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Software developed by SMU stops ransomware attacks

Ransomware attacks have become more common since COVID-19 pandemic

DALLAS (SMU) – Engineers from SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cybersecurity have developed software that detects ransomware attacks before attackers can inflict catastrophic damage.

Ransomware — a type of malware infection that causes important data files to be locked and prevents users from accessing their important data until the hacker is paid — is crippling cities and businesses all over the world, and the number of ransomware attacks have increased since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Attackers are also threatening to publicly release sensitive data if ransom isn’t paid. The FBI estimates that ransomware victims have paid hackers more than $140 million in the last six-and-a-half years.

Unlike existing methods, such as antivirus software or other intrusion detection systems, SMU’s new software works even if the ransomware is new and has not been used before.

SMU’s detection method is known as sensor-based ransomware detection because the software doesn’t rely on information from past ransomware infections to spot new ones on a computer. In contrast, existing technology needs signatures of past infections to do its job.

“With this software we are capable of detecting what’s called zero-day ransomware because it’s never been seen by the computer before,” said Mitch Thornton, executive director of the Deason Institute and professor of electrical and computer engineering in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. “Right now, there’s little protection for zero-day ransomware, but this new software spots zero-day ransomware more than 95 percent of the time.”

The new software also can scan a computer for ransomware much faster than existing software, said Mike Taylor, lead creator of the software and a Ph.D. student at SMU.

“The results of testing this technique indicate that rogue encryption processes can be detected within a very small fraction of the time required to completely lock down all of a user’s sensitive data files,” Taylor noted. “So the technique
detects instances of ransomware very quickly and well before extensive damage occurs to the victim’s computer files.”

Southern Methodist University (SMU) has filed a patent application for this technique with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Lyle Engineering students Taylor, a cybersecurity Ph.D. student, and Kaitlin N. Smith, a recent electrical engineering Ph.D. graduate, created the software, along with Thornton.

New software enables existing sensors to detect ransomware

“Ransomware is malware that enters a victim’s computer system and silently encrypts its stored files. It then alerts the user that they must pay a ransom, typically in a non-traceable currency such as bitcoin, in order to receive the key to decrypt their files,” Thornton explained. “It also tells the victim that if they do not pay the ransom within a certain time period, the key for decryption will be destroyed and thus, they will lose their data.”

SMU’s software functions by searching for small, yet distinguishable changes in certain sensors that are found inside computers to detect when unauthorized encryptions are taking place.

When attackers encrypt files, certain circuits inside the computer have specific types of power surges as files are scrambled. Computer sensors that measure temperature, power consumption, voltage levels, and other characteristics can detect these specific types of surges, SMU researchers found.

The SMU software monitors the sensors to look for the characteristic surges. And when a suspicious surge is detected, the software immediately alerts the computer to suspend or terminate the ransomware infection from completing the encryption process.

Use of the computer’s own devices to spot ransomware “is completely different than anything else that’s out there,” Taylor said.

About the Darwin Deason Institute for Cybersecurity
The mission of The Deason Institute, which is part of SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, is to advance the science, policy, application and education of cyber security through basic and problem-driven, interdisciplinary research.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

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Dallas Innovates: Gamers join scientific research to help end the COVID-19 threat

BALANCED Media|Technology and Complexity Gaming have launched a citizen science effort that will test drug compounds against coronavirus, helping SMU sift through possible treatments faster

Source: HEWMEN

DALLAS (SMU) – While medical professionals everywhere have been hard at work for months searching for a cure to the COVID-19 virus, an unlikely industry has emerged to join the fight: the video game community, Dallas Innovates’ Alex Edwards reports.

A new effort from BALANCED Media|Technology (BALANCED) and Complexity Gaming intends to garner spare computer processing power that could help find treatments for coronavirus. The two Dallas-based organizations are encouraging anyone that works with video games to donate to the citizen science/crowdsourcing initiative called #WeAreHEWMEN, Edwards explains.

The BALANCED’s HEWMAN app will use gamers’ processing power to go through more than 200,000 FDA medications and compounds, with help from SMU computational biologist John Wise. Using these 200,000 compounds, between 1.5 to 3 million virtual experiments will be run, simulating attempts to dock compounds to specific locations on the virus. By identifying the compounds with the highest probability of success at treating coronavirus, Wise, who works in SMU’s Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery, can test new treatments faster and therefore, potentially get a viable treatment to the market more quickly.

Read the story about this innovative collaboration here.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

 

 

 

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Cybersecurity matters more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic

DALLAS (SMU)  The coronavirus pandemic isn’t just a serious threat to people’s health. It’s also giving cybercriminals the perfect opportunity to access your computer and potentially steal sensitive information, warns an SMU cybersecurity expert. 
 
Mitch Thorntonexecutive director of the Deason Institute for Cyber Security in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, said there are a number of factors that make cybersecurity especially important during this virus pandemic. 
 
“People are going to be spending more time on the Internet because many of us have been asked to do work from home to keep the virus from spreading,” he said.
 
That means more opportunities for people to download dangerous software that was created by hackers, whether by fake emails that look like they came from work or by bogus ads for online shopping, Thornton said. Employees may also be less familiar with the online software that allow them to communicate with their co-workers from home, increasing the chances they may be tricked by a hacker. 
 
“People are also going to be interested in reading about the virus, learning about new advances and monitoring where the new cases are happening,” Thornton said. “So the adversaries are likely going to be targeting web pages and emails that offer that kind of content.”
 
For instance, he said, sending very sensational and possibly untrue new stories can be used to get people’s attention, distract them and prompt them to click on malicious links more quickly. “Imposter emails from authorities and medical personnel will likely also be more prevalent,” Thornton said.
 
Additionally, several coronavirus-related schemes have emerged to trick the public into downloading software they shouldn’t. But Thornton said there are ways you can keep your computer safe:
  • When you look for information online about the coronavirus, be sure that the sources are trusted. And be on the lookout for websites and emails that are designed to look like legitimate sources but are actually malicious. For example, a website may use a name, look or feel of a legitimate government agency, but have one letter off or a different color from the real website. 
  • Avoid giving personal information online unless you are very familiar with the website. Hackers may try to get your information by creating fake charities asking for donations for COVID-19.    
  • If you’re doing video conferencing for work, take a look at the background that will be appearing behind you. There may be private information that your webcam can pick out, and you can’t be sure who may be watching.  
 
About SMU
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.
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Wastewater leak in West Texas revealed by satellite radar imagery and sophisticated modeling

Leakage in Ken Regan field could have contaminated groundwater for livestock and irrigation between 2007 and 2011

DALLAS (SMU) – Geophysicists at SMU say that evidence of leak occurring in a West Texas wastewater disposal well between 2007 and 2011 should raise concerns about the current potential for contaminated groundwater and damage to surrounding infrastructure.

SMU geophysicist Zhong Lu and the rest of his team believe the leak happened at a wastewater disposal well in the Ken Regan field in northern Reeves County, which could have leaked toxic chemicals into the Rustler Aquifer. The same team of geophysicists at SMU has revealed that sinkholes are expanding and forming in West Texas at a startling rate.

a) Coverage of the ALOS PALSAR scenes used (white box). Black line shows the boundary of the Ken Regan field. Dark green line and light green line represent the boundaries of the Rustler Aquifer and Pecos Valley Aquifer in Texas, respectively. Red star represents the epicenter of the earthquake that occurred in May 2018. Blue circle represents the groundwater well for livestock drawing from the Rustler Aquifer in this area. Blue triangles are wells, which provide groundwater leveling records. (b) Vertical deformation (cm/yr) (in the red box in Fig. 1a) estimated from InSAR. Green circles with and without arrows indicate active injection/disposal wells in the Ken Regan field and oil production wells within 1.5 km from the deformation center during the research period, respectively. Purple circle represents the groundwater which provides groundwater quality records. Source: Zhong Lu

Wastewater is a byproduct of oil and gas production. Using a process called horizontal drilling, or “fracking,” companies pump vast quantities of water, sand and chemicals far down into the ground to help extract more natural gas and oil. With that gas and oil, however, come large amounts of wastewater that is injected deep into the earth through disposal wells.

Federal and state oil and gas regulations require wastewater to be disposed of at a deep depth, typically ranging from about 1,000 to 2,000 meters deep in this region, so it does not contaminate groundwater or drinking water. A small number of studies suggest that arsenic, benzene and other toxins potentially found in fracking fluids may pose serious risks to reproductive and development health.

Even though the leak is thought to have happened between 2007 and 2011, the finding is still potentially dangerous, said Weiyu Zheng, a Ph.D. student at SMU (Southern Methodist University) who led the research.

“The Rustler Aquifer, within the zone of the effective injection depth, is only used for irrigation and livestock but not drinking water due to high concentrations of dissolved solids. Wastewater leaked into this aquifer may possibly contaminate the freshwater sources,” Zheng explained.

“If I lived in this area, I would be a bit worried,” said Lu, professor of Shuler-Foscue Chair at SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and the corresponding researcher of the findings.

He also noted that leaking wastewater can do massive damage to surrounding infrastructure. For example, oil and gas pipelines can be fractured or damaged beneath the surface, and the resulting heaving ground can damage roads and put drivers at risk.     

SMU geophysicists say satellite radar imagery indicates a leak in the nearby disposal well happened because of changes shown to be happening in the nearby Ken Regan field: a large section of ground, five football fields in diameter and about 230 feet from the well, was raised nearly 17 centimeters between 2007 and 2011. In the geology world, this is called an uplift, and it usually happens where parts of the earth have been forced upward by underground pressure.

Lu said the most likely explanation for that uplift is that leakage was happening at the nearby well.

“We suspect that the wastewater was accumulated at a very shallow depth, which is quite dramatically different from what the report data says about that well,” he said.

Only one wastewater disposal well is located in close proximity to the uplifted area of the Ken Regan field. The company that owns it reported the injection of 1,040 meters of wastewater deep into the disposal well in Ken Regan. That well is no longer active.

But a combination of satellite images and models done by SMU show that water was likely escaping at a shallower level than the well was drilled for.

And the study, which was published in the Nature publication Scientific Reports, estimates that about 57 percent of the injected wastewater went to this shallower depth. At that shallower depth, the wastewater–which typically contains salt water and chemicals–could have mixed in with groundwater from the nearby Rustler Aquifer. Drinking water doesn’t come from the Rustler Aquifer, which spans seven counties. But the aquifer does eventually flow into the Pecos River, which is a drinking source.

The scientists made the discovery of the leak after analyzing radar satellite images from January 2007 to March 2011. These images were captured by a read-out radar instrument called Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR) mounted on the Advanced Land Observing Satellite, which was run by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

With this technology called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR for short, the satellite radar images allow scientists to detect changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye and that might otherwise go undetected. The satellite technology can capture ground deformation with a precision of sub-inches or better, at a spatial resolution of a few yards or better over thousands of miles, say the researchers.

Lu and his team also used data that oil and petroleum companies are required to report to the Railroad Commission of Texas (Texas RRC), as well as sophisticated hydrogeological models that mapped out the distribution and movement of water underground as well as rocks of the Earth’s crust.

“We utilized InSAR to detect the surface uplift and applied poroelastic finite element models to simulate displacement fields. The results indicate that the effective injection depth is much shallower than reported,” Zheng said. “The most reasonable explanation is that the well was experiencing leakage due to casing failures and/or sealing problem(s).”

“One issue is that the steel pipes can degrade as they age and/or wells may be inadequately managed. As a result, wastewater from failed parts can leak out,” said Jin-Woo Kim, research scientist with Lu’s SMU Radar Laboratory and a co-author of this study.

The combination of InSAR imagery and modeling done by SMU gave the scientists a clear picture of how the uplift area in Regan field developed.

Lu, who is world-renowned for leading scientists in using InSAR applications to detect surface changes, said these types of analysis are critical for the future of oil-producing West Texas.

“Our research that exploits remote sensing data and numerical models provides a clue as to understanding the subsurface hydrogeological process responding to the oil and gas activities. This kind of research can further be regarded as an indirect leakage monitoring method to supplement current infrequent leakage detection,” Zheng said.

“It’s very important to sustain the economy of the whole nation. But these operations require some checking to guarantee the operations are environmentally-compliant as well,” Lu said.

Co-author Dr. Syed Tabrez Ali from AIR-Worldwide in Boston also contributed to this study.

This research was sponsored by the NASA Earth Surface and Interior Program and the Schuler-Foscue endowment at SMU.

Previously, Kim and Lu used satellite radar imaging to find that two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas—two counties over from the Ken Regan uplift—were likely just the tip of the iceberg of ground movement in West Texas. Indeed, they found evidence that large swaths of West Texas oil patch were heaving and sinking at alarming rates. Decades of oil production activities in West Texas appears to have destabilized localities in an area of about 4,000 square miles populated by small towns like Wink, roadways and a vast network of oil and gas pipelines and storage tanks.

Watch the WFAA Verify news segment. You can also hear a report on the study that was broadcast on Austin’s NPR KUT 90.5 below:

 

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

 

 

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SMU engineering and education professors receive NSF grant to research teaching computer science and computational thinking through community gaming

DALLAS (SMU) – The Lyle School of Engineering, Guildhall and the Simmons School of Education & Human Development at SMU will use a $1,521,615 grant from the National Science Foundation to research teaching computer science and computational thinking through the popular video game, Minecraft. Research will span the fields of game design, human computer interaction, machine learning, curriculum design and education assessment by integrating STEM+C (computing) based curriculum directly into Minecraft. The project will help advance knowledge in game-based learning by building on techniques and experiences from commercial game design. The game and infrastructure produced through the research will serve as a vital computing resource for middle and high school educators.

The grant, which was featured in Dallas Innovates, was awarded to Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall and an assistant professor of Computer Science at Lyle, Eric Larson, associate professor in Computer Science at Lyle and Leanne Ketterlin Geller, professor and Texas Instrument Endowed Chair in Education at Simmons. Research begins this month with funding extending through 2022. Their aim is to create a more stable, ethical, and inclusive data science workforce by broadening the interest in data science to a more diverse population of K-12 students.

“We’re presented with the challenge of finding creative ways to positively impact student outcomes in STEM and the value it can provide in the learning experience,” said Ketterlin Geller. “We struggle with K-12 student engagement in math and science so this project is an optimal way to help us generate new interest while meeting our education goals and seeing students succeed and excel in these fields.”

“A key initiative of STEM+C is to cultivate the skills for the next generation of data scientists, information scientists, and engineers. Video games provide a technique to engage the next generation of students in a fun and intuitive manner,” said Clark. “Games are developed around fundamental activities, or gameplay atoms, which reflect the experiential learning process through a trial and error in-game conveyance/feedback loop.”

Research will integrate curriculum that aligns with education standards such as Common Core Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-M), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS-2013), Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA-2017), and California Computer Science Content Standards (CACS-CS 2019) into the successful loops found in Minecraft. These loops contain game mechanics that have shown to engage a large demographic of players across age, gender, race, and socio-economic factors. The project will integrate feedback from educational stakeholders, including teachers and students. Key outcomes from engaging in gameplay that are assessed include changes in students’ interest, attitudes, beliefs, and self-efficacy in STEM+C, engagement in collaborative open-ended solution making, and achievement in related computing and mathematics concepts. Molly Phillips, Lyle School of Engineering

 

About the Lyle School of Engineering

SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 29 graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees, through the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Computer Science; Electrical and Computer Engineering; Engineering Management, Information and Systems; and Mechanical Engineering. Lyle students participate in programs in the unique Deason Innovation Gym, providing the tools and space to work on immersion design projects and competitions to accelerate leadership development and the framework for innovation; the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, helping students develop nontechnical skills to prepare them for leadership in diverse technical fields; the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, developing new methodologies for incorporating engineering education into K-12 schools; the Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, combining the innovative forces of Lyle and the Cox School of Business to integrate their expertise, resources and guidance to develop technology prototypes and create viable business plans; and the Hunter and Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity, combining technological innovation with business expertise to address global poverty.

About Guildhall

Since its genesis, SMU Guildhall has set the bar in game development education. Recognized as one of the best game design graduate programs in the world, SMU Guildhall works collaboratively across disciplines and industries to train the next generation of game developers. It’s long held a seat in the Top 10 rankings for game development programs across the world by the Princeton Review, sitting at Number 1 for the past two years. In addition to its Team Game Production curriculum, the Guildhall has been commended for the high quality of its faculty of industry veterans and professionals as well as its career services achievements. The program has graduated over 800 alumni, who now work at more than 270 video game studios and tech companies around the world. The program’s achievements can also be seen in its high-caliber game successes including record breaking downloads, awards, and contest wins. SMU Guildhall offers both a Master of Interactive Technology in Digital Game Development degree and a Professional Certificate of Interactive Technology in Digital Game Development, and it is the only program to offer specializations in all four cornerstones of game development — Art, Design, Production, and Programming. For more information, visit guildhall.smu.edu.

About Simmons School of Education & Human Development

The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU reflects the University’s vision of serving the most important educational needs of our city, region and nation, graduating students for successful careers in a variety of fields and providing educational opportunities beyond traditional degree programs. Recognized as a unique and transformative leader in education research, practice and policy, the School is committed to rigorous, research-driven programs that promote evidence-based, effective practices in education and human development.

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Dallas Morning News: SMU researcher, Garland students are using smartphones to monitor bridge safety

Brett Story

DALLAS (SMU) – Seems like smartphones can do everything these days. Add to that list gathering information on bridge’s structural health.

Brett Story, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, and students at Garland High School are using smartphones in passing cars to check if there are any cracks or uneven settling in the foundation of the Briarwood bridge, which crosses over Duck Creek in Garland.

The Dallas Morning News has more on this innovative research.

About SMU

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Attackers could be listening to what you type

SMU researchers were able to detect what is typed with remarkable accuracy using just a smartphone

DALLAS (SMU) – You likely know to avoid suspicious emails to keep hackers from gleaning personal information from your computer. But a new study from SMU (Southern Methodist University) suggests that it’s possible to access your information in a much subtler way: by using a nearby smart phone to intercept the sound of your typing.

Researchers from SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cybersecurity found that acoustic signals, or sound waves, produced when we type on a computer keyboard can successfully be picked up by a smartphone. The sounds intercepted by the phone can then be processed, allowing a skilled hacker to decipher which keys were struck and what they were typing.

The researchers were able to decode much of what was being typed using common keyboards and smartphones – even in a noisy conference room filled with the sounds of other people typing and having conversations.

“We were able to pick up what people are typing at a 41 percent word accuracy rate. And we can extend that out – above 41 percent – if we look at, say, the top 10 words of what we think it might be,” said Eric C. Larson, one of the two lead authors and an assistant professor in SMU Lyle School’s Department of Computer Science.

Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering faculty Eric Larson and Mitch Thornton discuss their research on the security of smartphones at SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cybersecurity.

The study was published in the June edition of the journal Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. Co-authors of the study are Tyler Giallanza, Travis Siems, Elena Sharp, Erik Gabrielsen and Ian Johnson – all current or former students at the Deason Institute.

It might take only a couple of seconds to obtain information on what you’re typing, noted lead author Mitch Thornton, director of SMU’s Deason Institute and professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“Based on what we found, I think smartphone makers are going to have to go back to the drawing board and make sure they are enhancing the privacy with which people have access to these sensors in a smartphone,” Larson said.

SMU Simulated a Noisy Conference Room, But Typing Could Still Be Intercepted

The researchers wanted to create a scenario that would mimic what might happen in real life. So they arranged several people in a conference room, talking to each other and taking notes on a laptop. Placed on the same table as their laptop or computer, were as many as eight mobile phones, kept anywhere from three inches to several feet feet away from the computer, Thornton said.

Study participants were not given a script of what to say when they were talking, and were allowed to use shorthand or full sentences when typing. They were also allowed to either correct typewritten errors or leave them, as they saw fit.

“We were looking at security holes that might exist when you have these ‘always-on’ sensing devices – that being your smartphone,” Larson said. “We wanted to understand if what you’re typing on your laptop, or any keyboard for that matter, could be sensed by just those mobile phones that are sitting on the same table.”

The answer was a definite, “Yes.”

But just how does it work?

“There are many kinds of sensors in smartphones that cause the phone to know its orientation and to detect when it is sitting still on a table or being carried in someone’s pocket. Some sensors require the user to give permission to turn them on, but many of them are always turned on,” Thornton explained. “We used sensors that are always turned on, so all we had to do was develop a new app that processed the sensor output to predict the key that was pressed by a typist.”

There are some caveats, though.

“An attacker would need to know the material type of the table,” Larson said, because different tables create different sound waves when you type.  For instance, a wooden table like the kind used in this study sounds different than someone typing on a metal tabletop.

Larson said, “An attacker would also need a way of knowing there are multiple phones on the table and how to sample from them.”

A successful interception of this sort could potentially be very scary, Thornton noted, because “there’s no way to know if you’re being hacked this way.”

The Deason Institute is part of SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, and its mission is to to advance the science, policy, application and education of cyber security through basic and problem-driven, interdisciplinary research.

Many media outlets covered the story, including The Dallas Morning News, Forbes and BBC.

 

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

 

 

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SMU’s faculty and students join forces as co-creators of knowledge that spans the arts, sciences, engineering, business and the humanities. Students become hands-on contributors to significant discoveries. In collaboration with industry, nonprofit organizations and other institutions, our researchers forge paths to results that can be applied ethically on a local, national and global scale. Powered by the vast potential of data science and high-speed computing, they unlock new insights about critical problems. SMU researchers shape these discoveries into economic opportunities, stronger communities and a better world.

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SMU Engineering Profs Receive NSF Grant to Build Multi-Dimensional Drone Communication Framework

DALLAS (SMU) – Faculty and students in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering will use an $849,839 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) communications, with the potential to enable the next wave of drone applications ranging from delivery of consumer goods to supporting autonomous combat and search and rescue efforts.

The award to Joseph Camp and Dinesh Rajan in the Electrical Engineering Department begins funding their work Oct. 1, 2018 and will extend through Sept. 30, 2021. The objective is to build infrastructure for Multi-Dimensional Drone Communications Infrastructure (MuDDI) to address research issues related to three-dimensional (3-D) connectivity, distributed antennas across a drone swarm and 3-D swarm formations that optimize the transmission to intended receivers.

MuDDI will allow the SMU team to rent and equip indoor space relatively close to campus for repeatable experimentation.  “This will allow us to run our experiments in a controlled environment with the ability to precisely measure the wireless transmission characteristics,” Camp said.

The project will include:

  • Building a programmable drone platform that can dynamically switch across multiple antennas with various positions and orientations on the drone that increase signal from a particular drone to direct transmissions across the extremes of physical dimensions.
  • Experimental analysis of the various channel feedback mechanisms that have been identified but have yet to be evaluated on drones with in-flight vibrations and mobility patterns and various swarm formations.
  • Constructing and incorporating large-scale antenna arrays over the surface of the ceiling and surrounding walls in the test facility to capture various multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) transmission patterns of a single drone seeking 3-D connectivity, distributed drone swarm creating various formations, and a massive-MIMO ground station.
  • Integrating a massive-MIMO control station that can direct transmissions to, and track the mobility of, in-flight systems enabling research on the various beam widths and multi-user beam patterns that may be simultaneously allocated among large antenna arrays.

“When you start to think about drones, the communication issues are not 2D anymore – they are 3D,” Camp said. “When we built a drone platform at SMU in Taos last summer, we put the antennas on top of the drone so they wouldn’t interfere with landing gear. What we then found out was when the drone got to a certain height, it could only communicate from side-to-side, not directly below it.”

 

“When drones are required to talk to other drones, the communication, by definition, can be in any direction at any point in time,” Camp said. “We make the assumption that radios are expensive in terms of power, weight, and cost and that a switching mechanism from these radios to a greater number of antennas could significantly lower the resource consumption of a drone communications platform. In addition, if carefully designed, multiple drones could team to form a large antenna array to improve communication range.”

The research being directed by Camp and Rajan could have far-reaching applications for the future of UAV communications, including increasing Internet connectivity during natural disasters as well as commercial and military applications, all of which require coordination of multiple entities across various altitudes, from in-flight to ground-based stations. Potential applications also include deploying WiFi in underserved, low-income neighborhoods.

A warehouse in close proximity to campus currently is being outfitted to the specific dimensions required for faculty and students to analyze data and applications for this project. In addition, interested students can join Camp each June at SMU’s campus in Taos, NM, where he teaches an “Introduction to Drone Communications” class where students learn the fundamentals of experimentation research for the purposes of
design novel measurement studies for drone communications.

Camp is an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. He joined the SMU faculty in 2009 after receiving his Ph.D. in ECE from Rice University. He received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2012.

Rajan is Cecil and Ida Green Endowed Professor of Engineering. He has served as professor and chair of the Electrical Engineering Department in the Lyle School, and received an NSF CAREER Award in 2006. He joined SMU in 2002 and earned his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Rice University.

About SMU

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

About the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering

SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 29 graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees, through the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Computer Science and Engineering; Electrical Engineering; Engineering Management, Information, and Systems; and Mechanical Engineering. Lyle students participate in programs in the unique Deason Innovation Gym, providing the tools and space to work on immersion design projects and competitions to accelerate leadership development and the framework for innovation; the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, helping students develop nontechnical skills to prepare them for leadership in diverse technical fields; the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, developing new methodologies for incorporating engineering education into K-12 schools; and the Hunter and Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity, combining technological innovation with business expertise to address global poverty.

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SMU Physicist Explains Significance of Latest Cern Discovery Related to the Higgs Boson

Stephen Sekula says observation of the Higgs particle transforming into bottom quarks confirms the 20th-century recipe for mass

DALLAS (SMU) – Scientists conducting physics experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider have announced the discovery of the Higgs boson transforming, as it decays, into subatomic particles called bottom quarks, an observation that confirms that the “Standard Model” of the universe – the 20th century recipe for everything in the known physical world – is still valid.

This new discovery is a big step forward in the quest to understand how the Higgs enables fundamental particles to acquire mass. Many scientists suspect that the Higgs could interact with particles outside the Standard Model, such as dark matter – the unseen matter that does not emit or absorb light, but may make up more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe.

After several years of work experiments at both ATLAS and CMS – CERN detectors that use different types of technology to investigate a broad range of physics –have demonstrated that 60 percent of Higgs particles decay in the same way. By finding and mapping the Higgs boson interactions with known particles, scientists can simultaneously probe for new phenomena.

SMU played important roles in the analysis announced by CERN Aug. 28, including:

  • Development of the underlying analysis software framework (Stephen Sekula, SMU associate professor of physics was co-leader of the small group that included SMU graduate student Peilong Wang and post-doctoral researcher Francesco Lo Sterzo, that does this for the larger analysis for 2017-2018)
  • Studying background processes that mimic this Higgs boson decay, reducing measurement uncertainty in the final result.

“The Standard Model is the recipe for everything that surrounds us in the world today.  Sekula explained. “It has been tested to ridiculous precision. People have been trying for 30-40 years to figure out where or if the Standard Model described matter incorrectly. Like any recipe you inherit from a family member, you trust but verify. This might be grandma’s favorite recipe, but do you really need two sticks of butter? This finding shows that the Standard Model is still the best recipe for the Universe as we know it.”

Scientists would have been intrigued if the Standard Model had not survived this test, Sekula said, because failure would have produced new knowledge.

“When we went to the moon, we didn’t know we’d get Mylar and Tang,” Sekula said. “What we’ve achieved getting to this point is we’ve pushed the boundaries of technology in both computing and electronics just to make this observation. Technology as we know it will continue to be revolutionized by fundamental curiosity about why the universe is the way it is.

“As for what we will get from all this experimentation, the honest answer is I don’t know,” Sekula said. “But based on the history of science, it’s going to be amazing.”

About CERN

At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. They use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles. The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature. Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas.  SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

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Earth & Climate Feature Researcher news Technology

Radar images show large swath of West Texas oil patch is heaving and sinking at alarming rates

Analysis indicates decades of oil production activity have destabilized localities in an area of about 4,000 square miles populated by small towns, roadways and a vast network of oil and gas pipelines and storage tanks

Two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas, may just be the tip of the iceberg, according to a new study that found alarming rates of new ground movement extending far beyond the infamous sinkholes.

That’s the finding of a geophysical team from Southern Methodist University, Dallas that previously reported the rapid rate at which the sinkholes are expanding and new ones forming.

Now the team has discovered that various locations in large portions of four Texas counties are also sinking and uplifting.

Radar satellite images show significant movement of the ground across localities in a 4000-square-mile area — in one place as much as 40 inches over the past two-and-a-half years, say the geophysicists.

“The ground movement we’re seeing is not normal. The ground doesn’t typically do this without some cause,” said geophysicist Zhong Lu, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU and a global expert in satellite radar imagery analysis.

“These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water,” Lu said. “Proactive, continuous detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.”

The scientists made the discovery with analysis of medium-resolution (15 feet to 65 feet) radar imagery taken between November 2014 and April 2017. The images cover portions of four oil-patch counties where there’s heavy production of hydrocarbons from the oil-rich West Texas Permian Basin.

The imagery, coupled with oil-well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas, suggests the area’s unstable ground is associated with decades of oil activity and its effect on rocks below the surface of the earth.

The SMU researchers caution that ground movement may extend beyond what radar observed in the four-county area. The entire region is highly vulnerable to human activity due to its geology — water-soluble salt and limestone formations, and shale formations.

“Our analysis looked at just this 4000-square-mile area,” said study co-author and research scientist Jin-Woo Kim, a research scientist in the SMU Department of Earth Sciences.

“We’re fairly certain that when we look further, and we are, that we’ll find there’s ground movement even beyond that,” Kim said. “This region of Texas has been punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s and our findings associate that activity with ground movement.”

Lu, Shuler-Foscue Chair at SMU, and Kim reported their findings in the Nature publication Scientific Reports, in the article “Association between localized geohazards in West Texas and human activities, recognized by Sentinel-1A/B satellite radar imagery.”

The researchers analyzed satellite radar images that were made public by the European Space Agency, and supplemented that with oil activity data from the Railroad Commission of Texas.

The study is among the first of its kind to identify small-scale deformation signals over a vast region by drawing from big data sets spanning a number of years and then adding supplementary information.

The research is supported by the NASA Earth Surface and Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at SMU.

Imagery captures changes that might otherwise go undetected
The SMU geophysicists focused their analysis on small, localized, rapidly developing hazardous ground movements in portions of Winkler, Ward, Reeves and Pecos counties, an area nearly the size of Connecticut. The study area includes the towns of Pecos, Monahans, Fort Stockton, Imperial, Wink and Kermit.

The images from the European Space Agency are the result of satellite radar interferometry from recently launched open-source orbiting satellites that make radar images freely available to the public.

With interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR for short, the satellites allow scientists to detect changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye and that might otherwise go undetected.

The satellite technology can capture ground deformation with an accuracy of sub-inches or better, at a spatial resolution of a few yards or better over thousands of miles, say the researchers.

Ground movement associated with oil activity
The SMU researchers found a significant relationship between ground movement and oil activities that include pressurized fluid injection into the region’s geologically unstable rock formations.

Fluid injection includes waste saltwater injection into nearby wells, and carbon dioxide flooding of depleting reservoirs to stimulate oil recovery.

Injected fluids increase the pore pressure in the rocks, and the release of the stress is followed by ground uplift. The researchers found that ground movement coincided with nearby sequences of wastewater injection rates and volume and CO2 injection in nearby wells.

Also related to the ground’s sinking and upheaval are dissolving salt formations due to freshwater leaking into abandoned underground oil facilities, as well as the extraction of oil.

Sinking and uplift detected from Wink to Fort Stockton
As might be expected, the most significant subsidence is about a half-mile east of the huge Wink No. 2 sinkhole, where there are two subsidence bowls, one of which has sunk more than 15.5 inches a year. The rapid sinking is most likely caused by water leaking through abandoned wells into the Salado formation and dissolving salt layers, threatening possible ground collapse.

At two wastewater injection wells 9.3 miles west of Wink and Kermit, the radar detected upheaval of about 2.1 inches that coincided with increases in injection volume. The injection wells extend about 4,921 feet to 5,577 feet deep into a sandstone formation.

In the vicinity of 11 CO2 injection wells nearly seven miles southwest of Monahans, the radar analysis detected surface uplift of more than 1 inch. The wells are about 2,460 feet to 2,657 feet deep. As with wastewater injection, CO2 injection increased pore pressure in the rocks, so when stress was relieved it was followed by uplift of about 1 inch at the surface.

The researchers also looked at an area 4.3 miles southwest of Imperial, where significant subsidence from fresh water flowing through cracked well casings, corroded steel pipes and unplugged abandoned wells has been widely reported.

Water there has leaked into the easily dissolved Salado formation, created voids, and caused the ground to sink and water to rise from the subsurface, including creating Boehmer Lake, which didn’t exist before 2003.

Radar analysis by the SMU team detected rapid subsidence ranging from three-fourths of an inch to nearly 4 inches around active wells, abandoned wells and orphaned wells.

“Movements around the roads and oil facilities to the southwest of Imperial, Texas, should be thoroughly monitored to mitigate potential catastrophes,” the researchers write in the study.

About 5.5 miles south of Pecos, their radar analysis detected more than 1 inch of subsidence near new wells drilled via hydraulic fracturing and in production since early 2015. There have also been six small earthquakes recorded there in recent years, suggesting the deformation of the ground generated accumulated stress and caused existing faults to slip.

“We have seen a surge of seismic activity around Pecos in the last five to six years. Before 2012, earthquakes had not been recorded there. At the same time, our results clearly indicate that ground deformation near Pecos is occurring,” Kim said. “Although earthquakes and surface subsidence could be coincidence, we cannot exclude the possibility that these earthquakes were induced by hydrocarbon production activities.”

Scientists: Boost the network of seismic stations to better detect activity
Kim stated the need for improved earthquake location and detection threshold through an expanded network of seismic stations, along with continuous surface monitoring with the demonstrated radar remote sensing methods.

“This is necessary to learn the cause of recent increased seismic activity,” Kim said. “Our efforts to continuously monitor West Texas with this advanced satellite technique can help sustain safe, ongoing oil production.”

Near real-time monitoring of ground deformation possible in a few years
The satellite radar datasets allowed the SMU geophysicists to detect both two-dimension east-west deformation of the ground, as well as vertical deformation.

Lu, a leading scientist in InSAR applications, is a member of the Science Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO (called NISAR) InSAR mission, set for launch in 2021 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A/B. The satellites orbit 435 miles above the Earth’s surface. Sentinel-1A was launched in 2014 and Sentinel-1B in 2016 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

The Sentinel-1A/B constellation bounces a radar signal off the earth, then records the signal as it bounces back, delivering measurements. The measurements allow geophysicists to determine the distance from the satellite to the ground, revealing how features on the Earth’s surface change over time.

“Near real-time monitoring of ground deformation at high spatial and temporal resolutions is possible in a few years, using multiple satellites such as Sentinel-1A/B, NISAR and others,” said Lu. “This will revolutionize our capability to characterize human-induced and natural hazards, and reduce their damage to humanity, infrastructure and the energy industry.” — Margaret Allen, SMU

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SMU student to share innovative texting app at SXSW Red Bull Launch Institute

Users earn rewards with the “Just Drive” app designed to prevent distracted driving.

Neha Husein gripped her steering wheel as her car jolted forward, hit from behind on one of Dallas’ busiest and most dangerous freeways. Shaken, but not injured, the high school senior surveyed the significant damage to her car. The cause of the crash? The driver behind her was texting while driving.

The 2014 collision was the SMU junior’s inspiration to develop a solution to stop drivers from texting while driving, a practice that killed 455 Texans and played a role in 109,660 crashes in Texas in 2016. Her smart-phone app, “Just Drive,” awards points to drivers who lock their phones while driving. Those points can then be redeemed for coupons or free food, drinks or merchandise.

Husein is one of six college entrepreneurs selected to participate March 10 in the Red Bull Launch Institute at Austin’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival. She will meet with industry leaders and other entrepreneurs to further develop and amplify her project. The institute is scheduled from 3 to 6:30 p.m. at Palazzo Lavaca, 1614 Lavaca St., Austin.

She’s not being judgmental. Everyone has texted while driving, Husein says.

“We are used to multitasking, and sitting in traffic gets boring,” she says.

But the marketing and human rights major believes positive reinforcement can change behavior. Rewards are motivating to millennials like Husein. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, drivers age 16 to 34 are most likely to text while driving, but Husein is betting the app will appeal to all ages.

“Expecting incentives is a generational thing, but it’s a human thing too,” she says. “People enjoy rewards.”

Husein first presented “Just Drive” at SMU’s October 2017 Big Ideas pitch contest. She won $1,000 for her 90-second pitch and used it to create a wireframe app mock-up. The Big Ideas pitch contest is part of SMU’s Engaged Learning program, a campus wide initiative designed to enhance student learning by connecting a personal passion to academic learning and turning it into a personal project. Faculty mentorship is a key part of the Engaged Learning program.

Husein’s mentor, SMU law professor Keith Robinson, is a specialist in patent, intellectual property and technology law and co-directs the Tsai Center for Law, Science and Innovation in SMU’s Dedman School of Law. He also teaches a class to law students on designing legal apps.

“I like people who show initiative and are willing to bet on themselves,” says Robinson, who meets weekly with Husein to discuss intellectual property issues and trademark application. “Neha has developed an app for a relatable problem, one that can save lives.”

Husein is a Carrollton, Texas, native who grew up with an entrepreneur mindset. She remembers manning a toy cash register alongside her father at his convenience store. He was on hand in February 2018 to see his daughter present her business plan at the second stage of SMU’s Big Ideas competition – and win $5,000 in start-up funds.

“Just Drive is a perfect combination of my interests in human rights and marketing,” Husein says. “It combines business with a philanthropic cause.”

She plans to launch the “Just Drive” app in September, 2018. — Nancy George, SMU

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Culture, Society & Family Researcher news SMU In The News Technology

KERA: 8 Questions For The Government To Consider Before Investigating Encrypted Data

“This debate is quite polarizing; it’s been in the media for a couple of years now. It was quite an accomplishment on our part to agree on a set of facts, to agree on a vocabulary and to agree on the framework.” — Fred Chang, SMU

Journalist Justin Martin with KERA public radio covered the new government guidelines for investigating encrypted data from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Frederick Chang, director of SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security and former director of research for the National Security Agency, participated in developing the guidelines.

KERA’s interview, “8 Questions For The Government To Consider Before Investigating Encrypted Data,” aired March 7, 2018.

Chang, a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, joined SMU in September 2013 as Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security, computer science and engineering professor and Senior Fellow in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College. The Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security was launched in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering in January 2014, with Chang named as its director.

In addition to his positions at SMU, Chang is a distinguished scholar in the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. Chang has been professor and AT&T Distinguished Chair in Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio and he was at the University of Texas at Austin as an associate dean in the College of Natural Sciences and director of the Center for Information Assurance and Security. Additionally, Chang’s career spans service in the private sector and in government including as the former Director of Research at the National Security Agency.

Chang has been awarded the National Security Agency Director’s Distinguished Service Medal and was the 2014 Information Security Magazine ‘Security 7’ award winner for Education. He has served as a member of the Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency and as a member of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies. He has also served as a member of the National Academies Committee on Responding to Section 5(d) of Presidential Policy Directive 28: The Feasibility of Software to Provide Alternatives to Bulk Signals Intelligence Collection.

He is the lead inventor on two U.S. patents, and he appeared in the televised National Geographic documentary, Inside the NSA: America’s Cyber Secrets. He has twice served as a cyber security expert witness at hearings convened by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Chang received his B.A. degree from the University of California, San Diego and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Oregon. He has also completed the Program for Senior Executives at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Listen to the KERA radio interview with Justin Martin.

EXCERPT From KERA News:

The debate over government access to personal and private information dates back decades. But it took center stage after the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, when Apple refused to open a backdoor into an assailant’s encrypted cell phone for FBI investigators.

The agency ultimately paid a hacker to unlock the phone instead.

Now, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has produced a set of guidelines for government agencies to consider before approaching or investigating encrypted data.

To learn more about them, I talked with Frederick Chang, the executive director of Southern Methodist University’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security.

He’s also a member of the National Academy of Engineering and former director of research for the National Security Agency.

Listen to the KERA radio interview with Justin Martin.

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Culture, Society & Family Feature Learning & Education Researcher news Student researchers Technology

Cyber grad and U.S. Marine Corps vet Michael Taylor proved his mettle as an outstanding student researcher

‘Outstanding student in computer science & engineering’ graduates Dec. 16 with master’s degree and Raytheon ticket to a Ph.D.

Michael Taylor will be the first to tell you that he was not ready for college when he graduated from Plano East High School in 2006. And he’ll also tell you that nobody was more surprised than he was when SMU admitted him in 2014, a little later than the average undergrad.

But Taylor’s disciplined approach to life, honed through five years in the Marine Corps, combined with the intelligence he learned to tap, has earned him a master’s degree from SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering that will be awarded Dec. 16. And after proving his mettle as a student researcher in Lyle’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, Taylor has been awarded the first Raytheon IIS Cyber Elite Graduate Fellowship, which will fund his Ph.D. in quantum computing at SMU and then put him to work as an employee at Raytheon.

“Michael Taylor stood out to me when I first had him in an undergraduate class,” said Mitch Thornton, research director for the Deason Institute and Cecil H. Green Chair of Engineering at SMU. “I could sense there was something special about him and that he had a lot of talent. I actively encouraged Michael to do research with me and he has excelled in everything I have asked him to work on. He is a credit to the student body of SMU’s Lyle School, and a credit to the nation.”

Taylor learned to focus on the details in the Marine Corps. He had sampled community college very briefly after high school, but it didn’t stick. He knew he didn’t have skills to trade for a decent job, so joining the Marine Corps made sense to him.

“Honestly? In retrospect, I wasn’t ready for school,” Taylor acknowledged.

After the Marines, finally ready for college
Taylor’s dad was an SMU engineering alumnus, and this was not the career path he’d envisioned for his son. But it’s funny how things work themselves out. Taylor completed Marine basic training, and took an aptitude test to determine where his skills might fit the Marine Corp mission. He did very, very well.

“My score on that test – I qualified for every enlisted job in the Marine Corps,” Taylor said. “I got to pick what job I wanted.” Working as a calibration technician sounded interesting – a job that would require him to conduct testing for proper operation of a wide range of mechanical and electronic devices and tools. But before working in calibration, he’d have to go school for a year.

“Ironic, I know,” Taylor said, smiling. “I had to sign up for an extra year, so I ended up doing a five-year tour in the Marines.”

He spent most of that time working out of Camp Pendleton in California, but was deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from March through September 2010, at the height of the surge of U.S. troops. “I wasn’t a combat guy,” Taylor said. “But even on base, sometimes, the rockets would come in the middle of the night.”

Nearing the end of his enlistment in 2012, Taylor was getting the hard sell to stay in and make the Marines a career. By now, he had decided he was ready for college, but the career planner he met with tried hard to talk him out of it, predicting that Taylor would “fail again.”

“He actually told me if I got out of the Marine Corps and went back to college, I’d end up living under a bridge,” Taylor said, shaking his head. It just made him more determined to succeed.

He started back at community college, and this experience was very different. “It seemed like it was so hard the first time,” Taylor said. “What then seemed like a monumental task, now seemed like nothing. I started thinking, I might be able to do school, now.”

And he started thinking about SMU. Taylor’s grades at Collin County Community College were good – good enough to get him into his father’s alma mater.

SMU Prof’s mentoring made all the difference
Taylor never dared to think he could live up to what his Dad had accomplished, starting with the scholarship to attend SMU that Jim Taylor ’89 had received from Texas Instruments. “He was a technician there,” Taylor recalled, “and they paid for him to come here. As a kid, if you’d told me I could do something like that, too, I’d never have believed you. For me there was Albert Einstein, and Jim Taylor.”

Michael Taylor came to the Hilltop on the GI Bill, and SMU’s Yellow Ribbon program for military veterans covered what the GI Bill didn’t. Then, the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security picked up the cost of his master’s degree.

Taylor’s first semester at SMU’s Lyle School was a tough adjustment after his relatively easy path at community college, but that class with professor Thornton his second semester changed everything. “Dr. Thornton offered me a position working in the Deason Institute for Cyber Security,” Taylor said. “It’s been going great since then.”

Thornton’s influence and mentoring made all the difference for Taylor.

“If I had not met Dr. Thornton, there were times I wondered if I would have gotten my bachelor’s degree. I definitely wouldn’t be getting the master’s degree. And a Ph.D. wouldn’t have been something I ever considered.”

Compelled to dive into quantum computing and cyber security
Taylor was interested in computer hardware when he arrived at SMU, but the Deason Institute opened the door to the contributions he could make in cyber security. He received the Lyle School’s 2017 Rick A. Barrett Memorial Award for outstanding work in computer science and engineering. And as he neared the completion of his master’s degree, he was tapped for the Raytheon Cyber Elite Graduate Fellowship and is looking forward to pursuing his Ph.D. in quantum computing.

“Quantum computers solve problems that are too difficult for classical computers to solve,” Taylor said. “Certain problems in classical computation are intractable, there’s no way you can solve them in this lifetime. It’s only a matter of time before quantum computers render all encryption obsolete.”

For Fred Chang, executive director of SMU’s Deason Institute and former research director for the National Security Agency (NSA), finding talented students like Taylor to fill the gaps in the cyber security workforce is “job one.” Chang testified before a congressional subcommittee in September that we are likely facing a worldwide shortage of cyber security workers five years from now.

“Today’s students will be responsible for designing, creating, operating, maintaining and defending tomorrow’s cyber infrastructure,” Chang explained. “We need a large and capable pool of folks to staff these positions for the future.”

For Taylor, cyber security is just plain compelling.

“I just like the challenge. There’s somebody out there that’s trying to crack what you have, to break you down. You have to be smarter than them. It’s a game!” — Kim Cobb, SMU

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Learning & Education Researcher news SMU In The News Technology Uncategorized

Dallas Innovates: SMU, UTA Profs Named National Academy of Inventors Fellows

Election as a National Academy of Inventors fellow is the highest professional honor given to academic inventors.

Dallas Innovates covered the naming of Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering Professor Bruce Gnade as a Fellow to the National Academy of Inventors.

Journalist Lance Murray noted that SMU’s Gnade holds 77 U.S. patents and 55 foreign patents, and is the author or co-author of more than 195 refereed journal articles. Currently, his research focuses on flexible electronics with applications ranging from radiation sensors to microelectronic arrays for cellular recording.

The Dallas Innovates article, “SMU, UTA Profs Named National Academy of Inventors Fellows,” published Dec. 12, 2017.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Lance Murray
Dallas Innovates

Bruce Gnade, executive director of the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership and clinical professor within Southern Methodist University’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, and Dereje Agonafer, Jenkins Garrett professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington received the honors.

The professors were included in a group of 155 fellows nationwide named Tuesday by the academy.

Election as NAI Fellow is given to academic inventors who have shown a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and welfare of society.

NAI fellows are named as inventors on U.S. patents, and are nominated by their peers based on their contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.

PROFS’ WORK COVERS FLEXIBLE ELECTRONICS, SEMICONDUCTOR RESEARCH
SMU’s Gnade holds 77 U.S. patents and 55 foreign patents, and is the author or co-author of more than 195 refereed journal articles. Currently, his research focuses on flexible electronics with applications ranging from radiation sensors to microelectronic arrays for cellular recording, according to SMU.

Prior to joining SMU, Gnade held leadership positions at Texas Instruments and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, where he served as a program manager overseeing influential technology research projects for the Department of Defense. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors of Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

His academic career includes faculty appointments at the University of Maryland, the University of North Texas, and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Gnade is a member of the Materials Research Society and the Society for Information Display, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a fellow of the American Physical Society.

Read the full story.

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Culture, Society & Family Fossils & Ruins Researcher news Technology

A composite window into human history

Better integration of ancient DNA studies with archaeology promises deeper insights.

DNA testing alone of ancient human remains can’t resolve questions about past societies.

It’s time for geneticists and archaeologists to collaborate more fully in the face of ever greater advancements in ancient DNA research, according to SMU archaeologist David J. Meltzer and his colleagues in a recent article in the scientific journal Science.

The authors write in “A composite window into human history” that over the past decade, DNA testing of ancient human remains has become a valuable tool for studying and understanding past human population histories.

Most notably, for example, is how sequencing of ancient genomes resolved the dispute over our species’ evolutionary relationship with Neanderthals, the authors point out.

Even so, the authors caution that collaboration with archaeologists is key for scientific accuracy as well as navigating ethical implications.

Archaeologists know from the study of artifacts that it isn’t always the case that people who share material culture traits were likewise part of the same biological population.

“One can have similar traits without relatedness, and relatedness without similarity in traits,” say the authors in the article.

At the same time, where there is biological relatedness, cultural relatedness can’t be assumed, nor can language groups indicate that biological populations, material assemblages or even social units are related.

“Geneticists are often keen to use ancient DNA to understand the causes and mechanisms of demographic and cultural change,” the authors write. “But archaeologists long ago abandoned the idea that migrations or encounters between populations are a necessary or sufficient explanation of cultural change.”

The authors make the point that understanding population movements requires broad investigation of many factors, including environmental and social contexts, timing and logistics, how new resources and landscapes were managed, and the transfer of cultural knowledge.

“Hence, it requires evidence for archaeology, paleoecology and other fields to supplement and complement ancient DNA data,” the authors write. “And that entails effective collaboration, one that goes beyond archaeologists serving as passive sample providers.”

Meltzer is Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in the SMU Department of Anthropology in Dedman College. As a scientist who studies how people first came to inhabit North America, Meltzer in 2009 was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in recognition for his achievements in original scientific research. In 2013 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Co-authors on the perspective piece with Meltzer were Niels N. Johannsen, Aarhus University, Denmark; Greger Larson, University of Oxford; and Marc Vader Linden, University College London.

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The New York Times: Something Strange in Usain Bolt’s Stride

Bolt is the fastest sprinter ever in spite of — or because of? — an uneven stride that upends conventional wisdom.

The New York Times reporter Jeré Longman covered the research of SMU biomechanics expert Peter Weyand and his colleagues Andrew Udofa and Laurence Ryan for a story about Usain Bolt’s apparent asymmetrical running stride.

The article, “Something Strange in Usain Bolt’s Stride,” published July 20, 2017.

The researchers in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory reported in June that world champion sprinter Usain Bolt may have an asymmetrical running gait. While not noticeable to the naked eye, Bolt’s potential asymmetry emerged after the researchers dissected race video to assess his pattern of ground-force application — literally how hard and fast each foot hits the ground. To do so they measured the “impulse” for each foot.

Biomechanics researcher Udofa presented the findings at the 35th International Conference on Biomechanics in Sport in Cologne, Germany. His presentation, “Ground Reaction Forces During Competitive Track Events: A Motion Based Assessment Method,” was delivered June 18.

The analysis thus far suggests that Bolt’s mechanics may vary between his left leg to his right. The existence of an unexpected and potentially significant asymmetry in the fastest human runner ever would help scientists better understand the basis of maximal running speeds. Running experts generally assume asymmetry impairs performance and slows runners down.

Udofa has said the observations raise the immediate scientific question of whether a lack of symmetry represents a personal mechanical optimization that makes Bolt the fastest sprinter ever or exists for reasons yet to be identified.

Weyand, who is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology & Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development, is director of the Locomotor Lab.

An expert on human locomotion and the mechanics of running, Weyand has been widely interviewed about the running controversy surrounding double-amputee South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius. Weyand co-led a team of scientists who are experts in biomechanics and physiology in conducting experiments on Pistorius and the mechanics of his racing ability.

For his most recently published research, Weyand was part of a team that developed a concise approach to understanding the mechanics of human running. The research has immediate application for running performance, injury prevention, rehab and the individualized design of running shoes, orthotics and prostheses. The work integrates classic physics and human anatomy to link the motion of individual runners to their patterns of force application on the ground — during jogging, sprinting and at all speeds in between.

They described the two-mass model earlier this year in the Journal of Experimental Biology in their article, “A general relationship links gait mechanics and running ground reaction forces.” It’s available at bitly, http://bit.ly/2jKUCSq.

The New York Times subscribers or readers with remaining limited free access can read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Jeré Longman
The New York Times

DALLAS — Usain Bolt of Jamaica appeared on a video screen in a white singlet and black tights, sprinting in slow motion through the final half of a 100-meter race. Each stride covered nine feet, his upper body moving up and down almost imperceptibly, his feet striking the track and rising so rapidly that his heels did not touch the ground.

Bolt is the fastest sprinter in history, the world-record holder at 100 and 200 meters and the only person to win both events at three Olympics. Yet as he approaches his 31st birthday and retirement this summer, scientists are still trying to fully understand how Bolt achieved his unprecedented speed.

Last month, researchers here at Southern Methodist University, among the leading experts on the biomechanics of sprinting, said they found something unexpected during video examination of Bolt’s stride: His right leg appears to strike the track with about 13 percent more peak force than his left leg. And with each stride, his left leg remains on the ground about 14 percent longer than his right leg.

This runs counter to conventional wisdom, based on limited science, that an uneven stride tends to slow a runner down.

So the research team at S.M.U.’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory is considering a number of questions as Bolt prepares for what he said would be his final performances at a major international competition — the 100 meters and 4×100-meter relay next month at the world track and field championships in London.

Among those questions: Does evenness of stride matter for speed? Did Bolt optimize this irregularity to become the fastest human? Or, with a more balanced stride during his prime, could he have run even faster than 9.58 seconds at 100 meters and 19.19 seconds at 200 meters?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Peter Weyand, director of the S.M.U. lab.

The S.M.U. study of Bolt, led by Andrew Udofa, a doctoral researcher, is not yet complete. And the effect of asymmetrical strides on speed is still not well understood. But rather than being detrimental for Bolt, the consequences of an uneven stride may actually be beneficial, Weyand said.

It could be that Bolt has naturally settled into his stride to accommodate the effects of scoliosis. The condition curved his spine to the right and made his right leg half an inch shorter than his left, according to his autobiography.

Initial findings from the study were presented last month at an international conference on biomechanics in Cologne, Germany. Most elite sprinters have relatively even strides, but not all. The extent of Bolt’s variability appears to be unusual, Weyand said.

“Our working idea is that he’s probably optimized his speed, and that asymmetry reflects that,” Weyand said. “In other words, correcting his asymmetry would not speed him up and might even slow him down. If he were to run symmetrically, it could be an unnatural gait for him.”

Antti Mero, an exercise physiologist at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, who has researched Bolt’s fastest races, said he was intrigued by the S.M.U. findings.

The New York Times subscribers or readers with remaining limited free access can read the full story.

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People ForWords team named semifinalist in national XPrize competition

SMU’s puzzle-solving smartphone app selected as one of eight to move to next round in $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition

For Corey Clark, deputy director for research in the SMU Guildhall game development program, adult literacy became a personal challenge the moment he learned of its scope. “There are about 600,000 adults in Dallas who have less than a third-grade reading level,” he says. “If we could help 10 percent of those people, that’s 60,000 people who could learn to read proficiently. That makes a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”

This challenge is at the heart of a partnership between Southern Methodist University and Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), and their work has been recognized with a semifinalist position in the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation competition.

The team, People ForWords, includes collaborators from SMU Guildhall, SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development, and LIFT. People ForWords is one of eight teams chosen for the semifinals out of 109 entrants, and the only Texas team to make the cut.

In this global competition, teams develop mobile applications, compatible with smart phone devices, that have the potential to increase literacy skills among adult learners. The solutions discovered through the applications will help reveal and overcome roadblocks in improving adult literacy through providing access, retention, and a scalable product to the public.

As development lead of People ForWords, Clark recruited a cadre of Guildhall-trained artists, programmers and producers via the program’s alumni career portal. The development team came together in March 2016. By October, they had created a beta version of Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis.

As participants in a globe-trotting adventure, English-language learners play as enterprising archaeologists and work to decipher the forgotten language of a lost civilization. As the players solve the puzzles of the Atlantean runes, audible prompts for each letter and sound help them learn the look and feel of written English<, developing and strengthening their own reading skills. Developed for English- and Spanish-speaking adults, but safe for all ages, the game also provides history lessons as it visits real locations around the world. Needs of adult literacy learners very different from other gamers
Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis supports English literacy learners in both English and Spanish. Egypt is the first destination in a planned five-region journey across the globe; in future versions, People ForWords plans to develop additional regions with new gameplay, new characters, and new literacy skills.

An important step in the game design process came with playtesting at LIFT Academy and Dallas’ Jubilee Park community center — where the designers could reach their game’s target audience. They quickly figured out that the needs of adult literacy learners were very different from those of other gamers.

“This was the first time some participants had used a desktop computer,” Clark says. “How do you make a game that’s fun and interactive, yet simple and intuitive enough to be a first experience with technology?”

To find out, Clark collected and analyzed data on game elements such as how long players stuck with a task, how many times they repeated moves, how quickly they progressed, and whether performing the game actions translated into the desired learning outcomes. “First, games have to be fun,” he says. “From story to characters, you want to engage people enough to play over and over again. And this happens to be the exact same process that reinforces learning.”

And as Clark points out, at its core, every game is about learning. “Whether it’s a map, a system or a skill, you learn something new with every move you make,” he says. “And games are safe environments to do that, because they allow you to fail in ways that aren’t overwhelming. They let you keep trying until you succeed.”

Illiteracy plays a factor in poverty
In North Texas, the XPRIZE is more than a competition. According to LIFT, one in five adults in North Texas cannot read, a key factor in poverty. Dallas has the fourth highest concentration of poverty in the nation, with a 41 percent increase from 2000 to 2014.

“This is a dedicated effort by our team to tackle the growing issue of low literacy and poverty in our communities,” according to a People ForWords statement. “Each organization involved in the collaboration brings their expertise to the competition: knowledge in education, adult literacy, and game development. Together these skills have allowed our team to build a functional, fun application that helps improve adult literacy through sharpening reading and writing skills.”

“The faculty at SMU Guildhall bridge the gap between serious academic research and commercial video games,” says Guildhall Director Gary Brubaker. “This environment has allowed our research and development team to yield a product for the XPRIZE adult literacy competition that brings together the creative, entertaining nature of games with the impactful literacy lessons being taught.”

Research plays a large role at SMU Guildhall. Not only are large-scale research endeavors such as the XPRIZE taking place year-round, but research is also incorporated into the curriculum. Independent studies such as student theses explore a vast range of interests within video game development and its global implications and uses. Both current students and alumni are able to put their analytical and research skills to good use by participating as funded research assistants on a myriad of Guildhall’s “games for good” projects.

“Our students greatly benefit from breaking ground with new gaming technologies and expanding their usage into other fields,” said Elizabeth Stringer, Deputy Director of Academics at SMU Guildhall. “Many of our graduates continue to use their game development skills to aid society and further causes for which they are passionate.”

Testing of the eight semifinalists’ literacy software begins in mid-July with 12,000 adults who read English at a third grade level or lower. Selection of up to five finalists will depend on results of post-game testing to evaluate literacy gains among test subjects. Finalists will be named in May 2018, and the winner will be selected in 2019. — Kathleen Tibbetts, SMU

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SMU and LIFT team named one of eight semifinalists for $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPrize

SMU’s “Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis” adult literacy video game is puzzle-solving smartphone game app to help adults develop literacy skills

The SMU and Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) team was named today one of eight semifinalists in the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

The XPRIZE is a global competition that challenges teams to develop mobile applications designed to increase literacy skills in adult learners.

SMU participants include education experts from SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, along with video game developers from SMU Guildhall — a graduate school video game development program. They are working with literacy experts from LIFT to design an engaging, puzzle-solving smartphone app to help adults develop literacy skills. Students from LIFT help test the game.

The SMU and LIFT team, People ForWords, is one of 109 teams who entered the competition in 2016. The team developed “Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis.”

In the game, players become archeologists hunting for relics from the imagined once-great civilization of Atlantis. By deciphering the forgotten language of Atlantis, players develop and strengthen their own reading skills. The game targets English- and Spanish-speaking adults.

Students at LIFT, a North Texas nonprofit adult literacy provider, have tested and provided key insights for the game during its development. According to LIFT, one in five adults in North Texas cannot read, a key factor in poverty. Dallas has the fourth highest concentration of poverty in the nation, with a 41 percent increase from 2000 to 2014. LIFT is one of the largest and most widely respected adult basic education programs in Texas and offers adult basic literacy, GED preparation and English as a Second Language programs with the goal of workforce empowerment.

Testing of the eight semi-finalists’ literacy software begins in mid-July with 12,000 adults who read English at a third grade level or lower. Selection of up to five finalists will depend on results of post-game testing to evaluate literacy gains among test subjects. Finalists will be named in May of 2018 and the winner will be named in 2019. — Nancy George, SMU

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Better than Star Wars: Chemistry discovery yields 3-D table-top objects crafted from light

Photoswitch chemistry allows construction of light shapes into structures that have volume and are viewable from 360 degrees, making them useful for biomedical imaging, teaching, engineering, TV, movies, video games and more

A scientist’s dream of 3-D projections like those he saw years ago in a Star Wars movie has led to new technology for making animated 3-D table-top objects by structuring light.

The new technology uses photoswitch molecules to bring to life 3-D light structures that are viewable from 360 degrees, says chemist Alexander Lippert, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, who led the research.

The economical method for shaping light into an infinite number of volumetric objects would be useful in a variety of fields, from biomedical imaging, education and engineering, to TV, movies, video games and more.

“Our idea was to use chemistry and special photoswitch molecules to make a 3-D display that delivers a 360-degree view,” said Lippert, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Chemistry. “It’s not a hologram, it’s really three-dimensionally structured light.”

Key to the technology is a molecule that switches between non-fluorescent and fluorescent in reaction to the presence or absence of ultraviolet light.

The new technology is not a hologram, and differs from 3-D movies or 3-D computer design. Those are flat displays that use binocular disparity or linear perspective to make objects appear three-dimensional when in fact they only have height and width and lack a true volume profile.

“When you see a 3-D movie, for example, it’s tricking your brain to see 3-D by presenting two different images to each eye,” Lippert said. “Our display is not tricking your brain — we’ve used chemistry to structure light in three actual dimensions, so no tricks, just a real three-dimensional light structure. We call it a 3-D digital light photoactivatable dye display, or 3-D Light Pad for short, and it’s much more like what we see in real life.”

At the heart of the SMU 3-D Light Pad technology is a “photoswitch” molecule, which can switch from colorless to fluorescent when shined with a beam of ultraviolet light.

The researchers discovered a chemical innovation for tuning the photoswitch molecule’s rate of thermal fading — its on-off switch — by adding to it the chemical amine base triethylamine.

Now the sky is the limit for the new SMU 3-D Light Pad technology, given the many possible uses, said Lippert, an expert in fluorescence and chemiluminescence — using chemistry to explore the interaction between light and matter.

For example, conference calls could feel more like face-to-face meetings with volumetric 3-D images projected onto chairs. Construction and manufacturing projects could benefit from rendering them first in 3-D to observe and discuss real-time spatial information. For the military, uses could include tactical 3-D replications of battlefields on land, in the air, under water or even in space.

Volumetric 3-D could also benefit the medical field.

“With real 3-D results of an MRI, radiologists could more readily recognize abnormalities such as cancer,” Lippert said. “I think it would have a significant impact on human health because an actual 3-D image can deliver more information.”

Unlike 3-D printing, volumetric 3-D structured light is easily animated and altered to accommodate a change in design. Also, multiple people can simultaneously view various sides of volumetric display, conceivably making amusement parks, advertising, 3-D movies and 3-D games more lifelike, visually compelling and entertaining.

Lippert and his team in The Lippert Research Group report on the new technology and the discovery that made it possible in the article “A volumetric three-dimensional digital light photoactivatable dye display,” published in the journal Nature Communications.

Some of the 3-D images generated with the new technology are viewable in this video.

Co-authors are Shreya K. Patel, lead author, and Jian Cao, both students in the SMU Department of Chemistry.

Genesis of an idea — cinematic inspiration
The idea to shape light into volumetric animated 3-D objects came from Lippert’s childhood fascination with the movie “Star Wars.” Specifically he was inspired when R2-D2 projects a hologram of Princess Leia. Lippert’s interest continued with the holodeck in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“As a kid I kept trying to think of a way to invent this,” Lippert said. “Then once I got a background in chemistry molecules that interact with light, and an understanding of photoswitches, it finally dawned on me that I could take two beams of light and use chemistry to manipulate the emission of light.”

Key to the new technology was discovering how to turn the chemical photoswitch off and on instantly, and generating light emissions from the intersection of two different light beams in a solution of the photoactivatable dye, he said.

SMU graduate student in chemistry Jian Cao hypothesized the activated photoswitch would turn off quickly by adding the base. He was right.

“The chemical innovation was our discovery that by adding one drop of triethylamine, we could tune the rate of thermal fading so that it instantly goes from a pink solution to a clear solution,” Lippert said. “Without a base, the activation with UV light takes minutes to hours to fade back and turn off, which is a problem if you’re trying to make an image. We wanted the rate of reaction with UV light to be very fast, making it switch on. We also wanted the off-rate to be very fast so the image doesn’t bleed.”

SMU 3-D Light Pad
In choosing among various photoswitch dyes, the researchers settled on N-phenyl spirolactam rhodamines. That particular class of rhodamine dyes was first described in the late 1970s and made use of by Stanford University’s Nobel prize-winning W.E. Moerner.

The dye absorbs light within the visible region, making it appropriate to fluoresce light. Shining it with UV radiation, specifically, triggers a photochemical reaction and forces it to open up and become fluorescent.

Turning off the UV light beam shuts down fluorescence, diminishes light scattering, and makes the reaction reversible — ideal for creating an animated 3-D image that turns on and off.

“Adding triethylamine to switch it off and on quickly was a key chemical discovery that we made,” Lippert said.

To produce a viewable image they still needed a setup to structure the light.

Structuring light in a table-top display
The researchers started with a custom-built, table-top, quartz glass imaging chamber 50 millimeters by 50 millimeters by 50 millimeters to house the photoswitch and to capture light.

Inside they deployed a liquid solvent, dichloromethane, as the matrix in which to dissolve the N-phenyl spirolactam rhodamine, the solid, white crystalline photoswitch dye.

Next they projected patterns into the chamber to structure light in two dimensions. They used an off-the-shelf Digital Light Processing (DLP) projector purchased at Best Buy for beaming visible light.

The DLP projector, which reflects visible light via an array of microscopically tiny mirrors on a semiconductor chip, projected a beam of green light in the shape of a square. For UV light, the researchers shined a series of UV light bars from a specially made 385-nanometer Light-Emitting Diode projector from the opposite side.

Where the light intersected and mixed in the chamber, there was displayed a pattern of two-dimensional squares stacked across the chamber. Optimized filter sets eliminated blue background light and allowed only red light to pass.

To get a static 3-D image, they patterned the light in both directions, with a triangle from the UV and a green triangle from the visible, yielding a pyramid at the intersection, Lippert said.

From there, one of the first animated 3-D images the researchers created was the SMU mascot, Peruna, a racing mustang.

“For Peruna — real-time 3-D animation — SMU undergraduate student Shreya Patel found a way to beam a UV light bar and keep it steady, then project with the green light a movie of the mustang running,” Lippert said.

So long Renaissance
Today’s 3-D images date to the Italian Renaissance and its leading architect and engineer.

“Brunelleschi during his work on the Baptistery of St. John was the first to use the mathematical representation of linear perspective that we now call 3-D. This is how artists used visual tricks to make a 2-D picture look 3-D,” Lippert said. “Parallel lines converge at a vanishing point and give a strong sense of 3-D. It’s a useful trick but it’s striking we’re still using a 500-year-old technique to display 3-D information.”

The SMU 3-D Light Pad technology, patented in 2016, has a number of advantages over contemporary attempts by others to create a volumetric display but that haven’t emerged as commercially viable.

Some of those have been bulky or difficult to align, while others use expensive rare earth metals, or rely on high-powered lasers that are both expensive and somewhat dangerous.

The SMU 3-D Light Pad uses lower light powers, which are not only cheaper but safer. The matrix for the display is also economical, and there are no moving parts to fabricate, maintain or break down.

Lippert and his team fabricated the SMU 3-D Light Pad for under $5,000 through a grant from the SMU University Research Council.

“For a really modest investment we’ve done something that can compete with more expensive $100,000 systems,” Lippert said. “We think we can optimize this and get it down to a couple thousand dollars or even lower.”

Next Gen: SMU 3-D Light Pad 2.0
The resolution quality of a 2-D digital photograph is stated in pixels. The more pixels, the sharper and higher-quality the image. Similarly, 3-D objects are measured in voxels — a pixel but with volume. The current 3-D Light Pad can generate more than 183,000 voxels, and simply scaling the volume size should increase the number of voxels into the millions – equal to the number of mirrors in the DLP micromirror arrays.

For their display, the SMU researchers wanted the highest resolution possible, measured in terms of the minimum spacing between any two of the bars. They achieved 200 microns, which compares favorably to 100 microns for a standard TV display or 200 microns for a projector.

The goal now is to move away from a liquid vat of solvent for the display to a solid cube table display. Optical polymer, for example, would weigh about the same as a TV set. Lippert also toys with the idea of an aerosol display.

The researchers hope to expand from a monochrome red image to true color, based on mixing red, green and blue light. They are working to optimize the optics, graphics engine, lenses, projector technology and photoswitch molecules.

“I think it’s a very fascinating area. Everything we see — all the color we see — arises from the interaction of light with matter,” Lippert said. “The molecules in an object are absorbing a wavelength of light and we see all the rest that’s reflected. So when we see blue, it’s because the object is absorbing all the red light. What’s more, it is actually photoswitch molecules in our eyes that start the process of translating different wavelengths of light into the conscious experience of color. That’s the fundamental chemistry and it builds our entire visual world. Being immersed in chemistry every day — that’s the filter I’m seeing everything through.”

The SMU discovery and new technology, Lippert said, speak to the power of encouraging young children.

“They’re not going to solve all the world’s problems when they’re seven years old,” he said. “But ideas get seeded and if they get nurtured as children grow up they can achieve things we never thought possible.” — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Does symmetry matter for speed? Study finds Usain Bolt may have asymmetrical running gait

A new method for assessing patterns of ground-force application suggests the right and left legs of the world’s fastest man may perform differently, defying current scientific assumptions about running speed.

World champion sprinter Usain Bolt may have an asymmetrical running gait, according to data recently presented by researchers from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

While not noticeable to the naked eye, Bolt’s potential asymmetry emerged after SMU researchers assessed the running mechanics of the world’s fastest man.

The analysis thus far suggests that Bolt’s mechanics may vary between his left leg and his right, said Andrew Udofa, a biomechanics researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory.

The existence of an unexpected and potentially significant asymmetry in the fastest human runner ever would help scientists better understand the basis of maximal running speeds. Running experts generally assume asymmetry impairs performance and slows runners down.

“Our observations raise the immediate scientific question of whether a lack of symmetry represents a personal mechanical optimization that makes Bolt the fastest sprinter ever or exists for reasons yet to be identified,” said Udofa, a member of the research team.

The SMU Locomotor Lab, led by Peter Weyand, focuses on the mechanical basis of human performance. The group includes physicist and engineer Laurence Ryan, an expert in force and motion analysis, and doctoral researcher Udofa.

The intriguing possibility of Bolt’s asymmetry emerged after the SMU researchers decided to assess his pattern of ground-force application — literally how hard and fast each foot hits the ground. To do so they measured the “impulse” for each foot.

Impulse is a combination of the amount of force applied to the ground multiplied by the time of foot-ground contact.

“The manner in which Bolt achieves his impulses seems to vary from leg to leg,” Udofa said. “Both the timing and magnitude of force application differed between legs in the steps we have analyzed so far.”

Impulse matters because that’s what determines a runner’s time in the air between steps.

“If a runner has a smaller impulse, they don’t get as much aerial time,” Weyand said. “Our previous published research has shown greater ground forces delivered in shorter periods of foot-ground contact are necessary to achieve faster speeds. This is true in part because aerial times do not differ between fast and slow runners at their top speeds. Consequently, the combination of greater ground forces and shorter contact times is characteristic of the world’s fastest sprinters.”

The researchers didn’t test Bolt in the SMU lab. Instead, they used a new motion-based method to assess the patterns of ground-force application. They analyzed Bolt and other elite runners using existing high-speed race footage available from NBC Universal Sports. The runners were competing in the 2011 Diamond League race at the World Athletics Championships in Monaco.

Udofa analyzed 20 of Bolt’s steps from the Monaco race, averaging data from 10 left and 10 right.

The researchers relied upon foot-ground contact time, aerial time, running velocity and body mass to determine the ground reaction forces using the new method, made possible by the “two-mass model” of running mechanics.

Runners typically run on a force-instrumented treadmill or force plates for research examining running ground-reaction forces. However, the two-mass model method provides a tool that enables motion-based assessments of ground reaction forces without direct force measurements.

“There are new avenues of research the model may make possible because direct-force measurements are not required,” Weyand said. “These include investigations of the importance of symmetry for sprinting performance. The two-mass model may facilitate the acquisition of data from outside the lab to help us better address these kinds of questions.”

Udofa presented the findings at the 35th International Conference on Biomechanics in Sport in Cologne, Germany. His presentation, “Ground Reaction Forces During Competitive Track Events: A Motion Based Assessment Method,” was delivered June 18.

Two-mass model relies on basic motion data
SMU researchers developed the concise two-mass model as a simplified way to predict the entire pattern of force on the ground — from impact to toe-off — with very basic motion data.

The model integrates classic physics and human anatomy to link the motion of individual runners to their patterns of force on the ground.

It provides accurate predictions of the ground force vs. time patterns throughout each instant of the contact period, regardless of limb mechanics, foot-strike type or running speed.

The two-mass model is substantially less complex than other scientific models that explain patterns of ground force application during running. Most existing models are more elaborate in relying on 14 or more variables, many of which are less clearly linked to the human body.

“The two-mass model provides us with a new tool for assessing the crucial early portion of foot-ground contact that is so important for sprinting performance,” said Udofa. “The model advances our ability to assess the impact-phase force and time relationships from motion data only.”

The two-mass model was developed in SMU’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory by Kenneth P. Clark, now an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University, West Chester, Pa.; Ryan, a physicist and research engineer at SMU’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory; and Weyand.

The researchers described the two-mass model earlier this year in the Journal of Experimental Biology in their article, “A general relationship links gait mechanics and running ground reaction forces.” It’s available at bitly, http://bit.ly/2jKUCSq.

Support for the research came from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

Weyand is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology & Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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SMU chemist wins prestigious NSF Career Award

Alex Lippert’s research uses chemistry to develop affordable, glowing internal imaging techniques

SMU chemist Alex Lippert has received a prestigious National Science Foundation Career Award, expected to total $611,000 over five years, to fund his research into alternative internal imaging techniques.

NSF Career Awards are given to tenure-track faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research in American colleges and universities.

Lippert, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, is an organic chemist and adviser to four doctoral students and five undergraduates who assist in his research.

Lippert’s team develops synthetic organic compounds that glow in reaction to certain conditions. For example, when injected into a mouse’s tumor, the compounds luminesce in response to the cancer’s pH and oxygen levels. Place that mouse in a sealed dark box with a sensitive CCD camera that can detect low levels of light, and images can be captured of the light emanating from the mouse’s tumor.

“We are developing chemiluminescent imaging agents, which basically amounts to a specialized type of glow-stick chemistry,” Lippert says. “We can use this method to image the insides of animals, kind of like an MRI, but much cheaper and easier to do.”

Lippert says the nearest-term application of the technique might be in high-volume pre-clinical animal imaging, but eventually the technique could be applied to provide low-cost internal imaging in the developing world, or less costly imaging in the developed world.

But first, there are still a few ways the technique can be improved, and that’s where Lippert says the grant will come in handy.

“In preliminary studies, we needed to directly inject the compound into the tumor to see the chemistry in the tumor,” Lippert says. “One thing that’s funded by this grant is intravenous injection capability, where you inject a test subject and let the agent distribute through the body, then activate it in the tumor to see it light up.”

Another challenge the team will use the grant to explore is making a compound that varies by color instead of glow intensity when reacting to cancer cells. This will make it easier to read images, which can sometimes be buried under several layers of tissue, making the intensity of the glow difficult to interpret.

“We’re applying the method to tumors now, but you could use similar designs for other types of tissues,” Lippert says. “The current compound reacts to oxygen levels and pH, which are important in cancer biology, but also present in other types of biology, so it can be more wide-ranging than just looking at cancer.”

“This grant is really critical to our ability to continue the research going forward,” Lippert adds. “This will support the reagents and supplies, student stipends, and strengthen our collaboration with UT Southwestern Medical Center. Having that funding secure for five years is really nice because we can now focus our attention on the actual science instead of writing grants. It’s a huge step forward in our research progress.”

Lippert joined SMU in 2012. He was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2009-12, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008 and earned a Bachelor of Science at the California Institute of Technology in 2003.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” NSF is the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. — Kenny Ryan, SMU

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Dallas Innovates: SMU Researchers, Gamers Partner on Cancer Research

Adding the processor power of the network of “Minecraft” gamers could double the amount of computer power devoted to the SMU research project.

Reporter Lance Murray with Dallas Innovates reported on the research of biochemistry professors Pia Vogel and John Wise in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences, and Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall.

The researchers are leading an SMU assault on cancer in partnership with fans of the popular best-selling video game “Minecraft.”

They are partnering with the world’s vast network of gamers in hopes of discovering a new cancer-fighting drug. Vogel and Wise expect deep inroads in their quest to narrow the search for chemical compounds that improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

A boost in computational power by adding crowdsourcing may help the researchers narrow their search.

The Dallas Innovates article, “SMU Researchers, Gamers Partner on Cancer Research,” published June 5, 2017.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Lance Murray
Dallas Innovates

Game developers and researchers at SMU are partnering with a worldwide network of gamers who play the popular game in a crowdsourcing effort to beat the disease.

The project is being led by biochemistry professors Pia Vogel and John Wise of the SMU Department of Biological Sciences, and Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall, the university’s graduate video game development program.

“Crowdsourcing as well as computational power may help us narrow down our search and give us better chances at selecting a drug that will be successful,” Vogel said in a release. “And gamers can take pride in knowing they’ve helped find answers to an important medical problem.”

Vogel and Wise have been utilizing the university’s ManeFrame supercomputer, one of the most powerful academic supercomputers in the country, to sort through millions of compounds that potentially could work in the fight against cancer.

Now, they’re going to try crowdsourced computing.

The researchers believe that the network of gamers will be able to crunch massive amounts of data during routine game play by pooling two weapons — human intuition and the massive computing power of the networked gaming machine processors.

Adding gamers could double processing power
That should more than double the amount of processing power aimed at their research problem.

“If we take a small percentage of the computing power from 25,000 gamers playing our mod we can match ManeFrame’s 120 teraflops of processing power,” said Clark, who is also an adjunct research associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

“Integrating with the ‘Minecraft’ community should allow us to double the computing power of [SMU’s] supercomputer.”

The research labs of Vogel and Wise are part of the Center for Drug Discovery, Design, and Delivery in SMU’s Dedman College, whose mission is a multidisciplinary focus for scientific research that targets medically important problems in human health, the release said.

According to SMU, the research is partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers narrowed a group of compounds that show potential for alleviating the issue of chemotherapy failure after repeated use.

Using gamers in research has happened before
Using human gamers to enhance data-driven research has been done before with success and is a growing practice.

Vogel cited the video game “Foldit.”

Read the full story.

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SMU Guildhall and cancer researchers level up to tap human intuition of video gamers in quest to beat cancer

Massive computational power of online “Minecraft” gaming community bests supercomputers

Video gamers have the power to beat cancer, according to cancer researchers and video game developers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

SMU researchers and game developers are partnering with the world’s vast network of gamers in hopes of discovering a new cancer-fighting drug.

Biochemistry professors Pia Vogel and John Wise in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences, and Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall, are leading the SMU assault on cancer in partnership with fans of the popular best-selling video game “Minecraft.”

Vogel and Wise expect deep inroads in their quest to narrow the search for chemical compounds that improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

“Crowdsourcing as well as computational power may help us narrow down our search and give us better chances at selecting a drug that will be successful,” said Vogel. “And gamers can take pride in knowing they’ve helped find answers to an important medical problem.”

Up to now, Wise and Vogel have tapped the high performance computing power of SMU’s Maneframe, one of the most powerful academic supercomputers in the nation. With ManeFrame, Wise and Vogel have sorted through millions of compounds that have the potential to work. Now, the biochemists say, it’s time to take that research to the next level — crowdsourced computing.

A network of gamers can crunch massive amounts of data during routine gameplay by pairing two powerful weapons: the best of human intuition combined with the massive computing power of networked gaming machine processors.

Taking their research to the gaming community will more than double the amount of machine processing power attacking their research problem.

“With the distributed computing of the actual game clients, we can theoretically have much more computing power than even the supercomputer here at SMU,” said Clark, also adjunct research associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. SMU Guildhall in March was named No. 1 among the Top 25 Top Graduate Schools for Video Game Design by The Princeton Review.

“If we take a small percentage of the computing power from 25,000 gamers playing our mod we can match ManeFrame’s 120 teraflops of processing power,” Clark said. “Integrating with the ‘Minecraft’ community should allow us to double the computing power of that supercomputer.”

Even more importantly, the gaming community adds another important component — human intuition.

Wise believes there’s a lot of brainpower eager to be tapped in the gaming community. And human brains, when tackling a problem or faced with a challenge, can make creative and intuitive leaps that machines can’t.

“What if we learn things that we never would have learned any other way? And even if it doesn’t work it’s still a good idea and the kids will still get their endorphin kicks playing the game,” Wise said. “It also raises awareness of the research. Gamers will be saying ‘Mom don’t tell me to go to bed, I’m doing scientific research.”

The Vogel and Wise research labs are part of the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery (CD4) in SMU’s Dedman College. The center’s mission is a novel multi-disciplinary focus for scientific research targeting medically important problems in human health. Their research is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

The research question in play
Vogel and Wise have narrowed a group of compounds that show promise for alleviating the problem of chemotherapy failure after repeated use. Each one of those compounds has 50 to 100 — or even more — characteristics that contribute to their efficacy.

“Corey’s contribution will hopefully tell us which dozen perhaps of these 100 characteristics are the important ones,” Vogel said. “Right now of those 100 characteristics, we don’t know which ones are good ones. We want to see if there’s a way with what we learn from Corey’s gaming system to then apply what we learn to millions of other compounds to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

James McCormick — a fifth year Ph.D. student in cellular molecular biology who earned his doctoral degree this spring and is a researcher with the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery — produced the data set for Clark and Guildhall.

Lauren Ammerman, a first-year Ph.D. student in cellular and molecular biology and also working in the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery, is taking up the computational part of the project.

Machines can learn from human problem solving
Crowdsourcing video gamers to solve real scientific problems is a growing practice.

Machine learning and algorithms by themselves don’t always find the best solution, Clark said. There are already examples of researchers who for years sought answers with machine learning, then switched to actual human gamers.

Gamers take unstructured data and attack it with human problem-solving skills to quickly find an answer.

“So we’re combining both,” Clark said. “We’re going to have both computers and humans trying to find relationships and clustering the data. Each of those human decisions will also be supplied as training input into a deep neural network that is learning the ‘human heuristic’ — the technique and processes humans are using to make their decisions.”

Gamers already have proven they can solve research problems that have stymied scientists, says Vogel. She cites the video game “Foldit” created by the University of Washington specifically to unlock the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme.

Some other Games With A Purpose, as they’re called, have produced similar results. Humans outperform computers when it comes to tasks in the computational process that are particularly suited to the human intellect.

“With ‘Foldit,’ researchers worked on a problem for 15 years using machine learning techniques and were unable to find a solution,” Clark said. “Once they created the game, 57,000 players found a solution in three weeks.”

Modifying the “Minecraft” game and embedding research data inside
Gamers will access the research problem using the version of “Minecraft” they purchased, then install a “mod” or “plugin” — gamer jargon for modifying game code to expand a game’s possibilities — that incorporates SMUs research problem and was developed in accordance with “Minecraft” terms of service. Players will be fully aware of their role in the research, including ultimately leaderboards that show where players rank toward analyzing the data set in the research problem.

SMU is partnering with leaders in the large “Minecraft” modding community to develop a functioning mod by the end of 2017. The game will be heavily tested before release to the public the second quarter of 2018, Clark said.

The SMU “Minecraft” mod will incorporate a data processing and distributed computing platform from game technology company Balanced Media Technology (BMT), McKinney, Texas. BMT’s HEWMEN software platform executes machine-learning algorithms coupled with human guided interactions. It will integrate Wise and Vogel’s research directly into the SMU “Minecraft” mod.

SMU Guildhall will provide the interface enabling modders to develop their own custom game mechanic that visualizes and interacts with the research problem data within the “Minecraft” game environment. Guildhall research is funded in part by Balanced Media Technology.

“We expect to have over 25,000 people continuously online during our testing period,” Clark said. “That should probably double the computing power of the supercomputer here.”

That many players and that much computing power is a massive resource attacking the research problem, Wise said.

“The SMU computational system has 8,000 computer cores. Even if I had all of ManeFrame to myself, that’s still less computing and brainpower than the gaming community,” he said. “Here we’ve got more than 25,000 different brains at once. So even if 24,000 don’t find an answer, there are maybe 1,000 geniuses playing ‘Minecraft’ that may find a solution. This is the most creative thing I’ve heard in a long time.” — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Nation’s electric grid — a complex mathematical system — is dramatically changing

Deregulation of the U.S. electric markets, the emergence of renewable sources of energy and new technologies means there are large risks to the grid.

Our nation’s electric grid is changing dramatically due to deregulation of electric markets, the introduction of renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power, and the emergence of new technologies such as the smart grid and electric cars, according to Barry Lee, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

“Such changes can lead to large risks in the grid, which are not very well understood,” said Lee, whose research addresses the issue.

The electric power grid is a complex mathematical system. In fact, some components of the emergent grid (for example, faster than real-time analysis of enormous amounts of collected data) have yet to be mathematically formulated, according to Lee in a report to the National Science Foundation. Collaboration between power grid engineers and mathematicians/statisticians will be beneficial for the design of low-risk, highly resilient systems.

Lee’s research goal is to mathematically analyze the stability and the effects of stochasticity — randomness created by renewable energy and new technologies — in the emerging power grid.

“I’m analyzing the mathematical equations governing the power grid, and modifications to them to handle the emerging grid, and developing computational algorithms to permit fast and accurate numerical simulations,” he said.

Lee collaborates on a grant project at the non-profit Argonne National Laboratory, Multifaceted Mathematics for Complex Energy Systems, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research. Argonne is operated by the University of Chicago for the DOE.

He and other mathematics researchers presented in February at the University of Wisconsin about the progress they’ve made over the past four years to address the power grid challenge.

“One of the problems in modeling power grids is the large number of equations that must be solved, and solved almost at real time, to react quickly enough to ameliorate instabilities of the power flow,” said Lee, who co-authored a 2014 DOE IEEE paper On the Configuration of the US Western Interconnection Voltage Stability Boundary.

To tackle that job, the Department of Energy is drawing on a broad range of research scientists from three Department of Energy labs and numerous universities, including SMU’s Lee.

His DOE presentation in February focused on model-reduction.

“The goal is to mathematically analyze and develop mathematical algorithms for solving power grid problems,” Lee said. “The idea is to take these large systems of equations, which model the physics, and reduce them to a much smaller size, for example from 10,000 equations to 500, but to do this in a systematic way in order to retain the physics in the smaller system. I presented a mathematical way to systematically derive these reduced models, based on stability conditions that must be preserved.”

Collaboration will be beneficial
Changes in the grid will affect the quality of delivered electric power to the consumer and will pose new risks and alter the resiliency of the power grid system. To understand and mitigate these risks and to strengthen the resiliency, mathematical and statistical techniques will be invaluable, according to National Science Foundation officials. The NSF brought together mathematicians and statisticians in 2015 for a workshop on the challenges to the electric grid.

Lee co-organized a 2015 NSF workshop and accompanying report on the issue: Risk and Resiliency of the Electric Power Grid: Mathematical and Statistical Challenges.

“Collaboration between power grid engineers and mathematicians/statisticians will be beneficial for the design of low-risk, highly resilient systems,” Lee and his co-author concluded.

Lee collaborates with mathematicians, engineers and physicists at the Lawrence Livermore, Pacific Northwest, and Argonne National Laboratories. For the past 15 years he has been affiliated with several Department of Energy national laboratories.

His research focuses on the mathematical modeling, numerical algorithmic development and scientific computing of large-scale industrial and laboratory applications. The NSF has featured Lee in an article about NSF-funded research on the grid:

Lee realizes that the power grid of today and the emerging grid of the future will be far different from those in 1965, and with those changes come new vulnerabilities. “One of the biggest vulnerabilities arises from instability of the grid. Moreover, a more recent vulnerability is cybersecurity because the power grid is online,” he said. […]

[…] Lee’s NSF-funded mathematical research develops models that include large systems of equations describing the angles and voltage magnitudes in the flow of electricity. By introducing cutting-edge mathematics and new algorithms to collaborating power engineers, he’s able to help them better prepare for potential surges and system ruptures and maintain a stable power grid.
Click to read the full NSF article.

Central to Lee’s research is development of schemes that deliver optimal computational efficiency on serial and large-scale parallel computer platforms. Thus, an essential component of his research is computational linear algebra, particularly scalable multigrid and multilevel methods.

His current research interests include efficient methods for the Boltzmann transport equation (neutron/photon transport), Maxwell equations (fusion), equations of elasticity (structural designs), general coupled systems of elliptic partial differential equations (multi-physics and uncertainty quantification), and large systems of algebraic-differential equations (electric power grid networks).

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D Magazine Dallas Innovates: SMU Students Taking Wireless Vehicle Tech to the Streets

Researchers at Southern Methodist University are putting many Smart Car/Smart City theories to real-world tests.

Reporter Dave Moore with Dallas Innovates covered the research of Khaled Abdelghany in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of the SMU Lyle School of Engineering. Abdelghany is an associate professor and chair of the department.

His research focuses on advanced traffic management systems, intermodal transportation networks, airlines scheduling and irregular operations, and crowd dynamics. The article, “SMU Students Taking Wireless Vehicle Tech to the Streets,” published Jan. 18, 2017.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Dave Moore
Dallas Innovates

In urban areas, trips by cars and trucks are often unpleasant (and all-too-familiar) adventures in avoiding accidents, potholes, construction zones, and other drivers.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University are developing technologies that allow vehicles, traffic signals, and even construction signs to share information, to reduce unwanted surprises and drama on roadways.

While what Khaled Abdelghany and his team of researchers is up to sounds incredibly complex (because it is), the net result might lead drivers to do something as simple as stopping for a cup of coffee instead of sitting in traffic caused by an accident.

“With the information we’ve been collecting, perhaps someday, you will receive a message in your car that says ‘There’s congestion ahead; why don’t you stop and get a Starbucks?’ ” said Abdelghany, an associate professor in SMU’s Lyle Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

Abdelghany is working on the project with four students in his department, and is collaborating with Dinesh Rajan and Joseph Camp, who are professors in SMU’s Lyle Electrical Engineering Department.

RESOLVING URBAN PROBLEMS WITH SMART TECH
Their research is part of a larger initiative to resolve long-standing urban problems.

SMU, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of Texas at Arlington are taking part in a nationwide effort — called MetroLab Network — to solve lingering urban problems by pairing university researchers with cities and counties seeking solutions.

Launched by the White House in 2015, the MetroLab Network includes 34 cities, three counties, and 44 universities, organized into 30 regional city-university partnerships.

The Texas Research Alliance is coordinating research efforts locally. The resulting technology developed in North Texas is intended to be deployed at some point in Downtown Dallas’ West End, and, perhaps, scaled regionally or nationwide.

Abdelghany and his students chose to tackle the problem of traffic congestion for their MetroLab project in part because they had already been working on various iterations of the issue.

Over the past several years, Abdelghany has collected Dallas-area traffic data, for purposes of predicting future traffic jams, and to help develop strategies for routing traffic around tie-ups when they happen.

Read the full story.

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Evidence of first chief indicates Pacific islanders invented a new society on city they built of coral and basalt

New analysis of chief’s tomb suggests island’s monumental structures are earliest evidence of chiefdom in Pacific — yielding new keys to how societies emerge and evolve

New dating on the stone buildings of Nan Madol suggests the ancient coral reef capital in the Pacific Ocean was the earliest among the islands to be ruled by a single chief.

The discovery makes Nan Madol a key locale for studying how ancient human societies evolved from simple societies to more complex societies, said archaeologist Mark D. McCoy, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. McCoy led the discovery team.

The finding was uncovered as part of a National Geographic expedition to study the monumental tomb said to belong to the first chief of the island of Pohnpei.

McCoy deployed uranium series dating to determine that when the tomb was built it was one-of-a-kind, making it the first monumental scaled burial site on the remote islands of the Pacific.

The discovery enables archaeologists to study more precisely how societies transform to more and more complex and hierarchical systems, said McCoy, an expert in landscape archaeology and monumental architecture and ideology in the Pacific Islands.

“The kind of society that we live in today, it wasn’t born last year, or even 100 years ago,” McCoy said. “It has its roots in a pre-modern era like Nan Madol where you have a king or chief. These islanders invented a new kind of society — that is a socially creative achievement. The idea of chiefs, someone in charge, is not a new thing, but it’s an extremely important precursor. We know tribes and bands predate chiefdoms and states. But it’s not a straight line. By looking at these intermediate stages we get insight into that social phenomenon.”

The analysis is the first time uranium-thorium series dating, which is significantly more precise than previously used radiocarbon dating, was deployed to calculate the age of the stone buildings that make up the famous site of Nan Madol (pronounced Nehn Muh-DOLL) – the former capital of the island of Pohnpei.

“The thing that makes this case special is Nan Madol happened in isolation, it happened very recently, and we have multiple lines of evidence, including oral histories to support the analysis,” McCoy said. ”And because it’s an island we can be much more specific about the natural resources, the population, all the things that are more difficult when people are on a continent and all connected. So we can understand it with a lot more precision.”

Nan Madol, which UNESCO this year named a World Heritage Site, was previously dated as being established in A.D. 1300. McCoy’s team narrowed that to just a 20-year window more than 100 years earlier, from 1180 to 1200.

The finding pushes back even earlier the establishment of the powerful dynasty of Saudeleur chiefs who asserted authority over the island society for more than 1,000 years.

First chief was buried in Pohnpei tomb by A.D. 1200
An ancient city built atop a coral reef, Nan Madol has been uninhabited for centuries now. Located in the northwestern Pacific on the remote island of Pohnpei, it’s accessible via a 10-hour flight from Hawaii interspersed with short hops from atoll to atoll, including a stop at a U.S. military installation. Nan Madol is the largest archaeological site in Micronesia, a group of islands in the Caroline Archipelago of Oceania.

Uranium dating indicates that by 1180, massive stones were being transported from a volcanic plug on the opposite side of the island for construction of the tomb. And by 1200, the burial vault had its first internment, the island’s chief.

Construction of monumental buildings followed over the next several centuries on other islands not in the Saudeleur Dynasty across Oceania.

McCoy, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Anthropology, and his team reported their discovery in the journal Quaternary Research in “Earliest direct evidence of monument building at the archaeological site of Nan Madol identified using 230Th/U coral dating and geochemical sourcing of megalithic architectural stone.”

Co-authors include Helen A. Alderson, University of Cambridge, U.K., Richard Hemi, University of Otago, New Zealand, Hai Cheng, Xi’an Jiaotong University, China, and R. Lawrence Edwards, University of Minnesota.

An inactive volcano that hasn’t erupted in at least one million years, Pohnpei Island is much larger than its neighboring atolls at 128 square miles (334 square kilometers), making it about the physical size of Columbia, S.C.

Now part of the 607-island nation of the Federated States of Micronesia, Pohnpei Island and its nearby atolls have a population of 34,000.

Pohnpei monument indicates invention of a new kind of society
How Nan Madol was built remains an engineering mystery, much like Egypt’s Pyramids.

“It’s a fair comparison to the Pyramids, because the construction, like the Pyramids, didn’t help anyone — it didn’t help society be fairer, or to grow crops or to provide any social good. It’s just a really big place to put a dead person,” McCoy said.

It’s important to document such things, he said, because this architectural wonder indicates that independently of Egypt, another group of people put effort into building a monument.

“And we think that’s associated with the invention of a new kind of society, a new kind of chiefdom that ruled the entire island,” McCoy said.

Unlike Egypt and the Pyramids however, Nan Madol was invented much more recently in the big story of human prehistory, he said.

“At A.D. 1200 there are universities in Europe. The Romans had come and gone. The Egyptians had come and gone,” he said. “But when you’re looking at Pohnpei, it’s very recent, so we still have the oral histories of the descendants of the people who built Nan Madol. There’s evidence that you just don’t have elsewhere.”

Monumental city built of coral and stone
Pohnpei was originally settled in A.D. 1 by islanders from the Solomon or Vanuatu island groups. According to local oral history, the Saudeleur Dynasty is estimated to have begun its rule around 1160 by counting back generations from the modern day.

To build the tomb and other structures, naturally formed boulders of basalt, each weighing tons, were somehow transported far from existing quarries on the other side of the island to a lagoon overgrown with mangrove and stretching across 205 acres (83 hectares).

The basalt blocks formed when hot lava cooled and adopted the shape of long, column-shaped boulders and cobbles. Formed from 1 million to 8 million years ago, they came from a number of possible quarry locations on the island.

The city’s stone structures were built atop 98 shallow artificial coral reef islets, each one built by the Saudeleur people. The structures were constructed about three feet above waterline by laying down framing stones, filling the void between them with crushed coral, then laying up double parallel walls and again filling the gap between with crushed coral. The islets are separated by tidal canals and protected from the ocean by 12 sea walls, making Nan Madol what many consider the Venice of the Pacific.

“The structures are very cleverly built,” said McCoy. “We think of coral as precious, but for the architects of Nan Madol it was a building material. They were on a little island surrounded by huge amounts of coral reef that grows really quickly in this environment, so they could paddle out at low tide and mine the coral by smashing some off and breaking it up into rubble.”

The largest and most elaborate architecture in the city is the tomb of the first Saudeleur, measuring 262 feet by 196 feet (80 meters by 60 meters), basically the size of a football field. It is more than 26 feet (8 meters) tall, with exterior walls about six feet to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 meters) thick. A maze of walls and interior walkways, it includes an underground crypt capped with basalt.

“The architecture is meant to be extremely impressive, and it is,” McCoy said. “The structures were built to last — this is one of the rainiest places on earth, so it can be muddy and slippery and wet, but these islets on the coral reef are very stable.”

Portable X-ray technology provides clue to source of megalithic stones
McCoy and his team used portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to geochemically match the columnar-shaped basalt stones to natural sources on the island. The uranium-thorium technique calculates a date based on characteristics of the radioactive isotope thorium-230 and its radioactive parent uranium-234.

That enabled them to determine the construction chronology of a tomb that oral histories identify as the resting place of the first chief to rule the entire island.

“We used an X-ray gun, which looks like a 1950s-styled ray gun,” McCoy said. “It allows you — at a distance and without destroying the thing you’re interested in — to bounce X-rays off it and work out what the chemistry is. The mobile technology has gotten much more affordable, making this kind of study feasible.”

Using uranium series dating on coral emerged in the last decade. Accuracy — superior to radiocarbon — is plus or minus a few years of when the coral died. A very good radiocarbon date only will get within 100 years.

“That’s a monumental shift in terms of the precision with which we talk about things,” McCoy said. “If Nan Madol had not been made of the kind of stone we could source, if the architects hadn’t chosen to use coral, we wouldn’t have been able to get this date. So it’s a happy coincidence that the evidence at the site came together.”

McCoy suggests that future research look at finding the cause for this major turning point on Pohnpei, and what sparked this new hierarchy of rule and monumental building in this society. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Students grasp abstract math concepts after they demonstrate them with arm motions

Video game that directs students to make arm movements fosters understanding for proving complex geometry theorems

Students who make relevant arm movements while learning can improve their knowledge and retention of math, research has shown.

Now researchers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a model using geometry proofs that shows potential for wide adoption — a video game in which students make movements with their arms to learn abstract math concepts.

The research is the first to use widely available technology combined with relevant body gestures and apply it to the learning of complex reasoning in a highly conceptual, pre-college math domain — geometric proof production.

“When they’re doing geometry, students and teachers gesture all the time to show shapes, lines, and relationships, and the research suggests this is very beneficial,” said teaching expert Candace Walkington, assistant professor of teaching and learning in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development.

“Our goal is to create an environment that supports students in making motions that help them understand the math better, Walkington said.”

Walkington and educational psychology professors Mitchell Nathan and Peter Steiner, University of Wisconsin-Madison are collaborating on the project with SMU Guildhall, SMU’s graduate-level academic program for digital game-development.

The researchers have been awarded a four-year $1.39 million grant for their work from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences, Educational Research Grants.

“Much of math education is about learning rules and procedures. Geometry proof is different,” said Nathan, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Students have to learn how to think conceptually about why certain statements about shapes are true, how they are always true, for all members of a class of shapes, and how to explain it to others so they are convincing. We think that level of mathematical understanding is embodied.”

Emerging research is investigating the theory that our body actions can actually influence our thoughts, in addition to our thoughts driving our actions. Body movement can induce new activity in our neural systems. This activity can create and influence our learning, thinking and mental organization. This mind-body partnership, dubbed “embodied cognition,” is driving new approaches to learning subjects such as math.

“What is so exciting about this geometry research project is that it shows how theories of embodied cognition are becoming mature enough to start to develop a whole new class of educational technology that we can envision as part of everyday math classrooms in the near term,” Nathan said.

Video game fosters learning by pairing gestures with geometry proofs
At the heart of the new study is the video game “The Hidden Village.” A motion-capture video game, “The Hidden Village” helps foster learning by pairing motions with geometry proofs. Designed for a Windows PC computer with Microsoft’s Kinect 2 motion-capture camera attached, the game’s signature design element is an episodic story paired with directives for arm movements.

Each episode leads a student to perform certain motions with their arms, correlating those with questions and answers related to proofs of geometry theorems.

To begin, a student stands in front of the Kinect camera. The camera detects the student, then calibrates to each student’s body shape, size and movement, familiarizing itself with the student.

When play begins, the camera and software detect movements in real time and provide feedback about whether the students are appropriately matching the motions.

A demo of the latest version of the video game is available on Youtube, with an explanatory video at this link.

Directed body motions can improve proving of theorems
The previous version of the game was tested at a high school in Dallas in February with positive results. The researchers are presenting those results in early November at the Psychology of Mathematics Education conference in Tucson, Arizona.

Preliminary findings showed students liked learning in the video game format, and benefited when they were encouraged to think about how their body motions related to the geometric proofs.

“High school students really struggle to learn proof in geometry, and often their initial performance on these proofs is very low,” said Walkington, who specializes in math education and connecting it to students’ concrete everyday experiences. “However, making and thinking through the motions from the game, they’re given a new resource with which to think about the problems.”

Recent research led by Nathan found that directed body motions can lead to improvements in geometry theorem proving even when students claim no awareness of the relevance of the actions to the mathematical tasks. Research has also found that verbal prompts from a teacher to connect the actions to mathematical ideas further improve student proof practices.

The new grant, “How dynamic gestures and directed actions contribute to mathematical proof practices,” runs from July 2016 through June 2020. — Margaret Allen, SMU

Follow SMU Research on Twitter, @smuresearch.

For more SMU research see www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information, www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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KERA News: Near Wink, Texas, The Sink Holes Are Getting Bigger And Bigger

“’We could have another sink hole or two or 10 someday show up,’” (Winkler County Sheriff George) Keely says. In fact, the SMU researchers used satellite imaging to show the problem is getting worse.”

KERA public radio news covered the research of SMU geophysicists Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, both in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU.

KERA’s article, “Near Wink, Texas, The Sink Holes Are Getting Bigger And Bigger,” aired June 28, 2016.

The Dedman College faculty are co-authors of a new analysis using satellite radar images to reveal ground movement of two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas. They found that the movement suggests the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate.

Lu is world-renowned for leading scientists in InSAR applications, short for a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, to detect surface changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

Lu is a member of the Science Definition Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO InSAR mission, set for launch in 2020 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A. Sentinel-1A was launched in April 2014 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

Lu and Kim reported the findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.”

The research was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

KERA Public Radio News
The earth is crumbling in West Texas. Scientists from Southern Methodist University have new research that shows two massive sinkholes between the towns of Wink and Kermit are expanding.

Years of drilling for oil and gas have helped wash away salt beds underneath the ground. A shifting water table has made the problem worse and in some places the ground is sinking five inches a year, according to the satellite readings.

Now there’s concern the pits could converge into one giant hole. “A collapse could be catastrophic,” SMU research scientist Jin-Woo Kim said.

These wounds in the West Texas desert have been around for years. The first hole opened up near an abandoned oil well on June 3, 1980. Twenty-two years later, about a mile away, the second one appeared. From the sky, they look like high-caliber bullet holes

“It’s pretty scary. It’s just a big huge pit,” said Winkler County Sheriff George Keely, who has peered over the edge many times in his career. “It’s like standing on the moon looking into a crater. And you can see where it’s just caved off. It’s broken off over the years more and more. When you look down there, you’re looking at water.”

Water is the problem. West Texas, not far from Odessa, is oil country. Drillers started working near

Wink in the mid-1920s. For decades, they injected water into the ground and destabilized the earth, according to the researchers. Meanwhile, as the water table shrinks, thick layers of salt are dissolved far below the surface.

It’s like kicking the legs out from underneath a chair.

Read the full story.

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Seeker.com: Giant Sinkholes Near Texas Oil Fields Are Growing

New holes are also developing to join them, a satellite study shows.

Wink sinkholes

Online news site Seeker.com covered the research of SMU geophysicists Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, both in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. Seeker.com’s article, “Giant Sinkholes Near Texas Oil Fields Are Growing,” published June 16, 2016.

The Dedman College geophysicists are co-authors of a new analysis using satellite radar images to reveal ground movement of two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas. They found that the movement suggests the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate.

Lu is world-renowned for leading scientists in InSAR applications, short for a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, to detect surface changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Lu is a member of the Science Definition Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO InSAR mission, set for launch in 2020 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A. Sentinel-1A was launched in April 2014 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

Lu and Kim reported the findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.”

The research was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

Seeker.com
In west Texas, they call them the “Wink Sinks.” They’re two giant sinkholes between the towns of Wink and Kermit, the after-affect of a lot of oil being pumped out of the ground in the area more than 60 years ago. And now researchers have discovered that the oddball landmarks — already the size of multiple football fields — are unstable and likely to grow even bigger.

Southern Methodist University geophysicists utilized a time series of radar images captured by an orbiting satellite 435 miles overhead to study the sinkholes. They used a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR, to detect changes that aren’t visible to a person at ground level.

Their study, published in the journal Remote Sensing, found that the extent of subsidence in the area has increased significantly over the past seven years, and that the instability originally caused by oil drilling now is being driven by changing groundwater levels.

As the groundwater increases, it dissolves a massive underground salt formation in the area, which then causes the ground to sink.

That’s a problem, because the Wink Sinks already are pretty big. Wink Sink No. 1, which is closer to the town of Kermit, has grown since 1980 to 361 feet across. Wink Sink No. 2, which is nine-tenths of a mile to the south, is about 900 feet across at its widest point.

But to make matters worse, other parts of the area around the sinkholes is sinking as well. The highest rate of ground subsidence is in an area about seven-tenths of a mile northeast of No. 2, which is collapsing at a rate of more than 5 inches per year.

“This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities,” research scientist Jin-Woo Kim, who co-authored the study with SMU professor Zhong Lu, explained in a press release. He explained that a more massive collapse “could be catastrophic.”

Read the full story.

Follow SMU Research on Twitter, @smuresearch.

For more SMU research see www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information, www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Star-Telegram: Two giant sinkholes in West Texas expanding, researchers say

“They’re a ways off from the highway; if nobody mentions it, then nobody is interested in it,” Kermit City Manager Gloria Saenz told the New York Daily News.

Wink sinkholes

Fort Worth Star-Telegram journalist Tom Uhler covered the research of SMU geophysicists Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, both in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. Uhler’s article, “Two giant sinkholes in West Texas expanding, researchers say,” published June 16, 2016.

The Dedman College geophysicists are co-authors of a new analysis using satellite radar images to reveal ground movement of two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas. They found that the movement suggests the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate.

Lu is world-renowned for leading scientists in InSAR applications, short for a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, to detect surface changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Lu is a member of the Science Definition Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO InSAR mission, set for launch in 2020 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A. Sentinel-1A was launched in April 2014 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

Lu and Kim reported the findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.”

The research was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Tom Uhler
Star-Telegram

A couple of giant sinkholes in the West Texas oil patch are apparently expanding, and might eventually converge into one gigantic hole.

The sinkholes are about a mile apart and sit between Wink and Kermit off I-20 west of Midland-Odessa. They were caused by lots of oil and gas extraction, which peaked from the mid-1920s to the mid-1960s, according to researchers at Southern Methodist University.

Satellite radar images indicate that the giant sinkholes are expanding and that new ones are forming “at an alarming rate” as nearby subsidence occurs, they report in the scientific journal Remote Sensing. One is 361 feet across, about the size of a football field; the other is larger, 670 to 900 feet across.

“A collapse could be catastrophic,” said geophysicist Jin-Woo Kim, who leads the SMU geophysical team reporting the findings.

In addition to Wink and Kermit (combined pop. about 7,000), there’s lots of oil and gas production equipment and installations and hazardous liquid pipelines in the area, Kim said in the report. The fresh water injected underground in the extraction process “can dissolve the interbedded salt layers and accelerate the sinkhole collapse.”

There’s something not too dissimilar happening in Daisetta, east of Houston.

Officials have fenced off the area around the sinkholes between Wink and Kermit and they’ll be monitored, but residents don’t appear to be worried about them.

“They’re a ways off from the highway; if nobody mentions it, then nobody is interested in it,” Kermit City Manager Gloria Saenz told the New York Daily News.

A preacher of the Apocalypse from Indiana had a decidedly different take, exclaiming on YouTube: “Here’s my concern. It’s like hell is being enlarged, and that without measure.”

Well, maybe not quite.

Read the full story.

Follow SMU Research on Twitter, @smuresearch.

For more SMU research see www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information, www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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New York Daily News: Giant sinkholes in Texas are growing, may collide: study

The sinkholes are a little less than a mile apart, but that distance is closing as the land directly around both holes subsides about 2 inches each year.

Wink sinkholes

New York Daily News journalist Anthony Izaguirre covered the research of SMU geophysicists Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, both in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. Izaguirre’s article, “Giant sinkholes in Texas are growing, may collide: study,” published June 16, 2016.

The Dedman College geophysicists are co-authors of a new analysis using satellite radar images to reveal ground movement of two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas. They found that the movement suggests the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate.

Lu is world-renowned for leading scientists in InSAR applications, short for a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, to detect surface changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Lu is a member of the Science Definition Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO InSAR mission, set for launch in 2020 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A. Sentinel-1A was launched in April 2014 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

Lu and Kim reported the findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.”

The research was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Anthony Izaguirre
New York Daily News

Two massive, rapidly expanding sinkholes in Texas are at risk of collapsing into each other and causing a “catastrophic” natural disaster, scientists warned.

Geophysicists at Southern Methodist University found that the land around the gaping sinkholes between the west Texas towns of Wink and Kermit is deteriorating — which could end up either forming more holes or creating one giant sinkhole.

These sinkholes, which were caused by the area’s oil and gas extraction industries, are nothing new to Texas residents.

The first hole, Wink Sink #1, opened up in 1980 and is currently about as wide as a football field.

Wink Sink #2, the larger of the two holes, opened in 2002 and stretches for 900 feet at its widest point.

The sinkholes are a little less than a mile apart, but that distance is closing as the land directly around both holes subsides about 2 inches each year.

“This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities,” Jin-Woo Kim, a coauthor of the report, said in a statement. “A collapse could be catastrophic.”

Read the full story.

Follow SMU Research on Twitter, @smuresearch.

For more SMU research see www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information, www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Daily Mail: The two massive and mysterious Texas sinkholes on the verge of creating one colossal lake

‘A collapse could be catastrophic. Following our study, we are collecting more high-resolution satellite data over the sinkholes and neighboring regions to monitor further development and collapse.’

Wink sinkholes

London Daily Mail online journalist Ashley Collman covered the research of SMU geophysicists Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, both in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. Collman’s article, “The two massive and mysterious Texas sinkholes on the verge of creating one colossal lake,” published June 16, 2016.

The Dedman College researchers are co-authors of a new analysis using satellite radar images to reveal ground movement of two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas. They found that the movement suggests the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate.

Lu is world-renowned for leading scientists in InSAR applications, short for a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, to detect surface changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Lu is a member of the Science Definition Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO InSAR mission, set for launch in 2020 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A. Sentinel-1A was launched in April 2014 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

Lu and Kim reported the findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.”

The research was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Ashley Collman
London Daily Mail

Scientists have issued a grave warning to a small Texas community home to two growing sinkholes.

Geologists at Southern Methodist University say the two sinkholes in Wink and neighboring Kermit, Texas are growing more unstable, and could spark more sinkholes or join to create one massive hole.

This will prove devastating to the local community, which has a combined population of almost 7,000.

SMU researchers Zhong Lu and Jin-Woo Kim recently published their sober warning in a recent article in the journal Remote Sensing.

‘This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities. The intrusion of freshwater to underground can dissolve the interbedded salt layers and accelerate the sinkhole collapse,’ co-author Kim said in a press release.

‘A collapse could be catastrophic. Following our study, we are collecting more high-resolution satellite data over the sinkholes and neighboring regions to monitor further development and collapse.’

Lu and Kim discovered that the two holes were growing more unstable by using satellite images that measures depressions in the earth’s crust.

The satellite data found that the two holes – which are located about a mile apart – are rapidly growing and causing the ground around them to become more and more unstable – opening up the possibility of more sinkholes or the creation of one giant sinkhole.

The sinkhole in Wink is the oldest and smallest of the two sinkholes, but it is growing the fastest.

Right now it is about 361 feet across – or the length of a football field.

‘Even though Wink No. 1 collapsed in 1980, its neighboring areas are still subsiding,’ say the authors, ‘and the sinkhole continues to expand.’

Read the full story.

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Grist: Massive sinkholes in Texas could combine to form even massiver sinkhole

“This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities,” said study author Jin-Woo Kim in a press release. “A collapse could be catastrophic.”

Wink sinkholes

Grist.org journalist Katie Herzog covered the research of SMU geophysicists Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, both in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. Herzog’s article, “Massive sinkholes in Texas could combine to form even massiver sinkhole,” published June 15, 2016.

The Dedman College faculty are co-authors of a new analysis using satellite radar images to reveal ground movement of two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas. They found that the movement suggests the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate.

Lu is world-renowned for leading scientists in InSAR applications, short for a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, to detect surface changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Lu is a member of the Science Definition Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO InSAR mission, set for launch in 2020 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A. Sentinel-1A was launched in April 2014 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

Lu and Kim reported the findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.”

The research was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Katie Herzog
Grist.org

Welcome to West Texas, where sometimes the ground just opens up under your feet.

Two existing sinkholes — one in the adorably named town of Wink, the other in the absurdly named town of Kermit — are about a mile away from each other, but data suggests they might be expanding. Researchers from Southern Methodist University analyzed radar images of the area and found some hints of movement in the surrounding ground. If the sinkholes keep growing, it’s possible they will merge into one supermassive sinkhole.

And that would be a big problem indeed.

“This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities,” said study author Jin-Woo Kim in a press release. “A collapse could be catastrophic.”

Sinkholes are not uncommon in this part of West Texas, thanks to the area’s prolific oil and gas industries. These particular sinkholes, however, are large even by Texas standards: The hole in Wink, which formed in 1980, is 361 feet across — or the length of a football field — and its neighbor in Kermit varies between 600 and 900 feet across. Both are over 100 feet deep.

Sinkholes occur when water dissolves bedrock over time, and then — sometimes suddenly — the ground collapses. They can be just a few feet across, or, like these ones, big enough to hold buildings. (A 2013 sinkhole opened up under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., and swallowed eight classic cars.) And while sinkholes can form naturally, they are also created by human activity like oil and gas extraction.

Read the full story.

Follow SMU Research on Twitter, @smuresearch.

For more SMU research see www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information, www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Geohazard: Giant sinkholes near West Texas oil patch towns are growing — as new ones lurk

Satellite radar images reveal ground movement of infamous sinkholes near Wink, Texas; suggest the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate.

Residents of Wink and neighboring Kermit have grown accustomed to the two giant sinkholes that sit between their small West Texas towns.

But now radar images taken of the sinkholes by an orbiting space satellite reveal big changes may be on the horizon.

A new study by geophysicists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, finds the massive sinkholes are unstable, with the ground around them subsiding, suggesting the holes could pose a bigger hazard sometime in the future.

The two sinkholes — about a mile apart — appear to be expanding. Additionally, areas around the existing sinkholes are unstable, with large areas of subsidence detected via satellite radar remote sensing.

That leaves the possibility that new sinkholes, or one giant sinkhole, may form, said geophysicists and study co-authors Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU.

“This area is heavily populated with oil and gas production equipment and installations, hazardous liquid pipelines, as well as two communities. The intrusion of freshwater to underground can dissolve the interbedded salt layers and accelerate the sinkhole collapse,” said Kim, who leads the SMU geophysical team reporting the findings. “A collapse could be catastrophic. Following our study, we are collecting more high-resolution satellite data over the sinkholes and neighboring regions to monitor further development and collapse.”

Lu and Kim reported the findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.”

The research was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University.

Unstable ground linked to rising, falling groundwater
The sinkholes were originally caused by the area’s prolific oil and gas extraction, which peaked from 1926 to 1964. Wink Sink No. 1, near the Hendricks oil well 10-A, opened in 1980. Wink Sink No. 2, near Gulf WS-8 supply well, opened 22 years later in 2002.

It appears the area’s unstable ground now is linked to changing groundwater levels and dissolving minerals, say the scientists. A deep-seated salt bed underlies the area, part of the massive oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

With the new data, the SMU geophysicists found a high correlation between groundwater level in the underlying aquifer and further sinking of the surface area during the summer months, influenced by successive roof failures in underlying cavities.

Satellite images and groundwater records indicate that when groundwater levels rise, the ground lifts. But the presence of that same groundwater then speeds the dissolving of the underground salt, which then causes the ground surface to subside.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and the Wink sinkholes are no exception
Officials have fenced off the two sinkholes near Wink, a town of about 940 people, and Kermit, a town of about 6,000 people. The giant holes are notable features on the area’s vast plains, which are dotted mostly with oil pump jacks, storage facilities, occasional brush and mesquite trees.

Based on modeling of satellite image datasets, SMU’s researchers report that Wink Sink No. 1, which is closer to the town of Kermit, appears to be the most unstable. The smaller hole of the two, it has grown to 361 feet (110 meters) across — the length of a football field.

“Even though Wink No. 1 collapsed in 1980, its neighboring areas are still subsiding,” say the authors, “and the sinkhole continues to expand.” An oval-shaped deformation circling the sinkhole measures three-tenths of a mile (500 meters) wide and is subsiding up to 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) a year.

Wink Sink No. 2, which is nine-tenths of a mile south of No. 1 and which sits closer to the town of Wink, is the larger of the sinkholes. It varies from 670 feet to 900 feet across.

Wink No. 2 is not experiencing as much subsidence as Wink No. 1. However, its eastern side is collapsing and eroding westward at a rate of up to 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) a year.

“Wink No. 2 exhibits depression associated with the ongoing expansion of the underground cavity,” the authors report.

Some ground that doesn’t even border the edges of the two sinkholes is also subsiding, the scientists observed. An area more than half a mile (1 kilometer) northeast of No. 2 sank at a rate of 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) in just four months.

Ground northeast of sinkholes is subsiding, suggesting new ones forming
The largest rate of ground subsidence is not at either sinkhole, but at an area about seven-tenths of a mile (1.2 kilometers) northeast of No. 2. Ground there is subsiding at a rate of more than 5 inches (13 centimeters) a year.

It’s aerial extent, the researchers report, has also enlarged over the past eight years when a previous survey was done.

“The enlarged deformation could be an alarming precursor to the potential future development of hazards in the vicinity,” said the authors.

Additionally, ground along a road traveled by oil field vehicles, about a quarter mile (400 meters) directly north of No. 2, is subsiding about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) a year.

Ground’s movement detected with radar technique
The satellite radar datasets were collected over five months between April 2015 and August 2015. With them, the geophysicists observed both two-dimension east-west deformation of the sinkholes, as well as vertical deformation.

The SMU scientists used a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR for short, to detect changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

“From 435 miles above the Earth’s surface, this InSAR technique allows us to measure inch-level subsidence on the ground. This is a monumental human achievement, and scientists will not stop endeavoring to improve this technique for more precise measurements,” said Lu, who is world-renowned for leading scientists in InSAR applications. Lu is a member of the Science Definition Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO InSAR mission, set for launch in 2020 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A. Sentinel-1A was launched in April 2014 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

Simply put, Sentinel-1A bounces a radar signal off the earth, then records the signal as it bounces back, delivering measurements. The measurements allow geophysicists to determine the distance from the satellite to the ground, revealing how features on the Earth’s surface change over time.

“Sinkhole formation has previously been unpredictable, but satellite remote sensing provides a great means to detect the expansion of the current sinkholes and possible development of new sinkholes,” said Kim. “Monitoring the sinkholes and modeling the rate of change can help predict potential sinkhole development.”

Sentinel-1A data were obtained from Sentinels Scientific Data Hub – Copernicus. Groundwater well data came from the Texas Water Development Board. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Dallas Morning News: Fracking-related activities have caused majority of recent Texas earthquakes

A new study Texas seismology researchers finds that humans have been causing earthquakes not just in North Texas but throughout the state for nearly 100 years.

earthquake, causes, SMU, oil, fracking, seismology

Science journalist Anna Kuchment with The Dallas Morning News covered the research of SMU seismologists on the historical record of North Texas earthquakes and their causes.

The SMU seismology team on May 18 published online new evidence of human involvement in earthquakes since the 1920s in the journal Seismological Research Letters. The study found that human-caused earthquakes have been present since at least 1925, and widespread throughout the state. While they are tied to oil and gas operations, the specific production techniques behind these quakes have differed over the decades, according to Cliff Frohlich, Heather DeShon, Brian Stump, Chris Hayward, Mathew J. Hornbach and Jacob I. Walter.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Anna Kuchment
Dallas Morning News

Despite mounting evidence that oil and gas activity has triggered all of the recent earthquakes in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas regulators have consistently questioned the link. Now a new study by University of Texas researchers argues that humans have been causing earthquakes not just in North Texas but throughout the state for nearly 100 years.

“The public thinks these started in 2008, but nothing could be further from the truth,” said Cliff Frohlich, a senior research scientist at UT-Austin and lead author of the new study.

The paper, to be published Wednesday in the journal Seismological Research Letters, concludes that activities associated with petroleum production “almost certainly” or “probably” set off 59 percent of earthquakes across the state between 1975 and 2015, including the recent earthquakes in Irving and Dallas. Another 28 percent were “possibly” triggered by oil and gas activities. Scientists deemed only 13 percent of the quakes to be natural.

A spokesperson for the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the oil and gas industry, dismissed the study’s methods as “arbitrary,” but an expert at the U.S. Geological Survey said the study offers important new information that could affect the agency’s future threat assessments for Texas.

“The Commission will continue to use objective, credible scientific study as the basis for our regulatory and rulemaking functions,” Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission, wrote in an email after she and her colleagues reviewed an embargoed copy of the paper. “However this new study acknowledges the basis for its conclusions are purely subjective in nature and in fact, admits its categorization of seismic events to be arbitrary.”

Frohlich and colleagues at UT and at Southern Methodist University argue in the paper that state regulators have been slow to acknowledge the link between industrial practices and ground shaking. Oklahoma, which experienced 890 earthquakes of magnitude 3 and above last year compared with Texas’ 21, has recognized the connection and ordered operators to slash the volume of wastewater from oil and gas production that they pump into wells. Studies by academic scientists and those at the USGS have shown that pressure from high-volume wastewater injections has disturbed faults in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and a handful of other states, creating earthquakes.

The Railroad Commission has taken some similar steps, Nye wrote. In November 2014 the commission tightened its rules for disposal wells. Since then, it has received 51 disposal well applications. Of these, 22 permits were issued with special conditions, such as requirements to reduce daily maximum injection volumes and pressure and to record volumes and pressures daily as opposed to monthly.

Following a 4-magnitude earthquake near Venus and Mansfield last year, the commission asked one operator to plug its well to a shallower depth, Nye added, presumably to lower the risk that it would disturb a deep fault. Texas’ man-made earthquakes date to the early days of the oil and gas industry, the new study reports.

The first man-made quake struck in 1925 in the Goose Creek oil field along the Gulf Coast east of Houston. Humble Oil, a precursor of Exxon, had extracted so much oil that the ground sank and caused houses to shake and dishes to crash to the floor.

Read the full story.

Follow SMU Research on Twitter, @smuresearch.

For more SMU research see www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information, www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Study: Humans have been causing earthquakes in Texas since the 1920s

Since 2008 the rate of Texas earthquakes greater than magnitude 3 has increased from about two per year to 12 per year, say the authors.

Earthquakes triggered by human activity have been happening in Texas since at least 1925, and they have been widespread throughout the state ever since, according to a new historical review of the evidence publishing online May 18 in Seismological Research Letters.

The earthquakes are caused by oil and gas operations, but the specific production techniques behind these quakes have differed over the decades, according to Cliff Frohlich, the study’s lead author, and co-authors Heather DeShon, Brian Stump, Chris Hayward, Mathew J. Hornbach and Jacob I. Walter.

Frohlich is senior research scientist and associate director at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin. DeShon, Stump, Hayward and Hornbach are seismologists in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Walter is at the University of Texas at Austin.

Frohlich said the evidence presented in the SRL paper should lay to rest the idea that there is no substantial proof for human-caused earthquakes in Texas, as some state officials have claimed as recently as 2015.

At the same time, he said, the study doesn’t single out any one or two industry practices that could be managed or avoided to stop these kinds of earthquakes from occurring. “I think we were all looking for what I call the silver bullet, supposing we can find out what kinds of practices were causing the induced earthquakes, to advise companies or regulators,” he notes. “But that silver bullet isn’t here.”

The researchers write in the article “A Historical Overview of Induced Earthquakes in Texas” that since 2008, the rate of Texas earthquakes greater than magnitude 3 has increased from about two per year to 12 per year. This change appears to stem from an increase in earthquakes occurring within 1-3 kilometers of petroleum production wastewater disposal wells where water is injected at a high monthly rate, they note.

Some of these more recent earthquakes include the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport sequence between 2008 and 2013; the May 2012 Timpson earthquake; and the earthquake sequence near Azle that began in 2013.

The researchers suspected that induced seismicity might have a lengthy and geographically widespread history in Texas.

“For me, the surprise was that oil field practices have changed so much over the years, and that probably affects the kinds of earthquakes that were happening at each time,” Frohlich said.

In the 1920s and 1930s, for instance, “they’d find an oilfield, and hundreds of wells would be drilled, and they’d suck oil out of the ground as fast as they could, and there would be slumps” that shook the earth as the volume of oil underground was rapidly extracted, he said.

When those fields were mostly depleted, in the 1940s through the 1970s, petroleum operations “started being more aggressive about trying to drive oil by water flooding” and the huge amounts of water pumped into the ground contributed to seismic activity, said Frohlich.

In the past decade, enhanced oil and gas recovery methods have produced considerable amounts of wastewater that is disposed by injection back into the ground through special wells, triggering nearby earthquakes. Most earthquakes linked to this type of wastewater disposal in Texas are smaller (less than magnitude 3) than those in Oklahoma, the study concludes.

The difference may lie in the types of oil operations in each state, Frohlich said. The northeast Texas injection earthquakes occur near high-injection rate wells that dispose of water produced in hydrofracturing operations, while much of the Oklahoma wastewater is produced during conventional oil production and injected deep into the underlying sedimentary rock.

For the moment, there have been no magnitude 3 or larger Texas earthquakes that can be linked directly to the specific process of hydrofracturing or fracking itself, such as have been felt in Canada, the scientists concluded.

The researchers used a five-question test to identify induced earthquakes in the Texas historical records. The questions cover how close in time and space earthquakes and petroleum operations are, whether the earthquake center is at a relatively shallow depth (indicating a human rather than natural trigger); whether there are known or suspected faults nearby that might support an earthquake or ease the way for fluid movement, and whether published scientific reports support a human cause for the earthquake.

In 2015, the Texas legislature funded a program that would install 22 additional seismic monitoring stations to add to the state’s existing 17 permanent stations, with the hopes of building out a statewide monitoring network that could provide more consistent and objective data on induced earthquakes.

Seismological Research Letters is a publication of the Seismological Society of America. — Seismological Research Letters

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Dallas Morning News: Could Texas’ dirty coal power plants be replaced by geothermal systems?

“We all care about the earth,” said Maria Richards, SMU geothermal lab coordinator, in welcoming the attendees. “We are applying knowledge that is applying hope.”

geothermal map, SMU, Maria Richards, conference, Dallas

Biz Beat Blog reporter Jeffrey Weiss at The Dallas Morning News covered the 2016 SMU Geothermal Conference, “Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields.”

The conference was April 25-26 on the SMU campus in Dallas. The eighth international conference focused on using the oilfield as a base for alternative energy production through the capture of waste heat and fluids.

The geothermal technology that is the primary focus of the conference takes advantage of an existing resource frequently considered a nuisance – wastewater produced by oil and gas wells during extraction.

As a well ages it will typically produce more water and less oil or gas over time, which raises the cost of production. Where the produced wastewater is hot enough, and the water flow rate is sufficient, specially designed turbines can draw geothermal energy from the wastewater.

The SMU Geothermal Lab team members are leaders of academic data sources for exploration and assessment of existing and potential geothermal resources.

SMU scientists developed the Geothermal Map of North America and built one of the primary nodes of the National Geothermal Data System (NGDS) for temperature and oil/gas data. Their research efforts include over 50 years of continuous thermal data collection and is viewed by the community as an important first-stage resource used in determining the potential for geothermal energy production in the United States.

The SMU Geothermal Lab has been the recipient of approximately $10 million in research grants from a variety of sources, including the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, Google.org and private industry.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Jeffrey Weiss
Dallas Morning News

For Texas electricity customers, geothermal energy is pretty much an afterthought. But some scientists — and even some people in the oil and gas business — say that heat from deep underground may become a significant source of power.

At least, that’s the message at a conference held today at Southern Methodist University, hosted by the school’s geothermal laboratory. The event pulled together an unusual mix: Academics, oil company bosses, people hawking heat-transfer equipment, geothermal experts and a few environmentalists.

This was the eighth such conference held at SMU since 2006. Those who have been to several agreed that the biggest difference over time is that the presentations have shifted from blue-sky theory to some data from working projects.

Perhaps the loudest applause for the day was when Will Gosnold of the University of North Dakota ended his talk about a demonstration project with a slide of an email saying it had started generating electricity today.

Another presenter suggested that geothermal power could be an economically sensible replacement for existing coal-fired power plants, particularly if the existing power plants and their transmission lines are near coal mines. That’s the case in Texas.

Susan Petty, president of Seattle-based AltaRock Energy, told the group that many older coal plants will be unable to meet clean-air requirements and will need replacing in the next few years. Waste water used in coal mines could be injected into wells where natural heat would make the water hot enough to drive geothermal power generators, she said.

Read the full story.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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SMU engineering team to lead DARPA-funded research into holographic imaging of hidden objects

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency seeks technology for soldiers to “see” around corners, behind walls

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Researchers from SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering will lead a multi-university team funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build a theoretical framework for creating a computer-generated image of an object hidden from sight around a corner or behind a wall.

The core of the proposal is to develop a computer algorithm to unscramble the light that bounces off irregular surfaces to create a holographic image of hidden objects.

“This will allow us to build a 3-D representation – a hologram – of something that is out of view,” said Marc Christensen, dean of the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering at SMU and principal investigator for the project.

“Your eyes can’t do that,” Christensen said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t do that.”

The DARPA award is for a four-year project with anticipated total funding of $4.87 million. SMU Lyle has been awarded $2.2 million for the first two years of what DARPA calls the “REVEAL” project, with the expectation that phase II funding of another $2.67 million will awarded by 2018. SMU is the lead university for the research and is collaborating with engineers from Rice, Northwestern, and Harvard.

Co-investigators for the SMU team are Duncan MacFarlane, Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship and professor of electrical engineering; and Prasanna Rangarajan, a research assistant professor who directs the Lyle School’s Photonics Architecture Lab.

DARPA’s mission, which dates back to reaction against the Soviet Union’s launch of SPUTNIK in 1957, is to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.

In seeking proposals for its “REVEAL” program, DARPA officials noted that conventional optical imaging systems today largely limit themselves to the measurement of light intensity, providing two-dimensional renderings of three-dimensional scenes and ignoring significant amounts of additional information that may be carried by captured light. SMU’s Christensen, an expert in photonics, explains the challenge like this:

“Light bounces off the smooth surface of a mirror at the same angle at which it hits the mirror, which is what allows the human eye to “see” a recognizable image of the event – a reflection,” Christensen said. “But light bouncing off the irregular surface of a wall or other non–reflective surface is scattered, which the human eye cannot image into anything intelligible.

“So the question becomes whether a computer can manipulate and process the light reflecting off a wall – unscrambling it to form a recognizable image – like light reflecting off a mirror,” Christensen explained. “Can a computer interpret the light bouncing around in ways that our eyes cannot?”

In an effort to tackle the problem, the proposed research effort will extend the light transport models currently employed in the computer graphics and vision communities based on radiance propagation to simultaneously accommodate the finite speed of light and the wave nature of light. For example, light travels at different speeds through different media (air, water, glass, etc.) and light waves within the visible spectrum scatter at different rates depending on color.
The Goal for the DARPA program is to develop a fundamental science for indirect imaging in scattering environments. This will lead to systems which can “see” around corners and behind obstructions at distances ranging from meters to kilometers.

People have been using imaging systems to gain knowledge of distant or microscopic objects for centuries, Christensen notes. But the last decade has witnessed a number of advancements that prepare engineers for the revolution that DARPA is seeking.

“For example, the speed and sophistication of signal processing (the process of converting analog transmissions into digital signals) has reached the point where we can accomplish really intensive computational tasks on handheld devices,” Christensen said. “What that means is that whatever solutions we design should be easily transportable into the battlefield.”

The SMU-led DARPA project is working under the acronym OMNISCIENT – “Obtaining Multipath & Non-line-of-sight Information by Sensing Coherence & Intensity with Emerging Novel Techniques.”

The team unites leading researchers in the fields of computational imaging, computer vision, signal processing, information theory and computer graphics. Guiding the Rice University component of the research are Ashok Veeraraghavan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Richard Baraniuk, Victor E, Cameron Professor; leading the Northwestern component is Oliver Cossairt, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science and head of the university’s Computational Photography Lab; and the Harvard research is led by Todd Zickler, professor of electrical engineering and computer science. Wolfgang Heindcrich, director of the Visual Computing Center at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, will be a consultant to the SMU Team.
— Kim Cobb

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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SMU “Power Plays” conference to promote development of oil and gas fields for geothermal energy production

“Power Plays,” on Dallas campus April 25-26, is SMU Geothermal Laboratory’s eighth international energy conference and workshop

SMU’s renowned SMU Geothermal Laboratory will host its eighth international energy conference April 25-26 on the Dallas campus, focused on using the oilfield as a base for alternative energy production through the capture of waste heat and fluids.

In addition to oil and gas field geothermal projects, experts will discuss coal plant conversion for geothermal production, the intersection of geothermal energy and desalination, and large-scale direct use of the energy source produced by the internal heat of the earth.

Power Plays” begins with an opening reception and poster session from 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. Monday, April 25, followed by a daylong program of speakers and presentations Tuesday, April 26. Conference details are available here. Walk-up registration is available at the conference site, the Collins Center at 3150 Binkley Avenue, Dallas, 75205.

The technology that is the primary focus of the conference takes advantage of an existing resource frequently considered a nuisance – wastewater produced by oil and gas wells during extraction. As a well ages it will typically produce more water and less oil or gas over time, which raises the cost of production. Where the produced wastewater is hot enough, and the water flow rate is sufficient, specially designed turbines can draw geothermal energy from the wastewater.

That “bonus” geothermal energy can be used to either generate electricity to operate the oil field equipment and lower the cost of production, sell the electricity directly to the power grid or — more likely — to nearby industry users seeking a highly secure electrical source.

“Initial demonstration projects have taught us a great deal about the complexities of transitioning an oil or gas well to geothermal energy production,” said Maria Richards, director of the SMU Geothermal Lab. “Collaboration continues between the oil and gas industry and the geothermal community, and this conference is the place to hear about the technology, business models and legislation that all play a role in developing geothermal resources. We are confident that geothermal energy production will one day be the norm for an aging oil and gas field.”

The appearance of AltaRock Energy’s Susan Petty to discuss “Transitioning Coal to Geothermal: Baseload Renewable Power With No CO2” will be the first examination of this type of geothermal production at the SMU conference, Richards said, adding that she is pleased to see geothermal technology being combined with other energy systems, from large scale solar operations to electricity generated by on-site flare gas.

“The small surface footprint of geothermal energy makes it a desirable player for developers looking to maximize all possible resources on their site,” Richards said.

SMU’s Geothermal Lab team members are leaders of academic data sources for exploration and assessment of existing and potential geothermal resources. SMU scientists developed the Geothermal Map of North America and built one of the primary nodes of the National Geothermal Data System (NGDS) for temperature and oil/gas data. Their research efforts include over 50 years of continuous thermal data collection and is viewed by the community as an important first-stage resource used in determining the potential for geothermal energy production in the United States.

The SMU Geothermal Lab has been the recipient of approximately $10 million in research grants from a variety of sources, including the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, Google.org and private industry. — Kim Cobb

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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SMU Lyle School cyber defender Fred Chang named to National Academy of Engineering

Academy membership is among the highest distinctions in engineering, honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice or education.

Dr. Fred Chang, Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security, Southern Methodist University, testifies before the US House Science Committee on information security at HealthCare.gov.  (Photo:  Jay Mallin. jay@jaymallinphotos.com)
Dr. Fred Chang, Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security, Southern Methodist University, testifies before the US House Science Committee on information security at HealthCare.gov. (Photo: Jay Mallin. jay@jaymallinphotos.com)

Fred Chang, director of SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security and former director of research for the National Security Agency, has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

Chang and other new members will be formally inducted during a ceremony at the NAE’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 9, 2016.

The U.S. National Academy of Engineering is a private, independent, nonprofit institution that supports engineering leadership.

Its mission is to advance the wellbeing of the nation by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and by marshaling the expertise and insights of eminent engineers to provide independent advice to the federal government on matters involving engineering and technology.

“I feel incredibly honored to be elected into the National Academy of Engineering,” Chang said. “The level of innovation and accomplishment achieved by its members is inspiring, and I take great pride in joining them. I am grateful to many, many colleagues who have worked with me and helped me over the course of my career, including those at SMU.

“This recognition further motivates me to continue pursuing the challenge of securing cyberspace,” Chang said. “It means continuing the important research we are doing at SMU, to help advance the science of cyber security, and training a workforce of skilled cyber defenders.”

Chang joined SMU in September 2013 as Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security, computer science and engineering professor and Senior Fellow in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College. The Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security was launched in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering in January 2014, with Chang named as its director.

“Being inducted into the National Academy of Engineering is one of the highest honors a professor can achieve,” said Lyle School Dean Marc Christensen. “We are so pleased that Professor Chang is being recognized as one of the brightest minds of our generation at a time when his expertise in cyber security is so critical to our nation’s future.”

Chang is the second Lyle School professor to be named to the NAE. Delores Etter, the founding director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education in the Lyle School, a Caruth Professor of Engineering Education, a distinguished fellow in the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security and a senior fellow in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, was elected to the NAE in 2000.

In addition to his positions at SMU, Chang is a distinguished scholar in the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. Chang has been professor and AT&T Distinguished Chair in Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio and he was at the University of Texas at Austin as an associate dean in the College of Natural Sciences and director of the Center for Information Assurance and Security. Additionally, Chang’s career spans service in the private sector and in government including as the former Director of Research at the National Security Agency.

Chang has been awarded the National Security Agency Director’s Distinguished Service Medal and was the 2014 Information Security Magazine ‘Security 7’ award winner for Education. He has served as a member of the Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency and as a member of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies. He has also served as a member of the National Academies Committee on Responding to Section 5(d) of Presidential Policy Directive 28: The Feasibility of Software to Provide Alternatives to Bulk Signals Intelligence Collection.

He is the lead inventor on two U.S. patents (U.S. patent numbers 7272645 and 7633951), and he appeared in the televised National Geographic documentary, Inside the NSA: America’s Cyber Secrets. He has twice served as a cyber security expert witness at hearings convened by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Dr. Chang received his B.A. degree from the University of California, San Diego and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Oregon. He has also completed the Program for Senior Executives at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chang joins the National Academy of Engineering with 79 other new U.S. members and 22 new international members, bringing the group’s total membership to 2,275 U.S. members and 232 foreign members.

Membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature, and to the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education. — Kimberly Cobb, SMU

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Survey finds executive cybersecurity decisions are evolving from compliance to proactive cyber-risk management

SMU Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security releases new study on how financial, retail, healthcare and government sectors manage cyber risks

cybersecurity, IBM, SMU, chang,

A new research study from SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security finds that executives are changing the way they manage and invest in cybersecurity, moving away from limited, reactive approaches and adopting systemic risk management frameworks that combine hardware, software and operations protocols to mitigate cyber risk.

The study, Identifying How Firms Manage Cybersecurity Investment, was sponsored by IBM Security and based on a semi-structured survey of 40 executives across financial, retail, healthcare and government sectors. Participants, most of whom were chief information security officers (CISOs), were selected primarily from large firms.

The study revealed several signs of increasing support for cybersecurity programs, including:

  • More than 80 percent of those interviewed reported broad and increasing support among senior-level management and corporate boards for their cybersecurity efforts.
  • Eighty-eight percent of respondents reported that their security budgets have increased.
  • The majority of respondents cited news coverage of large and harmful security breaches as the driver of that support.
  • In an interesting twist of perception, while 46 percent of interview subjects believe their organization is spending the right amount of money on cybersecurity, 64 percent reported that their peers were spending too little.

While most of those surveyed said getting funding for their cybersecurity efforts is not a hurdle, many executives talked about the difficulty they experience in finding and hiring skilled cybersecurity personnel. And while findings were similar across most of those interviewed from the private sector, the relatively small number of government executives surveyed noted that the lengthy budgeting processes they must work through make it difficult to react quickly to the emergence of new threats.

“Cybersecurity is more than a technology challenge,” said Fred Chang, director of the Deason Institute in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. “Dealing with the landscape as it exists today means making decisions within specific management cultures and understanding what drives the decision-making process. By explaining the move from compliance to risk-based cybersecurity programs we see in many C-suites, this report connects the dots for people making important decisions about what it takes to maintain privacy, financial security and operating capability — all of which are vulnerable.”

The widespread use of security frameworks shows a general maturation of cyber risk management, the study notes.

“Companies are realizing that simply checking the box for compliance requirements is no longer a sufficient security strategy,” said Bob Kalka, Vice President, IBM Security. “Hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the battle for corporate data, and the survey results show that companies are evolving their security to keep pace. The increasing use of strategic, risk-based frameworks is a huge step forward in protecting these organizations’ most critical assets.”

“This report is powerful information for anyone guiding cybersecurity decisions today,” Chang said. “And it’s a good example of the kind of interdisciplinary focus the Deason Institute brings to the table.”

Chang joined SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering in September 2013 with the goal of creating a cybersecurity program that takes an interdisciplinary approach to what is frequently perceived as a strictly technical issue. The Deason Institute, launched in January 2014, provides SMU and the Lyle School with the critical resources to advance that goal. Chang’s career spans service in the private sector and in government, including as the former Director of Research at the National Security Agency.

The research team for this study also included Deason Institute Principal Investigator Tyler Moore and Scott Dynes, a visiting scholar at the Institute. Moore’s research focuses on the economics of information security, the study of electronic crime and the development of policy for strengthening security. Dynes’ research addresses how firms identify and manage cyber risks at the firm and sector levels, and he is well published on topics related to incentives for firms to invest in information security, as well as the economic consequences of information security failures.

Interviews with the 40 executives cited in the survey were conducted in person or by phone with one or two researchers, and lasted from 30 minutes to an hour. The interviews were semi-structured in that researchers worked from a list of common questions in every interview, but allowed the answers to those questions to serve as a launching point for follow-ups. Of the participants, 33 represented U.S. organizations and the remaining seven were international.

Interview questions included:

  • What methods and inputs do you use to prioritize cyber investment?
  • Do you feel you have adequate information in managing overall cyber risk?
  • Is your management supportive? Do you have sufficient budget?
  • What factors are driving cybersecurity investment at your firm?
  • How do you decide among offerings in the marketplace?

A key study finding was the central role that frameworks now play in defining how executives perceive risk, and how much money they are willing to spend to mitigate that risk. “Using these frameworks provides a platform for CISOs to make an understandable, compelling case for specific cybersecurity products and operations,” Moore said. Or as one interviewed executive put it, “Security has to be able to have a basis to argue its point of view in a compelling story with some thought behind it, rather than ‘I want to get these things because it’s the next cool security thing that’s out there.’”

Worth noting, Moore added, is that the lack of qualified, available cybersecurity professionals creates its own set of problems. “In some cases, CISOs say their senior management wants to fund cybersecurity measures more quickly than they can staff them,” Moore said. “In other cases, senior management is hesitant to fully fund proposed cybersecurity projects because they fear the CISO doesn’t have the personnel available to implement them.”

The interviews were conducted between February and October 2015 and participants were assured anonymity for themselves and their firms. The authors note that the advantage of the semi-structured interview methodology is that it enables the researcher to glean detailed contextual information that would not be possible under a more structured interview scenario. The disadvantage, they note, is that the contextual findings do not generalize to the profession as a whole.

The findings described in the report, Identifying How Firms Manage Cybersecurity Investment, are not to be construed as an endorsement of any person, product or company by the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security at SMU. Note that the respondent opinions presented in the report do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the study authors or the study sponsor, IBM. The study’s objective is to relay as accurately as possible the statements of the interview subjects.

Read an independent analysis based on the Deason Institute report by sponsor IBM Security at this link. — Kim Cobb

The mission of the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering is to advance the science, policy, application and education of cyber security through basic and problem-driven, interdisciplinary research. The Lyle School, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 28 graduate programs, including masters and doctoral degrees.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

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SMU’s Deason Institute for Cyber Security and Raytheon partner for strategic cyber research

Collaboration between university and industry leader benefits ‘anyone with a laptop or smart phone’

SMU, Raytheon, cyber security

Raytheon Company has named Southern Methodist University (SMU) as a strategic partner in cyber research based on the company’s collaborative efforts with the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. The strategic partnership includes joint research projects in cyber security, Raytheon internships for SMU students, and strategic education initiatives benefiting both SMU and Raytheon.

“We are very proud to have earned this designation,” said Fred Chang, director of the Deason Institute and the Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security. “The work we do together benefits SMU and Raytheon, government and industry, and ultimately anyone with a laptop or smart phone. It will also help train our students to become part of a desperately needed workforce of cyber defenders.”

”Collaboration between academic centers of excellence like SMU and industry leaders like Raytheon is a powerful engine for innovation,” said Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. “This strategic partnership is an example of Raytheon’s commitment to growing the cyber workforce and enhancing the technology and capabilities needed to help our customers and society face the ever growing cyber threat.”

Raytheon also utilizes the Lyle School’s training for its own workforce. Fifty-nine Raytheon employees have graduated from the school’s Master of Security Engineering program since 2005 when the program began.

“The work Dr. Chang is directing through the Deason Institute taps the University’s strengths in technology, social science, policy and the law to attack perhaps the most challenging problem facing our society today: cybersecurity,” said Lyle School Dean Marc Christensen. “It’s one reason why this strategic partnership with Raytheon is so important to us.” — Kimberly Cobb

Follow SMUResearch.com on twitter at @smuresearch.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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SMU Lyle School’s Delores Etter named to prestigious ‘100 Inspiring Women in STEM’ list

INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine cites Etter for work to increase number and diversity of young people who pursue STEM careers

biometrics, engineering, Delores Etter, SMU, Lyle

Delores Etter, founding director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, has been named to receive INSIGHT Into Diversity’s “100 Inspiring Women In STEM” award.

The award is presented by the magazine as a tribute to 100 women whose work and achievements not only encourage others in their individual STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, but also inspire a new generation of young women to consider STEM careers. Read the full article, ‘100 Inspiring Women in STEM Awards,’ in the September issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity.

“Our sincerest congratulations go to Dr. Etter and Southern Methodist University on receiving this prestigious national honor,” said INSIGHT Into Diversity Publisher Lenore Pearlstein. “She is truly an inspiration to all of us who are working so diligently to make a difference in the lives of all women and other underrepresented individuals.”

Etter’s career has included teaching at the US. Naval Academy, leading large projects at the Pentagon, and now teaching and mentoring students at SMU, where she was founding director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education from June 2008 to May 2015. In that position, she and her team have created websites and related activities and mounted successful summer programs such as Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) camps – many targeted specifically to girls – to teach youngsters that engineering is both fun and within their grasp.

Etter a mentor to students, promoting number and diversity of students pursuing STEM
Etter remains at SMU as Caruth Professor of Engineering Education, a distinguished fellow in the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, and professor of electrical engineering in the Lyle School.

“Prof. Etter is extremely deserving of this prestigious award,” said Lyle School dean Marc Christensen. “During her seven years leading the Caruth Institute, she continually focused on ways to increase the number and diversity of students who graduate from U.S. high schools with both the enthusiasm and knowledge to pursue careers in STEM education.

“Here at the Lyle School, we know that a diverse mix of engineers — men, women, and people representing a variety of different cultures – are best positioned to work together in teams to solve tough problems,” Christensen said. “You can see that at work in our current student population, many of whom caught the spark for learning math and science as youngsters through programs like those Dr. Etter and her team have organized.”

SMU-Lyle is celebrating its 10th year as an engineering school where women make up more than 30 percent of incoming undergraduate students. Nationally, enrollment of women in engineering schools averages just under 20 percent.

Etter part of SMU-Lyle’s success that women make up more than 30 percent of incoming undergraduate students
“The work Dr. Etter is passionate about is key to that success story,” Christensen said, “and we are very glad that she continues her relationship with the Caruth Institute as the Caruth Professor of Engineering Education.”

Etter’s research interests include digital signal processing and biometric signal processing, with an emphasis on identification using iris recognition. She also has written a number of textbooks on computer languages and software engineering.

She is an internationally recognized leader in science and technology and engineering education. As one of the few subcabinet appointees for both the Bush and Clinton administrations, she has served as the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition and as the deputy under secretary of defense for science and technology. In addition to her public service Etter has had a distinguished career as an academic and engineering researcher, having held the position of ONR Distinguished Chair in Science and Technology at the United States Naval Academy, and professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the University of New Mexico.

Etter recognized with nearly every major award given to engineering educators and researchers
Etter has been recognized with nearly every major award given to engineering educators and researchers. She was elected into the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, the highest recognition afforded an engineer in this country.

She has been awarded the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Public Service, confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a member of the National Science Board (which governs the National Science Foundation), appointed a member of the Defense Science Board, and served as principal U.S. representative to the NATO Research and Technology Board.

Etter was a recipient of the Federal WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) Lifetime Achievement Award, the IEEE Harriet B. Rigas Award, the Charles Hutchinson Memorial Teaching Award from the University of Colorado, the IEEE Education Society Achievement Award, the IEEE Millennium Medal, and the SPIE Defense Security Lifetime Achievement Award. She also has been elected a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education, the IEEE, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 2009 the Department of the Navy created annual technical awards and named them the Delores M. Etter Top Engineering and Scientist Awards. — Kimberly Cobb

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

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Mustang Minute! Simmons researcher tests if video game motion capture can teach math

Motion capture software, popular in the world of video gaming, is being tested to see if it may be a useful tool in the classroom.

Researchers know that the more engaged students are, the more likely they are to learn.

In her research, SMU teaching expert Candace Walkington, assistant professor of teaching and learning in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development, has measured different kinds of engagement and its effectiveness as a teaching tool.

Now Walkington has asked students to test motion capture software as a tool for teaching math. The students are enrolled in summer video game design camps at Guildhall, SMU’s premier graduate video game education program.

Students practiced a motion capture software program that teaches geometry. The program was created by Walkington in partnership with Extreme Reality, an industry leader in motion capture software. Results of the preliminary testing will be included in a grant proposal Walkington is preparing to test the software further.

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For the preliminary test, Walkington asked students to read problems on a computer and then move their arms to either signal their answers or advance the math questions to the next sequence.

The study is one of several for Walkington, whose previous studies have focused on how abstract mathematical concepts can be grounded in students’ out-of-school interests, experiences and everyday reasoning practices.

Another of Walkington’s recent studies, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, draws data from Pennsylvania classrooms using an in-school intelligent tutoring system for Algebra I. The software personalizes instruction to match the pace of each student, detects a student’s current state of knowledge, determines which kinds of problems to present and what feedback and help are needed, and tracks each child’s progress. Walkington has a long-time collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University’s Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center.

She has also been awarded a grant as part of the Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program of the National Academy of Education. The $55,000 grant supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research.

Walkington earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in mathematics from Texas A&M University, and had planned to have a career as a financial mathematician. She changed her career path after completing a National Science Foundation graduate teaching fellowship at a high-poverty rural school in Iola, Texas.

There Walkington discovered firsthand the satisfaction of designing innovative strategies to help struggling fifth and sixth graders learn math. The experience brought back memories of her own seventh-grade struggle with algebra, which had threatened to derail her interest in math.

Walkington has also participated in the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While working on her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, Walkington collaborated on research geared toward identifying what teacher behaviors are a strong predictor of student success on standardized math tests. The research was incorporated into the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project, one of the largest research efforts in U.S. history to identify and understand effective teaching. The project is shaping educational policy nationally.

Walkington and research colleague Michael P. Marder, executive director of UTeach Science Program, University of Texas at Austin, contributed protocols to the MET Project based on their findings, including one finding that classrooms where the teacher focuses specifically on students deeply understanding math have higher test scores compared to classrooms where teachers focus on drill and standardized test preparation. In addition, they also found that classroom management was a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for learning.

Walkington’s research appears in a new groundbreaking book about the MET Project, “Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems: New Guidance from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project,” (Wiley, July 2014). Walkington, who led a team that analyzed 1,000 video math lessons of teachers around the country to code effective teaching, is first author on a chapter. — Margaret Allen

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SMU’s engineering students to test new virtual reality game to practice solving hands-on infrastructure failure problems

Games let people experience the unknown and unfamiliar in a virtual world, and have the power to engage their users.

SMU’s engineering students will help test a new virtual reality game that will someday be rolled out to classrooms everywhere to help students design, inspect and test geotechnical — soil and rock — systems virtually.

SMU will receive $80,000 in funding as part of a larger $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which was awarded to professors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.

Called Geo Explorer, the game places students in a virtual field-testing experience to learn how to use the instrument and interpret its results, said Usama El Shamy, associate professor, department of civil and environmental engineering, SMU Lyle School of Engineering.

“Nowadays, Students get hands-on lab experiences testing element-level samples in geotechnical engineering classes,” said El Shamy. “When it comes to field testing, they only see images of the instrument and deal with raw test data.”

The game will broaden the learning experience considerably.

“The game is intended to place the students in a virtual environment where they can perform the field test, and gather and interpret its data as they play,” he said.

“Other modules of the game will place the student in the position of an engineer inspecting the integrity of a levee after a rain storm. The student should be able to promptly report any warning signs of potential failure of the levee,” El Shamy said. “Failure to do a timely report would result in failure of the levee, or, in other words, game over.”

Mixed-reality and mobile game virtually brings students into the field with immersive learning
Geo Explorer is a mixed-reality and mobile game to virtually bring students into the field to conduct geotechnical site investigations and evaluations. It’s being developed by Rensselaer civil engineering faculty Tarek Abdoun and Victoria Bennett.

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“Geo Explorer has a tremendous potential to teach students about the deadly consequences of deteriorating infrastructure,” Bennett said. “Games let people experience the unknown and unfamiliar in a virtual world, and have the power to engage their users.”

The immersive learning from playing Geo Explorer will let students participate in geotechnical field testing, inspect levees during and after extreme storms, assess stability and make decisions about future actions related to flood-control infrastructure.

El Shamy will test the use of the game in SMU’s undergraduate geotechnical engineering classes, which are part of the Lyle School’s civil engineering program, then provide feedback on the game’s design and impact on intended learning outcomes. Preliminary testing of the game in classes will start in April.

A bridge to the lab, Geo Explorer incorporates testing actual soil samples
Geo Explorer also includes a bridge to the actual laboratory. Players will not only use mobile devices, downloading field data, receiving messages from characters and collaborating with classmates, but will test actual soil samples in the lab and can upload results to the game.

Abdoun and Bennett note that natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina illustrate the serious consequences of a deteriorating infrastructure and a public ill-equipped to respond to weather extremes.

Such challenges cannot be adequately met in the traditional classroom.

Games like Geo Explorer can address the gaps in geotechnical engineering education by providing realistic virtual experience with the unfamiliar, letting participants weigh choices and experience their consequences.

“Ultimately, Geo Explorer will be available for free and be scaled for use by students from kindergarten through high school, particularly in districts with a high percentage of minorities who are underrepresented in technical fields,” Abdoun said.

Concept opens up possibilities for developing games in other areas of science and technology
Geo Explorer is intended to educate the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, said Rensselaer’s Shekhar Garde, dean of the School of Engineering.

“Geo Explorer has a great potential to educate students about grand challenges in infrastructure resilience, sustainability and stewardship,” Garde said. “It also opens up possibilities for developing games in other areas of science and technology for a range of applications in human health, including chemical and biological safety.”

Funds will be used to utilize the game in a geotechnical course that integrates Geo Explorer. The project builds on game modules developed by Deltares, an institute for applied research in water, subsurface and infrastructure based in the Netherlands.

Besides SMU and Rensselaer faculty, other partners include Casper Harteveld, Northeastern University; Flora McMartin, Broad-Based Knowledge; and Joseph Tront, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Manhattan College; and California State University Fullerton. — Southern Methodist University, Rensselaer Polytechnic

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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CoinDesk: Research — Over $11 Million Lost in Bitcoin Scams Since 2011

The researchers painstakingly read forum threads post by post, even translating messages written in languages other than English.

Bitcoin, SMU, scammers, $11 million, Moore, Vasek

With the cryptocurrency Bitcoin increasingly popular for digital transactions, the digital currency news site CoinDesk covered the research of SMU Bitcoin experts Marie Vasek, lead researcher on the study, and Tyler W. Moore, both in SMU’s Computer Science and Engineering Department in the Lyle School of Engineering.

The study by Vasek and Moore, “There’s no free lunch, even using bitcoin: Tracking the popularity and profits of virtual currency scams,” found that fraudulent schemes have scammed at least $11 million in Bitcoin deposits from unsuspecting cyber customers over the past four years.

Bitcoin is the digital world’s most popular virtual currency, with millions in circulation.

The study is the first empirical study of its kind. Vasek and Moore found that hucksters used four different types of schemes through authentic-looking web-based investment and banking outlets to lure customers and heist deposits.

Vasek explained to CoinDesk journalist Joon Ian Wong how the researchers extracted Bitcoin addresses linked to the frauds, enabling them to look at transactions from victims to fraudsters recorded on the transaction addresses.

The CoinDesk article, Research: Over $11 Million Lost in Bitcoin Scams Since 2011, published Jan. 29, 2015.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Joon Ian Wong
CoinDesk

Scams promising bitcoin riches have netted swindlers at least $11m in the last four years, researchers have found.

Some 13,000 victims handed over their money unwittingly in 42 different scams over that time period, their data suggests.

However, the total amount of funds cheated from victims over this period is almost certainly higher than the estimated $11m the research identified.

A co-author of the research, Marie Vasek, said:

“There are a lot of scams that we couldn’t measure at all. There were scams we couldn’t find or verify … We think presenting our findings as they are, a lower bound, makes a lot of room for us and others to further quantify scams in this space.”

Vasek, who researches computer security at Southern Methodist University, co-wrote the paper with Tyler Moore, an assistant professor in computer science at the same institution.

Painstaking search
The paper, titled There’s No Free Lunch, Even Using Bitcoin: Tracking the Popularity and Profits of Virtual Currency Scams, has been presented at the Financial Cryptography and Data Security conference taking place in Puerto Rico this week.

Vasek and Moore combed online repositories of scam accusations, including a mega-thread of scams, hacks and heists on the Bitcointalk forum that has been maintained since 2012, as well as the subreddit r/bitcoin, BadBitcoin.org and CryptoHYIPs.com.

This process required the researchers to painstakingly go through forum threads post by post, even translating messages that were written in languages other then English, as well as visiting the websites that scammers created to publicise themselves.

“We went through every single post to determine if the scheme was a scam, any associated bitcoin addresses with the scheme, and any associated scams,” Vasek said.

Using this method they found 349 scams, which were then whittled down to 192 deceptions after excluding phishing, malware and pay-for-click websites, which fall outside the scope of the study.

Read the full story.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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New World Notes: Virtual Reality-Based Assertiveness Training Reportedly Leads to Less Sexual Victimization, Pilot Program Finds

Can virtual reality and 3D gaming help people stand up for themselves in real life?

Virtual reality, SMU, assertiveness training, sexual assault

Journalist Wagner James Au, who delves into the details of all things Metaverse on his New World Notes blog, covered the research of SMU clinical psychologist Lorelei Simpson Rowe and her co-authors Ernest N. Jouriles and Renee McDonald.

Au’s coverage includes details of how SMU researchers developed the training simulation by modifying the popular first-person video game Half-Life 2, combined with a virtual reality headset.

Simpson Rowe, an associate professor and graduate program co-director in the SMU Department of Psychology, is lead author on the pilot study from SMU.

The virtual-reality simulation component of “My Voice, My Choice” utilizes a software program developed by Jouriles and McDonald in conjunction with SMU’s award-winning Guildhall video gaming program. Jouriles and McDonald are clinical psychologists in the SMU Psychology Department. Jouriles is professor and chair. McDonald is a professor and associate dean of research and academic affairs for Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Results of their study found teen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment.

The effects persisted over a three-month period following the training.

The New World Notes blog article, “Virtual Reality-Based Assertiveness Training Reportedly Leads to Less Sexual Victimization, Pilot Program Finds,” was published Jan. 28.

Read the full blog post.

EXCERPT:

By Wagner James Au
New World Notes

Can virtual reality and 3D gaming help people stand up for themselves in real life? In a pilot study developed by Southern Methodist University, a group of young women practiced assertiveness against male sexual aggression using a modified version of Half-Life 2 and a VR headset. After the training (dubbed “My Voice, My Choice”), as this summary indicates, the early results were extremely positive: “22 percent in the control group reported sexual victimization during the three-month follow-up period, compared to only 10 percent in the ‘My Voice, My Choice’ group.” (Emphasis mine, because it bears emphasis.) While this is just initial data working from a small sample, the growth of virtual reality makes this study one worth repeating in other pilot programs, so I reached out to the lead researchers, Dr. Lorelei Simpson Rowe and Anthony Cuevas, for more details on their training program:

What were some of the most interesting personal reactions to this simulation?

Dr. Lorelei Simpson Rowe: “Many participants were surprised at how difficult it was to be assertive. They thought of themselves as being able to be assertive, but found it more challenging in the simulations than they expected. At the same time, many of the participants also seemed to feel more confident after they successfully used the skills and got positive feedback from others.

“Most students chose to participate in the study because they were given gift cards to thank them for their time – they weren’t initially interested in the program – but afterward, they told us how important it was and that they felt all students should go through MVMC.”

What advice would you give other researchers and developers working on similar VR experiences?

Dr. Lorelei Simpson Rowe: “I think important next steps will include developing fully computerized protocols (i.e., those that don’t require an actor). Additionally, the simulations need to be realistic and consistent with experiences that participants might actually have.”

Read the full blog post.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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$2.5 million awarded to Retina Foundation and SMU Lyle to study macular degeneration

Research partners in collaborative venture will help rapidly prototype new diagnostic and clinical treatment approaches

An example of the impaired vision of a person suffering with macular degeneration.
Vision impaired by age-related macular degeneration, a progressive, degenerative disease of the retina and the most common cause of vision loss for people over 50.

The Retina Foundation of the Southwest and SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering will collaborate to create the Clinical Center of Innovation for Age-Related Macular Degeneration.

Supported by a $2.5 million grant award from the W. W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation at Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT), the center will be housed at the Retina Foundation in Dallas.

The new collaborative venture will help to rapidly prototype new diagnostic and clinical treatment approaches, focusing on the specific needs of patients who are losing their vision to age-related macular degeneration.

Physician Karl Csaky, Chief Medical Director and T. Boone Pickens Senior Scientist at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest, will lead the joint venture, along with Marc Christensen, Dean of SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering.

Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive, degenerative disease of the retina and is the most common cause of vision loss for individuals 50 years and older. Currently, there are 18 million Americans who have some form of age-related macular degeneration.

Pictured, left to right, Marc Christensen, Dean, Lyle School, SMU; Monica Egert Smith, Community Philanthropy Director, W.W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation; Brent Christopher, President and CEO, Communities Foundation; and Karl Csaky, Chief Medical Officer, Retina Foundation.
Pictured, left to right, Marc Christensen, Dean, Lyle School, SMU; Monica Egert Smith, Community Philanthropy Director, W.W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation; Brent Christopher, President and CEO, Communities Foundation; and Karl Csaky, Chief Medical Officer, Retina Foundation.

It is projected that the population over the age of 60 will double by the year 2030, which will dramatically increase the number of individuals affected by this disease. At present there are few effective treatments for the majority of patients who suffer from age-related macular degeneration.

“I am extremely thankful to the Caruth Foundation for providing their generous support for a unique approach to help patients with age-related macular degeneration,” said Dr. Csaky. “This one of a kind initiative will focus on leveraging the strengths of two preeminent Dallas institutions.”

This $2.5 million award from the W. W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation at CFT recognizes the great need to develop an innovative approach to medical research for age-related macular degeneration, adapting new technologies and treatments that directly correlate to the patients’ disease state. “This type of unique partnership between a top engineering school and a clinical research organization has the potential to be replicated in other areas of medicine as well,” said Brent Christopher, President and CEO of Communities Foundation of Texas. “This model of pairing disparate disciplines to tackle challenging medical issues is the transformational approach Will Caruth would have championed.”

Since 1982, the Retina Foundation of the Southwest has been on the leading edge of basic research to better understand age-related macular degeneration and how it works to destroy central vision, which is necessary for reading, writing and driving. The Foundation also works closely with patients in a clinical setting to better understand the vision loss they are experiencing over time.

SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering is dedicated to the role of innovation in finding solutions to real-world problems and has a dedicated space for those pursuits – the Deason Innovation Gymnasium. The Lyle School will help to accelerate the clinical application of technologies.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with Retina Foundation doctors to help develop and prototype treatments tailored to patient needs,” said Christensen. “For example, we’ll be in a position to tackle problems such as the delivery of medication to the retina through polymer chemistry and mechanical engineering. Engineering and medicine can partner in astounding ways, and we are excited to see how our framework for fostering innovation accelerates solutions to medical challenges.”

The opportunity presented by the W. W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation at CFT to collaborate with the Retina Foundation of the Southwest supports SMU and the Lyle School in the University’s commitment to increased research being advanced by the Second Century Campaign. — Kim Cobb

Click here and scroll down for information about the collaborative entities.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

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Bitcoin scams steal at least $11 million in virtual deposits from unsuspecting customers

First empirical study of its kind identifies fraud on seemingly legitimate web sites purposely designed to steal customers’ funds

bitcoin, moore, smu, fraud

Fraudulent schemes have scammed at least $11 million in Bitcoin deposits from unsuspecting cyber customers over the past four years, according to new cyber security research from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

Bitcoin is the digital world’s most popular virtual currency, with millions in circulation.

In the first empirical study of its kind, SMU researchers found that hucksters used four different types of schemes through authentic-looking web-based investment and banking outlets to lure customers and heist deposits, said computer security expert Marie Vasek, lead researcher on the study.

“Our calculation of $11 million is almost certainly at the low-end,” said Vasek. “The amount of Bitcoin that depositors have lost to these scams is probably many millions more.”

Typically the scams succeed by exploiting not only people’s greed, but also the urge to “get rich quick,” coupled with the inability to judge the legitimacy of web services to decide which financial sites are good or bad, said Bitcoin and cyber security expert Tyler W. Moore, co-researcher on the study.

“Because the complete history of Bitcoin transactions are made public, we have been able to inspect, for the first time, the money flowing in and out of fraudulent schemes in great detail. It’s like having access to all of Bernie Madoff’s books for many of these scams,” said Moore, director of the Economics and Social Sciences program of the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering.

13,000 victims and counting in four different kinds of scams
The researchers identified 41 scams occurring between 2011 and 2014, in which fraudulent sites stole Bitcoin from at least 13,000 victims, and most certainly more.

“We found that the most successful scams draw the vast majority of their revenue from a few victims,” Vasek said.

The researchers were only able to track revenues for about 21 percent of the scams, which would indicate that the amount of Bitcoin actually stolen most likely far exceeds $11 million.

The findings emerged when the researchers ran a Structured Query Language database dump of all relevant Bitcoin transactions, then analyzed Bitcoin addresses (the account numbers) of both victims and the siphoning transactions of scammers.

The researchers presented the findings, “There’s no free lunch, even using bitcoin: Tracking the popularity and profits of virtual currency scams,” at the 2015 19th International Financial Cryptography and Data Security Conference, Jan. 26-30, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Vasek is a graduate student in the Lyle School’s Computer Science and Engineering Department. Moore is assistant professor in the Lyle School’s Computer Science and Engineering Department.

“The amount of fraud being attracted by Bitcoin is a testament to the fact the virtual currency is gaining in legitimacy,” said Moore. “But scams that successfully hijack funds from depositors may end up scaring away consumers who will fear using Bitcoin for their legitimate digital transactions.”

There are 13.7 million Bitcoin in circulation, according to blockchain.info. The number of Bitcoin transactions exceeds 100,000 per day.

The research was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, Cyber Security Division, and the Government of Australia and SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific.

Four scams, each with varying lifespans, strategies and success
Vasek and Moore identified four common scams by tracking forum discussions, where scams are often initially advertised and later exposed, and by tracking web sites.

High-yield investment programs, otherwise known as online Ponzi schemes, which promise investors outlandish interest rates on deposits. The scammers lure both unsuspecting victims as well as those fully aware it’s a Ponzi scheme who hope to cash out in time. Of all the scams, this type has taken in the lion’s share of money from victims. The biggest of these scammers was Bitcoin Savings & Trust, formerly First Pirate Savings & Trust. When such schemes collapse, as they eventually do, and often within about 37 days, they’re replaced with a new program, often run by the same criminals, say the researchers. These scammers consistently pay out to their investors far less than they take in.

Mining investment scams are classic advanced-fee fraud, taking orders and money from customers but never delivering any mining equipment — specialized computer processors and electronic devices for mining Bitcoin. These retailers typically endure for 145 days, much longer than Ponzi schemes. Vasek and Moore looked at Labcoin, Active Mining Corp., AsicMiningEuipment.com and Dragon-Miner.com.

Victims make deposits into scam wallets under the promise the service offers greater transaction anonymity. If the deposit is small, scammers leave the money, but if it rises above a threshold, scammers move the money into their wallet. Services such as Onion Wallet, Easy Coin and Bitcoinwallet.in each surfaced with transfers from victims siphoned to one address held by a scammer.

Exchange scams, such as BTC Promo, CoinOpend and Ubitex, offer PayPal and credit card processing, but at a better exchange rate than competitors. Customers soon find out, however, they never get Bitcoin or cash after making payment. Longer-lived exchange scams survived about three months. Wallet and exchange scams exploit the difficulty in judging the legitimacy of web services.

The study is not a comprehensive review, the researchers note, as they were limited to those scams for which they could determine a minimum estimate of the prevalence and criminal profits of the scams after analyzing the public ledger of all Bitcoin transactions ever executed.

The researchers conservatively estimate that $11 million has been taken by scams, while only $4 million has ever been returned. Most of the successful scams catch a few “big fish,” say the researchers, who pay the bulk of the money into the scam.

“Bitcoin scams pose a problem for more than the victims who directly lose money,” Moore said. “They threaten to undermine trust in this promising technology, and cast a chilling effect on those interested in trying out new services. By mining the public record for fraudulent transactions, we hope to deter would-be scammers and assist law enforcement in cracking down on the bad actors.” — Margaret Allen

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Raw Story: Teaching girls to say ‘no’ in virtual reality cuts sexual victimization by half — study

sexual victimization, virtual reality, SMU

Blogger Scott Kaufman on the Internet news site Raw Story covered the research of SMU clinical psychologist Lorelei Simpson Rowe and her co-authors Ernest N. Jouriles and Renee McDonald.

Simpson Rowe, an associate professor and graduate program co-director in the SMU Department of Psychology, is lead author on the pilot study from SMU.

The virtual-reality simulation component of “My Voice, My Choice” utilizes a software program developed by Jouriles and McDonald in conjunction with SMU’s award-winning Guildhall video gaming program. Jouriles and McDonald are clinical psychologists in the SMU Psychology Department. Jouriles is professor and chair. McDonald is a professor and associate dean of research and academic affairs for Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Results of their study found teen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment.

The effects persisted over a three-month period following the training.

The Raw Story article, “Teaching girls to say ‘no’ in virtual reality cuts sexual victimization by half: study,” was published Jan. 25.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Scott Kaufman
Raw Story

study by researchers at Southern Methodist University has demonstrated that teenage girls who learn to assertively decline sexual advances in a virtual reality simulator are less likely suffer long term effects from sexual victimization.

The training program, called “My Voice, My Choice,” allowed “girls to practice being assertive in a realistic environment. The intent of the program is for the learning opportunity to increase the likelihood that they will use the skills in real life,” associate professor of psychology at SMU Simpson Rowe said.

“Research has shown that skills are more likely to generalize if they are practiced in a realistic environment, so we used virtual reality to increase the realism,” she continued. “It is very promising that learning resistance skills and practicing them in virtual simulations of coercive interactions could reduce the risk for later sexual victimization.”

The simulation training is similar to technology used to train soldiers, physicians, and pilots. Small groups of two to four women were trained by a facilitator how to engage in “assertive resistance,” including the use of a firm voice, exhibiting confidence in body language, and clearly stating their limits. They then practiced these skills in the “virtual coercive simulator” designed by the SMU research team.

In it, they would be seated on a bed with a male who engaged in aggressive behavior that escalated in the face of the teen’s resistance. The teens would then review footage of their encounter with the facilitator and the other members of their group.

Renee McDonald, one of the study’s co-authors, said that “one advantage the virtual simulations offer is the ability to actually observe whether, and how, the girls are using the skills in coercive situations that feel very real.”

“This provides girls with opportunities for immediate feedback and accelerated learning, and for facilitators to easily spot areas in need of further strengthening. The value of this advantage can’t be overstated.”

Read the full story.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Booming mobile-health app market needs robust FDA oversight to ensure consumer safety, confidence

Health Law Experts in July 24 The New England Journal of Medicine say consumers will be spending a lot of money on these products, and venture capital is flying into the industry.

Cortez, mHealth, SMU, Dedman

Smart phones and mobile devices are on the cusp of revolutionizing health care, armed with mobile health apps capable of providing everything from cardiac measurements to sonograms.

While tremendous potential exists to broaden access to medical treatment and control costs with mHealth apps, as they’re called, several health law experts say in a just-published report in The New England Journal of Medicine that more oversight is needed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure consumer confidence and safety.

Out of some 100,000 mHealth apps on the market, only about 100 have been cleared by the FDA. Opponents to tighter regulation see the FDA as a deterrent to innovation — and profits.

“Consumers will be spending a lot of money on these products, and venture capital is flying into the industry,” says the article’s lead author, SMU Dedman School of Law Associate Dean of Research Nathan Cortez, adding that by 2017 mHealth apps are expected to earn $26 billion — up from $2.4 billion in 2013.

The FDA needs “additional funding and in-house technical expertise to oversee the ongoing flood of mHealth products,” the authors note. An under-regulated mobile health industry could create “a Wild West” market, says Cortez, who has conducted extensive research into FDA regulation of mobile health technologies.

“Most consumers take mobile health app claims at face value, and think that because they’re available through a trusted retailer like the iTunes Store, they must have been reviewed by the FDA, which isn’t usually the case,” Cortez says.

Some apps make promises they can’t fulfill, and others make errors that could harm patients
Cortez, who also serves as an associate professor in SMU’s Dedman School of Law, co-wrote the article with Harvard Law School Professor I. Glenn Cohen, faculty director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, and author of Human Subjects Research Regulation: Perspectives on the Future (MIT Press, 2014) and Aaron S. Kesselheim, associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

“Although the vast majority of mHealth products are very low-risk, some apps make promises they can’t fulfill, and others make errors that could harm patients,” Cortez notes, pointing out that life-threatening technical mistakes are not only possible – they also have occurred.

One of several examples cited in the study includes Sanofi Aventis’ 2012 recall of a diabetes app that miscalculated insulin dosages.

Several Congressional bills have been proposed to strengthen FDA jurisdiction over mHealth products, with one proposing the creation of a new Office of Wireless Health Technology within the administration, the article notes. Meanwhile, more restrictive bills also have been introduced to keep the FDA from regulating “clinical software” or “applying a complex regulatory framework [that] could inhibit future growth and innovation in this promising market.”

“The conventional wisdom is that FDA regulation will stifle innovation, and that’s a very short-term way to think about this,” Cortez says. “Most Silicon Valley firms aren’t used to much federal regulation, and Internet technologies have been subject to very little federal oversight.”

If dangerous errors and disproven product benefits are allowed to proliferate, “some very useful products will be undermined by widespread consumer distrust,” Cortez contends.

“We’re trying to push lawmakers to empower the FDA, not hamstring it,” he says. “Clarity will help the industry create products more helpful than harmful.” — Denise Gee

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU Dedman School of Law was founded in 1925 and enjoys a national and international reputation of distinction, with graduates who have distinguished themselves as global leaders in law, business and government, and as prominent members of the judiciary.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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The power of ManeFrame: SMU’s new supercomputer boosts research capacity

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The enormous capacity of SMU’s new supercomputer ranks it among the largest academic supercomputers in the nation.

ManeFrame, previously known as MANA, was relocated to Dallas from its previous location in Maui, Hawaii. (Courtesy of mauinow.com)
ManeFrame, previously known as MANA, was relocated to Dallas from its former location in Maui, Hawaii. (Courtesy of mauinow.com)

SMU now has a powerful new tool for research – one of the fastest academic supercomputers in the nation – and a new facility to house it.

With a cluster of more than 1,000 Dell servers, the system’s capacity is on par with high-performance computing (HPC) power at much larger universities and at government-owned laboratories. The U.S. Department of Defense awarded the system to SMU in August 2013.

SMU’s Office of Information Technology added the system to the University’s existing – but much smaller – supercomputer. The system is housed in a new facility built at the corner of Mockingbird and Central Expressway. In a contest sponsored by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul W. Ludden, faculty and students chose the name “ManeFrame” to honor the Mustang mascot.

The enormous capacity and speed of HPC expands scientific access to new knowledge around key questions about the universe, disease, human behavior, health, food, water, environment, climate, democracy, poverty, war and peace.

“World-changing discoveries rely on vast computing resources,” says President R. Gerald Turner. “ManeFrame quintuples the University’s supercomputing capacity. Our scientists and students will keep pace with the increasing demand for the ever-expanding computing power that is required to participate in global scientific collaborations. This accelerates our research capabilities exponentially.”

ManeFrame potential
With nearly 11,000 central processing unit cores, ManeFrame boasts 40 terabytes (one terabyte equals a trillion bytes) of memory and more than 1.5 petabytes of storage (a petabyte equals a quadrillion bytes), says Joe Gargiulo, SMU’s chief information officer, who led the installation team.

The sciences and engineering primarily use supercomputers, but that is expanding to include the humanities and the arts. So far, SMU’s heavy users are researchers in physics, math, biology, chemistry and economics.

“This technologically advanced machine will have an impact on shaping our world,” says Thomas M. Hagstrom, chair of the Department of Mathematics in Dedman College and director of SMU’s Center for Scientific Computing. “This makes research that solves problems on a large scale much more accessible. ManeFrame’s theoretical peak would be on the order of 120 Teraflops, which is 120 trillion mathematical operations a second.”

Supercomputers can use sophisticated software and step-by-step procedures for calculations, called algorithms, to solve complex problems that can’t be managed in a researcher’s lab, Hagstrom explains.

“We can’t put the Earth’s climate system or study the evolution of the universe in a physical lab,” he says. “You can only study these and other systems in a comprehensive way using high-performance computing.”

Making SMU competitive
Supercomputing gave University physicists a role in the Higgs Boson research at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. Joining the collaboration with thousands of scientists around the world, SMU’s team was led by Physics Professor Ryszard Stroynowski. SMU’s physicists tapped the existing HPC on campus to quickly analyze massive amounts of data and deliver results to their international colleagues.

SMU’s team will use ManeFrame to keep pace with an even larger flood of data expected from the Large Hadron Collider.

“ManeFrame makes SMU – which is small by comparison with many of its peer institutions at CERN – nimble and competitive, and that lets us be visible in a big experiment like CERN,” says Stephen Sekula, assistant professor of physics. “So we have to have ideas, motivation and creativity – but having a technical resource like ManeFrame lets us act on those things.”

SMU physicist Pavel Nadolsky has conducted “big data” analyses of subatomic particles on the supercomputer as part of an international physics collaboration. Big data refers to probability distributions that depend on many variables. As users ranging from retailers to the health industry collect multitudes of transactional data every day, requirements for big data analysis are rapidly emerging.

“To keep up in our field, we need resources like ManeFrame,” says Nadolsky, associate professor of physics.

“The world is moving into big-data analysis, whether it’s Google, Facebook or the National Security Administration,” Nadolsky says. “We learn a lot about the world by studying multidimensional distributions: It tells about the origins of the universe; it can win elections by using data mining to analyze voting probabilities over time in specific geographical areas and targeting campaign efforts accordingly; and it can predict what people are doing. To make students competitive they must be trained to use these tools efficiently and ethically.”

ManeFrame will have a high-profile role in the U.S. Department of Energy experiment called NOvA, which studies neutrinos, a little-understood and elusive fundamental particle that may help explain why matter, and not just light, exists in the universe today. SMU will contribute four million processing hours each year to the experiment, says Thomas E. Coan, associate professor of physics and a member of the international team.

“We’re in good company with others providing computing, including California Institute of Technology and Harvard,” Coan says. “It’s one way for SMU to play a prominent role in the experiment. We get a lot of visibility among all the institutions participating in NOvA, which are spread out across five countries.”

Advancing discovery
One of the heaviest users of SMU’s HPC is John Wise, associate professor of biological sciences, who models a key human protein to improve chemotherapy to kill cancer cells. Wise works with the SMU Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery in Dedman College, an interdisciplinary research initiative of the Biology and Chemistry departments and led by Professor of Biological Sciences Pia Vogel.

Within the Mathematics Department, Assistant Professor Daniel R. Reynolds and his team use high-performance computing to run simulations with applications in cosmology and fusion reactors.

Looking to the future, high-performance computing will be increasing in research, business and the arts, according to James Quick, associate vice president for research and dean of graduate studies.

“High-performance computing has emerged as a revolutionary tool that dramatically increases the rates of scientific discovery and product development, enables wise investment decisions and opens new dimensions in artistic creativity,” says Quick, professor of earth sciences. “SMU will use the computational power of ManeFrame to expand research and creativity and develop educational opportunities for students interested in the application of high-performance computing in their fields – be it science, engineering, business or the arts.” – Margaret Allen

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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The Texas Tribune: Surprise quakes stir up Tarrant County residents

After a contentious town hall meeting concerning the possible links between wastewater injection and a spate of North Texas earthquakes, locals say they cannot afford to wait for state regulators to address the issue.

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Journalist Jim Malewitz with The Texas Tribune tapped the expertise of SMU geophysicist Brian Stump, whose research has looked at the operation of saltwater injection disposal wells and small earthquakes that have occurred in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Stump is Albritton Professor of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. His primary research interests include seismic wave propagation, seismic source theory and shallow geophysical site characterization. Recent work has focused on characterization of explosions as sources of seismic waves. Studies have included the quantification of single-fired nuclear and chemical explosions as well as millisecond-delay-fired explosions typical of those used in the mining industry. The spatial and temporal effects of mining explosions and their signature in regional waveforms have been of particular interest. This research has application to the monitoring of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty where even small explosions will have to be identified using their seismic signatures.

Stump received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Immediately following his graduate education he spent four years on active duty with the US Air Force as a staff seismologist and ultimately as Chief of the Geological Siting and Seismology Section. He joined the SMU faculty in 1983.

The Texas Tribunes’s coverage, “After Surprise Quakes, North Texans Speak of Impact,” was published online Jan. 3.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Jim Malewitz
The Texas Tribune

Melanie Williams does not want to abandon her home. She has been there, done that. That’s why she’s here now.

After Hurricane Katrina forced her to leave New Orleans eight years ago, the 47-year-old took refuge in this small town near Fort Worth — about 300 miles from the Gulf Coast waters that engulfed her former life.

But, once again, Williams is living on shaky ground — this time, literally. She says a recently cracked foundation and busted water pipe have made her decade-old house unlivable, leaving her struggling to pay rent for an apartment on top of her mortgage as she awaits the fixes.

Williams blames a recent string of earthquakes, whose rumblings she never expected to feel when she settled here.

“I’ve had it up to here with the disasters,” she said in an interview. “It’s like they’ve been following me.” [ … ]

[ … ] In 2008 and 2009, folks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were shaken by three series of earthquakes, with magnitudes as high as 3.3. In a study prompted by those concerns, researchers at Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Austin concluded that local disposal wells were a “plausible” cause, though they found it “puzzling” that the tremors were concentrated in just one or two locations in a region that had more than 200 disposal wells.

Read the full story.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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USA Today: Bitcoin tumbles after China crackdown

“The currency that is supposedly beyond state control is actually still within the grip of governments …” — Tyler Moore

Journalists Alistair Barr and Kim Hjelmgaard with USA Today tapped the expertise of SMU Bitcoin and cybersecurity expert Tyler W. Moore, an assistant professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering.

Moore’s expertise draws in part on his research that found that online money exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a computer science study in which Moore applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close.

Tyler Moore, SMU Bitcoin
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Moore carried out the research with Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

USA Today’s coverage, “Bitcoin tumbles after China crackdown,” was published online Dec. 18.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Alistair Barr
and Kim Hjelmgaard
USA Today

Bitcoin was supposed to be beyond the reach of governments, but investors in the virtual currency are realizing that is not the case.

The price of a Bitcoin slumped Wednesday after China’s largest exchange for the virtual currency said it would stop accepting deposits in yuan — China’s local currency.

The much-ballyhooed Bitcoin currency has lost more than half its value since hitting records above $1,100 at the end of November. On Wednesday, the price of a Bitcoin fell 18% to $558 and traded as low as $422.50 earlier in the day, according to an index run by CoinDesk, a website focused on digital currencies.

The exchange, BTC China, had to “temporarily stop its yuan account recharging functions,” according to comments it made on Weibo, a popular Chinese micro-blogging service similar to Twitter.

“Bitcoin is inherently volatile, but the decision by this large exchange has played a role,” said Tyler Moore, a Southern Methodist University assistant professor in computer science who has studied Bitcoin. “Stopping new deposits prevents new Chinese investors from piling more yuan into Bitcoin, eliminating some of the demand.”

Bitcoin is a digital currency and payment method that is not regulated by any government. Instead, software controls how many Bitcoins are produced, leaving it less prone to the whims of central banks, some of which have caused inflation in the past by printing too much paper currency.

The Bitcoin software first emerged in 2009 via a person or group using the name Satoshi Nakamoto. Since then, many other developers have jumped on board to support the currency and make it more accessible to consumers and investors.

Read the full story.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Money News: In Search of ‘Perfect Money’ — Hackers Switch to New Digital Currency

Tyler Moore, SMU, Perfect Monety, bitcoin

The financial news web site MoneyNews published a Reuters article that covers the Bitcoin research of SMU cybersecurity expert Tyler W. Moore, an assistant professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering.

Moore’s research found that online exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a new computer science study that applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close.

Moore carried out the research with Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Reuters’s coverage, “In Search of ‘Perfect Money’: Hackers Switch to New Digital Currency,” was published online Aug. 9.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

Reuters
Money News

Three months after a team of international law enforcement officials raided the digital currency firm Liberty Reserve, cyber experts say criminals are increasingly turning to another online currency called Perfect Money.
Idan Aharoni, the head of cyber intelligence at EMC Corp.’s RSA security division, said that some online scam artists and thieves are using Perfect Money’s digital currency to launder money and conceal profits in much the same way they allegedly did with Liberty Reserve’s currency.

On behalf of their clients, which include major financial institutions, Aharoni and his team monitor Internet forums that hackers use to sell stolen credit card information. After Liberty Reserve was taken down in May, activity on these forums initially slowed and then picked up again, with some hackers saying they would accept Perfect Money for payments, he said.

“We expected a large migration to another e-currency, and that has happened,” said Aharoni, whose RSA unit sells security services to 30,000 corporations and government agencies, including the popular Secure ID tokens that protect access to computer systems.

Perfect Money, which has been in operation since at least 2007, could not be reached for comment. A request submitted through its website failed to elicit a response, and the company does not list a phone number for its offices or identify any management or employees. [ … ]

[ … ] A Reuters review of postings on Internet message boards for digital currencies found hackers offering to sell stolen credit cards are open about accepting Perfect Money as payment.

“If it was expected at first that the Liberty Reserve takedown would have a long-lasting, substantial effect on the level of fraud, that’s not true,” Aharoni said.

Tyler Moore, an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University, said a 2011 study he conducted with two other academics found that Liberty Reserve and Perfect Money were two of the most widely accepted digital currencies for online Ponzi schemes. Of 1,000 websites that linked to Perfect Money, they found 70 percent that were Ponzi schemes.

“Perfect Money seems to be a very popular choice among this subculture,” Moore said.

Read the full story.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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StarTribune: Bitcoin has more staying power than other digital currencies

Said one Minnesota fan of the digital money:  “Right now I wouldn’t call it investing, I would call it gambling.”

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Business writer Jennifer Bjorhus with the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper covered the Bitcoin research of SMU cybersecurity expert Tyler W. Moore, an assistant professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering.

Moore’s research found that online exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a new computer science study that applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close. Moore carried out the research with Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

The coverage by Bjorhus, “Bitcoin has more staying power than other digital currencies,” was published online June 8.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

Jennifer Bjorhus
StarTribune

Bitcoin has shot up and crashed at least twice now.

Exchanges where the fast-rising new digital currency trades have been hacked, and so have individual accounts. It’s been linked to illegal activity in underground cyber haunts such as Silk Road, and sparked a move by the U.S. government to halt unregulated use.

And Bitcoin persists.

Heck, CNBC has a Bitcoin ticker on its website.

In its fourth year of circulation now, the decentralized online-only form of money has evolved from a libertarian-styled geek curiosity to a contender for becoming the first digital currency to go truly mainstream. There are now more than 11 million “coins” created worth more than $1 billion. Lumpy and volatile as it is, the math-based cash is one of the fastest rising alternative currencies in a world filled with them.

Tyler Moore, who studies alternative currencies, said he still isn’t sure why.

“It’s one part luck, one part decentralization and one part this design that carries appeal for people that don’t like inflation,” said Moore, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “The timing of it was really good.”

Bitcoin slipped onto the scene in 2009, as trust in established banks crumbled and inflation fears rose. It’s not managed by anyone. There’s no central bank. It’s based on open-source encryption technology.

In fact, the digital cash can be created by anyone with the hefty computer power required to solve specified algorithms that secure the network. Bitcoins are rewards for effort. The system takes banks out of the picture completely as individuals pay each other directly. Transactions are private but because there’s a public ledger of them it’s unlikely they are perfectly anonymous.

Read the full story.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Business Insider: Bitcoin Is Sacrificing Its Soul To Survive

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Technology reporter Matt Twomey with Business Insider covered the Bitcoin research of SMU cybersecurity expert Tyler W. Moore, an assistant professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering.

Moore’s research found that online exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a new computer science study that applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close.

Moore carried out the research with Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Twomey’s coverage, “Bitcoin Is Sacrificing Its Soul To Survive,” was published online June 2.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

Matt Twomey
Business Insider

It’s been a wild couple months for digital currencies. This past week saw the bust of Liberty Reserve for its alleged role in billions of dollars of illicit transactions, and two days later the largest bitcoin exchange said it would now require all accounts to be verified.

For the digital currency to survive, must it sacrifice its soul? Can it thrive if it does?

To be sure, there are important differences between bitcoin and Liberty Reserve. Where Liberty was effectively a black box for transactions, controlled by a single entity, bitcoins are traded on a peer-to-peer network independent of any central authority. (Bitcoin did have its own law-enforcement episode on May 17, when the Department of Homeland Security froze the accounts of two U.S.-based bitcoin processors. The alleged misdeed: failing to properly register.)

In the Liberty Reserve case, the illegalities were brash, according to U.S. officials. One million users across the world—one-fifth of them Americans—made 55 million transactions over seven years to the tune of $6 billion, with few questions asked while Costa Rica-based Liberty collected 1 percent, investigators said. The network is thought to have been employed in the $45 million ATM heist for which eight people were arrested in May.

Chicago-based investment fraud attorney Andrew Stoltmann said bitcoin holders should be spooked, because the digital exchanges have been used by criminals for money laundering as well.

But Peter Vessenes, chairman and executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation, was unfazed by the Liberty Reserve crackdown.

“The U.S. put out guidance recently through the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and we’ve been following up on that guidance and crushing bad actors,” he said in an interview with CNBC Asia. “We’re seeing a bit of a sweep right now,” he said.

“There’s nothing to indicate that good players who are working hard to stay regulated have anything to worry about.”

And there’s the rub: The techno-libertarian fantasy of an unfettered digital currency is losing its veil of anonymity and is dependent upon ensuring the appeasement of government regulators. It’s enough to make a cryptotarian anarchist blanch.

Read the full story.

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For more information, www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Yahoo! News: Study shows 45% of Bitcoin exchanges end up failing

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Technology reporter Brad Reed with BGR News covered the Bitcoin research of SMU cybersecurity expert Tyler W. Moore, an assistant professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering.

Moore’s research found that online exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a new computer science study that applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close.

Moore carried out the research with Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Reed’s coverage, “ Study shows 45% of Bitcoin exchanges end up failing,” was published online April 26.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

Brad Reed
Yahoo! News

Imagine a world where the Nasdaq, the Nikkei and the FTSE all failed within the span of a week and you have an idea how crazy the world of virtual currency trading has become. Wired reports that a new study from computer scientists Tyler Moore of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Nicolas Christin of Carnegie Mellon University has found that 45% of Bitcoin exchanges end up shutting their virtual doors while leaving their users’ money in limbo. However, this doesn’t mean that the Bitcoin exchanges that have survived so far are safe havens, since the study also shows that they’re under constant assault from cybercriminals who are working around the clock to hack users’ transactions.

Read the full story.

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For more information, www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Wired: Study — 45 percent of Bitcoin exchanges end up closing

Wired Bitcoin Tyler W Moore SMU

Technology writer Ian Steadman with Wired in the United Kingdom covered the Bitcoin research of SMU cybersecurity expert Tyler W. Moore, an assistant professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering.

Moore’s research found that online exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a new computer science study that applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close.

Moore carried out the research with Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Steadman’s coverage, “Study: 45 percent of Bitcoin exchanges end up closing,” was published online April 26.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

Ian Steadman
Wired

A study of the Bitcoin exchange industry has found that 45 percent of exchanges fail, taking their users’ money with them. Those that survive are the ones that handle the most traffic — but they are also the exchanges that suffer the greatest number of cyber attacks.

Computer scientists Tyler Moore (from the Southern Methodist University, Dallas) and Nicolas Christin (of Carnegie Mellon University) found 40 exchanges on the web which offered a service of changing bitcoins into other fiat currencies or back again. Of those 40, 18 have gone out of business — 13 closing without warning, and five closing after suffering security breaches that forced them to close. Four other exchanges have suffered serious attacks but remain open.

One of those is Mt Gox, the largest Bitcoin exchange, with Moore and Christin stating that at its peak it handles more than 40,000 Bitcoin transactions a day, compared to a mean average of 1,716. It has been the victim of a huge number of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks over the past month during the peak of the Bitcoin bubble (and its subsequent bursting — though the price now appears to be rising again). Its latest statement, dealing with the attack it suffered on 21 April, is long and comprehensive, seeking to assuage the fears of Bitcoin users who feel that Mt Gox is becoming a weak chain in Bitcoin’s infrastructure.

Read the full story.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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redOrbit: Economists Question Bitcoin Stability Despite Meteoric Rise In Value

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Technology reporter Peter Suciu with redOrbit covered the Bitcoin research of SMU cybersecurity expert Tyler W. Moore, an assistant professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering.

Moore’s research found that online exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a new computer science study that applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close.

Moore carried out the research with Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Suciu’s coverage, “Economists Question Bitcoin Stability Despite Meteoric Rise In Value,” was published online April 25.

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

Peter Suciu
redOrbit

The bank failures that resulted from the 1929 stock market crash took many people’s life savings with it, and some say the same thing could happen – a albeit on a much smaller scale at least – to those who invest heavily in Bitcoins.

According to a new study from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the virtual cyber currency known as Bitcoin could have as much as a 45 percent chance of failing. This could occur if an exchange center that held the currency – much as a bank holds real money – closed, losing customers their Bitcoins and any hard money paid for them.

Bitcoin received a boost in interest this week when PayPal president David Marcus noted that the online payment center would consider making Bitcoin a funding instrument. Many still believe that the sophisticated cyber currency still holds promise for becoming a major international medium of exchange.

Moreover the SMU-CMU study also found that currency exchanges that buy and sell a higher volume of Bitcoins are less likely to shut down. That’s the good news. The bad news is that these transactions are more likely to suffer a security breach.

The encrypted digital currency has been in the spotlight this week, as 87 percent of the nation’s top economists think that the Bitcoin only has “limited usefulness,” reported TechCrunch. This is according to a recent University of Chicago Initiative on Global Markets (IGM) poll of the 38 of the world’s top economists.

“A bitcoin’s value derives solely from the belief that others will want to use it for trade, which implies that its purchasing power is likely to fluctuate over time to a degree that will limit its usefulness,” the IGM findings noted – a general statement that, though intended to downplay the stability of Bitcoin, is actually true of all forms of currency.

Bitcoin exchanges work two ways. In the first, purchasers can go through an online exchange and pay for the virtual currency with hard currency, typically with a credit card. The exchange then transfers the purchased Bitcoins to the buyer’s account. The second way is for Bitcoins to be purchased from local dealers, where the parties meet in person and the buyer pays in cash.

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Culture, Society & Family Economics & Statistics Technology

Study: High-volume Bitcoin exchanges less likely to fail, but more likely to suffer breach

Empirical computer science study finds consumers face risk of losing money on Bitcoin currency exchanges, many of which close

Bitcoin accepted here

Online exchanges that trade hard currency for the rapidly emerging cyber money known as Bitcoin have a 45 percent chance of failing — often taking their customers’ money with them.

The finding is from a new computer science study that applied survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close.

Results showed also that currency exchanges that buy and sell a higher volume of Bitcoins are less likely to shut down, but more likely to suffer a security breach.

The study analyzed 40 exchanges that buy and sell the virtual Bitcoin to identify factors that trigger or stave off closure, said the study’s authors, computer scientists Tyler W. Moore, in the Lyle School of Engineering, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and Nicolas Christin, with the Information Networking Institute and Carnegie Mellon CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.

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