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 2016 media appearances

Student startup: Tweetsense

WCIA-TV (Champaign, IL, June 30) -- An app, developed at the UI, can help us understand more about what people think when they're using social media. It's called Tweetsense.Its developers--engineering sophomores Cody Pawlowski (CS) and William Widjaja (ECE)--say it's a natural language processing engine for social media. It means it can read between the lines and see whether people are talking about something positively or negatively.

Computer-hacking law

Wired (June 29) -- Four academic researchers, including Karrie Karahalios, a professor of computer science at Illinois, who specialize in uncovering algorithmic discrimination against users on websites, have filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department. The researchers say that a decades-old federal anti-hacking statute is preventing them from doing work to detect discrimination. Also: Wired (June 29), PC Magazine (June 29), ComputerWorld (June 29), Fusion (June 29), TechCrunch (June 29), ColorLines (June 29), The National Law Journal (June 29), Morning Consult (June 29), Forbes (June 30), eNews Park Forest (June 30).


Forbes (Opinion, June 28) -- Startups benefit from locating in non-coastal cities. The U. of I. puts out more computer science graduates every year than Berkeley, MIT, Stanford and CalTech combined. With the right startups, that kind of talent can stay close to home and find huge opportunity.

Solving Einstein's field equations

Cosmos Magazine (Melbourne, Australia, June 27) – Two teams, one in the U.S. and one in Europe, separately wrote software to solve Einstein’s field equations – the nuts and bolts of general relativity – and model the universe in all of its relativistic glory. Stuart Shapiro, a physicist at the U. of I. who was not involved in the study, says these works are important, not only for their results but also for being “forerunners” in applying this kind of computational modeling to explain the universe. Also: Jewish Business News (June 27), Nature World News (June 28).

Teaching creativity

Huffington Post (June 26) – Esteban Gast is a coauthor of a book about building one’s creativity. Gast teaches a course on creativity at an unexpected place: the College of Engineering at Illinois. “People are shocked to find that there are multiple studies that show creativity can be enhanced,” Gast says. “You can teach yourself to be creative just as you can teach yourself any skill, be that piano or long division.”

New TSA Pre-check system

Christian Science Monitor (June 25) -- "If you screen everybody the same, you're actually making the system less secure, even though it doesn't look that way," says Sheldon Jacobson, a computer scientist and professor at Illinois, who created some of the research upon which the TSA PreCheck program is based. Security screeners search among passengers for the small percentage who want to cause harm, not unlike searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. A PreCheck system essentially splits the haystack, Dr. Jacobson says, telling TSA screeners which half has been searched already. Since screeners have limited time with travelers, they can work more effectively by checking fewer straws.

Related article: Defense One (June 30) -- Officials need to to fundamentally rethink airport security, says Sheldon Jacobson, a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois focusing on airport security. “There’s going to be no compromise at checkpoints; we do not need more there. But we need to rethink the entire system of security,” he said. “The terrorist threats have moved away from the planes themselves and have moved into softer targets, which are very, very expensive to protect. What [security services] are now doing is creating more layers of the softer targets.” Adding security before travelers reach the checkpoint line “creates deterrence as well as some opportunity to spot potential threats before they happen.” Also: Fiscal Times (July 1).

Alumna Eileen Burbidge featured

Informilo (June 20) -- Alumna Eileen Burbidge, the doyenne of the London tech scene, advisor to the Prime Minister, Fintech Envoy, ex-advisor to the London Mayor and chair of Tech City UK, studied computer science at Illinois, home of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) — a place that holds a special affection in the heart of any geek as the birthplace of the world’s first browser — originally called Mosaic, before it transformed into Netscape. “I was in the lab that [Marc] Andreessen was in. He was a year ahead of me,” she says. Andreessen went on to found Netscape and is now one of the most respected VCs in the world.

More efficient TV watching

The Washington Post (June 22) -- In the late 1940s, Harvard researchers discovered they could cover up more than half of a speech recording without damaging a listener’s comprehension. The trick was to rapidly mute and unmute the audio. A team of engineers at Illinois soon had another idea: Instead of leaving the gaps in, why not cut them out and stitch the remaining slivers of audio together? For instance, deleting every other millisecond of audio would cause the recording to play in half the time.

Wearable UV sensor

Fast Company (New York, June 20) -- If you purchase La Roche-Posay sunscreen this summer, it may come with a complimentary device that looks something like a heart-shaped Band-Aid. But it contains miniature electronics that connect to your smartphone and monitor your sun exposure in real time. None of this was possible until 2006, when John Rogers, the head of the Rogers Research Group at Illinois, published a paper with three of his colleagues explaining how they had developed a stretchable form of silicon by cutting and patterning the material into waves, allowing it to expand or compress like an accordion. Also: Lucire (June 20), Appcessories (blog, June 6).

MakerGirl workshops promote STEM

Freeport (IL) Journal-Standard (June 20) reports on a “science, technology, engineering and math initiative started by female engineering students at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign” called MakerGirl that is introducing STEM careers to young girls. The group recently put on a 3-D printer workshop in Pearl City, Illinois and has plans to visit 19 states this summer to promote young women in these male-dominated fields. Also: ASEE FirstBell (June 21).

Tornado research

The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Missouri, June 18) – Frank Lombardo, an assistant professor of engineering at Illinois, has spent the past five years studying satellite photos taken after the 2011 Joplin, Missouri, EF5 tornado, trying to understand how the damage could have been reduced. His work is part of a five-year boom in tornado-related academic research.

Q&A with Alumnus Tom Siebel & C3 Energy

IOT Journal (June 16) -- Silicon Valley stalwart Tom Siebel has spent four decades developing enterprise software, beginning as an early executive at Oracle and later founding CRM software company Siebel Systems, which Oracle acquired in 2006. In 2009, he launched C3 Energy in order to help utility companies and grid operators better manage data and systems as they transition to smart grid technology. As such, C3 Energy was an Internet of Things company before such a term was in wide use.

Gravitational waves

Physics (Ridge, N.Y., June 15) – The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory has detected a second burst of gravitational waves from merging black holes. “This is a very important discovery,” says Stuart Shapiro, an astrophysicist at Illinois. “It cements the reality of the first detection and makes credible the belief that detections of this sort will be common and that we have truly opened up a new window to the universe.” Also: Observer (New York, June 20).

Terminal velocity

The Verge (June 15) – When falling through the air, all objects have a terminal velocity that depends on their size, shape and mass. The terminal velocity of an ant (6.4 km/h, according to the physics department at Illinois) is going to differ considerably from the terminal velocity of a human (about 200 km/h).

Jumping genes

Phys.Org (June 13) -- "Jumping genes" are ubiquitous. Every domain of life hosts these sequences of DNA that can "jump" from one position to another along a chromosome; in fact, nearly half the human genome is made up of jumping genes. Depending on their specific excision and insertion points, jumping genes can interrupt or trigger gene expression, driving genetic mutation and contributing to cell diversification. Physics professors Thomas Kuhlman and Nigel Goldenfeld at the Center for the Physics of Living Cells have observed jumping gene activity in real time within living cells. Also: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (June 14), SciGenomics (June 14), Science Daily (June 15).

scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have observed jumping gene activity in real time within living . The study is the collaborative effort of physics professors Thomas Kuhlman and Nigel Goldenfeld, at the Center for the Physics of Living Cells

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Scientific publishing

The Scientist (June 12) -- Several recent analyses have suggested that large swaths of published work in some fields are irreproducible. One Illinois project dubbed “Whole Tale,” supported in part by a $5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, aims to overhaul the scientific publishing process. “It’s almost expected nowadays that when you publish the paper you link the paper to data,” said project co-organizer Matthew Turk, a research scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). “Linking papers to code as well as data is becoming more common. Whole Tale will take that a step further and let other researchers to replicate the experience of doing the research but in their own way.”

Avian navigation

The Washington Post (June 9) -- Scientists believe that birds might use quantum mechanics to navigate, even in darkness, fog and featureless landscapes. When the idea was first proposed by biophysicist Klaus Schulten, then of the Max Planck Institute, a reviewer at the journal “Science” wrote back to him, “A less bold scientist would have designed this piece of work for the wastepaper basket,” the reviewer recalled in a history published by the U. of I.

Related story: Science (June 23) -- The fact that many animals sense and respond to Earth’s magnetic field is no longer in doubt, and people, too, may have a magnetic sense. But how this sixth sense might work remains a mystery. In 1978, Klaus Schulten, a physicist at Illinois, had suggested that animals could use radical-pair reactions for magnetoreception. But he didn’t have a molecule that could support those reactions until the late 1990s, when researchers discovered cryptochrome serving as a light sensor in mammalian retinas.

Physics mystery

New Scientist (June 8) -- A mysterious particle may have terrorized the first atoms in the universe - and then vanished. The culprit may explain why the element lithium is much less common than we think it should be. This particle is a ray of hope to those who want to connect the lithium problem to the mystery of dark matter, says Brian Fields, a physics professor at Illinois.

Smartphone eavesdropping

Tech Times (June 7) -- Research by Illinois professor Romit Roy Choudhury and PhD candidate Nirupam Roy found that the vibration motor of smartphones can be used to eavesdrop on users. Also: Android Headlines (June 7), Softpedia News (June 7), Engadget (June 7), Popular Science (June 8), Chicago Inno (June 10), Chicago Tribune (June 13).

Sustainable technology

The Wall Street Journal (June 7) -- The technological advances that replaced typewriters with personal computers, flip phones with smartphones and clunky TVs with flat-screen displays also spawned the consumer expectation that today’s cutting-edge product will become obsolete in a few years. The constant churn of new devices has contributed to an increase in electronic waste, some of which ends up in developing nations where local residents must deal with the health and environmental risks. “Many of the environmental problems are made during the design process,” says William Bullock, a professor of industrial design and a faculty member at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at Illinois.

High-speed photonic sensor

Phys.Org (June 6) -- Researchers led by MechSE assistant professor Gaurav Bahl, have developed a new technique for extremely high speed photonic sensing of the mechanical properties of freely flowing particles using an opto-mechano-fluidic resonator (OMFR). This research potentially opens up completely new mechanical "axes of measurement" on micro/nanoparticles and bioparticles. Also: Optica (original article, June 2016), United Press International (Washington, D.C., June 6), ScienceDaily (June 6), ScienceBlog (June 6), Science 360 (NSF, June 7), (June 7), AZoSensors (June 7), Optics & Photonics (June 9), Qmed (June 20).


Chicago Inno (June 6) -- Over the last decade, universities across the state have launched and grown venture competitions to nurture home-grown talent. The University of Chicago’s New Venture Challenge, one of the first university venture programs, has risen to the top tier of accelerators nationwide. Universities such as Northwestern, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have used their venture competitions to complement entrepreneurial energy on campus.

CS degrees soaring

Crain's Chicago Business (June 2) -- Demand for computer science degrees, which nearly guarantees students high-paying jobs after graduation, is soaring. Because data, once the province of bean counters and marketers, is changing all businesses operate, universities are now teaching coding skills to students in other majors, launching degrees called “CS+X.” At Illinois, the state's largest engineering school, applications for its CS program soared to more than 4,000 this year from about 1,300 in 2012, said spokesman Bill Bell. He said U of I began offering its own “CS +X” degrees last year, and it has about 100 students majoring in computer science plus liberal studies in anthropology, astronomy, chemistry, linguistics and other fields.”


Computerworld (June 2) -- The Texas Advanced Computer Center has received $30 million in U.S. funding for a new supercomputer that will roughly double the performance of its existing 9-petaflop supercomputer. The largest academic system is the Cray Blue Waters system at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at Illinois. It is capable of 13.5 petaflops peak performance, but is not ranked on the Top 500 list.

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