Grant to support innovative K-12 STEM education

September 14, 2010

An interdisciplinary team led by the ASU School of Arts, Media and Engineering (AME) was awarded a more than $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Discovery Research K-12 (DR K-12) program. AME is a collaborative initiative between the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. The DR K-12 program supports projects with the potential to significantly advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education through innovative methods.

The grant benefits AME’s research in K-12 embodied and mediated learning for five years, beginning in fall 2010. The research team is led by David">">David Birchfield, AME associate professor, and includes an interdisciplinary team of ASU faculty members. The team brings together expertise on education, psychology, interactive technology, gaming, arts, STEM learning and teacher preparation. Download Full Image

The grant enables the team to continue research in the Situated">">Situated Multimedia Art Learning Lab (SMALLab), developed at ASU. SMALLab is a research-based, embodied learning environment that uses K-12 students’ senses of hearing, movement and sight in practical ways to enhance instruction in STEM disciplines. In SMALLab, physical action meets 21st century learning. Motion-capture technology tracks students' 3D movements as they are immersed in an interactive space. For example, as students are learning about a physics concept like velocity, they can hear the sound of their actions getting faster. They can see graphs and equations that represent their motions in real time. They can feel the weight of an object in their hand as they interact in real physical space.

Birchfield and the research team have brought SMALLab to more than 38,000 learners in schools and museums since 2005, and have demonstrated significant learning gains compared to other methods. The DR K-12 project will leverage and broaden the work Birchfield and the team previously has done on embodied learning using SMALLab in schools in Arizona and New York. School partners on the project will include Coronado High School (Scottsdale), Phoenix Country Day School (Phoenix), and Quest To Learn (New York City).

“The team’s ultimate goal is to use the NSF Discovery Research funding to establish a replicable model for collaborative University/K-12 research that advances innovative and successful STEM learning,” Birchfield says.

The DR K-12 project will allow the research team to examine how the degree of embodiment affects learning gains. In order to do this, they will compare student use of SMALLab, interactive whiteboards, and desktop computers, initially in a lab setting and later in real-world classrooms. The DR K-12 project will produce data through interdisciplinary research that furthers the team’s understanding of embodied STEM learning across a range of technology-based learning environments. This will impact the learning sciences research community, as well as the tools and methods that K-12 teachers use. The team hopes to demonstrate a causal link between emerging neuro-cognitive research and its application in the design of new STEM learning environments and learning scenarios. The team also will produce a set of expert-designed learning scenarios, curricula, and teacher-support materials that advance students’ knowledge of core STEM topics in physics and mathematics. This will directly impact more than 750 STEM students and 20 teachers during the grant period. Research and reference materials will be designed to scale nationally.

Additional team members at ASU include: Mina Johnson-Glenberg (AME and psychology); Colleen Megowan (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College); Arthur Glenberg (psychology); Ellen Campana (AME and psychology); Barbara Kinach (Teachers College); Grisha Coleman (AME); Wilhelmina Savenye (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College); Aisling Kelliher (AME and design); and David Tinapple (AME). Also partnering on this project is Katie Salen, professor at Parsons the New School for Design, and of the Institute">">Institute of Play, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to leveraging games and play in learning." ">The National Science Foundation grant is an example of the benefits a research university like ASU brings to the state. Research funding is legally restricted and cannot be used for instructional or other purposes.

The School of Arts, Media and Engineering (AME) is a collaborative initiative between the Herberger">">Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira">">Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, focused on research and education in experiential (new) media and digital culture. AME incorporates the combined expertise of faculty members from across the university to offer undergraduate opportunities in Digital Culture, a PhD in Media Arts and Sciences, and concentrations in graduate degrees spanning the arts, sciences and engineering. AME faculty and students study, develop and apply new media systems that enhance education, health, culture and everyday living. For more information about AME, visit">">

Wendy Craft

Marketing and communications manager, Business and Finance Communications Group


ASU receives $5.3M grant to fight infectious diseases

September 14, 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was chosen as one of ASU's highlights from 2010. Look here for a look back at some of the year's most prized stories.

Scientists at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University have received a two-year, $5.3 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to protect warfighters in the event of exposure to infectious diseases during deployment. Download Full Image

Stephen Albert Johnston and his colleagues at the Biodesign Institute have taken on a daunting test of skill: to develop a potential therapeutic that can protect soldiers against an unknown pathogen – and do it in a week.

Any commercially available therapeutic typically requires about a decade or more to go from the benchtop to the marketplace.

“Half of this period involves all the research and development of the therapeutic, the chemistry to make it, and so on,” said Johnston, director of the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Innovations in Medicine. “The other half is all the clinical trials testing and FDA approval.”

The group’s goal will focus on reducing the front end of this process – the research and development phase – to just 7 days.

The DARPA challenge was extended to the research community as part of its Accelerated Critical Therapeutics program, a long-standing initiative in response to emerging and novel biological threats.

Johnston’s research team has developed new technologies that could accomplish this seemingly impossible feat, drastically reducing the time necessary to produce a general agent against a disease-causing invader. In addition to benefiting the warfighter, his team’s approach, involving the use of synthetic antibodies or synbodies, may ultimately find its way into a broad range of applications of benefit to the general public, including medical diagnostics and vaccine development and validation.

Like their human immune system counterparts, synbodies can chemically sniff out invasive microbes with very high specificity, binding with and neutralizing them. Synbodies against the selected pathogen can then be rapidly produced and stockpiled using high-throughput technologies. This assortment acts as a sort of master tool kit, enabling researchers to rapidly construct a custom-tailored therapeutic against virtually any disease-associated protein.

The group has calculated that around 10,000 randomly constructed synbody components, made from short protein fragments called peptides, would provide sufficient variety to target virtually any biological threat. For the DARPA test however, the pool of synbodies can be dramatically reduced.  

“Our idea is to screen a large library of possible pathogens, identifying a broad class of effective binders," said Chris Diehnel, assistant research professor. “We would then produce stocks of peptides to be kept waiting in the wings, so that when we have a live fire test, the unknown pathogen can be screened to identifying several low binding affinity peptides. These we will rapidly assemble into a synbody, targeting that pathogen specifically.”

The first test of their technology will come after the group’s initial year of DARPA-funded research, at which time, the group will be presented with a pathogen and required to generate an effective therapeutic within 14 days. The second year goal of the project aims to cut the production time in half. The team estimates that an assortment of just 100 random peptide chains will be sufficient to screen a broad range of pathogen threats, with the certainty of finding multiple low-affinity chains, suitable for use in synbodies.

Completion of the current project will open the door to a new approach in the development of therapeutics to conquer one of the major challenges to human health.

Written by Richard Harth
Biodesign Institute Science Writer" target="_blank">

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library