Fall 2013 Magazine

Data as Art

McCormick News

Student startups honored, McCormick in the media, and more


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New Method Proposed for Nonlinear Optical Effects

In most media—including air, water, and vacuums—particles of quantized light beams, called photons, do not interact; when two light beams intersect in space, for example, they simply continue on their paths. But in certain crystalline materials and with a powerful enough laser, it is possible to make photons interact with one another and take on special characteristics. Known as nonlinear optical effects, these characteristics could be manipulated for applications in both the classical and the quantum domains.

Optical system used for new researchResearchers at Northwestern, led by Prem Kumar, AT&T Professor of Information Technology, have proposed a new, more practical method for realizing nonlinear optical effects. The method is based on the quantum Zeno effect, a counterintuitive phenomenon originating from the famous “arrow paradox” raised more than 2,000 years ago by the philosopher Zeno of Elea, who argued that since an arrow in flight was not seen to move during any single instant, it couldn’t be moving at all. Applying this effect to realistic nonlinear optical resonator systems, the researchers found that single photons can interact strongly with each other without ever overlapping in real space on any significant level.

The results represent a step toward quantum computing and could have interdisciplinary applications in areas such as gravity wave detection and biological microscopy.

Ovarian Cancer Detection Technology Holds Promise

New biophotonics technology developed at Northwestern is the first method to detect the early presence of human ovarian cancer by examining cells easily brushed from the cervix or uterus and not the ovaries themselves.

Vadim BackmanUsing partial wave spectroscopic microscopy, Vadim Backman, Walter Dill Scott Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Hemant K. Roy, a former NorthShore University HealthSystem physician, conducted a clinical study of ovarian cancer patients. The researchers saw diagnostic changes in cells taken from the cervix or uterus of patients with ovarian cancer even though the cells looked normal under a standard microscope.

No reliable early-detection method for ovarian cancer currently exists. PWS uses light scattering to examine the architecture of cells at the nanoscale and can detect the earliest known signs of carcinogenesis. Changes can be seen in cells far from the tumor site or even before a tumor forms. The results have the potential to translate into a minimally invasive early-detection method using cells collected with a swab, exactly like a Pap smear.

In previous Northwestern-NorthShore studies the PWS technique has shown promising results in the early detection of colon, pancreatic, and lung cancers using cells from neighboring organs. If commercialized, PWS could be in clinical use for one or more cancers in about five years.

Computational Methods Reveal How Fish Swim

Mechanical model demonstrating the properties that allow fish to swimHow do fish swim? This seemingly simple question has no simple answer.

Using computational methods to test assumptions about preferred evolutionary characteristics, researchers at McCormick have revealed some of the mechanical properties that allow fish to perform their complex movements. They found the optimal values for muscle activation and body stiffness properties of the most successful swimmers.

“Our results suggest that precursors of a backbone would have given rise to animals with the appropriate body stiffness,” said professor of mechanical engineering Neelesh Patankar, who led the research.

The researchers also confirmed that the ability to swim, while dependent on mechanical parameters, is not sensitive to minor generational changes; as long as body stiffness is above a certain value, the ability to swim quickly is insensitive to the value of the stiffness.

Finally, making a connection to the neural control of movement, the researchers analyzed the curvature of a fish’s undulations and determined that a single bending torque, not precise bending torques at every point along the body, gave rise to complicated-looking undulations.

The findings could provide insights into evolutionary biology and lead to better understanding of the neural control of movement and to development of bioinspired underwater vehicles.

New Method Targets Delivery of Molecules into Cells

Horacio EspinosaMcCormick researchers have developed a new method for delivering molecules into single targeted cells through temporary holes in the cell surface, a technique that could find applications in drug delivery, cell therapy, and related fields.

Bulk electroporation—which exposes cells to electric pulses, creating reversible nanopores in the cell membranes—is an increasingly popular method of introducing molecules such as nucleic acids or proteins into a cell to change its properties, a process called cell transfection. But electroporation of a bulk cell solution results in heterogeneous cell populations and often low cell viability. Horacio Espinosa, James and Nancy Farley Professor of Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship, and his group have developed a novel tool for single-cell transfection.

Their nanofountain probe electroporation (NFP-E) method allows researchers to deliver molecules into targeted cells through temporary nanopores created by applying a localized electric field to a small portion of the cell. With the ability to control dosage by varying the duration of the electric pulses, researchers have unprecedented control of cell transfection.

McCormick Offers its First MOOC

This fall for the first time McCormick offered a MOOC—a massive open online course in which large numbers of participants can explore a new field or feed a curiosity for free. The endeavor will benefit from a new, professorcreated recording studio specifically designed for filming online lectures.

Todd MurpheyMore than 17,000 people signed up for “Everything Is the Same: Modeling Engineered Systems,” available on Covering modeling and analysis techniques for electrical, mechanical, and chemical systems, the introduction to engineering course includes 24 lectures that average less than seven minutes each.

“We are trying to embrace groups that elite universities have not traditionally accessed: those without a college education, those with a curiosity about engineering, and high school students trying to decide on a career path,” said course instructor Todd Murphey, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Video cameras mirror the diagrams drawn on this special glass panel so they appear correctly to viewers.Designed for people with a background in introductory calculus, the eight-week MOOC gives students a foundation in physical modeling with topics like Newton’s, Kirchoff’s, and Fick’s laws. Online demonstrations featuring students from Murphey’s lab explain how ideas can be applied to real examples.

The course was partly filmed in a McCormick recording studio designed for video instruction by Michael Peshkin, professor of mechanical engineering. A mirrored video camera reverses the diagrams professors draw on a special glass panel so they appear correctly to viewers.

McCormick Professor Develops New Tool for Massive Online Courses (MOOCs)

Michael Peshkin demonstrates the tool developed to assist online learning. The "Lightboard" enables a faculty member to draw diagrams on a piece of glass while facing his viewers. Then, in real time, the camera system projects a mirror of that display to the viewer so they can see both the professor and his writing simultaneously.

Researchers Synthesize Ribosomes the Natural Way

Working with partners at Harvard Medical School, synthetic biology researchers at Northwestern have for the first time synthesized ribosomes—cell structures responsible for generating all proteins and enzymes in the human body—from scratch in a test tube.

Past efforts to synthesize ribosomes from their constituent parts under conditions that did not replicate the environment of a living cell yielded poorly functional ribosomes. In addition, attempts to combine ribosome synthesis and assembly in a single process have failed for decades.

Integrated rRNA synthesis, ribosome assembly, and translation (iSAT)Michael C. Jewett, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, and researchers from Harvard mimicked the natural synthesis of a ribosome, allowing the natural enzymes of a cell to facilitate the manmade construction. Working with E. coli cells, the researchers combined natural ribosomal proteins with synthetically made ribosomal RNA, which self-assembled in vitro to create semisynthetic, functional ribosomes. The synthesis process developed— termed “integrated synthesis, assembly, and translation” technology— mimics nature by enabling ribosome synthesis, assembly, and function in a single reaction and in the same compartment.

Cells require ribosomes to live. Ribosomes translate messenger RNA into proteins, a core process of the cell. The thousands of proteins per cell in turn carry out a vast array of functions, from digestion to the creation of antibodies.

The new technology could lead to the discovery of antibiotics targeting ribosome assembly; an advanced understanding of how ribosomes form and function; and the creation of tailor-made ribosomes to produce new proteins with exotic functions that would be difficult, if not impossible, to make in living organisms.

Student Rocket Breaks Record

Northwestern students go the extra mile. If they’re NUSTARS, they go a mile and six feet.

NUSTARS with their record-breaking rocketThe Northwestern University Space Technology and Rocketry Society broke a record in April when members launched a homemade rocket in NASA’s University Student Launch Initiative outside Huntsville, Alabama. NUSTARS, a student engineering organization founded last year to construct high-powered rockets for NASA’s university-level competitions, had spent eight months perfecting its rocket.

Forty teams from around the country competed in the event, in which students were challenged with designing a rocket to reach 5,280 feet (one mile) in altitude and no farther. Northwestern’s nine-foot rocket reached 5,286 feet, so the team was docked several points for passing the one-mile mark and missed out on the first-place Altitude Award. But Northwestern took second place and achieved a competition record for coming closest to the one-mile altitude target.

American Ceramic Society Top Honor to Katherine Faber

Katherine FaberKatherine Faber, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, has been named a 2013 Distinguished Life Member of the American Ceramic Society. The society’s highest honor, the award recognizes eminent contributions to the ceramic and glass profession.

A member of Northwestern’s faculty since 1988, Faber researches porous ceramics for energy applications; graphite- and silicon carbide–based cellular ceramics synthesized from natural scaffolds, such as pyrolyzed wood; and thermal and environmental barrier coatings for engines and gas turbines. Faber recently extended her research to include cultural heritage science. She codirects the Northwestern University–Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts, which offers interdisciplinary scientific research collaborations to museums across the country.

Faber joined the American Ceramic Society in 1975, was made fellow in 1992, and served as president from 2006 to 2007.

Students Receive Grants for Global Work

The Global McCormick office awarded grants to six students to help promote and enhance international undergraduate experiences this summer. The following recipients benefited from grants to support their research and internships abroad:

  • Kelsey Ann Berning conducted research at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China.
  • John Patrick Boueri interned as a trainee engineer at ACWA Emirates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
  • Alex Clark Freedman conducted research at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen in Germany.
  • Yoon Hyung Lee conducted research in the Translational Neural Engineering lab of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.
  • Ambar Pankaj interned at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
  • Heun Mo Yoo conducted research at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich in Switzerland.

Global McCormick enables students, faculty, and alumni to explore, experience, and engage with global scholarly activities anchored by McCormick programs and initiatives.

Transverse Thermoelectrics Offer Opportunities

Thermoelectrics— materials that convert heat to electrical energy, and viceversa— find everyday use in portable refrigerators and waste heat electrical generators. However, A new strategy for fabricating semiconductors would enable positive and negative charges to move perpendicular to each other, inducing heat to flow transverse to the electrical current.they have limitations. Devices made of standard materials with positive (“p-type”) or negative (“n-type”) charges moving parallel to the heat flow stop operating at cryogenic temperatures below 150°K and cannot be scaled down much smaller than a millimeter.

Northwestern researchers recently developed a strategy to fabricate semiconductors in which positive and negative charges move perpendicular to each other (called “p n-type” or “p-by-n-type”), inducing heat to flow transverse to the electrical current. This opens the door for novel thermoelectric applications, particularly at small scales and at cryogenic temperatures where current technologies fail.

Led by Matthew Grayson, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, the researchers determined that a type II superlattice with alternating layers of indium arsenide and gallium antimonide possesses orthogonal p-type and n-type characteristics and described how such materials could be fabricated.

While standard materials are extensively used in today’s thermoelectric devices, tremendous opportunities for new applications arise with these transverse thermoelectrics. Because they can operate at very low temperatures or be scaled down to very small sizes, it could become possible to reduce solid-state refrigerators to micronsize cooling devices that could be built into integrated circuits. The materials also have potential for refrigerating to cryogenic temperatures and converting a few degrees of temperature difference around room temperature into hundreds of volts of electrical potential.

Students Honored at Convocation

Julian Minuzzo (Center), Recipient of the 2013 Harold B. Gotaas Undergraduate Research Award. Pictured with Samuel I. Stupp (Left) and Stephen Carr (Right).Several students were honored at McCormick’s convocation in June.

Julian Minuzzo (BS/MS ’13 materials science and engineering) won the 2013 Harold B. Gotaas Undergraduate Research Award. Named in honor of McCormick’s third dean, the annual award is given to the senior with the best research paper. In “A Self-Assembled Organic/Inorganic Lamellar Hybrid Nanostructure for Photovoltaic Applications,” Minuzzo described his process for making solar cells with an ordered nanostructure ideal for charge separation and conduction. During solar cell fabrication, perpendicularly aligned layers of electron-donating and electron-accepting materials self-assemble into solar cell structure. The work was conducted under the advising of Samuel I. Stupp, Board of Trustees Professor of Materials Science, Chemistry, and Medicine and director of Northwestern’s Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine and the Simpson and Querrey Center for Regenerative Nanomedicine. Minuzzo (center) is pictured above with Stupp (left) and Stephen Carr, associate dean of undergraduate engineering.

Three teams of seniors were awarded the Mickelson Prize for insightful, innovative, and/or creative projects:

First prize: Avanti Badrinathan, Grace Bushnell, Hongyu Chen, and Jonathan Lamano for “Intracranial Aneurysm Endovasular Coil Embolization Force Measurement: Research and Training System”

Second prize: Frank Cummins, Matt Doerfler, and Ewa Glowik for “Infant Warming Device for Pediatric Surgeries at the University College Hospital Ibadan in Nigeria”

Third prize: Timi Chu, Nam Ryul Kim, Wesley Sutton, and Stanley Weng for “Heel Stick Medical Simulator”

Three additional undergraduate prizes were awarded: the Ovid W. Eshbach Award to Mark Ellison Fischer; the McCormick Alumni Award to Brittany Lauren Croone; and the Co-op of the Year Award to Darien Rae Hanington.

Move to Cloud Would Save Energy

A six-month study has found that if common software applications used by 86 million US workers were moved to the cloud, enough electricity could be saved annually to powerThis graphic demonstrates the impact of moving applications to the cloud. Los Angeles for a year. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study was led by Eric Masanet, associate professor of mechanical engineering and chemical and biological engineering, with funding from Google.

The report looked at three common business applications—email, customer relationship management software, and bundled productivity software (spreadsheets, file sharing, word processing, etc.). It showed that moving these software applications from local computer systems to centralized cloud services could cut information technology energy consumption by up to 87 percent—about 23 billion kilowatt-hours.

A primary goal was to develop a state-of-the-art model that both researchers and the public could use to analyze the energy and carbon impacts of cloud computing. The model takes into account all of the factors—such as data centers, transmission systems, client devices, and transportation systems—necessary to assess the environmental benefits or costs of shifting from local or physical resources to the cloud.

“Well-thought-out analysis is especially important with new technology, which can have unforeseen effects,” Masanet said. “Our public model allows us to look forward and make informed decisions. What we found overall is that when services are hosted on the cloud as opposed to locally, the savings are pretty robust.”

HIV Screening Guidelines Too Conservative, Study Says

Benjamin ArmbrusterCurrent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV screening guidelines are too conservative, and more frequent testing would be societally cost effective for both high- and low-risk groups, a Northwestern study concludes.

The Northwestern researchers, led by assistant professor of industrial engineering and management sciences Benjamin Armbruster, performed a mathematical modeling study of HIV screening in different risk groups to assess the best tradeoff between the societal costs of testing versus the benefits of earlier HIV diagnosis over a patient’s lifetime. They concluded that screening should be done up to every three months for those at high risk and every three years for those at low risk. The CDC currently recommends annual testing for high-risk groups and once-in-a-lifetime testing for low-risk groups, whose annual risk of acquiring HIV is only .01 percent.

Frequent testing has been shown to be an effective method for identifying new HIV infections. In the past, people with new HIV infections weren’t treated until they had significant declines in immune functioning, as measured by the CD4 cell count. But there is a growing consensus that antiretroviral treatment is beneficial for all HIV-infected patients, regardless of CD4 count. Starting treatment immediately after diagnosis also reduces the risk of transmitting HIV.

Recent Grad Wins Startup Competition, Praise from Warren Buffett

Hannah Chung with Warren BuffettHannah Chung, a recent McCormick graduate and cocreator of an educational toy for children who have diabetes, won a pitch competition October 17 at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, one of the contest’s judges, complimented Chung on her “extremely good” presentation during the Perfect Pitch challenge, in which four tech and science companies gave five-minute pitches to a panel of judges.

Chung (mechanical engineering ’12) and Aaron Horowitz (combined studies, mechatronics and user interaction design ’12) are the cofounders of Sproutel, a startup that makes interactive games for children who have chronic illnesses. Their first product is Jerry the Bear, an interactive robotic toy for children with type 1 diabetes.

Chung was nominated to attend the Most Powerful Women Summit, an invitation-only event that convenes preeminent women in business, government, and other areas. This year, attendees included Cathy Coughlin (WCAS ’79), a Northwestern trustee and senior executive vice president and global marketing officer for AT&T, who also judged the Perfect Pitch session; Ginni Rometty (McCormick ’79), chairman, president, and CEO of IBM; Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg; Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer; Deborah DeHaas, a Northwestern trustee and chief inclusion officer of Deloitte; and Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management.

“It meant a lot to pitch in front of these amazing women,” Chung said, “especially with all the Northwestern support in the audience.”

IEEE Electromagnetics Award to Taflove

Allen TafloveAllen Taflove (BS ’71, MS ’72, PhD ’75), professor of electrical engineering and computer science, has been awarded the 2014 IEEE Electromagnetics Award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The award—sponsored by IEEE’s Antennas and Propagation, Electromagnetic Compatibility, Microwave Theory and Techniques, and Geoscience and Remote Sensing Societies—is given for outstanding contributions to the field of electromagnetics through theory, application, or education.

A member of McCormick’s faculty since 1984, Taflove pioneered finite-difference time-domain computational solutions, a method for solving fundamental rules of nature that govern nonquantum interactions of electric charges, currents, and electromagnetic waves. He was cited for contributions to the development and application of FDTD solutions of Maxwell’s equations across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Event Explores Technology's Human Consequences

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a play about how the former Apple CEO’s obsessions changed the world, marked the sixth season of ETOPiA: Engineering Transdisciplinary Outreach Project in the Arts. The McCormick outreach initiative seeks to inspire crossdisciplinary dialogue about the role of science and technology in society.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs takes the audience all the way to China to investigate the factories where millions toil to make iPhones and iPods.A harrowing tale of pride, beauty, lust, and industrial design, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs takes the audience all the way to China to investigate the factories where millions toil to make iPhones and iPods, shining a light on our love affair with devices and on the human cost of creating them. The one-man show, written by Mike Daisey, starred Chicago actor Lance Baker and ran at the Technological Institute from September 27 to October 20.

“This play is a riveting exposé of the sometimes quirky, sometimes shocking secrets behind Steve Jobs’s genius and the legacy of industrial innovation that he left behind,” said Matthew Grayson, producer of the annual ETOPiA event and associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Northwestern Recognized for Diversity Efforts

Northwestern was one of three universities to receive a 2013 Impact Award from the National Society of Black Engineers and ExxonMobil. The $10,000 award recognizes efforts to retain underrepresented minority students in engineering programs.

Northwestern was cited for its EXCEL program, an intensive five-week initiative that prepares students for their freshman year by fostering a supportive community and reinforcing excellence in academics. The program includes study-skills development, mentoring, peer-to-peer engagement, and exposure to a variety of engineering disciplines.

Andy Nwaelele, vice president of Northwestern’s NSBE chapter, said the award money will help pay for tutors to attend NSBE’s Sunday night study sessions (“Study Jamz”) and for student scholarships to NSBE conventions.

“We want to seek ways to improve our retention even more by living our mission, which is to ‘increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community,’” said Nwaelele, a biomedical engineering major. “With more money, we hope to continue those efforts and continue to get young people interested in the opportunities STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields present.”

McCormick in the Media

Student Startup Featured in WSJ Documentary

Yuri Malina (left) and Mert Iseri (right)SwipeSense, a medical startup founded by two recent Northwestern graduates through the University student group Design for America, was included in the Wall Street Journal’s documentary WSJ Startup of the Year.

The episodic video series, which premiered June 24 on the online video platform WSJ Live, matches 24 startups with global business leaders and influencers and tracks their progress over five months.

Created by Design for America cofounders Mert Iseri (combined studies ’11) and Yuri Malina (integrated science ’11), SwipeSense offers a way to help solve the problem of hospital-acquired infections, which kill an estimated 90,000 people a year in the United States. About the size of a pager, the portable hand-sanitizing system affixes to healthcare professionals’ belts and dispenses sanitizer at the swipe of a hand. A wireless tracking system monitors the frequency of hand sanitizing.

Design for America is a national student group founded at Northwestern that creates local and social impact through interdisciplinary design.

Stretchable Battery Widely Featured in News

Yonggang HuangA revolutionary stretchable battery developed by Yonggang Huang, Joseph Cummings Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, has been featured by several news outlets.

Huang worked with John A. Rogers, the Swanlund Chair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to create the flexible battery. The two connected a series of wavy, tightly packed wires to the components of a small battery, which allowed the battery to change shape and stretch up to three times its normal size.

“When we stretch the battery, the wavy interconnects unravel, much like yarn unspooling, while the storage components almost keep undeformed, because of their much larger rigidity than the interconnects,” Huang explained.

The battery’s charge lasts up to nine hours and can be boosted wirelessly. It is the final piece of the researchers’ line of stretchable electronics and could be used to power future medical devices.

The findings were published in the online journal Nature Communications and have been covered by NBC News, the BBC, Smithsonian Magazine, and Live

Student Sleep Project Profiled in New York Times

As Northwestern’s football team takes to the field this fall, McCormick students are trying to arm them with a secret weapon: plenty of sleep.Northwestern football players are wearing motion-sensor armbands to track the quality and quantity of their sleep.

In a new study spearheaded by three McCormick undergraduates, the Wildcats are wearing motion-sensor armbands that track the quality and quantity of their sleep. The data, collected voluntarily and shared with Northwestern’s football coaches, can be used by players to better understand the connection between sleep and performance.

“Study after study says that sleep has a huge effect on memory, mood, strength, and endurance, yet there’s this sleep machismo at a lot of universities, like sleep is for lazy people,” said project cocreator Jeffrey Kahn, a BS/MS student studying health systems engineering. “We wanted to explore how much sleep students are getting and how it is affecting them.”

Working with Segal Design Institute clinical associate professor Dan Brown, Kahn and complex-systems major Jacob Kelter spent months reading scientific literature about sleep, interviewing students and sleep experts, and tracking their own sleep cycles. They tested a variety of sleep-monitoring technologies before selecting a suite of four sensors that track subjects’ position and body temperature during sleep. Working with computer engineering student Leon Sasson, they also created a web app on which Wildcat coaches can access the data.

The study was featured in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune.

Emeritus Professor Publishes Op-ed on Transporation Safety

Elmer LewisWhile the cause of each transportation disaster varies, they all involve the interaction between automation, training, and human psychology, Elmer Lewis, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, wrote in an op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times in August and subsequently picked up by several news outlets. Lewis called on the transportation industry to reflect on the relationship between operators and automation.

“The designers of planes, trains, and even automobiles increasingly automate some functions once performed by those who operate these conveyances, and from a safety standpoint, there is much to be gained by it,” he wrote. But automation has drawbacks: operators can become either too reliant on it or override it with reckless behavior.

“When many people’s lives are at stake, we have all the more reason to demand safety systems that cannot be overridden by errant operators,” Lewis said.