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Pathways to success for Native students

NASAI event gathers tribal leaders, education professionals to collaborate.
Conference held at ASU aims to help Native students find pathways to success.
June 8, 2016

Native American Student Advocacy Institute conference held at ASU addresses important issues facing indigenous students

Two heads are better than one. Gather a whole roomful of bright minds and there’s no telling what can be accomplished.

Arizona State University and the College Board hosted the annual Native American Student Advocacy Institute (NASAI) National Conference on ASU’s Tempe campus this week. The two-day conference brought together tribal leaders, community representatives and educational professionals from throughout the nation to collaborate and share strategies and best practices to close the educational gap in the American Indian community.

NASAI is sponsored by the College Board, a national non-profit organization devoted to connecting students to college success and opportunity. Each year, the College Board helps more than 7 million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success.

The NASAI conference covered such topics such as financial aid, teaching strategies and facilitating the transition to a four-year university. ASU President Michael Crow addressed attendees and discussed ASU’s commitment to support, retain and graduate American Indian students.

Attendees at the conference also viewed an early screening of the video below — ASU students and alumni offer a greeting in their Native language and share their purpose and goals for the future.

Conference speakers included the Honorable Diane Humetewa, U.S. District Judge of Arizona; Shana Brown, teacher, author, curriculum designer; and Amanda R. Tachine with the ASU Center for Indian Education.

“ASU is honored to host this important convening of thought leaders from across Indian Country to address the important issues facing Indigenous students,” said Bryan Brayboy, special adviser to the president on American Indian initiatives at ASU.

There are 22 American Indian tribal nations in the state of Arizona. Through workshops such as the RECHARGE Conference, ASU provides Native American middle and high school students the tools and resources for a bright educational future, helping them to envision themselves at the university.

In the past decade, ASU has increased American Indian/Alaska Native enrollment by more than 30 percent, enrolling more than 2,000 students during the 2015-2016 school year. The university continues to evolve — and collaborate at events such as these — to increase the number of Native students enrolled in institutions of higher learning.

Once at ASU, there are a variety of resources to help students achieve their full potential and succeed through graduation. In May, 354 degrees were conferred to American Indian students, a number that ASU aims to increase as the university forges forward in providing an accessible, affordable, quality education and increase the social mobility of all the residents of Arizona.

Top photo: ASU President Michael Crow speaks at the NASAI conference Tuesday on the Tempe campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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Arts and culture harmonize with health

May 26, 2016

ASU music project helps people living with Alzheimer’s connect to long-term memories, emotions

A violinist bows an expectant note as she tunes her instrument alongside other Phoenix Symphony musicians. They assume the “ready” position, waiting for the cue to begin.

The small group sitting before them in a semicircle is a somewhat unique audience: It is made up of men and women living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, their professional caregivers and a few family members. They are participants in Arizona State University’s Music & Memory project at the Huger Mercy Living Center, an assisted-living facility in Phoenix.

The musicians begin their piece, an energetic and upbeat melody. Some of the men and women clap along to the lively tune as music fills the room. Others, at first, look past the performers as if they are not there.

As the concert continues, the musicians vary the repertoire with pieces that are triumphantly loud or quietly meditative. Soon, even the people who seemed unaware of the performance become actively engaged.

Music can help people living with Alzheimer’s connect to long-term memories and emotions in a positive way, according to David Coon, associate vice provost and professor in ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

“Music is capable of improving the quality of life of individuals with dementia, even at the end of their life,” said Coon.

Or as one family member eloquently states: “Music is the key to their memory door.”

Listening to music can also be a positive experience for the loved ones and caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s, who can be under a great deal of stress. Family members described music as a shared experience and a vital communication tool across the trajectory of Alzheimer’s. “Music is the guide in many ways ... for them, for us or for anyone,” one of them noted.

people playing music at assisted home

Photos courtesy of the Phoenix Symphony.

The power of music to evoke emotions and memories and to ease suffering is at the heart of the Music & Memory project, a partnership between ASU health and music therapy researchers, the Phoenix Symphony and the Huger Mercy Living Center. It is one of several medical humanities efforts at ASU that bring together experts from health-related fields, arts and humanities to create new types of care and outreach that have a profound impact on people’s lives.

Coon leads the Music & Memory project with colleagues Robin Rio, director of the ASU Music Therapy Clinic in the School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and Marianne McCarthy, associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

In the beginning of the project, the musicians performed planned selections, but progressively the music became more improvised and responsive to the residents. From fight songs to hymns to complex classical pieces, the musicians took cues from the residents about what music to play. When someone requested a polka, the performers readily complied.

The study evaluated the effect of live music on the moods of residents, caregivers, musicians and loved ones before and after performances. The caregivers, musicians and loved ones rated their own moods, while a nurse or activity coordinator evaluated the residents.

In addition, researchers collected saliva samples from participants before and after some symphony performances. Scientists from ASU’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research analyzed these samples for known biomarkers of stress, giving further insight into the effect of music on mood.

As Alzheimer’s advances, a person needs help with even the most personal tasks, such as bathing. This can be stressful for both resident and caregiver. Knowing this, the researchers used bathing as an event for assessing stress levels. They collected saliva samples before and after bath time on days with and without a symphony performance.

people dancing to music

Their results indicate that listening to live music improved the mood of people living with Alzheimer’s immediately after performances and also likely helped to ease stress at other times, such as during a bath. The moods of musicians, caregivers and loved ones were also more likely to be positive after a performance. The musicians said the project left a profound impression on them both personally and with regard to their music.

Watching the performances, Coon witnessed the emotional impacts firsthand. For example, he remembers one couple getting up to dance to “their song.”

Another time, a friend of one of the residents entered the room during a performance, but paused when he saw his friend actively engaging with the music.

With tears in his eyes, the man said to Coon, “I haven’t seen [my friend] like this in five years. He is alive and connected in a way that I haven’t seen in five years. I’m going to leave and not let him know I was here today, because I want him to stay in this moment and not be pulled into a moment with me.”

Kelsey Wharton

Science Writer , Knowledge Enterprise Development

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Training for Native nations' financial managers

#ASU certification program helps tribal managers navigate complex issues.
May 24, 2016

60 tribal managers from around country at ASU this week for certification as part of executive education program

Anni Leaman has a respectable-sized to-do list when she returns home to Massachusetts later this week.

She’s going to create a couple of new finance committees, check into whether her tribe can issue bonds on construction projects, find innovative ways to reduce her tribe’s debt and establish a first-time fraud hotline.

And that’s just for starters. Her employer, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, is paving the way for a massive 150-acre gaming and entertainment venue in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Leaman was hired by the tribe almost 10 months ago and is a newbie when it comes to working for a tribal government.

“It takes a certain personality to work for a tribal community, and there are lots of challenges,” Leaman said. “I’m so glad I got this training.”

Leaman is referring to the Tribal Financial Certification Training offered through Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy InstituteThe American Indian Policy Institute is based in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. (AIPI), in partnership with the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA). A certification session is taking place this week on the Tempe campus, in which Leaman is a participant.

It’s part of ASU’s Tribal Economic Leadership Program, which is designed to help Indian nations navigate the layers of complicated red tape while also offering educational and professional-development training for tribal government staff, members and leaders to support the long-term economic sustainability of nations.

Tribal Financial Manager Certification conference attendees

Anthony Falcon, who was recently
named acting treasurer for the
Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin,
took the training this week at
ASU to get up to speed.

Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Most people are under the impression that Native nations operate under the veil of sovereignty and are financially accountable to no one.

In fact, tribal governments deal with many more layers of bureaucratic complexity, regulations and compliance issues than most municipalities because of the unique relationship they share with federal, state, county and local authorities.

“There’s a demand for a more systematic and consistent training to understand the relationships that exist between tribes, federal, state, county and local governments,” said Traci Morris, director of ASU’s American Indian Policy Institute.

“Our training not only helps tribal governments through advocacy and leadership development but brings together members of tribes throughout the country to improve networking and improve nation building.”

Approximately 60 attendees from more than 40 tribes around the country — some as far away as Oklahoma, Washington, Alaska, Florida and Massachusetts — came to ASU’s Tempe campus this week to receive their Tribal Financial Manager Certification. The three-day training program, which will end on Wednesday, covered a plethora of complex financial topics. They include Federal Indian Law and Policy, Governmental Accounting in a Tribal Setting, Federal Financial Compliance, Tribal Enterprise-Accounting for Propriety Funds, and Federal, State & Tribal Taxation.

Some believe accounting for tribal governments is much more sophisticated and complex than most municipalities.

“There are a lot of nuances in financial government within a tribal government, and the complexities that we have as a sovereign nation centers around our trust relationship with the U.S. and federal government,” said Maria Dadgar, executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona Inc., which has an $18 million annual operating budget.

“Not only do we deal with federal, state, and local entities, but there are various organizations within our member tribes. It’s a lot of reading, memorizing, learning and monitoring.”

The program started in 2009 as a vision of NAFOA, and the AIPI took up the effort to develop and offer the program. With seed funding from the Arizona Board of Regents, the AIPI gathered a team of nationally recognized experts on financial management and Indian law.

Anthony Falcon, who was recently named acting treasurer for the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, said he took the training this week at ASU to get up to speed.

“When I thought about what kind of skills I want to have as far as being active treasurer, I looked at the training and the topics we were going to cover and it’s just what I wanted,” Falcon said. “I want to be able to take information back with me to be able to provide timely and accurate information to our decision makers to help determine what’s best for our investments and business decisions.”

Falcon said his 7,600-member tribe might be small but that they have an operating budget in the “hundreds of millions.” He says that kind of cash flow requires constant vigilance.

In addition to monitoring accounts, investments and improvement projects, he will oversee how grants are administered and whether they follow all guidelines, and he makes sure that all cooperative agreements with state and local governments follows compliance.

That sort of multitasking is not only a tough job, but proof that Indian Country is now big city when it comes to finances.

“Tribes feel that they do have the capacity from within to do complex financial work and are able to contribute and give back to the state economically,” Dadgar said. “It’s not just in Arizona, but in every state.”

Top photo: Attendees participate in the Tribal Financial Managers Certification program at the Tempe campus' Memorial Union on March 23. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Can 50 percent of the power grid come from renewables?

ASU engineers say better forecasting, management is key

May 23, 2016

Renewable energy is becoming increasingly cost competitive in comparison to traditional fossil-fuel generation. So why is its impact on the power grid limited?

The fact is, renewable-energy sources are inherently variable and uncertain. The wind blows, and then it stops. The sun shines, and then a cloud comes. Faculty members in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering are using a $3 million Department of Energy (DOE) grant to accelerate technological advancements that improve the coordination between renewables and other resources within the power grid. Photo: Faculty members in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering are using a $3 million Department of Energy grant to accelerate technological advancements that improve the coordination between renewables and other resources within the power grid. Photo by

Fossil-fuel generators are spared this fluctuation, so the ebbs and flows of renewable generation must be managed differently to remain effective within the power grid.

Arizona State University professors Junshan Zhang, Kory Hedman, Vijay Vittal and Anna Scaglione are utilizing a $3 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to accelerate technological advancements that improve the coordination between renewables and other resources within the power grid.

The research team, all faculty members in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is collaborating with Sandia National Laboratories, Nexant Inc. and PJM Interconnection.

What is their guiding philosophy?

You can’t stop the clouds from coming, but you can improve the design of the power grid so that it is better equipped to manage renewable energy and offset the use of fossil fuels.

“It goes against the purpose of integrating clean, renewable resources in the power grid if their fluctuations in power generation must be compensated for by excessive ramping of fossil-fuel units,” said Hedman.

“To depend more on the electric power coming from renewable sources, rather than fossil-fuel generators, we will need to change how the power grid works,” said Scaglione.

Addressing limitations in the power grid

The fluctuating output of renewables makes it difficult for a power-grid operator to forecast how much energy to expect from them.

Because of this, operators generally limit the expected supply of renewably energy to the power grid to satisfy established operating limits.

“In certain cases this could result in renewable energy going unused,” said Vittal, which ends up costing the end consumer more due to the operating cost of expensive emergency reserves.

The ASU grant was one of 12 grants awarded through DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Network Optimized Distributed Energy Systems (NODES) program.

Through improved technology and discoveries, the NODES program aims to achieve 50 percent or more of power grid usage from renewable-energy resources.

“The current design of the grid is prepared for the worst-case scenario, so it is a grand challenge for the grid to handle a high renewable penetration level,” said Zhang, electrical engineering professor and principal investigator for the project.

For the ASU team, the goal of their NODES project, titled Stochastic Optimal Power Flow (OPF), is to create a suite of forecasting algorithms to better account for renewable sources at all levels of the power-grid operation process.

“By taking into account the uncertainty associated with renewable resources, the project takes important strides in overcoming key obstacles in integrating renewable resources,” said Vittal.

“This is one of very few efforts focusing on the integration of this kind of variable power into the grid,” said Zhang.

The project focuses on three key areas: better forecasting of the power generation of renewables, real-time management at the grid level, and integrating power generated by consumers into the grid.

The holistic nature of this project, having never been attempted before, promises the unique benefits of a disruptive technological advancement — making it possible to achieve 50 percent renewable-resource penetration in the national power grid.

Improved forecasting capacities and real-time management

Professor Junshan Zhang, principal investigator of the grant, is creating a suite of forecasting algorithms to better account for renewable sources at all levels of the power grid operation process. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Professor Junshan Zhang, principal
investigator of the grant, is creating
a suite of forecasting algorithms
to better account for renewable
sources at all levels of the
power-grid operation process.

Zhang and Vittal have developed a suite of data analytics-based forecasting algorithms for wind and solar generation that improve the forecast accuracy of distributed energy resources (DERs).

DERs, which include renewable technologies, are smaller power sources that can be aggregated to meet power demand.

Since the implementation of DERs into the power grid relies on aggregation, accurate forecasting is paramount.

Zhang anticipates an improvement of more than 20 percent in the forecasting accuracy as a result of his improved algorithms.

By forecasting a statistical distribution of renewable power at a future time, these distributional forecasts better handle uncertainty than the existing “point forecast” paradigm, which gives only the value of renewable power at a future instance in time.

Distributional forecasts enable system operators to maintain an acceptable level of risk, reducing an otherwise wasted system energy reserve.

“More accurate forecasts of DERs give systems operators more flexibility” in determining an optimal output that still meets the economic, operational and system constraints, explained Zhang.

Another component of the project, led by Hedman, is the addition of real-time management at the grid level.

In addition to unprecedented visibility, flexibility and predictability, new stochastic algorithms enable real-time coordination between the DERs, the demand response and distributed storage in a comprehensive approach.

Hedman describes this effort as developing “a standalone tool that advises grid operators on various ancillary services needed to mitigate renewable-resource fluctuations in real-time.”

“By doing so, we are able to avoid the market pricing barriers that exist for stochastic programming, and concurrently enable Stochastic OPF to have an impact,” said Zhang.

Rethinking electric power management

While Zhang, Vittal and Hedman are focused on equipping power-systems operations to handle larger degrees of uncertainty, Scaglione is looking at consumption in the power grid more broadly.

She points out the problem that the supply and demand of electric power must be continuously balanced. For Scaglione, this constraint is as significant as the focus on using energy efficiently.

“As users, we are unaware today of the congestion or [renewable production] shortages that may exist at every instant of time on the grid,” she said.

“Not only must operators manage the uncertainty and variability of renewable resources, but they must also be mindful of congestion limiting the transport of electric power,” said Hedman.

According to the research team, smart energy usage is not necessarily a matter of consuming less power, but rather shifting the use of power to when it is available.

This could include controlling the energy consumption of flexible appliances, such as heating and air-conditioning systems, whose electric power can be shifted in time without people taking notice.

Currently, our air-conditioning systems, for example, turn on and off to maintain customer satisfaction without taking into account fluctuations in the power grid.

“But the consumption of these appliances could be changed to not focus on minimizing energy, but on alleviating congestion in the grid,” said Scaglione. This congestion, or imbalance between appliances and generated power, could be relieved by deferring consumption, rather than turning up or down fossil-fuel generators.

Another example is charging an electric car.

The car needs to be charged when the user intends to drive it, but the charging doesn’t have to start the moment it is plugged into the charger in many cases.

“The hours when our appliances are drawing power can shift or be interrupted without any inconvenience to better take advantage of periods of renewable-energy abundance in the electric grid,” said Scaglione.

Adding electric storage to homes and buildings could also help consumers to better use power when it is available — though an affordable solution to adding electric storage options to households is a reality not yet reached.

“The technological solutions may already exist — the challenge is to make them grid-friendly,” said Scaglione.

To compensate for shortages or surpluses of renewable generation would require power-systems operations to manage thousands to millions of subsystems — electric batteries, air-conditioners, smart lighting, electric vehicle charging and more — instead of a relatively small fleet of large fossil-fuel generators.

Scaglione is developing computational models and interfaces that aim to harmonize the multitude of subsystems within a collective system, allowing better management and understanding of the global state of production in the grid.

“My research envisions how we can treat these subsystems as a large reservoir that can be controlled to follow the ebbs and flows of renewable generation, while delivering the desired performance to the consumer,” she added.

The research team includes professors (from left to right) Junshan Zhang, Anna Scaglione, Vijay Vittal and Kory Hedman.

The research team includes ASU professors (from left) Junshan Zhang, Anna Scaglione, Vijay Vittal and Kory Hedman.

Economic and environmental benefits

The team is on track to get more renewable energy into the power grid, and subsequently into people’s homes, businesses and devices, while maintaining reliability and resiliency.

These improvements could dramatically offset thermal generation and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This is due to the fact that the grid “will use significantly more renewable resources without posing challenges in the reliability of the power delivery service,” said Scaglione.

“With the newly imposed restrictions by the Environmental Protection Agency, in regards to clean energy, it is imperative to increase the penetration of renewable resources in the grid,” said Vittal.

Economically, improved management could also reduce the amount of power reserves on standby in case of unforeseen intermittency, valued at saving $3.3 billion per year according to ARPA-E.

The effect of this new technology could be game changing, even disruptive, in ushering in a new era in the electric-power industry.

“It will open the floodgates to integration of renewables and other DERs with the knowledge that the full potential of these renewable resources could soon be realized,” said Zhang.

Written by Rose Serago with contributions from Gary Campbell

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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Embodying the true spirit of difference-making

ASU prof aims to change narrative about alcoholism: a disease, not a weakness.
May 20, 2016

ASU professor creates positive change by fighting the stigma associated with alcoholism, recovery on college campuses

Driven by a passion to educate people about alcoholism and recovery, Arizona State University professor Linda Lederman aims to make a difference in the lives of many by fighting the stigma of weakness and lack of willpower. 

“My work is designed to change the narrative,” said Lederman, a communication scholar who studies health issues. “To get people to understand that alcoholism is a deadly disease, for which there is no cure — but it can be put into daily remission.”

Linda Lederman, professor of health and human communication

Lederman (left) has been selected to receive the 2016 Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award presented by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The annual award was established through generous contributions of faculty, staff and friends of ASU to honor a faculty member who personifies the spirit of difference-making as demonstrated by Krahenbuhl, a former dean of the college.

“Dr. Lederman’s scholarship, service and teaching are seamlessly connected to the health and well-being of the broader ASU community,” wrote Cameron Thies and Mary Margaret Fonow, two distinguished professors and school directors who nominated Lederman for this prestigious award.

A professor and director of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Lederman is nationally recognized for her use-inspired research on alcohol-abuse prevention, alcoholism and collegiate recovery, which has been funded by grants from federal agencies totaling more than $8 million. Her books include “Changing the Culture of College Drinking” and “Voices of Recovery from the Campus,” a collection of stories from people who began their recovery while undergraduate students.

Prior to joining ASU in 2006, Lederman was a professor of communication at Rutgers University, a faculty member of Rutgers Center for Alcohol Studies and the founding co-director of the Center for Communication and Health Issues, which focused on uncovering the role of communication in alcohol use and abuse. 

“Narrative and stories often bridge the ways in which we think about things,” said Lederman. “So I’m trying to destigmatize alcoholism and recovery on the college campus by changing the story. Putting a face on it, a real face, by sharing real stories of people in recovery.” 

Her work focuses on changing two narratives: the culture of college drinking and the negative stereotype associated with alcoholics. The dominant narratives — everybody drinks in college and alcoholics lack willpower — are misrepresentations of reality, said Lederman.

“Narrative and stories often bridge the ways in which we think about things. So I’m trying to destigmatize alcoholism and recovery on the college campus by changing the story. Putting a face on it, a real face, by sharing real stories of people in recovery.”
— ASU professor Linda Lederman

Lederman has designed an undergraduate course, “Communication, Alcoholism and Recovery,” to educate students on alcoholism as a disease and to show how communication can help people understand and recover from the disease.

“I teach the course in a way that encourages students to become messengers,” said Lederman. “By engaging in what people do, talking to one another, they can help other people re-examine their own misperceptions about alcoholism and recovery.”

Lederman has also created the DYK10? (Do You Know 10?) campaign with her students from this course, which will launch in the fall. The campaign is designed to inform students that 1 in 10 people who drink have alcoholism and need help (if they continue to drink) or support (if they are in recovery).

She will present at a national conference sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in August, so health educators can use her campaign as a tool for prevention and alcohol awareness on college campuses.

“Through education and intervention, her work has inspired recovery professionals to action on behalf of our students,” said Lederman’s nominators for the difference maker award. “She is one of the most active and innovative people on our campus.” 

Lederman’s impact extends beyond the ASU community. She was invited to give a colloquium about her work on alcoholism and collegiate recovery at the University of Arizona Department of Communication earlier this year. In addition, the Empty Space Theatre presented a performance titled “Recovery,” based on her books and journal articles about communication, alcoholism and recovery. She also was invited back to Rutgers University to be a speaker at the Rutgers Recovery Graduation earlier this month.

“I am honored to have received this award,” said Lederman. “There is nothing I can think of that would mean more to me than winning an award as a difference maker because my life and work are dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives.”

Top photo by Diego Lopez

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After Paris, the first steps

City officials from around the world get sustainability training from ASU.
May 19, 2016

ASU-led workshop teaches city officials from around the globe how to inventory sources of greenhouse gas emissions

The Paris climate talks last December were a lot like graduation.

First, elation. Almost 200 countries reaching an agreement! Finally, victory after the disappointments in Kyoto and Copenhagen! There’s hope!

Then, depression. Reduction targets will be voluntary. Countries aren’t obligated to put their climate action plans into actual action. Is anything really going to get done, by anybody?

Yes. And the first steps are being helped out by Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

Last month more than 20 city officials from around the world attended a training workshop in Washington, D.C., to learn how to inventory sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Once that task is complete, they can knuckle down to the task of eliminating the worst offenders.

Twenty-one city officials attended, from countries including Argentina, India, South Africa, Korea, Bolivia, China and Bangladesh. They had titles including senior engineer, project monitor and secretary of the environment.

All of them were World Bank clients. The World Bank mainly finances Third World infrastructure projects. Bank officials are concerned about the effect of climate change on projects they’ve financed.

Of the more than 180 countries that agreed to the Paris accords, the World Bank works with more than 130 of them.

“In terms of the World Bank, they want to loan money to their clients who are going to mitigate climate impacts,” said Raj Buch, who led the workshop. “If they teach them the right way to do the inventory, they’ll prioritize the right things to fix in their local communities.”

Buch is a practice lead for the Sustainability Solutions Extension Service, a consulting group within ASU that provides customized advice and practical solutions to business and government sectors applying university-based research, knowledge and capabilities.

“The course was to teach them how to do that inventory,” Buch said.

The officials will look at landfills, transportation, mass transit, industry.

“These are the different things that are emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” Buch said. “When you do this inventory, you’ll identify all the hot spots for these emissions. ... If you’re producing a lot of methane gas in a landfill, you’re not going to put the organic material in the landfill. You need to collect that methane, suck it out of the landfill and convert it to energy.”

The World Bank put a priority on starting these inventories after Paris. Bank officials approached the school and asked it to design a curriculum and deliver the class. The bank invited the participants to the workshop in Washington.

After they return home and complete their work, they’ll be able to return to the bank and present their case for a loan to solve the most pressing issues.

Buch earned a doctorate in sustainability at ASU. Part of his job is to apply the theories he learned to the daily life of a business, individual or organization. By analyzing daily functions with a sustainability perspective, Buch and his teams can help organizations envision sustainable futures; teach employees how to communicate sustainability to clients; upgrade facilities with more efficient technologies; or develop sustainable products.

Buch said the course will be produced in an online format so it can go to scale, as well as being cost- and time-effective.

“It will be developed for online delivery so people can do it on their own time and pass the test and become certified,” he said.

Although the workshop is happening quickly after the Paris talks in December, ASU has been preparing for it for longer than that.

“This is something ASU had led with for 10 years, and it’s finally starting to take hold,” Buch said.

Top photo by Corne Snijders

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

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Better-connected health care

May 18, 2016

ASU professor will chair board of regents for National Library of Medicine, work toward integrating health records across providers

The field of health care continues to make remarkable strides when it comes to patient care and outcomes, but information technology and data-systems support are lagging a few decades behind. As the industry moves toward an emphasis on wellness and disease prevention, the health-care system is not well designed for it.

Arizona State University professor Robert Greenes has an ambitious goal: to make medical information accessible to all providers involved in an individual’s care by building capabilities to integrate all electronic health-care record systems, and also connect the patient more directly to the health-care system.

“Health care is changing a lot, and the IT systems to support it are at least 20 to 30 years old,” said Greenes (pictured above), who is the Ira A. Fulton Chair in Biomedical Informatics and ASU professor of biomedical informatics at the Mayo Clinic.

“It’s hard for a person to manage his or her health and wellness, or as a patient, to receive continuity of care when the relevant health data are stored in silos and locked up.”

This is becoming a national priority as well as a focus of Greenes’ work at ASU. As the newly appointed chairman of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) — located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland — Greenes is hoping to help bring this about.

It’s a significant time for the NLM, which is the largest biomedical library in the world and coordinates a 6,000-member national network by providing health information in communities throughout the United States. NLM is also the largest funding agency for research and development in biomedical informatics — the field underlying the data and knowledge science, technology and applications for improving health and health care. 

Greenes will be calling attention to the need for coordination of the infrastructure, tools and research methods in which the NLM has traditionally had a leadership role.

He recently spoke to ASU Now about his new appointment and how work at ASU is in line with the directions that the NLM will be leading, and how NLM nationally and ASU locally could help shape the future of biomedical informatics.

Question: What is the role of the NLM, and why is it important to medicine and biomedical informatics?

Answer: The National Library of Medicine is much more than a library and is somewhat of a misnomer. For over 40 years, the NLM has been a primary internal innovator and funder of external grants in the area of biomedical and health informatics — methods for creating, organizing, representing and reasoning with knowledge. This has been applied to creating internally supported repositories of the world’s medical literature, GenBank, clinical-trials registries and other major knowledge resources. But it also has funded methodologies for discovering knowledge from data, formalizing it to facilitate sharing, and applying to many biomedical applications. It has been the major funder of graduate and postdoctoral training in biomedical and health informatics in the United States. 

A 2015 NIH Advisory Committee report on the future of the NLM emphasized the increasingly strategic role of these activities to all of the rest of NIH, to other federal agencies and across the entire biomedical and health enterprise. This is particularly true in light of the major transformations occurring in health care, the genomics revolution, the shift to pay-for-value and emphasis on wellness, the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative, and many other important trends and challenges.

Q: How do you feel your research and background will come to bear in this position?

A: My own research and background as an M.D. and PhD in computer science with long-term engagement in biomedical informatics has included emphasis on using the computer to help provide advice for clinical decision making, and on the standards, interoperability and knowledge resources needed for that, to enhance health-care quality and safety.

Our recently launched HII-C collaborative is an example of this. We are seeking to attract local and national stakeholders to apply principles of computer architecture, design and interoperability to create a platform for evolution of next-generation health IT capabilities. We believe this is important because of the changes that are occurring in health and health care, such as those mentioned above, that are not met by current systems.

Q: What are some initiatives you think the NLM will undertake during your tenure as chairman?

A: The timing of this appointment is significant, in that the NLM has just named its new director, Dr. Patricia Brennan, after a period of significant growth of the NLM over the past 30 years under the previous director, Dr. Donald Lindberg. Coupled with the NIH Advisory Committee report on the future of the NLM and the Precision Medicine Initiative, the NLM is poised to take on broader responsibilities. 

As one of the first tasks under its new director, the NLM will be carrying out a strategic planning process, to be led by the Board of Regents. This strategic planning process is important in terms of how NIH allocates its budget and also to what extent NLM can position itself to provide broad services through its operations, advances in the field through its grantees, and expanded workforce development to support needs of the other government agencies and the broader health community. As the NIH ramps up to implement the Precision Medicine Initiative this year, this also has strong informatics and data science implications, so the good timing for this is also relevant. 

Q: How will the recommendations the Board of Regents make directly affect/impact the general public?

A: In my view, if the NLM were to have a greater role in NIH in coordinating informatics aspects of all the NIH’s grant and intramural programs, as well as outside of NIH, this would be to everyone’s advantage. It will ensure greater levels of data and knowledge sharing and ability to capitalize on the value of research by the many institutes and centers of the NIH, as well as that of other stakeholders.

Now that data, information and knowledge are being recognized as requiring standardization and sharing, it is very important to lay the strategic groundwork for this and a roadmap of specific initiatives that can help realize it.

I’m hoping to engage local as well as national stakeholder input into the strategic planning process. Locally, we also want, ideally, to be positioned to take advantage of the emerging plan.

Q: Regarding your own work at ASU, how soon do you hope to put an integrated medical system into place?

A: I see the new vision for an integrated health-care system being realized gradually and coming together in pieces. There will be parts of it that will be integrated with the current system and add value to it within the current year. The interoperability issue is just starting to become important nationally.

Q: How do you see ASU playing a role in helping to build a platform?

A: It has to be done on a national scale, but I want ASU to be a convener, test bed and collaborative partner that will try and pull together different parts. Locally, our HII-C initiative enables faculty and students to work together on many projects involved in bringing about this vision, along with local and national health-care organization partners. We expect to create prototypes of solutions, attract industry participants, and grow this into a development and economic engine.

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU News


image title

Solar's outlook just got a little bit brighter

ASU engineers' work brings solar panels step closer to cheaper, more accessible.
May 17, 2016

New inventions from ASU researchers may lead to cheaper, more efficient solar power

Companies making solar panels have faced the same choice for decades. Their sun-soaking panels could be efficient or cheap, but not both.

Time to start erasing that rule.

Researchers within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering have wedded two types of solar technologies, putting solar panels a step closer to being cheaper and more accessible.

Here’s the challenge researchers faced: solar panels made with silicon are expensive but more efficient than the cheaper, thin film solar cells, which are made with cadmium telluride.

The ASU team, led by electrical engineering professor Yong-Hang Zhang and assistant professor Zachary Holman, figured out how to add a little silicon to the thin film cells, combining the qualities of each type of panel.

Their invention broke an efficiency record for thin film cells and achieved the highest open-circuit voltage ever recorded for that type of cell. Their results were published this week in a paper in the journal Nature Energy.

Overcoming obstacles

Open-circuit voltage measures the potential for a solar cell to pump electricity around a circuit. High voltage is created when light is absorbed in a solar cell, exciting electrons by shaking them off their atoms. The electrons then build up on one side of the solar cell, like at the negative terminal of a battery.

ASU electrical engineering professor Yong-Hang Zhang

Engineering a solar cell with high voltage is challenging because the excited electrons can be lost within microseconds or even nanoseconds of sunlight hitting a solar cell. Thus, a goal of solar cell research is to extract the electricity before it dissipates, which is generally accomplished by adding conductive contacts to the top and bottom of a solar cell, according to Zhang (pictured left), who also is an associate dean for research in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“The traditional contacts are made through introducing impurities in the solar cell absorbing layer,” said Zhang, “which can degrade the device performance dramatically.”

Zhang, Holman and their research teams added a separate contact layer of low-cost amorphous silicon instead of an impurity. In doing so, they created a solar cell with a voltage of 1.1 volt, an unimaginable feat even one year ago.

“Essentially, we’ve created a solar cell that allows for the maximum number of electrons possible to build up before extracting them quickly and efficiently out the ‘smart’ contact,” Zhang said.

The cells not only reached high voltage but also a 17 percent efficiency, breaking a record of 15.2 percent for thin film solar cells. While other types of solar cells, such as silicon, boast a best efficiency rating of around 25 percent, such a dramatic improvement in thin film efficiency shows promise for widespread use.

Zhang’s next goal is 20 percent efficiency or more.

Impact on industry

Materials science doctoral student Calli Campbell fabricates solar cells.

Materials science doctoral student Calli Campbell uses a molecular beam epitaxy machine to fabricate the solar cell wafers in Yong-Hang Zhang’s lab. Photo courtesy of Yong-Hang Zhang/ASU

“The important thing is that this material system has been proven cost effective, but (until now) never efficient enough in terms of energy production to take over the solar market,” said Zhang. “Many times with a paper such as this, the findings are either scientifically interesting or commercially applicable, but not both. However, these results are.”

While silicon solar panels dominate the market, there are about 10 gigawatts — enough to power 2.5 million homes — of thin film solar panels in use worldwide today. First Solar in Tempe, Arizona, is the world’s largest manufacturer of thin-film solar cells.

“These latest results further confirm our long-standing conviction that CdTe (cadmium telluride) is an ideal material choice for photovoltaic application,” said Markus Gloeckler, vice president of advanced research at First Solar. “Reaching an open-circuit voltage of 1.1 volts is a milestone for the technology and provides confidence that thin-film CdTe has not reached its limits.”

The first step in an ongoing collaboration

The success grew out of an unanticipated alliance between Zhang and Holman’s separate teams.

ASU assistant professor Zachary Holman

“It’s a unique collaboration, and one that happened in the best way possible: through student initiative,” said Holman (pictured left). “One of Yong’s students reached out to one of my post-docs, and things took off from there.”

Though Zhang and his group initially conceived the underlying concept of these breakthrough solar cells, it took them nearly two years to improve the materials needed to fabricate them. They also called upon Holman’s expertise in silicon solar cells to marry two very different semiconductors to achieve these unique and efficient properties.

Zhang and Holman look to use their respective expertise to collaborate in the future as well.

“We’re exploring the possibility of developing a tandem solar cell,” Holman said, “basically two complimentary solar cells that would stack on top of one another, further boosting efficiency.”

The two teams plan to continue collaboration and are slated to present their recent results at the upcoming Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Portland, Oregon, in June.

The research was mainly supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bay Area Photovoltaic Consortium (BAPVC), a collaboration between universities, industry and government dedicated to improving photovoltaic technology, jointly led by Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley. Additional funding was supplied through Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST), one of the four National Science Foundation-funded Engineering Research Centers at the Fulton Schools at ASU.

Initial support for this research came from the Science Foundation Arizona in 2007, and following funding from the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office, the Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Office of Scientific Research have paved the way to enabled many of these new ideas developed in the past 10 years, according to Zhang.

Top photo: A novel approach to a materials science challenge has birthed a record-breaking monocrystalline cadmium telluride solar cell, which boasts the highest voltage ever for its type of cell. Photo by Cheng-Ying Tsai/ASU

Pete Zrioka

Assistant director of content strategy , Knowledge Enterprise


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Sign (language) of the times

May 16, 2016

Body-language interpretation research connects ASU computer science student with ASL community

Have you ever received a text message in which the sender's tone was unclear? That’s because crucial pieces of information are missing to fully understand the message.

Gestures and body language are important parts of speech that can’t be conveyed in the text- and speech-based input dominating today’s human-computer interfaces.

People who rely on text-based communication systems, such as those with hearing impairments, but who also have fully expressive communication systems like American Sign Language (ASL) could benefit from machine interfaces that can understand gestures as well as spoken or written words.

To address this need, computer science doctoral student Prajwal Paudyal is working on SCEPTRE in the iMPACT Lab. SCEPTRE is a smartphone interface that uses two wireless armband sensors to take in ASL sign gestures to communicate via computer systems.

“The ASL user trains the system by performing three iterations of a gesture, which is captured by a smartphone,” Paudyal said. “The data is then sent to the server to train a computer model. Later, when the user needs to use the system, she puts on the wireless armband sensors and performs the gesture, which is recognized in the smartphone, in a fog server or from the server, depending on communication channels.”

Finding a computing need and solving it

Paudyal became interested in working with technology to assist ASL users when he started his research for human-computer interaction using mobile devices to redefine the way people interact with machines.

“I quickly realized that having a syntactic language to interface with machines is very important. I started looking into sign languages because they are completely defined languages with full expressibility and flexibility. I started taking ASL classes myself and had the opportunity to interact with people who are deaf as well as with numerous users of ASL.”

He decided to continue on with this work for his doctoral research project because of its potential to help people.

“The immediate impact of this type of research on the real world and the potential increase of quality of life it promises to bring brought me a sense of fulfillment, and thus I decided to stick with this line of research for my PhD dissertation,” Paudyal said.

Recognition for research excellence

For his research efforts so far, Paudyal received the Spring 2016 Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) Outstanding Research Award, which recognizes ASU graduate and professional students who exemplify excellence in research and development. Students are judged on the interdisciplinary character of their projects, the positive impacts on the community and the outstanding contribution of the research, among other factors.

Computer engineering graduate program chair and computer science professor Sandeep Gupta nominated Paudyal for the award. The iMPACT Lab faculty adviser thinks Paudyal’s research is very promising and pioneers pervasive personalized and extensible assistive technology for sign language users.

“He earned the GPSA award because his research is an interdisciplinary project that combines computer science (the Internet of Things and human-computer interaction), linguistics and speech and hearing science,” Gupta said. “It reflects that he is doing impactful research on a complex problem that involves knowledge from various fields. This kind of use-inspired research cannot only solve immediate problems but also spur fundamental research questions.”

Paudyal is thankful for the recognition he has received and said it inspires further commitment to his work.

“Receiving the Outstanding Research Award has helped me solidify my commitment to research and to the field,” Paudyal said. “The acknowledgment and support I get from peers, other researchers and the graduate community in general at ASU helps me stay focused and inspires me to do more.”

A love of discovery makes a good researcher

Paudyal said he owes his skill as a researcher to his desire for discovery and sense of curiosity.

“I like being on the cutting edge and discovering things for the first time,” Paudyal said. “In my ‘other life’ outside of the research lab, I am a photographer and an adventurer, and I like discovering new places. I think this curiosity and sense of adventure helps me a lot as a researcher because research to me is the ultimate intellectual adventure.”

He also enjoys documenting his life by writing blogs and marking trails at the places he explores to guide his future excursions and to learn as much as he can. His meticulous approach also helps him in documenting his research.

“I have a similar attitude about documenting a lot and staying vigilant when I conduct research,” Paudyal said. “This has helped me grow as a researcher because I can constantly reevaluate my approaches and improve my process. I think this vigilance more than anything else is what makes me a good researcher and has put me on an upward spiral of improvement.”

Continuing to help the world through accessibility research

Paudyal has taken his research beyond the lab to apply his work in ways that can help those who need more accessible communication options.

He and his colleagues submitted a grant to the National Institutes of Health that aims to do a usability study on emergency health-care scenarios for people with hearing and speaking difficulties.

He also is actively involved in ASL and deaf clubs around the Phoenix metro area.

Next, Paudyal plans to extend his research in two key areas to improve its practical and theoretical applications.

“First I want to incorporate fingerspelling, which is what ASL users use if there is no word equivalent in the ASL dictionary," Paudyal said. "I am also focusing on the theoretical background for sign language and gesture processing to see if I can make contributions in the theoretical realm as well as the practical realm.”

After he earns his doctorate he hopes to find a position that allows him to continue his research in accessibility, particularly music therapy and sign language processing.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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The Wizard of Ooze

Algae as fuel, fertilizer and food — for animals AND us? ASU prof thinks so.
It's not easy being green — but algae could be a major player in sustainability.
May 11, 2016

Polytechnic prof Milton Sommerfeld exploring the possibilities of algae as super food, fuel, fertilizer and more

Milton Sommerfeld can see the future in puddles.

One of the nation’s top experts on algae, Sommerfeld has spent almost 50 years cracking dozens of uses for the plant. In Sommerfeld’s future, you will fill your tank with it; feed it to livestock; fertilize crops, lawns or flowers; clean up wastewater with it; and eat it.

One of the best strains he ever found was in a puddle after a storm in Phoenix.

“We picked it up and it started growing, and it produced over 50 percent of its weight as oil,” Sommerfeld said. “You never know where you’re going to find an algae strain that has value for a different type of product.”

There are about 75,000 different types of algae, ranging from microscopic specimens to kelp a hundred feet long and as big around as a baseball bat. It can look like lime Kool-Aid, black or brown crude oil, or hearty burgundy.

“It’s a very broad-spectrum use,” said Sommerfeld, professorSommerfeld is a professor in the Environmental and Resource Management Program in the Polytechnic School, which is part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Sommerfeld is also a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. in the Polytechnic School and co-director of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation.

“The focus has been on biofuels,” he said. “It’s believed that the petroleum we take out of the ground had its origin in algae millions of years ago. If you look at the chemistry of algae oil, the lipids, it pretty much matches petroleum. Anything you can use petroleum for, you can pretty much use algae oil. That means not only fuel in terms of diesel, gasoline and jet fuel — you also have the specialty products that can be made, like plastics and so on.”

ASU algae expert Milton Sommerfeld

ASU professor Milton Sommerfeld is co-director of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation. He has studied algae for 48 years and says there is much yet to be discovered. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Algae has some surprises in its membranes, like Omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to help cardiovascular health, among other benefits. Omega-3 is usually referred to as a fish oil. It’s actually an algae oil. Algae oils will eventually replace Omega-3 supplements found in health-food stores.

“The fish have simply accumulated them by eating little animals that ate algae,” Sommerfeld said. “We always say, ‘Let’s cut out the middle fish and go right to the algae for those specialty products.’ ... We just haven’t used the algae to its fullest extent. More and more people are looking at the algae as the source for some of these specialty products that actually now comes from a plant source.”

Sommerfeld grew up on a farm in Texas. His father made him clean the algae out of the cattle trough. Every week, he cleaned it out. Every week, it came back.

“I kept wondering why it grew so fast,” he said. “That was how I first related to the algae.”

One of the major focus areas of Sommerfeld’s lab is how to relate algae to the water-energy-feed nexus. Algae can be grown in dairy wastewater or in sludge from water treatment plants, stuff that’s usually trucked to landfills. Grow algae in that, take out the oil, and you’re left with a nitrogen-rich biomass perfect for fertilizer.

“It’s high-protein,” Sommerfeld said. “Now you have a high-protein source for animal feed, or even potentially human food.”

The biggest immediate impact from algae will be bioremediation — cleaning up environmental threats — and producing specialty chemicals, according to Sommerfeld.  Why not fuel, if it’s so readily extracted? Sommerfeld has cooked up biodiesel in his lab from algae. Why hasn’t ExxonMobil built giant ponds?

The problem is taking algae farming to a large scale. Most work with algae has been at small scale, although some people have tried unsuccessfully. There are huge challenges in introducing a new crop to industrialized agriculture. 

“Just think about trying to introduce a new crop at large scale,” Sommerfeld said. “We don’t do that now.

“If you look at our crop plants, they started on small farms and got bigger and we learned how to do it and got bigger machinery and bigger this and bigger that, all kinds of improvements in seed because through a different process because there was a big market for food or whatever you get out of the grain.

“Now you’re trying to do this with a product that’s a commodity product: oil. It’s a commodity product. It’s cheap. Now you’re trying to compete with an industry that’s been here more than 100 years.”

On a four-acre site directly across the street from Sommerfeld’s lab on ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa, he is working on bringing algae cultivation to a production scale. In the baking sun sit racks of panels with algae bubbling in them and long test beds lined with white plastic where mill paddles churn scarab-green and wine-dark water. Four years ago the U.S. Department of Energy invested $15 million to find out how to grow algae outdoors in a production setting.

There’s a lot more to it than simply transferring what you did inside in a test tube to a 300,000-liter test bed outside. Sometimes that works, Sommerfeld said. Sometimes it doesn’t.

“One of the things that happens we’re finding when we started to begin to scale up and do it outdoors, it’s that there are a lot of little animals that get in,” he said. “We have the same kinds of problems that farmers have with insects.

“Now you have these creatures that blow in with the wind and the dust storms, and they love to eat the algae. They cause what we call algal crash. All of a sudden the cells begin to come together and turn brown and settle down. It’s sort of like they’re dead, and you have to almost restart the system, which is very expensive on a large scale. One of the things we’ve been doing recently is really trying to detect and identify those organisms and look at how do we control them like insects. We’re having a little success in doing that.”

ASU algae expert Milton Sommerfeld and a colleague.

Dr. Emil Puruhito (left) and Dr. Milton
Sommerfeld stand by one of the algae
research ponds at the Arizona Center
for Algae Technology and Innovation
at the Polytechnic campus.

Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Controlling crashes can be done physically or chemically. Sommerfeld’s lab works on both, but leans towards chemical solutions.

“The treatment for different organisms is different,” he said. “We’re trying to sort that out. ... It’s like anything else. If a farmer detects boll weevils, he sprays and then inspects again. ... You look for resistant species. Then you look at it, OK, this is one we really want to grow. Now how do we keep it in a viable way?”

Despite a lifelong fascination with the plant and 48 years studying every facet of it, much remains to be learned.

“One of the great things about science is every time you think you know something, you really do, but there’s another question out there that leads to something interesting,” Sommerfeld said. “You’re never at the end point.”

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now