Doctoral student combines biomedical and industrial engineering to develop better brain diagnostics

Research opportunities, industry partnerships and world-class faculty provide Fulton Schools industrial engineering graduate researcher associate Nathan Gaw with the best tools to conduct high-impact brain data analysis research.

Nathan Gaw
Photographer: Nick Narducci/ASU

Nathan Gaw is currently an industrial engineering doctoral student. He previously earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering from Arizona State University. 

A plane ride, a magazine and a curious mind led Nathan Gaw to engineering.

Before a flight from Arizona to Chicago, Gaw picked up a National Geographic magazine that had a feature on neuroprosthetics. He read it once, then again and kept re-reading it until the plane landed.

“It was about using engineering to help translate really complicated signals from the brain, which I believe is the last frontier of the human body,” Gaw said. “I was fascinated by how you can use technology and engineering to translate the brain’s complex signals.”

This moment was more influential to Gaw’s decision to pursue engineering than his general interest in math and science and growing up with a father in engineering. Before the pivotal trip he hesitated to pursue engineering because it felt like the obvious choice, but after learning what engineering could lead to — something clicked.

When college acceptance letters started coming in, it wasn’t difficult for Gaw to choose Arizona State University. Though he was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, among other good options, Gaw thought ASU provided the best opportunity for research as well as academics.

“I could have studied really hard at UPenn and never gotten my hands very wet with research, but ASU gives you more room to get involved in research and actually apply what you’re learning on top of rigorous academics,” Gaw said.

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How bacteria can produce electricity, treat wastewater

Chemical engineer César Torres leads the Torres Lab where students aid his research efforts to understand the diverse applications of microbial fuel cells. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Chemical engineer César Torres leads the Torres Lab where students aid his research efforts to understand the diverse applications of microbial fuel cells. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU[/caption]

What if the bacteria found in wastewater could power the water’s own purification system?

Chemical engineering professor César Torres is exploring this possibility through research in microbial fuel cells (MFCs), supported in large part by a $1,900,000 grant from the Department of Defense.

An MFC is a bio-electrochemical device that converts the power of respiring microorganisms into electrical energy.

Specifically, MFCs contain anode-respiring bacteria (ARB) that can produce electricity when electrons from wastewater organics are transferred to an anode.

“In this system organic compounds can be removed from water, while electrical current is simultaneously produced,” said Torres, who earned his Ph.D. in environmental engineering from ASU in 2009.

The electrical current in MFCs is used to produce hydrogen peroxide — a powerful oxidant that can then be reused to treat and disinfect wastewater.

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Exploring new frontiers in human-robot collaborations

human robot collaboration Methods developed in Ben Amor’s lab allow robot assistants to anticipate the actions of human co-workers and help whenever needed. Photo provided by ASU’s Interactive Robotics Lab.[/caption]

Imagine an assembly robot that collaborates with a human to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture. The robot would need to analyze the movements of the human to avoid potentially hazardous collisions.

Heni Ben Amor is trying to help robots better understand and respond to human behavior. The assembly robot may learn that it must hand over a screwdriver whenever a human is stretching out an arm.

Ben Amor, an assistant professor computer science and engineering in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is working to make advances in human-robot collaboration and on identifying the importance of such collaborations.

Heni Ben Amor

Heni Ben Amor

“I develop new methods that allow a robot to work in close proximity with human partners,” he said. “To ensure safe interaction, autonomous robots need to include movements and actions of human partners into their decision-making process.”

There is a widespread misconception that robots will replace humans in all workplaces, Ben Amor said. While it is true that robots can perform mundane, repetitive tasks better than humans, there are still a many tasks at which humans are way better than robots.

He believes in a combination of robotic strength and speed on one side, and human decision-making, creativity and dexterity on the other side of a symbiotic relationship between robot and human.

“A fascinating aspect of working with robots is discovering how challenging even presumably simple tasks can be for a machine,” he said. “For humans, opening a fridge is not a particularly difficult thing to do. For robots however, this can be a daunting challenge.”

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Addington receives Dean’s Dissertation Award

Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. student Caroline Addington is the recipient of the Fall 2015 Dean’s Dissertation Award. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU
Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. student Caroline Addington is the recipient of the Fall 2015 Dean’s Dissertation Award. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Caroline Addington, a fall 2015 graduate with a Ph.D. in bioengineering, has been named as winner of the Dean’s Dissertation Award.

The dissertation award recognizes exceptional work by doctoral students that encourages the highest levels of scholarship, research and writing.  

Addington is originally from Greenville, S.C., and received an undergraduate degree in bioengineering from Clemson University. She is a student of bioengineering associate professor Sarah Stabenfeldt, in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Addington’s dissertation is “Modulating chemokine receptor expression in neural stem cell transplants to promote migration after traumatic brain injury.The research focuses on the development of a platform to enhance efficacy of stem cell therapy after traumatic brain injury.

Addington says current stem cell transplants after a brain injury suffer low rates of retention and survival, limiting their effectiveness.

“We’ve worked to develop a novel biomaterial that enhances neural stem cell response to some of the pro-regenerative signaling locally available within the injury microenvironment,” she said. “By increasing transplant response to some of these pro-regenerative signals, we hope to overcome the pathological signaling that is largely responsible for transplant death, thus increasing their therapeutic benefit.”

For Addington, the work represents a significant progression into neural tissue engineering from her undergraduate focus of orthopedic tissue engineering.

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Advancing OLED technology to more effectively light our world

Jian Li This image of single-doped organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) shining a high-quality white light on a Magic Cube ® shows how OLEDs can vividly illuminate the colors of the cube across the full range of the visible color spectrum from blue to green, yellow and red. ASU engineer Jian Li’s research team is working to develop a cost-effective solution for the next generation of solid state lighting products based on OLED technologies. Photograph provided by Jian Li’s research group.[/caption]

Despite all the forward technological leaps in modern electronics, the quality of lighting they provide still leaves much room for improvement.

The illumination emitted in our electrically powered devices falls short of achieving optimum performance of their primary function of maximizing visibility.

Overall, our lighting devices still lack optimal versatility, reliability and operational efficiency.

One area of research that promises solutions to these shortcomings is focused on developing advanced organic light-emitting diodes – called OLEDs.

An organic light-emitting diode is a light-emitting diode (LED) that employs conjugated organic molecules to transport electrical charges and emit light in response to the electric current.  The typical thickness of a whole OLED is less than one micrometer, which can be transparent and compatible with the flexible substrates.

Major advances in OLED technology would amount to “a very big milestone” in the ability to effectively light our world, said Jian Li, an associate professor of materials science and engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

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Young engineering faculty rapidly building a track record of innovation and high performance

Young engineering faculty rapidly building a track record of innovation and high performance

New awards this year bring two-year total to more than $11.5 million

High-performing innovation teams require the perfect combination of bright new talent and more experienced players.

It’s a strategy that is paying off for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, which is building a track record of high performance by its young faculty members. A total of 20 prestigious awards have been netted over the past two years, bringing more than $11.5 million to support both research and education in the Fulton Schools.

These early career honors include the National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Faculty Development (CAREER) Program Awards, Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Research Program (AFOSR YIP) Awards, National Institute of Health (NIH) Director’s and Career Development Awards, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Awards.

This year already eight members of the faculty have been awarded CAREER and AFOSR YIP Awards. One researcher has doubled-down, receiving both a CAREER and YIP Award.

“These highly-competitive and prestigious grants are awarded to young faculty with the best ideas in the U.S. Our young faculty are amazingly innovative and are already pushing the boundaries of their fields,” said Paul Johnson, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “In addition to being outstanding researchers, they are exceptional teachers, and their grant activities involve outreach to inspire the next generation of engineers.”

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Get to know The Office of Health and Safety

Get to know The Office of Health and Safety

As a recognized leader in engineering research and education, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering deserves a safety team to ensure that world-class research and safety go hand in hand.

As a division of the Engineering Dean’s Office, the Office of Health and Safety for the Fulton Schools of Engineering works with ASU’s Environmental Health and Safety Department (EHS) to provide safety support for Fulton Engineering’s labs, shops, offices, classrooms and special events. 

Led by Jonathan Klane, Assistant Director of Safety, and Amanda Hoyt, Chemical Safety Specialist, the Office of Health and Safety aims to foster a positive and integrated safety culture that embraces everyone’s health and safety as a collective priority.

From cleaning-up chemical spills to completing risk assessments, the Office of Health and Safety for the Fulton Schools of Engineering provides a variety of safety services and can coordinate with external resources to get the job done quickly and safely.

The Office of Health and Safety for the Fulton Schools plans to take on some new initiatives including:

  • Creating feature stories on labs that have a new or creative safety effort.
  • Updating safe.engineering.asu.edu with added safety resources for labs needing information on hazards and ASU requirements.
  • Compiling success stories from researchers who have reached out for safety-related requests.

Learn more about the numerous services offered by The Office of Health and Safety for the Fulton Schools of Engineering

The Office of Health and Safety for the Fulton Schools is located in the Goldwater Center on the Tempe campus [map].

For additional information visit safe.engineering.asu.edu or follow the Office of Health and Safety on Twitter (@ASUFultonSafety) and Facebook.

Take advantage of proposal support services

Take advantage of proposal support services

Make sure your proposal is set to succeed with the help of the Engineering Research Office’s editing and graphic support services.

Editing Services

Our editing services include:

  • Editing for style and language on the technical narrative, support letters, facilities descriptions, CVs, etc.
  • Formatting per proposal guidelines
  • Reviewing against solicitation guidelines
  • Editing to create a proposal-specific writing style
  • Synthesizing multiple author content to ensure a single voice

You may qualify for free editing services if you meet one or more of the following requirements:

  • Proposal is for $500K or more
  • Proposals is for $250K or more (for assistant professors)
  • Applying for an Early/Young Investigator grant (for assistant professors)

In addition we offer editing services on one journal publication per year for assistant professors.

Graphic Support Services

Graphics support involves working with a graphic designer to create quality art and images that represent your ideas and concepts for inclusion in the proposal.

The following proposals qualify for graphics support services:

  • All Early/Young Investigator proposals
  • Proposals for $1 million or more (for all faculty)

Check with a Research Advancement staff member to find out what levels of costs for graphics support services are covered.

Customized Support

The Engineering Research Office also provides custom support to large proposal and program management. This service has helped secure several successful multimillion dollar proposals and follow-up program

Please contact Stacy Esposito or your Research Administrator (RA) to see if the grant you are applying for qualifies for these or other services. 

2014 Research Highlights

2014 Research Highlights

In highlighting the accomplishments of researchers in the Fulton Schools of Engineering, the numbers say a lot:

Research Expenditures (FY2014 estimated)
$85.33 million

Research Awards (FY2014 estimated)
$95.92 million (top award sponsors are the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Department of Energy and National Institutes of Health)

Enrollment (fall 2014)
16,799 students

Proposals submitted (FY2014 estimated)
$600,666,419 submitted
1,215 total proposals submitted

But so do the achievements of the Fulton Schools of Engineering’s collaborative partnerships and high-achieving research centers.

Currently the Fulton Schools has an NSF/DOE Engineering Research Center called the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) and 5 NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRCs) including Connection One, the Center for Embedded Systems, SenSIP, Water and Environmental Technology (WET) and Power Systems Engineering Research Center (PSERC).

In partnership with the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and other ASU schools, the Fulton Schools of Engineering are launching new initiatives in the areas of robotics, instrumentation and procedures for biomedical applications. The school is also organizing several teams to pursue institutes in the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) program.

Already a member of Power America, the NNMI Institute for power electronics, the Fulton Schools of Engineering recently joined the Digital Manufacturing And Design Innovation Institute in Chicago, and is actively pursuing several other NNMI institutes for integrated photonics, flexible hybrid electronics and clean energy manufacturing. Follow closely for future announcements and funding opportunities related to these institutes.

In other news, Ed Hall was appointed interim director of the CSSER/Nanofab facility. Under his leadership the center has undergone many positive changes and invested substantially in new capital equipment to provide better service to the entire university. Learn more

 

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