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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April 2016 media appearances

Cozad New Ventures Challenge

Chicago Inno (April 29) -- An Internet of Things startup that helps farmers better manage their crops post-harvest, and a startup that has created a new type of polymer won the grand prize at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Cozad New Venture Challenge this week. Amber Waves Grain, an agtech company, and Hindered Polyurea Technology (HPT), a polymer company, each won $20,000 plus space in EnterpriseWorks and legal resources. The two companies beat out four other finalists, 19 semifinalists, and over 120 startups that entered the competition in total.

Power of data

The Washington Post (April 28) – There’s an emerging power for the gobs of data our smartphones collect and the opportunity for savvy companies to convert that information into piles of cash. “In biology, the microscope changed the world. In physics and astronomy, the telescope,” says Lav Varshney, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. “These data sets give a very detailed view of human behavior. It’s a really powerful instrument in all kinds of settings.”

New ECE building named "Laboratory of the Year"

REJournals (Chicago, April 27) -- One of the nation’s highest performing teaching and research facilities has been named R&D Magazine’s 2016 Laboratory of the Year. Designed by SmithGroupJJR, the $95 million, 230,000-square-foot facility is the new home for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, which has a deep tradition of innovative faculty, hands-on classroom experiences and groundbreaking research that helped shape the modern world with the advent of transistors, integrated circuits, LEDs and plasma displays.

One-step graphene patterning

Science Daily (April 27) -- Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a one-step, facile method to pattern graphene by using stencil mask and oxygen plasma reactive-ion etching, and subsequent polymer-free direct transfer to flexible substrates. This new approach sets forth transformative changes in "do It yourself" graphene-based device development for broad applications including flexible circuits/devices and wearable electronics. Also: Solid State Technology (April 28).

Supercomputing "A Beautiful Earth" (April 26) -- The new IMAX film “A Beautiful Planet” depicts Earth from an astronaut's-eye view, and it also painstakingly recreates the entire Milky Way in a realistic visualization. In a video, Donna Cox, the director of the Advanced Visualization Lab at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at Illinois, describes working with scientists to visualize their data and telescopic images cataloguing the universe. She is joined by the center's visualization designer Robert Patterson.

NPRE Professor Axford--50 years teaching

Chicago Sun-Times (from The Associated Press; April 23) – Roy Axford has been a professor of nuclear engineering at Illinois for 50 years, and he has no plans to stop. Also: News-Gazette (April 22), The Southern (from AP, April 25), The Republic (from AP, April 23), Fox2 Now (St. Louis, from AP, April 23), Greenfield Daily Reporter (IN, from AP, April 23), Bristol Herald Courier (VA, from AP, April 23).

Student Startup: PlantLink

Chicago Tribune (April 22) -- The connected devices craze appears to be spreading to the yard, and Urbana-based startup PlantLink, which makes a sensor that tells users when their plants need to be watered, is trying to stake its claim. Today, the company, which was founded at Illinois, has seven full-time employees, plus contractors and part-timers.

Handheld scanner

Crain’s Chicago Business (April 21) – What if a simple handheld device could scan the body to detect disease before a patient is in imminent danger? That’s what Dr. Stephen Boppart at Illinois is developing using light imagery. His work may help doctors uncover early signs of deadly maladies like cancer and even enable researchers to track how molecules and cells react to medication in real time.

Virtual Reality: Oculus veteran speaks

Chicago Tribune (April 21) -- Steve LaValle, a computer science professor at Illinois and former chief scientist of Oculus, is a bit of a virtual reality hipster. While virtual reality appears to be on the verge of taking off commercially, augmented reality – a mashup of your physical surroundings and virtual images and information – is a ways off, LaValle says. Also: Chicago Inno (April 21), ASEE FirstBell (April 25).

Who's Who? CS authors

Science (April 20) -- CS professor Jiawei Han is listed among top 50 most influential computer scientists according to Semantic Scholar’s rankings. The "" domain is in the top 10 and "" is among the Top 50 domains listed in the rankings.


Live Science (April 18) -- Your smartphone could one day be replaced by an electronic display laminated to the back of your hand, if the inventors of a new ultrathin “e-skin” have their way. “The potential uses range from information display to optical characterization of the skin,” says John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at Illinois, who also works on developing e-skin but was not involved with the new study. Also: Yahoo News (April 19).

Alumnus Tom Siebel

ZDNet (April 17) -- Tom Siebel's C3 IoT has 20 customers, an Internet of things platform that is operating at scale and a penchant for taking on giants such as General Electric's Predix. An Illinois CS alumnus and campus benefactor, Siebel, CEO of C3 IoT, has experience landing big accounts and taking on giants. At Siebel Systems, Siebel popularized CRM and then sold his company to Oracle. Before starting that effort, Siebel was among Oracle's best sales leaders. Those stints, along with four decades of enterprise application experience, give Siebel an interesting view on the Internet of things possibilities. C3 IoT is a relatively new name for Siebel's company, which previously focused on energy-related customers.

Natural language processing

TechEmergence (Mountain View, Calif., April 17) – Illinois professor of computer science Dan Roth explains what the last 10 years of progress in natural language processing have brought us, what’s happening with approaches in developing this technology today, and what the next steps might be in a computer capable of real conversational speech and understanding language in context.

IBM-Illinois collaborate on cognitive computing

HPCwire (San Diego, April 15) -- IBM Research today announced plans for a multi-year collaboration with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to create the Center for Cognitive Computing Systems Research (C3SR) which will be housed within the College of Engineering on the Urbana campus. Opening in the summer of 2016, the C3SR will integrate and advance scientific frontiers in both machine learning and heterogeneous computing systems optimized for new cognitive computing workloads. Also: Analytics Magazine (Catonsville, Md., April 15), Benzinga (April 15), News-Gazette (April 15), ZDNet (Australia, April 15), Campus Technology (April 18), Chicago Tribune (April 19), Nearshore Americas (April 19).

Student startup: Touch Light

Chicago Inno (April 15) -- What If Footsteps Could Provide Power to a Stadium? That's the idea behind Touch Light, a startup from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, whose tech can generate power from the impact of a footstep. Their product, the Power Pad, is placed below carpets or floorboards, and harnesses energy from the force of a footstep using proprietary compounds that work similarly to piezoelectric materials (more on that in a second).

Students develop lattice cast

WGN-9 TV (Chicago, April 14) -- A team of Illinois engineering students set out to change the way doctors heal broken bones. It’s an invention that tackles the most common complaints about the common cast.

High-speed wireless signals through meat

New Scientist (April 14) -- Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign have fired a wireless signal through slabs of pork and beef at speeds fast enough to transmit high-definition video. The technique, which the team has nicknamed “meat-comms,” could help doctors interact better with medical devices implanted in our bodies. These limitations have stopped us developing medical implants that can send and receive useful amounts of wireless data, says Andrew Singer. So his team turned to ultrasound instead. Also: Popular Science (April 14), Gizmodo (April 15), Daily Mail (UK, April 15), Engadget (April 15), Sky News (April 15), RT (April 15), VICE (New York, April 16), Sky News (Austrailia, April 17), Newswire (April 17), ScienceBlog (April 18), Phys.Org (April 18), UPI (April 18), Science Daily (April 18), IHS Electronics 360 (April 16), The Engineer (April 19), Med Device Online (April 19) (April 19), Med Device Online (April 19), CNET (San Francisco, Calif., April 21), IEEE Spectrum (April 20), Chicago Inno (April 27).

Physics of Baseball

Physics Today (College Park, Md., April 13) -- To celebrate the annual restart of America’s pastime, I contacted professor Alan Nathan of Illinois, who studies the physics of baseball.

Related story: Yahoo! (April 30) -- Are juiced balls causing Major League Baseball's home run spike? In trying to understand what happened last fall, professor emeritus of physics Alan Nathan had studied the new exit-velocity data from the league’s Statcast system.

Alumnus Shahid Khan's advice to engineers

Detroit Free Press (April 12) -- Billionaire business tycoon Shahid Khan told hundreds of engineers today in Detroit that the best advice he was ever given is to "make sure you make money" on any product a company makes. "At the end of the month, you have to make money. You need the money in order to hire the people ... and invest in the business," said Khan, a Pakistani immigrant who came to the U.S. at age 16 to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and now owns Flex-N-Gate and the Jacksonville Jaguars. While the principle seems simple, Khan said engineers, as well as multibillion-dollar companies, often lose sight of that basic corporate need and design products that get ahead of what consumers are willing, or able, to buy.

Illinois alumni, Chicago entrepreneurs

Chicago Inno (April 12) -- Alumni of Illinois universities interested or involved in entrepreneurship overwhelmingly end up in the Greater Chicago area, according to an analysis of LinkedIn data of 15 universities and business schools in the state. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alums top the list at 3,532.


Chicago Inno (April 11) -- To help you make smarter lawn-care decisions, John Deere wants to give you data about your lawn mower similar to how your Fitbit tracks your exercise routine. 179-year-old John Deere is no stranger to mowing innovation. The company recently started working with Illinois students on a robotic lawn mower, similar to iRobot Roomba Vacuum Cleaner, that can mow your grass for you.

DNA interaction

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (April 11) -- Researchers at Illinois' Center for the Physics of Living Cells, Johns Hopkins University and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea found that DNA molecules interact directly with one another in ways that are dependent on the sequence of the DNA and epigenetic factors, such as methylation. Also: Phys.Org (April 12), Science 360 (NSF, April 13).

Crumpling enhances photodetector

Phys.Org (April 7) -- Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated a new approach to modifying the light absorption and stretchability of atomically thin two-dimensional (2D) materials by surface topographic engineering using only mechanical strain. The highly flexible system has future potential for wearable technology and integrated biomedical optical sensing technology when combined with flexible light-emitting diodes. Also: ScienceBlog (April 6), Science Daily (April 7).

IT security: strange flashdrives

Motherboard (April 6) – Using booby-trapped USB flash drives is a classic hacker technique. But how effective is it really? A group of researchers at Illinois dropped 297 USB sticks on the school’s Urbana-Champaign campus last year. In a new study led by ECE associate professor Michael Bailey, the researchers estimate that at least 48 percent of people will pick up a random USB stick, plug it into their computers and open files contained in them. Also: Science Alert (April 7), News-Gazette (April 12), Mic (April 12), Chicago Tribune (April 18), Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (April 18), Tech Insider (April 30).


Chicago Tribune (April 6) – Chicago-area startups are drawing attention from China. Chinese social media company Renren led a $22 million round of funding for on-demand staffing startup Shiftgig in November. Petronics, a home robotics startup based at the U. of I. Research Park, went through an accelerator program in China in 2014.

Wearable electronics

The Scientist (April 6) – Materials scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology wanted to apply gecko-inspired adhesives to create a novel wearable electrode. The new material could be “crucially important in next-generation skin-like technologies for wearable electronics,” says John Rogers, a materials science professor at Illinois who was not involved in the work.


Asian Correspondent (April 5) -- Mosaic, the first graphical interface browser for the World Wide Web, was listed among the "5 world-changing computer science breakthroughs that started at university." Following the development of the ViolaWWW browser, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, two University of Illinois students commenced work on Mosaic, which was first released in 1993.The browser helped spread use and knowledge of the web across the world. The technology was subsequently licensed to several other companies, including Microsoft (for Internet Explorer) and Netscape.

Super slippery coating

Gizmodo (April 5) -- Your shirts may yet be spared your clumsy eating. A team of scientists has created a new kind of super slippery coating called X-SLIPS that can shed all kinds of water- and oil-based products – like ketchup and mustard. The new coating has been developed by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Illinois.

Faculty-alumni startup: Veriflow

CIO (Boston, Mass., April 5) -- Veriflow, a U of I startup with backing from the U.S. Defense Department, says it can make sure  your network is safe from attacks and failure. Diagrams and network engineers' knowledge used to be enough to make sure the right packets would go through a network in the right way. Now infrastructure has become too complex, and changes too frequent, to rely on that approach, CTO and co-founder Brighten Godfrey said. Also: Computerworld (April 5), Infoworld (April 5), SiliconANGLE (blog; April 5), IT World Canada (April 5), NetworkWorld (April 5), ChicagoInno (Apirl 5), eWeek (April 5), Internet (April 6).

Related story: The PE Hub Network (April 6) -- New Enterprise Associates, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Defense invested $2.9 million in initial investor funding in Veriflow, a network breach and outage prevention company. The new software, designed for CISOs, network architects, engineers and operators, uses mathematical network verification, which is based on the principles of formal verification, to bulletproof today’s most complex networks. Also: FierceEnterpriseCommunications (April 6).

Virtual reality

Chemical & Engineering News (April 4) -- John E. Stone, a senior research programmer in the Theoretical & Computational Biophysics Group at Illinois, has been part of the community building molecular visualization tools for scientists long enough that he can spot a turning point. Stone, the lead developer for molecular visualization program VMD, likens the wave of VR headsets coming to the consumer market this year to the first mass-produced automobile.

Data science master's MOOC

Fast Company (April 1) -- Data scientist is not only the top job this year, but based on hiring demand and the potential for salary growth, it's poised to be the top job in the future as well. An established player in the massive online open course (MOOC) landscape, Coursera announced earlier this week that it will offer a professional data science master’s degree from Illinois. Also: ASEE FirstBell (April 1), Deccan Chronicle (April 4), Inc. (Opinion, April 6), Motherboard (April 8), Financial Times (April 10), U.S. News and World Report (April 12), ITProPortal (April 20), The Washington Post (April 27).

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