Asian Correspondent » NC State University Asian Correspondent Fri, 03 Jul 2015 10:16:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Antibiotic ‘Smart Bomb’ Can Target Specific Strains of Bacteria Mon, 14 Apr 2014 01:00:18 +0000

Researchers have developed a technique to selectively remove specific strains of bacteria.

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a de facto antibiotic “smart bomb” that can identify specific strains of bacteria and sever their DNA, eliminating the infection. The technique offers a potential approach to treat infections by multi-drug resistant bacteria.

“Conventional antibiotic treatments kill both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, leading to unintended consequences, such as opportunistic infections,” says Chase Beisel, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work. “What we’ve shown in this new work is that it is possible to selectively remove specific strains of bacteria without affecting populations of good bacteria.”

The new approach works by taking advantage of a part of an immune system present in many bacteria called the CRISPR-Cas system. The CRISPR-Cas system protects bacteria from invaders such as viruses by creating small strands of RNA called CRISPR RNAs, which match DNA sequences specific to a given invader. When those CRISPR RNAs find a match, they unleash Cas proteins that cut the DNA.

The NC State researchers have demonstrated that designing CRISPR RNAs to target DNA sequences in the bacteria themselves causes bacterial suicide, as a bacterium’s CRISPR-Cas system attacks its own DNA.

“In lab testing, we found that this approach removes the targeted bacteria,” Beisel says. “We’re still trying to understand precisely how severing the DNA leads to elimination of the bacteria. However, we’re encouraged by the ease in specifically targeting different bacteria and the potency of elimination.”

The researchers tested the approach in controlled cultures with different combinations of bacteria present, and were able to eliminate only the targeted strain. “For example, we were able to eliminate Salmonella in a culture without affecting good bacteria normally found in the digestive tract,” Beisel says.

The researchers were also able to demonstrate the precision of the technique by eliminating one strain of a species, but not another strain of the same species which shares 99 percent of the same DNA.

Another benefit of the approach, Beisel says, is that “by targeting specific DNA strands through the CRISPR-Cas system, we’re able to bypass the mechanisms underlying the many examples of antibiotic resistance.”

The researchers are currently working to develop effective methods for delivering the CRISPR RNAs in clinical settings.

“This sets the stage for next-generation antibiotics using programmable CRISPR-Cas systems,” says Rodolphe Barrangou, an associate professor of food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences at NC State and co-author of the manuscript.

The paper, “Programmable removal of bacterial strains by use of genome-targeting CRISPR-Cas systems,” is published online in the journal mBio. The paper is open access. Lead author of the paper is Ahmed Abdelshafy Gomaa, a Ph.D. student at NC State. Co-authors include Heidi Klumpe, a former undergraduate at NC State, and Michelle Luo and Kurt Selle, Ph.D. students at NC State.

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Student Entrepreneur Designs a Mug to Keep Coffee, Tea Temperature Just Right Mon, 07 Apr 2014 01:00:36 +0000

Some people think that university students are so busy that they lose sight of the world outside the classroom. But one North Carolina State University student turned his classwork into a business venture that is off to a great start. He’s using what he learned in class to make a coffee mug that will keep your coffee hot – but not too hot – for hours at a time. And what could be more practical than that?

“Our goal was to create a coffee mug that will take piping hot coffee and cool it to a hot, but drinkable, temperature – and keep it at that temperature for a long time,” says Logan Maxwell, now a research assistant at NC State and co-founder of Joeveo, the company that makes the “Temperfect” mug.

Maxwell came up with the idea as an undergraduate at NC State (he graduated in May 2013), and developed his first prototypes as part of his senior design project. The idea is fairly simple.

The Temperfect is an insulated mug with three walls. Between the outer and middle walls is a vacuum, like a conventional insulated mug. But between the middle wall and the inner wall of the mug is a non-toxic chemical that we’ll call “Material X.” Material X is useful for putting into coffee mugs because it “melts” at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

At room temperature, Material X is a solid. But when you pour hot coffee (or tea) into the mug, the heat dissipates through the stainless steel inner wall of the mug and is absorbed by Material X, which becomes a liquid. This pulls the temperature of the coffee down to 140 degrees F. As the coffee cools, Material X releases its heat back through the lining of the mug – keeping the coffee hot.

“I did some research and found that most coffee is served at between 200 F and 185 F, and that coffee can burn you at any temperature above 140 F,” Maxwell says. “So we set our ‘ideal’ temperature at 140 F.”

The concept of a “phase-change” coffee mug to keep beverages warm was patented in the 1960s, but never made it to the marketplace due to manufacturing difficulties. But Maxwell was introduced to an engineer named Dean Verhoeven who had already solved the manufacturing problem and done extensive design work of his own. Dean and Maxwell teamed up and Joeveo was born.

The two launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to finance an initial production run of Temperfect mugs, and raised more than $269,000.

“NC State’s senior design project pushed me to think entrepreneurially, and that was the impetus for the Temperfect mug,” Maxwell says. “Without that push from NC State, and the support I got from my professors, I would have never started the project, never met Dean, and this never would have happened for me.”

Editor’s Note: It makes sense that scientists would be thinking about coffee. After all, a 2011 poll found that researchers drink more coffee than any other profession.

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Medicinal Microbes Mon, 31 Mar 2014 01:08:40 +0000

If you asked most students whether they would be interested in factory work, you’d probably get some puzzled looks. But what if the “factory” was E. coli bacteria, and the “work” involved creating entire libraries of enzymes that might help defeat antibiotic resistance or cancer?

North Carolina State University undergraduate students in Gavin Williams’ lab get to do just that, with hands-on, real research experience that starts as soon as they walk through the door.

Nature’s Factories

Williams is interested in drug development. Specifically, he’s interested in using E. coli as a factory to produce molecules that can be used as anti-cancer, anti-microbial and anti-viral drugs. What does that mean? Think about penicillin – it comes from a natural product (mold) that has antibacterial properties.

Nature makes these complex molecules by putting different types of enzymes into assembly lines, each of which can construct a molecule that may have a desirable quality, like the ability to stop bacterial growth or kill cancerous cells. In traditional drug development, scientists try to mimic natural processes by using chemicals. The problem is that these chemical processes are wasteful: in some cases it can take almost a ton of starting materials to produce one gram of the compound needed.

Williams and other chemists have found a shortcut. They go straight to the source – DNA – and pull out the particular genes that encode the enzymes they’re interested in. They can then manipulate those enzymes so that they only bind to other specific proteins. It’s like assembling a LEGO sculpture – but one in which the individual blocks, or enzymes, can only fit together in a certain way.

Then they put the enzymes they want inside E. coli. The enzymes self-assemble (by snapping together like LEGO bricks), and create the molecules needed for drug development. By piggybacking on nature, Williams and his team can quickly and inexpensively create huge numbers of different kinds of molecules that they can test, to find out which ones are the most effective against the diseases they want to treat.

Hands-on Research

Matthew Draelos and Taylor Courtney are both undergraduates doing work in the Williams lab. Draelos is a senior majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He’s been part of the Williams lab since his freshman year.

“I came to NC State because I knew I wanted to do research and had heard it was easy to do undergraduate research here,” he says. “What captured my imagination about Williams’ research was that it’s both basic research and it’s medically relevant – we’re creating enzyme ‘mutants’ that have practical uses in creating new drugs.”

Courtney, a junior who is also majoring in chemistry and biochemistry, has only been with the lab for a few months, although she has previous research experience. “This kind of chemical biology meets a growing need in drug discovery, and I want to pursue this research in graduate school, so it’s a great opportunity for me,” she says.

Both students were encouraged to jump into the research from day one.

“You get trained to become a full partner in the lab,” Draelos says. “From the beginning I learned how to do DNA extraction, purification and analysis to make sure that we had what we wanted in its purest form. Now I’m creating my own libraries of enzyme mutants to test for usefulness in drug development. As each year passes, you are given more leeway to pursue projects independently that contribute to the lab.”

Courtney agrees. “You are definitely a full member of this lab – not just an assistant or someone who takes care of the supplies. And you’re definitely ready for graduate school or research work when you graduate.”

Hemant Desai, who earned a B.S. in chemistry and a B.A. in chemistry this year, is one of those graduates.

“I came in as a freshman, and even when my first project didn’t quite work out, it taught me a lot. My experiences in the lab prepared me really well for the topics I’m studying now in medical school.”

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New Technique Targets Specific Areas of Cancer Cells with Different Drugs Wed, 26 Mar 2014 01:15:13 +0000

Image shows the structure of the nanoparticle (left), and how the nanoparticles home in on a tumor and shrink it (right).

Researchers have developed a technique for creating nanoparticles that carry two different cancer-killing drugs into the body and deliver those drugs to separate parts of the cancer cell where they will be most effective. The technique was developed by researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“In testing on laboratory mice, our technique resulted in significant improvement in breast cancer tumor reduction as compared to conventional treatment techniques,” says Zhen Gu, senior author of a paper on the research and an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Zhen Gu

“Cancer cells can develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs, but are less likely to develop resistance when multiple drugs are delivered simultaneously,” Gu says. “However, different drugs target different parts of the cancer cell. For example, the protein drug TRAIL is most effective against the cell membrane, while doxorubicin (Dox) is most effective when delivered to the nucleus. We’ve come up with a sequential and site-specific delivery technique that first delivers TRAIL to cancer cell membranes and then penetrates the membrane to deliver Dox to the nucleus.”

Gu’s research team developed nanoparticles with an outer shell made of hyaluronic acid (HA) woven together with TRAIL. The HA interacts with receptors on cancer cell membranes, which “grab” the nanoparticle. Enzymes in the cancer cell environment break down the HA, releasing TRAIL onto the cell membrane and ultimately triggering cell death.

When the HA shell breaks down, it also reveals the core of the nanoparticle, which is made of Dox that is embedded with peptides that allow the core to penetrate into the cancer cell. The cancer cell encases the core in a protective bubble called an endosome, but the peptides on the core cause the endosome to begin breaking apart. This spills the Dox into the cell where it can penetrate the nucleus and trigger cell death.

“We designed this drug delivery vehicle using a ‘programmed’ strategy,” says Tianyue Jiang, a lead author in Dr. Gu’s lab. “Different drugs can be released at the right time in their right places,” adds Dr. Ran Mo, a postdoctoral researcher in Gu’s lab and the other lead author.

“This research is our first proof of concept, and we will continue to optimize the technique to make it even more efficient,” Gu says. “The early results are very promising, and we think this could be scaled up for large-scale manufacturing.”

The paper, “Gel–Liposome-Mediated Co-Delivery of Anticancer Membrane-Associated Proteins and Small-Molecule Drugs for Enhanced Therapeutic Efficacy,” is published online in Advanced Functional Materials. Co-authors of the paper are Adriano Bellotti, an undergraduate at NC State, and Dr. Jianping Zhou, a professor at China Pharmaceutical University.

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New Technique Targets, Contains Android Malware Attacks Mon, 24 Mar 2014 01:00:50 +0000

Image: Cebraloko, Wikimedia Commons

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new tool to detect and contain malware that attempts root exploits in Android devices. The tool improves on previous techniques by targeting code written in the C programming language – which is often used to create root exploit malware, whereas the bulk of Android applications are written in Java.

Xiaohui Gu

Root exploits take over the system administration functions of an operating system, such as Android. A successful Android root exploit effectively gives hackers unfettered control of a user’s smartphone.

The new security tool is called Practical Root Exploit Containment (PREC) and was developed by NC State computer science researcher Xiaohui Gu’s research team. It refines an existing technique called anomaly detection, which compares the behavior of a downloaded smartphone application (or app), such as Angry Birds, with a database of how the application should be expected to behave.

When deviations from normal behavior are detected, PREC analyzes them to determine if they are malware or harmless “false positives.” If PREC determines that an app is attempting root exploit, it effectively contains the malicious code and prevents it from being executed.

“Anomaly detection isn’t new, and it has a problematic history of reporting a lot of false positives,” says Will Enck, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “What sets our approach apart is that we are focusing solely on C code, which is what most – if not all – Android root exploits are written in.”

“Taking this approach has significantly driven down the number of false positives,” says Gu, an associate professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of the paper. “This reduces disturbances for users and makes anomaly detection more practical.”

The researchers are hoping to work with app vendors, such as Google Play, to establish a database of normal app behavior.

Most app vendors screen their products for malware, but malware programmers have developed techniques for avoiding detection – hiding the malware until users have downloaded the app and run it on their smartphones.

The NC State research team wants to take advantage of established vendor screening efforts to create a database of each app’s normal behavior. This could be done by having vendors incorporate PREC software into their app assessment processes. The software would take the app behavior data and create an external database, but would not otherwise affect the screening process.

“We have already implemented the PREC system and tested it on real Android devices,” Gu says. “We are now looking for industry partners to deploy PREC, so that we can protect Android users from root exploits.”

The paper, “PREC: Practical Root Exploit Containment for Android Devices,” was presented at the Fourth ACM Conference on Data and Application Security and Privacy. Lead author of the paper is former NC State graduate student Tsung-Hsuan Ho. The paper was co-authored by Daniel Dean, a Ph.D. student in Gu’s lab at NC State.

The work was supported with funding from the National Security Agency, the U.S. Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, IBM Faculty Awards, and Google Research Awards.

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Researchers Devise New, Stretchable Antenna for Wearable Technology Wed, 19 Mar 2014 13:27:31 +0000

The extremely flexible antennas contain silver nanowires and can be incorporated into wearable devices. (Photo: Amanda Myers)

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new, stretchable antenna that can be incorporated into wearable technologies, such as health monitoring devices.

“Many researchers – including our lab – have developed prototype sensors for wearable health systems, but there was a clear need to develop antennas that can be easily incorporated into those systems to transmit data from the sensors, so that patients can be monitored or diagnosed,” says Yong Zhu, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work.

The researchers wanted to develop an antenna that could be stretched, rolled or twisted and always return to its original shape, because wearable systems can be subject to a variety of stresses as patients move around.

To create an appropriately resilient, effective antenna, the research team used a stencil to apply silver nanowires in a specific pattern and then poured a liquid polymer over the nanowires. When the polymer sets, it forms an elastic composite material that has the nanowires embedded in the desired pattern.

This patterned material forms the radiating element of a microstrip patch antenna. By manipulating the shape and dimensions of the radiating element, the researchers can control the frequency at which the antenna sends and receives signals. The radiating layer is then bonded to a “ground” layer, which is made of the same composite, except it has a continuous layer of silver nanowires embedded.

The researchers also learned that, while the antenna’s frequency does change as it is stretched (since that changes its dimensions), the frequency stays within a defined bandwidth. “This means it will still communicate effectively with remote equipment while being stretched,” Adams says. “In addition, it returns to its original shape and continues to work even after it has been significantly deformed, bent, twisted or rolled.” As the frequency changes almost linearly with the strain, the antenna can be used a wireless strain sensor as well.

“Other researchers have developed stretchable sensors, using liquid metal, for example,” Zhu says. “Our technique is relatively simple, can be integrated directly into the sensors themselves, and would be fairly easy to scale up.”

The work on the new, stretchable antenna builds on previous research from Zhu’s lab to create elastic conductors and multifunctional sensors using silver nanowires.

The paper, “Stretchable and Reversibly Deformable Radio Frequency Antennas Based on Silver Nanowires,” is published online in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. Lead author of the paper is Lingnan Song, an undergraduate at Zhejiang University who worked on the project at NC State during an exchange program. Co-authors include Amanda Myers, a Ph.D. student at NC State; and Dr. Jacob Adams, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State.

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Researchers Develop Technique to Remotely Control Cockroaches, Save Lives Mon, 25 Feb 2013 23:00:59 +0000

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a technique that uses an electronic interface to remotely control, or steer, cockroaches.

“Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces,” says Alper Bozkurt, an electrical engineering assistant professor at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “Ultimately, we think this will allow us to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building that’s been destroyed by an earthquake.”

“Building small-scale robots that can perform in such uncertain, dynamic conditions is enormously difficult,” Bozkurt says. “We decided to use biobotic cockroaches in place of robots, as designing robots at that scale is very challenging and cockroaches are experts at performing in such a hostile environment.” Bozkurt had developed similar interfaces earlier to steer moths, using implanted electronic backpacks.

But you can’t just put sensors on a cockroach. Researchers needed to find a cost-effective and electrically safe way to control the roaches, to ensure the roaches operate within defined parameters – such as a disaster site – and to steer the roaches to specific areas of interest.

The new technique developed by Bozkurt’s team works by embedding a low-cost, light-weight, commercially-available chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter onto each roach (they used Madagascar hissing cockroaches). Weighing 0.7 grams, the cockroach backpack also contains a microcontroller that monitors the interface between the implanted electrodes and the tissue to avoid potential neural damage. The microcontroller is wired to the roach’s antennae and cerci.

The cerci are sensory organs on the roach’s abdomen, which are normally used to detect movement in the air that could indicate a predator is approaching – causing the roach to scurry away. But the researchers use the wires attached to the cerci to spur the roach into motion. The roach thinks something is sneaking up behind it and moves forward.

The wires attached to the antennae serve as electronic reins, injecting small charges into the roach’s neural tissue. The charges trick the roach into thinking that the antennae are in contact with a physical barrier, which effectively steers them in the opposite direction.

In a recent experiment, the researchers were able to use the microcontroller to precisely steer the roaches along a line that curves in different directions (see video below).

The paper, “Line Following Terrestrial Insect Biobots,” was presented Aug. 28 at the 34th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society in San Diego, Calif. The paper was authored by Tahmid Latif, a Ph.D. student at NC State, and co-authored by Bozkurt.

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How a Single Machine Can Change Research and Development Thu, 14 Feb 2013 23:00:13 +0000

What impact can a single machine have? If it is an aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope (AC-STEM), the impact may be pretty big. A uniquely-configured AC-STEM is a recent arrival at North Carolina State University, but is expected to boost research across North Carolina’s Research Triangle – and help keep the region relevant in research and development (R&D) for years to come.

“This sort of infrastructure is important to major corporations,” says Beth Dickey, a professor of materials science and engineering at NC State. “If you want to remain at the cutting edge of research, you need to be state-of-the-art. And we produce graduates who are at the forefront of these sorts of analytical techniques.”

The NC State machine is the first in the United States that incorporates a 300 kilovolt AC-STEM with monochromation and state-of-the-art x-ray detection features. The AC-STEM itself allows for spatial imaging resolution down to 80 picometers. That’s 0.08 nanometers. To put it in context, a single atom can range in size from approximately 30 to 300 picometers in diameter.

The monochromation technology allows researchers to use spectroscopy at the atomic length scale (at 0.2 electron volt resolution, if you’re curious), which offers insight into the atomic make-up of a material and how the atoms are bonded to each other. Understanding these bonds helps researchers control a material’s electrical, mechanical, optical and other intrinsic properties.

And the device also incorporates four x-ray detectors that can be used to measure the x-rays given off when electrons pass through a material. This can be used to determine the elemental composition of the sample at the atomic level.

Altogether, these three features give researchers an astonishing amount of data about the materials they’re studying. That’s a boon to the university, its students and the region.

For example, it makes NC State more competitive when seeking out major research grants. “But it also accelerates materials and device research,” says Jim LeBeau, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State who focuses on state-of-the-art AC-STEM technologies. “Most companies can’t afford this type of equipment, or don’t have the expertise needed to use it effectively. But they will have access to it now, through partnerships with the university. This will give us an unprecedented capacity for materials characterization in this region.”

“All of a material’s properties are determined by their atoms and how they’re distributed,” Dickey says. “So we want to know what every atom is, and where it is. This machine gets us pretty close to that goal. And it is a transformational boost to our research into a number of fields, such as how materials interface with one another.” Interface research is essential to developing new materials for energy-efficient and low-power devices, sensors, energy-harvesting equipment and other electronics.

In addition to fostering research efforts, the new AC-STEM also allows NC State to train the next generation of electron microscopists.  AC-STEMs and similar equipment are used by some of the world’s leading R&D companies and manufacturers – and there is currently a shortage of skilled electron microscopists to help those companies implement the technology. “One of our goals is to train scientists with the technical skills needed to fill this niche in the R&D community,” LeBeau says.

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Researchers Find Way to Boost WiFi Performance 400-700 Percent Sun, 03 Feb 2013 23:00:49 +0000

Injong Rhee's research team

As many WiFi users know, WiFi performance is often poor in areas where there are a lot of users, such as airports or coffee shops. But researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new software program, called WiFox, which can be incorporated into existing networks and expedites data traffic in large audience WiFi environments – improving data throughput by up to 700 percent.

WiFi traffic gets slowed down in high-population environments because computer users and the WiFi access point they are connected to have to send data back and forth via a single channel.

If a large number of users are submitting data requests on that channel, it is more difficult for the access point to send them back the data they requested. Similarly, if the access point is permanently given a high priority – enabling it to override user requests in order to send out its data – users would have trouble submitting their data requests. Either way, things slow down when there is a data traffic jam on the shared channel.

Now NC State researchers led by Dr. Injong Rhee have created WiFox, which monitors the amount of traffic on a WiFi channel and grants an access point priority to send its data when it detects that the access point is developing a backlog of data. The amount of priority the access point is given depends on the size of the backlog – the longer the backlog, the higher the priority. In effect, the program acts like a traffic cop, keeping the data traffic moving smoothly in both directions.

The research team tested the program on a real WiFi system in their lab, which can handle up to 45 users. They found that the more users on the system, the more the new program improved data throughput performance. Improvements ranged from 400 percent with approximately 25 users to 700 percent when there were around 45 users.

This translates to the WiFi system being able to respond to user requests an average of four times faster than a WiFi network that does not use WiFox.

“One of the nice things about this mechanism is that it can be packaged as a software update that can be incorporated into existing WiFi networks,” says Arpit Gupta, a Ph.D. student in computer science at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the work. “WiFox can be incorporated without overhauling a system.”

The paper, “WiFox: Scaling WiFi Performance for Large Audience Environments,” was presented in December at the ACM CoNEXT 2012 conference in Nice, France. The paper was co-authored by Jeongki Min, a Ph.D. student at NC State.

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NC State research leads to innovative new companies Mon, 21 Jan 2013 23:00:58 +0000

The ImagineOptix picoprojector could be embedded in a smartphone, tablet or other device.

ImagineOptix, a company developing a revolutionary projection technology for phones and other uses, is just one of the startup companies launched by the North Carolina State University research community.

The company is commercializing technology developed by Dr. Michael Escuti, head of the Opto-Electronics and Lightwave Engineering Group in NC State’s College of Engineering, who has been honored by the White House for his scientific work. Company officials say the technology they’re developing will allow anyone to easily share presentations, photos and movies with crisp and clear resolution.

“We’re now shifting from ‘research mode’ to ‘production and sales mode’ with the technology,” Erin Clark, president and CEO of the company, explains.

ImagineOptix and its peers exemplify the university’s commitment to helping researchers take cutting-edge research to the marketplace.

The university’s New Venture Services provides customized support for faculty and student projects and startups. The goal is to create stronger, more viable early–stage companies that are poised for future success. Specifically, New Venture Services provides mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs, business launch planning and assistance building management teams.

NC State’s support “also offers the startup companies visibility that helps to attract interest from investors and prospective early stage stakeholders,” adds Russell Thomas, who leads New Ventures services.

Check out just a few of NC State’s recent startup companies, listed in alphabetical order.


ImagineOptix is developing the world’s smallest, lowest-cost, and most battery-efficient “personal projectors” for consumer electronics. Additional products provide novel solutions to polarization challenges in optics.


This filtration system removes blood phosphates during dialysis, extending the lives of those with chronic kidney disease and reducing or eliminating associated medications. Katharos is a joint venture between NC State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Oryx Bio

Based on NC State’s Centennial Campus, Orxy Bio is a spin-out of the College of Engineering. Its bioseparations technology platform will improve the manufacturing of therapeutic biological products. Oryx acquired Ligamar in early 2012.


This nanoparticle-based therapy uses a plant virus to deliver therapeutics into a cell and its nucleus, technology developed in NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Polymer Braille

A book-size electronic reading device for the blind and visually impaired will convert pages to Braille dots that rise up through the screen. The product could increase Braille literacy, a key for employment for the blind.


An intelligent, electric supercharger will improve the performance of motorcycles and cars.

Vapor Pulse

Using a new method for applying nanocoatings developed in the College of Engineering, Vapor Pulse has initial markets for fabric protection, defense, and healthcare applications.


Using unique advances developed in NC State’s College of Engineering, this team produces quality nanofibers for filters and medical uses using a unique, liquid-based process. Xanofi is now operational with several customers.

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NC State leads national center to create self-powered sensors Sun, 30 Dec 2012 23:00:59 +0000

North Carolina State University is leading a new national nanotechnology research effort to create self-powered devices to help people monitor their health and understand how the surrounding environment affects it.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST), headquartered at NC State, is a joint effort between NC State and partner institutions Florida International University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia. The center, funded by an initial five-year $18.5 million grant from NSF, also includes five affiliated universities and about 30 industry partners in its global research consortium.

With the addition of ASSIST, NC State is the only university in the United States currently leading two active NSF Engineering Research Centers (ERCs), among the largest and most prestigious grants made by the engineering directorate of the federal agency. The FREEDM Systems Center, a smart grid ERC formed in 2008, is also headquartered at NC State.

ASSIST researchers will use the tiniest of materials to develop self-powered health monitoring sensors and devices. These devices could be worn on the chest like a patch, on the wrist like a watch, as a cap that fits over a tooth, or in other ways, depending on the biological system that’s being monitored.

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Researchers create ‘nanoflowers’ for energy storage, solar cells Tue, 18 Dec 2012 23:00:25 +0000

The "nanoflowers" created at NC State have petals only 20-30 nanometers thick, and provide a large surface area in a small amount of space.

Researchers from North Carolina State University have created flower-like structures out of germanium sulfide (GeS) – a semiconductor material – that have extremely thin petals with an enormous surface area. The GeS flower holds promise for next-generation energy storage devices and solar cells.

“Creating these GeS nanoflowers is exciting because it gives us a huge surface area in a small amount of space,” says Dr. Linyou Cao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research. “This could significantly increase the capacity of lithium-ion batteries, for instance, since the thinner structure with larger surface area can hold more lithium ions. By the same token, this GeS flower structure could lead to increased capacity for supercapacitors, which are also used for energy storage.”

To create the flower structures, researchers first heat GeS powder in a furnace until it begins to vaporize. The vapor is then blown into a cooler region of the furnace, where the GeS settles out of the air into a layered sheet that is only 20 to 30 nanometers thick, and up to 100 micrometers long. As additional layers are added, the sheets branch out from one another, creating a floral pattern similar to a marigold or carnation.

“To get this structure, it is very important to control the flow of the GeS vapor,” Cao says, “so that it has time to spread out in layers, rather than aggregating into clumps.”

GeS is similar to materials such as graphite, which settle into neat layers or sheets. However, GeS is very different from graphite in that its atomic structure makes it very good at absorbing solar energy and converting it into useable power. This makes it attractive for use in solar cells, particularly since GeS is relatively inexpensive and non-toxic. Many of the materials currently used in solar cells are both expensive and extremely toxic.

The paper, “Role of Boundary Layer Diffusion in Vapor Deposition Growth of Chalcogenide Nanosheets: The Case of GeS,” is published online in the journal ACS Nano. The paper was co-authored by Cao; Dr. Chun Li, a former postdoctoral researcher at NC State, now a professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China; Liang Huang, a former visiting Ph.D. student at NC State; Gayatri Pongur Snigdha, a former undergraduate student at NC State; and Yifei Yu, a Ph.D. student at NC State.

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Bringing Innovative Ideas to the Market Place Tue, 11 Dec 2012 16:12:21 +0000

From robotic limbs and computer security to shape-shifting antennas and lighter body armor – NC State supports innovative research ideas with financing from the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF) to bring their inventions to the marketplace.

Safer Cloud Computing

At the heart of cloud computing is the hypervisor, software that allows multiple users to run programs concurrently on a host computer. If a malicious program gains access to the hypervisor, the data of every user in the cloud could be stolen or modified. Now, NC State computer science researchers Peng Ning and Ahmed Azab have a solution. They’ve developed a new security mechanism called HyperSentry that is isolated and protected from the hypervisor, yet has enough privileges to access the hypervisor code and data looking for viruses and other malware.

With CIF funding from NC State, the computer scientists will finish testing a prototype this year and move the product to market.

Lighter, Stronger Armor

NC State engineering professor Afsaneh Rabiei has developed a composite metal foam that is simultaneously lighter and stronger than the materials currently in use in body and vehicle armors. This foam has the additional advantage of absorbing impact energy from projectiles or blasts, decreasing the risk of bodily injury or vehicle damage from high-velocity bullets or explosions.

“The Chancellor’s Innovation Fund money will allow us to test our armors not only against bullets for body armors, but also against blast damage for vehicle armor,” Rabiei says.

Robotics Put a Spring in Your Step

NC State biomedical engineer Greg Sawicki and members of his Human PoWeR (Physiology of Wearable Robotics) Lab have come up with technology to help victims of stroke, spinal-cord injury or traumatic brain injury that have difficulty walking. Their invention? A “smart” walking aid that doesn’t require motors or external power. Based upon a keen understanding of the interplay between the human calf muscles and the Achilles’ tendon, Sawicki’s team devised a lightweight, wearable boot with a spring that propels wearers forward after proper engagement of the device’s “clutch.”

Besides its use as an assistive or rehabilitation aid for those who have trouble walking, Sawicki believes the device can be used as a performance enhancer for weekend warriors or soldiers who need extra springs in their steps.

Faster Download Speed for Smartphones

Mobile computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets, utilize so-called “transmission control protocol (TCP) stacks,” which are software programs that send and receive packets of data between the device and the network. NC State researchers Injong Rhee and Kyunghan Lee developed a new algorithm, which reduces the delay in retrieving data – improving the user experience.

Rhee and Lee have demonstrated that their invention makes the stacks more efficient, and plan to use the CIF money to quantify that improved efficiency on various network providers using various smartphone and tablet brands.

More Reliable Access to Cellular Networks

NC State engineer Michael Dickey’s research team is developing shape-shifting antennas for use in electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. These adaptable antennas would give electronics more reliable access to cellular networks and, because they are made of soft materials, could also be incorporated into emerging technologies such as stretchable or wearable electronics.

“The support of the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund gives us the resources we need to complete our proof-of-concept research and optimize the technology before taking it to market,” Dickey says.

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Where Electronics Leaders Go To Work Tue, 28 Feb 2012 23:00:11 +0000

NC State professor Jayant Baliga received the United States' highest award for technological achievement from Barack Obama in 2011.

When U.S. President Barack Obama awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011, it went to Dr. B. Jayant Baliga of North Carolina State University (NC State). The medal is the United States’ highest honor for technological achievement.

Baliga, a Distinguished University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and founding director of the Power Semiconductor Research Center, was honored for inventing, developing, and commercializing the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT) – which has saved trillions of dollars and thousands of lives over the past 20 years. The energy-saving semiconductor switch controls the flow of power from an electrical energy source to any application that needs energy.

The IGBT improves energy efficiency by more than 40 percent in an array of products, from cars and refrigerators to light bulbs, and it is a critical component enabling modern compact cardiac defibrillators. The impact of the improved efficiency of IGBT-enabled applications has been a cumulative cost savings of $15.8 trillion for worldwide consumers over the last 20 years. At the same time, the improved efficiency produced by IGBT-enabled applications has produced a cumulative reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 78 trillion pounds worldwide over the last 20 years. In addition, IGBT-based compact portable defibrillators are projected to have saved nearly 100,000 lives in the United States, and many more globally.

At NC State, students get to work with some of the most innovative engineers in the United States – and are given the opportunity to make discoveries that could change the world.

“It is a great honor to be recognized by the nation for my work over the last 35 years,” Baliga says. “It’s wonderful to see power semiconductor technology recognized for its enormous contribution to improving the quality of life for society, while mitigating our impact on the environment. And while much has been accomplished, I am continuing my work in the area of renewable energy systems.”

Baliga is currently working with the FREEDM Systems Center, a National Science Foundation-sponsored Engineering Research Center led by NC State that seeks to improve the nation’s distribution and management of power. Baliga, who has been a faculty member at NC State since 1988, is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the IEEE.

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NC State Research Pushes Boundaries Thu, 23 Feb 2012 23:00:24 +0000

Biomedical engineers at NC State are developing new materials to help injury victims.

Two partnerships between engineering and textiles researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) illustrate the school’s focus on research that solves real-world problems.

One team is developing bandages capable of delivering medications on their own. The other is seeking affordable ways to prevent fabrics from fading under exposure to UV rays.

We’ve all seen bandages that already have antibiotic cream on them. But what about a bandage that could be “programmed” to deliver medications at a consistent rate? Biomedical engineer Dr. Elizabeth Loboa and fiber and polymer scientist Dr. Benham Pourdeyhimi are working on fibers with these properties that, when woven into bandages, could deliver drugs that promote healing and tissue regeneration.

“What we’re trying to create is what you can think of as a programmable bandage, essentially, for patient-specific, traumatic wounds,” Loboa said.

Would you like outdoor fabrics that last in the sun and are not expensive? These are on the horizon thanks to work by chemical engineer Dr. Greg Parsons, textile engineer Dr. Jesse Jur, and post-doctoral researcher Chris Oldham, who are developing nano-coatings for fabrics that protect them from UV rays. The work goes beyond building better beach umbrellas – they believe these coatings can be used to produce protective clothing as well as in other applications.

“Currently, there’s not an option on the market which gives you long protection at a reasonable cost,” said Christopher Oldham, a post-doctoral researcher working with Parsons and Jur. “So what we see is, this technology has the potential to offer a more low-cost solution with long UV protection.”

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A Hub For Smart Grid Research Wed, 15 Feb 2012 23:00:01 +0000

NC State professors Aranya Chakrabortty and Alex Huang are part of a team that is developing the future of energy infrastructure.

Whether you call it the “smart grid” or the “Energy Internet,” North Carolina State University (NC State) engineers are revolutionizing the way we use energy.

Faculty and student researchers at NC State’s FREEDM Systems Center are developing what can be called the “brain” of the smart electrical grid — devices and networks that will one day seamlessly connect rooftop solar panels with batteries that store energy in the basements below. At the same time, electric cars will charge in millions of garages, and consumers will sell extra electricity they generate back to the power company.

In 2011, a new type of transformer under development at the FREEDM Systems Center was named to MIT Technology Review’s 2011 list of the world’s 10 most important emerging technologies.

The devices, called smart solid-state transformers, represent a big step toward developing the smart energy grid of the future. Today’s grid, which has changed little since the days of Thomas Edison, only lets power flow in one direction — from the power company to the consumer. But as the cost of renewable energy technologies comes down and plug-in electric vehicles become more widespread, the grid will need an upgrade to handle the flood of devices that will not only consume energy, but push it back onto the grid.

The FREEDM Center’s smart transformers are built to manage power more effectively than today’s transformers. They will precisely control voltage, frequency and other electrical properties as they communicate with the rest of the grid. The devices will also help utilities incorporate lots of renewable energy into the grid with fewer blackouts or power surges.

Stephen Cass, special projects editor for the Technology Review, called the devices “a major advance for smart grids, allowing the flow of electricity to be controlled and rerouted in a manner similar to how data is routed around the Internet.”

FREEDM, which stands for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management, was formed in 2008 by a five-year, $18.5 million Engineering Research Center grant from the National Science Foundation.

The FREEDM Center and NC State students benefit from their location in the Triangle, one of the world’s top smart grid hubs. A recent Duke University study counted nearly 60 smart grid companies in the region. These companies include the power systems giant ABB, which is developing a Smart Grid Center of Excellence only meters away from FREEDM on NC State’s Centennial Campus.

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NC State “Superheroes” Protect Real-World Heroes Tue, 07 Feb 2012 23:00:02 +0000

NC State students get the chance to work in the only lab in the United States that can evaluate new material designs in these extreme conditions.

When a firefighter enters a burning building, the safety of his clothing and equipment should be the last thing on his mind.

That’s why it’s the first thing on the minds of Dr. Roger Barker and his team of students at North Carolina State University’s Textile Protection and Comfort Center (T-PACC). T-PACC, a world leader in laboratory-based instrumented systems, has facilities devoted to analysis of heat and flame protection, chemical resistance, and comfort performance.

T-PACC has developed a stable of “superheroes,” manikins that test garments for comfort and resistance to heat, flames and hazardous chemicals. The lab’s claim to fame, PyroMan™, is a fully instrumented, life-sized manikin used to evaluate the performance of thermally protective clothing. Housed in a large fire test chamber, the PyroMan system provides safe, controlled, repeatable exposures to flames. Here’s a video of these research tools in action.

PyroMan is a highly sophisticated instrument used to study garment and body reaction to intense heat and flames. It is useful in determining the safety and effectiveness of firefighting turnout suits. Sensors on the manikin indicate potential burn injuries to a wearer, as well as burn area and severity.

Over the years, PyroMan’s fiery “family” has expanded to include PyroHands™, used to measure the effectiveness of firefighter gloves, and PyroHead™, which helps researchers test the safety of helmets for first responders.

Barker recently announced that the family is expanding with the development of RadMan™, which will help researchers evaluate the radiant heat exposure that wildfire firefighters combat.

But there is more to T-PACC than just fire protection. The sweating manikin is used to evaluate clothing for heat and moisture management related to garment insulation and breathability. And the Man In Simulant Test (MIST) Lab allows researchers to test protective apparel for its ability to withstand hazardous materials.

This one-of-a-kind lab creates unique research opportunities for students, and has been push out life-saving research findings since 1994. T-PACC is the only academic center in the U.S. that incorporates, in one location, the capabilities to research, test, and evaluate the comfort and protective performance of textile materials, garments, and ensemble systems.

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Soft, Wet Memory Device Opens Door To Biocompatible Electronics Sun, 29 Jan 2012 23:00:17 +0000

NC State researchers have created a memory device with the physical properties of Jell-O, and that functions well in wet environments.

Researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State) have developed a memory device that is soft and functions well in wet environments – opening the door to a new generation of biocompatible electronic devices.

“We’ve created a memory device with the physical properties of Jell-O,” says Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering who was on the team that developed the device. Other team members were NC State students Hyung-Jun Koo and Ju-Hee So, and fellow chemical engineering professor Dr. Orlin Velev.

Conventional electronics are typically made of rigid, brittle materials and don’t function well in a wet environment. “Our memory device is soft and pliable, and functions extremely well in wet environments – similar to the human brain,” Dickey says.

Prototypes of the device have not yet been optimized to hold significant amounts of memory, but work well in environments that would be hostile to traditional electronics. The devices are made using a liquid alloy of gallium and indium metals set into water-based gels, similar to gels used in biological research.

The device’s ability to function in wet environments, and the biocompatibility of the gels, means that this technology holds promise for interfacing electronics with biological systems – such as cells, enzymes or tissue. “These properties may be used for biological sensors or for medical monitoring,” Dickey says.

This is an example of the innovative research, with real-world applications, that NC State’s College of Engineering specializes in. Here’s a video of how the soft memory technology works.

The device functions much like so-called “memristors,” which are vaunted as a possible next-generation memory technology. The individual components of the “mushy” memory device have two states: one that conducts electricity and one that does not. These two states can be used to represent the 1s and 0s used in binary language. Most conventional electronics use electrons to create these 1s and 0s in computer chips. The mushy memory device uses charged molecules called ions to do the same thing.

In each of the memory device’s circuits, the metal alloy is the circuit’s electrode and sits on either side of a conductive piece of gel. When the alloy electrode is exposed to a positive charge, it creates an oxidized skin that makes it resistive to electricity. We’ll call that the 0. When the electrode is exposed to a negative charge, the oxidized skin disappears, and it becomes conducive to electricity. We’ll call that the 1.

Normally, whenever a negative charge is applied to one side of the electrode, the positive charge would move to the other side and create another oxidized skin – meaning the electrode would always be resistive. To solve that problem, the researchers “doped” one side of the gel slab with a polymer that prevents the formation of a stable oxidized skin. That way, one electrode is always conducive – giving the device the 1s and 0s it needs for electronic memory.

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NC State’s constructed facilities laboratory pushes construction to its limits Sat, 21 Jan 2012 23:00:38 +0000

Students and faculty in NC State's Constructed Facilities Laboratory test new construction materials and designs to develop safe and efficient solutions.

What goes up, must come down.

In the Constructed Facilities Laboratory (CFL) at North Carolina State University (NC State), researchers turn that old adage on its head. Before launching construction projects, agencies from around the globe turn to the CFL to test the limits of their materials and designs. To test construction materials and designs, you need to break things. In a big way.

For the past 10 years, the CFL has been one of the busiest research facilities in the United States to focus on structural engineering and innovative construction materials and systems. The lab is currently engaged in more than 20 funded research projects, and its work has been financed by agencies ranging from the National Science Foundation to the North Carolina Department of Transportation – as well as a host of private companies and foreign countries from Korea to France.

The CFL designs experiments that test innovative construction designs and materials at full scale. For example, instead of testing a small sample, they have the tools and expertise to test a 42-foot reinforced concrete wall panel – subjecting it to extreme conditions to see how much abuse it can take before it breaks. Once they know the limits of new designs and materials, engineers can use them with confidence.

The CFL is equipped to test just about anything. CFL experts can simulate earthquakes, expose a structure to extreme temperatures, and see just how much weight a structure can take. “We can easily apply two million pounds of force,” says Greg Lucier, the CFL’s lab manager. Here’s a video of some of the CFL’s experiments.

More importantly, CFL’s faculty and staff know how to use its tools to simulate real world conditions. For example, they can simultaneously expose a bridge piling to extreme heat or cold, the pushing and pulling of wind, salt water, and an extreme load of weight. That’s important, because it tells bridge builders exactly how the structure would behave in extreme real-world conditions.

The CFL team has worked on innovative structural designs and materials used across the country: from the reinforcements used in the foundations of the Freedom Tower in New York, to the massive wooden “glulam” beams in the new terminal at RDU airport. CFL has even worked with electric utilities to develop means of reinforcing existing nuclear power facilities.

“The key is innovation,” says Dr. Sami Rizkalla, director of the CFL. “New materials and techniques can make projects safer and more cost-effective. But before we use them, we need to know they are safe.”

For budding structural engineers, NC State may be the place to go. While the CFL work is primarily done by graduate students and faculty, there are opportunities for interested undergraduates. It’s a great way to break into the field.

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NC State Developing Energy-Efficient 3-D CPU Fri, 13 Jan 2012 23:00:02 +0000

Students on NC State's Centennial Campus will be working to develop a new three-dimensional CPU.

Researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State) are developing a three-dimensional (3-D) central processing unit (CPU) – the brains of the computer – with the goal of boosting energy efficiency by 15 to 25 percent. The work is being done under a $1.5 million grant from the Intel Corporation.

The computer industry has a great deal of interest in 3-D integrated circuits, which are vertically integrated chips that are connected by vertical electronic connections – called “through silicon vias” – that pass through silicon wafers. These 3-D circuits would represent an advance over conventional computer chips, which operate in only two dimensions.

“Under this grant, we are building a 3-D CPU chip stack and will be solving some of the problems currently facing the development of 3-D CPUs,” says Dr. Paul Franzon, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and lead researcher on the project.

This is the type of cutting-edge research project that students are able to work on at NC State.

One problem the researchers plan to address is how to reconcile chips that are designed and manufactured in different places to different specifications so that they can work together in three dimensions. They will also address questions concerning heat dissipation, since the 3-D nature of the design would otherwise lead to much higher temperatures within the machine.

“Our goal is to achieve at least a 15 percent improvement in performance per unit of power, through architectural and circuit advances,” Franzon says.

The researchers plan to have a complete prototype developed in 2014, and will also be addressing “test and yield” challenges – such as how manufacturers can test individual CPU components to ensure they are functional. These challenges are key to facilitating the manufacture of 3-D CPUs.

In addition to Franzon, the research team includes Drs. Eric Rotenberg and Rhett Davis, a professor and associate professor, respectively, of electrical and computer engineering at NC State.

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NC state partnerships in Asia Fri, 06 Jan 2012 23:00:53 +0000

NC State graduates are finding success in Asian industry. Here, NC State alumni in Hong Kong meet with NC State's chancellor on a visit to China.

Over the last several years, North Carolina State University (NC State) has built Asian partnerships that open a world of opportunities for the university and its partners in China and South Korea.

At Zhejiang University, the third-ranked university in China, students can participate in the 3+X program, which allows students at Zhejiang to complete accelerated graduate programs at NC State. Program graduates have gone on to graduate school and industry jobs in a range of fields in the United States and China.

“I came to NC State because it’s a strong engineering school and has a tight relationship with Zhejiang University,” said Lu Liu, a Ph.D. student in fiber and polymer science, who is studying at NC State as part of the 3+X program. Liu is also president of the China Students and Scholars Friendship Association, which helps ease the adjustment to the United States for Chinese students.

There’s also a strong faculty connection between NC State and Zhejiang University. Researchers at the two schools jointly study tobacco biotechnology, global business and agrogenomics. Zhejiang and NC State have also exchanged faculty members, and professors at the two universities are collaborating to teach classes together online.

In Hong Kong, 33 NC State College of Textiles students have studied at Hong Kong Polytechnic University over the last four years; 36 students from Hong Kong Polytechnic have studied at NC State. Those students have studied design, development, brand and marketing. The two universities have also partnered on a global supply chain management program.

Exchange programs also bind NC State to Seoul National University (SNU) in South Korea. At SNU, NC State has established its first international joint-doctorate program in genomics and biotechnology.

Faculty in the colleges of veterinary medicine, textiles and engineering are engaged in research with SNU counterparts in a range of fields, including genomics, physics, textile engineering and fashion design.

Exchange programs give students a deeper understanding of their own fields of study. Beyond that, they expose students to new ways of seeing the world and other cultures.

“As we build stronger connections to Asia and elsewhere, NC State students, faculty and alumni will have untold opportunities for professional, academic and personal growth,” Woodson said.

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Self-assembling materials, powered by light Tue, 27 Dec 2011 23:00:03 +0000

Researchers developed a way to create self-assembling structures that are powered by light.

Imagine a flat object that folds itself into a box, or other shape, when exposed to light. Researchers from North Carolina State University have discovered how to do it – and it is a discovery that could be widely adopted by industry for rapid, high-volume manufacturing processes or packaging applications.

The work is actually very simple, and was done by a research team of NC State students Ying Liu and Julie Boyles, with professors Michael Dickey and Jan Genzer in the NC State College of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Researchers take a pre-stressed plastic sheet and run it through a conventional inkjet printer to print bold black lines on the material. The material is then cut into a desired pattern and placed under an infrared light, such as a heat lamp. A video demonstration can be seen here (

The bold black lines absorb more energy than the rest of the material, causing the plastic to contract – creating a hinge that folds the sheets into 3-D shapes. This technique can be used to create a variety of objects, such as cubes or pyramids, without ever having to physically touch the material. The technique is compatible with commercial printing techniques, such as screen printing, roll-to-roll printing, and inkjet printing, that are inexpensive and high-throughput but inherently 2-D.

By varying the width of the black lines, or hinges, researchers are able to change how far each hinge folds. For example, they can create a hinge that folds 90 degrees for a cube, or a hinge that folds 120 degrees for a pyramid. The wider the hinge, the further it folds. Wider hinges also fold faster, because there is more surface area to absorb energy.

“You can also pattern the lines on either side of the material,” Dickey says, “which causes the hinges to fold in different directions. This allows you to create more complex structures.”

The researchers developed a computer-based model to explain how the process works. There were two key findings. First, the surface temperature of the hinge must exceed the glass transition temperature of the material, which is the point at which the material begins to soften. Second, the heat has to be localized to the hinge in order to have fast and effective folding. If all of the material is heated to the glass transition temperature, no folding will occur.

“This finding stems from work we were doing on shape memory polymers, in part to satisfy our own curiosity. As it turns out, it works incredibly well,” Dickey says.

NC State students focus on developing solutions to real problems, as well as understanding the science behind the technology. This approach contributes to innovation, and is one reason our graduates are ready for the competitive job market when they graduate.

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A new solution to an age-old problem Tue, 20 Dec 2011 23:00:53 +0000

Crowded conditions in developing countries make it difficult to manage human waste. An NC State student has developed an inexpensive approach that may solve the problem.

As urban populations explode in the developing world, managing the resulting human waste will become an increasingly serious challenge. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a student at North Carolina State University (NC State) has found a promising potential solution.

The handheld device lifts waste and funnels it into containers for transport.

Conventional sewage treatment is not available in many parts of the world, and disposing of human waste can be both difficult and hazardous in developing nations. In crowded cities, it can be arduous or impossible for waste disposal trucks to empty septic systems or cesspools – the large trucks just can’t fit through the narrow alleyways in many neighborhoods.

To address this problem, an NC State team led by Robert Borden is developing a hand-held tool that can be used to empty these latrines. The tool utilizes a gasoline-powered earth auger (think of an industrial-sized corkscrew) as the pumping mechanism, which would divert the waste either through a hose to a nearby truck or into smaller, transportable containers.

The turning motion of the corkscrew-shaped auger lifts and carries up the waste, similar to an Archimedes’ screw.

“This seemed like a cost-effective solution to the waste-disposal problem,” says Tate Rogers, an environmental engineering graduate student who came up with the idea. “And it could be effectively implemented, with little training, in developing countries. Safety was also a key concern when we began working on this. We want to minimize contact with the waste to reduce the risk of contracting disease.”

In November, the project received a Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Gates Foundation, which the research team will use to develop a prototype of the waste-disposal tool. “We plan to have the prototype ready by the end of 2012, and to begin field-testing in the Philippines in spring 2013,” Rogers says.

“I came up with this concept in Professor Borden’s senior design class when I was an undergraduate,” Rogers says. “If it’s successful, we want to make the technology and the training available globally. Solving a real-world problem – that’s what engineering is all about.”

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Chinese academic leads war against Android malware Tue, 13 Dec 2011 16:33:23 +0000

Smartphones are one of the fastest growing markets in the technology sector, and Android has the largest share of that market. So identifying malware that attacks Android users is becoming more and more important. Xuxian Jiang, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State in the US, is a global leader in the field of malware detection.

NC State students work with Professor Xuxian Jiang to hunt down the latest Android malware.

Jiang and his team of students have identified at least 20 different pieces of malware, in the official Android marketplace and in alternative markets that target Chinese users. He was the first to find such well-known malware as DroidKungFu and GingerMaster. His work on hunting down new malware has earned him international news coverage.

In November 2011, his team announced that some Android smartphones have incorporated additional features that can be used by hackers to bypass Android’s security features, making them more vulnerable to attack. This finding also led to widespread news coverage.

In 2011, Jiang also began a formal collaboration with NetQin Mobile Inc., to better identify and monitor emerging mobile threats. NetQin is a leading global provider of consumer-centric mobile security and productivity applications. The collaboration not only recognizes Jiang’s earlier achievements and leadership, but also creates opportunities to better understand and monitor real-world mobile threats at scale – and develop next-generation mobile security solutions.

“I am always looking for highly motivated students,” Jiang says, “including both graduate and undergraduate students, who want to take a role in building next-generation secure mobile systems such as smartphones and mobile devices.”

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