.

Alumnus Steve Chen

Mashable (March 9) -- Rather than talk about business ideas, the co-founder of YouTube (Illinois alumnus Steve Chen) and its former engineering lead soon realized something – they were spending most of that time talking about their food. A live, food-centric interactive video platform – which debuted Wednesday and will be promoted at SXSW – gives users the ability to direct, produce and host their own food shows. The co-founders have known each other for over 25 years – they went to high school and college together at Illinois.

NCSA images

Chicago Tribune (March 9) -- A new Fermilab show features “amazing images of the cosmos,” thanks to an assist from National Center for Supercomputing Applications at Illinois. The images that make up “Art of Darkness” are the end result of a collaborative process that begins with observers and telescope operators in Chile, pointing the camera at specific parts of the night sky. Those images are digitally transferred to NCSA for processing.

Transistor laser

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, March 9) -- Light and electrons interact in a complex dance within fiber optic devices. A new study by Illinois engineers found that in the transistor laser, a device for next-generation high-speed computing, the light and electrons spur one another on to faster switching speeds than any devices available. Also: Peoria Journal Star (Peoria, Ill., March 9),
R&D Magazine (New Jersey, March 10), New Electronics (March 10).

University-born startups

Chicago Inno (March 8) -- In the most recent Innovation Index, a compilation of data on the state's startup ecosystem found that of the 611 known startups created by Illinois' university students and faculty over the past five years, 80 percent are still active (or were acquired) and 73 percent of these active startups are still in Illinois. The Index also reveals the importance of tech transfers--startups that were created using university research, patents, licenses, or disclosures--to Illinois' innovation economy. Over the past decade, one-fifth of all university-formed startups have been the result of tech transfers, with these companies accounting for nearly one-third, or $1 billion, of all university startup funding. Since 2010, 118 tech transfers have raised $163 million in funding and 493 university-born startups have raised $173.5 million. Also: Chicago Tribune (March 8).

Related story: Crain’s Chicago Business (Opinion, March 8) – University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen co-wrote an op-ed on the connection startups have to universities and how that affects the economy. Killeen is the board chair of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition.

Physics of baseball

The Washington Post (March 8) -- Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at Illinois, found an increase of average temperature by one degree Fahrenheit would result in an increase in home runs by about 0.6 percent.

Related story: Tribune-Review (March 15) -- A December 2014 study by Illinois professor Alan Nathan showed that spin has little effect on batted ball distance.


Science 360 (NSF, March 7) -- Tiny BioBots engineered at one NSF-funded Science and Technology Center move a bit like inchworms, but they represent giant strides in science and engineering. They can be controlled with electrical or optical signals and use muscle tissue for power. The mission of the STC on Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS) at the University of Illinois, is to develop the science and technology needed to engineer clusters of living cells. This will eventually help mankind address challenges in health, security and the environment. Also: Science Nation (NSF, March 7), i-Connect 007 (March 10), Discovery News (March 14), Cosmos (March 15), Headlines & Global News (March 15), Gizmag (March 16).

How HIV defeats a cellular defender

Science 360 (NSF, March 7) -- A new study offers the first atomic-scale view of an interaction between the HIV capsid – the protein coat that shepherds HIV into the nucleus of human cells – and a host protein known as cyclophilin A. This interaction is key to HIV infection, researchers say. Physics professor Klaus Schulten, postdoctoral researcher Juan Perilla, and their colleagues used experimental data and computer simulations to determine how a human protein that aids HIV infection binds to the HIV capsid.

Email's origins

Fortune (March 7) -- Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai has once again rebuffed claims that Ray Tomlinson was the father of traditional email, claiming instead that he invented it. In the 1960s, however, a number of multi-user computer systems had message-delivery systems with “inboxes” to allow users to communicate with one another. The most famous was the Compatible Time-Sharing System at MIT. But there also was messaging software on the PLATO computer system at Illinois.

Drone project aids Sacramento Kings stadium construction

Phys.Org (March 4) -- A University of Illinois team has developed predictive visual data analytics tools, called "Flying Superintendent" to automate and streamline today's time-consuming practices for construction progress monitoring. The Illinois team is collaborating with Turner Construction Company's Northern California office to implement the technology on the NBA's Sacramento Kings new downtown arena, the Golden 1 Center. Their award-winning solution utilizes both images and videos taken with camera drones and four-dimensional Building Information Modeling (BIM) to quickly identify and visually communicate the actual and potential performance problems during execution of construction projects via smartphones and tablets to project participants, on and off site. Also: (March 1), For Construction (March 2), Science 360 (NSF, March 8).

Computer infrastructure

St. Louis Public Radio (March 4) -- Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is pledging $115 million in infrastructure improvements as part of his state’s attempt to coax the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to move to Illinois. Rauner proposed creating a hiring pipeline to the agency from the U. of I.’s computer science and engineering programs.


Men's Fitness (March 3) -- "To get a perfect bracket is impossible,” says Sheldon Jacobson, computer science professor at the University of Illinois and self-proclaimed bracketologist. “There are more than nine quintillion bracket combinations—that’s a 9 with 18 zeros.” Jacobson suggests you fill out your bracket before the teams are even announced, based solely on seeds, insisting that our biases and emotional attachments to teams cloud our judgment. “It sounds like heresy, but it works,” he insists. Also: Global Post (March 14), Reuters (March 14).

Related story: Chicago Inno (March 15) -- "(This year) I'm choosing a bracket through BracketOdds, a program from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's computer science department led by professor Sheldon Jacobson. It's based off the idea is that seeding is the most likely predictor of who moves on in the tournament: number one seeds have won the national championship over 60 percent of the tournaments since 1985, the BracketOdds team explains. So many of the brackets generated by the tool have number one seeds winning.

NCSA's 30th anniversary

News-Gazette (March 3) -- Today's laptop can perform 80 billion operations per second — 80 gigaflops in technical terms. That's 164 times the power of the first Cray XMP supercomputer used at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications when it opened in 1986. The center is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a series of talks, seminars, open houses, an exhibit at the University of Illinois Spurlock Museum, and other events showcasing its achievements.

MakerGirl: promoting STEM to girls

Chicago Inno (March 1) -- MakerGirl, a U. of I. nonprofit startup that provides STEM and 3-D printing workshops for girls ages 7 to 10, is aiming to go on a summer road trip, bringing STEM resources to students in rural areas across the U.S.

Medical data security

Phys.Org (Isle of Man, March 1) -- Researchers from Dartmouth College have developed a digital “magic wand” to improve home health care and to prevent hackers from stealing one's personal data. The research is part of a project funded by the National Science Foundation, titled “Trustworthy Health and Wellness,” which includes experts at Illinois, among other universities.

Chicago's Tech Scene (Brooklyn, March 1) -- One key ingredient for any thriving tech scene is major universities as an anchor resource for innovation and talent. Chicago has a handful of higher-ed heavyweights, with Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, DePaul, the Illinois Institute of Technology and others in the city. Two hours south, the renowned computer science school at the U. of I. trained Larry Ellison of Oracle (who grew up in Chicago), PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, Yelp cofounder Russel Simmons and famed investor Marc Andreessen. They all left for Silicon Valley.

Drone program wins Innovation Award (March 1) -- The Sacramento Kings announced that a visual data analytics tool utilizing drones capturing high-resolution video and photos, piloted at the Golden 1 Center construction site, earned an award for innovation from the Turner Construction Company. A team from University of Illinois, funded by a nearly $1 million National Science Foundation Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) grant, developed a predictive visual data analytics tools to automate and streamline today’s time-consuming practices for construction progress monitoring.

Alumnus Bill Tai

Men's Journal (March) -- Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Tai talks about his unique way of uncovering investment opportunities (It often involves kiteboarding). After studying electrical and computer engineering at Illinois, Tai attended the Harvard Business school, and then to Silicon Valley where he did well riding the the first dot-com wave. Today, coffeehouses and the beach serve as his office where he meets with entrepreneurs hawking the next big idea.

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