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ASU moves up in global patent ranking

Rise in rankings for patents shows how ASU excels at taking tech to marketplace.
Patents reflect volume of high-quality research at ASU to benefit the community.
July 12, 2016

International standing shows how the university excels at taking technology to market — all with goal of helping society

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

There’s a device that pulls water out of the desert air, a gadget that instantly gauges human immune system reactions and a gizmo that measures indoor contaminants by testing the condensation from an air conditioner — an air-quality check that doesn't require entering a building. 

The common fuel to all three is a culture of innovation at Arizona State University that has accelerated the path from drawing board to application for dozens of new technologies. That environment of creativity was recognized in both global rankings and dollar figures released Tuesday.

ASU ranks 38th among worldwide institutions in earning utility patents, the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association said today. ASU had 55 patentsThe report is based on data obtained from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association compile the rankings each year by calculating the number of utility patents that list a university as the first assignee. ASU actually was awarded 62 patents in fiscal year 2015, but because the patent office didn’t accurately list ASU in all the filings, the rankings captured only 55 patents. in fiscal year 2015 and moved up from 40th place in the previous rankings.

It underscores the university’s effort to ease the process for acquiring patents.

Just ask Rolf Halden, director of the Center for Environmental Security at the Biodesign Institute, who has been awarded six patents in the last six years and has about a dozen more in various stages of approval.

“It’s a very nurturing culture that makes it easy for folks to file patents,” Halden said. “There’s a lot of information on how it’s done, most of it is done online and it takes away some of the horrors of dealing with forms.”

Ninety-six companies have been launched based on ASU innovations, and more than $600 million has been raised — including a record $96 million in fiscal year 2016.

A patent is important because it protects the work done by ASU’s faculty and shows that research done in a lab turns into something tangible.

“The reason we do this is not just to get a patent — which is a good metric and great accomplishment and is significant,” said Ken Polasko, executive director of Arizona Technology Enterprises, the intellectual property management and tech transfer organization for ASU. “We want to help facilitate getting the technology out into the marketplace for the benefit of society.”

The number of patents reflects the amount of high-quality research at ASU, according to Charlie Lewis, senior vice president of venture development at the Arizona Technology Enterprises at ASU.

“When you’re looking for money, what investors are concerned with is their protection, and this ranking is evidence of the robustness of the research and development that’s happening here and the number of patents applied for,” he said.

“We can directly count more than 350 jobs through start-ups launched in Arizona that have intellectual-property patents licensed to them through ASU,” he said.

Lewis said that 96 companies have been launched based on ASU innovations, and more than $600 million has been raised — including a record $96 million in fiscal year 2016.

Start-ups that drew investments last year were Zero Mass Water, which uses solar-powered systems to produce drinking water and was founded by Cody Friesen, an associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter and Transport of Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and HealthTell, a diagnostic platform that can assess real-time immune system responses and came out of ASU’s Biodesign Institute with company founders and ASU professors Stephen Johnston and Neal Woodbury.

“Success begets success,” Lewis said.

“When our research gets commercialized for societal benefit, that creates more credibility and that helps when our faculty go out for federal grants, where most of the research funding is from,” he said.

“At ASU, during every step of the research process, we ask ourselves, ‘What can we do differently or better to have a bigger positive impact on the world around us?'”
— Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU

Halden, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, works on improving human health by studying exposure to toxic chemicals and inventing ways to clean up contamination in soil and groundwater. He has developed several diagnostic devices and methods.

His start-up company, launched after he came to the Biodesign Institute, is called In Situ Well Technologies and commercializes his “In Situ Microcosm Array” technology, a pod-like device that gets sent into a groundwater monitoring well and can conduct multiple experiments simultaneously.

Halden also has patents pending on a technology that measures indoor air contamination by examining the condensation water that leaks outdoors from an air-conditioning unit.

“That water can be analyzed for chemicals, and it turns out that you can tell the exposure of the people inside without even entering the building,” he said. “It’s a very efficient and economical way of determining the quality of air in a workplace.”

In the newly released patent report, ASU ranked higher than Seoul National University, in 39th place, as well as Duke, the University of Southern California, Princeton, Ohio State, Penn State and Yale. The University of California system, with 10 campuses, ranked first with 489 patents. 

“At ASU, during every step of the research process, we ask ourselves, ‘What can we do differently or better to have a bigger positive impact on the world around us?'” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU.

“The increase in patents and our rise in the rankings demonstrates that our approach is working and exemplifies the drive of our faculty and researchers.”

Top photo: The Biodesign Institute on ASU's Tempe campus.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Closing the education gap for migrant children

Migrant students often an "invisible" population in the state.
Transient life of children of migrant workers adds to educational challenges.
Conexiones helps often-moving migrant students stay on track academically.
July 12, 2016

Conexiones program at ASU works with school districts to improve students' skills, develop their self-confidence

For Joan it’s all about the dinosaurs. Ana, however, prefers the asteroids. Around the corner, Humberto is mesmerized by an Apollo space shuttle replica.

Though the students touring Arizona State University’s state-of-the-art Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV may have different interests, they have one distinctive thing in common: They’re all migrant students.

Arizona is among the top 10 states in America when it comes to numbers of migrant students — there are over 10,000 in the state — yet Seline Szkupinski-Quiroga says it’s like “they’re invisible.”

On this rare cloudy Arizona day, they’re anything but as they make their way down Palm Walk to gape at the snakes in Life Sciences A wing and reach out to clutch space dust during the 3-D show in the Marston Exploration Theater.

Their trip to ASU is part of the Conexiones Migrant Student Education Program at ASU.

As the director of the program, Szkupinski-Quiroga is often met with blank stares when she does outreach.

“ASU has had this program since 1992. And I go out and people are still like, ‘What? Who?’” she said. “Migrant students are really a hidden community here in Arizona.”

Hidden but not forgotten — for more than two decades, the Arizona Department of Education has been funding Conexiones at ASU through its Migrant Education Program with the goal of improving the academic performance of fourth- through 12th-grade migrant students, who are often moving around the country throughout the school year, making it difficult to stay on track academically.

“A lot of times they move to another state that has other common core standards, or they miss things, they miss testing, so then they tend to fall behind,” Szkupinski-Quiroga said.

Conexiones aims to close the resulting educational achievement gap, improve migrant students’ skills and options for the future, and develop their self-confidence and self-esteem.

When the program found its current home at the School of Transborder Studies in 2014, Szkupinski-Quiroga was tapped to direct and took it upon herself to make some improvements.

“I thought that the curriculum that we were giving the kids needed to be expanded and made more rigorous,” she said.

At the time, there was a lot of talk about STEM education. Szkupinski-Quiroga recognized the importance of incorporating STEM subjects but also knew that science has a language of its own.

“About 40 percent of these kids are also English language learners. And to kind of just throw them into doing science without them being able to talk about it probably wouldn’t be a good idea,” she said. “So we revamped the curriculum integrating the idea of scientific literacy.”

With the new curriculum set, Szkupinski-Quiroga set out pitching it to various school districts in Arizona.

Those that feel there is a need for such a program in their district take the next step of identifying teachers to have trained as instructors. Then Szkupinski-Quiroga and her staff of previously trained local teachers head out to train them in the curriculum and set up the classroom’s online components.

It’s up to the district to decide how exactly they’d like to implement Conexiones — some make it into an after-school program during the school year, some include it as a special class during the school day, and some offer it during spring, fall and summer break.

“So we’re working year-round,” Szkupinski-Quiroga said with a smile about her and her team, who follow up regularly after the teacher training to monitor progress and give coaching and feedback.

There are currently 28 district-level migrant programs across the state. Since Szkupinski-Quiroga came on board, Conexiones has worked with Chandler Unified, Mesa Unified, Queen Creek Unified, Glendale Elementary, Gadsden Elementary, PPEP TEC Charter School, Somerton Elementary and Coolidge Unified.

They are among the largest migrant programs in Arizona. The students visiting ASU’s campus in late June are from the Glendale Elementary district’s summer session of Conexiones, and instructor David Levesque has come along for the ride.

A technology teacher at Sunset Vista School during the school year, Levesque enjoys the dynamic nature of Conexiones. He recently taught lessons in which students created a story of the history of Arizona using PowerPoint, planned a virtual vacation using Google Maps, and learned how to calculate volume by building their own Mayan pyramids.

“It’s all about keeping them engaged,” he said. “Our goal is to give them skills they can take back to the classroom during the school year, and we try to make it fun so they don’t know they’re learning.”

Inviting the students to ASU accomplishes that along with other goals.

While 10-year-old Joan Gomez marvels at the triceratops in ISTB IV (“When I’m an adult, I’m gonna make dinosaurs real using DNA,” he asserts), students from the School of Earth and Exploration and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering are learning about the particular educational needs of migrant students as they lead them on a tour of the building.

“It’s also about developing new relationships and making connections. And not just with the school districts but also with people in the ASU community who maybe don’t know about migrant students,” said Szkupinski-Quiroga.

On the walls in her office are black and white photographs of former Conexiones students, accompanied by a piece of writing. Some are poems, some are short essays. In them, the students describe what it’s like to be the child of a migrant worker — the beauty of the landscape they see when they travel and the feeling when they wake up and their parents are already gone, out to work in the fields.

“I remember one young man — he dropped out of school and started working in the fields when he was 15,” recalled Szkupinski-Quiroga. “But then he realized that that’s not what he wanted to do. So he went back and got his GED, and now he’s now trying to go to community college.”

And it’s cases like that, cases in which Conexiones makes “a positive impact in the kids’ lives,” as Szkupinski-Quiroga puts it, that make all the difference.

Top photo: Students enrolled in the Conexiones Migrant Student Education Program explore the large interactive Earth and Space Exploration video displays as part of a field trip to ASU's Tempe campus on June 30. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now; video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now