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 2017 media appearances

Smart coatings

BP Magazine (March 31) -- Ground-breaking research is underway at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a partner in the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials (BP-ICAM), into the potential of smart autonomous coatings that would enable engineers in the energy industry to see cracks in the coatings applied to structures, equipment, pipelines and tank walls and signal before overall coating failure occurs. The secret of these smart coatings is in the damage itself. Nancy Sottos, principal investigator at Illinois, explains what the team has been doing. “Our team embedded microcapsules, containing an indicating agent in their core, in the polymer coating,” Sottos says. “We then scratched the coating to damage it, causing the capsules to rupture, release their core contents and trigger the damage-indicating reaction in the form of a bright red colour change or, for use in dark environments such as inside tanks, fluorescence visible under ultraviolet light.”

IE alumna Tasha Levy

Chicago Defender (March 30) -- Interview with Facebook’s Tasha Levy, who works out of the Chicago office in sales as the Multicultural Lead. She’s part of Facebook’s Global Marketing Solutions team, which helps top brands across the United States looking to engage African-American Affinity audiences. An Industrial Engineering alumna, Tasha previously worked for AOL, and Interactive One.

International students

Chicago Tribune (March 30) -- Illinois universities saw an uptick in applications from foreign students this application cycle, in contrast to 40 percent of U.S. universities that reported declines in international student interest. School leaders said the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Western Illinois University, Loyola University, and DePaul University received more applications. UIC Vice Provost of Academic and Enrollment Services said international students “bring a huge impact from an economic standpoint and a diversity standpoint,” but officials worry some may be deterred from ultimately enrolling in fall classes because they wonder whether they will be welcomed. Also: ASEE FirstBell (March 31).

Lunar planter

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill., March 29) – Alex Darragh is one step closer to enabling life on the moon. Darragh, an Illinois freshman from Bloomington, and his freshman teammate Matt Steinlauf of Tokyo, designed a lunar greenhouse to grow produce in moon soil.

Next Big Thing at NCSA

HPC Wire (March 28) -- In a recent interview, Bill Gropp sketched out the new challenges and opportunities he is facing as NCSA's acting director.

Brunswick Innovation Lab to open in Research Park

Trade Only Today (March 28) -- Brunswick Corp. said today that it will soon open the Brunswick Innovation Laboratory in the Research Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Innovation Lab will augment the considerable research and development activity the Company currently conducts across all of its primary lines of business, including marine engine, pleasure boats and fitness equipment. Also: Boating Industry (March 28), Daily Illini (March 28).


WMAQ-TV (Chicago, March 27) – After Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated the federal government’s threat to block funding for so-called “sanctuary cities,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel doubled down on his own promise that Chicago will “continue to welcome” immigrants. “Half the patents at the University of Illinois come from immigrants, and so we want to continue to welcome people, welcome their ideas, welcome their families to the city of Chicago, who want to build the American dream for their children and their grandchildren.”

Student startup nets $2.6 million in seed funding

Fast Company (March 27) -- Lightform, the company developing the first computer made for projected augmented reality, emerged from stealth today with $2.6 million in seed funding from Lux Capital and Seven Seas Partners, with participation from several prominent angel investors and the National Science Foundation. Lightform was formerly known as Lumenous, a startup founded by CS PhD students Brett Jones, Kevin Karsch, and Raj Sodhi at Illinois.

Adobe Research Intern

Fast Company (March 23) – Almost half of Adobe’s tech contributions of the last 10 years started with Adobe Research interns or as academic collaborations with college student interns. For example, Zhangyang “Atlas” Wang interned with Adobe Research in summer 2014 while a grad student in electrical and computer engineering at Illinois, helping to create DeepFont, a program for recognizing fonts.

Artificial intelligence

Inverse (March 22) – A paper co-published by Adobe and U. of I. researchers explains how a new artificial intelligence program could remove the background behind a person or object in virtually any situation, letting actors – who often must perform in front of a green screen – do their jobs in slightly more natural circumstances. Also: Digital Trends (March 22).

Electronics ban on international flights

Time (March 21) -- The Trump Administration's new ban on carry-on electronic devices on some international flights has left many wondering why certain devices and airports are being targeted, and why carry-on and checked luggage are treated differently. Sheldon Jacobson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies aviation security, questioned whether the rules could create a "porous security environment" if other countries don't adopt similar rules. The United Kingdom followed the U.S. on Tuesday by announcing a similar ban on certain electronic devices, affecting select flights from six countries. Also: CBC News (Canada, March 21), Christian Science Monitor (March 21), BBC News (March 21).

Startup: Serionix

Chicago Inno (March 20) – An Illinois startup just got funding from NASA for its “smart” air filter technology that can remove toxic gases from spacesuits. Serionix, a company based at Illinois’ Research Park, was awarded a $750,000 contract from NASA to fund continued development of its filters. Also: Yahoo! Finance (March 20).

Social media security

Los Angeles Times (March 16) – Security experts say the hacking of McDonald’s Twitter account Monday should be a lesson to corporations to better secure their platforms. “There are just so many ways, if you’re not careful, for an adversary to have access to your social media accounts,” says Michael Bailey, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. “Corporations are ripe targets because they have such a large presence on social media.”

Tech workforce

Chicago Business Journal (March 16) – Billionaire J.B. Pritzker recently stressed that despite the state’s financial woes, companies are still moving to Chicago to tap its highly educated technical workforce churned out by the U. of I., the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.

Physics of baseball

The Incline (Pittsburgh, March 15) – Alan M. Nathan, a professor emeritus at Illinois who has dedicated countless hours to researching the physics of baseball, says playing Major League baseball on a Little League diamond would dramatically throw off the game’s balance. “All you have to do is change the dimensions a little bit and the outcome could be very different,” Nathan says.

Supercomputing: Tornados and supercells

Gizmodo (Sydney, March 14) – A research team led by Leigh Orf from the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies used the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ Blue Waters supercomputer to visualize the inner workings of tornados and the powerful supercells that produce them. As part of the project, the researchers recreated a tornado-producing supercell that devastated the Great Plains six years ago. Also: Popular Mechanics (March 14), Popular Science (March 16).

Smart coatings

BP Global (March 14) -- Ground-breaking research is underway at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), a partner in the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials (BP-ICAM), into the potential of smart autonomous coatings that would enable engineers in the energy industry to see cracks in the coatings applied to structures, equipment, pipelines and tank walls and signal before overall coating failure occurs. This would drastically improve the ability to identify and manage risk, and significantly reduce maintenance costs.

Underwater modem

Chicago Inno (March 8) – OceanComm, a startup at Illinois, has created a wireless underwater modem that unleashes robots from cables and eliminates their dependency on support ships. OceanComm’s modem can communicate data with faster speeds and more efficiency than ever seen before. Also: ASEE FirstBell (March 10).

University startups surge

Chicago Tribune (March 8) -- Despite a fall in recent venture capital activity on the national level, Illinois university startups have seen a rise in funding.That's according to the annual Illinois Innovation Index report by the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition, primarily based on data self-reported by universities in the state. 

3D printing for construction

Construction Equipment (Arlington Heights, Ill., March 7) – Construction technology entered a new era this week when the first-ever, fully functional, full-size 3-D printed excavator was unveiled at Conexpo 2017 in Las Vegas. Research teams of graduate engineering students from Georgia Tech, Illinois and the University of Minnesota adapted the basic design of a compact excavator and engineered plans to build the machine using additive manufacturing processes and technologies.

I-Corps techniques turn scientists into entrepreneurs

Harvard Business Review (March 7) -- When Subra Suresh was tapped to lead the National Science Foundation, in 2010, he saw that many of the pathbreaking discoveries developed through the agency’s grants weren’t finding their way to the marketplace, so he sought to foster better links between government and industry. Today, the NSF I-Corps program is helping hundreds of scientists become successful entrepreneurs, including Illinois entrepreneurs Adam Tilton and MechSE professor Prashant Mehta of Rithmio.

Battery technology

Smithsonian (Washington, D.C., March 7) – Prashant Jain, a professor of chemistry at Illinois, and his collaborators are working on improving a different facet of lithium batteries: the electrolyte. Jain and his students have developed a superionic solid, made from nanoparticles of copper selenide. It allows charged particles to flow at a rate comparable to a liquid electrolyte, improving the safety and life cycle of batteries.

Investment in engineering education

Seattle Times (March 3) -- In an op-ed, Michael B. Bragg, the Frank & Julie Jungers Dean of Engineering at University of Washington, writes that though the number of students graduating from high school with a strong interest in the STEM fields is on the rise, “we don’t have the capacity in our universities to provide these students with the education required to qualify for a bow wave of engineering jobs.” Bragg, an Illinois alumnus (BS 1977, Aerospace Engineering) and former professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Illinois, that colleges in Washington state have been “working together for several years to solve this challenge and our progress has been good. But we need to do better.” He calls for increased investment in engineering education as a driver of economic progress in the state. Also: ASEE FirstBell (March 3).

Students test out self-driving cars

WCIA-TV (March 2) -- The technology in cars right now is wonderful and it's getting better, especially as students at the University of Illinois work on new ways to make them smarter. Computer science students got to test out a self-driving car on Thursday. They're getting first-hand experience to see what makes it work. The car is from AutonomouStuff, which is based in Morton, near Peoria.

Fusion energy

R&D Magazine (Rockaway, N.J., March 2) – Controlled nuclear fusion has been a Holy Grail for physicists who seek an endless supply of clean energy. Scientists at Rice University, Illinois and the University of Chile offer a glimpse into a possible new path toward that goal. Also: Digital Journal (Toronto, March 6).

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