Professor earns $6.25M research award from Department of Defense

July 3, 2012

ASU professor Hao Yan, an innovator in the field of nanotechnology, has been selected to receive a five-year, $6.25 million basic research award under the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program.

The highly competitive MURI program will award a total of $155 million over the next five years for 23 research projects, subject to the availability of federal appropriations. ASU Professor Hao Yan Download Full Image

“The ability of ASU to successfully compete amongst the nation’s best researchers speaks volumes about the quality and recognition of Hao Yan’s innovative work and the talents of the research team he has assembled,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “His breakneck speed in developing new technologies may spark entirely new solutions in biomedicine and energy research.”

For the MURI program DoD divisions, including the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, solicited proposals in 21 topics and received 251 white papers, which were followed by 78 proposals. Yan was just one of 23 scientists from across the country selected to lead a MURI project, which were selected based on merit review by a panel of experts.

“Now, with this award, there is a golden opportunity to expand our research in a new direction,” said Yan, a researcher the Biodesign Institute, who has risen rapidly through the academic ranks at ASU. In 2011 Yan was named as the inaugural Milton D. Glick Distinguished Chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and has garnered international attention for his research achievements and recognition in top-tier research publications.

“Watching Professor Yan’s research program grow and develop over the past few years has been tremendously exciting, ever since he was first a new assistant professor,” said William Petuskey, associate vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and former chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “He and his group members have produced a rapid and constant stream of innovative ideas and patents, an extreme rate of first-rate publications, an impressive portfolio of new approaches to teaching and training, and an astounding rate of winning research funding.

"He is the embodiment of what ASU is doing as it reimagines and redefines its role in modern society," Petuskey added. "He has become one of the foremost academic leaders of his field.”

Yan’s research approach uses nature – in this case, DNA, the essential building block of all life on Earth – as the architectural underpinnings of a biomimicry approach to advance nanotechnology and ultimately build nano-scale devices.

“I am always very interested in designer architecture,” Yan said. “Every architect needs a set of design rules. In the past, we have developed a variety of novel or unique strategies to design arbitrarily-shaped 2-D and 3-D structures by pursuing applications of DNA nanotechnology and attaching nanoparticles, enzymes and proteins to make them more functional.”

Yan will lead an elite team of researchers to increase their understanding of the design rules of constructing 3-D artificial enzyme centers and ultimately build nano-scale devices that mimic important biological systems, such as important biochemical pathways implicated in diseases or energy conversion during photosynthesis. The research team draws on expertise across several scientific fields and includes fellow ASU co-investigators Neal Woodbury and Don Seo; Mark Bathe, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; William Shih, Harvard Medical School; and Nils Walter, University of Michigan.

“There are so many biochemical pathways available in nature, and nature is so complicated,” said Yan. “There are two main aspects of biochemical pathways: one to convert mass, the other to convert energy. We just want to grab some of the content and simplify it, and make it useful for our purposes.”

“We need a set of rules that will allow anyone in the field to be able to design an engineered biochemical pathway using a bottom-up approach, where we use the biochemical components of a cell as our building blocks to make new discoveries.”

The MURI program supports the research of teams of investigators whose backgrounds intersect multiple traditional science and engineering disciplines in order to accelerate research progress. Yan sees the award as a significant opportunity to build a strong research program in biomimetics and bio-inspired engineering at ASU.

“During the past 10 years, we have made a lot of progress and are getting closer and closer to making self-assembled nanomachines a reality,” Yan said.

Learn more about Hao Yan’s research accomplishments to date:

Media contact:
Joe Caspermeyer,
Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences), Media Relations & Strategic Communications


ASU partners with Department of Economic Security to improve child welfare

July 3, 2012

In the midst of budget cuts, hiring freezes and skyrocketing caseloads, a new partnership between ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and the Arizona Department of Economic Security is providing optimism and excitement among assistant program managers within the Division of Children Youth and Families.

The new partnership already is seeing improvements in child welfare with an eye towards curbing abuse and neglect. Download Full Image

Assistant program managers serve as regional managers for the state’s Child Protective Services and oversee 175 supervisors and 970 specialists throughout five regional offices across the state. These staff are responsible for recording and investigating approximately 35,000 reports of abuse or neglect each year, managing 11,535 children in out-of-home care, and more than 5,000 families with children who remain in their homes.

Twelve of these assistant program managers (APMs) recently completed a yearlong program of study and were certified on June 28 in a ceremony on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. They represent the first cohort of new leaders who graduated from the ASU Child Welfare Leadership Academy.

The ASU Child Welfare Leadership Academy was developed by Judy Krysik, associate professor at the School of Social Work, and Catherine Eden from the Bob Ramsey Executive Education Program. The Certified Public Manager program is a nationally recognized continuing educational program for professionals working in public sector agencies, such as health care, local governance, public safety and child welfare. Participants receive a thorough assessment of their leadership skills, interact with a coach to assist them in professional and workplace development, and work with a seasoned and experienced leader, serving in the role of mentor.    

Tracey Everitt, a long time Phoenix employee with the Division of Children Youth and Families (DCYF), says she was drawn to the Leadership Academy based on feedback from co-workers and support from her supervisor.

“I knew two people in higher levels of management who had finished their CPM [Certified Project Manager], and they told me that the information they learned from this program and its application to management was probably more helpful than their master’s degree,” Everitt said.

Sue Smith, a co-worker in Phoenix, agreed: “I was new to this position and thought that the timing was perfect.”

The investment in both time and effort was significant, said Mary Megui, who drove to Phoenix from Yuma a few times a month for almost a year to participate in back-to-back, full-day classes. What made the program possible for long-distance commuters was unconditional encouragement from their department managers so they didn’t feel like they were skipping work in order to attend.

“Gradually, we all quit checking our email every 10 minutes,” Megui said. “We came to understand the value of being in this program, and what a great opportunity it was.”

Interaction with fellow DCYF colleagues were one of the bigger benefits participants noted. Coming from a rural setting helped Megui develop an understanding of urban challenges, which are unique even though all participants have the same job with the same agency. Reflecting on the new sense of cohesion between her and her Phoenix counterparts, Megui said that "just being able to pick up the phone and call someone who’s going to understand is huge.”

Smith had a very positive experience with her mentor: “She had held high positions in state work, and learning from her experience, at her level, was a great opportunity. Talking with her was a breath of fresh air because she challenged me, but at the same time she was such a good listener. I came away feeling like I was on the right track.”

Many participants said the information and skills they acquired aligned with many of the other initiatives under way in the Arizona Department of Economic Security, under the leadership of director Clarence Carter. Even decades-long employees said they had never before felt as excited by the possibilities.

The Child Welfare Leadership Academy represents one of a number of partnerships between ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and state governmental agencies such as the Department of Economic Security.

“Programs such as the Child Welfare Leadership Academy reflect ASU’s commitment to being a force for change across our state as we meet the challenges facing the families and communities of Arizona,” said Michael Shafer, the center's director, in his recognition of the academy graduates. 

Reporter , ASU News