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 2017 media appearances

Statue honors Women in Engineering

News-Gazette (April 28) -- A life-size statue, a gift from Texas Instruments honoring women in engineering, was unveiled at its home on the east side of the Micro and Nano-technology Laboratory on the engineering campus. The life-sized statue, which has been named "The Quintessential Engineer," is the work of Chicago sculptor Julie Rotblatt-Amrany. The article also noted that Engineering at Illinois has had a 55% growth in the number of women in the freshman engineering class since 2013; this year’s freshman class is 27% women. Also: Associated Press (April 28) Big Ten Network (May 1)

International students

Governing (Washington, D.C., April 27) – In an era when practically every state has cut financial support for higher education, public colleges and universities have come to depend on the money international students bring in. “International students definitely contribute to our financial strength and health,” says Renee Romano, vice chancellor for student affairs at Illinois.

Illinois Innovation Prize

Chicago Inno (April 27) – Lucas Frye, co-founder and CEO of agricultural technology startup Amber Agriculture, was awarded the Illinois Innovation Prize at Illinois’ Cozad New Venture Competition on Wednesday. The award is intended to honor creative and passionate innovators on campus. Frye’s startup Amber Agriculture is a system of internet of things-enabled sensors that sit inside grain bins and monitor environmental factors such as carbon dioxide and moisture to help farmers monitor and prevent crop spoilage.

Better batteries

Chemical and Engineering News (Washington, D.C., April 27) – To exploit zinc’s useful properties in next-generation batteries, researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory have prepared zinc electrodes in a porous spongelike structure. Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and chemistry at Illinois, says the NRL team “has found a particularly compelling system, where the 3-D electrode structure provides high power, as expected, but perhaps surprisingly, results in dendrite suppression and thus very good long-term cycling.”

Optical molecular imaging

Scientific American (April 27) — Facebook’s newly formed Building 8 “moon shot” factory is working on a device that would let people type out words via a brain-computer interface. One of the remaining challenges is whether the changes in the returning light will create patterns unique enough to represent each of the letters, words and phrases needed to translate brain waves into words on a screen, says Stephen Boppart, the director of the Center for Optical Molecular Imaging at Illinois.

Chiral currents

Space Daily (April 27) -- Using an atomic quantum simulator, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have achieved the first-ever direct observation of chiral currents in the model topological insulator, the 2-D integer quantum Hall system. Also: ScienceBlog (April 24).

Engineer Guy: Outlaw Tech

Live Science (NSF, April 26) -- Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Bill Hammack, a.k.a. Engineer Guy, is in the new TV series Outlaw Tech. The series is on the Science Channel, part of the Discovery network. The first episode was broadcast Wednesday and the next five episodes run on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET.

Landslide study

Science Daily (April 26) -- Late in the morning of March 22, 2014, a huge chunk of land cut loose and roared down a hillside in the Stillaguamish River Valley just east of Oso, Washington. This was the deadliest landslide on record in the continental U.S. A new report from University of Illinois civil engineers details the factors leading to the disaster, the hazards that accompany landslides and steps that can be taken to mitigate landslide consequences and risk in the Pacific Northwest, with the aim of preventing future tragedies. Also: ScienceBlog (April 26).

Rankings: Best Value Colleges

Forbes (April 26) — Forbes compiled a list of the Best Value Colleges for 2017 based on region, with Illinois ranking at No. 4 of the top 10 schools in the Midwest.

U of I #7 in Silicon Valley hires

Quartz (April 25) -- The most coveted jobs are in Silicon Valley, and most selective US universities are members of the Ivy League. So it stands to reason that tech giants like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook would scoop up best and brightest from those bastions of power and privilege. However, none of the Ivy League schools were represented on the list compiled by HiringSolved. The University of Illinois ranks #7 on that list.

Out-of-state students

Crain’s Chicago Business (April 24) – Any talk about the U. of I. and its engineering school will eventually lead to the subject of brain drain and all the smart kids who leave for California after graduation. But what about the brain gain? You might be surprised to learn the University of California is the second-largest supplier of new students at the College of Engineering at Illinois.

World's Longest Aircraft

The Scotsman (Opinion, Edinburgh, Scotland, April 21) – The longest aircraft in the world, the giant Airlander 10, is due to resume test flights following a damaging “heavy landing” last August. The sensitivity over such unfamiliar maneuvers characteristic to airships has echoes of a forthcoming book about one of Airlander’s most famous antecedent – the R.101 – which was destroyed by fire after crashing in France in 1930. “Fatal Flight – The True Story of Britain’s Last Great Airship” by U. of I. engineering professor Bill Hammack relates in vivid detail the extreme care needed to handle R.101.

Student startup Touch Light Innovations

Chicago Inno (April 21) – Touch Light Innovations, an Illinois student startup, aims to use footsteps as a power source. It's 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 (which create an electric current when pressure is applied). The device currently generates 10 watts of power per step, and they're aiming to get it up to 100 watts with more development.

Virtual therapist

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (April 21) – Wai-Tat Fu, a professor of computer science at Illinois, and his graduate student, Ping-Jing Yang, have collaborated to develop Mindbot, a virtual therapist. Still a prototype, it relies on natural language processing and machine learning.

Novel nanotube structure for flexible electronics

Phys.Org (April 21) -- eflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics. Also: Nanowerk (April 21), Science Daily (April 22), ScienceBlog (April 21), Economic Times (UK, April 23), (April 23), Can-India News (April 23), News Heads (April 23), New Electronics (April 24), Daily News & Analysis (April 24), Science World Report (April 24), i-Connect-007 (April 23), ASEE FirstBell (April 24), AZoNano (April 24), (Germany, April 25).


Chicago Tribune (April 19) -- University of Illinois ABE researchers have built a robot that can wheel itself around farms to monitor plants — an invention that could let farmers collect data on crops cheaper and easier than ever before. The robot — called TERRA-MEPP — weighs about 65 pounds and drives itself around on two caterpillar tracks like the kind found on tanks. Able to transmit real-time data about growth and development using cameras, lasers and other sensors, the robot will help identify individual plants with desirable characteristics linked to bigger yields, researchers believe.

Social media

Fox News (April 18) – Facebook has started using pattern recognition that can block the propagation of revenge porn images and warn users about the issue. “The pattern recognition in this revenge porn application is a form of content-based retrieval – or associative memory – which is how human olfactory memory is thought to work,” says artificial intelligence expert Lav Varshney, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. “If any future image is similar to what is memorized, it will point it out.”

Alumni entrepreneur Karmani

Grist (Seattle, April 18) – Raj Karmani was a graduate student in computer science at Illinois when his frequent trips to the neighborhood bagel store opened his eyes to food waste. In 2013, he started Zero Percent, an online platform for food donation.

Humidity in baseball

The Washington Post (April 17) – If you’re still skeptical humidity can truly change the outcome of a baseball game, you should crunch the numbers. Using a “cheating in baseball” study from researchers at Illinois--led by Physics Professor Emeritus Alan Nathan, a blog calculated how more-humid baseballs would affect the home run figure at Chase Field, used by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Improving airplaine aerodynamics

The News & Observer (from The Associated Press; Raleigh, N.C., April 17) – A research team led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has received a $9.9 million grant from NASA for the development of a more aerodynamically capable aircraft. The team includes contributors from Illinois.

Hyperloop competition

Fortune (April 15) -- SpaceX announced that it will open the second round of its Hyperloop pod prototype competition to new teams. SpaceX originally selected about two dozen teams--including the Illini Hyperloop team--from its first round of competition at Texas A&M University last year. Fortune posits that the second round is seemingly focused “on giving existing squads a chance to refine their existing prototypes.” Also: ASEE FirstBell (April 17).


Science 360 (NSF podcast, April 14) -- Engineers from the University of Illinois have created a self-guided flying bat bot looks much like the real thing, with artificial joints and skin. “Our work demonstrates one of the most advanced designs to date of a self-contained flapping-winged aerial robot with bat morphology that is able to perform autonomous flight,” explained Alireza Ramezani, a postdoctoral researcher at the Coordinated Science Laboratory who is the first author of the cover article appearing in AAAS Science Robotics.

Research ethics

KUNC-FM (Greeley, Colo., April 12) – It’s been 25 years since the National Academy of Sciences set its standards for appropriate scientific conduct, and the world of science has changed dramatically in that time. So the academies of science, engineering and medicine have updated their standards. “We've been fond of the ‘bad apple’ narrative, and we're talking about switching to the barrels and the barrel-makers,” says committee member C.K. Gunsalus, who heads the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics at Illinois. Also: NPR (April 14).

Nanopores map cancer

Phys.Org (April 12) -- Detecting cancer early, just as changes are beginning in DNA, could enhance diagnosis and treatment as well as further our understanding of the disease. A new study by University of Illinois researchers describes a method to detect, count and map tiny additions to DNA called methylations, which can be a warning sign of cancer, with unprecedented resolution. The method threads DNA strands through a tiny hole, called a nanopore, in an atomically thin sheet of material with an electrical current running through it. Also: Controlled Environments Magazine (April 13), ScienceBlog (April 12), Science 360 (NSF, April 14), Technology Networks (April 18) Speciality Pharmacy Times (April 21).

CS head Rutenbar

News-Gazette (April 11) -- Rob Rutenbar, head of the esteemed University of Illinois computer science department will leave UI for a research post at the University of Pittsburgh. Rutenbar said that he could not pass up the opportunity to return to Pittsburgh and lead research enterprise on campus. Rutenbar said his decision to leave has not been shaped by the state’s budget troubles for higher education. Also: ASEE FirstBell (April 12).

CRISPR mines bacterial genome

Phys.Org (April 11) -- Using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, researchers have now uncovered even more potential treasure hidden in silent genes. A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois and colleagues at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore used CRISPR technology to turn on unexpressed, or "silent," gene clusters in Streptomyces, a common class of bacteria that naturally produce many compounds that have already been used as antibiotics, anti-cancer agents and other drugs. Also: ScienceBlog (April 10).

Using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, researchers have now uncovered even more potential treasure hidden in silent genes.

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Aviation security

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill., April 11) – Chicago police reported that David Dao, a passenger who was dragged off a United Airlines flight Sunday, became irate and started yelling after being asked to leave the plane, at which point Chicago Department of Aviation security officers were called. “Airlines can remove a passenger if they believe the passenger poses a threat to the flight,” says aviation security expert Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor at Illinois.

Related story: Chicago Tribune (April 12) -- in a Letter to the Editor, Sheldon Jacobson offers suggestions on how to avoid being a person targeted for involuntary removal from a flight.

Monitoring stormwater

Chicago Inno (April 10) – Stormwater has caused more than $770 million in damage and resulted in more than 180,000 claims of property damage in Chicago over the last five years. To better understand the implications of this issue, the city partnered up with UI Labs’ City Digital initiative, which collects urban data by using the city as a "testbed for experimentation.”  The “UI” stands for “University-Industry” and the project has multiple partners, such as Microsoft, Accenture, AECOM, ComEd and the U. of I.

Alumnus Steve Chen

Chicago Inno (April 7) – Whenever someone talks about Chicago’s “brain drain” or tech talent leaving the Midwest for Silicon Valley, Steve Chen inevitably comes up. Chen, who co-founded YouTube in 2005 after graduating from the U. of I., is often lumped in with the likes of Marc Andreessen (Netscape), Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Max Levchin (PayPal) as examples of Illinois’ inability to hang on to founders who eventually create massive, industry-changing technology companies. But in 2013 Chen announced he would give $1 million to his high school alma mater, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, to build an on-campus innovation hub, and last week Chen was in Aurora for the official grand opening.

Startup: Zunum Aero

The Verge (New York, April 5) – A Kirkland, Washington, startup called Zunum Aero plans to build a fleet of hybrid electric jets to sell to major carriers for service on densely traveled regional routes. The company’s co-founders include Kiruba Haran, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois who leads a NASA-funded program to develop electric airliners. Also: USA Today (April 5), Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle, April 5), VentureBeat (April 5), Yahoo Finance (April 5), Business Insider (April 5), Fast Company (April 5), Greentech Media (April 5), ZDNet (April 5), Condé Nast Traveler (April 5), CosmicNovo (April 5), Quartz (April 5), Digital Trends (April 5), CNet (April 5), TechCrunch (April 5), The Verge (April 5), Mashable (April 5), International Business Times (April 5), GeekWire (April 5), Forbes (April 6), Engadget (April 6), Zee News (April 6), Tech Times (April 6), Thje Seattle Times (April 6), TravelersToday (April 6), Times of India (April 6), (blog, April 6), Wired (April 12).

Computer science enrollment

The New York Times (April 4) – Enrollment in computer science courses has exploded in recent years, with both majors and nonmajors fueling the surge – so much so that many schools now restrict enrollment by nonmajors. One recent institutional adaptation is the creation of so-called CS+X initiatives at schools like Stanford University, Northwestern University, and Illinois.

Gray tin

Phys.Org (April 4) -- In a surprising new discovery, alpha-tin, commonly called gray tin, exhibits a novel electronic phase when its crystal structure is strained, putting it in a rare new class of 3D materials called topological Dirac semimetals (TDSs). Only two other TDS materials are known to exist, discovered as recently as 2013. Alpha-tin now joins this class as its only simple-element member. This discovery holds promise for novel physics and many potential applications in technology. The findings are the work of Caizhi Xu, a physics graduate student at Illinois, working under U. of I. Professor Tai-Chang Chiang and in collaboration with scientists at the Advanced Light Source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and six other institutions internationally. Also: Product Design & Development (April 5), ScienceBlog (April 4), AZoM (April 5).

Alumnus Fazlur Rahman Khan (New York, April 3) – Today would have been the 88th birthday of structural engineer and Illinois alumnus Fazlur Rahman Khan, best known for designing Chicago’s Sears Tower, now known as the Willis Tower. Khan is the subject for today's Google Doodle.

Related story: Chicago Business Journal (April 3) – To Chicagoans, Monday’s Google search page probably looked familiar. The page featured structural engineer and architect Fazlur Rahman Khan, a Bangladeshi-American man and Illinois alumnus who designed Chicago’s Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) and the John Hancock Center.


Peoria Journal Star (Peoria, Ill., April 2) – Can the state of Illinois become the Silicon Valley of the Midwest, as Gov. Bruce Rauner would like to see? Perhaps. Rauner says the state needs to do a better job of leveraging the U. of I., among other institutions, to attract and retain high-tech entrepreneurs.

Nobel Laureates in Physics

The New York Times (April 2) – Alexei Abrikosov, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003 for important insights into how certain materials conduct electricity without resistance, died Wednesday at his home in Sunnyvale, California. He was 88. He shared the Nobel with Vitaly L. Ginzburg and Anthony J. Leggett, a London-born physicist at Illinois.

Grainger Scholarship Matching Grant

News-Gazette (April 1) -- Student scholarships at the University of Illinois College of Engineering are getting a big boost from the Grainger Foundation — as much as $25 million. The foundation, a longtime supporter of the college, will match all gifts to the Engineering Visionary Scholarship Initiative up to $25 million through the end of 2019. Also: WCCU-TV (April 3), ASEE FirstBell (April 4).

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