On healing and tools for mending

Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics hosts first in-person Humane Tech Design Studio

December 15, 2022

After nearly three years of virtual deep conversations around technology, ethics and our future, the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University held its first in-person Humane Tech Design Studio on Nov. 19 and 20.

The event brought together academics, technologists and changemakers to collaborate on the problems brought on by new technologies and intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Central to this in-person meeting was the Humane Technology Tarot Deck, released by the Lincoln Center earlier this fall. Conversations with the Humane Tech Design Studio cohort inspired the creation of the card deck, and the in-person gathering presented the opportunity for the cohort to develop reflective activities and generative opportunities for its use among diverse community groups. Cards from the Humane Tech Card Deck spread over a desk with various craft materials and notes Central to the in-person meeting was the Humane Technology Tarot Deck, released by the Lincoln Center earlier this fall. Conversations with the Humane Tech Design Studio cohort inspired the creation of the card deck, and the in-person gathering presented the opportunity for the cohort to develop reflective activities and generative opportunities for its use among diverse community groups. Photo courtesy the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics Download Full Image

“We’ve all felt a productive tension between the desire to get somewhere tangible through these conversations and the level of convergence around the ways we connect with one another,” said Gaymon Bennett, associate director of the Lincoln Center, during his opening remarks. “And so we began to think about things in our lives that have those properties of structure and orientation, but also openness, inventiveness and creativity."

Workshop participants collaborated through a series of movements to design experiences based around the card deck, and developed prototypes for interactive exercises centered on the themes of repair and trust. Host Tamara Christensen, founder of the Idea Farm Co-op, encouraged the participants to think both as designers and as people who would actually use the tools developed: “What narratives and stories about healing and mending can we find in the cards?”

The designs were geared toward two subsets of users: people who were trying to figure out how to care and be cared for, and people who had lost trust in institutions and sought support from communities.

The workshop drew inspiration from play and creative inspiration card decks as a way to gamify important discussions around humane tech. Participants developed their prototypes over the course of several hours before presenting to a group of diverse test users who provided feedback for how the experience could be improved.

Training workshops utilizing the deck in the workplace and classroom, and expansions of new cards were discussed as potential future projects.

“Other groups are also talking about the kind of things we’ve been grappling with — tech, our dependence upon it — but are doing so in ways that are often less reflective and comprehensive than what we have explored over three days together,” said Elizabeth Langland, director of the Lincoln Center. “We look forward to advancing initiatives that build upon the sophisticated thinking this workshop has generated and that allow us to contribute meaningfully to ongoing discussions about humane technologies and ethical innovation.”

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics


X-ray vision: Director of ambitious CXFEL project sees the potential to unlock new knowledge

December 15, 2022

Editor's note: This is the third installment of a five-part series profiling the researchers who work on ASU’s compact X-ray free electron laser. Read the other installments: Q&As with Regents Professor Petra Fromme, CXFEL Labs Chief Scientist William Graves, Assistant Professor Sam Teitelbaum and CXFEL Chief Engineer Mark Holl.

When you think of X-rays, you may imagine a scan of a broken bone or Superman peering through walls. But when Robert Kaindl thinks of X-rays, he sees scientific potential. Portrait of ASU physics Professor Robert Kaindl. Robert Kaindl, director of the ASU Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser Labs Download Full Image

As a physicist at Arizona State University, he uses extremely short laser pulses to study the properties of materials, discover and control previously unknown phases, and track the movements of electrons on quantum scales of length and time, among other uses.

“I’m most intrigued by what lies at the edge of our knowledge, pursuing phenomena that have never been observed before,” says Kaindl, a professor in the ASU Department of Physics.

To that end, Kaindl directs ASU’s Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser (CXFEL) Labs at the Biodesign Institute. The CXFEL, when complete, will generate unique, ultrashort X-rays to allow researchers to see inside molecules and matter, advancing scientific efforts in areas such as drug development, renewable energy and quantum computing.

Building the compact X-ray light source (CXLS) is the first phase of the CXFEL project. While part of a larger effort, the CXLS is a powerful tool on its own that will allow scientists to capture ultrafast images of molecular behavior and chemical reactions as they happen.

Related: First electrons generated for revolutionary new tool in biological discovery

“The development of a novel light source fits our desire for discovery perfectly, as progress in science is often based on pushing the resolution or capabilities of instruments,” says Kaindl.

Here, Kaindl discusses his journey to becoming the director of CXFEL Labs, the challenges he has helped guide the project through and the exciting opportunities that the CXFEL will offer in the years to come.

Question: What is your role at CXFEL Labs, and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Answer: As director of CXFEL Labs, I’m responsible for the overall management of the facility, working with a highly talented team of faculty, scientists and students. With the conclusion of the compact X-ray light source (CXLS) commissioning, our focus is shifting to early experiments with its ultrashort X-rays and the transition to a user facility. In the National Science Foundation project to implement the future CXFEL light source, I will take care of its validation phase and transition to operations.

Q: What are you known for?

A: I investigate quantum and nanoscale materials with ultrashort lasers. The focus is on understanding the fundamental nature of these materials and how their properties can be controlled with light. Part of my work has also been developing new ultrafast sources and techniques, giving us a front-row seat in observing new physical phenomena.

Q: What has been one challenge in the CXLS project and how have you and the team overcome it?

A: The project involved many challenges, but the pandemic clearly tops the list. I arrived at ASU in late February 2020, just days before the shutdowns began. While many activities ceased, the construction of CXLS was able to continue with nearly full effort, aside from several notable supply chain disruptions. This is a testament to both the strong team and ASU’s unwavering support for the project. Moreover, the Biodesign Institute set up a PCR testing lab for ASU and Arizona, which was a tremendous asset for the CXFEL team to work safely through this challenging time.

Q: Why is ASU the right place to build these instruments?

A: ASU has a unique spirit of innovation seen everywhere across campus, which is essential for pursuing a project as bold as CXFEL. Faculty here are among the pioneers of XFEL science from its early days. This includes Petra Fromme, who co-developed the core method of serial femtosecond crystallography used at XFELs worldwide. Situating an accelerator-based X-ray light source directly on campus at one of the nation’s largest public universities maximizes access to advanced X-ray science and will help educate the next generation of researchers in this forefront field.

Related: Illuminating the answers to life’s mysteries: A Q&A with XFEL pioneer Petra Fromme

Q: What were pivotal moments in your career that led you to where you are today?

A: Early on, I was fortunate to work with leading groups in the field — including my doctoral research with Thomas Elsaesser at MBI and Humboldt University in Berlin, where I developed and utilized novel mid-infrared sources to observe the dynamics of superconductors and quasi-2D semiconductors. My postdoctoral work was with the late Daniel Chemla in Berkeley, detecting for the first time excitons via their terahertz-frequency absorption. In 2007, I became a principal investigator in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, where we pursued ultrafast studies of complex materials with terahertz, electron and X-ray probes, including the development of a new time- and momentum-resolved photoelectron facility. Having joined ASU as a physics faculty member and to manage CXFEL labs, I am excited to be part of the development of compact X-ray sources and to pursue the next phase of ultrafast science.

Q: How do your personal interests or hobbies enhance or complement your professional endeavors?

A: When I’m not in the lab, classroom or office, you might well find me on a hiking trail somewhere around Phoenix. Some of my best ideas originate out in nature. I’m also an avid skier, though the pandemic and time pressures have taken their toll lately.

Q: What potential application or aspect of the CXLS/CXFEL is most exciting to you?

A: CXFEL entails many interesting properties, which the user community can exploit to uncover new science. Personally, I find the potential for attosecond soft X-ray pulses particularly exciting (an attosecond is one-billionth of a billionth of a second). The motion of electrons in matter occurs on such time scales. For instance, the classical orbit time of an electron in hydrogen is only about 150 attoseconds. Attosecond X-ray pulses thus provide us with a “time microscope” to observe and unlock the most fundamental electron movements responsible for chemical reactions and quantum correlations in materials.

The Biodesign Institute and its CXFEL Labs are partially supported by Arizona’s Technology and Research Initiative Fund. TRIF investment has enabled hands-on training for tens of thousands of students across Arizona’s universities, thousands of scientific discoveries and patented technologies, and hundreds of new startup companies. Publicly supported through voter approval, TRIF is an essential resource for growing Arizona’s economy and providing opportunities for Arizona residents to work, learn and thrive.

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


New ASU academy to pair partners of different generations for service projects

Participants to learn from each other as they collaborate on common goals

December 14, 2022

Generational knowledge-swapping has become common in many workplaces as younger workers enter the workforce alongside older employees who are pushing back retirement.

Seasoned, longtime employees share their wisdom with less-tenured workers, who in turn help their veteran counterparts learn the latest computer-related technology. Younger woman and older woman working together on a laptop. Photo courtesy iStock/Getty Images Download Full Image

That mindset of generations collaborating in detailed ways toward a common goal is the theme of the newly created ASU CoGen Service Academy, offered by the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.

The public service program brings together passionate, enthusiastic partners from different generations to design a solutions-oriented service project. By spanning the distances often found between people born at least a few decades apart, participants learn from each other, “fail forward” and celebrate their successes together, said Robert Ashcraft, director of the Lodestar Center.

Ashcraft, who is also a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, said it’s easiest to understand what the academy is by first identifying what it isn’t.

“Holding a day of service, such as the annual Watts College event, is a terrific expression of service when several generations engage together to accomplish something like responding to a call to clean up a park. But that isn’t the CoGen model,” Ashcraft said. “The model we’re exploring considers what enduring results are possible when multiple generations align on a mutually agreed-upon issue of concern and then design service solutions together that may never have been conceived before.”

Of course, the ideas people care about may vary, spanning from environmental sustainability and youth development to arts in education, Ashcraft said.

Robert Ashcraft, ASU, Lodestar Center, School of Community Resources and Development. Watts College

Professor Robert Ashcraft, director, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.

“We are asking individuals to come up with issues they care about and consider ideas for how best to solve for ‘x,’ whatever that may be. What makes this revolutionary is that with typical service-year experiences found in VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), AmeriCorps, etc., it’s rare to have multiple generations come together in the same space to co-produce solutions through service. That’s the experiment here,” he said.

The academy is a pilot AmeriCorps project that received $25,000 in funding through cogenerate.org and its federal AmeriCorps grant to support the innovation, Ashcraft said.

The initial cohort will involve up to 10 people of older and younger generations who will spend 35 to 40 hours collaborating in pairs over five months, including an estimated 10 hours of in-person meetings with the rest of the cohort. Each participant receives a $500 stipend; additional funds may be available for resources and tools.

Anyone interested should fill out this form and submit it before Jan. 9, 2023.

“It’s a perfect marriage of the smarts, energy and passion of young folks with the wisdom, expertise and experience of older folks,” Ashcraft said. “One can be young and bright as all get out but that’s not the same as having wisdom. Bring the wisdom of the ages to that energy and you can really have the potential for profound results.”

The academy intersects well with the “service and solutions” framework at Watts College, Ashcraft said. 

Mark J. Scarp

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


ASU students, Maryvale teens, educators collaborate on resources for college success

Watts College-based studio assisted Humanities Lab, community to provide information on completing applications, dealing with challenges

December 13, 2022

You want to be the first in your family to graduate from college. But how do you navigate a journey that nobody close to you has ever traveled?

High school students in the west Phoenix community of Maryvale received support in their quest for higher education from Arizona State University students in the Humanities Lab course Avanzando Education Pathways who spent the semester working on ways to help the teens learn pathways to a college degree. The ASU students’ efforts culminated in December at a workshop for the teens and their families that featured tips for achieving academic success, as well as the unveiling of a website with links to helpful resources. People throwing their graduation caps into the air at a high school graduation ceremony. Photo by Gillian Callison/Pixabay Download Full Image

First-generation college students often have extra burdens to succeed, particularly in underserved communities where English might not be the predominant language spoken at home. Common challenges include how to write a convincing application essay to get accepted, how to find reliable transportation to school and how to keep up with a college workload while making sure younger siblings are taken care of while parents are working, said an ASU instructor whose fall Humanities Lab class helped local teens find solutions to these issues and more.

The lab, titled “Avanzando: Education Pathways,” and instructor Dulce González-Estévez, principal lecturer of Spanish in the School of International Letters and Cultures, turned to the Design Studio for Community Solutions at the Watts College for Public Service and Community Solutions for assistance. More than 34% of students enrolled at the Watts College are the first in their families to attend college, according to university records. “Avanzando” in Spanish means “moving forward.”

In October, the Humanities Lab treated 11 Maryvale high schoolers to an informational and social event at ASU’s Tempe campus that the ASU students created after consulting with the teens and local educators.

Working with communities, achieving solutions

Allison Mullady, the Design Studio’s program director, said the collaboration tracks with the studio’s mission to work with local communities to create practical solutions to complex challenges.

Mullady said the studio’s approach is to listen to what people want and how they want to make it happen, then engage university and community resources to affect lasting change.

The experience working with the Humanities Lab means a lot to Mullady, she said, as it demonstrates how the university can enter the community and learn.

“Based on the ongoing Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative’s community-driven work, we were able to provide an initial challenge and context, which the instructors and ASU students ran with, developing practical projects to share with Maryvale High School students,” Mullady said. “It really is a unique opportunity for college students to see how they can impact the world around them through their ASU coursework.”

The lab students presented the resources to the teens and their families at a Dec. 1 event at the high school. They included advice on how to fill out financial aid forms and a resource map with a QR code that takes them to the website. The event also included a skills workshop for writing a convincing, effective college-application essay.

“They created four rooms,” González-Estévez said of her students. “One was for parents that taught about scholarships and being a college student parent and the sacrifices involved. The second offered pre-essay workshops, information on college entrance exams. The third was about how to apply for scholarships and the fourth was a fun room for the students to win prizes.”

Presentation made in Spanish

The presentation to the Maryvale High School parents was conducted in Spanish, while the scholarship essay tips for the teens were in English.

“One hundred percent of the parents spoke Spanish. All of them expressed how grateful they were that the meeting was conducted in their language by people who understood their culture,” González-Estévez said. “They were telling me that they want their students to go to college but they don’t know how. They didn’t know where the resources are and what is expected of students. So providing information in Spanish was very helpful.”

González-Estévez said so much was presented, “I can’t tell you how many skills they acquired: getting to know how complex the educational system is; what to do about a lack of transportation, lack of mental health, lack of food; how some students have to be nannies for their siblings while parents are working two jobs.”

It was the start of what is hoped to be long-lasting partnerships between the university and the Maryvale High School community, González-Estévez said.

“The beautiful thing about the class is that we started it not knowing what we were doing. We went to Maryvale and asked them what they needed and wanted. And we established a line of communication to become better partners with them,” she said.

ASU students in the lab described how they put together meaningful opportunities for the Maryvale teens.

Adrian Galan, a senior with a double major in speech and hearing science and in English linguistics, said the class initially considered holding an assembly before learning that the Maryvale students already go to a number of college assemblies and likely would gain greater benefit from a more focused approach.

“My team went to Maryvale High School and directly asked the students to write down some things they would be interested in focusing on, and the one that stood out to me was essays,” Galan said. “So we decided to make a workshop that focuses on just writing essays for college.”

Lynette Hrabik, a senior double majoring in political science and sociology, said that most class members are from Arizona and shared a desire to improve educational outcomes in the state.

“After learning more about the Maryvale community, educational inequity and how the humanities can affect change, we decided to support pathways to higher education for Maryvale students,” Hrabik said. “Since we have personal experience navigating college, we thought this firsthand knowledge could benefit students seeking a similar path. My team collaborated on a website that covers college applications, financial aid and other resources. This is a practical compendium that high school students can continue to benefit from, beyond our time with the Humanities Lab.”

Experience provided insights to students about service

Both Galan and Hrabik gained insight about the people they served and what they were looking for.

Galan said helping the high school students find information about college opportunities showed that they need more attention and additional academic training.

“The informal nature of the essay workshop made it very easy to connect with the students, who expressed to me that they feel alienated by the school system,” Galan said. “The event reaffirmed my belief that high schoolers need to receive one-on-one guidance.”

Hrabik said that it’s essential for anyone seeking to serve a community to learn how to collaborate.

“It was meaningful to speak with students at Maryvale High School about their future goals, the information they need and how we could facilitate their access to information and opportunities. This collaboration also made the website more useful,” Hrabik said. “In addition, supporting students in their educational journey is important to me. Attending ASU and having a college education has transformed me and my life, and this includes opportunities like the Humanities Lab. Any student who wants to continue their education should have the resources they need to actualize their dreams.”

González-Estévez said the experience allowed the ASU students to gain and improve many skills, including event planning, website development, interviewing, writing grant proposals and moderating a panel.

“And of course, reaching out in culturally appropriate ways that are symbiotic and beneficial for both high school and college students,” she said. 

Mark J. Scarp

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


New study shows policies designed for land use can also protect coral reefs

December 12, 2022

Earth’s coral reef ecosystems continue to be exposed to human stressors such as overfishing and pollution, placing these habitats at greater risk of extinction. Arizona State University researchers are finding actionable pathways to protect coral reefs in an unexpected place: existing policy focusing on land. 

Untapped policy avenues to protect coral reef ecosystems,” a paper published Dec. 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), explores how the use of current legal policies and procedures aimed at drinking water, freshwater and emergency management could preserve coral reefs. The paper was written in collaboration with the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.  Bird's-eye view of coral reef. Researchers pointed out pre-existing policies that could assist in coral reef preservation. Photo courtesy ASU Global Airborne Observatory Download Full Image

“There are very immediate ways that existing laws can be applied to coral reefs, and that often isn’t happening,” said Rachel Carlson, lead author of the paper and affiliate scientist with the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. “This paper was published in part to increase understanding of how laws that are mainly focused on the land can work to protect coral reefs in the future.”

Carlson knows firsthand how long it can take to enact environmental laws. As a previous employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., she worked on a variety of freshwater laws. When she transitioned from land conservation to coral reef research, however, she found that implementing policy she had worked on seemed to stay exclusively on land. 

Greg Asner, director of ASU's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science and senior author of the article, said stronger communication could improve implementation of existing policy in reef protection.

“There is a huge gap between coral reef scientists and conservationists and the entire land-based policy sector,” Asner said. “This gap exists even in places where land directly touches the ocean.” 

He said the Clean Water Act is a good example of how current policy is underutilized. In one possible scenario highlighted in the paper, states across the country could classify waterways with the “designated use” of supporting coral reefs under the Clean Water Act. This would allow water quality goals to be “directly tailored to the biological thresholds of corals,” according to the paper. 

The researchers point directly at the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act as examples of existing policies that could be applied in various ways for coral protection. Other existing programs in the U.S. that could be used to protect coral reefs are the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s flood insurance and restoration programs and nonpoint source management programs. 

While the article highlights U.S. policies, Carlson said it also includes many global examples, giving the article an international audience. She hopes the paper urges coral conservationists across the globe to leverage existing policy where appropriate to ensure coral reef futures. 

“I think coral reef conservation is seen sometimes as something that belongs only in communities that have reefs, but it really does touch us all,” she said.

Carlson said significant biomedical research has been done on the backs of coral reef ecosystems, and a large portion of global food security, especially in marginalized countries, rely on these ecosystems. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs. 

“Even though climate change is happening, local actions can dramatically affect coral resilience,” Carlson said. “If we can act in ways to minimize local impacts on reefs, such as decreasing pollution through some of these existing policies, we can have an impact on how the corals can respond to these global issues.” 

Katelyn Reinhart

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory

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FLAGSHIP program puts underrepresented students on path to success

December 9, 2022

Students to attend largest conference of geoscientists in the world, held Dec. 12–16 in Chicago

This month, a group of 19 students and recent graduates is headed to Chicago for the largest and most influential geoscientists conference in the world. 

The trip is a key component of FLAGSHIP, otherwise known as the Future Leaders and Geoscience High-Road Internship Program, which is based at Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Now in its second year, FLAGSHIP is a national initiative providing real-world career pathways to students and others who are historically underrepresented in the sciences. The 10-week program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. 

“It’s an amazing program that helped me build experience, a network and gain the necessary tools to succeed,” said Monica Ortiz, who is studying environmental science at ASU and who said it's especially hard for women of color to gain opportunities like this in STEM. “I am very thankful.”

The American Geophysical Union conference in Chicago runs Dec. 12–16 and gathers researchers, scientists, educators and policymakers from around the world for one purpose — preserving the planet. 

Students will not just attend the conference, but also join the other professionals in presenting their research.

Vernon Morris

“We want to ensure that students of color have full access to professional meetings,” said Vernon Morris, founder of the FLAGSHIP program and director and professor at ASU’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. 

Morris said attending the conferences is “not just to look at people and say, 'Oh, those are what professionals look like.’ But to actually be a presenter — share knowledge on a panel and engage with people.”

Program is a professional plan

FLAGSHIP is an experimental program based on an equity-centered educational model. Participants come from a diverse group of disciplinary backgrounds, including environmental science, geoscience, engineering, public health and even English. They are studying at academic institutions throughout the country. 

FLAGSHIP works closely with the American Geophysical Union's Thriving Earth Exchange, where students work with scientists to address local environment challenges such as climate change and natural hazards. 

During the 2022 internship, students choose from a broad selection of projects including: 

  • Wetland management in the Chicago region (related to stormwater runoff and flooding of communities).

  • Responding to sea level rise in the San Francisco area (relating to shoreline management for vulnerable communities).

  • Green infrastructure for a more resilient New Orleans (relevant to flooding and drainage).

  • Power grid management and resiliency in Chicago (relating to decarbonization).

At the conference, cohorts will present the research from these projects and connect with leaders, educators and even prospective employees. Morris says the collective intellectual capital at the conference represents nearly 10,000 years of experience.

“The program is really about creating access points,” Morris said.

Looking foward

Attending the conference is a significant opportunity, but it is not the finish line. 

After working on research projects and presenting them, students learn how to package their knowledge and experience in what Morris describes as a “professional wraparound.” 

That means stronger and more competitive resumes and applications for summer projects and scholarships. 

“We professionalize students and provide on-ramps to help them develop their social capital on one hand, and on the other hand, we make sure that leads them into the workforce,” said Morris, who has spent his entire career helping students.

Morris joined ASU’s New College in July 2020. He is passionate about increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. His outreach programs have reached more than 50,000 students worldwide.

FLAGSHIP, one of his most recent initiatives, collaborates with many professional groups. These collaborations become career connections for FLAGSHIP participants.

“We are not just handing a person a rung," Morris said. "We are helping build their ladder to success.”

FLAGSHIP will be accepting applications for their next 10-week session through September 2023.

Top photo: Students from ASU FLAGSHIP will be presenting their research at a conference in Chicago this December. Photo courtesy Pexels

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

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ASU professor on the plausibility of Elon Musk's brain implant plans

December 8, 2022

Neuralink, a startup co-founded by Elon Musk, is developing technology to improve the connection between humans and computers through implanted chips in the brain. 

The technology is purported to be able to restore a person's vision or assist people with mobility issues. 

Last week, Musk announced that the startup will begin human trials in six months. 

The idea of brain chips is not new. Researchers in this rapidly growing field have been developing devices that can decode brain signals for decades.

But what is new, is that by testing these wireless chips on humans, Neuralink is putting the possibilities of this life-changing technology within reach by June 2023. 

Musk, the SpaceX founder, Tesla Inc. CEO and Twitter Inc. owner, explained that the brain chips' interface could help severely disabled patients to move and communicate, and even restore vision by decoding brain activity. 

Eventually, these chips would be mass produced and may be used for non-medical purposes like leveling the intellectual playing field. According to Musk, Neuralink has submitted most of the necessary paperwork to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But are his plans plausible? ASU News spoke with Bradley Greger to find out. Greger is a neuroscientist, a neural engineer and an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering.

Portrait of ASU Associate Professor .

Bradley Greger

Question: What do you think about Musk’s plans to restore sight to the blind? 

Answer: He’s really taking the field to an entirely different level — to the place where technology can really give useful vision to a human being. And that is a pretty monumental undertaking.

Q: Musk claimed that even if someone was born blind, he can restore their vision. Is that really possible?

A: Being concerned over providing accurate information to people who may benefit from a particular medical technology is very important. Clearly differentiating between what can currently be done and what may be possible in the future is critical.

Restoring limited vision and movement has already been accomplished in small numbers of patients through similar approaches.

The goals elucidated by the Neuralink team are achievable in the next few years. However, this is largely dependent on the level of resources allocated and the requirements imposed by regulatory agencies. 

Q: Explain your work in this area? How will Neuralink build on that? 

A: Right now, I am specifically working on restoring vision by directly stimulating the visual cortex of the brain — the part of the brain that processes early vision. 

Let’s say someone has lost their eyes — they're blind for whatever reason. Researchers and clinicians can go straight to the visual processing parts of the brain and stimulate tiny parts of that brain and the patient will see little flashes of light. That's been done — that’s what I have done and it’s been done many, many times. But really developing it into an actual device that could be medically applied ... that is very different. 

I think the most interesting and perhaps more challenging part is getting information into the brain. This was the first time Musk showed data on that and went into more detail. But for that to be useful to somebody, there has to be enough information there that it improves their quality of life. For example, the person using it can recognize somebody coming up the street or they can navigate around their house. That's what Neuralink is doing. 

(Musk is) very aware of the fact that it’s all about how much information we get in and out of the brain. You'll hear him say we need more bandwidth — he's absolutely right there. He's developing the technology to get that level of information to somebody who is blind. That is when it really truly becomes useful.

Q: What do you mean by information?

A: In the case of vision, information would come from an image that could be used to guide behavior or decisions. For example, if the image produced by the Neuralink device allowed people to recognize a doorway and door handle then they could move toward it and open the door. 

This is like older low-definition versus new high-definition screens. On a low-definition screen with fewer pixels, you could see that a person is present, but it would be harder to recognize that person. On a high-definition screen with many more pixels, you can see more detail and easily recognize the person. The thousands of microelectrodes in the Neuralink device should allow for thousands of flashes of light — that is, pixels — which can be used to construct an informative image. 

Q: How big is the implant and where would it be placed in the brain? 

A: It's really teeny, tiny, and this is where what Neuralink has done is astounding. The actual electrodes that go into the brain are smaller than a human hair — they're microscopic, and that's what really has been a great technological advance. The electronics they have made are just amazing.

The device would be implanted in the vision part of the brain; the visual presentation part of the brain is laid out in a spatial way with certain parts of it mapped out very well. We understand that from a neuroscience point of view, that if you stimulate this part of the brain, they'll see something here at this point in space and then you can use that to build an algorithm so that you can literally hook the patient to a video camera and map it from the video camera to the brain and the person will see a kind of pattern of light. 

That's greatly simplified. But that's basically the idea. 

Q: Can you explain the connection between a location in life and a location in the brain?

A: The anatomy of the visual processing part of the brain is laid out like a map. A specific location in space maps onto a specific anatomical location of the brain.

For example, my coffee cup is at a specific location on the right side of my desk. This results in a specific part of my brain, the “right side of the desk” part, being activated so that I can see the cup of coffee. The Neuralink device utilizes this mapping to guide what part of the brain is stimulated so that a person with blindness will see a coffee cup at the proper location in space when the right parts of the brain are stimulated.

Q: What Musk is proposing is not exactly new — what makes his plans different?

A: There is a long history of brain computer interfaces, and the work at Neuralink is repeating and building upon this previous work.

The earliest research on using this type of technology to restore vision dates to the 1960s. Neuralink is advancing the technology to get it out of laboratories and be more widely available for clinical applications. That takes tremendous resources and a lot of very smart and dedicated people to achieve.

Q: When will this technology be available? 

A: Musk is talking about almost restoring natural vision as we understand it. I think that is very far in the future. Again, it is theoretically possible, but I don't think that's going to happen in my lifetime.

But for it to be beneficial to somebody, they don't have to have fully complete natural vision, but rather something that just helps them work — do their job, go to the supermarket. That would be huge, and that is possible. And I think we will see that relatively soon. 

Top photo courtesy iStock

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

Translating addiction, mental health research for the Chinese American population

Psychologist brings WAVES program to ASU

December 7, 2022

Jinni Su, an assistant professor in Arizona State University's Department of Psychology, knows the importance of scientific research in the fight against addiction, mental health problems and substance abuse. She conducts research on alcohol abuse within marginalized populations, with recent findings highlighting the link between racial discrimination and drinking, the protective role of personality and problem drinking, and the importance of parents during the transition to college during the pandemic

Su, a developmental psychologist with training in human development and statistical/molecular genetics, recently gave a presentation on behalf of the Wellness, Advocacy, Voices, Education and Support (WAVES) initiative from the organization United Chinese Americans. She spoke in Chinese about alcohol use, mental health and supporting adolescent Chinese Americans.  Portrait of ASU Assistant Professor Jinni Su. Jinni Su, an assistant professor in the ASU Department of Psychology, knows the importance of scientific research in the fight against addiction, mental health problems and substance abuse. Photo courtesy the ASU Department of Psychology Download Full Image

“I study adolescent and young adult mental health and alcohol use-related problems. I try to understand the risk and protective factors that influence mental health and alcohol use-related problems,” said Su. “One of my focuses is trying to understand these processes within racial and ethnic minority populations, because they face their own unique challenges and they are relatively underrepresented in research.”

Drinking as a coping mechanism for issues like the increased stress from the pandemic, inflation or to cope with discrimination can lead to long-term challenges. Over 3,500 people died from alcohol-related causes in Arizona in 2022, and 60% of those cases came from issues related to chronic overuse of alcohol, such as Alcohol Use Disorder. 

“My dream is, of course, to have my work be impactful and to be a change leader to inform practices, prevention and education programs that can actually help serve the people,” said Su. 

Over 305,851 Asian American/Pacific Islanders live in Maricopa County, and the population has experienced a growth rate of 138% since 2000. Many of them speak English as a second language, and so speaking about research in Chinese makes a difference in connecting with the community and preventing problems such as adolescent alcohol abuse.

According to the UCA WAVES, many Chinese American adolescents suffer mental health challenges in silence due to the stigma associated with seeking out treatment and may turn to alternative methods for coping with the challenges of bilingualism or discrimination. 

“It's really special to me that I have the opportunity to engage with people who are working on the front line of the WAVES program — a program that is interacting with my community members and serving them,” said Su, adding, “I hope I can get more and more involved and be able to contribute to promoting the mental health of Chinese American adolescents.” 


Video courtesy the ASU Department of Psychology

Related: ASU launches first online master’s degree in addiction psychology with in-person practicum

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


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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