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 2017 media appearances

Matter and anti-matter

Symmetry (Batavia, Ill., Feb. 28) – Today it’s well-known that matter and antimatter are the ultimate wonder twins. They’re spontaneously born from raw energy as a team of two and vanish in a silent poof of energy when they merge and annihilate. This appearing-disappearing act spawned one of the most fundamental mysteries in the universe: What is engraved in the laws of nature that saved us from the broth of appearing and annihilating particles of matter and antimatter when the universe was formed? “We know this cosmic asymmetry must exist because here we are,” says Jessie Shelton, a professor of physics at Illinois. “It’s a puzzling imbalance because theory requires three conditions – which all have to be true at once – to create this cosmic preference for matter.”

Siebel Energy Institute seed funding

Yahoo Finance (Feb. 28) -- The Siebel Energy Institute, a global consortium for innovative and collaborative energy research dedicated to advancing the science of smart energy, announced the winners of its third round of seed grant awards. Projects by engineering faculty--Cedric Langbort (AE), Lav Varshney (ECE/CSL), and Daniel Work (CEE)--were included in this funding round.

Magnetic healing of brain injury

Advanced Science News (Feb. 27) – A desirable treatment of cerebral aneurysms is the complete cutoff of the defect from the parent artery with minimum luminal obstruction. Jean Paul Allain, a professor of nuclear, plasma and radiological engineering at Illinois, and colleagues hypothesized a novel multifunctional biomaterial that would provide a focal magnetic attractive force in the local region near the aneurysm neck orifice.

Artificial blood

STAT (Boston, Feb. 27) – To create artificial blood, Dr. Allan Doctor and his colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis have encased hemoglobin in a synthetic polymer designed by one of Doctor’s collaborators, Dipanjan Pan, a professor of bioengineering at Illinois.

Hack-a-truck competition

Monroe News Star (Monroe, La., Feb. 26) – Four students and one faculty adviser from Louisiana Tech University’s Eco-Car team, working with Illinois students, have won first place in the “Best Overall Team” category at a new event called “Hack-a-Truck,” held last weekend at Google’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Also: Lousiana Tech University (original story, Feb. 24).

ONR Robotics Grants

Military Times (Feb. 23) -- The Office of Naval Research awarded the creators of blooded robots and tortoise-inspired amphibious vehicles two Young Investigator Program awards, totaling $16 million in grant funding. MechSE assistant professors Nenad Miljkovic and SungWoo Nam were granted Young Investigator Awards from the Office of Naval Research. They were two of just 34 scientists chosen from around the country and the only faculty from the University of Illinois to be selected this year. Also: Office of Naval Research (original list of awardees), ASEE FirstBell (Feb. 24).

Tornado simulation

KTVI-TV (St. Louis, Feb. 22) – Weather experts are calling it the most realistic computer simulation of a tornado ever created. Cathy Finely, a professor of meteorology at Saint Louis University, played a big role in making it happen. The team also needed high-power computing capability to do the insane number crunching. They chose the Blue Waters supercomputer at Illinois.

TSA security

CBS News (Feb. 21) -- The Transportation Security Administration is investigating a breach at one of the nation’s busiest airports. Eleven people passed through a security checkpoint that wasn’t fully supervised at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport early Monday morning. The passengers were able to make it all the way onto their planes without further screening. “The most vulnerable time for any kind of check point is in a transition period,” aviation security expert Sheldon Jacobson said. Jacobson, a professor of computer science at Illinois, said airport security is weakest early in the morning and during shift changes.

Hacker alumna

The Australian (Sydney, Feb. 20) – Illinois alumna Parisa Tabriz liked mathematics and gravitated toward computer engineering, which she studied at Illinois. Now, after 10 years at Google, Tabriz is a veteran, having worked to improve Gmail and the company’s white-hat hacking effort.

Alumna among Motherboard's "Humans of the Year"

Motherboard (Feb. 20) -- Canan Dagdeviren, a MatSE alumna and director of a groundbreaking research group at MIT, helps design lifesaving devices that mold to the individual patient. She was chosen as one of Motherboard's "Humans of the Year."


Economic Times (Gurgaon, India, Feb. 20) – A team of scientists at Illinois has developed small, soft biological robots that can walk and swim on their own or when triggered by electrical or light signals.  

AI music (Feb. 16) – Artificial intelligence-composed music is not a new phenomenon, by any means. The Illiac Suite, a string-quartet piece that American composers Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson created in 1957 using an early computer at Illinois, is widely considered the first computer-assisted composition.

Emotional posting

The Washington Post (Feb. 16) – Choose an emotion instead of just a like, and your friends get a better sense of how you feel about their posts. But doing so also tells Facebook something about you. And that is one big reason Ben Grosser, an artist and a professor of art and design at Illinois who describes his work as “writing software in order to investigate the social effects of software,” made an extension that randomizes what you tell Facebook about how you’re feeling.

Embedded sensors for sports

Science Daily (Feb. 16) -- In an effort to make big data analytics more accessible for the sports industry, researchers have utilized IoT devices -- low-cost sensors and radios -- that can be embedded into sports equipment (e.g., balls, rackets, and shoes), as well as in wearable devices. Also: R&D Magazine (Rockaway, N.J., Feb. 16).

ThinkChicago: Emmanuel recruits at Illinois

Chicago Inno (Feb. 15) -- Late in 2015, a group of tech leaders convened at Chicago-headquartered Gogo and promised to take a trip down to the U. of I. The objective: extending the city’s ThinkChicago initiative to showcase Chicago’s technology startups, with the hope that students will take up jobs here instead of fleeing to the coasts after graduation.

Tagging cancer cells

Medical News Today (Brighton, United Kingdom, Feb. 15) – By hijacking a cancer cell’s own metabolism, researchers have found a way to tag and target elusive cancers with small-molecule sugars. This opens treatment pathways for cancers that are not responsive to conventional targeted antibodies, such as triple-negative breast cancer. Led by Jianjun Cheng, a Hans Thurnauer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois, researchers at Illinois and collaborators in China published their findings in the journal Nature Chemical Biology. Also: Phys.Org (Feb. 14), Chemical and Engineering News (Washington, D.C., Feb. 15), Science Daily (Feb. 15), ScienceBlog (Feb. 15), Science 360 (NSF, Feb. 16).

AE alumnus named president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Embery-Riddle Newsroom (Feb. 15) -- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Board of Trustees has named Dr. P. Barry Butler, Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Iowa, as the sixth president of the world’s leading institution of higher education focusing on aviation, aerospace and research. Butler earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1979 and 1981, respectively.

Digital signage

Campus Technology (Chatsworth, Calif., Feb. 15) – Over a decade ago, digital signage services at Illinois began with the construction of two new campus buildings. In what could be described as a federation of growing digital signage networks, the university currently hosts 24 major units, with more than 350 digital signs covering dozens of campus buildings.

Bracketology (Feb. 13) – How hard is it to pick the perfect March Madness bracket? DePaul University professor of mathematics Jeffrey Bergen says the chance of someone filling out a perfect bracket is 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. Arash Khatibi, a graduate adviser at Illinois, worked with professors Sheldon H. Jacobson and Douglas M. King to crunch numbers similar to Bergen’s.

DIY bio-bots

Phys.Org (Feb. 13) -- For the past several years, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been developing a class of walking "bio-bots" powered by muscle cells and controlled with electrical and optical pulses. Now, Rashid Bashir's research group is sharing the recipe for the current generation of bio-bots. Their how-to paper is the cover article in Nature Protocols. Also: ScienceBlog (Feb. 10), Controlled Environments (Feb. 13), R&D Magazine (Rockaway, N.J., Feb. 13), I-Connect007 (Feb. 13), Electronics 360 (Feb. 13), (blog, Feb. 14), The Indian Express (Feb. 14), 3D Printing Industry (Feb. 14), Digital Trends (Feb. 16).

Carle Illinois College of Medicine

Chicago Business Journal (Feb. 13) – After a century of being one of the only major universities without a medical school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is finally getting one. The twist? The school is being conceived as an engineering-based school of medicine.

Luminescence switchable carbon nanodots

Phys.Org (Feb. 13) -- Tiny carbon dots have, for the first time, been applied to intracellular imaging and tracking of drug delivery involving various optical and vibrational spectroscopic-based techniques such as fluorescence, Raman, and hyperspectral imaging. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated, for the first time, that photo luminescent carbon nanoparticles can exhibit reversible switching of their optical properties in cancer cells. Also: Science Daily (Feb. 13), ScienceBlog (Feb. 13).

MRI pioneer, Nobel Laureate, and physics alumnus Sir Peter Mansfield passes

The New York Times (Feb. 11) – Sir Peter Mansfield, who shared a Nobel Prize for discoveries that underpinned the invention of magnetic resonance imaging, the method of peering inside the human body that revolutionized medicine, died on Wednesday. He was 83. “It’s hugely important,” says Charles P. Slichter, a professor emeritus of physics at Illinois, of the discovery. “It’s such an all-pervasive technique.” Mansfield worked in Slichter’s laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher in the 1960s. Mansfield was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003, along with Paul C. Lauterbur, a professor at Illinois. The two had worked independent of each other in studying magnetic resonance imaging.

Alumni coder: Jake Battle

Built-In Chicago (Feb. 10) – Illinois alumnus Jake Battle explains why he decided to start coding and how he turned it into a career. “I took a relatively traditional path into professional software development. I studied electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois. After graduation I worked for a consulting company that did custom software development.”

LED nanorod pixels

Science (Feb. 9) – An advance by a team of researchers from Illinois, the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute in South Korea and Dow Chemical may turn the display market on its head by eliminating the need for backlights in LCD devices. They have produced an LED pixel out of nanorods capable of both emitting and detecting light. Also: IEEE Spectrum (New York, Feb. 9), Phys.Org (Feb. 9), Science Daily (Feb. 9), The Engineer (Feb. 10), ScienceBlog (Feb. 9), UOL (in Spanish, Feb. 10), ZME Science (Feb. 10), (Feb. 10), Science 360 (NSF, Feb. 13), Lifehacker India (Haryana, India, Feb. 13), New Electronics (Feb. 13), Elektor (blog, Feb. 14).

Virtual reality

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Feb. 8) – Virtual reality came to the mainstream in 2016, but the technology is hardly new. According to Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications, virtual reality was first developed in the 1950s by electrical engineer Douglas Engelbart. 

Alumni startup SpringCM

Crain’s Chicago Business (Feb. 8) – SpringCM, a fast-growing cloud software company, raised another $25 million for expansion and named a new CEO, Illinois alumnus Dan Dal Degan. Dal Degan worked for, Siebel Systems and Oracle over the past 30 years.

International students

Fortune (Opinion, Feb. 8) – “My family immigrated to the United States when I was 5 years old. My father was accepted to Illinois for graduate school to study aeronautical engineering and applied math,” writes Tony Xu, CEO and co-founder of DoorDash, an on-demand restaurant delivery service. “Highly skilled immigrants have made incredible contributions to the U.S. economy, helping to create even more American jobs.”

Related story: Chicago Sun-Times (Feb. 9) – The state of Illinois’ argument regarding President Trump’s travel ban: The University of Illinois System would be impacted because it has more than 300 students from the seven nations subject to the travel ban, with 20 students expected this fall from those countries.

Related story: San Francisco Chronicle (Feb. 11) – Before President Donald Trump’s signature dried on the controversial travel ban, Afsaneh’s hopes for her March 24 nuptials at San Francisco City Hall were crushed. Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, including one where she emigrated from in her early 20s and where her fiance, Sepehr, lives: Iran. Born and raised in Tehran, Afsaneh moved with her mother and brother 15 years ago to Illinois, where she eventually earned a doctorate in computer science from Illinois. 

Alumni startup teaches STEM skills

Chicago Tribune (Feb. 8) -- Add building robots to the list of out-of-school activities required for kids to be competitive college applicants and future workers. Digital Adventures, which runs summer camps and after-school courses to expose kids to engineering and computer science, aims to provide the experience some parents think is necessary to get into the increasingly attractive field. Digital Adventures co-founder Omowale Casselle is a mechanical engineer with degrees from Illinois and the University of Michigan, as well as an MBA from the Harvard School of Business. His cofounder, Arjun Venkataswamy, is a fellow University of Illinois-trained engineer with a master's in education from Northwestern University and a former instructor at the coding bootcamp Starter League. Also: ASEE FirstBell (Feb. 9).

Did you know: Illinois was among first supercomputing centers

Science 360 (NSF, Feb. 8) -- In 1985, four new supercomputer centers were established with NSF support—the John von Neumann Center at Princeton University, the San Diego Supercomputer Center on the campus of the University of California at San Diego, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, and the Cornell Theory Center, a production and experimental supercomputer center. NSF later established the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, which was run jointly by Westinghouse, Carnegie-Mellon University, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Using smart sensors to improve urban safety.

News-Gazette (Feb. 8) -- Researchers at the University of Illinois are studying ways to “increase safety by equipping some city public spaces with motion, vibration and acoustic sensors that communicate with smartphones.” Computer science professor Klara Nahrstedt is “is applying for a $5 million National Science Foundation grant” to support the research. Nahrstedt says “the project’s focuses are privacy-preserving physical, digital and sociological safety for underserved schools, libraries, recreational centers and the bus stops that accompany them” and will “apply to community concerns about poor lighting, uneven sidewalks, low visibility at street corners or bus stops, and low understanding of digital privacy and security.” Also: ASEE FirstBell (2/9).


Chicago Inno (Feb. 3) – EnterpriseWorks, the incubator associated with Illinois’ research park, just received two grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration that focus on downstate entrepreneurship, university startups and boosting business in economically distressed areas in Illinois.

AE alumnus named one of Canada's next astronauts

Canadian Broadcasting Company (Feb. 2) – Illinois aerospace engineering alumnus Erik Kroeker, originally from Chatham, Ontario, has made the latest short list to become one of Canada’s next astronauts. He received his master’s and doctorate degrees from Illinois.

Physics Escape Room

Scientific American (Feb. 2) – Illinois Physics’ LabEscape room, which opened last week at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, centers on the disappearance of Professor Schrödenberg – a fictional Illinois physicist and expert in carbon nanotube research who vanishes after developing a top secret quantum computer that can crack any digital security encryption code in the world. Also: ASEE FirstBell (Feb. 3).

Robotic bat like the real thing

Popular Mechanics (Feb. 1) -- Inspired by nature, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Caltech have developed a self-contained robotic bat—dubbed Bat Bot—with soft, articulated wings that can mimic the key flight mechanisms of biological bats.They say it will aid efforts to understand how bats fly and could offer safety improvements on drones that use helicopter blades. Also: Wall Street Journal (Feb. 1), NBC News (Feb. 1), Daily Mail (UK, Feb. 1), Pulse Headlines (Feb. 1), Science Daily (Feb. 1), Fox News Tech (Feb. 1), Popular Science (Feb. 1), MarketWatch (Feb. 1), Inverse (Feb. 1), LiveScience (NSF, Feb. 1), IEEE Spectrum (Feb. 1), ScienceBlog (Feb. 1), Seeker (Feb. 1), R&D Magazine (Feb. 1), Pasadena Now (Jan. 27), Engadget (Feb. 1), The Associated Press (video, Feb.1), Toronto Sun (from The Associated Press; Feb. 1), MSN (from AP, Feb. 1), Yahoo Tech (from AP, Feb. 1), IFL Science (Feb. 1), Phys.Org (Feb.1), Tech Crunch (Feb. 1), ScienceNews (Feb. 1), GeekWire (Feb. 1), CNET (Feb. 1), Voice of America (Feb. 1), Inverse Innovation (Feb. 1), BBC News (Feb. 2), ZD Net (Feb. 2), Raw Story (Feb. 2), sUAS News (Feb. 2), 14U News (Feb. 2), iTech Post (Feb. 2), The Verge (Feb. 2), New Atlas (Feb. 2), Daily Disruption (Feb. 2), States Chronicle (Feb. 2), International Business Times (UK, Feb. 2), New Atlas (Feb. 2), Cosmos Magazine (Feb. 2), The Digital Circuit (blog, Feb. 2), Technabob (blog, Feb. 2), PBS News Hour (Feb. 2), The Telegraph (UK, Feb. 2), 3D (Feb. 2), Interesting Engineering (Feb. 3), Enstars (Feb. 3), Crazy Engineers (Feb. 3), Christian Science Monitor (Feb. 3), Wired (Feb. 3), National Public Radio (Feb. 3), Reuters (Feb. 6), Science 360 (podcast, Feb. 7), Electronics 360 (New York, Feb. 7), The Hindu (Chennai, India, Feb. 8).

NCSA & the "Smart State"

HPCwire (San Diego, Feb. 2) – The National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ world-renowned cybersecurity and large-scale data capabilities are being called upon to advance Illinois as the nation’s premier “Smart State.” Also: WAND-TV (Feb. 1), News-Gazette (Feb. 2), Fox 55/27 TV (Feb. 3), Illinois (Feb. 3), WCBU-FM (from WILL-FM; Peoria, Ill., Feb. 6).

TSA PreCheck

Chicago Tribune (Feb. 1) -- The Transportation Security Administration this month plans to significantly reduce the number of frequent fliers who go through faster airport security lines for free, even though they haven't signed up for vetting programs like PreCheck, a TSA official said. A University of Illinois study in December proposed that if the TSA paid for PreCheck applications for high-volume fliers, it would save the agency $34 million a year, create shorter lines and enhance security at the nation's airports. The lead author of the study, University of Illinois computer science professor Sheldon Jacobson, said the TSA had not yet responded to the suggestion.

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