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June 4, 2019

Latest National Academy of Inventors results showcase range of innovations

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2019.

Arizona State University has moved into the top 10 of all universities worldwide for U.S. patents awarded in 2018. The university jumped to 10th place from 17th in 2017, according to a new report by the U.S. National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. 

ASU tied with the University of Michigan for the No. 10 spot on the list. Other universities listed in the top 10 include the University of CaliforniaIn this ranking, The University of California represents the entire UC system, which includes UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz., Stanford University, MIT and the University of Texas. ASU earned 130 patents in 2018, up from 100 the previous year. 

“The top 10 world ranking in patents is a reflection of ASU’s vibrant, innovative and entrepreneurial culture with a focus on impacting society,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research innovation officer at ASU. “I’m incredibly proud of the contributions and achievements of our faculty, researchers and students. This shows what can be accomplished when you empower the academic community to engage in use-inspired research focused on societal challenges.”

The National Academy of Inventors and Intellectual Property Owners Association have published the Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Utility Patents report annually since 2013. The report utilizes data acquired from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to highlight the important role patents play in university research and innovation. The rankings are compiled by calculating the number of utility patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that list a university as the first assignee on the issued patent.

“These rankings demonstrate that ASU researchers are producing high-potential inventions at a world-class rate,” said Augustine “Augie” Cheng, CEO and chief legal officer of Skysong Innovations, ASU’s exclusive technology transfer and intellectual property management organization. “As these technologies move into commercial application, ASU research is kick-starting dozens of new startup companies that are attracting millions of dollars in venture funding and helping to power Arizona’s economy.” 

Among the 130 patents awarded to ASU in 2018 are technologies for flexible batteries, an immunosignature-based diagnosis of cancer in dogs and a handheld device that can read your metabolism on the spot. 

Flexible batteries

Batteries have been very useful over the years providing energy to remote areas where and when it is needed most. But a limiting factor of batteries is their relatively rigid structure. Now a team of ASU researchers have developed a way to make deformable batteries based on the Japanese paper-folding art of origami. The new batteries promise a wide range of uses where unconventional designs require a flexible battery. 

In a demonstration, a prototype battery was sewn into an elastic wristband that was attached to a smart watch. The battery fully powered the watch and its functions — including playing video — as the band was being stretched.

“This type of battery could potentially be used to replace the bulky and rigid batteries that are limiting the development of compact wearable electronic devices,” said Hanqing Jiang, a professor in ASU’s School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy who led the development team.

Dog cancer diagnostics

Our canine “best friends” continue to be affected by cancer. In fact, cancer is the No. 1 cause of illness and death in older dogs.

Through a patent, ASU scientist Stephen Johnston is developing new ways of diagnosing and preventing cancer in canines. Johnston and his colleagues at the Biodesign Institute have developed a microchip-based technology called immunosignature diagnosis that can rapidly and comprehensively measure an individual’s vaccine response, promising to take much of the initial guesswork out of predicting effective vaccines.

The idea of the work is to reshape the way we approach treating cancer in dogs by preventing it before it starts.

Recently, Johnston — also a professor in the School of Life Sciences — began a large-scale dog cancer vaccine trial, which will target several cancers common to dogs and is slated to run over five years. And if his approach can work in dogs, the same technology could be applied to people, too.

Reading metabolism

Breezing is a consumer-friendly technology that can track a user’s metabolism. It is a device that measures metabolic data, including oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, with the idea that the user can modify her or his activity to either lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight during daily activities. 

The wearable device provides precise assessments of a person’s resting metabolic rate using sensor technology based on research conducted at the Biodesign Institute. The technology provides data to help customize nutrition, lifestyle and exercise plans. 

Breezing was founded by N.J. Tao, director of the Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors, and Erica Forzani, an associate professor at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. 

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ASU and Helios Education Foundation debut tools to track education progress and test interventions

June 4, 2019

Two years ago, Arizona State University and Helios Education Foundation began conversations about how the two organizations could work together to provide the state with better information and data on Arizona’s education system.

“We have a lot of data systems that are separate and distinct, but nothing that provides a comprehensive way to look at the education system,” said Vince Yanez, senior vice president of community engagement for Helios Education Foundation. “Early education data doesn’t necessarily talk to the data in K-12, which doesn’t talk to the data in higher education.”

The Decision Center for Educational Excellence, powered by Helios Education Foundation, was launched in 2018 as a means to address this disconnect and provide school administrators, policymakers and elected officials with the tools and information needed to address educational deficiencies in the state and increase student achievement. Joe O’Reilly, one of the state’s leading experts on education research and data, was brought on to direct the center.

“The idea is, if we can bring together all the data we have on the education system in Arizona, apply the resources and knowledge of Helios and ASU and bring stakeholders together to discuss where we’re at and where we’re heading, we will have significantly better student outcomes, and that will result in significantly better community outcomes, family outcomes and state outcomes,” said O’Reilly.

New tool to pinpoint bright spots and test interventions

For the past year, O’Reilly and his team, which includes the Decision Theater and ASU engineering students, have been building a first-of-its-kind, interactive model of Arizona’s K-12 education system. The model offers stakeholders the ability to test the impact of potential policies on education outcomes, pinpoint scalable bright spots in the state’s education system and identify strategies that could improve student performance.

“There are over 220 school districts in the state. There are over 500 charters in the state. Each of those systems and each of those schools are unique,” said Vince Roig, founding chairman of the board of Helios Education Foundation. “One of the powerful things about this work is you’ll be able to look at possible interventions, possible allocations of resources, for all of those different systems in a way that’s not cookie-cutter, that’s not overly prescribed. We’ve never been able to do that before.”

The model draws on 2016 data — the first data publicly available — from a variety of sources, including the Arizona Department of Education, the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Educational Statistics, the FBI, the Environmental Protection Administration, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and individual Arizona schools.

Tracking progress at the local level

The center, working with Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona, has also made a significant upgrade to the Arizona Education Progress Meter — a tool designed to offer reliable information on where Arizona stands as a state on issues ranging from access to quality early learning to postsecondary attainment. The tool now allows stakeholders to choose specific cities and towns, schools or school districts and track progress toward the goals at the local level.

Collectively, these tools will give Arizona’s education stakeholders the ability to deeply understand the state’s education system, discuss local conditions and implement changes, either at the individual school level or across the board, that will support a high-quality education for all Arizona students.

Unveiling the tools and key takeaways

“How do we significantly improve the outcomes of education in Arizona, so we can improve Arizona?”

This was the question posed by O’Reilly as he unveiled the new tools at a public event this week in the drum of Tempe’s Decision Theater. Arizona’s education administrators, policymakers, business leaders and community members gathered to learn about the new tools created by the Decision Center for Educational Excellence.

Before introducing the tools, O’Reilly shared three key takeaways about the state’s education system that an analysis of the 2016 data revealed:

1. Poverty does not determine graduation rates, but it does impact academic achievement.

Contrary to common belief, no correlation was found between poverty levels and high school graduation rates. “Whether a school has high rates of poverty or low, the graduation rate is, on average, the same,” said O’Reilly.

“However, many high-poverty schools have fewer graduates that are ready for college-level work, and fewer going to college,” said O’Reilly. “But we also find high-poverty schools with higher achievement and college-going rates, so we need to learn more about how they are accomplishing that.”

For example, the data show that 92% of the students attending Phoenix Union’s Franklin Police and Fire High School are low income, yet 97% graduate on time and 70% go to college. Similarly, almost 70% of Nogales High School students are low income, yet 95% graduate on time.

2. FAFSA completion is a leading indicator of college-going.

Controlling for student characteristics, for every 10% increase in FAFSA completion rates there is a 2.2% increase in college-going rates.

“This is not because filling out a form causes a student to go to college,” said O’Reilly. “But it may reflect a school’s college-going culture, and may be one of a number of strategies by the school and parents to encourage students to attend college.”

The model shows that many of the schools with high FAFSA completion rates are also high-income schools, such as Catalina Foothills in Tucson. However, there are also low-income schools, such as San Luis High School on the border south of Yuma, where 64% of students complete the FAFSA and even more — 76% — go to college.

3. There is a lack of rigorous courses available.

More than one-third of the high schools in Arizona do not offer students the opportunity to take rigorous courses such as advanced placement, International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment or even just calculus.

“We assume students have ability, and that range of ability is widely shared, but the opportunity to develop that ability is not everywhere,” said O’Reilly. “And that’s the challenge that we see here.”

Students with the potential to be leading engineers, doctors and scientists can be found in communities throughout Arizona, but without the opportunity to accelerate their learning, they may never be able to compete for top spots in these fields.

“They may have dreams, they may have the innate ability, but that ability needs to be developed,” he said.

Building on the model in Year 2

Over the coming months, O’Reilly plans to share the tools with education stakeholders around the state.

“We are really proud of Joe and the team and the tools they are putting in the hands of policy makers and school administrators,” said Luke Tate, associate vice president and executive director of opportunity initiatives at ASU. “We need more data and evidence to guide our decision-making.”

Data will continue to be added to the system in perpetuity, allowing for the analysis of education trends over time and the development of strategies, locally and statewide, to increase student success.

For example, the tool could identify high schools in a particular county that have large populations of Spanish-speaking students and a high percent of students receiving free or reduced lunches, but also high achievement scores. Schools with a similar demographic profile but with low achievement scores could look to those better-performing schools to identify what interventions could be implemented at their own school to improve student achievement.

As another example, city leaders might be interested in learning how increasing the college-going rate in their city will affect average incomes and the city’s income tax profile. Or, they may want to see how their college-going rate compares with a neighboring city with a similar demographic and economic profile.

“There are so many possible uses of the system — you can’t list them all,” said Roig. “We’ll be able to see what’s working, what’s not and what changes need to be made. When you start talking about modeling the education system and potential interventions and what’s likely to have the most impact for students — the possibilities really are staggering.”

Top image: Joe O’Reilly, director of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, powered by Helios Education Foundation, presents an interpretation of data on Arizona's K-12 education at the Decision Theater in Tempe on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now