NEH Summer Institute leaves impression on humanities scholars from across the US

July 28, 2023

After an exciting four weeks of intensive study, research and discussion, the 2023 NEH Summer Institute — offered through Arizona State University's Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics and the School of Life Sciences — came to a close with final presentations earlier this month.

The institute, which focuses on providing humanists with the tools and education they need to build capacity to teach and do humanities with impact on emerging developments in bioengineering, was co-directed by Lincoln Center Project Manager of Research Erica O'Neil and Dean's Distinguished Associate Professor in the Life Sciences Jason Robert. A person with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing cat-eye spectacles and a white lab coat, smiles standing next to a whiteboard. Erica O'Neil of ASU's Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics facilitates discussion during a lab at the NEH Summer Institute. Photo courtesy the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics Download Full Image

Titled “Our SHARED Future: Science, Humanities, Arts, Research Ethics, and Deliberation,” the program took humanities scholars on a journey of critical engagement over issues of novel technologies through the lenses of ethics, history, philosophy, literature and film. 

“Our collective aim was to enhance the competence and confidence of humanists to engage with emerging science and technology. We spent nearly a month learning together and collaboratively with our amazing cohort,” Robert said.

“Scientists are trying to be as ethical as they can, but the burden to discuss ethical and social issues shouldn't rely solely on them when educating the next generation,” O’Neil added. “Having humanities faculty that are more conversant in these issues, I think that’s really important.”

The institute brought together a diverse group of faculty from across the United States, with representation of scholars from Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Chicago, alongside faculty from other Arizona institutions.

Professor Lara Kattekola of LaGuardia Community College in New York said, “These are subject matters that humanities faculty may not deal with directly in their research, but these are issues that are all around them. ... Many of them are interested, but just need resources and discussion. At the institute, we had the opportunity to engage in those things around science and technology.”

Participants engaged in activities from readings of "Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds" to a hands-on experiment with a bacterial transformation lab using green fluorescent jellyfish protein.

"It was a great experience to actually go to a lab and to practice science as it is,” said Hassan Ajami, a philosophy professor at Chandler Gilbert Community College.

The scholars delivered final presentations on July 7, sharing their plans to integrate teachings from the institute into their work at their home institutions. Many remarked on the unique opportunity the institute and ASU provided for interdisciplinary discussion.

“Beyond the heat, I think the thing that stands out to me about ASU is the ability to try new things,” said Chelsea McKelvey of Clemson University. “(There is a) model of integration that so many other institutions can learn from.”

Walter Keithley of Mesa Community College also participated in the institute. “There are not a lot of places like ASU that have the means, relationships and institutional interest in place to do this,” he said. “But when those elements are in place, a lot of incredible things can happen.”

Robert is hopeful about the impact of the institute going forward. “I think we all have new tools and strategies to try out with our students, and I’m excited for what the future may hold,” he said.

For more information and a full archive of interviews from the institute, visit the Maine Digital Collaborative or the Lincoln Center’s website

Interviews were conducted by John Muthyala of the Department of English at the University of Southern Maine, a participant of the NEH Summer Institute.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics


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In the midst of summer travel, are airlines holding up?

July 28, 2023

ASU business professor weighs in on airline industry woes, how they can bounce back

Airline travel in the post-COVID-19 era has been a hassle.

More flights are getting canceled. Travel is more expensive with fewer choices to get to and from destinations. Fights are breaking out on board. Take your pick. Going to and from a destination seems to bring forth a whack-a-mole of issues.

This past summer was especially rough, with several instances of travel snafus, including thousands of flights canceled or grounded over bad weather and wildfires, system and IT failures, lost luggage and crews that didn’t show up.

What has happened to our airlines?

Arizona State University’s Lee McPheters not only has some answers but historical context.

ASU News spoke to McPheters, a research professor and director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center in ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, to discuss the airline industry’s recent woes and how to fix them.

Man in black jacket and tie smiling

Lee McPheters

Question: Is it me, or has the airline industry seriously gone downhill these days?

Answer: We need to broaden the focus to the past 25 years. Airlines were severely affected by this century’s three most impactful periods. After the 2001 terrorist attack of 9/11, airline security and the air travel experience also changed, leading to five consecutive years of losses. Next came the Great Recession, with huge losses in 2008 extending into 2009.

Most recently, after 10 years of slow recovery in profits, the pandemic brought an airline travel collapse, financial losses and labor force downsizing. Then in 2022, people wanted to fly again, bringing a summer surge when staffing and equipment were in short supply, resulting in delays, cancellations and frustration, especially in the 2022 holiday season. So what we are seeing right now is the airline industry working as fast as it can to adjust to a catastrophic downturn.

 Q: Several things seem to have contributed to the airline industry’s woes. Let’s start with airline pilots. They and crew members are in short supply. What happened to them?

A: Looking again at the big picture, some 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day and are eligible for retirement. Under current regulations, many continue to work, but airline pilots do not have that option, so senior pilots are leaving. During the pandemic, many pilots and other airline workers retired voluntarily or switched jobs with more normal work schedules. Industry analysts warn that 50% of current pilots will retire in the next 15 years, so there will be a gap of maybe 15,000 pilot jobs by around 2030.

Pilots and mechanics are not easy to replace because they require extensive training and certification. Flight schools are expanding to meet demand, but pilot training (can cost) up to $100,000 for a complete program, so some airlines subsidize recruits. Meanwhile, airlines are offering various pay incentives to attract workers, and airline total employment is up now by more than 8% compared to pre-COVID 2019.

RELATED: ASU degree programs offer a flight plan for COVID-19 air travel recovery

Q: Southwest Airlines, one that enjoyed a stellar reputation for decades, was embarrassed in December because they lacked the software to keep up with flight schedules. Can you explain what happened, if they’ve corrected the problem and are other airlines following suit?

A: As air travel began to rebound in 2022, airlines had to scramble to be sure crews and aircraft were available to meet the higher demand. In December of 2022, the cancellation rate for airlines topped 5% — and normal is more in the range of 2%. Even though these percentages are small, they translate into over 30,000 flights canceled in December, and 54% were Southwest flights.

In Senate hearings, Southwest executives said that bad weather and outdated technology combined to cause cancellations. The main problem was the crew scheduling system. There were reports that the airline was scheduling crews manually amid the crisis. Southwest has pledged to commit more than $1 billion of its annual operating budget to IT upgrades, and that started earlier this year.

Q: Jet fuel is also way up, contributing to high airline ticket prices and changing many established routes. Will this eventually come down, or is this our new reality?

A: Fuel is one of the highest operating costs for airlines, accounting for 30% to 40% of the cost of a flight. Think of a 747 that holds 60,000 gallons of jet fuel; at July prices of $2.45 a gallon, refueling just one plane is about $147,000. Fuel cost is down a dollar a gallon from a year ago, so it is no wonder airline ticket prices spiked in 2022. But as fuel costs have come down, airfares are down almost 20% from a year ago, too.

Q: Any other issues the airlines face that I didn’t address?

A: Airlines recognize that each flight is a significant source of carbon emissions. The airline industry has committed to a path to net-zero emissions by 2050. Optimization of routes and operational efficiency can help, but the main answer is the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is already available but in limited supply. The persistent problem is similar to what we see in so many industries. As of now, fossil fuels are significantly cheaper than SAF. Airlines and the fuel industry hope to overcome this impasse by 2030, but this is a real challenge.

Q: How can the industry get back on its feet and start instilling confidence again?

A: Passenger traffic is recovering, and industry projections show that the airlines will be profitable this year after considerable losses in 2020. So from the corporate perspective, things are looking up. From the consumer side, there is still a lot of frustration with long lines, delayed flights and what seems to be shrinking legroom and seat size. Air travel is a hassle in the eyes of many American consumers.

The time has come for airlines to invest some of those expected profits into innovations and technology that will improve the overall travel experience, whether you are in the first-class cabin or sitting in the center seat back in row 32.

Top photo courtesy Pixabay

Reporter , ASU News


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Workshop brings academic, industry partners together to collaborate on CHIPS Act projects

July 27, 2023

ASU's SWAP Hub aims to position Southwest as a semiconductor epicenter

In the global race to lead on microchip manufacturing, research and development, Arizona State University — in anticipation of opportunities that will come from its CHIPS and Science Act proposals and partnerships — is already beginning to plan, collaborate and produce. 

Last week, the university held a workshop with more than 30 partners from academia, industry, national laboratories and nonprofits to discuss four quick-turn projects that will showcase the team’s readiness for national defense programs funded by the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act.

ASU has been preparing for years for the influx of work necessary to boost national security technology. In February, ASU submitted a proposal for a strategic public-private partnership on cutting-edge research and development to speed the transformation of ideas generated in the lab into practical solutions.

That collaborative effort, known as the Southwest Advanced Prototyping Hub, or the SWAP Hub, is led by ASU and has more than 60 leading corporate, startup, academic and national lab partners from the semiconductor and defense sectors in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and beyond.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU News

The SWAP Hub was proposed for consideration as part of the Microelectronics Commons, a $1.63 billion Department of Defense program funded by the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act.

Sally Morton, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, told partners assembled at the workshop that the Department of Defense is now evaluating the hub proposals and is expected to announce the funding awards before the end of federal fiscal year at the end of September.

“But we have not waited idly for their response. Just the opposite,” she told the workshop participants.

“The Southwest is already one of the nation’s key centers for microelectronics activity. It’s home to some of the leading semiconductor producers and suppliers, major defense contractors, world-class universities and research institutes, and a vibrant startup community,” she said.

RELATED: Prototyping facility will give students, startups access to semiconductor space

Zachary Holman, associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering at ASU, told the SWAP Hub collaborators that ASU is funding four seed projects at $50,000 each, with the expectation that partners on the projects will match that funding.

“We want to get projects going within the SWAP Hub even before the government decides whether the SWAP Hub should exist,” said Holman, who also is director of faculty entrepreneurship within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“We would like teams comprising folks in this room, and folks not in this room, to have already been working together for months to have initial results that can parlay into much larger projects.”

ASU is accepting proposals with an Aug. 11 deadline for the projects, which will be six months in duration and will provide proof-of-concept that the SWAP Hub is ready to move quickly on much larger-scale work.

The projects will fall within three specific areas: 5G/6G technology; artificial intelligence hardware; or “commercial leap-ahead technology,” which includes new materials and other technologies that can quickly move the U.S. military beyond traditional weapon platforms like tanks, helicopters and gunships.

Each team that proposes a project must have at least one ASU principal investigator and at least one SWAP Hub member. Each project must show how it can be scaled up.

There are two main goals of the hub program, according to Kevin McGinnis, managing director of strategic technology initiatives at ASU: improve the “lab-to-fab” pathway – the ability to take an idea in the lab and transition it to a usable outcome — and develop a prepared workforce.

“We have the opportunity with this team to move ideas through university labs and startup companies and, with the help of our defense partners, place them onto defense platforms,” he said.

“We want to take ideas that happen here in the Southwest from a prototype stage all the way through to commercial fabrication and ideally onto a national defense platform that has high impact.”

The SWAP Hub also will provide access to cutting-edge technology to students, even undergraduates.

“We hear about workforce development needs every day,” McGinnis said.

“It seems that especially in the Department of Defense, where there are special requirements related to U.S. citizenship, that their pool of qualified workers is small and diminishing, so we need to offer a number of pathways to move people into the DoD microelectronics ecosystem, whether that’s at a national lab, a defense contractor, or the DoD itself.”

Several ASU students are part of a pilot internship program at Sandia National Laboratories, according to Ken Dean, senior manager of Advanced Semiconductor Technologies at Sandia.

As a Department of Energy National Laboratory, Sandia performs fundamental research and basic science, and develops national security technology for the U.S. This includes operating a production-rigor semiconductor fabrication facility.  

“Students can work with our semiconductor equipment and get exposure to both research topics and high-rigor production processes,” Dean told the gathering on Friday.

"The benefit to having interns here is we can start security clearances for them while they’re in the intern program, thereby creating a national security workforce that is ready to go.” 

Top photo: Rafi Islam, CEO and CTO of Cactus Materials Inc. in Tempe networks with others at the Southwest Advanced Prototyping Hub Workshop on July 21 at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center. The objective of the daylong conference was to prepare ASU and its partners to rapidly develop projects related to the DoD Microelectronics Commons for execution under the SWAP Hub, in cooperation with other regional hubs. ASU also announced an offer of four $50,000 grants in seed funding to kick-start SWAP Hub-related projects. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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New chatbots are hitting the market; an ASU AI expert explains their differences

July 25, 2023

Move over, ChatGPT — you’ve got competition.

New artificial intelligence chatbots are being made available to the public, researchers and practitioners.

With Google, Meta and Microsoft releasing language models (and with a few minor ones out on the market), the AI space is heating up, and people are commoditizing it. AI will eventually make its way into daily use across a variety of goods and services.

Victor Benjamin, an assistant professor of information systems at the W. P. Carey School of Business, is an expert in the AI field.

Here’s what Benjamin had to say about the new models and how we use machine learning.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Man in glasses wearing jacket and shirt

Victor Benjamin

Question: How do these new models coming onto the market differ from ChatGPT?

Answer: Large language models have two key differences from one another: one, their computational architecture, and two, the data on which they learned.

Regarding computational architecture, we are talking about the math and logic driving the system. All our AI today is rooted in math, and we are finding new ways to push math forward into letting us create machines that can somewhat navigate aspects of the real world and help us do things. That’s all AI is. The math for AI often converges into a subset of techniques that receive most of the attention, and different teams working on AI may try out different tweaks or mathematical tricks to try and further improve their AI. So ChatGPT competitors may use similar math and computational architecture but still possess some differences and twists that produce unique outcomes.

Regarding the data on which AI trained, this is equally important as the math itself. You can have two identical computational architectures for AI but just trained on different data sets, and they will produce two very distinct AI outcomes. Right now, all these large language models rely on text sources from books, magazines, social media, newspapers and whatever they can get their hands on. The exact composition of these sources and how people pre-process them to be fed into AI training produces the second major difference between ChatGPT and its competitors.

To illustrate this, consider a naïve example of a new language model trained exclusively on articles about different sports games. This model would never have received any training regarding other topics, such as musical instruments, and would thus be unable to produce meaningful responses regarding those different topic areas. Likewise, different large language models will have distinct mixtures of input data that can impact their efficacy.

Q: What do those differences mean for the average person and within academia?

A: As more AI services become available, one can expect to receive slightly different outputs from each AI. These different outputs will not be exclusive to large language models; any AI service will have the two aforementioned components of a computational architecture and a large training data set to learn from. So if you are not happy with the results produced by the AI from one vendor, you can always try another.

Q: What is your take on using machine learning or services as a resource for college students?

A: One issue with these AI is that they do not possess ground truth about the real world. Large language models are not conscious of what they are outputting; to the computer, it is regurgitating numbers and statistical patterns. Large language models are just a form of advanced text autocomplete rather than a proper AI. ... (One) dangerous scenario would involve the AI completely misinforming students with inaccurate information, due to lack of ground truth, and the student will believe the misinformation.

I will, however, also speak to the positive potential here. These large language models can eventually be useful educational tools for students. They show promise of being personal tutors and can provide personalized attention for each user. Large language models and related AI could be excellent guides in self-learning environments, such as online courses. The technology will mature eventually, as will the policies regarding AI use.

Q: What’s AI’s impact on the future workforce? Can AI be used to create new industries and career opportunities?

A: AI will just be another tool that lets us do new things. We have a good problem here where AI can help us build new value propositions that have never been considered. We just need time to think about what those new avenues are. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually it will.

These value propositions will include both ways to augment the workforce in traditional roles and help create new career opportunities for the next generation of products and services that AI will enable. Some existing career paths may become obsolete, but AI will create others. It will come just like any other technological change; it just takes time for people to think it through.

Top photo courtesy iStock/Getty Images

Reporter , ASU News


Building community for unhoused students

How an ASU sociology alum became CEO of a unique public school for unhoused students

July 25, 2023

Though Afira DeVries experienced financial insecurity as a child, she doesn’t recall feeling the effects of it, insulated by the cocoon of a loving and safe family.

That changed one day in third grade when she was struggling to keep up in math class. Rather than provide help, her teacher scoffed at her and insulted her family, saying they were “too poor to pay the tutor” so her learning must be “his problem.” Portrait of ASU alum Afira DeVries smiling. Afira DeVries is the CEO of the Monarch School in San Diego, a public school dedicated to educating unhoused students. Photo courtesy Afira DeVries

“Never had I considered poverty a defining characteristic (of my family), but that changed that day, and for years I struggled with the emotional aftermath of realizing that others may view me as less than others,” DeVries said.

Today, DeVries is the CEO of the Monarch School in San Diego, a public school dedicated to educating unhoused students, and she credits the education she received from Arizona State University’s online master’s degree program in sociology with helping her better address issues her students and advocate for their success on a legislative front.

“I'm representing … a community that's perceived as struggling with poverty in a way that allows me to have really deep and rich discussions not just about the issue, but the roots of the issue,” she said. “A lot of what I learned through (the ASU Online) program has positioned Monarch School as a subject matter expert and capable of assisting legislators and other powerbrokers in understanding social conditions differently.”

Turning hurt into healing

As an adult, DeVries found a successful career in the nonprofit sector, taking leadership positions in six organizations dedicated to public well-being. But she never forgot the embarrassment of that moment in third grade and what it taught her about the power of stigma. She wanted to better understand the roots of stigma and inequity so she could do everything in her power to create positive change for students in similar situations.

“As I built my career, I realized that what I wanted was the deeper knowledge and the capacity to speak from a theoretical and practical place about why the social conditions that we deal with in this country exist,” she says. “And then, therefore, be able to really effectively create programs that address those inequities.”

Shortly after completing her degree in 2020, DeVries became CEO of the Monarch School. In this position, she feels passionate about using her personal experiences and sociology background to bring students the sense of belonging that was taken from her long ago.

“Schools can and should be a place of community for all kids,” she said. “For kids who live with complex trauma, school is often the only safe haven they know.”

The Monarch School takes a trauma-informed approach to teach academic skills, financial literacy, mental health awareness and career preparation to unhoused students. It was founded by Sandra McBrayer in 1987, who was later named Teacher of the Year by Bill Clinton for her work. The school educates and provides basic needs to 300 students per year on average from kindergarten through 12th grade.

As DeVries continues to lead the school, she looks forward to growing the organization’s national impact. In the past year, they’ve seen big successes, including successful therapy programs and improved student outcomes. In fact, recent research from the University of San Diego studied the students for three years and found that their social skills, self-esteem and sense of belonging had improved, especially through art therapy.

In continuing this success, the school opened a new arts building called The Chrysalis, where they hosted a successful auction with students’ artwork to raise money for its art and music programs this May.

“My next big area of work is going to be to scale my organization and to bring the work that we do here in San Diego at the Monarch School to other communities,” DeVries said. “(We want to) empower other educators … so that they are more effective in being able to relate to the trauma that unhoused kids deal with.”

Jennifer Moore

Communications Specialist Associate, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

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ASU professor says Phoenix is ground zero for study of heat-related illnesses

July 20, 2023

Research takeaway: How long it stays hot matters more than how high the temperature is

When it comes to examining health risks associated with extreme heat, Phoenix is ground zero.

Thats the conclusion of Pope Moseley, a research professor in Arizona State Universitys College of Health Solutions.

For more than 30 years, Moseley, a lung and intensive care physician, has led National Institutes of Health-funded research groups focused on heat-related illness.

He said Phoenix, with its urban heat islands and sustained high summer temperatures, is the best natural laboratory that exists anywhere.”

What urbanization has done in Phoenix, its rise of high low temperatures, outstrips any city that weve ever looked at,” Moseley said. This is a major metropolitan area with a massive rise in the temperature markers that determine human illness.”

Moseley and Marisa Domino, a professor in the College of Health Solutions, are conducting research using hospital and population data to make the public aware that more people are impacted by heat than those suffering common heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke.

They plan to publish a paper on their research and, hopefully, develop an app that will help people better understand their health vulnerabilities during extreme heat periods.

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Pope Moseley

ASU News talked to Moseley about the research.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What is the current research you and Marisa are doing?

Answer: By looking at population data and seeing which groups of chronic conditions or diagnoses seek medical help, we can figure out heat vulnerability related to the diagnoses people already have. Most of the people who go to the hospital during a heat wave do not go because of heatstroke or heat illness. Thats less than 10% of the illnesses.

For example, bloodstream infections go way up in a heat wave. Suicides go up 1–2%. Hospitalization for dementia goes way up. Hospitalization for heart attacks goes up. As temperatures go up, drug overdose deaths go up. So, If you tell me 200 people got sick, I’m going to say, “No, 2,000 people got sick. We just didn’t recognize it.”

Data from population studies in Sweden have shown that for every heat wave day, you have an 8–12% increase in overall mortality. Heat is a real force multiplier of the illnesses and chronic conditions that we have. Our job in the College of Health Solutions is to put together the data to allow policymakers to plan and manage what’s going to happen during a heat wave.

Q: What you’re saying is there are far more people vulnerable to heat-related illnesses than might be commonly thought of?

A: Yes. My prior research group at the University of Copenhagen published extensively on the use of population data to understand how diagnoses or chronic conditions relate to each other and can help predict the likelihood of an outcome from a new illness. If, for example, we have a power interruption during a heat wave, we need to know which kinds of medical conditions will need medical help.

A lot of people are likely going to need medical help in that situation, and its important to know what medical conditions are most vulnerable.

Its very different if were going to have 100,000 people with emphysema or 100,000 people with kidney failure. We need to be able to have the systems ready to deal with that and actually try to help individuals figure out what their risk is.

Q: What do you consider a heat event?

A: So, a lot of the heat event data was built out of what was important to keep military recruits from getting sick. That has no bearing on a 70-year-old with heart failure and a couple of heart attacks. We are also working with climate scientists trying to look at disease occurrence during the year and use that information to build models of climate conditions associated with illness. For heat, its not necessarily how hot it gets, its how long its hot.

If you go to Death Valley right now, the lows are probably going to be in the mid-80s. If youre in Phoenix for the next 10 days, our low temperatures are going to be around 90. If you ask me, as an intensive care physician, which one scares me more, its Phoenix. There is pretty good population data from the European heat waves in 2003 showing that it wasnt the high temperatures, but how long it was hot. That means that the area never cooled, as we see in Phoenix right now.

Q: What’s the goal of your research and how might you apply it to help people understand their vulnerability during a heat event?

A: The goal is to provide some sort of actionable knowledge and put together a model of the high-risk person. Its the same approach we take in cancer therapy. We want to know individual risk of being outside in the heat.

When you do a group study and the results say that the average was a 10% increase in some factor, well, thats a 10% increase in an average person. There are no average people. If youre a cancer patient and the doctor tells you, Well, the average patient has a certain outcome,” you dont care. That means nothing to you. You want to know the likely outcome for you as an individual. You want to know how heat will affect you, not some mythical average person. Thats the precision medicine of heat.

Q: So, how would you disseminate that information to people?

A: Where wed like to go is to create a climate app. You input your own health data into your app, and it could tell you your risk of being outside for an extended period of time; your risk of going to the hospital is this; this is your percentage of risk of dying. We should be able to do this for any individual. So somebody with a certain set of chronic conditions knows that when it gets to a certain temperature, theyre more susceptible. Thats where we need to go with this research.

RELATED: Personalized medicine could prevent heat deaths, ASU experts say

Top photo by Samantha Chow/Arizona State University

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

Molding the future of mobility

ASU researchers to tackle technical, economic, governmental, environmental and societal challenges related to transportation

July 19, 2023

Few things shape modern life more significantly than the various factors that determine the scope of human mobility.

“Think of how transportation, or the lack of it, impacts virtually everybody in all areas of their lives,” says Ram Pendyala, a professor of civil engineering and director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. An illustration of cars on a road. The outlook for the near future of automobile transportation includes more electric and autonomous vehicles. Also on the horizon are vehicles equipped with advanced computing system capabilities, including artificial intelligence technology. Graphic courtesy Shutterstock Download Full Image

Pendyala’s research expertise includes work on travel demand modeling and forecasting, travel behavior analysis, multimodal transportation planning and new mobility systems design. Those pursuits have shown him that meaningful progress in transportation demands much more than advancing technology and expanding infrastructure.

Transportation “is one of those all-encompassing enterprises,” he says. So tackling its challenges can require gaining knowledge and insight far beyond basic logistics and engineering.

Many of the myriad complexities of government regulations, economics, public safety, environmental impacts and the adoption of new technologies are often involved in the process of addressing transportation needs and issues. The variables of community demographics, priorities, preferences, and political and cultural perspectives also come into play.

Amid such a complicated backdrop, Pendyala and three Fulton Schools colleagues who focus on transportation and related fields are contributing to new and innovative solutions to advance mobility.

Ram Pendyala standing next to an electric vehicle charging station

Professor Ram Pendyala, pictured at an electric vehicle charging station on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, teaches and conducts research in transportation systems engineering, design, modeling and simulation, and related areas. He is on the editorial boards of leading transportation journals, has published more than 200 research articles and served as a consultant for several transportation industry organizations. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Drawing on ASU’s extensive transportation expertise

Among the researchers in the school Pendyala leads are Steven Polzin, a research professor and deputy director of the Center for Teaching Old Models New Tricks, or TOMNET — a U.S. Department of Transportation University Transportation Center that Pendyala directs — and Xuesong Zhou, an associate professor of civil engineering and co-chair of the Technical Committee on Traffic and Travel Management for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Intelligent Transportation Systems Society.

Polzin has been a senior advisor for research and technology in the office of the assistant secretary for research and technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation and director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

Polzin has also worked for transit agencies in Chicago, Cleveland and Dallas, and his research expertise includes extensive work in transportation policy analysis.

Zhou serves as a board member at Zephyr Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing rigorous transportation and land use decision-making, as well as promoting travel analysis methods and tools through open standards, open science and active community engagement.

Among their ASU colleagues is Pitu Mirchandani, a professor of computer science and industrial engineering in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, part of the Fulton Schools. Mirchandani is an expert in systems optimization, advanced traffic control, vehicle automation and electrical infrastructure design, and has been involved in the transportation field and related research for more than four decades.

Mirchandani also directs ASU’s Advanced Transportation and Logistics, Algorithms and Systems Research Laboratory.

The combined research efforts of these faculty members reflect the expansive range of today’s transportation issues and future mobility aspirations.

Promising advances in automated fuel-efficient self-driving vehicles, electric vehicles, mass transit systems and much more are on many drawing boards, the Fulton Schools researchers say, but progress will likely necessitate navigating through complicated mazes of politics, economics and societal issues.

“There are both many shared and competing visions and missions swirling around the directions that today’s transportation planning and development should be going,” Pendyala says. “That makes it difficult to always get everybody on the same page.”

Pitu Mirchandani

Through more than 40 years of transportation research, Fulton Schools Professor Pitu Mirchandani has contributed to the data, knowledge and technological advances that are setting the stage for the future of human mobility. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Looking at the big picture

A big part of the quest for mobility advances goes beyond technological improvements. It’s also about examining the implications of various potential future transportation scenarios.

“For instance, in an era of widespread vehicle electrification, how do we replace the revenues from gasoline taxes that fund maintenance or expansion of surface transportation infrastructure today?” Pendyala says.

Polzin’s current work involves pondering such questions, along with the many other similar and disparate issues that could reshape the course of transportation.

“I follow business and political news,” Polzin says. “So, I think of transportation in the context of its role in society and how changes in demographics, population migration, technology, personal values, and governance and those kinds of things spill over to influence transportation. The pace of change has ramped up dramatically in all the areas that affect transportation.”

“New technology is really pervading transportation in everything from driving apps and payment mechanisms and navigation systems and safety features in vehicles, to telecommunications, automation and electrification of vehicles, plus the ability to do telework and drive less,” Polzin says.

He also takes into consideration the impact of trends that alter social values and shape views of government, environmental protection, climate change and generally what constitutes quality of life and prosperity.

“We’ve got the perfect storm here of everything changing simultaneously, which makes it challenging to predict the future when things like transportation change faster than our knowledge, understanding and data sets can keep up with all of it,” Polzin says.

Portrait of Steven Polzin, a Fulton Schools research professor.

Steven Polzin, a Fulton Schools research professor, has conducted research for clients in the private sector and in state and federal government. Changes in travel behavior are a major area of his current research. He has taught civil engineering with a focus on transportation for more than 30 years.

How data science advances are driving progress

Despite such uncertainties, researchers are optimistic about the potential long-term positive impacts that can result from technologies, models, databases and systems they are improving or creating.

Mirchandani says the expanding capabilities of computing, big data analytics, modeling, design, simulation and automation are broadening the possibilities for developing effective advances in transportation.

Combine those capabilities with emerging technology such as artificial intelligence, for instance, and the horizon for complex problem-solving expands.

“You can gather and analyze massive amounts of data from the movements of many thousands of vehicles and traffic sensors in various locations and use the information to design real-time traffic-control operations on a large scale,” Mirchandani says. “We have the technologies. We just need to apply all of the advances in artificial intelligence and big data analytics and we can make real progress that will minimize accidents and other traffic congestion problems.”

He foresees the possibility of a “marriage of advanced system optimization methods and computational algorithms” laying the groundwork for more efficient and effective transportation management.

Michandani’s optimism is echoed by Zhou, whose expertise is rooted in the application of the most advanced analytics and methodological algorithms to understanding transportation challenges and devising strategies to overcome them.

Zhou says today’s robust machine learning technology can essentially map out remedies to myriad transportation issues, whether they involve automobiles, bike riders, pedestrians, rail and bus systems or additional public transit options.

“With our computing capabilities, my students are able to build open-source tools that can extract the whole driving network for the entire United States and create a realistic representation of our transportation system,” Zhou says. “Then, using search engine optimization, we can provide a look at different traffic situations, some in very precise detail. We can then digitize that network representation for transportation planning, modeling and decision-making.”

These capabilities can enable researchers to provide communities, government officials and others detailed illustrative views of specific traffic, transport and travel scenarios that can function as a framework for developing specific solutions.

“Altogether, these computations are like a field manual that gives you detailed pictures and correlated data to guide in solving problems in different kinds of transportation environments,” Zhou says.

Xuesong Zhou

Fulton Schools Associate Professor Xuesong Zhou is the principal developer of the high-tech traffic assignment and simulation engine DTALite, as well as OSM2GMNS, a traffic network data processing package. These tools have been used by numerous transportation planning agencies.

Ideas to guide sustainable future mobility

Each of the Fulton Schools researchers emphasize that more than technical hurdles must be surmounted if transportation advances are to adequately serve all communities.

Zhou says that requires concerted efforts to implement solutions and improvements that serve all populations across the socioeconomic spectrum.

The researchers point out that people living in some areas bear the brunt of the impacts of fossil fuels on the environment, and some neighborhoods see fewer benefits of transportation infrastructure improvements.

“Achieving true sustainability in transportation means taking social equity into account.” Pendyala says. “We have to ask who is being underserved or adversely impacted.”

Pendyala says the best possible scenario for the future for mobility is one that will fully leverage the technological evolution that science and engineering can achieve while also bolstering collective ideals of equality and economic prosperity.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Grant to fund microfactories, technology transfer, economic development for Indigenous communities

First major NSF outlay to ASU’s Global Center for Technology Transfer supports collaboration with Navajo Technical University

July 18, 2023

Arizona State University’s Global Center for Technology Transfer (GCTT) and colleagues from Navajo Technical University will develop geographically distributed microfactoriesAccording to Wikipedia, a microfactory is a manufacturing, assembly or production unit producing low volumes in a smaller footprint than traditional factories. and technology centers in the Navajo Nation thanks to $1 million in funding from the center's first major National Science Foundation grant.

The collaboration will enable Indigenous communities to play an important role in supply chain operations for the space industry, an emerging industrial sector in the Southwest, GCTT Co-Director Donald Siegel said. Artistic depiction of space and technology. Photo courtesy Pixabay Download Full Image

The pilot program is called the Indigenous Innovation Network — Advancing Distributed Manufacturing Innovations in Tribal Communities (IIN-ADMIT). Principal investigators from Navajo Technical University (NTU) and GCTT developed a plan for an operational ecosystem for micromanufacturing technologies, which will be implemented in a manner consistent with tribal community values.

GCTT’s role will involve establishing legal, entrepreneurial and managerial frameworks that will facilitate translational research between ASU and NTU, as well as the contracting process with prospective industry partners.

IIN-ADMIT is among more than 40 unique teams to receive one of the first-ever NSF Regional Innovation Engines Development awards, which aim to help partners collaborate to create economic, societal and technological opportunities for their regions. It is one of the first grants to GCTT since it was created in 2022.

GCTT is a collaboration of ASU’s School of Public Affairs in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, the W. P. Carey School of Business, the Thunderbird School of Global Management, the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. The center’s goal is to bridge the gap between technology transfer research and managerial practice and public policy formation.

“Given GCTT’s commitment to inclusive, technology-based economic development and technology transfer, it is fitting that our first major National Science Foundation grant advances that goal. More specifically, GCTT’s NSF grant fills a major void in conventional technology-based economic development and technology transfer programs, which have often excluded tribal communities,” said Siegel, Foundation Professor of Public Policy and Management in the School of Public Affairs and a co-principal investigator on the grant.

“IIN-ADMIT leverages assets at GCTT, the Watts College, the W. P. Carey School of Business and ASU’s new School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks, working in partnership with Navajo Technical University, to develop geographically distributed local microfactories in space manufacturing and technology centers in the Southwest,” Siegel said. “These factories and technology centers will be developed in a manner that protects unique, Indigenous cultures and is responsive to community needs. While our initial focus is on the Navajo Nation, our long-term goal is to serve as a model for effective technology transfer involving other tribal nations across the country.”

GCTT Co-Executive Director and Management Professor David Waldman, Dean’s Council Distinguished Scholar at the W. P. Carey School of Business, and Sean Dudley, who leads the Research Technology Office within ASU Knowledge Enterprise, are also co-principal investigators on this grant. 

Waldman said planning will begin with a series of interviews with Navajo Nation members.

“The interviewees will include individuals representing government, business and the general workforce. The goal of these interviews is to better understand Navajo traditions, values, regulations and workforce issues that would either facilitate or potentially impede the project,” Waldman said. “As part of the project’s implementation, we will identify ASU students from the W. P. Carey School of Business who are part of the Navajo Nation and might serve in entrepreneurial roles in conjunction with the micromanufacturing facilities.”

Watts Professor of Public Policy and Management Maryann Feldman of ASU’s School of Public Affairs, who serves as GCTT’s research director and as an IIN-ADMIT co-principal investigator, recently joined the university’s faculty. 

“NSF has funded this two-year planning grant to allow us to work with the Navajo community to develop a plan for a distributed manufacturing network in a way that can be respectful of their priorities,” Feldman said. “Technology allows the remote geographical area of the Navajo Nation to potentially leapfrog ahead by making high value-added products, which will provide well-paying, flexible employment that will be more environmentally sustainable. This is an opportunity to learn from the community about more socially appropriate models of production. We are living the ASU model of engaged scholarship.”  

The project kicks off in late September with a technology transfer/community engagement summit at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort in the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona.

Based in Crownpoint, New Mexico, NTU has “established strong technical and training capabilities that are complemented by ASU’s technical, economic development and technology transfer strengths,” which will:

  • Establish a network of microfactories to benefit from space technology supply chain opportunities, as well as a roadmap for tribal adoption of digital infrastructure and digital manufacturing technologies that generate revenue and create jobs.
  • Increase community awareness of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities and resources to support entrepreneurs and enhance technology transfer.

NTU’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing will be the hub of a network of advanced manufacturing sites as the project is implemented. The ASU School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, working under the direction of co-principal investigator Binil Starly, will equip IIN sites with state-of-the-art technology. GCTT will facilitate technology transfer and workforce development. 

"Navajo Technical University works closely with tribal schools, communities and leaders to develop technology-enabled opportunities that promote economic growth in ways that are both consistent with traditional Navajo values and provide exciting new career pathways," said Ragavanantham Shanmugam of NTU’s Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Technology program. "We look forward to joining with colleagues at ASU and all our partners to create a sustainable manufacturing network that reaches well into our remote tribal lands."

Mark J. Scarp

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


image title

What the seismic shifts in sports coverage mean for future of journalism

July 14, 2023

ASU expert says sportswriters' jobs are evolving, but they have more options than ever

The playing field for sports journalism is changing.

Sports results have never been more instantaneous or ubiquitous, which is impacting the way newspapers report on them.

Last week, three major newspapers — The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune — announced they are reshaping, redesigning and scaling back their sports coverage, doing away with such staples as box scores, standings and game stories.

Is this a sign of a fundamental industry shift?

ASU News spoke with Paola Boivin, an award-winning sports columnist who worked for The Arizona Republic for more than 20 years. She now teaches at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Boivin, who was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, talks about these seismic shifts at these iconic newspapers and what it means for sports journalism.

Woman with brown hair and purple shirt

Paola Boivin

Question: Given the events that have unfolded in the past week, what do you think this means for the industry?

Answer: I think it reflects what we always knew: that the industry is evolving. People are consuming news in different ways. The Washington Post, for example, just hired eight people to handle their Instagram accounts. The Instagram posts steer readers to their stories. People still appreciate well-reported stories and strong writing. They just consume them differently and take different paths to find those stories.

Q: With so much sports information on the internet, how does newspaper coverage distinguish itself?

A: The top news organizations still have many of the most highly skilled, trained reporters. Sally Jenkins’ recent piece in the Washington Post on the relationship between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova was one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve seen in a long time. And several sports sections did unbelievable stories related to the World Cup in Qatar and human rights abuses. 

Q: How important is it for students to be skilled as multimedia reporters, as opposed to just writing or specializing in one skill set?

A: The more skills you have as a journalist, the more hirable you become. If you can write, edit video and embrace social media, you have a strong understanding of journalism in 2023. And that’s great.

The moves by The New York Times and Los Angeles Times triggered these odd “sports journalism is dead” posts on social media. I couldn't disagree more. And I can say that with confidence because I see the many jobs my students are landing. If they want to write about sports and culture, they go to Andscape. If they like long-form stories, The Athletic is a popular choice. There are so many options. Students are landing jobs with professional sports teams. They are maintaining athletes’ social media accounts. They are reporting and doing research for investigative news websites. They are writing and reporting for broadcast and streaming Web sites. They're working! 

Q: What do you tell prospective Cronkite students as they embark on a career in sports journalism? 

A: Be open-minded about opportunities. Be patient. Be fearless. These are the same things I would have told my younger self graduating from college, when the only choices seemed to be newspapers and one sports magazine. Now, the options feel endless.

Top photo courtesy of iStock/Getty Images

Reporter , ASU News


A solid battery solution

ASU engineering faculty member Candace Chan and team work to advance solid-state battery technology

July 14, 2023

As the world’s vehicle fleet decarbonizes by transitioning to electric drivetrains, the answer to what makes the best battery solution remains elusive.

Electric vehicle consumers seek a comfortable range for their batteries’ capacity and easy access to charging stations, especially those with fast-charging capabilities. Current lithium-ion batteries leave room for improvement in these areas and can present safety and weight concerns. A crowd observes an electric autonomous vehicle. A crowd observes an electric autonomous vehicle at a Center for Efficient Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation Systems event on ASU's Tempe campus. Photographer: Erik Wirtanen/ASU Download Full Image

While electric vehicle battery fires aren’t common, when they do occur, the batteries’ chemistry makes them more difficult to extinguish than fires fueled by gasoline. In Texas, it took firefighters four hours and between 25,000 and 30,000 gallons of water to subdue the flames from a Tesla vehicle that ignited due to a crash.

Lithium-ion batteries are also large and heavy, which can increase both the batteries’ size and their strain on road and parking infrastructure. Engineers in the U.K. have expressed concerns that old, improperly maintained parking structures could collapse under the weight of heavy electric vehicles as they become more common.

Candace Chan, an associate professor of materials science and engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is working on two projects to help alleviate problems in applications that use lithium-ion batteries, such as electric vehicles. In these projects, she is investigating how to make solid-state batteries a viable solution for consumer applications.

Putting solid-state battery technology on solid ground

Solid-state batteries differ from traditional battery chemistry due to the electrolytes used. An electrolyte is the material in a battery that transports ions between the cathode and anode sides, which are also known as electrodes.

The cathode stores lithium ions when charged, which then travel through the electrolyte into the anode, generating electricity in the process. The electricity is then sent to the device the battery powers.

A standard lithium-ion battery design uses a liquid electrolyte, while solid-state batteries use an electrolyte made from solid material. Chan’s group focuses on solid electrolytes made from ceramic materials.

“These solid electrolytes should ideally have the same properties as the liquid electrolyte to allow lithium-ion transport, but much better safety properties due to their increased thermal stability,” says Chan, a faculty member in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of the Fulton Schools.

This increased stability in the electrolyte’s chemical structure also paves the way for the potential use of lithium metal in the anode section of a battery. This would increase the battery’s charging capacity, extending the driving range of electric vehicles.

Chan believes that using lithium metal for battery anodes could even make electric aircraft such as flying taxis a possibility.

“Currently, lithium metal anodes cannot be used in lithium-ion batteries with liquid electrolytes,” she says. “This is because of the tendency of lithium metal filaments known as dendrites to grow inside the batteries, through the liquid electrolyte, and cause internal short circuits. The hope is that solid-state electrolytes can prevent dendrite formation and allow for the realization of these higher-energy-density batteries.”

Candace Chan observes materials science and engineering doctoral student Jinzhao Guo as he connects a solid-state battery to testing equipment

Associate Professor Candace Chan (left) observes materials science and engineering doctoral student Jinzhao Guo (right) as he connects a solid-state battery to testing equipment. Photo courtesy Candace Chan/ASU

Building a better battery

Chan is currently investigating two projects pertaining to different aspects of solid-state batteries with Yoon Hwa and Nick Rolston, assistant professors of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of the Fulton Schools.

The first project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is led by Hwa. He and Chan seek to develop the best way to manufacture a solid-state lithium-sulfur battery.

Lithium-sulfur battery chemistry has the potential for low-cost, safe and high-capacity energy storage.

However, the challenge lies in the design of the interfaces, or points of connection, between the battery’s electrodes and the electrolyte. Chan says it is difficult to find an interface design that allows the battery to work properly.

Chan and Hwa will experiment with different interface designs to find the best solution to transport power through the battery for storage and later use. The experiment will examine how the size, structure and integration of various cathode and solid electrolyte materials affect battery performance.

Aniruddha Deb, a chemistry associate research scientist at the University of Michigan, will bring his expertise to the project by introducing synchrotron X-ray analysis — a method to view the electrochemical processes taking place inside the batteries as well as changes in internal structure as the batteries are charged and discharged.

“Our systematic approach, which incorporates material synthesis and robust characterization techniques, aims to provide insightful feedback on solid-state interface design strategies,” Hwa says. “This will catalyze a technological breakthrough in the field, setting the stage for the production of high-performance lithium-sulfur solid-state batteries.”

Manufacturing efficient solid-state batteries

In Chan’s second project, also funded by the NSF and in collaboration with Rolston, she is leading research on commercially viable manufacturing methods for solid-state batteries.

Current manufacturing methods for solid-state batteries’ electrolytes use furnaces that take 12 hours to create brittle material the size of pennies. 

A diagram showing how the new method for producing solid-state batteries works and the difference in battery composition

A diagram comparing current manufacturing methods of solid-state batteries to the new open-air plasma process Candace Chan and Nick Rolston are investigating. Graphic courtesy Nick Rolston

“I’ve taken tweezers, poked at the material and it broke apart,” Rolston says.

The material's fragility results in a need for solid-state batteries’ electrolyte layers to be thick to bind the electrolyte material together.

This slow process is not cost effective for commercial applications and hinders the uptake of solid-state batteries for consumer use.

Chan and Rolston are investigating a faster process that takes less than 12 minutes, creates thinner, more durable material and doesn’t require a sealed chamber. The process replaces a furnace with an open-air plasma device that uses high amounts of energy to convert and treat materials.

Typically, this plasma treatment is used in solar panel manufacturing, but Chan and Rolston are investigating similar methods for solid-state batteries.

Rolston says if the process works, it could create batteries that have a useful life of 10 years — three times that of current lithium-ion designs. He adds that the technology is still in its early stages and will take time to perfect.

“We still have to understand the materials better to make sure that we’re producing these in the right forms and control the defects and the way they’re made and scaled up,” he says. “You develop something in the lab, but then, if you want to make electric vehicle batteries, you had better be making millions of them. That introduces additional challenges.”

New equipment aids ASU’s battery research

Chan’s research is aided by new equipment ASU has obtained, much of it funded through the Advanced Materials, Processes and Energy Devices Science and Technology Center, or AMPED STC. AMPED STC is boosting research, innovation and entrepreneurship in the areas of photovoltaics, batteries and power electronics.

The investment will allow ASU to build a battery research and development facility for fabricating electrodes and assembling batteries. Among the equipment are also new tools that allow researchers to conduct failure analysis of batteries or look at what’s happening inside a battery during or after its charge and discharge cycles.

One example of characterization equipment ASU received is an X-ray diffractometer. ASU received $557,841 in funding from the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Program, in addition to university funds, to acquire this equipment. The tool enables structural measurements of the battery materials as they simulate a variety of conditions that can be adjusted, such as atmosphere type, temperature and electrical bias.

Chan and her research team plan to use the instrument to measure batteries’ operating parameters during their charge and discharge cycles, furthering their knowledge beyond what was previously capable at ASU.

With the new tools and research being conducted, Chan sees a future for commercialization of solid-state batteries, but it may be far off.

“It took several decades for lithium-ion batteries we commonly use today to be commercialized after they were first developed and even more decades for them to be widely used in applications such as consumer electronics and electric vehicles,” she says. “There is still a lot of work to be done to understand how to make solid-state batteries with the performance, reliability and commercial volumes that lithium-ion batteries currently enjoy.”

Nick Rolston’s research group is looking for undergraduate students to get hands-on experience in next-generation battery and energy storage projects. Interested students can contact Rolston directly at

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering