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keenan.jpgJust before President Barack Obama '06 H delivered his final State of the Union Address, NBC News profiled his lead speechwriter, Cody Keenan, who graduated from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences with a bachelor's degree in political science in 2002.

The segment is available for viewing on

At Northwestern, one thing's for sure: Our students, staff and faculty really know how to capture the beauty of our campuses. Here's a look at the Evanston, Chicago and Qatar campuses throughout 2015 via Instagram photos from Northwestern's community.

View the original post at the Northwestern News Center.


Is there a cosmos beyond our own? Once relegated to the realm of fantasy fiction, the question now is at the center of serious scientific debate about whether whole other universes actually exist billions of light years away from our own.


To Kimberly Clinch, a math major in Northwestern’s rigorous Integrated Science Program, the question is rich with possibility. 

Clinch, who has always loved space, used her summer undergraduate research project to weigh in on arguments that pit physics against philosophy.

She rejects the notion that inquiry should begin and end with physical science.

“I am a ‘cosmophile’ who happens to be fascinated by hard science,” Clinch said. “I don’t think it’s in humanity’s best interest to make everyone pick a side -- physics or philosophy.”

By the end of the summer, Clinch’s work came to deal only tangentially with the multiverse, focusing instead on man’s role in our universe and the relationship between physics and philosophy.

Historically, philosophy and physics were inextricably linked, Clinch argues. She spent last summer on a reading list that included works by Aristotle and Einstein, whose famed academic pursuits often occupied a space somewhere between physics and philosophy.

“There was a time when the top physicists were also the top philosophers,” she said.

Through the lens of classic texts, including Aristotle’s “Metaphysics,” Clinch set out to re-examine the debate surrounding the multiverse from a philosophical perspective.

Her goal was to determine whether philosophical views support or oppose methods and theories of modern cosmologists in their studies of the multiverse.

“The physics community as a whole is kind of disparaging toward philosophy,” Clinch said. “This research topic arose out of my frustration with the contemporary division between philosophy and physics.”

Philosophy and its pursuits, she argues, can play an important role in helping scientists pose the right questions.

Clinch recently conducted a Q&A with Northwestern News about her research and reflected on her time at Northwestern.

What attracted you to the undergraduate research grant program?

I was surprised when I learned I could earn money by tackling a reading list I have been meaning to take on for a long time. During the school year I don’t get a lot of time to read, for pleasure anyway. And this year is the first year I’ve lived off campus in an apartment with roommates. I needed rent money.

You started your college career in the McCormick School of Engineering, switched to the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and you are now enrolled in Northwestern’s Integrated Science Program (ISP), an accelerated science and math curriculum. Tell me about your academic path.

During my second quarter, on Mondays and Wednesdays, I had metaphysics, followed by physics, followed by math. I loved the chronology of the day. And I was fascinated with how the math and physics were used to help answer metaphysical questions about free will.

At Northwestern I am able to do the ISP curriculum, combining molecular biology and astrophysics. I couldn’t tailor all of that together at another school like I have been able to at Northwestern.

Why the multiverse theory?

I have always been fascinated by space. I remember being a little girl and learning that the light we see is millions of years old and that we are looking back in time.

I like to try to visualize space as an infinite and unbound sphere, as physicist Stephen Hawking describes it, or another universe where the rules of relativity do not apply.

What questions did your research address?

My findings, or final paper, ended up veering from the multiverse topic, although it still tackled the importance of bringing physics and philosophy together.

My decision to refocus the research on free will was similar to the switches that take place in hard science when a researcher is looking for one thing and notices an unrelated but interesting phenomenon taking place under his/her microscope. I found ideas in my readings that had implications for free will, and I realized that these implications were a worthy finding in and of themselves.

You were an active member in the Real Food campaign, which helped convince Northwestern officials to increase the amount of “ecologically sound, community-based, humanely-produced or fair-trade” food in dining halls. Tell me about that.

My high school biology teacher was an organic farmer during the summers when school was out. He was the one who got me thinking a lot about sustainability and consumer choice.

Doing this food challenge is a big thing. The university signing on to this Real Food challenge will really make a difference in some tomato farmer's life, for instance. My interest in the life sciences is tied to sustainability.

Where does food ecology fit in the spectrum of philosophy and hard science?

Food ecology is a balance to philosophy, hard science and the big questions, including “free will.” If free will is an illusion or a construct, then our perceived choices, whether about sustainability or any other ethical question, are of no consequence.

That can lead to doubt about what is real and whether there is purpose.

The possibility of human life having meaning is of such gravity that we should take care of one another even if we are unsure whether that possibility represents reality. Striving for sustainability is of the utmost importance. Changing our food system should be tackled first, because it will do the most good for humanity.

To read the original version of this story, go to the Northwestern News Center.


Tyler Scaletta (above) knows competitive tennis from the perspective of a player as well as a coach. Now, the Northwestern senior also is learning how to understand tennis from a researcher’s point of view.


“There’s this idea that tennis players are anxious and antisocial by nature,” said Scaletta, who is majoring in both biology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and education in the School of Education and Social Policy. But the anxiety and antisocial behavior that are fairly common in competitive junior tennis players are, he added, more likely products of the environment in which players compete.

A former competitive tennis player and a volunteer junior tennis coach at Lincolnway East High School in Frankfort, Illinois, Scaletta teamed up with fellow undergraduate Julian Matra, a human development and psychological services major in the School of Education and Social Policy, to apply scientific scrutiny to that hypothesis. Research on the competitive nature of tennis is scarce, and the work that has been most cited, Scaletta said, is highly anecdotal. Based on interviews that were not even recorded or coded, that earlier work lacked the rigor required of serious quantitative data collection and translation that Scaletta is learning at Northwestern.

The research compares behavior of young baseball players with that of young tennis players, who spend hours training and practicing on their own, preparing to face opponents one-on-one in tournaments, all without the moral support of a team.

“It’s cutthroat. Your best friend, maybe your only friend, could become your opponent at any time,” Scaletta said. “Add to that overzealous parents and coaches, and the physical and psychological toll, and tennis can be seriously stunting to the social development of a young player.”

Scaletta hopes his research will spur the larger tennis community to take notice and start a conversation about social anxiety disorders among junior competitive players. 

“We’re trying to get parents and coaches to think about the connection between competitive practices and how these kids are developing socially,” he said. 

The project has made Scaletta acutely aware of the major role that research plays in policymaking and how it influences thinking about a particular issue. He was surprised to learn freshman year that he could take advantage of Northwestern’s Summer Undergraduate Research Grant program to possibly make an even bigger difference in the stressful lives of young athletes who compete in a sport he coaches and cares deeply about.

“I care about kids playing this sport, and it bothers me to think that they might feel alone or lost,” he said.

Scaletta recently conducted a Q&A with Northwestern News about his research and reflected on his time at the University.

What led you to do this research?

I played tennis competitively, and I’ve coached high school tennis for a few years. I have seen firsthand how the pressure and isolation can get to young players. And there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence about its relationship to the sport. I figured we could test the hypothesis, see if there is anything there.

How did you identify the young tennis players you surveyed?

We collected data at a tennis tournament in the southwest suburbs. The young athletes that compete there play at a fairly high level, so qualifiers are more competitive than at an average tournament.

Our surveys included psychological measures and lifestyle questions to give us data about social anxiety disorder, demographics and specific incidents of tennis habits creeping into social situations.

We also collected surveys from a youth baseball tournament to highlight and control differences between a team sport and tennis. Then we ran an analysis to determine the strength of the relationship between socially anxious traits and playing competitive junior tennis.

What are some of these traits?

They range in severity: reluctance to talk to a new person, feelings of physical stress about social interactions, not being able to talk on the phone or make eye contact.

You played tennis at this age. Were you one of these socially anxious young athletes you and Julian were looking at?

No, I think because my parents encouraged me to try a lot of different activities. I didn’t just play tennis. But if you look at a lot of the kids who are really good tennis players, it’s their only activity. They play for many hours a day and don’t really socialize outside of tennis.

What was it like doing this project with a partner?

We’ve both learned so much about research practices, from writing the proposal, getting it approved and doing the pre-research. But more than that, I’m a big fan of collaboration in general. Together Julian and I have come up with so many ideas that I would never have thought of on my own. 

Did you see yourself doing research before coming to Northwestern?

No, not at all. I had never heard of this kind of opportunity for undergrads. Peter Civetta [director of the Office of Undergraduate Research] came into one of my classes freshman year to talk about the undergraduate research program, and I thought it was an awesome opportunity.

Has undergraduate research changed the way you think about your studies?

I always wanted to teach, but now I have an increased interest in educational research. Teaching is a huge impact profession -- one I really care about -- but being exposed to education research has allowed me to see its potential for impact on policy. That area can create the effects I think a lot of people who want to become teachers hope to see.

To read the original story, go to the Northwestern News Center.

shane davis.jpg

Northwestern has hired Shane Davis as head coach of the Wildcats women's volleyball program, Vice President for Athletics & Recreation Jim Phillips announced.

"Shane Davis is unquestionably one of the top coaches in the nation, in any sport, and we are thrilled to welcome him, along with Andrea, Sydney and Jordyn to the Northwestern family," said Phillips. "His remarkable record of success on the court speaks for itself, and his commitment to the development of his student-athletes outside competition is profound. He is the perfect fit to deliver a world-class experience academically, socially and athletically to our young women, and lead our program into the future in the best volleyball conference in the country."

During a 12-year career at the helm of the Loyola University men's volleyball program, Davis built a powerhouse in Rogers Park, leading the Ramblers to three straight national semifinals and back-to-back NCAA championships in 2014 and 2015, compiling a career record of 265-88 and winning four Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) Coach of the Year honors.

"After 18 wonderful years at Loyola, both as a student-athlete and head coach, I am ready to begin a new chapter," said Davis. "I am humbled and honored for this opportunity to lead the Wildcats volleyball program. Northwestern is a world-class institution with an extremely proud and supportive athletic department in the city I have called home for more than half my life. My family is rooted in Chicago and I am thrilled to remain here while leading an outstanding team to great heights.

"I want to thank President Morty Schapiro and Jim Phillips for defining the vision of this program and allowing me to be a part of it. The potential of this team is incredible and I can't wait to get to work." 

Since taking over the Ramblers in 2004, Davis has coached 12 All-Americans, including both the 2015 AVCA National Player of the Year and 2015 AVCA Newcomer of the Year. He has also mentored 43 All-MIVA selections, including four MIVA Players of the Year. Off the court Davis has built a culture of success in the classroom, as 13 Ramblers were named to the MIVA Academic All-Conference Team last season.

The Denver, Iowa, native was a member of Loyola's men's volleyball team from 2000 to 2003, during which time he set a school record for career assists (5,337) and reached second place on the school leaderboard in career digs (723). He was named Loyola's 2003 Male Athlete of the Year after a season in which he earned First Team All-MIVA recognition for the third time, as well as Second Team All-America honors.

To read the original version of this story, go to


Northwestern student-athletes put together arguably their finest academic quarter ever during fall 2015, compiling record marks in the classroom across the board.

The Wildcats' overall student-athlete GPA was 3.29, while the team average was 3.32. Both of these are the highest on record for the department. All 19 programs had term GPAs above 3.00.

Last fall was the 28th consecutive academic quarter in which NU student-athletes achieved an average GPA above 3.00. Seventy-six percent of Northwestern's student-athletes hit that mark, while 27 student-athletes earned perfect 4.0 GPAs. The top teams academically in the fall were men's golf (3.60), field hockey (3.49), women's lacrosse (3.48) and women's fencing (3.42).

"The results in the classroom this fall are astounding," said Jim Phillips, Vice President for Athletics and Recreation. "To set records academically while also achieving strong success in athletic competition this fall is indicative of the caliber of student-athlete we have at Northwestern. We are incredibly proud of each and every one of them."

Northwestern football notably recorded a 10-win regular season while women's soccer returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. Meanwhile, both basketball programs are off to starts that rank among the best in those programs' histories.

This latest data continues a trend that saw Northwestern lead the Big Ten in fall Academic All-Big Ten awards for the third straight year after earning 103 in its six fall sports in 2015. Football broke its program record with 39 honorees.

Northwestern also has a 97 percent overall Graduation Success Rate, which leads the Big Ten by eight percentage points and ranks among the top rates nationally.

To read the original story, go to

A video by a Northwestern journalism student has garnered national attention for its probing look at polarizing new legislation that allows Bolivian children as young as 10 to work, sometimes in harsh conditions.


“In Bolivia, Legitimizing Child Labor,” Mathias Meier’s long-form video, was featured prominently on The New York Times website.

In the film, some argue child labor is integral to Andean culture, where children have been working for generations; others condemn it as exploitation.

“In Bolivia, you see 6-year-old children marching in the streets, demanding their right to work,” said Meier, who earned a master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in September.

“While most people living in the West think of exploitation and poor pay, there’s a feeling among some that if you put the issue in the open, you can avoid the abuse that happens in the dark.”

In Bolivia, where more than one million children perform some kind of labor, Meier discovered a passionate child worker’s union and critics to the new law.

Meier profiled child workers who contributed to their family’s welfare. The footage included young brick laborers in a town where hundreds of children work in dangerous conditions and an interview with an owner of the brickworks, who denied employing the children.

“The Bolivian government wants to legalize child labor under safe and fair conditions but, at the same time, is unable to supervise the well-being of these kids working in harsh conditions and not going to school,” Meier said.

Meier reported and edited from the Evanston campus but also received an international reporting grant to travel to Bolivia last May.

He edited the piece in his advanced video class with Northwestern journalism professor Craig Duff. It was nominated in the long-form category in the Chicago/Midwest NATAS (Emmys) Student Production Awards.

“This was a magnificent alchemy of a student applying his craft and talent to a story, coupled with the resources we were able to provide for him to travel and report there,” Duff said.

To read the original version of this story, visit the Northwestern News Center.

Hannah Wald.jpgHannah Wald, a junior from San Ramon, California, spent 14 weeks in Paris in fall 2015 through a Northwestern study abroad program. Two weeks after Paris was attacked by terrorists, she celebrated Thanksgiving at a restaurant in the city with Northwestern alumni and students during an event organized by the NU-Kellogg Club of France. Here, she reflects on what she learned by spending Thanksgiving with members of the Northwestern community in France.

By Hannah Wald '17

Since I was little, one of my favorite holiday traditions has always been celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. We would travel to my grandmother’s house back in California where I would watch football with my dad, uncle and grandfather and help my grandmother and mom cook the whole dinner from scratch. In 2015, however, my Thanksgiving holiday was a little different: I celebrated Thanksgiving in Paris while studying abroad in France.

In the middle of October, I was thrilled to receive an email from my program director saying that Northwestern students who did not yet have Thanksgiving dinner plans would still have the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving in Paris! I learned that the NU-Kellogg Club of France was sponsoring a Thanksgiving dinner in a Parisian restaurant. The event was open to all Northwestern students and alumni in Paris. Along with fellow Northwestern study abroad students, I decided to attend this Thanksgiving dinner. 


I did not know what to expect, so I was a little nervous. The dinner was at Restaurant L’Ardoise in the middle of the 2nd arrondissement, in the center of Paris. The setting was small and intimate, which was perfect for us to sit and talk. There were about a dozen alumni at the dinner, along with around 15 current students. We were served a traditional three-course Parisian meal, a little different from the Thanksgiving dinners I was used to at grandma’s house. The first course was a bowl of hearty soup that included cheese, bacon, and green onions. The main course was a plate of roast turkey, which had sweet potatoes, stuffing and vegetables. Our dessert was a lemon tart with a fruit sauce. The portions were not as large as in the States, but the food was spectacular! I appreciated the staff of L’Ardoise who worked to provide us an authentic Thanksgiving dinner. 

Thanksgiving in Paris.jpg

Northwestern alumni and students celebrate Thanksgiving in Paris.


Perhaps what I enjoyed the most about the Thanksgiving dinner was talking to the alumni. Hearing their stories of what it was like at Northwestern during their time as students was very cool. I talked with several alumni who currently live in Paris. One elegant lady, Noelle, made a great impression on me. A native Parisian, she had gone to Northwestern nearly 50 years ago for her undergraduate career and majored in engineering before deciding to switch to German. I loved talking to her because she was still so enthusiastic about her time at NU. I especially enjoyed hearing her wonderful story of how she recently reunited with an old classmate from the 1960s via Facebook. That blew my mind. It was amazing to see firsthand what a strong bond you can have with the classmates and friends you meet in college.


Of course, what made this event so special and memorable was that it took place only two weeks after the horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris. The fact that this event brought the students and alumni of Northwestern together for this special holiday became even more meaningful after the fear and trauma of November 13. I felt so blessed to experience a little bit of the Wildcat spirit and pride, even thousands of miles from campus. I learned that no matter where you are, or how far away you are, Northwestern is always with you.

Hannah is double majoring in political science and international studies and hopes to pursue a certificate in integrated marketing and communications.

eikenberry-buffett-institute.jpgThe Buffett Institute is excited to embark on a new chapter of growth as it welcomes Karl W. Eikenberry (right), former US ambassador to Afghanistan, as its first executive director. He will officially assume the role on September 1, 2016.


In an official statement, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said, “We are thrilled that Ambassador Eikenberry will be the inaugural leader of the Buffett Institute at such an important juncture in Northwestern’s history. He has played a highly visible role on the world stage with his frank and insightful ideas about some of the most critical issues of our day and will play a central role in taking the scope and impact of our global programs to an entirely new level.”


Eikenberry currently teaches at Stanford, where he is the Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow and a faculty member of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. He also is affiliated with the Center for Democracy, Development and Rule of Law; the Center for International Security and Cooperation; and The Europe Center. As a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he participated in its Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, their Commission on Language Learning, and led a project on the threats to global security posed by civil wars. He is a graduate of the US Military Academy and has master’s degrees from Harvard University and Stanford University in East Asian studies and political science, respectively. He was also a national security fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.


Before his arrival at Stanford, Eikenberry served from May 2009 to July 2011 as the US ambassador to Afghanistan. He had a 35-year career in the US Army, retiring in 2009 with the rank of lieutenant general after serving as the deputy chairman of the NATO Military Committee in Brussels and previously commanding the US-led military coalition in Afghanistan.


Eikenberry serves as a trustee for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Asia Foundation, and the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. In addition to being a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the Council of American Ambassadors. He previously was the president of the Foreign Area Officers Association. His articles and essays on US and international security issues have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Washington Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and the Financial Times.


In a joint statement to the Buffett Institute community, Director Bruce Carruthers and Director of Programs and Research Brian Hanson said, “Ambassador Eikenberry brings an unusual and outstanding combination of skills, knowledge, experience and connections to the Buffett Institute. His military and diplomatic background will enrich the Buffett Institute’s expanding activities and offer new ways to realize the ambitions expressed in Roberta Buffett Elliott’s recent gift. We very much look forward to working with him in our next chapter of growth.”


After his appointment was announced, Eikenberry answered a few questions about becoming the Buffett Institute’s first executive director:


What drew you to the Buffett Institute, Northwestern, and this new role?

There were many good reasons I was drawn to Northwestern and the Buffett Institute, but three stand out. First, Roberta Buffett Elliot's extraordinary commitment to improving the world of today and tomorrow.  Second, Northwestern University's excellent reputation as a center for research and education.  And third, the tremendous honor of joining a superb institute with such a dedicated and talented group of faculty, fellows, and staff, and together with them contributing to the mission of positively transforming the university's global studies program.


What do you look forward to working on here when you arrive next fall?

I look forward to learning from the Institute’s stakeholders–faculty, fellows, students, staff, partners, and donors–about the research, education programs, and possibilities at Northwestern and at the Buffett Institute. There are many exciting projects and activities that are already well-established at the Institute and have the potential for further growth. Additionally, the grant money will allow educators, researchers, and students at Northwestern and at partner organizations to collaborate and innovate across interdisciplinary and geographic boundaries, and conduct intellectually trailblazing work.


What are your goals for the Buffett Institute?

Northwestern and the greater Chicago area offer an excellent platform for convening public dialogues on the major global issues of the day.  I look forward to helping make that platform ever more prominent and available.

To read the original version of this story, go to the Buffett Institute's website.

activity tracker.jpgHealth care providers and insurance companies are increasingly relying on smartphone and wearable activity trackers to reward active individuals for healthy behavior or to monitor patients.


But because activity trackers can be easily deceived, Northwestern Medicine and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) researchers have designed a way to train smartphone trackers to spot the difference between fake and real activity.

The new method detects, for example, when a cheater shakes the phone while lounging on the couch, so the tracker will think he's broken a sweat on a brisk walk.

While systems trained on normal activity data predicted true activity with 38 percent accuracy, training on the data gathered during the deceptive behavior increased their accuracy to 84 percent.

"As health care providers and insurance companies rely more on activity trackers, there is an imminent need to make these systems smarter against deceptive behavior," said lead study author Sohrab Saeb, a postdoctoral fellow
 at the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University
 Feinberg School of Medicine. "We’ve shown how to train systems to make sure data is authentic."

The study was published in PLOS ONE in December.

Some insurance companies offer discounts to individuals who are more active, Saeb said. Health care providers may monitor patients to see if they are following a clinician’s advice to do or refrain from certain activities to improve the outcome of their treatment.

In the study, scientists showed smartphones rigorously trained on normal and deceptive activity can spot deceptive behavior and generalize it across individuals. If the tracker learns how one person cheats, it will recognize the same shady behavior in someone else. As participants in the study varied their methods of cheating, the activity trackers were tested and retrained up to six times.

"Very few studies have tried to make activity tracking recognition robust against cheating," said senior author Konrad Kording, a research scientist at RIC and an associate professor in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Feinberg. "This technology could have broad implications for companies that make activity trackers and insurance companies alike as they seek to more reliably record movement."

Smartphone activity trackers were trained in the study, but the method could be applied to bracelet-type or other wearable sensor-based activity trackers as well.

It is not completely foolproof, however. “If someone attaches an activity tracker to a dog, the system can’t recognize that,” Saeb said.

The study included 14 subjects, 23 to 38 years old, who used a variety of cheating strategies. To fake walking when they were actually sitting on a chair, the participants shook the phone with their hands, swung their hands back and forth or slipped the phone into their pockets and moved their torso or legs to induce sensor readings similar to a real walk. They also tried to fake sitting while they were actually walking.

David Mohr, professor of preventive medicine at Feinberg, also is a senior author on the paper.

To read the original story, go to the Northwestern News Center.

Mars.jpgFrom campy favorites like Mars Attacks! to this year’s Golden Globe nominee The Martian, Hollywood has long fantasized about putting boots on the Red Planet. But now that non-profit Mars One plans to establish the first human settlement on Mars in 2025 and NASA hopes to send humans in 2030, this fantasy is quickly becoming a reality.

So a Northwestern Engineering team is getting practical about living on Mars.

Led by Gianluca Cusatis, the team developed a Martian concrete using materials naturally found on the planet. The high-strength concrete can be created quickly and is durable enough to withstand meteorite impacts — a key element needed to create viable shelters for humans.

While typical concrete is made of gravel, cement, and water, the concrete developed by Cusatis, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, comprises materials found on Mars. Instead of gravel, Cusatis used a Martian soil simulant created by NASA. And instead of water, he used molten sulfur, which is abundant on Mars.

The research is described in a paper recently submitted for peer review in the journal Construction and Building Materials and is currently available in pre-print at Lin Wan, a former PhD student in Cusatis’ laboratory, is first author of the paper. Former research associate Roman Wendner, who is currently working at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria, is also an author on the paper.

Sulfur-based concrete is not a new idea. Highly corrosion-resistant, it is currently used in non-structural applications, such as pipes and landscaping. But because it is sensitive to heat and fire, it is rarely used for larger projects. After testing its mechanical properties, Cusastis found that his Martian concrete was more than two times stronger than typical sulfur-based concretes. In fact, after adjusted for gravity on Mars, its strength is equivalent to concrete used to build skyscrapers on Earth.

cusatis-gianluca.jpg“You want buildings to be fire resistant, so that could be a vulnerability on Mars,” said Cusatis (right), a concrete expert. “But for the first settlements, fire won’t be the problem. The problems will be having secure shelters and durable buildings that can survive meteorite impacts.”

Cusatis posits that his concrete’s strength is due to the small size of particles in the Martian soil as well as a little-understood chemical reaction between the soil and sulfur. His team also found that when the concrete breaks and is re-melted and re-casted, it becomes even stronger, which is most likely due to the additional reduction of the particle sizes.

“Typical sulfur concrete uses sand, which is inert. It’s just filler,” Cusatis said. “In our Martian concrete, the sulfur is not just glue. It reacts with the minerals in the Martian soil. That completely changes the picture.”

While conventional concrete requires 28 hours to develop full strength, Cusatis’ Martian concrete takes a mere one-to-two hours. For this reason, he thinks it’s a prime candidate for 3-D printing. If 3-D printers are sent to Mars, they could use local resources to print buildings made of Cusatis’ sturdy concrete. This would be much more efficient and sustainable than sending materials across the solar system from Earth.

Cusatis emphasizes that his concrete needs to be researched further. He is interested in learning more about the chemical reactions that make it so strong and wants to find ways to make it fire resistant. But with the first trip less than 10 years away, it’s not too soon to start preparing for the mission to Mars.

“People now seem serious about going to Mars,” he said. “Shelter is a big factor in those plans. Food and shelter are the two things that humans will need most.”

To read the original story, go to McCormick's website.

dichtel.jpgMacArthur Fellow and organic chemist William R. Dichtel (left) will join Northwestern as a professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.


Dichtel is a rising star working in new materials at the nanoscale. He is committed to bringing his discoveries out of the lab and into daily use. Dichtel’s pioneering work developing porous polymers known as covalent organic frameworks (COFs) has applications to water purification, batteries and other energy storage.

His innovations one day might lead to batteries that can charge in seconds rather than minutes or hours, materials that rapidly remove pollutants from water, and systems that can detect explosives in the air.


“In addition to his tremendous accomplishments and vision in research, Will is a committed and innovative teacher,” said Peter C. Stair, chair of Northwestern’s chemistry department and the John G. Searle Professor of Chemistry. “The undergraduates will love him. He is a spectacular addition to the chemistry department and Northwestern.”

Dichtel, currently an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University, will join Northwestern this summer.

“Northwestern is a premier destination for materials research,” Dichtel said. “I look forward to collaborating with world-class faculty in chemistry, materials science and other disciplines. My research team’s expertise in organic and polymer chemistry will contribute further strength in these areas and bring about new collaborations across the University.”

The MacArthur Foundation named Dichtel a MacArthur Fellow last year, saying his “pioneering demonstration of COFs with unprecedented functionality and improved stability have made him a leading figure in chemistry.” He describes his research in a 2015 MacArthur Foundation video.

To read the rest of the story, please visit the Northwestern News Center.