Researchers earn inaugural Minerva Award

February 20, 2009

Arizona State University is one of seven U.S. universities selected from 211 applicants to receive a Minerva award for a research project titled “Finding Allies for the War of Words: Mapping the Diffusion and Influence of Counter-Radical Muslim Discourse.” 

Spearheaded by Mark Woodward, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, the project is funded by the Minerva Research Initiative, a program that focuses on areas of strategic importance to U.S. national security policy. In addition to ASU, the other research universities to receive a Minerva award include: Princeton University, San Francisco State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Monterey Institute of International Studies, University of California at San Diego and the University of Texas at Austin. Download Full Image

“Earning one of the first ever Minerva awards is a testament to the hard work of faculty involved with the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict in advancing basic research approaches that have the potential to enhance the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. policy with regard to the rest of the world,” says ASU President Michael Crow.

The Minerva Research Initiative is a new Department of Defense program. By supporting university-based basic research, the initiative is aimed at improving the Department of Defense’s intellectual capital in the social sciences and humanities. Awards are for an initial five-year period with a five year-option for renewal.

“This award is recognition of the innovative ideas of the faculty involved in this project.It will support a large collaborative effort that crosses disciplines and continents in order to deepen understanding of the ideas and practices within Islam that counter extremist and exclusivist interpretations,” says Linell E. Cady, director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and the Franca Oreffice Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies. 

The total amount of the awards to the seven research universities is expected to be as much as $50 million. The individual amounts are still to be determined. 

The project is a collaborative effort that involves ASU faculty members from religious studies, communication, political science, mathematics, sociology and computer science disciplines; and across the globe including Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.  “Everyone involved brings unique expertise and experience to the task at hand,” Cady says. “Carolyn Forbes, assistant director at the center, has played an indispensable role in coordinating the proposal of this diverse and far-flung team.” 

The aim of the ASU project is to describe and track diverse strategies that Muslims in West Africa, Western Europe and Southeast Asia use to counter and thwart the advance of what Woodward terms “Wahhabi colonialism.” 

“Many in the part of the world I study are becoming increasingly concerned by what they see as an attempt by Middle Eastern groups to use wealth and prestige to establish an exclusivist, puritanical understanding of Islam as the voice of Islam. While this understanding of Islam is not inherently violent, it does, in some cases, provide theological cover for violent extremists,” Woodward says. 

Woodward, a cultural anthropologist, has studied Islam and politics in Southeast Asia and Indonesia for the past 30 years. He has also been involved with the Political Instability Task Force, which has worked to develop global forecasting models for the outbreak of religious and ethnic violence and other forms of political instability. 

“This has given me the opportunity to learn from leading scholars in the field and deepened my understanding of and appreciation for the importance of transdisciplinary approaches in the analysis of complex social phenomena,” Woodward says.

In addition to Woodward, other ASU researchers involved in the grant include, from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: professor David Jacobson, a sociologist in the School of Government, Politics and Global Studies, who brings expertise in globalization and the transformation of political patterns; professor Steven Corman in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, who focuses on strategic communications, discourse analysis and organizational networks; and associate professor Tom Taylor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics; and from the School of Computing and Informatics in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering: assistant professor Hasan Davulcu and associate professor Arunabha Sen who with Taylor investigate new approaches to data mining and computational modeling of cultural phenomenon.

Partner institutions include a team from the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa at Northwestern University led by Islamic studies scholar and historian Muhammad Sani Umar and a team from the Centre d’Études et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) at Sciences Po (France) led by sociologist Riva Kastoryano. Kumar Ramakrishna with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang TechnologicalUniversity in Singapore is also part of the team.

The Minerva award is an example of the economic benefit a research university like ASU can bring to its state. Each year Arizona's universities pump more than $1 billion into the state's economy through their research activities, which are funded by the U.S. government and other entities. Research money brought in by universities is restricted money that can only be used for the research activity it supports. It cannot be used to compensate for cuts in other parts of the university’s budget.

Undergrad helps engineer micro machines

February 20, 2009

Growing up at Lakenheath Air Base in the United Kingdom, Michael Garcia became fascinated with the fighter planes flying overhead. That curiosity stuck with him. Today, he is senior studying aerospace engineering at Arizona State University.

Garcia began his research at ASU in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering's Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI) program. Without FURI, Garcia does not think he would be involved in undergraduate research. Download Full Image

Henry Sodano is Garcia's mentor. The ASU engineering professor is always available for questions. Sodano allows his students the creative freedom to try their own ideas in the lab. "He is very supportive of my goals and offers a lot of encouragement," says Garcia.

In Fall 2008, Garcia's FURI research focused on compressing stiff, thin films to build stretchable, micro-scale, energy harvesting devices. He attached piezoelectric barium titanate to a layer of electrodes. The material is a ceramic that can generate an electrical charge when stressed,. Electrodes are electrical conductors used to connect nonmetallic pieces of a circuit. By making the attachments, Garcia created small ribbons in the barium titanate.

The next step was to adhere poly(dimethlsiloxane) (PDMS) to the barium titanante. PDMS is a widely used silicon-based polymer. That removed the ribbons.

"By stretching the piezoelectric ribbons, vibrations are created," Garcia explains. These vibrations allow energy to be captured and stored for later use." Garcia says that the work holds great promise for future developments in more compact energy storage solutions for mobile devices and similar technologies.

Garcia began a new project this spring. He is working on methods to develop autonomous self-healing materials using shape memory polymers. Shape memory polymers have the ability to return to their original shape after being deformed. He is working with Sodano to develop materials systems which can sense the presence of damage, stop its progression, and subsequently heal it.

"The concept is to create materials which can sense damage and react to it in ways similar to biological systems, much like the human immune system," says Sodano.

Garcia's research experience helped him gain acceptance into the dual Bachelor of Science and Master of Science program in the Fulton School of Engineering. That program allows him to earn both degrees in four years. Upon graduation, Garcia plans to incorporate what he has learned from his undergraduate research to better understand aircraft construction. He will incorporate his skills in his post-graduate study as well.

"I have found that the more education you earn, the more fun your job can be," he says. Someday, Garcia may even reinvent the fighter planes he used to admire from afar.