Spring 2013 Magazine

The Brain

McCormick News

Breakthrough in MS research, McCormick in the media, and more


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Quick-Results HIV Test for Babies to Debut in Mozambique

David KelsoToday, mothers in Africa sometimes walk more than 10 miles to a clinic only to learn that conventional HIV test results for their babies are not available yet. Many never come back or even get their infants tested in the first place.

Soon residents in Maputo, Mozambique, will participate in the first evaluation of an HIV test that was developed at Northwestern University and differs dramatically from conventional tests that are complex and slow to produce results. The first-of-a-kind test will deliver a diagnosis in less than an hour while mother and child are still in the clinic.

“Our test provides while-you-wait results, and if a child is infected, he or she will begin treatment immediately, which is critical to survival,” says David Kelso, who led its development. Kelso is a clinical professor of biomedical engineering and director of McCormick’s Center for Innovation in Global Health Technologies. His research team developed the technology with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The first-of-a-kind test will deliver a diagnosis in less than an hour while mother and child are still in the clinic.A miniaturized, inexpensive version of the p24 antigen test, the easy-to-use test was designed for developing countries. A drop of blood is taken from the infant’s heel and inserted into a small processor. Results arrive within 30 minutes with a 94 percent accuracy rate. The test detects very low levels of core protein 24, which is made by the virus itself.

In 2010 Kelso and his partners, with support from Northwestern, established the Northwestern Global Health Foundation to combat infectious diseases in the developing world. It plans to establish a distribution company in Africa for the various tests and to train clinicians in their use. The foundation puts any profits back into research and lowcost manufacturing.

Signature Design Course Gets a New Name

Student project for Design Thinking and CommunicationFor 15 years McCormick freshmen have completed a foundational course to learn special design problem-solving and communication skills, known as “design thinking” in business and academic circles: frame a problem, consider solutions, refine, execute. The course that teaches these skills, formerly known as Engineering Design and Communication, has been renamed Design Thinking and Communication to showcase its key outcomes.

“When we started teaching design at Northwestern 15 years ago, these were very forward-thinking ideas,” says Bruce Ankenman, codirector of the course and Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence. “Now the term ‘design thinking’ has become commonplace in the business and academic worlds, and people have begun to recognize it as a vital part of the innovation process.”

Student project for Design Thinking and CommunicationOffered through the Segal Design Institute in collaboration with the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Design Thinking and Communication allows freshmen and transfer students to work on real clients’ problems and to explain their designs to various audiences.

Each section is cotaught by faculty from McCormick and Weinberg’s Writing Program. “Since communication instruction is thoroughly integrated into the design process, students learn that better communication actually leads to better design,” says codirector Penny Hirsch of the Writing Program.

Through partnerships with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, students spend the first half of the two-quarter course working with clients who have disabilities. Projects have included a device to help someone open a jar using only one arm and a pill dispenser for a man who cannot use his arms or legs. Second-quarter projects address a variety of healthcare, industry, and education problems.

Breakthrough Nanoparticle Halts Multiple Sclerosis

Lonnie SheaDelivering an antigen that tricks the immune system into stopping its attack on myelin, a biodegradable nanoparticle (pictured at right) developed at Northwestern represents a breakthrough in multiple sclerosis research. In MS the immune system attacks the myelin membrane that insulates nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. Electrical signals can’t be effectively conducted, resulting in symptoms that range from mild limb numbness to paralysis or blindness.

A biodegradable nanoparticle developed at NorthwesternThe nanoparticle developed by Lonnie Shea, professor of chemical and biological engineering, does not suppress the entire immune system, unlike current MS therapies that increase susceptibility to infections and cancer. Shea found that the immune system is reset to normal when the nanoparticle, which is made from an easily produced and FDA-approved substance, is attached to myelin antigens and injected into mice. This is especially beneficial for the 80 percent of MS patients who have the relapsing form of the disease.

“This is a highly significant breakthrough in translational immunotherapy,” says Stephen Miller, a corresponding coauthor of the study and the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. This new technology can be used in many immunerelated diseases, including Type 1 diabetes, food allergies, and asthma. “We simply change the antigen that’s delivered,” Miller says.

Computational and Experimental Methods Used Together to Solve Atomic Structure in Solids

Chris WolvertonUnderstanding the arrangement of atoms in a solid is vital to advanced materials research. Two camps of researchers have been working for decades to develop methods to understand these so-called crystal structures. The “solution” methods of experimental researchers draw on data from diffraction experiments. The “prediction” camp bypasses experimental data in favor of computational methods. While computational scientists have made progress, they still cannot routinely make predictions about crystal structure.

Drawing on both prediction and solution methods, Chris Wolverton, professor of materials science and engineering, and his group have developed a new code to solve crystal structures automatically and in cases where traditional experimental methods struggle.

Crystal structures in solidsThe researchers started with an important fact: While the precise atomic arrangements for a given solid may be unknown, experiments have revealed the symmetries present in tens of thousands of known compounds. This database of information is useful in solving the structures of new compounds.

Wolverton’s team revised the genetic algorithm, which mimics the process of biological evolution, to take those data into account. Wolverton and his group analyzed the atomic structure of four technologically relevant solids whose crystal structure has been debated by scholars— magnesium imide, ammonia borane, lithium peroxide, and high-pressure silane—and demonstrated how their method would solve the atomic structures. The algorithm that resulted from their study could allow researchers to under- stand the structures of new compounds for applications ranging from hydrogen storage to lithium-ion batteries.

Events Strengthen Connection between Research and the Marketplace 

Late last year the McCormick School hosted two inaugural events for engineers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, part of its ongoing efforts to strengthen relationships with Chicago’s strong business and entrepreneurial community.

The McCormick Corporate Forum Meeting in October brought together McCormick faculty and students with Chicago-area research and development executives. It included talks about McCormick’s strategy, global perspectives on engineering research and education, and a briefing by faculty from McCormick and Argonne National Laboratory on the Materials Genome Initiative. Forum members will continue to meet twice a year with McCormick leadership and faculty about engineering technology and education.

Private investors, venture capitalists, and scientists convened at McCormick in November for the NU Physical Sciences Investor Conference. The event, which focused on innovations in engineering and chemistry, highlighted both startups spun out of Northwestern labs and ongoing research that may be ripe for commercialization.

Highlighted startups included NuGen Polymers, a company that provides polymer technology to enable nextgeneration recycling without separation; NuMat Technologies, designers of high-performance materials that store gases and can be produced on a large scale for industry; S2E Energy, makers of a platform component that enables low-cost solar energy; and Tangible Haptics, technology that brings tangible haptic reality to touch interfaces like smartphones.

The NU Physical Sciences Investor Conference was organized by McCormick, Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office, the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Weinberg College’s Department of Chemistry.

McCormick in the Media

Knight Lab's Twitter-Based Vote Predictor Recognized

What do your tweets say about your politics? Quite a bit.

TweetCast, an algorithm developed by Northwestern’s Knight News Innovation Lab, could have guessed the presidential candidate you voted for by examining the words, hashtags, websites, and user name in your tweets. For example, Romney voters were more likely to tweet words like “libs,” “terrorist,” and “socialism,” while Obama voters leaned toward words like “exactly,” “equal,” and “cuts.”

TweetCast was named one of PBS MediaShift Idea Lab’s “Picks for the Most Innovative Election Coverage.”

Established in 2011, the Knight Lab is a joint initiative of McCormick and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Its mission is to introduce smart and practical technology innovation to accelerate the transformation of the way news is discovered, analyzed, presented, and delivered.

New Antidepressant Profiled by Several News Outlets

A revolutionary antidepressant developed by Joseph Moskal, research professor of biomedical engineering and director of Northwestern’s Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, has been featured by several news outlets.

Moskal and his research team developed the drug GLYX-13, which controls the strength of NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors in the brain. The receptors affect the quality of connections between neurons, which are vital in regulating learning and memory functions and, it has been found, also have an impact on mental health. For more on this research, see page 15.

Moskal presented his findings at the 51st annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in December. The new drug has since been profiled by CBS News, U.S. News & World Report, and New Scientist.

Mussel-Inspired Medical Adhesives Featured on PBS

Phillip MessersmithAn adhesive developed by McCormick professor Phillip B. Messersmith that mimics the sticking power of marine mussels has been featured by PBS as well as the Guardian, the Telegraph, Yahoo!, and Science. The glue could be used in medical procedures like fetal membrane repair.

Messersmith, the Erastus O. Haven Professor of Biomedical Engineering, studied the waterresistant glue that mussels produce to allow them to adhere to rocks and other surfaces. He reasoned that similar materials could be developed to replace existing surgical glues, which can be ineffective. He presented his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in February.

In addition to fetal membrane repair, Messersmith’s glue could be used in self-setting antibacterial hydrogels and polymers for cancer-drug delivery and thermal destruction of cancer cells.

Today Show Reports on McCormick-Shedd Aquarium Partnership

At McCormick’s Segal Design Institute, students often work to solve problems they’ve never tackled before for people who need the solutions most. But when the projects involve clients at one of Chicago’s most revered institutions, the challenges go beyond the realm of humans.

Penguins that need shoes? Fish that need surgery?

Penguin shoe developed by McCormick studentsMcCormick students are up to the task. Their successful designs, and McCormick’s seven-year-old partnership with the Shedd Aquarium, were featured on the Today show and on the front page of the Chicago Tribune earlier this spring.

The featured project, a “shoe” for penguins with sore feet, was designed by freshmen in McCormick’s Design Thinking and Communication course, where student teams work with clients to solve problems. In the class, students learn to interview and observe the client, brainstorm possible solutions, create prototypes, and ultimately communicate their ideas back to the client. The course is cotaught by faculty in the Weinberg College’s Writing Program.

Students were tasked with designing a waterproof shoe that could protect a hurt penguin’s foot while allowing the animal to walk, swim, and stand comfortably. The selected design, dubbed the Tuxedo, is less like a shoe and more like a sixwinged bandage with a neoprene insert to protect the sore foot.

The Tuxedo is one of several helpful devices McCormick students have produced for the Shedd. Upper-level students also developed a decompression tank for sea horses and an anesthesia system for fish surgeries.

Public-Private Partnerships Discussed at Transportation Symposium

A once-impressive railway system now ranked 18th in the world, and an air transportation system ranked 30th. Congested ports unable to accommodate today’s megaships. The country’s infrastructure “is crumbling as we speak,” former Illinois state representative Jerry F. Costello told a packed audience at the sixth William O. Lipinski Symposium on Transportation Policy and Strategy in January, citing a recent study by the advocacy group Building America’s Future. “We truly do have a crisis on our hands, and we cannot wait any longer to address our needs.”

Costello says public-private partnerships (known as P3s) might address the crisis as public funding dwindles. P3s are not funding sources but financing arrangements from which private investors expect a reasonable financial return. Such arrangements offer financial incentives for private investment in public infrastructure and for sharing cost, revenue, and performance risks between business and government.

At the event, which was organized by the Northwestern University Transportation Center, three successful public-private partnerships were described: the Denver Regional Transportation District’s Eagle P3 commuter rail line to Denver International Airport; the monetization of the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road; and the East End Crossing of the Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project.

Thomas Lanctot, partner and group head at William Blair & Company, said that the size of transactions must be substantial enough to warrant the expensive bid process. He also said that the risk of public partners backing away from projects after private investors spent large amounts of time and money needs to be minimized.

During lunch, the David F. Schulz Award, named for the late founding director of Northwestern’s Infrastructure Technology Institute, was awarded to Chicago Transit Authority president Forrest Claypool for the CTA’s aggressive infrastructure repair program.

Study Finds Gender Bias in Research Resources for Stem Faculty

Luis AmaralA new Northwestern study of the careers of professors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields at top US research universities shows that bias against women is ingrained.

The quantitative study of the complete publication records of more than 4,200 professors in seven STEM fields confirms that female faculty in some fields do publish fewer papers than do male faculty, but not for lack of talent or effort. The research, led by Luís A. Nunes Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering, found that in fields that require more resources, women publish less. The gap may exist, therefore, because academic departments historically have not invested equal resources in female faculty from the start of their careers.

The researchers found that for a discipline where research resource requirements are low, such as industrial engineering, the gap essentially is absent; male and female faculty publish papers at similar rates. But for a discipline such as molecular biology, where resource requirements are very high, the gap is quite wide, with male faculty publishing at significantly higher rates than their female colleagues.

A new Northwestern study of the careers of professors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields at top US research universities shows that bias against women is ingrained.The research team also found that in disciplines where pursuing an academic position incurs greater career risk, such as in ecology, female faculty tend to have higher-impact publications than males, suggesting that their papers are of higher quality. “You have to be really, really good to be a female in ecology,” says study coleader Teresa K. Woodruff, the Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School. “Women are self-selecting—they are not allowed to be as risky when choosing an academic career. We are losing talented women in the STEM fields because they are choosing to go elsewhere.”

Amaral says he believes the results represent what is happening to all underrepresented groups in science and engineering, such as African Americans and Hispanics, and possibly in workplaces outside academia, such as business, politics, and the legal profession. “I expect it would cost very little to bridge the gap and take bias out of the system,” Woodruff says. “Our goal is to understand the productivity gap so we can intervene.”

Evolution Inspires More Efficient Solar-Cell Design

Harnessing the sun’s energy with today’s single-crystal silicon solar cells is extremely expensive. Polymer solar cells that use organic materials to absorb light and convert it into electricity could be a solution, but they have less-than-optimal electrical properties.

Cheng SunNorthwestern researchers have developed a new design for more effcient, less expensive organic solar cells. Using a mathematical search algorithm based on natural evolution, the researchers pinpointed an optimal geometrical pattern for capturing and holding light in organic solar cells. In their design, light first enters a “scattering layer,” a 100-nanometerthick, geometrically patterned dielectric layer that maximizes light transmission. The light is then transmitted to the active layer, where it is converted into electricity.

“We wanted to determine the geometry for the scattering layer that would give us optimal performance,” says Cheng Sun (pictured at left), assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who coauthored the research with Wei Chen, Wilson-Cook Professor in Engineering Design and professor of mechanical engineering. “With so many possibilities, it was di"cult to know where to start, so we looked to the laws of natural selection.”

Northwestern researchers have developed a new design for more effcient, less expensive organic solar cells.Using the evolution-mimicking genetic algorithm, the researchers “mated” random design elements and analyzed the offspring to determine lighttrapping performance. This process was carried out over more than 20 generations and took into account evolutionary principles of crossover and genetic mutation. The resulting design, which will be fabricated by partners at Argonne National Laboratory, exhibited a threefold increase in lighttrapping performance over the Yablonovitch Limit, a thermodynamic limit that was developed in the 1980s to statistically describe how long a photon can be trapped in a semiconductor.

New Lecture Series Honors Achenbach

Jan AchenbachThe McCormick School has created a new lecture series in honor of longtime faculty member Jan D. Achenbach, a preeminent researcher in solid mechanics and quantitative nondestructive evaluation.

The Jan D. Achenbach Lecture recognizes Achenbach for his extraordinary contributions to the field of mechanics as well as his profound impact on McCormick’s Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics.

An endowment for the series was provided through the generous contributions of McCormick alumni and friends and by the scientific publishing company Elsevier. A highprofile speaker will lecture on campus each year.

“We are grateful for the support of the alumni and friends who wished to honor Jan’s distinguished career,” said McCormick’s Dean Julio M. Ottino. “Jan has made significant contributions to McCormick and to mechanics research over the past five decades, and this lecture is a fitting tribute to his impact.”

In 2012 Achenbach received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Medal, the organization’s highest award, “for his groundbreaking contributions to the theory and applications of waves and solids.” He received the 2005 National Medal of Science, the nation’s top honor for innovation in technology and science, and a 2003 National Medal of Technology. A member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, he is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a corresponding member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. His other awards include the Timoshenko Medal, the William Prager Medal, and the Theodore von Karman Medal. In 2011 he was awarded a rare honorary doctorate from China’s Zhejiang University.

Four McCormick Professors Named AAAS Fellows

Four McCormick professors were among six Northwestern faculty members elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, in 2012.

Luis Amaral

Luís A. Nunes Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering, was selected for distinguished contributions to the theoretical and computational study of complex systems, particularly the development of a cartographic framework for characterizing large networks.

Michael Bedzyk

Michael J. Bedzyk, professor of materials science and engineering, was chosen for innovative experimental and theoretical contributions to the physics of materials, using novel synchrotron x-ray scattering, and spectroscopy techniques influencing several scientific and technological fields.

Ajit Tamhane

Ajit C. Tamhane, professor of industrial engineering and management sciences and senior associate dean, was honored for excellence in statistical research, for substantive collaboration in the chemical engineering discipline, for excellence in communicating statistical science, and for broad administrative accomplishments.

John Torkelson

John M. Torkelson, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and of Materials Science and Engineering and Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, was chosen for outstanding contributions to the field of polymer science and engineering and for formulating core principles underlying dynamics in confined polymer systems and nanoparticle-polymer interactions.

Klabjan Receives 2012 Watson Award from IBM

Diego KlabjanDiego Klabjan, director of McCormick’s Master of Science in Analytics program and professor of industrial engineering and management sciences, has received an IBM Watson Solutions Faculty Award to implement a course based on a new class of analytical systems—the likes of which created Watson, the artificial intelligence computer that clinched a victory on Jeopardy! in 2011. He is one of 10 university professors from across the country to receive the grant.

The awards are designed to strengthen students’ understanding of cognitive systems like Watson, including big data and analytics, in order to meet the growing demand for highly skilled analytics workers. At Northwestern the award will support a new course in the MSiA program that focuses on big-data analytics.

Structural Mechanics Medal Bears Belytschko's Name

Ted BelytschkoThe US Association for Computational Mechanics has recognized Ted Belytschko, McCormick Professor and Walter P. Murphy Professor of Mechanical Engineering and professor of civil and environmental engineering, by renaming one of its top medals in his honor. Belytschko was one of the founding directors of the USACM.

The Belytschko Computational Structural Mechanics Medal will recognize outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of computational structural mechanics, with a focus on important research results that advance theories and methods in the field.

A member of Northwestern’s faculty since 1977, Belytschko is interested in the development of computational methods for engineering problems. He is one of the most cited researchers in engineering science and the recipient of numerous honors, including membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This is the second award named for Belytschko. In 1997 the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Applied Mechanics Award was renamed for him.

Cole-Higgens Awardees Honored for Teaching and Advising Excellence

Dirk BrockmannAaron PackmanDirk Brockmann, associate professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics, has won McCormick’s 2012 Cole-Higgins Award for Excellence in Teaching, and Aaron Packman, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has won the Cole-Higgins Award for Excellence in Advising.

Students nominate professors for the annual honor, and a committee chooses the winners. Students praised Brockmann for his tough but clear classroom teaching style as well as his willingness to give extra help, often one on one, outside of class time. On his award certificate Brockmann, an expert in complex systems, was cited “for having an outstanding capacity to give personal attention to individual students . . . whether they are enrolled in foundational or advanced courses.”

Advising award winner Packman, who studies environmental and microbial transport processes, was cited “for service to students seeking advice related to career progress, laboratory research, and student professional societies.”

Bažant Receives ASME Honor 

Zdenek BažantZdenek P. Bažant, McCormick Institute Professor and Walter P. Murphy Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering, has received honorary membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. First awarded in 1880, honorary ASME memberships recognize a lifetime of service to engineering or related fields.

Bažant, an expert in solid mechanics and structures, was honored by the organization last year for his contributions to engineering science, including his size effect law, which is widely used in determining safety factors for large structures made of concrete and other composite materials. He is also an honorary member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Concrete Institute.

Student Recognized for Nanotechnology Research

David WalkerDavid A. Walker, a PhD candidate in chemical and biological engineering, has been awarded the 2012 Distinguished Student Award by the Foresight Institute, a leading think tank that advances transformative technologies. The award recognizes a student for notable nanotechnology work.

Walker is researching nanoscale electrostatic interactions and their ability to precisely assemble nano-objects to within a few nanometers. His adviser is Bartosz A. Grzybowski, Kenneth Burgess Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and director of the Non-Equilibrium Energy Research Center.

Walker is the first Northwestern student to be granted the award since its inception in 1997. Several Northwestern professors have received Foresight Institute recognitions, including Chad Mirkin, Mark Ratner, George Schatz, and Sir Fraser Stoddart.