Childhood trauma could hurt girls' goals of entrepreneurship


August 6, 2010

Family violence, physical abuse or parents divorcing can play a role in keeping a girl from becoming an entrepreneur later in life. That’s according to new research led by Zhen Zhang, assistant professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU. The research shows that without positive intervention negative experiences in adolescence might help discourage a girl from owning a business as an adult.

“Childhood trauma might impede girls’ natural genetic inclination to become entrepreneurs,” Zhang said. “But environmental factors such as peer support, mentor programs, positive internships, and other activities where kids learn about financial independence and being a business owner can help mediate that. In the end, if girls get enough social and environmental support, their chances of becoming entrepreneurs can remain the same.” Download Full Image

Zhang is presenting his latest study at the prestigious annual meeting of the Academy of Management next week in Montreal. He completed the research with colleagues from Michigan State University and the National University of Singapore. They surveyed about 1,400 female pairs of fraternal and identical twins, asking them various questions about their childhoods and work history to help find out whether genetic influences on entrepreneurship are fixed or whether they can be weakened or strengthened by social environment. Statistical analyses showed parental divorce, family violence and physical abuse all significantly weaken the genetic influences on girls becoming entrepreneurs.

“Even though DNA is fixed, it needs human behavior to manifest itself,” Zhang said. “It’s the same thing for someone genetically inclined to be a scientist or an artist – they still need to be nurtured through social and environmental factors. Girls who have a supportive environment during adolescence will be more likely to reach their full genetic potential as entrepreneurs, while those affected by negative, stressful events can have their natural genetic disposition weakened.”

Zhang did earlier research on genetics and entrepreneurship published in the academic journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes last year. It explains that genetic influence has no bearing on whether boys become entrepreneurs, but many social factors, including family influence, do prompt men to own businesses. For girls, genetic factors play a role in determining personality traits such as extroversion and emotional stability, and those traits can help sway whether girls become entrepreneurs. However, this new research adds the wrinkle that childhood trauma can still impede that genetic influence on girls.

Zhang hopes policymakers will use his research to focus on programs that will help shore up the social and environmental factors encouraging teens to become entrepreneurs.

“We want to make society better,” Zhang said. “We want to be clear that genes don’t determine everything, so we can provide training programs and other opportunities to help open up kids’ eyes to the possibility of working for themselves.”

Looking to leap forward on laser and photodetector technologies


August 6, 2010

A team of Arizona State University researchers will get support from the U.S. Department of Defense to aid development of the next generations of lasers and infrared photodetectors.

The technology is widely employed in sensing and imaging for an array of defense and commercial applications. Download Full Image

The work will be funded by an Army Research Office grant through the defense department’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program, which supports science and engineering endeavors involving research and technology development considered vital to national interests.

ASU’s Yong-Hang Zhang, David J. Smith and Shane Johnson will combine expertise in electrical engineering, materials science and physics to contribute to a project in which they will collaborate with colleagues at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of North Carolina.

The entire project has been approved for a grant of $6.25 million over five years. ASU’s team has been awarded $2.34 million for its part of the effort.

Zhang is a professor and Johnson is a senior research scientist in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Smith is an ASU Regents’ Professor in the Department of Physics in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

They’ll focus on deepening knowledge of the basic properties of materials used to construct lasers and infrared photodetectors. They’ll study the origins of defects in the materials and explore ways to reduce them.

Understanding how defects form at the nanometer scale will enable improvements in these materials, opening the path to advances in semiconductors, infrared photodetectors and imaging systems, Johnson said.

This is the third MURI program grant awarded to ASU researchers in the past several years in semiconductor optoelectronics and photonics. There were more than 150 full proposals for fiscal 2010 MURI grants. Only 32 were chosen for funding.

The project in which the ASU team is involved is the only one selected this year in the area of laser and photodetector materials research.

“This indicates national recognition of the research efforts at ASU in these areas,” Zhang said.

“I’m very pleased to see our team selected, because competition for this particular MURI grant was very strong,” Zhang said. “Many of the teams competing are led by outstanding scientists.”

Zhang, Smith and Johnson will strive to better understand and improve the physical and structural properties of antimonide-based compound semiconductor materials. Those materials offer the potential to produce very high-performance infrared photodetectors and lasers, Johnson said.

Specifically, they’ll study superlattice systems that consist of two or more materials that are intentionally arranged in alternating semiconductor layers several nanometers thick.

The superlattice structures combined with an antimonide material system can give engineers “additional degrees of freedom when selecting for color and performance in infrared photodetectors and lasers,” Johnson said. 

The ASU team has a strong track record in this area. Zhang did pioneering work on superlattices for infrared laser applications while at the prominent Hughes Research Laboratories, and has been collaborating with Johnson and Smith on this research since he joined ASU in 1996. Smith has decades of experience studying structural properties of semiconductor superlattices.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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