Engineers aim to make technology work better in extreme environs

November 15, 2011

It’s what the experts call “hostile-environment technology.” These are the machines, devices and various mechanisms made to perform tasks in places that are dangerous or impossible for humans to tread. Like in outer space, on other planets or inside nuclear reactor facilities.

Two Arizona State University electrical engineers are leading research to aid in developing the next generation of these technologies, supported by a recent $1.7 million grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense. electrical and materials testing facility Download Full Image

Hugh Barnaby, associate professor, and Michael Kozicki, professor, in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, are working to help ensure new versions of the technologies will be more resilient and perform more effectively in environments with high levels of radiation and extreme hot and frigid temperatures.

Specifically, their focus is on specialized materials that are used in components of very small and low-power integrated circuits in electronic sensors and communications systems designed to process, store and wirelessly transmit information from hostile environments.

They will get help on aspects of the project from fellow ASU electrical engineering professor Keith Holbert and former ASU research scientist Maria Mitkova, now an associate professor at Boise State University in Idaho.

The specialized materials involved are chalcogenide glasses, which are compounds formed from such elements as sulfur and selenium.  What makes these compounds particularly useful is that they change physical and electrical properties when electronic signals are used to redistribute metal atoms within their nano-structured interiors.

"This mechanism of physical change, which is much more stable than the control of electrical charge used in conventional electronics, will help the material better withstand high radiation and extreme environments,” Kozicki says.

He’s been working for many years on nano-ionic technologies, including development of chalcogenide-based commercial memory devices for use in computers, hand-held electronic devices and other consumer electronics.
Chalcogenide glasses are already widely used. They’re in rewritable DVDs, infrared detectors, lenses and optical fibers.  Kozicki says electronic memory devices containing these materials should be in the marketplace next year.
Barnaby specializes in developing advanced systems to enable information collected in harsh environments to be accurately measured and reliably transmitted to people safely removed – sometimes at vast distances – from the danger zones.

Holbert will contribute to the project by producing models of precisely how radiation is absorbed in chalcogenide materials. Holbert directs the Radiation Damage Laboratory at ASU, where materials can be tested for how they are affected by radiation.

Mitkova , also an expert in chalcogenide glass systems, will provide studies of radiation-induced changes in the properties of materials and related devices.

The work is part of larger efforts to provide the nation with enhanced exploration technologies, more reliable public-safety systems and stronger defense systems.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Obama awards mentoring honor to ASU math program for underrepresented students

November 15, 2011

President Obama named an Arizona State University program – the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute – as a recipient of the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. The ASU institute was founded by Regents’ Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez, a mathematical epidemiologist, to increase the number of underrepresented U.S. populations in fields where mathematical, computational and modeling skills play a critical role.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring being given to nine individuals and eight organizations, recognizes the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering – particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields. Regents' Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez Download Full Image

By offering their expertise and encouragement, mentors help prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers while ensuring that tomorrow’s innovators reflect and benefit from the diverse talent of the United States, noted the Nov. 15 White House announcement.

“Through their commitment to education and innovation, these individuals and organizations are playing a crucial role in the development of our 21st century work force,” President Obama said in a written statement. “Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude for helping ensure that America remains the global leader in science and engineering for years to come.”

Candidates for the award are nominated by colleagues, administrators and students in their home institutions. The mentoring can involve students at any grade level from elementary through graduate school. In addition to being honored at White House ceremonies later this year, recipients will receive awards of $25,000 from the National Science Foundation to advance their mentoring efforts.

“ASU's vision encapsulated in ‘access, excellent and impact’ as well as in a model of ‘one university in many places’ has made it possible for the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute to change the landscape in the mathematical sciences,” said Castillo-Chavez, who received the 2007 Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also was honored in 2010 by the American Mathematical Society for distinguished public service.

“Recognitions are the result of team work and policies that guarantee the sustainability of models of higher education where research is at the heart of the effort. MTBI and its model of learning-through-research has open the doors of the possible to talented students, particularly from U.S. underrepresented minorities; students who have begun to take on positions of leadership,” said Castillo-Chavez, a distinguished sustainability scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. He also is a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and director of the Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center at ASU.

The Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute was founded in 1997 at Cornell University. It became a joint enterprise involving Cornell, ASU and Los Alamos in 2003, according to Castillo-Chavez, and moved to ASU in 2006.

MTBI is a summer program whose main objective is to increase the representation of underrepresented U.S. minorities earning doctoral degrees in the mathematical sciences, from a pool of participants primarily composed of students from non-selective institutions or students who typically do not consider the possibility of graduate school in the mathematical sciences, Castillo-Chavez said.

Over the course of 15 summers, participants have generated 150 technical reports and a large number of refereed publications while directly impacting the research programs of graduate students, postdocs, visitors and regular faculty. MTBI has enrolled a total of 347 first-time undergraduate students and 72 returning students to its summer program. Over this time an additional 124 graduate mentors have participated, said Castillo-Chavez, adding that 78 participants to date have earned doctorates.

The ASU program is one of nine named by President Obama for the 2011 honor. Also receiving the award was the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program, University of California San Francisco Science and Health Education Partnership High School Intern Program, Diversity Programs in Engineering at Cornell University, and Camp Reach at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts.