It is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment. Founded in 1885 as the Tempe Normal School for the Arizona Territory, the school came under control of the Arizona Board of Regents in 1945 and was renamed Arizona State College. A 1958 statewide ballot measure gave the university its present name. In 1994 ASU was classified as a Research I institute; thus, making Arizona State one of the newest major research universities (public or private) in the nation.
Arizona State’s mission is to create a model of the “New American University” whose efficacy is measured “by those it includes and how they succeed, not by those it excludes”.
ASU awards bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees, and is broadly organized into 16 colleges and schools spread across four campuses: the original Tempe campus, the West campus in northwest Phoenix, the Polytechnic campus in eastern Mesa, and the Downtown Phoenix campus. All four campuses are accredited as a single institution by the Higher Learning Commission. The University is categorized as a Research University with very high research activity (RU/VH) as reported by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, with a research expenditure of $385 million in 2012. Arizona State is one of the appointed members of the Universities Research Association, a consortium of 86 leading research-oriented universities.
Arizona State University research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Study maps 15 years of carbon dioxide emissions on Earth – September 17, 2014
- ASU-led study yields first snapshots of water splitting in photosynthesis – July 13, 2014
- Using tobacco to thwart West Nile virus
- Research linking autism symptoms to gut microbes called ‘groundbreaking’
- New technology shows promise in taking the guesswork out of vaccine development
- Breakthrough for Solar Cell Efficiency
- How Big Data Is Taking Teachers Out of the Lecturing Business
- New Low-Cost, Transparent Electrodes
- Can Science Fiction Writers Inspire The World To Save Itself?
- Breaking the final barrier: room-temperature electrically powered nanolasers
- Plants provide accurate low-cost alternative for diagnosis of West Nile Virus
- No magic show: Real-world levitation to inspire better pharmaceuticals
- Waste to Watts: Improving Microbial Fuel Cells
- The future of food
- Secreting Bacteria Eliminate Cost Barriers for Renewable Biofuel Production
- Professor earns award for invention that removes water contaminants
- Self-Healing Autonomous Material Comes to Life
- Wealth of Nations
- Higher Education Curricula Not Keeping Pace With Societal, Tech Changes
- One-Way Martian Colonization Missions
- Perils of Plastics? Survey of Risks to Human Health and the Environment
- New device to make health diagnosis cheaper and quicker
- Finding the “Weapons” of Persuasion to Save Energy
- Self-Destructing Bacteria Improve Renewable Biofuel Production
Scientists estimate that human bodies contain anywhere from 75 to 100 trillion cells. And of these cells, there are hundreds of different types.
Yet, one cell type in particular has captured the fascination of assistant professor David Brafman: the human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC).
As self-replicating cells — capable of dividing and forming new cells — hPSCs offer immense research potential.
They are able to provide the raw material needed to generate the hundreds of different cell types that comprise the human body.
Think of it as a reverse e pluribus unum. Something like out of one, come many.
Brafman has received a $420,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to take discoveries related to hPSCs out of the research lab and into the clinical setting where they can transform, even save, lives.
In particular, his research focuses on using the remarkable qualities of hPSCs to generate large quantities of hPSC-derived neurons, which are instrumental in advances toward the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, spinal cord injuries and other neurodegenerative disorders.
“Neurodegenerative diseases and disorders remain some of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in the United States,” said Brafman, a biomedical engineering faculty member in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease affects more than 130,000 individuals statewide and is the fifth leading cause of death in Arizona.
“Several bottlenecks limit the translation of hPSCs and their derivatives from bench to bedside,” said Brafman, referring to the need to take this research from the laboratory bench to the clinical bedside.
For one, it requires billions of cells for research in disease modeling, drug screening, and cell-based therapies to be successful. So far, a rapid and comprehensive generation of these cells hasn’t been possible, and Brafman’s research aims to usher in the large-scale expansion of hPSC-derived neurons needed for these treatments and research applications.
“If successful, this work will provide researchers robust methods to generate the large quantities of cells needed for clinical applications,” Brafman said.
ASU researcher creates system to control robots with the brain
A researcher at Arizona State University has discovered how to control multiple robotic drones using the human brain.
A controller wears a skull cap outfitted with 128 electrodes wired to a computer. The device records electrical brain activity. If the controller moves a hand or thinks of something, certain areas light up.
“I can see that activity from outside,” said Panagiotis Artemiadis (pictured above), director of the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab and an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “Our goal is to decode that activity to control variables for the robots.”
If the user is thinking about decreasing cohesion between the drones — spreading them out, in other words — “we know what part of the brain controls that thought,” Artemiadis said.
A wireless system sends the thought to the robots. “We have a motion-capture system that knows where the quads are, and we change their distance, and that’s it,” he said.
Up to four small robots, some of which fly, can be controlled with brain interfaces. Joysticks don’t work, because they can only control one craft at a time.
DNA may be the blueprint of life, but it’s also a molecule made from just a few simple chemical building blocks. Among its properties is the ability to conduct an electrical charge, fueling an engineering race to develop novel, low-cost nanoelectronic devices.
Now, a team led by ASU Biodesign Institute researcher Nongjian “N.J.” Tao and Duke theorist David Beratan has been able to understand and manipulate DNA to more finely tune the flow of electricity through it. The key findings, which can make DNA behave in different ways — cajoling electrons to smoothly flow like electricity through a metal wire, or hopping electrons about like the semiconductors materials that power our computers and cellphones — pave the way for an exciting new avenue of research advancements.
The results, published in the online edition of Nature Chemistry, may provide a framework for engineering more stable and efficient DNA nanowires, and for understanding how DNA conductivity might be used to identify gene damage.
Building on a series of recent works, the team has been able to better understand the physical forces behind DNA’s affinity for electrons.
“We’ve been able to show theoretically and experimentally that we can make DNA tunable by changing the sequence of the ‘A, T, C, or G’ chemical bases, by varying its length, by stacking them in different ways and directions, or by bathing it in different watery environments,” said Tao, who directs the Biodesign Center for Biolectronics and Biosensors and is a professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
A novel, inexpensive method for detecting the Zika virus could help slow spread of outbreak, and potentially other future pandemic diseases
An international, multi-institutional team of researchers led by synthetic biologist James Collins, Ph.D., at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, has developed a low-cost, rapid paper-based diagnostic system for strain-specific detection of the Zika virus, with the goal that it could soon be used in the field to screen blood, urine, or saliva samples.
“The growing global health crisis caused by the Zika virus propelled us to leverage novel technologies we have developed in the lab and use them to create a workflow that could diagnose a patient with Zika, in the field, within 2-3 hours,” said Collins, who is a Wyss Core Faculty member, and Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science and Professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Department of Biological Engineering.
Building off previous work done at Harvard’s Wyss Institute by Collins and his team, along with collaborators from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Harvard Medical School (HMS), University of Toronto, Arizona State University (ASU), University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), Boston University (BU), Cornell University, and Addgene, joined their efforts to quickly prototype the rapid diagnostic test and describe their methods in a study published online May 6 in the journal Cell, all within a matter of six weeks. Collins is the paper’s corresponding author.
Emerging innovation during the Ebola health crisis
In October 2014, Collins’ team developed a breakthrough method for embedding synthetic gene networks — which could be used as programmable diagnostics and sensors – on portable, small discs of ordinary paper.
The next big thing in space is really, really small
Going into space is now within your grasp.
A tiny spacecraft being developed at Arizona State University is breaking the barrier of launch cost, making the price of conducting a space mission radically cheaper.
“With a spacecraft this size, any university can do it, any lab can do it, any hobbyist can do it,” said Jekan Thanga, assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and head of the Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration (SpaceTREx) Laboratory.
Thanga and a team of graduate and undergraduate students — including Mercedes Herreras-Martinez, Andrew Warren and Aman Chandra — have spent the past two years developing the SunCube FemtoSat. It’s tiny — 3 cm by 3 cm by 3 cm. Thanga envisions a “constellation of spacecraft” — many eyes in many places. A swarm of them could inspect damaged spacecraft from many angles, for example.
Thanga and the School of Earth and Space Exploration will host a free kickoff event Thursday night introducing the SunCube, followed by a panel discussion with scientists and space-industry professionals on the logistics, opportunities and implications of this breakthrough technology. (Find event details here.)
Launch and launch-integration costs currently run into $60,000-$70,000 per kilo. The Russians, the Chinese and the Indians all charge about the same amount, too. That can get pretty pricey for a full-size satellite.
“These high costs put out of reach most educational institutions and individuals from the ability to build and launch their own spacecraft,” ASU’s team wrote in a paper detailing the new model.
Launch expenses for the SunCube FemtoSat will cost about $1,000 to go to the International Space Station or $3,000 for flight into low-Earth orbit. (Earth escape will cost about $27,000.)
“That was a critical price point we wanted to hit,” Thanga said. When SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off later this year, Thanga expects costs to drop by as much as half.
Parts cost for a SunCube FemtoSat should run in the hundreds of dollars. A garage hobbyist could literally fly his or her own mission. One example is the solar panels. They aren’t available off the shelf in this size, so students cut them from scraps sold at a huge discount by manufacturers.
“That’s part of our major goal — space for everybody,” Thanga said. “That’s how you invigorate a field. … Getting more people into the technology, getting their hands on it.”
SpaceTREx is a systems lab, so the team members were less interested in creating a tiny spacecraft than they were solving a problem: Can lots of little spacecraft do the job of a single large spacecraft?
Over the two years they’ve worked on the spacecraft, Thanga and his grad students have stayed focused on miniaturization with a vision toward creating disposable spacecraft for exploration.
“There’s a whole community out there interested in this idea of low-cost, swarms of disposable spacecraft,” Thanga said.
And they’re getting smaller and smaller, thanks to smartphone tech, which has miniaturized everything.
“We’re piggybacking on the wave of miniaturization,” Thanga said. “We’re interested in tackling the space access problem. What if we can have students send experiments into space? With something as small as this, you can make mistakes and send again.”
Earth and environmental scientists have often had to rely on piloted aircraft and satellites to collect remote sensing data, platforms that have traditionally been controlled by large research organizations or regulatory agencies.
Thanks to the increased affordability and dramatic technological advances of drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), however, earth and environmental scientists can now conduct their own long-term high-resolution experiments at a fraction of the cost of using aircraft or satellites.
“UAVs are poised to revolutionize remote sensing in the earth and environmental sciences,” says Enrique Vivoni, hydrologist and professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “They let individual scientists obtain low-cost repeat imagery at high resolution and tailored to a research team’s specific interest area.”
What happens after you flush the toilet is becoming a big deal.
In a just-published article in the science journal v, Arizona State University water treatment expert Bruce Rittmann and two colleagues propose a paradigm-shifting change in the treatment of wastewater, a shift they say could have a dramatic global impact. They outline ways to transition from conventional wastewater treatment, which removes contaminants and disposes of them, to advanced used-water resource-recovery methods that would be environmentally and economically advantageous.
In other words, your dirty water could be mined for useful and valuable resources — like nitrogen or phosphorous.
The technologies for doing this are being explored today, but challenges remain before they can be used on a large scale and meaningful way. Rittmann, an engineering professor in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology in ASU’s Biodesign Institute talks about the new methods and what they can provide.
Question: These sound like very attractive and potentially useful technologies. Why aren’t they being implemented, or at least developed further, now?
Answer: For decades, the conventional thinking was that anaerobic treatment processes are not efficient enough to treat domestic wastewater due to its low organic concentration and low temperature. Also, conventional aerobic treatment (e.g., activated sludge) has served us well as a means of “treatment only.” Only in recent years have we begun to question the assumption that the only goal is “treatment.” Since conventional processes did their assigned task well and energy costs were relatively low (most of the time), we didn’t have the impetus to do anything different.
In the past 10 years or so, a pull to reduce energy and to limit the greenhouse gas costs of treatment has changed our perspective. Combined with new materials (membranes and electrodes), we now have new tools to “push” development and to complement the “pull” of the desire to reduce energy and greenhouse gas impacts. The same reasoning exists for nutrient recovery — no “pull” until recently, and some new materials to give it a “push.”
Q: What are the environmental benefits of these technologies?
A: By shifting from energy negative to energy positive, the anaerobic technologies seriously reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of treatment. Recovering nutrients prevents their discharge into surface waters and thus minimizes the acceleration of aging and dead zones in our lakes, reservoirs and oceans.
Q: What are the economic benefits of these technologies?
A: The anaerobic processes can be used to generate energy not consume it. Electricity use is the largest non-personnel expense in treatment, and shifting it from a cost to a profit center has a huge economic benefit to a municipality. In addition, the anaerobic processes generate much less sludge that has to be treated and hauled off to the landfill. Currently, sludge treatment and disposal constitute the second largest operating expense. Recovering nitrogen and phosphorus also can provide an additional income stream if the quality of the products is good enough to sell. At a minimum, the sale of nitrogen and phosphorus products should offset the costs of removing them.
Q: What is the next step needed to convert wastewater treatment plants into resource generators?
A: On the technology side, various technologies are at different stages. An anaerobic membrane bioreactor is pretty well advanced and in large-scale testing now. It should be ready to go full scale soon. The phosphorus- and nitrogen-recovery processes are commercially available for other applications, but need to be optimized and tested for nitrogen and phosphorus recovery from anaerobically treated effluent. The microbial electrochemical cells are at the pilot stage now and need significant development.
The most important steps are less technical and more economic and policy oriented. First, municipalities need to realize that they can dramatically reduce their costs of treatment and make their operations much more sustainable through these methods. They have to get out of the “business as usual” mindset. Second, society has to embrace using resources that are recovered from “used water.” They have to see that the economic and sustainability benefits are huge, and they have to break down regulatory and other barriers to using recovered materials. Third, we need markets for most of the outputs. While energy can be used internally to run the facility, the good outcome of being an energy exporter requires that the exports be valued in the market. Markets now are poorly developed or non-existent.
Q: Why is government involvement in this effort essential?
Read more: From Poop to Power
Since prehistoric times, clays have been used by people for medicinal purposes. Whether by eating it, soaking in a mud bath, or using it to stop bleeding from wounds, clay has long been part of keeping humans healthy. Certain clays have also been found with germ-killing abilities, but how these work has remained unclear.
A new discovery by Arizona State University scientists shows exactly how two specific metallic elements in the right kinds of clay can kill troublesome bacteria that infect humans and animals.
“We think of this mechanism like the Trojan horse attack in ancient Greece,” said Lynda Williams, a clay-mineral scientist at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). “Two elements in the clay work in tandem to kill bacteria.”
She explained, “One metallic element — chemically reduced iron, which in small amounts is required by a bacterial cell for nutrition — tricks the cell into opening its wall. Then another element — aluminum — props the cell wall open, allowing a flood of iron to enter the cell. This overabundance of iron then poisons the cell, killing it as the reduced iron becomes oxidized.”
“It’s like putting a nail in the coffin of the dead bacteria,” said Keith Morrison, Williams’ former doctoral student, who is now at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Morrison is the lead author of the paper reporting the discovery, which was published Jan. 8 in Nature Scientific Reports. Rajeev Misra, a microbiology professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences (SOLS) is the third author of the paper. Morrison’s work in Misra’s laboratory gave insights into the mechanism by which clays work to kill bacteria. Both SESE and SOLS are units in the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
A critical part of the investigation involved the use of ASU’s NanoSIMS, which is part of the National Science Foundation-supported Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry Facility. The study also benefited from a variety of electron microscopes and X-ray equipment in the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science.
French green clay leads to Oregon blue clay
A chance discovery of a medicinal clay from Europe caught Williams’ attention and put her on the track. A French philanthropist with clinical experience in Africa told her about a particular green-hued clay found near the philanthropist’s childhood home in France. The philanthropist, Line Brunet de Courssou, had taken samples of the clay to Africa, where she documented its cure for Buruli ulcer, a flesh-eating skin disease, in patients in the African country of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).
Williams attempted to locate the site of the green clay deposit, which was in the French Massif Central region. When the search proved unsuccessful, she began systematically testing clays sold online as “healing clays.”
After testing dozens of samples, Williams and her team identified a blue-colored clay from the Oregon Cascades that proved to be highly antibacterial. The research reported in the paper shows that it works against a broad spectrum of human pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant strains such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
The colors of the clays reflect their origins, Williams said. The greens and blues of antibacterial clays come from having a high content of chemically reduced iron (Fe2+), as opposed to oxidized iron (Fe3+), which gives the familiar red color of rust (Fe-oxide), often associated with many clays. Reduced clays are common in many parts of the world, typically forming in volcanic ash layers as rocks become altered by water that is oxygen-deprived and hydrogen-rich.
“The novelty of this research is two-fold: identifying the natural environment of the formation of clays toxic to bacteria, and how the chemistry of these clays attacks and destroys the bacteria,” said Enriqueta Barrera, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.
Because blue and green clays are found abundantly in nature, Williams said, this discovery of how their antibacterial action works should lead to alternative ways of treating infections and diseases that are persistent and hard to heal with antibiotics.
Williams said, “Discovery of how natural clays kill human pathogens may lead to a new economic use of such clays and also to new drug designs.”
After a decade-long $3 billion international effort, scientists heralded the 2001 completion of the human genome as a moon landing achievement for biology and the key to finally solving intractable diseases like cancer.
But it turns out this was only the end of the beginning, with a much greater complexity to life revealed by the roughly 20,000 genes found within the human genome. For one, most diseases are incredibly complex, with very few caused by a single gene mutation. Rather, the more accurate picture is many acting genes acting in concert, with the routes to disease looking like public transit or subway maps.
Since then, efforts such as the modENCODE project – a $57 million multi-center initiative funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) – have been aimed at identifying all the genome elements that can turn on and off genes.
Now, an international scientific team, led by Arizona State University professor and Biodesign Institute researcher Marco Mangone, has added a new worldwide resource with the first library built for researchers to explore genes’ deep and hidden messages. The paper was published in BMC Genomics (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/16/1036, DOI 10.1186/s12864-015-2238-1).
The end of the message
“If the genome is considered the blueprint of the cell, proteins are the really bricks and mortars,” said Josh LaBaer, director of the Virginia Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, which aims to undercover the telltale early warning signs of disease from a systematic study of all of the proteins in the human body, a field called proteomics.
But to make proteins, first the DNA genomic information must be transcribed with complete fidelity, chemical letter by letter into an intermediary molecule, called messenger RNA, or mRNA. In what is known as the central dogma of biology, DNA makes RNA, which makes protein.
Marco Mangone, a core faculty member in LaBaer’s center, has devoted his career to looking at a peculiar region found at the ends of the mRNA sequence information, called untranslated elements, or UTRs. As the name suggests, these regions do not go on to make protein, but stresses Mangone: “They have to be there for a reason.”
Mangone’s raison d’etre is to understand the function of every UTR in the human body, called the 3’UTRome (3′ indicates a location at the end of the mRNA).
And so he and his team have painstakingly put together the first and largest human 3?UTRome library in the world. It is made up of 1,461 human 3?UTRs to date (representing about 10 percent of genome), and freely available to the worldwide scientific community to explore all aspects of biology, gene regulation and disease.
Shooting the messenger
Sophocles first wrote in his Greek civil war play “Antigone“: “no one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” And when all roads led to ancient Rome, and messengers were sent about delivering the news, a revolutionary change occurred in communications tactics: killing the messenger to prevent the communication from taking place.
Mangone, a native Italian who did his doctoral studies in Rome, has harkened back to this strategy when examining the role of the 3’UTRome. His lab uses standard molecular biology and bioinformatics tools to study the production, function and disease contributions of UTRs and their role in governing gene expression. He pioneered this work in a simple animal, the worm C. elegans, and now, in the new BMC paper, toward human genomics.
Why would this elaborate system be in place? Based on numerous studies, the role of the 3’UTRome is complicated, but one major theme that has emerged is to prevent the mRNA message from ever being delivered, or in biology terms, ever translated into protein.
Small RNAs, called micro RNAs (miRNAs), work to pair with a UTR to block translation, killing the message, and thus, silencing a gene. Uncovering the interplay between miRNA and their specific UTRs have become a hot area in biology, and big business.
Big pharma, big future
These gene silencers have become all the rage in the pharmaceutical industry. So much so, that the global miRNA research market was valued at nearly $295.1 million in 2011 and is expected to reach $763 million by 2017.
It’s become big business because of their potential as therapeutics for the treatment of some severe diseases, including cancer and genetic disorders, by introducing specific miRNAs into diseased cells to silence the defective gene.
A broad portfolio of miRNA pathway drug candidates have been developed, some already in Phase II clinical trials, showing promising clinical data in different areas of medicine, such as cancer, HCV infection, and cardiovascular diseases.
By combining semiconducting nanowires and bacteria, researchers can now produce liquid fuel.
Three pioneers in the field of synthetic photosynthesis discuss the potential of this technology and the challenges that must be overcome to make it commonplace.
Imagine creating artificial plants that make gasoline and natural gas using only sunlight. And imagine using those fuels to heat our homes or run our cars without adding any greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. By combining nanoscience and biology, researchers led by scientists at University of California, Berkeley, have taken a big step in that direction.
Peidong Yang, a professor of chemistry at Berkeley and co-director of the school’s Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute, leads a team that has created an artificial leaf that produces methane, the primary component of natural gas, using a combination of semiconducting nanowires and bacteria. The research, detailed in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August, builds on a similar hybrid system, also recently devised by Yang and his colleagues, that yielded butanol, a component in gasoline, and a variety of biochemical building blocks.
The research is a major advance toward synthetic photosynthesis, a type of solar power based on the ability of plants to transform sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars. Instead of sugars, however, synthetic photosynthesis seeks to produce liquid fuels that can be stored for months or years and distributed through existing energy infrastructure.