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The power of words: Climate change and the media

Journalists bring fresh outlook to complex issue of climate change at ASU panel.
Honest, readable translation of dense science is key to covering climate change.
“Biggest beat of our century”: ASU panel to explore media's climate coverage.
January 11, 2016

Panel featuring NY Times and NPR writers, ASU scientist to discuss how the stories we tell affect how we respond to climate change

When thousands of negotiators and scientists descended on Paris in December to reach an historic agreement on lowering the planet’s rising temperatures, they were followed by thousands of press.

The world was treated to images of exhausted people exiting conference rooms, men in ties shaking hands, Amazonian Indians in full jungle regalia and a whale on the banks of the Seine.

The copy that poured out of the event wasn’t any less of a dog’s breakfast. Many pieces were notable for using three paragraphs to explain one word of jargon. (The Wall Street Journal used 455 words to explain what an “indaba,” a small informal negotiation, is.) Professor X was quoted in the Herald as saying the agreement would accomplish nothing, according to his data. Over in the Bugle, Professor Y said it was a landmark and Professor X was a fool.

A panel of science writers and a scientist will discuss the past, present and future of climate-change coverage by the media from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, at Arizona State University’s Memorial Union in Tempe.

Andy Revkin, science writer for the New York Times for more than three decades, and Richard Harris, a visiting scholar at ASU who covered climate change for National Public Radio since the 1980s, will join Manjana Milkoreit, senior sustainability fellow at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability in the discussion. Milkoreit’s research explores the role of cognition in climate-change politics and governance.

Daniel Sarewitz, professor of science and society in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, came up with the idea for the discussion.

“Climate change has become such a supercharged issue in so many ways that I thought it would be valuable to have to journalists who have been covering it in all its complexity pretty much since the beginning, to bring a fresh perspective on what’s happened and why things have unfolded as they have,” said Sarewitz, who will moderate the conversation.

“Then I was thinking that while journalists cover things in the present, a lot of the talk about climate change has to do with the future, and that’s what made me think that it would be cool to have Manjana join the conversation as well.”

Toeing the line between accurately communicating the science without sending readers screaming out of the room requires patience on all sides, Harris said. Explaining climate-change jargon like “differentiation” is going to mean repeating and re-explaining that word in every single story.

“Journalists, like anyone else, think if I’ve said this a hundred times, people get it,” Harris said. “That’s not necessarily true. … One thing you can do is introduce the jargon and talk about what it means.”

“There is the Chicken Little stuff, but for every Chicken Little story, there’s a story of human courage, and bravery, and innovation. These stories say a lot about the human spirit.”
— Terry Greene Sterling, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Avoiding theological debates is another choice journalists can make.

“The one thing you can do is step back and say, 'I’m not going to get in to the weeds and talk about all these niggling details,’ ” Harris said. “ 'I’m going to get into the big picture and talk about the dynamics between the countries that are wealthy and the countries that aren’t.’ ”

Terry Greene Sterling is writer-in-residence and faculty associate at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a highly decorated and respected journalist. She said journalists and scientists have to meet each other halfway.

“It’s important for the writer to learn and explain the jargon,” she said. “You sit down with the scientists and work out a translation that’s honest and that people can understand. It’s an important subject; you can’t just throw the jargon in there.”

Nuance is significant in what is a relatively new topic, Sterling said.

“Climate change is the biggest story topic of the century, and probably for many, many centuries to come,” she said. “Writing about climate change is very nuanced. For instance, we know it’s real; that’s given. But the day-to-day weather patterns — they may or may not be related to climate change. How do you have a conversation about that?”

Academic debate between differing factions, as traditionally reported by the press with an eye to balance, gave the impression to the public that the science was unsettled, Revkin wrote in a column in the Times.

“The norm of journalistic balance actually introduced a bias into coverage of climate change,” he wrote. “Researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz and American University tracked (20 years of) stories that portrayed science as being deadlocked over human-caused warming, being skeptical of it, or agreeing it was occurring. While the shift toward consensus was clearly seen in periodic assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the coverage lagged significantly and tended to portray the science as not settled.”

Talking to a variety of scientists to operate as guides more than sources, and focusing on peer-reviewed journals rather than press releases are two methods Revkin recommended in his column to get out from under what he calls “the tyranny of balance.”

Focusing on why scientists have the opinion they do can help reporters wade through the morass, Harris said.

“The best thing you can dp is tout the variety of opinions out there, but explain why people get to those opinions,” he said. “The real question is, ‘Is this is a small step in the right direction?’ ”

Climate change has been poorly covered, but that’s changing, Sterling said.

“Now that we understand that climate change is real, I think we are getting better at it,” she said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Over the past two decades, the press has grown up with the science surrounding the subject, Revkin said.

“Climate-change coverage is kind of like climate change itself, subject to a host of variables like competing issues, the rise of social media — along with lots of geographic variability,” he said. “I think the overall shift is real and has essentially reflected the evolution of the science, particularly as summarized periodically over the decades by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Sterling pointed to the topic as a field rich enough to be a beat in its own right — and not every story has to be about the imminent demise of life as we know it.

“Getting down to the nuances and telling stories about people who are helping us adapt to climate change, there’s a lot of hope in that,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of very interesting and hopeful stories tied to climate change. There is the Chicken Little stuff, but for every Chicken Little story, there’s a story of human courage, and bravery, and innovation. These stories say a lot about the human spirit.

“As a journalist and a teacher, I can’t emphasize the importance of having conversations like the one we’re having on the 12th, with the experts who will help us understand the nuances and the challenge of reporting climate-change stories,” Sterling said. “This is the biggest beat of our century.”

Covering Climate Change: Past, Present and Future

What: A conversation with Andy Revkin, science writer for the New York Times; Richard Harris of National Public Radio; and Manjana Milkoreit, senior sustainability fellow at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU.

When: 1-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Where: Ventana Room 241 C at the Memorial Union on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Details: Light refreshments provided. RSVP online or at the door:

Top photo: Cameras operated by Arizona State University captured this image on Oct. 12. The cameras are mounted on a spacecraft orbiting the moon. Photo by NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

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CompuGirls founder on new Center for Gender Equity in STEM

January 8, 2016

ASU associate professor Kimberly Scott discusses her new White House-backed initiative

On Monday, Jan. 11, ASU will launch the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, led by Dr. Kimberly Scott of the School of Social Transformation. The new center seeks to engage communities of scholars, organizations and policy makers to breakdown the systemic barriers that prevent girls and women of color from pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) options. Scott's work to enhance the opportunities for women and girls of color has earned her acclaim from the White House. She spoke to ASU Now about the launch of the new center.

Question: Tell us about this the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology.

Answer: It's a one-of-a-kind center in the nation that is exclusively focused on documenting, building capacity, building programs and advocacy specific to African American, Latina, Asian American and Native American women in their pursuits in science, technology, engineering and math.

There are three departments of the center. There is the knowledge-building arm that is dedicated to synthesizing as well as presenting research that is attainable and accessible to a large audience, so that we can really make sustained and scalable efforts through informed, empirical data. There is the capacity-building arm, which presents programs such as my nationally recognized Compugirls programs, which provides a series of multimedia courses to adolescent girls from digital storytelling to culturally responsive co-robotics. Then there is also the advocacy arm. It's within the advocacy arm that we attempt to culminate the work from the research arm and the capacity-building arm and to translate that information to decision makers such as policy makers, legislators and community grasstop and grassroot leaders.

Q: What need are you fulfilling with this center?

A: Well, there are several needs. First of all, the information that’s specific to the communities that I articulated, specifically African American, Latina, Asian American and Native American girls and women and their experiences in STEM. There hasn’t been a coordinated effort that synthesizes what’s happening to us in these disciplines. There hasn’t been a coordinated effort to try to do something that’s based on research. And so, on the practical level, one of the things the center is most interested in, is how can we take the information, the research, the theories, and translate that into practice and then also measure the impact of those practices in a way that we can make long-term changes.

Q: You speak very passionately about this. Does it resonate for you personally in some way?

A: It does, it does. Having taught in urban districts categorized as high needs and also having had the opportunity to work with education leaders as well as leaders in general. There is this commitment to trying to close the disparity among groups in particular. I’ve seen this in practice, I’ve seen this in the scholarly community, I’ve seen this in writing. So for me, not only as an African American woman but as a social justice activist, this is something that we all must take seriously if we are really interested in addressing inequity.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the National STEM Collaborative, and how this new center will work with it and fit into it.

A: The National STEM Collaborative is one of our signature programs within the advocacy arm of the center. It emerged from a meeting that I co-hosted with the White House Council on Women and Girls in July 2015. It was at that meeting that we had the opportunity of interacting with about 50 university college presidents and they ranged from HBCU, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to tribal colleges, to Hispanic-serving institutions and to land grant. We had the opportunity to ask these leaders what are some of the issues specific to women of color in STEM, how should we address those issues and what are some of the success stories.

At the conclusion of that meeting, having analyzed the information that we heard, I made the announcement based on what I had assessed in that we need a collaborative. We need to further those conversations so that it wasn’t simply a chat and chew, but it led to something that can be actionable and can be impactful. So it was at that White House meeting that I announced the collaborative and since then we’ve had several other meetings as well as the development of programs specific to furthering the initiatives for the collaborative.

Watch the full interview here:

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'Good for a girl'

Watch out, boys: Girls got game in STEM.
ASU center fosters girls' pursuit of STEM fields.
January 8, 2016

New ASU center aims to change the game for women in STEM

Courtney Besaw is a natural when it comes to numbers and experimentation. She’s also a girl. And as such, she took notice of a certain nuance in her elementary and high school math and science courses:

“There were always more boys.”

Though that fact in itself did nothing to detract Besaw from her personal ambitions, she found it was often difficult to ignore the implicit bias.

“People were always impressed when I was good at math or science, like they were not expecting such excellence from a girl. I would hear adults say, ‘You are good at math for a girl,’ or ‘Usually boys are better at math,’ ” Besaw said.

That’s not uncommon, said Kimberly A. Scott, associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Social TransformationThe School of Social Transformation is an academic unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.. The founder of the nationally recognized CompuGirls, which introduces young girls from under-resourced school districts to technology, Scott has seen her share of educational injustice.

“I can recall going back to my time teaching in high-needs districts back East where I witnessed differential treatment by teachers and administrators in the schools,” she said. “They thought that these kids didn’t know enough or would never have the capacity to know enough because of their race, or gender, or socioeconomic status. So for me, not only as an African American woman, but as a social justice activist, this is something that we all must take seriously if we are really interested in addressing inequity.”

Keeping good on her word, Scott followed up on the success of CompuGirls with the formation of the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST), which will host its official launch Monday, Jan. 11, on ASU’s Tempe campus.

“I am not good at these things ‘for a girl.’ I am good at these things because they interest me regardless of gender or the background that I come from.”
— Courtney Besaw, ASU Barrett Honors senior and CompuGirls peer mentor

The center will serve as a central hub — the first and only one of its kind — for the facilitation of research, building of programs and advocacy specific to African American, Latina, Asian American and Native American women in their pursuits in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

The goal, said Scott, is to “make a systemic impact on issues of disparity that are affecting our society as a whole.”

The launch of the center comes on the heels of the White House’s announcement in September 2015 that ASU will lead the National STEM Collaborative, a consortium of 19 institutions of higher education and nonprofit partners committed to supporting minority girls and women in STEM fields.

Scott, who was instrumental in the creation of the collaborative, said it arose from the realization that something “actionable” and “impactful” needed to come out of all the conversations and meetings being had on the topic.

In relation to CGEST, the National STEM Collaborative is one of the signature programs within its advocacy arm. There are two other arms of the center: knowledge-building and capacity-building.

The advocacy arm, explained Scott, focuses on communicating the research and information from the other two arms to leaders and policymakers. The knowledge-building arm is dedicated to synthesizing and presenting research, making it accessible to a large audience in order to make sustained and scalable efforts through informed empirical data. The capacity-building arm houses programs such as CompuGirls, that reach out to adolescent minority girls and provide them with multimedia courses that cover subjects from digital storytelling to robotics programming.

Besaw, now an ASU Barrett, the Honors College senior double majoring in anthropology and psychology, participated in the very first cohort of CompuGirls as a high school student in 2009, along with her friend and fellow Barrett Honors senior Mitzi Vilchis, a secondary education major.

Both girls stayed involved with the program through college, serving as peer mentors or interns after graduating from it, and even co-authoring a chapter in the book “#youthaction: Becoming Political in the Digital Age,” with Scott, in which they detail their experiences in the program.

“I know from when I was in the program that CompuGirls can have a great positive impact on the girls involved,” said Besaw.

And not just in terms of learning STEM; participants in the program also learn about social injustice and how to address the various forms of it.

Vilchis’ topic was domestic violence, which her group chose to address by creating a video documentary. She served as the group leader for the project, which involved the use of technology she said she had never even considered attempting to master.

Now she’s a pro.

“My peers all know that when they're having a technical difficulty, I'm the person to go to,” said Vilchis.

group photo at convention

ASU honors seniors Courtney Besaw (far right) and Mitzi Vilchis (front, middle) pose with science guru Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City. Also pictured are ASU professor and director of the Center for Equity in Science and Technology Kimberly A. Scott (back row, left) and fellow ASU student and CompuGirl research assistant Felina Rodriguez (front left). Top photo: Vilchis and Besaw in New York City. Photos courtesy Courtney Besaw

In the fall of 2015, both students accompanied Scott to New York City to attend the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting on behalf of CompuGirls. When they weren’t demonstrating their robotics projects or singing the program’s praises, they ran into a few familiar faces: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Madeleine Albright, among others.

Besaw called the experience “the most exciting opportunity that I was given through CompuGirls,” and both she and Vilchis intend to remain involved with the program after graduating from ASU this May.

They will also both be the first in their families to graduate from college, and they intend to teach in the future; a good thing, considering there is still much work to be done in advocating for girls and women in STEM, as well as changing society’s perception of what they are capable of. 

“Just this last semester my professor was having issues with the computer and asked, ‘All right, who's our tech guy?’” said Vilchis, “and my classmates in unison said, ‘Mitzi!’ I found it funny that she was expecting a guy to fix the technology problem and had a girl come to her rescue.”

Besaw sums it up thusly: “I am not good at these things ‘for a girl.’ I am good at these things because they interest me regardless of gender or the background that I come from.”

Watch the full interview with Kimberly A. Scott, ASU associate professor and founder of CompuGirls:

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2-D materials potential powerhouses for tech advances

Tiny 2-D materials have big potential to advance technology.
January 7, 2016

ASU scientist to explore how materials' imperfections are a strength, not a weakness

“Materials are like people: It is the defects in them that tend to make them interesting,” Arizona State University scientist Sefaattin Tongay says in explaining the root of his research, paraphrasing renowned British materials scientist and physicist Sir Colin Humphrey.

Tongay’s focus is on 2-D materials — one of the thinnest of all materials, only 0.7 nanometer thick — and the myriad functions they can perform when their crystalline atomic structures are less than perfect.

His overarching goal is to discover how to create the precise kinds of imperfections in 2-D materials to maximize their potential in energy conversion and information technologies.

Sometimes called single-layer materials, each of these crystalline layers measures only a few atoms in thickness. Researchers have discovered that defects in them are not necessarily problems, but opportunities.

Due to their extreme thinness, the electrical and optical properties of 2-D materials can be qualitatively and quantitatively different than those of the 3-D materials that have been conventionally used in semiconductor technology.

Those differences often mean they can exceed the efficiency of other materials at absorbing and emitting light, transmitting an electrical charge or conducting heat.

Applications in many technologies

The combination of the unusual properties of 2-D materials can “lead to a wide range of novel devices and other technology with defense, aerospace, medical, energy and industrial applications,” said Tongay, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The materials’ distinctive properties could lead to applications that improve lighting technologies such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), as well as batteries, cellphones, flexible electronics, biosensors and the photovoltaic cells used to convert sunlight into energy.

Tongay’s work recently earned him National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, which is given to scientists and engineers who are demonstrating potential to become national leaders in research and education in their areas of expertise.

The award will provide him $501,000 over five years to pursue new discoveries and applications of 2-D materials, as well as provide opportunities for students and the public to learn more about the field and what it promises to contribute to society.

Creating defects to engineer useful functions

Tongay’s research team will seek to further reveal the fundamental physics of defects in 2-D materials, in particular those with semiconducting capabilities.

The goal is to measure, analyze and establish the roles of the structural defects in shaping the optical and electronic properties of select 2-D semiconducting materials and to explore new ways to control their specific properties.

It’s missing or foreign atoms in a material that cause such defects, which break the periodicity in a material’s otherwise uniform atomic configuration.

“We are looking at ways to introduce certain kinds of defects into the materials and manipulating them to perform useful functions,” Tongay said. “We want to engineer these properties so that we can realize the full potential of 2D materials.”

Deep exploration into how materials behave

Using ASU’s advanced transmission electron microscopy facilities, “you can tell how the atoms are configured in the materials. You can look as you use lasers to knock atoms out of the material or bombard it with ions to engineer imperfections, and you can tell how the structures look different before and after the impact,” he said.

This technique will enable Tongay’s lab team to see how defects progress, how they change in real time, how they rearrange themselves and recombine.

“We can look at how the materials behave in these situations in spans of only microseconds, which is really impressive,” he said.

From there, the researchers intend to learn how specific patterns of defects can yield materials capable of functions that could produce myriad advances in electronics, and solutions to some of the world’s major technological challenges.

Spreading awareness of 2-D materials

Findings from the project will be made available to other engineers, scientists and the public through, a website that Tongay’s group will build to provide an open-access database focused on 2-D materials and the study of their defects. The nonprofit organization that owns the website and two mainstream 2-D materials companies will collaborate on developing the database.

The NSF award will also support Tongay’s education outreach efforts.

He’ll initiate a program called NanoSciED (for Nanoscience Education) to bring knowledge of his field to the public through ASU outreach events such as Discover-E Day and Night of the Open Door.

NanoSciED will organize and host summer camps for high school students, including those from underserved communities, to introduce them to the world of materials — with the aim of instilling in them an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Undergraduate students will have an opportunity to participate in lab work under Tongay’s mentorship through ASU’s Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI). In addition, a number of graduate students pursuing their master’s or doctoral degrees will have key roles on the research team.

Top photo: Assistant professor of materials science and engineering Sefaattin Tongay (second from right) has earned a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation to support his research on the use of 2-D materials to develop advances in a variety of technologies. The project provides opportunities for laboratory experience for graduate students and postgraduates. Pictured with Tongay are (from left) master’s student Xi Fan, postdoctoral researcher Xiuqing Meng and master’s student Wilson Kong. They are inspecting synthesized 2-D materials and discussing their findings. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


How to fight 'affluenza'

January 7, 2016

Affluenza became a popular term when it was used in defense of Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old Texas boy who killed four pedestrians while driving drunk. It has received a great deal of ridicule, much of it justified. But it would be foolish to allow an absurd effort to minimize one teenager's responsibility for a horrific tragedy to obscure growing evidence of a growing crisis on our hands, say psychology experts.

“The children of the affluent are becoming increasingly troubled, reckless and self-destructive. Perhaps we needn't feel sorry for these ‘poor little rich kids.’ But if we don't do something about their problems, they will become everyone's problems,” said Suniya Luthar, an ASU psychology professor, who wrote a piece with Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor of Swarthmore College, that was carried on Reuters. ASU psychology professor Suniya Luthar. Download Full Image

Luthar has studied the trials and tribulations of children from affluent families for nearly 20 years. She has documented the growth of dysfunction among affluent youth. High-risk behavior, including extreme substance abuse and promiscuous sex, is growing fast among young people from communities dominated by white-collar, well-educated parents. These kids attend schools distinguished by rich academic curricula, high standardized test scores and diverse extracurricular opportunities. Their parents' annual income, at $150,000 and above, is well over twice the national average. And yet they show serious levels of maladjustment as teens, displaying problems that tend to begin as they enter adolescence and get worse as they approach college.

Luthar and Schwartz say the best way to fight this problem begins with parents ensuring warm, open communication with their children while maintaining firmness and consistency in setting limits. But it also extends to tempering the ultra-competitive culture of select high schools, where landing a top college spot is conducted like the quest to find the Holy Grail. At the level of higher education, they raise the possibility of a lottery system where all students deemed able to succeed in the best colleges put their names in a hat. Such a system would prick the enormous pressure balloon of very competitive high school life, since students would no longer need to be the “best.” They would have to be good enough, and just a little fortunate.

For the full article, go to:

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Enhancing solar energy harvesting by minimizing heat loss

Liping Wang and his students are designing novel nano-engineering materials

December 28, 2015

The fast-depleting reserves of conventional energy sources and ever-changing environmental impacts have resulted in an urgent need for high-efficiency renewable energy sources and energy-saving materials.

Liping Wang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is tackling this challenge head on through his Nano-Engineered Thermal Radiation Lab. Liping Wang (right), an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has earned a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for his work in novel nanomaterials. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

His research primarily aims to selectively control thermal radiation for energy applications by fundamentally understanding and exploring novel physical mechanisms in nanoscale radiative transport with nano-engineered materials or so-called metamaterials.

“One of my main focuses — and that of my team of graduate and undergraduate students — is on enhancing solar energy harvesting and conversion, like solar to heat by minimizing thermal radiation, which causes energy loss,” Wang said.

The goal, he said, is to design materials that are nearly 100 percent efficient in their absorption of the right spectrum of sunlight with close-to-zero emissivity in the infrared. Thermal loss, he explained, happens at the longer wavelengths so the goal is to achieve “spectral selectivity” with nano-engineered materials.

Wang and his students are developing materials that will perform at higher temperatures, up to 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 degrees Fahrenheit), at which more power can be potentially produced.

Wang, who has published more than 20 papers in peer-reviewed journals over the past three years at ASU, was this year granted a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award to advance his research, and that of his students.

The award is being used to engineer new materials with micro/nanoscale feature sizes comparable to or smaller than the wavelength of light. Wang’s lab is employing physics to improve the conversion efficiency of solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and solar thermophotovoltaic energy-harvesting applications.

“We are investigating the resonance behaviors that a nano-engineered material exhibits in response to external electromagnetic waves at visible, near-infrared and mid-infrared ranges for tailoring thermal radiation at will,” Wang said.

“Besides advancing the fundamental understanding in nanoscale radiative transfer, our home-built spectrometric platform enables the systematic study of radiative properties over a wide temperature range from -196 degrees Celsius to 1,000 degrees Celsius,” he said. “This will provide unperceived spectrometric information from millimeter down to micrometer and nanometer scale, while the novel nanostructures with exotic radiative properties will be demonstrated for various applications in energy harvesting, thermal management and optical data storage.”

Wang said what makes his lab distinct is that they can take their concepts all the way through the engineering process — they design and fabricate the materials, as well as develop the state-of-the-art instrumentation to characterize material properties, and thus optimize performance.

He said that although proving the science is important, it is also important to lower the cost of production if the materials are ever going to get to market.

“Right now, nanofabrication is very expensive — about $100 per hour, and it takes 24 hours to grow a 5- by 5-millimeter sample for testing,” he said. “We have to get that cost down to have a practical impact on solar systems.”

Wang’s CAREER program will lead to a wide range of civil, military, aerospace and industrial applications. The success of this project will ultimately result in wide applications of energy harvesting to convert solar energy to heat and power, as well as energy savings by radiative cooling or heating using "smart" coating materials.

Smart coatings, he explained, could be laminated on building roofs or embedded in exterior material and would ideally radiate heat to cool in the summer or absorb more to heat the building in winter.

“You accomplish this by controlling the optical properties of the coating with tunable materials,” Wang said. “This type of technology could be used for space application as radiation is the only way to do thermal control for spacecraft and satellites to maintain power.”

“A smart coating could even be used to create clothing that would help heat or cool the human body for maintaining personal comfort and health in different environments,” he said.

Wang joined the ASU faculty in 2012. He received his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering with a focus on nanoscale radiative heat transfer from Georgia Institute of Technology. Wang is the lead principal investigator for ASU’s participation in the U.S.-Australia Solar Energy Collaboration on Micro Urban Solar Integrated Concentrator project, sponsored by Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Sharon Keeler

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Building better roads

ASU engineers are taking concrete pavements to the next level.
December 23, 2015

ASU engineers are ratcheting up research for more resilient concrete pavements

Aging roadways pose a growing threat to transportation infrastructure that’s critical to the health of economies throughout the world.

Beyond the daunting task of funding extensive restoration efforts, there’s an equally pressing challenge to find ways to rebuild major roads that are more sustainable.

The need is one of the main motivating factors behind a new international initiative called Infravation, a combination of infrastructure and innovation.

The European Commission — an offshoot of the European Union — initiated the effort, inviting engineers and scientists in Europe and the United States to propose research projects to develop technological solutions.

The commission considered around 100 proposals. Fewer than 10 have been selected, including two projects to be led by researchers in the United States, one of them by Arizona State University engineer Narayanan Neithalath.

High-performance concrete materials in demand

Neithalath has been experimenting with what are called phase-change materials to produce more resilient concrete surfaces for roads and bridges.

Working with colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he is finishing up a National Science Foundation-funded project that is exploring the use of a phase-change material solution for reducing or preventing temperature-related cracks in concrete pavement.

Through the new Infravation project, he and his UCLA partners will expand their work in collaboration with researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the Swiss Federal Institute for Materials Science (commonly known as EMPA) and the Tecnalia Research and Innovation organization in Spain.

Since cement concrete is a major component of transportation infrastructure, countries throughout the world are extremely interested in long-lasting and high-performing concrete materials, Neithalath said.

His Infravation group has been awarded $1.6 million to find out whether concrete solutions containing a phase-change material can significantly enhance the durability of concrete pavements and bridge decks. 

Guys looking cool in a lab.

ASU engineer Narayanan Neithalath (right) will lead an international project to develop ways of making concrete pavements more durable. Civil engineering doctoral student Akash Dakhane will assist him. Photo by Nora Skrodenis/ASU

Helping pavements cope with stress

Phase-change materials are substances that respond to temperature variations by changing their state from solid to liquid or vice versa, and can be sourced from petroleum (such as paraffin wax) or be plant-based.

“We know how the materials perform under laboratory conditions. Now we have to see if it holds up when applied at larger scales and real-life loading and environmental conditions,” said Neithalath, an associate professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Like other phase-change materials, the substance his team is working with is especially effective at absorbing and releasing thermal energy. It means that over a wide range of temperature variations, it can store significantly more heat per unit of volume than water, rock or masonry.

That ability makes this phase-change material a good choice for mixing with concrete to boost its resistance to crack-inducing stresses. For instance, in hot weather the material can absorb much of the heat, thus protecting the concrete from a level of heat that can trigger fracturing.

“The important thing is to have a material that helps concrete pavements cope with different kinds of stresses put on it,” Neithalath said. “You need materials that can melt or solidify in response to varying environmental conditions without weakening the structural integrity of the pavement.”

Goal is to optimize durability

Beyond how well the phase-change material performs in that particular fashion, his team needs to answer other big questions.

What changes in the road design and construction techniques are necessary to optimize the use of the crack-reducing phase-change materials?

What are the most effective ways to embed phase-change material into vast amounts of concrete?

Can the new system provide enough durability to justify additional costs?

How can this phase-change material be safely disposed of when the new road pavements are eventually replaced?

In addition, it will likely be necessary to devise strategies for use of the material on bridge decks that are different than how the material would be used in pavements for roadways built on solid ground.

Finding answers “will require us to more fully understand the properties of the material and how it will behave in a range of situations,” said Neithalath, who is also on the faculty of the graduate studies program in materials science and engineering.

“I think we can take concrete pavements to the next level.”
— ASU engineer Narayanan Neithalath

Components for progress in place

Fellow ASU civil engineers on the project team, Subramaniam Rajan and Mikhail Chester, will apply their specific expertise to aid Neithalath in pursuit of answers and solutions.

Professor Rajan will provide computer modeling to validate results of extensive experiments with the material.

Assistant professor Chester will perform cost-benefit analysis as well as life-cycle analysis of the new pavement material — a major step in predicting how it will measure up to sustainability expectations.

The project will also provide opportunities for a number of ASU post-doctoral lab assistants and engineering graduate students to get valuable research experience.

“We will have good research teams at each of the institutions in different countries that are partners in this project. We have experts for every component of what we need to accomplish our goal,” Neithalath said. “I think we can take concrete pavements to the next level.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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ASU, partners team up to bring jobs to underemployed youth at 100,000 Opportunities Fair

ASU part of coalition aiming to engage, hire 100,000 opportunity youth by 2018.
100,000 Opportunities Fair's workshops included resume writing, goal setting.
500 young people received job offers at free Phoenix opportunities fair.
December 18, 2015

It’s hard to argue with some striking numbers: There are too many young people in the Phoenix area without jobs.

Nationally, one in seven young adults does not work or attend school; however in Phoenix, and across Maricopa County, that statistic is closer to one in five — the highest rate of youth disengagement among the largest 25 cities in America. According to a study by Measure of America, unemployment in Phoenix for this age group is 20 percent, with only 55 percent enrolled in school, also the lowest of any of the 25 metro areas.

The ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy discusses the issues facing Arizona in particular in a recent white paper, "A Win-Win for Arizona Businesses: Economic Benefits of Hiring Opportunity Youth." In Phoenix alone, there are 92,000 young people in this category who are neither working nor in school, presenting a staggering challenge to the area.

ASU and its partners have teamed up to fix that.

“Phoenix is a strong indicator for the larger crisis facing our nation when it comes to engaging opportunity youth,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton in a press release. “While the statistics are sobering, our city is seeing a small but powerful groundswell of civic, community and elected leaders that are working hard to give youth in Phoenix the type of meaningful job and educational opportunities they deserve. The business leadership driving the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative will help take our city’s efforts to even greater heights and bring more attention to the magnitude of this issue and its impact on the rest of the country.”

Young adults write resumes on laptops at a long table.

A resume writing workshop
was among the free guidance
for young adults attending the
100,000 Opportunities Fair on
Oct. 30 in Phoenix.

This and top photo
courtesy of Starbucks

The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative has the goal of forming the nation’s largest employer-led coalition committed to engaging at least 100,000 youth by 2018. In Phoenix, the initiative working with the City of Phoenix, Maricopa County, Opportunities for Youth Board, Maricopa Community College, Arizona State University, and other community-based organizations and civic leaders to help deliver the skills training and hiring opportunities young people need.

The 100,000 Opportunities Fair on Oct. 30 at the Phoenix Convention Center featured 25 local and national companies hiring opportunity youth. Approximately 500 young people received job offers as an outcome from the Phoenix fair. Even though not all received a job, the companies present are focused on building long-term relationships with the young people from the event and can reach out in the future for employment opportunities. The hope is that thousands more youth in the Phoenix area can be hired over the next 18 months.

At a similar event in Chicago in August, approximately 600 offers of employment were made at the event, and approximately 200 more job offers were made after.

Arizona State University was fully integrated into the Phoenix event. For example, 250 students volunteered to help with logistics and day-of requirements, such as helping guide the registered youth to the right booths or workshops. ASU Online and ASU Admission Services also exhibited all day, sharing about admission requirements to degree programs and discussing pathways to education with young people. Such tools as me3 were also featured to help youth explore possible career pathways.

ASU students and staff members, in close partnership with Maricopa County Community Colleges District, Phoenix Workforce Connection, and Maricopa Workforce Connection also helped with five separate workshops: resume writing, mock interviews, college success, skills to impress your boss, and education and career goal-setting. These services were provided for free, and were especially helpful for youth who had scheduled interviews during the event.

“The jobs of the future will require more education and more training. Everyone will need some sort of post-secondary education to succeed,” said Michael Crow, Arizona State University president, in the press release. “We must raise the level of learning that our young people reach, or the jobs will go unfilled, the next generation’s potential will be diminished and the economy handicapped. This initiative helps put disengaged youth back on a path where they can advance, learn skills and reach a higher level of education and training. It is an effort squarely in line with ASU’s mission to expand access to education and take responsibility for the community around us.”

At a press conference hosted by Starbucks, leadership shared personal stories of their own experiences and motivations to be a part of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative.

Alongside the fair, ASU hosted a Leaders Luncheon at the ASU Downtown Campus, inviting senior level members from local and national corporations, non-profits, government agencies, educators and other service providers to come together for a series of discussions about the challenges facing opportunity youth in Maricopa County, and nationally, and to discuss possible solutions.

Video by Jim Salisbury

President Crow and Howard Schultz, CEO & Chairman of Starbucks, welcomed more than 100 attendees, and a roundtable dialogue delved deeper into the challenges facing opportunity youth. That discussion featured Cathy Cooney of Red Robin, James Fripp of Yum! Brands, David Adame of Chicanos Por La Causa and Steve Seleznow of Arizona Community Foundation, as well as two former opportunity youth, Mona Dixon of ASU, and Philan Tree of Tribal Communications and Relations at Coconino County District 4.

ASU is committed to continuing to support the work of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative in 2016 and beyond. The next Opportunity Fair will be in Los Angeles on Feb. 11.

The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative has 33 corporate sponsors: Alaska Airlines, Chipotle Mexico Grill, Cintas, CVS Health, Dominos, FedEx, Hilton Worldwide, HMSHost, Hyatt, JCPenney, JPMorgan Chase, Lyft, Macy’s, Mars, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut,, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Prudential, Red Robin, Republic Services, Starbucks, Sweetgreen, Taco Bell, Target, T-Mobile, Teavana, TOMS, VILLA, Walgreens and Walmart.

ASU had the opportunity prior to the event to interview former opportunity youth including Mona Dixon and Breanna Carpenter. Watch their stories below.

Note: This story is an updated version of one that originally ran Oct. 29.

ASU transfer student follows unexpected path to find a passion for skin health

December 18, 2015

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

No matter where one’s educational path begins, the journey is often filled with unexpected twists and turns. Natalya Borakowski’s path began in Moscow, Russia. ASU graduate Natalya Borakowski Natalya Borakowski’s path began in Moscow, Russia, with a master's in music education and led her to studying genetics and cell development at ASU. Download Full Image

“I have a master’s degree in music education, something I received back in Russia and something my parents always wanted me to have,” Borakowski said.

“However, I never saw myself as a teacher, so after years of searching and trying different careers, everything from waitressing to banking, I finally found my passion in skin care.”

Borakowski opened her own business after receiving her aesthetician license. Her practice, dedicated to helping people with problematic skin, became successful.

“Acne disease became my nemesis and the best friend,” said Borakowski, who had moved to Arizona from Moscow in 1999. “I made a lot of money helping people with acne, only to learn that there is nothing I can do to prevent future breakouts.”

This realization shifted her path back to higher education. Borakowski enrolled at Scottsdale Community College in 2012 to study biology, graduating with honors in May 2013.

“I believe the cure for acne lies beneath the skin,” Borakowski said. “I believe our modern treatments for acne are not effective and are only made to treat existing breakouts.”

After transferring to Arizona State University in fall 2013, Borakowski’s career goal further developed to combine her love of skin care with her ever-evolving dedication to finding unique solutions.

“My goal is to become naturopathic physician, not a dermatologist, because I do not want to treat the skin, I want to treat entire human body in order to find a unique cure for any skin condition for every individual,” said Borakowski, who received her degree in genetics, cell and developmental biology in the School of Life Sciences, part of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

She found that ASU was the perfect institution to accommodate her ambitious goals along with her work and home life.

“I am very pleased that I was accepted to ASU,” said Borakowski, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA. “School is conveniently close to my work and home, and offers very comprehensive and very interesting classes to prepare me for medical school ahead.”

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Cyber tips to keep the humbugs out of the holiday season

Online shopping is easy, but be sure you keep online predators at bay.
Are your holiday gifts spying on your children? We can help.
December 17, 2015

ASU global security strategist offers insight to keep online intruders at bay, and away from your children

People buying holiday gifts enjoy the convenience of online shopping, which is projected to reach $83 billion in 2015, an 11 percent increase over last year. But even though online shopping can reduce the stress of going to crowded shops and malls, buying gifts through the Internet does create its own set of concerns — chiefly, the risk of fraud or third-party trackers that monitor our online habits. And with the rise of Wi-Fi-enabled devices it's worth being aware which gifts could transmit your children's personal data or whereabouts. 

Woman wearing a jacket

With that in mind, Jamie Winterton (pictured at left), director of strategic research initiatives with Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative, offers some timely cyber security tips and strategies for the holiday shopping season and the new year.

Question: What are some easy ways to stay cyber safe while purchasing holiday gifts online?

Answer: There are lots of places to shop online, and every one of them wants you to set up an account. As burdensome as it is, creating a new password for each of those accounts will keep you safer. You can keep them safely organized with secure password management, like LastPass. I also recommend using a credit card instead of debit card for online purchases; this puts one extra safeguard between the online world and your personal bank account.

Q: How can we minimize spreading too much of our personal data online?

A: First, decide what “too much” means to you, and then assume that anything you put online could be publically accessible. Once you know what you do and don’t want to share, you can tailor your online behavior accordingly. It’s easier to think of it from a personal-comfort standpoint than an abstract list of rules that you have to follow. For example, if you like personalized advertising but don’t want people to know your home address, you can focus more on turning off location services when you don’t need them, and less on third-party tracking blockers.

Q: New toys, such as “Hello Barbie,” increasingly connect to the Internet, creating security issues that could expose children’s personal data, or even let hackers eavesdrop on communications between the toy and the cloud server. What can parents do to protect their children’s privacy after buying Internet-connected toys this holiday season?

A: First, consider whether or not the toy really needs to be connected to the Internet. Many toys have an online option, but what does that feature really contribute to your child’s experience? Think about just connecting the device once in a while for software updates, instead of having it hooked up 24/7. 

My other suggestion is to lie! These toys usually ask for a fairly detailed profile of the child. If you decide to connect toys or other ed-tech, consider: Does this item (and the company who produces it) truly need my child’s real name and age? Does it need the names of my child’s friends or pets, or details about my child’s hobbies? Kids' tech encourages so much personal data sharing, but we can’t be confident that this data will be kept secure. At my house, we talk about this as having a “secret identity” online, like a spy. The kids think it’s great.

Q: What are some easy tools shoppers can employ to block malvertisingMalvertising, from the term "malicious advertising," is the use of online advertising to spread malware that could infect your computer. and third-party trackers?

A: The amount of malware found on advertising networks (“malvertising”) has increased sharply over the past year. I use AdBlock Plus to stay safe from ads containing malicious scripts that can either hijack your computer or snoop around your machine. I also use the Ghostery browser extension, because I don’t like third-party trackers profiling my behavior. Those two options are easy to install and provide good protection without affecting my online experience.