ASU's Polytechnic School leading engineering education revolution

June 16, 2015

Arizona State University is launching a project to revolutionize engineering education by creating a learning environment that values risk-taking, innovation and creativity among its students and faculty.

Faculty of the Polytechnic School, one of the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, will lead the project. The school, under the leadership of director Ann McKenna, has been selected to receive one of only six $2 million grants awarded this week by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Shawn Jordan NSF RED Award Shawn Jordan, center, assistant professor of engineering education, works on STEAM labs with his students. The program challenges student teams to apply the engineering design process to build chain-reaction machines. Photo by: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

The awards are part of NSF’s revolutionizing engineering departments program, known as RED.

“An underlying premise of RED is that department heads can be critical levers for change,” said Donna Riley, NSF program director for engineering education research. “RED focuses on transforming department structure and faculty reward systems to stimulate comprehensive change in policies, practices and curricula.”

McKenna is the principal investigator on the grant, with the team including co-investigators Samantha Brunhaver, Shawn Jordan, Nadia Kellam and Micah Lande. Their project, titled “Additive Innovation: An Educational Ecosystem of Making and Risk Taking,” will focus on the Polytechnic School’s engineering and manufacturing engineering programs, and will further develop previously tested and refined engineering education research done by the group.

According to McKenna, the project will provide the foundation to build upon successful innovations in the programs’ project-based sequence to improve the entire undergraduate experience, including technical core courses – such as mechanics and electrical theory ­– taught during sophomore and junior years.

The premise is that students learn complex theories better when they are actively engaged in applying the concepts to solve real-life, meaningful problems.

“Engineering schools have done a great job introducing students to project-based learning in first year courses and implementing it in senior projects, but teaching of the core curriculum has remained relatively unchanged,” McKenna said.

The Polytechnic School already focuses on an education ecosystem that empowers faculty to be agents of change in the way they teach courses, and the plan is to grow this to include all faculty members.

A defining focus of the school is the four-year project sequence. Students are to be “engineers from day one,” exemplifying what sets the Fulton Schools apart. The pioneering eProjects program brings students, faculty and industry together to find innovative solutions to real-world problems.

“We are able to attract and retain students of the highest potential because of the exemplary interdisciplinary team-based learning experiences that these projects provide,” McKenna said. “The longer-term impacts of creating a culture that values risk taking and making include attracting a new kind of student to the field of engineering. In particular, students who seek career options in which they can make a positive impact on the world, or on their specific community, who may not have traditionally considered engineering.”

The project will take place over five years. As first steps the research team is creating a business model canvas, which is a strategic management tool used by lean startups. It will identify the current engineering education ecosystem, talk to members of the faculty, students and industry partners to gather input and determine what they need to redesign and revolutionize undergraduate engineering education.

What they learn will help them create workshops for faculty where they will share tools and techniques to empower them to reinvent their own courses – part of the additive innovation philosophy. Students also will be resources for faculty in helping them learn to use tools and manufacturing equipment in the schools’ Start Up Lab they may not be familiar with.

“By empowering and rewarding risk-taking, making, and additive innovation among faculty and students we create a culture of change agents in the organization where everyone is able to modify and innovate the curriculum and learning experience, and this can lead to amazing transformation,” McKenna said.

Other universities and colleges chosen to lead this effort include Purdue University, Colorado State University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of San Diego and Oregon State University.

Sharon Keeler

ASU proves its patent prowess with global ranking

June 16, 2015

Michael Kozicki is no stranger to patents.

The Arizona State University professor – who has 50 here in the U.S. and about 30 foreign equivalents – has had so many significant patents that he was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors in March. Michael Kozicki dendritic metal electrodes A dendritic electrode is shown growing on the surface of a silicon wafer. Michael Kozicki found that the easily grown, lacy dendritic metal electrodes can be used in photovoltaics such as solar panels, where normal electrodes end up blocking part of the light they’re supposed to gather. (The black area in the image is a probe needle, used to form the dendrite and also to connect to it in the lab for testing.) Photo by: Minghan Ren Download Full Image

That was no easy feat, he said.

“You have to be an evil genius, basically,” said Kozicki, who is with the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “You have to have invented a battery or stolen a planet.”

Though neither evil nor kleptomaniacal, ASU is no stranger to patents, either.

A new report from the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association ranks ASU among the top 50 international universities for the number of patents issued to its researchers in 2014.  ASU’s 48 patents granted that year tied it for 44th, just ahead of Duke University.

One of the patents awarded that year went to Kozicki’s dendritic metal electrodes. He had been studying the growth of dendrites, which are constantly branching patterns that grow easily.

“They look really like trees,” he said. “We realized that they have some utility as electrodes because they could be grown on a substrate, on a device. They are fine enough that they can let light through but can still gather electrical impulse.”

That means they can be used in photovoltaics like solar panels, where normal electrodes end up blocking part of the light they’re supposed to gather. Kozicki’s dendrites are transparent enough that they gather the solar impulse without blocking any of it.

He wasn’t surprised at ASU’s making the patent list.

“ASU continually does really well in these kinds of polls…,” Kozicki said. “To get where we are on these lists is actually pretty spectacular.”

The ranking reflects the ASU’s dedication to use-inspired research and building innovative technologies that contribute to our communities.

“The granting of 48 utility patents continues to demonstrate that our faculty and students are on the frontiers of science and at the forefront of developing new and meaningful technologies that extend to Arizona and beyond,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, senior vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU.

“As a rapidly growing research enterprise, these patents recognize the uniqueness of the work performed at ASU and the direct societal impact it has on the nation at large.”

Making a difference in the world is part of what drove Jeffrey La Belle to create a diabetic-monitoring device. The traditional way to monitor blood glucose involves finger pricks up to eight times a day, a painful requirement that makes it difficult for diabetics to comply. La Belle’s device uses tear fluid instead.

“A student and I were trying to come up with a tear glucose sensor that was simple and practical back in 2009,” said Jeffrey La Belle, an assistant professor in the School of Biological Health and Systems Engineering; the Harrington Biomedical Engineering Program; and the Biodesign Institute.

They created a disposable device that promises to greatly reduce pain. It was awarded a patent in 2014 – a five-year stretch that is a fairly typical timeframe for patents. It takes much more time and money to achieve than a publication.

“In a patent, there are many steps and stages, dealing with the IP (Intellectual Property) office, lawyers, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, lots more to it than most people would realize,” La Belle said.

Stephen Albert Johnston said it took three meetings with patent examiners for his immunosignatures to get through the patent process.

The co-director of the Center for Innovations in Medicine at the Biodesign Institute and professor in the School of Life Sciences wanted to invent something that would allow people to monitor their health on a regular basis and detect diseases early.

After many unsuccessful attempts, he finally came up with the idea of immunosignatures, in which a drop of blood or saliva is diluted and applied to a special chip. The chip is washed, and the only thing that sticks to it is antibodies, which give a reading of a person’s health status.

Those antibodies can change, and Johnston’s team is in the process of defining the antibody parameters for a number of diseases. They’ve looked at 45 so far.

He and Neal Woodbury, an ASU professor of biochemistry and chemistry and co-director of the Center for Innovations in Medicine, have spun immunosignatures into a company, HealthTell, which is focused on detecting cancer early and which is in a second round of fundraising.

But their research portfolio here at ASU is largely driven the interests of those who submit blood samples to be tested. And it doesn’t have to involve humans.

“Maybe a quarter of the people use it for dogs,” Johnston said. “(But) we’ve never done cats.”

The patent-ranking 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 granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which list a university as the first assignee on the printed patent. Find the complete list here.

Penny Walker

News director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications