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AI technology may be the answer to future education disruptors

December 7, 2022

Interdisciplinary researchers at ASU find that AI-powered learning apps can help reverse learning loss

This fall, the U.S. Department of Education released its latest report card on the state of learning, showing large declines in fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores between 2019 to 2022, while COVID-19 pandemic protocols were in place.

With a quick pivot to online learning at the height of the pandemic, analyzing the impacts of learning loss, and how to reverse it, has been a major area of focus for Sang-Pil Han, an associate professor of information systems in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, whose research focuses on artificial intelligence, digital platforms and educational technologies.

In a new interdisciplinary paper, Han and his co-authors detail their research using QANDA, an AI-based learning app by Mathpresso Inc. Han, who is an advisor for Mathpresso, and his colleagues, found that AI learning apps like QANDA can help close the learning loss gap for K–12 students, especially if there’s an immediate goal, like taking a college placement exam.

But as Han points out, the pandemic will not be the only disruption in education going forward. Yes, the world may have to brace for another pandemic, but there’s also the reality of climate disasters, wherein classes could be canceled for, let’s say, a hurricane, like families in Florida recently experienced with Hurricane Ian.

Then, there’s equity in education. Han explains why AI-powered learning apps serve students more broadly, and how they can deliver for businesses too.

Question: Why are AI-based apps more effective at closing the learning loss gap than, let's say, a tutor? 

Answer: AI-based learning apps provide student-tailored educational content at an affordable price, with a few screen touches from their comfortable locations, without interruptions, at their own pace, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as long as students have internet connectivity. In this regard, the benefits of AI-powered learning apps can be summarized in five aspects: 1) affordability (cost-saving), 2) actionability (less time/effort required), 3) accommodability (personalized experience), 4) assurance (reliability and consistency in service) and 5) accessibility (greater reach to educational resources).

In addition to the aforementioned five "A's," from an efficacy and experiential perspective, for certain segments of students, AI-based learning apps are more effective. For example, Gen Z's simply learn not only more effectively but also (more enjoyably) when they interact with AI technology. Especially for resource-strapped students who cannot afford personal tutors or who live in remote locations where accessibility to tutors or test-prep institutions are limited, AI-based learning apps are essential in the sense (that they) close the existing learning app.

Q: Does this research suggest that AI-based apps will be essential to everyday learning, regardless of whether we are in a pandemic? 

A: Yes, we see this at ASU and at other universities. The pandemic has been an inflection point that has accelerated and shaped the landscape of many industries, including the education sector, not only in hybrid working but also in hybrid learning.

Q: The pandemic won’t be the last disruptor in education. How can this technology aid students and industry alike?

A: Global pandemics and natural disasters derail students’ learning paths and lead to dire economic and social consequences. Our research shows that AI-powered learning apps can play a pivotal role in mitigating learning loss under such adverse conditions. Our study provides implications for businesses as well as to policymakers and administrators. For investors, investment in edtech firms will help achieve the double bottom line of financial and social objectives. For policymakers and administrators, AI should be given serious consideration as the next frontier in leveling the playing field by advancing equity in education.

Top photo courtesy Pixabay

Jimena Garrison

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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Pursuing wellness focus of 'Hacking the Human' conference

December 6, 2022

First-year nursing students display solutions to health issues

Judith Karshmer’s message was simple:

If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?

“We’ve learned in our focus on health wellness that it’s not somebody doing something for us. It’s us doing it ourselves,” Karshmer, dean of Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, said at the start of the "Hacking the Human: Innovative Approaches to Wellness" conference on Dec. 2 at the Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab in downtown Phoenix.

“What we’re trying to do at ASU is make wellness not a program but a value. We’re trying to do that by saying everybody has wellness practices. Maybe they use sunscreen, maybe they choose to limit their alcohol or marijuana intake. Maybe it’s exercise. Maybe one day a week you don’t eat meat. I often ask people: ‘What’s your wellness habit?’”

Karshmer’s remarks preceded several speakers and panel discussions that looked at wellness through the prisms of innovation, technology, fitness, food and more.

“Wellness cuts through every discipline,” Karshmer said. “It’s something we should talk about and experience every day.”

Mark Naufel, a professor of practice in ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise and director of strategic projects in the Luminosity Lab, told the audience about a Daily Dose app that would help recovering addicts by digitizing the 12-step program used by organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous.

The app, Naufel said, would help recovering addicts find the nearest meetings and include a breathalyzer test that could be taken every morning or night. The information from the test would then be seen by the friends and family members who have been invited to join the addict’s “circle of trust.”

“Now family members can wake up (and) see if the addict is doing his daily tasks,” Naufel said, adding that the goal is to release the app to the public after Jan. 1.

Following the conference, first-year students in the Edson College gathered in the building’s north parking lot to present their solutions to real-world health challenges.

Nursing students share their ideas to improve wellness at Hacking the Human conference

ASU nursing students present their innovative solutions to health issues regarding food, family and finance in the parking lot of the Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab in downtown Phoenix on Dec. 2. 

Among the top posters:

"SOS: A Silent Call For Help"
Brianna Lopez, Tatum Boxley, Elyse Dunham

Almost 20% of all human trafficking victims are children, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

SOS is a bracelet that would hopefully reduce those numbers.

Dunham said the lightweight, gender-neutral bracelet has three main components:

A tracking device that can be shared with 10 selected followers. A safety button that, if held down for five seconds, would immediately alert local trafficking authorities. A push notification that would be sent to authorities and the 10 selected followers if the bracelet is removed or broken.

“Our purpose basically is to keep people out of the trafficking system in a way that almost outsmarts the traffickers,” Dunham said. “It’s crazy how easy it is for people to get manipulated and put in the trafficking system. With something like this, we want to overcome those extreme manipulative traffickers.”

Three students standing next to poster presentation

From left to right: First-year nursing majors Brianna Lopez, Tatum Boxley and Elyse Denham talk about their "SOS" project. 

Ziyan Chen, Taj Whitley, Kyler Morga

Build-a-Bot is a robot that would encourage children to get outside and exercise.

“Childhood obesity affects 20% of children in the U.S.,” Chen said. “That puts children and adolescents at risk for poor health, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and other problems.”

The robot would have an app that parents can customize to match their child’s interests. The child would be able to choose the color of the robot.

“It’s a little buddy they can do exercise with,” Chen said.

Although they didn’t research how Build-a-Bot’s could be funded, Chen said they would like to see the government purchase robots for lower-income families, “as they would do with food stamps.”

Woman talking to people about her poster presentation

First-year nursing major Taj Whitley presents her group's "Build-a-Bot” project. 

"Auditing System for Nurses"
Jerry Verdugo, Dara Ouk

The auditing system would guarantee that nurses are being given scheduled breaks in order to improve their mental health.

“There is a nationwide problem in the U.S. in which nurses don’t receive substantial breaks,” Ouk said. “Because of the lack of breaks, nurses have reported to have high levels of stress and anxiety.”

How would it work? Nurses would enter information such as how much water they’ve drank, what they ate for lunch, their anxiety level, etc., on the auditing system, which would then in turn encourage the nurses to take their mandatory breaks.

“Studies have shown this would improve their quality of life and also improve health care,” Ouk said. “We feel that it’s really important nurses are taking care of themselves. They need to be treated well because they work really hard.”

Two people talking about poster presentation

First-year nursing majors Dara Our (right) and Jerry Verdugo explain their project “Auditing System for Nurses.”

"Check Up"
Sarah Kohler, Christianna Carr, Vanessa Bailon Barrera

Check Up is an app that would provide health care resources for prisoners reentering society.

“Prisoners have a lot of chronic health conditions that have worsened in prison,” Kohler said. “It’s such an overlooked topic these days. Most people don’t think about the fact that these prisoners aren’t getting the health care they need. We wanted a really accessible way to get resources for them.”

Released prisoners would install Check Up on their phone and be able to schedule appointments, be reminded of appointments and, because of chronic conditions prisoners face such as hypertension and diabetes, even have an alert when low insulin levels are detected.

“It’s just going to help overall because it’s given them resources in one place,” Kohler said. “A lot of times, prison inmates don’t have a high literacy in technology. This is a simple way to access everything.”

The 2022 winners were announced at the end of the conference:

First place, $1,000 cash prize

"Break the Cycle: Nurse Burnout" — Aromatherapy patches to relive stress, by Mackenzie Anderson and Kamrielle Wyatt.

Second place, $500 cash prize

"Breast Buddy Box" — New moms received postpartum-specific pamphlets, information on local resources, by Jordan Sornsin, Isabelle Bridgeman, Alexa Medrano and Madalyn Tibbits.

Third place, $250 cash prize

"Nursing Home Care" — Digital care portfolio for nursing home patients, by Brei Bergman, Jatziry Lopez Castro and Gabriela Rosales Gaitan.

Top photo: First-year nursing majors Christianna Carr (left) and Sarah Kohler present their project, “Check Up,” to Sparky after the "Hacking the Human" conference in the parking lot of the Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab in downtown Phoenix on Dec. 2. Students presented their innovative solutions to health issues for an opportunity to win a cash prize. Photos by Samantha Chow/Arizona State University

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

Student group put ASU charter’s call for inclusivity into multiple learning experiences

Tourism Student Association devoted fall programs to inclusivity in serving travelers

December 2, 2022

The Arizona State University Charter mandates that inclusion is front and center in all of ASU’s programs, classes, research and other activities.

Students in the Tourism Student Association, a student organization based at the School of Community Resources and Development (SCRD), devoted its major fall 2022 activities to focus on inclusive and accessible tourism, said longtime TSA faculty co-advisor Claire McWilliams. Group of people seated in a home smiling and waving as they teleconference with a couple who are visible in an inset in the lower, right-hand corner of the screen. Kevan and Katie Chandler (lower right inset), founders of and creators of a "human backpack," visit with members of ASU's Tourism Student Association during a recent movie night. Photo courtesy Claire McWilliams Download Full Image

McWilliams, an SCRD tourism development and management and hospitality lecturer, said the students decided before the semester began to have an entire slate of fall programs live out the mission of the charter.

McWilliams said she brought the idea to TSA leaders before the semester began, as she admired an author in the tourism industry who sought to travel beyond the constraints of his wheelchair and wanted to integrate his work into the club’s activities. From there, more ideas came up and a schedule of four events was created.

“In all my years advising the TSA, I’ve never been more inspired about what this student organization has achieved,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams said the fall programming included:

• A Sept. 28 appearance by Marisol Vindiola from Visit Tucson, who talked about cross-border tourism, which involved learning about and being aware of guests' needs, no matter what their point of origin.  

• A Nov. 2 conversation with Ed Salvato, an author, editor and professor who is a thought leader in the LBGTQ tourism community. Salvato discussed how anyone can support inclusive tourism as it relates to the strong LGBTQ travel market. “Salvato reminded TSA’s future tourism leaders to go straight to the root of hospitality, to invite, respect and protect, to avoid making assumptions, and to use gender-expansive language that focuses on the reason for visiting, whether camper, cruiser or guest,” McWilliams said. “When in doubt, he said, ask.”

• A Nov. 9 “Fall Fireside” presentation by Alison Brooks from Visit Mesa, along with Camilo Bustos Navarro from Wheel the World and Brett Heising, a disability and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging consultant. The three told students how universal design, training and partnerships can equip industry leaders and frontline service workers to help travelers overcome impediments to tourism activities related to neurodiversity and physical challenges. Visit Mesa’s leadership helped Mesa, Arizona’s third-largest city, to become the first-ever Autism Certified City in the United States.

• A Nov. 18 appearance by Kevan Chandler, author, advocate and founder of, who successfully left his wheelchair behind and journeyed as a “human backpack” by using an invention where he can be carried on the back of a hiker. TSA members raised more than $3,000 to purchase and outfit six of these adaptive backpacks, provide training for users and cover shipping costs. Members met Chandler via Zoom and watched a documentary he produced. McWilliams said members were impacted by his bravery, trust and total freedom-inducing joy in dancing, running and making it to a 360-view at the top of the Great Wall of China — all in the adaptive backpack with his friends carrying and supporting Chandler and enjoying the moments.  

McWilliams said she was struck by a statement from Brooks, of Visit Mesa, that everyone will become disabled at some point in life, through injury, age, disease or some other cause, and so adaptive tourism methods will ultimately apply to anyone who seeks to travel.

McWilliams said all the presenters emphasized that providing equal opportunities to all tourists not only is the right thing to do, but can be profitable to someone in the tourism industry who opens up such opportunities to more people eager to spend on travel.

Students impressed with speakers' messages

Salvato’s message resonated with TSA member Cailia Flatt.

Man carrying his friend on his back as they travel along the Great Wall of China.

Kevan Chandler (top) sits in a "human backpack" as he joins friends traveling along the Great Wall of China. Photo courtesy Kevan Chandler

“My biggest takeaway was embracing the LGBTQ community. At the meeting, (Salvato) told us to yell the words ‘lesbian,’ ‘gay,’ ‘bisexual,’ ‘transgender’ and ‘queer/questioning’ out loud, because it was something to be proud of and not ashamed of,” Flatt said. “I've been an ally since my cousin came out in middle school. I was never ashamed to talk about it; I was just worried I would offend someone. After the experience, I didn't feel like I needed to censor my words anymore. The faster we make it normal, the faster it will be normal. That's what I thought after the whole thing."

TSA Secretary Jordyn Hoff said she found the experience of each event to be rare.

“They had us critically thinking about how inclusivity will fit into all the industries we want to go in. I could tell the students were so engaged through all these events, which is precisely what an officer wants to see in their club,” Hoff said. “It was great to see inclusivity on a local scale through our Fall Fireside, across borders with Marisol and globally with Kevan.”

TSA President Jeneca Kostad said she was “intrigued, inspired and amazed” at how well students learned to surmount obstacles to inclusivity within the tourism industry.

“I believe our club is the next generation to make the world more inclusive as a whole, starting with travel and tourism,” Kostad said. “TSA is out to make a change in the tourism industry!”   

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Award-winning professor launches hybrid learning experience for online students

Early Career Award winner Viridiana Benitez expands access to language-learning research

December 2, 2022

Viridiana Benitez – a daughter of immigrants, an English-as-a-second-language learner and a first-generation college student – knows firsthand what it’s like to overcome challenges in academia. Now, the Arizona State University assistant professor is aiming to help current college students in their own higher education journeys.

In the spring of 2023, Benitez is launching an innovative new course to provide research experience for ASU Online students who utilize a learning modality that, despite its many benefits, has previously lacked the same research opportunities afforded to traditional immersion students who learn in-person, on campus. ASU Assistant Professor Viridiana Benitez smiling, looking at the camera, on a sidewalk lined with trees and bushes. Assistant Professor Viridiana Benitez. Photo by Robert Ewing/ASU Download Full Image

“It is just so important for students to be able to conduct the research they are learning about,” Benitez said.

Benitez is the primary investigator of the Learning & Development Lab at ASU, where she researches cognitive development with a focus on how young children learn words, how they track the patterns of their environment and how language experience, such as bilingualism, affects cognition. She hopes to better understand how to promote the development of language in children, in particular, the kinds of early experiences that might support dual language development.

This fall, she was recognized as an Early Career Award winner by her doctoral training institution, Indiana University. She was selected based on the quality of her early career research and the impact she is having on the field of psychology.

Benitez received her developmental psychology training under the mentorship of Linda Smith, a renowned professor in the field of cognitive development.

“I received the email early this year that I was selected, and I was just very proud, surprised and also very humbled to have received it. The training I received from Dr. Smith really enabled me to become the scientist I am today, and for that I am grateful,” Benitez said.

To accept the award, Benitez flew back to Indiana for a reception dinner with her academic peers and family. At the ceremony, she acknowledged another prominent faculty member from Arizona State University — the late Martha E. Bernal, the first Latina PhD in psychology, which she also received from Indiana University, who studied ethnic identity development among Mexican American children.

Bernal is recognized as a groundbreaking figure in the fields of clinical and developmental psychology, and contributed significantly to the advancement of ethnic minority psychology. Each year, ASU's Department of Psychology also awards The Martha E. Bernal Memorial Scholarship Award to deserving doctoral students who are contributing to research on ethnic identity and minority mental health.

“I have also been reflecting about Martha Bernal’s story and how she may have made it a little easier for someone like me — a daughter of immigrants who is an English-as-a-second-language learner and a first-generation college student — to be able to complete a PhD,” said Benitez. “Additionally, for ASU to be recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, I think is really amazing. We're serving a lot of Latino students, and in particular, in our work, we focus on bilingualism, which is an important factor in the Latino experience.”

This course Benitez is launching in the spring, titled “Learning words across language and development,” is designed to provide the hands-on psychology learning required for continuing training and graduate education. In it, ASU Online students will engage in a 15-week research opportunity to examine the mechanisms of word learning and bilingualism across development.

While the students are working remotely, they will attend weekly meetings with the Learning & Development Lab and help to conduct a literature review on bilingual word learning, design experiments to fill gaps in the literature, and conduct research with adults and children via Zoom.

“Right now, we're conducting a study in which we're inviting parents to read bilingual books to their young child, aged 3 to 4. We're interested in how caregivers incorporate both languages as they are reading to their child,” said Benitez. “I’m very excited for this cohort of students and for all that they will have the opportunity to accomplish.”

Video courtesy the Department of Psychology

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


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Cyberattacks threaten global security

December 1, 2022

Director of US National Security Agency discusses cyber warfare at ASU event

The United States is engaged in a quiet but potentially devastating intelligence, cyber and information war, with the greatest threats to national security coming from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. 

That was the topic of a webinar on “Confronting Current and Future Cybersecurity Threats,” hosted Wednesday by Arizona State University’s Center on the Future of War.

“As you think about what computers have evolved to these days, they've gotten so much more entwined in everything we do — whether it's the information on our computer desktop all the way out to the military's weapons,” said Rob Joyce, director of the U.S. National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate.

Part of the mission of the agency is to partner with allies, private industry and academics to strengthen awareness and collaboration, and advance the state of cybersecurity.

Joyce was joined by retired Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, professor of practice in the Center on the Future of War and School of Politics and Global Studies, and Daniel Rothenberg, a professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies and co-director of the Center on the Future of War.

Rothenberg asked if a devastating and fundamentally destabilizing cyberattack is imminent and inevitable in American society.

“Yeah it is,” said Joyce, citing the 2021 ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which was caused by one compromised password that led to major fuel shortages.  

“So, it is not unimaginable.” 

Beyond government computers

A cyberattack on the U.S. government would be far-reaching, going beyond its official web of networks to thousands of partner companies, defense contractors, subcontractors and more.  

According to Joyce, the ecosystem consists of 30,000 cleared companies that work as subcontractors and 300,000 companies that feed into the defense department. It is an enormous amount of tech surface that adversaries can get into in order to steal information, manipulate data and more.

“So we were frankly seeing a lot of stuff lost in that ecosystem,” Joyce said. 

Joyce said that anything from civic governments to companies that are assaulted are a national security issue. Hospitals, schools and manufacturing plants are all driven and dependent on computers. 

“Criminals understand that If you have something that people depend on, they can exploit it,” Joyce said.

Cyber solutions

The NSA’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center works with industry partners to prevent and eliminate foreign cyber threats. 

Joyce explained there are ongoing offensive and defensive efforts to comprehend and combat cyber threats — exploiting the enemy’s web system while at the same time trying to keep them out of U.S. networks. 

Finding out the enemy's secrets puts the U.S. on the path to security, he said.

What do adversaries know or intend to do against those military communication systems? And what are the adversaries doing to get our classified communications? These are questions the NSA must ask, Joyce said.  

“You know, it takes a thief to catch a thief,” Joyce said. “So when you work on both sides of this … you get a better appreciation for the practical things the adversary will do to win, and that's really what it's all about.” 

Desktop defense 

Schmidle asked what people could do to protect their personal computers from attacks.

Joyce said the number one thing to do is install updates as soon as they come out and have a solid password management system. Security that is breached on one site can be an entry point to all personal information. 

“Criminals are going around, and they're rattling the doorknobs,” Joyce said.

“It's the equivalent of a criminal finding a car that's unlocked and just taking whatever they find inside. If you lock your car, you're safe.” 

Joyce said that there is a real need to be vigilant in improving the technology but, “it is not going to be any one entity that solves the problem.”  

It's not just regulation, or collaboration between government and private industry, or international coalitions or laws that are the answer, he said.

“But it's going to be a bit of all of that.”

Top photo courtesy iStock

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

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ASU recycles research-supporting helium amid global shortage

November 30, 2022

Sorry to burst your bubble, but helium is in short supply worldwide. This lighter-than-air gas is known for making party balloons float, but it has many other important uses, including medical imaging, making microchips and testing rockets.

To make the most of its supply, Arizona State University has equipped its Magnetic Resonance Research Center with a sustainable system that recycles the helium it uses for research. There, scientists are working to understand subjects like cancer, pain perception and degradable plastics.

The rise and fall of helium

For nearly a century, the U.S. has been the world’s biggest supplier of helium. While our helium industry was historically run by the federal government, it’s now transitioning into a private industry. Due to that transition and the shuttering of the Federal Helium Reserve, helium production has declined in the U.S. Now, this critical gas is increasingly coming from other countries like Qatar, Russia and Algeria, but the price and supply are not steady due to instability in these regions.

Helium is a non-renewable resource produced deep within the Earth as radioactive materials, like uranium, decay. The helium gradually bubbles its way up, and while most of it escapes the planet’s surface, a small portion becomes trapped under dense rock domes beneath the ground, where people can extract it.

Earth’s limited amount of helium is constantly shrinking, in part because helium gas is extremely hard to bottle up. Its structure is so small that we need special containers to hold it.

Think of birthday balloons, which we fill with a mix of helium and other gases. After a few days, the balloons are on the floor, even though they still appear to be full of air. That’s because all the helium has leaked out, leaving only the other gases behind.

Once helium escapes into the air, it passes through Earth’s atmosphere and goes into outer space, leaving the planet forever.

Despite its association with party decor and funny chipmunk voices, helium has a serious side. Its tiny size makes it perfect for testing leaks in rockets and gas pipelines. It’s not flammable, making it a safe choice for fabrication plants that have to build microchips in a sterile chamber filled with gas. And it can exist in liquid form near absolute zero (around minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit), the lowest possible temperature.

Its ability to stay super cold makes helium critical for magnetic resonance imaging machines. These MRI machines — known for taking detailed medical scans — rely on superconducting magnets. These special electromagnets must be kept extremely cold to work properly and are ruined if they rise above a certain temperature.

metal tanks and copper pipes form part of the helium recovery system

Machinery involved in recycling helium at the center, including a special transport tank in the foreground and a purifier, liquefier and compressor in the background. The center hopes to recover and recycle at least 85% of its helium. Photograph by Andy DeLisle/ASU

The long pipes to recovery

The ASU Magnetic Resonance Research Center relies on MRIs and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy — like an MRI for atoms — to do its work, making helium a key resource.

To make the best use of its supply, the center, one of ASU’s Core Research Facilities, has installed a helium recovery system custom designed for its equipment and needs.

Inside the superconducting magnets, the liquid helium coolant gradually boils into a gas, which is captured and transported through networks of specially sealed copper pipes that give the lab a distillery look. The gas collects in giant bags that can hold up to 16,000 liters each. Once full, the gas in the bags is compressed and stored in mid-pressure tanks. From the tanks, the helium is sent to a purifier that removes any water vapor, oxygen or nitrogen before being converted to liquid, leaving the lab with pure liquid helium ready for reuse.

Each of ASU’s 16,000-liter helium collection bags holds enough gas to fill about 1,135 party balloons.

“Our long-term goal is to recover and recycle at least 85% of our helium,” says Brian Cherry, staff scientist and manager of the center. “Every five weeks, I have to fill one of my magnets, and if I don’t get helium within a day or two of that, $4 million of equipment is gone. So while we save money and recycle, we’re protecting that investment at the same time by not having to rely on a volatile market.”

Other universities have installed recovery systems of their own, but Cherry points out that ASU’s large storage tank system sets it somewhat apart from others. The center hopes to demonstrate the advantages of using a recovery system and inspire clinics, labs and other facilities to adopt similar systems and better preserve the world’s helium supply. One selling point: the tremendous cost savings.

"We’ve captured approximately 2,500 liters of liquid helium — nearly 2 million liters of helium gas — since June 2022," says Samrat Amin, the director of Core Research Facilities operations. At today's average price of liquid helium, the recovery system has already saved the center around $55,000.

"The cost savings with our helium recovery system represent a significant portion of our operation budget," adds Amin. "The system not only aligns with ASU’s sustainability goals, but also ensures our long-term ability to provide critical instruments that serve researchers across ASU."

The ASU recovery system will work in the background to support around 150 researchers — in addition to teaching labs, external businesses and collaborators — who use the core facility.

a rack of small vials filled with samples for NMR testing

A rack of samples for NMR analysis. NMR imaging allows researchers to study molecules in solution, giving them a more realistic picture of how cells and proteins behave. Photograph by Andy DeLisle/ASU

Proteins shake

“I do everything using NMR spectroscopy, so the helium recovery system was absolutely crucial for me,” says Xu Wang, an associate professor in the School of Molecular Sciences who studies sugar-binding proteins.

These proteins are involved in a lot of biological processes. Wang has researched how sugar-binding proteins affect the symptoms of Lyme disease as well as the activation of white blood cells.

Most recently, his research group has been studying a sugar-binding protein produced by over 80% of brain tumor cells that influences tumors to grow more rapidly.

Associate Professor Wade Van Horn studies proteins found in the membranes that surround cells. These proteins carry information to and from the cell and are important for processes like drugs binding effectively to cells.

He is exploring how a new class of non-addictive pain medications interacts with cell receptors. The goal is to create ways to predict which drug variations will work best without relying on expensive clinical trials early on in the process.

There are other methods and machines for looking at molecular structures that don’t use superconducting magnets, and therefore helium. The trouble is that they require the molecules to stay in a fixed position and environment.

“What NMR does that’s different is that our studies are in solution,” Van Horn says. “We can see how the proteins wiggle around as they would in a biological context.”

That freedom of movement means that scientists can get a more realistic picture of how cells and proteins behave.

Because NMR machines have such a crucial role to play, the researchers can’t get around a need for helium. That’s why, when the National Institutes of Health announced funding for helium recovery systems for NMR facilities, Wang and Van Horn took the initiative to apply. Now, they’re able to continue using helium, and use it well.

“I think, in the very near future, we may not be able to acquire enough helium, even if we’re willing to pay increasing prices,” Wang says. “This helium recovery system will be crucial to the sustainability of the entire facility.”

Brian Cherry loads samples into an automated NMR machine for analysis.

Brian Cherry, staff scientist and manager of the ASU Magnetic Resonance Research Center, loads samples into an automated NMR machine for analysis. Among other applications, scientists use NMR imaging for biomedical and materials research. Photograph by Andy DeLisle/ASU

Sustainable plastics, sustainably

It’s not only biomedical research that the recovery system supports. Timothy Long, a professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, uses the same machines as Van Horn and Wang to develop sustainable plastics and other materials.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, people produce around 400 million tons of plastic waste each year. To address this environmental burden, the world sorely needs new kinds of green materials.

Long is working on creating polymers and composites that have desirable, sustainable qualities. The goal is to make plastics that come from nature-inspired molecules, need less source material and can be recycled easily while still performing as well as or better than traditional plastics.

“We use the Magnetic Resonance Research Center core facility every day, probably 600 times a month, and that facility is absolutely critical to what we're doing. NMR spectroscopy basically tells us the molecular structure of what we've made,” says Long, who is also the director of the Biodesign Center for Sustainable Macromolecular Materials and Manufacturing. “It's really the first experiment we need to do before we do anything else.”

The molecular structure of a material determines its physical properties, like durability. These properties then affect the performance of the material, like its ability to withstand harsh conditions. By looking at the molecular structure, Long can tell whether a material will be able to do what it needs to. Knowing the molecular structure also gives scientists a kind of proven recipe so that others can replicate the material.

“In my research center, we're worrying about the end of life of plastic, the sustainability of these materials. But we also need to be worried about the sustainability of the analytical tools that we use,” Long says. “I think this recycling system really exemplifies the university's focus on sustainability in every way.”

Helium in Arizona

Sustainability is about more than using resources wisely; it’s also about ensuring communities thrive in areas where we collect those resources.

Kirk Jalbert, an assistant professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, studies public engagement with environmental science and policy. He recently worked with communities in northern Arizona to develop workshops that empower residents to make informed decisions about helium extraction in their area.

Geological surveys show that the Four Corners region would likely be a rich source of helium. Now that the helium extraction industry is shifting to privately owned operations, oil and gas companies have new incentives to use their equipment and expertise to turn from fossil fuels to helium. This means that there is potential for a new helium extraction industry in Arizona.

This could boost the state’s economy and benefit other critical industries like aeronautics and semiconductor manufacturing. However, extraction companies and communities must work together to ensure that those living near extraction sites benefit as well.

One way to encourage environmental justice, says Jalbert, is through community benefit agreements. These agreements make companies legally responsible for things like water protection, compensation for declining property value, subsidizing homeowners’ insurance, or making donations for schools or road improvements.

“The argument I make is that if this is required of these operators, then they know that they need to come into communities with a social obligation,” Jalbert says. “If we treated all of our rare resources that way, we would probably, as a society, be more likely to account for the real value of those resources.”

The helium recovery system and research efforts described in this story were partially funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Top illustration by Hannah Kalas

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist , ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Keeping the lights on

Electrical engineering doctoral student Mohammadamin Moradi uses deep Q-learning to find and combat power grid cybersecurity weaknesses

November 29, 2022

Electrical grids have seen many technological advancements since they began providing power in the 1880s. With computer-controlled systems common among power grids all over the world, systems can deliver power more efficiently than ever before.

However, as power grids rely more heavily on computer-based systems, there also comes increased vulnerability to cyberattacks. A well-designed cyberattack can bring a city to its knees, shutting down the electricity that keeps modern cities bustling, such as when hackers shut down a part of Ukraine’s power grid that supplied more than 230,000 people in 2015. Windmills against a blue sky ASU electrical engineering researchers Regents Professor Ying-Cheng Lai, his doctoral student Mohammadamin Moradi and Assistant Professor Yang Weng used a type of machine learning known as deep Q-learning to determine the best power grid cyberdefense strategies to counter different cyberattack types. Photo courtesy Unsplash Download Full Image

With the goal of finding a way to prevent such a destructive cyberattack from happening again, Mohammadamin Moradi, an electrical engineering doctoral student at Arizona State University, used artificial intelligence to analyze the most damaging attacks and best defenses possible. His work was guided by two faculty members in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU: Ying-Cheng Lai, a Regents Professor of electrical engineering and advisor for Moradi’s doctoral degree, and Yang Weng, an assistant professor of electrical engineering.

This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Israeli Ministry of Energy through the Israel-United States Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, or BIRD Foundation, to help both countries increase their cybersecurity defenses.

Moradi, Lai and Weng worked with a type of machine learning known as deep Q reinforcement learning, combined with stochastic game theory, to simulate what cyberattacks could cause the most damage to a power grid and the best countermeasures to keep the grid operating as best it can in the face of such attacks. The team’s research paper, “Defending smart electrical power grids against cyberattacks with deep Q-learning,” was recently published in PRX Energy, a highly selective and new open access journal of the American Physical Society focusing on modern energy issues.

“Power grid security has a substantial impact on Americans’ lives,” Moradi says. “Last year in Texas, there were power outages and people were freezing in winter. A well-planned, well-informed attacker can cause a lot of disasters, and we as defenders should be ready to act accordingly.”

A series of weather events caused the 2021 Texas power crisis, which left more than 4.5 million homes and businesses without power for more than two weeks. A cyberattack on the power grid has the potential to cause similar devastating effects. Moradi explored deep Q-learning in an effort to help bolster power grid cybersecurity. 

A deep dive into deep Q-learning

Deep Q-learning is a subset of Q-learning, a type of machine learning that analyzes the results of inputs and seeks to maximize the reward for an action. In conventional Q-learning, different inputs from a user are mapped to output values in a table known as the Q-table. However, there are many challenges to creating a Q-table because it requires a large amount of computation as the number of input values increases. This can cause a computer to struggle and malfunction when the number of inputs and outputs reaches a certain size, leading Moradi to explore deep Q-learning. 

A visual representation of the difference between a Q-table and deep-Q learning

This diagram shows the difference between Q-learning with a Q-table and deep Q-learning.

Deep Q-learning varies from traditional Q-learning because it doesn’t need a Q-table, decreasing the capacity needed for computing processes. Instead, deep Q-learning uses a neural network, which is a type of machine learning model, to estimate outputs, and does not require the user to make a manual input for each output.

Moradi also chose deep Q-learning because of another factor important to power grid cybersecurity: It can be used for environments where parameters are unknown, just as the optimal attack and defense strategies aren’t known by a user before running the deep Q-learning simulation.

While deep Q-learning addresses the issue of computing power needed, the algorithm model the system uses to learn also needs to be optimized to ensure the best outcome. This is how Moradi picked the idea of modeling the situation as a stochastic game.

Cyber wargames

“I had a game theory class last semester, and I thought the attacker-defender relationship could be modeled as a game where each one tries to achieve its objectives,” Moradi says.

In a two-person stochastic game, two antagonistic parties play a game with multiple stages seeking to maximize their rewards. In this case, the reward for the attacker is to cause as much damage to the power grid as possible, while the reward for the defender is to use the best strategy to minimize damage to the power grid.

“One game move is like one iteration of attacking and defending; the attacker launches an attack, and the defender figures out a way to respond,” Lai explains. “In general, the defender is not able to protect all lines simultaneously because of limited resources. This highlights the need for Q-learning because the defender should wisely select the set of lines to protect.”

Powering up power grid cyberdefense

Ultimately, Moradi’s simulation isn’t used to defend against the grid in real time. Simulating cyberattacks and cyberdefense shows power grid weaknesses and the best ways for a human operator to defend against them to minimize cyberattack damage.

The research team says they are looking to further refine their work with future simulations, taking into account factors such as limited financial and human resources for defending the power grid.

Weng, whose research focuses on power systems, machine learning and cyberphysical systems, among other areas, says he anticipates that the research can be used for real-life cybersecurity.

“Being part of this project helped me appreciate the great idea of using this model to understand a physical system theoretically using AI solutions,” he says. “This will ensure that the work will transition to the real world, which is the core reason for this research.”

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


New project places personal stories at center of democracy research

November 23, 2022

In a time of question and doubt for many Americans about the future of democracy in the U.S., a group of units at Arizona State University have partnered to create the Defending Democracy project.

Defending Democracy, created by the Center for the Study of Religion and ConflictThe Melikian Center: Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies, the Narrative Storytelling Initiative and the Center for Work and Democracy, asks Americans to share their personal experiences with attacks on and threats to democracy in their community. Red-and-white-striped fabric frames a view of blurred blue-and-white lights. Download Full Image

The project is an effort to spotlight the kinds of attacks Americans have experienced and witnessed and the variety of ways Americans have pushed back against anti-democratic forces in their everyday lives. The project is accepting submissions of 150–400 words or 1–2-minute videos at

“We launched Defending Democracy with a sense of urgency and hope that this public outreach can shed new insights on both specific actions and underlying motives,” says Steven Beschloss, director of the Narrative Storytelling Initiative at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. “The Narrative Storytelling Initiative is committed to transdisciplinary projects that draw on academic expertise and meaningful public input, and that positively address relevant societal challenges.”

The Defending Democracy team recognizes the need to hear the stories of everyday Americans when attempting to study and understand the current state of American democracy. This project is an opportunity for scholars at ASU and beyond to study the thoughts and experiences of real Americans alongside the cultural, historical and political contexts that usually drive academic work in this area. 

“This new project provides an opportunity for everyday citizens — rather than pundits and politicians — to say in their own words what democracy means to them and to register how they see it being threatened,” says John Carlson, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and associate professor of religious studies.

The aim of the Defending Democracy project is to capture and understand the scale and variety of anti-democratic encounters, and to create hope for democracy’s future by amplifying the voices of those individuals seeking to sustain democracy within their communities. 

“In a democracy, everyone has a voice and a right to participate,” Carlson says. “This platform provides a way for Americans — Arizonans especially — to share stories, incidents or encounters in which there has been an effort to suppress, undermine or attack these democratic rights and responsibilities. We want to hear how Americans are actually experiencing democracy — and threats to it — as they go about their daily lives.”

The Defending Democracy team anticipates that these personal stories or accounts will be a source of vital information about the current state of American democracy from the very specific perspective of lived experience. 

“We’re eager to hear from our fellow citizens and to hear what they are experiencing in their lives,” Carlson says. “Depending on what we learn, we also hope to offer some constructive suggestions and proposals for improving the health of our democratic body politic.”

The submitted essays and videos will be used to guide academics who are researching and writing about the current reality and future of democracy; a multidisciplinary collection of ASU scholars and thinkers who are joining forces to reflect on this particular time in American history and the motivating narratives influencing the public’s understanding of and response to democracy. The Defending Democracy team also hopes to share the insights gained from the submissions through a series of essays, but they are also open to other, more innovative uses for the submissions as well.

“While we can imagine sharing the results in expected ways in written form or as videos, we are also considering the possibility of sharing the collection in audio, as a tapestry of voices and experiences, or even working with actors to help bring the submissions to life,” Beschloss says. “We also intend to partner with outside media organizations to share and amplify what we learn.” 

Although the content and quantity of the submissions will ultimately determine the outcome of the project, the team is optimistic about the possibilities early on. They anticipate that the project will be a catalyst for important conversations about American democracy.

“We think the issues surrounding threats to democracy are not only serious, they represent an existential danger to the country,” Beschloss says. “We hope the project will encourage thoughtful discourse, within ASU and beyond.”

Communications Coordinator, Narrative Storytelling Initiative

Fortifying materials for a more resilient world

Making metal alloys more resistant to corrosion would bring wide-ranging societal benefits

November 23, 2022

Metal corrosion is far more than merely a persistent nuisance in a modern world held together largely by the strength of its most basic and widely used materials.

The decay process is commonly triggered by chemical reactions to which metals are exposed under various environmental conditions. The damage it does to metal alloys can result in serious threats to industrial facilities, transportation, civil infrastructure, national defense, public safety and other critical structures, systems and services. Photo illustration of metal alloy material that appears to be flowing Arizona State University materials and mechanical engineering researchers are working on methods to make metal alloys more resistant to corrosion. Alloys are vital materials used in infrastructure systems, industrial facilities, transportation and technologies used in public utilities operations. Image credit: Erika Gronek, ASU / Midjourney. Download Full Image

Corroded materials have led to major problems requiring expensive repairs and replacement of technology used in manufacturing operations, oil and gas pipelines and chemical plants, as well as public utilities.

Such destruction on a large scale can destabilize major segments of national economies. Currently, it’s estimated that the accumulated effects of metals corrosion cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

So it’s more than a small step forward that mechanical engineering and materials science research at Arizona State University by Kiran Solanki and Vikrant Kumar Beura, along with Kristopher Darling from the DEVCOM Army Research Lab, has produced a new surface treatment for metal alloys that enhances corrosion resistance against a variety of environmental factors.

Solanki is a professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of the Ira A. Futon Schools of Engineering at ASU. His research focuses on a combination of materials science and solid mechanics. Beura recently earned a doctoral degree in materials science from the Fulton Schools and is now working at Intel as a packaging research and development engineer.

Solanki developed the initial idea for the research with Darling, who he has collaborated with for several years. Beura, who Solanki advised during his doctoral studies, carried out materials processing and experimental studies, including characterization, corrosion measurements and spectroscopy measurements.

Transmission electron microscopy experiments for the research were performed by Yashaswini Karanth, a materials science and engineering doctoral student and graduate research assistant in  Solanki’s lab.

Solanki and Beura teamed to develop new treatment for metal alloys

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Professor Kiran Solanki and recent Fulton Schools doctoral graduate Vikrant Beura teamed up to conduct materials and mechanical engineering research and develop a new treatment for metal alloys. The surface treatment promises to strengthen these important metals against the environmental conditions and other factors that cause them to corrode. Photo courtesy Kiran Solanki

Ramping up robustness of metal alloys

In their paper published earlier this year in the research journal npj Materials Degradation, the researchers detail the intricacies of metal alloys corrosion and their search for ways to make alloys more corrosion resistant.

“We have designed a treatment to both enhance the performance of alloys and give them a longer life span,” Solanki says. “Our patent-pending process changes the surface morphology of metallic alloys in ways that enable them to perform better in aggressive environments.”

Equally as important, the treatment improves corrosion resistance without a loss of the alloys’ overall strength. That has been a particular drawback of previous trial-and-error processing techniques, Solanki says. The treatment also works especially well on aluminum-based alloys used in the aerospace, automotive and naval industries.

The research project is based in a deep understanding of morphology, which in materials science and engineering involves the close study of the microstructure of materials — in this case, metal alloys. The microstructure features of materials used for many of these alloys determine the form, size, shape and basic overall architecture of the metal objects and structures built with them. These microstructures dictate the alloys’ physical and chemical properties.

“We’ve learned to change the morphology of the surface of a metal alloy by either changing the internal microstructure or by adding different alloy elements,” Solanki says. “So, when we do these treatments, we can coat the surface with different kinds of alloying elements.”

Solanki and Beura’s treatment alters the internal microstructure and oxide layers of alloys, making their surfaces more resistant to the kinds of gasses, liquids, salts, acids and varying temperatures that can corrode metallic materials.

This technique may be the first of its kind capable of significantly boosting the resilience of metal alloys, but the researchers already see possibilities of further advances.

“There are a combination of other factors we are exploring now that could improve the coating treatment and make alloy materials stronger,” Solanki says.

Solanki and Beura point out that there are alloys made of aluminum, zinc, copper, manganese, titanium, nickel, magnesium and other metallic materials. This means a variety of combinations of surface treatments will likely be needed to provide effective corrosion resistance for all of these different metals.

They emphasize that spacecraft, aircraft, ships and automobiles will each need specific combinations and applications of treatments to best protect them from wear and tear in the different environments and conditions in which they are used.

illustration shows failure of aircraft landing gear due to stress corrosion

The first picture shows the failure of the landing gear of an aircraft due to stress corrosion cracking (SCC), in which the combined effect of corrosion and continuous application of cyclic load led to crack propagation. Such catastrophic events can be avoided by improving corrosion resistance and the hardness of the surface layer of these components. The subsequent figures show the schematic representation of the novel surface treatment method that Solanki’s team has developed and successfully implemented on a model high-strength aluminum alloy (i.e., AA7075) frequently used in aerospace applications. This treatment has induced a gradient nano-grained layer along forming metastable nanoscale phases that have, in combination, contributed toward improved corrosion resistance. More details on the work can be found in the team's recently published manuscript. Illustration by Vikrant Kumar Beura

Eyeing a future of more sustainable metallic materials

Solanki and Beura are confident their research will provide fundamental building blocks for devising new formulas and methods to develop treatments that can be adapted to a broader range of metallic surfaces.

One of the next steps they foresee is investigating the of possibilities of alloys development starting at the atomic structure level, which may reveal other new ways to provide protection against corrosive elements and environments.

Solanki, Beura and others have already begun looking at alloy development at the granular and nanometer scales as a viable method of producing new or improved surface treatments.

“There are different kinds of particles and precipitates that increase corrosion in alloys,” Solanki says. “The question is whether we can change the features of such particles and their corrosive effects by fragmenting them or dissolving them.”

Other scientists and engineers are also exploring the potential of altering the microstructures of various kinds of materials in ways that make them more corrosion resistant.

Beura explains that varying the chemical compositions of surface treatments and how they are applied and distributed on the surfaces could also have an impact on how effectively they can prevent corrosion.

“Instead of heavily concentrating treatment materials across an entire alloy surface, maybe spreading the treatment material out thinly might work better in some cases,” Solanki says.

The researchers also see a particular need for more awareness of corrosion resistance in metal alloys used in construction, especially bridges and in the infrastructure of buildings. They note, for instance, that corrosion in plumbing systems can leak toxic metals like lead and copper into drinking water.

Solanki and Beura are scheduled to present their research findings in March at TMS 2023, the annual meeting and exhibition of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society in San Diego, California.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Predicting future pandemic patterns

November 18, 2022

Since 2020, the coronavirus has infected more than 627 million people and caused more than 6.5 million to lose their lives, according to the World Health Organization. COVID-19 has put a strain on almost every country in the world, fundamentally altering their economies and health care systems worldwide.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that analyzed data from pandemics dating back to 1600 reports that future pandemics caused by illnesses like the coronavirus are expected to arise more frequently. The study estimates the yearly likelihood of severe disease outbreaks could increase by 300% in the decades to come. Close-up view of a coronavirus particle on a black background. Professor Pavan Turaga, an expert in machine learning, is leading an interdisciplinary research team investigating the use of machine learning to reduce the societal impacts of future pandemics. Photo courtesy Unsplash Download Full Image

With the growing threat looming, a team of 17 researchers from Arizona State University is looking to minimize the impact of these future pandemics through the power of machine learning.

Led by machine learning expert Pavan Turaga, director of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, the team brings together computational, biological and social science experts to develop modeling tools that can adapt to predict the spread of both new and existing pathogens to inform legislative and health care responses to pandemics.

The team has earned one of only 26 grants from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF's) Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention program to move their project forward.

Turaga says current mathematical models used to predict the spread of pathogens are based on designs from decades ago that don’t account for nuances such as socioeconomic conditions and climatic factors like extreme heat. These factors are also known as compound effects.

“We still do not have a trustworthy model that can predict any pandemic spread reliably,” Turaga says. “The grant is not to develop another narrow model, but instead to do a ‘scan’ of what factors are not being currently considered, and what new techniques can be leveraged over what has been used earlier.”

Collaborating to conquer pandemics through research

Initially, the researchers comprised teams working on projects funded by three different grants to study and model the spread of the coronavirus under the NSF’s Grants for Rapid Response Research program in 2020. The research teams kept in contact with each other, found out about the Predictive Intelligence Pandemic Prevention program and came together under the new 18-month research grant as one large, interdisciplinary team, led by Turaga and four co-principal investigators.

Gautam Dasarathy, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, is a co-principal investigator leading efforts in machine learning for pandemic spread modeling.

“I am extremely honored and thrilled to be part of this research,” Dasarathy says. “It brings together a truly diverse team of researchers with expertise ranging from virology, sequencing and wastewater analysis to data science, controls and cryptography, to name a few.”

Another co-principal investigator, Patricia Solis, executive director of Knowledge Exchange for Resilience at ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, leads a team looking at how human behavioral and socioeconomic factors affect pandemic spread models. Solis’ goal is to connect with community leaders making pandemic response decisions and to determine what criteria have been taken into account for both the pandemic phase of COVID-19 and the phase in which the world learns to live with the disease.

“What kinds of data, models, information and insights are being used, and what else is needed for better decision-making?” Solis asks. “We aim to bring this back to the conversations with our ASU scientists about how to design better models that are not only robust, but also truly serve research of public value, as per our ASU Charter.”

Giulia Pedrielli, another co-principal investigator and an associate professor of computer science and industrial engineering in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, a part of the Fulton Schools, is lending her expertise in sensing mobile activity while respecting users’ privacy to determine how best to allocate pandemic response resources.

Pedrielli believes researchers’ consideration of additional factors to inform pandemic response decisions will lead to better outcomes for society.

“We hope including behavior in testing and resource allocation decisions will make distribution of resources more equitable, considering multiple and diverse aspects of the effect of policies not only on mechanics of pandemic spread, but also on behavior,” she says.

Visar Berisha, a Fulton Schools associate professor of electrical engineering with a dual appointment in the College of Health Solutions, is a co-principal investigator leading a team that uses machine learning to analyze patterns in numerical parameters using biological samples taken from blood, saliva and wastewater.

Berisha hopes the biological sample research can be used for an easily accessible dashboard that will constantly look out for new pathogens, such as new variants of the coronavirus or entirely new diseases.

“Based on different regions in the U.S. with different socioeconomic cohorts, the idea is to develop on-the-fly precision interventions to inform people of the risks of these pathogens,” he says. “By providing actionable information about what they can do to protect themselves and those around them, we can reduce spread and improve outcomes.”

This actionable information could include public health advice such as encouraging people with compromised immune systems or who work in high-risk settings to wear masks, or advising those most vulnerable to COVID-19’s worst effects to get additional booster shots.

With a little help from research friends

While only ASU researchers will be initially involved in the project, the team aims to forge partnerships with outside organizations to assist its efforts. Those include Creative Testing Solutions, which analyzes blood samples collected from the ASU community by Berisha’s research group, and Cowper Sciences Inc., which analyzes biological samples to determine how the immune system responds to pathogens.

In addition to the team of ASU experts, students will have opportunities to gain hands-on research experience by assisting with the project.

Berisha says the project demonstrates the benefit of basing the work at ASU because of the variety of expertise and the range and depth of inquiry its researchers can contribute to the endeavor.

“You have people wearing very different hats on an everyday basis that are now coming together under the same roof to work on a very important problem,” he says.

In addition to Pavan Turaga, Visar Berisha, Giulia Pedrielli, Gautam Dasarathy and Patricia Solis, the research group includes other Fulton Schools researchers: Daniel Rivera, a professor of chemical engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and EnergyRolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering and a professor of civil and environmental engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built EnvironmentLalitha Sankar, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering; and Ni Trieu, an assistant professor of computer science in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence.

The group also includes Erik Johnston, the interim deputy director of and a professor in ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in SocietyMichael Simeone, an associate research professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability and the Global Biosocial Complexity InitiativeTimothy Lant, the director of program development for ASU’s Knowledge EnterpriseWenwen Li, a professor of geographic information science in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning; Laimonas Kelbauskas, a research scientist in ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise; Efrem Lim, an associate professor of microbiology in ASU’s School of Life SciencesMatthew Buman, professor and director of ASU’s College of Health Solutions; and Neal Woodbury, vice president and chief science and technology officer for ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise.

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering