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2016

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Kathia Benitez joined the Office of Sustainability in June 2016 as the director of sustainability. Kathia is responsible for providing leadership and management to ensure integration of sustainable practices throughout the University’s campuses. She will coordinate and administer sustainability and energy efficiency programs in collaboration with students, faculty and staff.

 

Prior to working for Northwestern, Kathia was the senior manager supporting the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Initiative. In her role, she provided direct oversight and strategic guidance for the Better Buildings Alliance and Better Building Challenge initiatives. She also served as a sector matter expert for healthcare organizations.

 

Previously, Kathia served as the Corporate Energy Program Manager for New York Presbyterian Hospital where she managed an annual $60 million utility budget across a 12-million square foot building portfolio. Under her leadership New York Presbyterian Hospital won several ENERGY STAR Awards for Sustained Excellence in Energy Management and Climate Communications. The hospital earned additional recognition from the American Society for Healthcare Engineering’s Energy to Care program, the Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge, and Practice Greenhealth.

 

Kathia looks forward to working with members of the Northwestern community to improve energy efficiency and expand environmentally sustainable practices on campus.


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Immense hunger drives Andrew Youn ’06. But it isn’t his.

It’s the hunger of farm families in Sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 10 children dies of hunger before the age of five. Many farmers fail to coax their land to yield enough crops to sustain themselves — not for want of trying, but due to lack of resources.

At the start of his second year at Kellogg, Youn devised a business solution for this grave social problem: help farmers grow their way out of poverty. In March 2006, he founded One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides smallholder farmers with seed, fertilizer, training and market facilitation. Skipping his graduation, the native Minnesotan literally left his Midwestern roots behind and moved to rural East Africa to cultivate new ones.

After his arrival, Youn and his team of five staffers worked with an initial 40 farmers to dramatically increase their crops. In six months’ time, the first harvest significantly increased take-home income threefold, with 98 percent of the participants repaying program loans. Today, One Acre Fund serves more than 300,000 farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania and an additional 500,000 farmers through government partnerships. It employs more than 4,000 full-time staff members.

Experiencing a second consecutive year of 50-percent growth in 2015, One Acre Fund is on track to beat its target of helping 1 million families by 2020. But that’s not enough to satisfy Youn, One Acre’s executive director and senior partner, and his vision to eradicate hunger in Africa.

“We have hardly begun,” says Youn, who will receive the 2016 Schaffner Award along with Managing Director Matthew Forti ’06 at this year’s Reunion. “We estimate there are 50 million farm families who could benefit from our model, so we are serving less than 2 percent of the need.”


AN IDEA SPROUTS

Youn grew up in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. His parents emigrated from Korea and met in graduate school at the University of Minnesota. His father is a retired architect and his mother, a math professor. His younger brother works for the popular home-sharing startup Airbnb. While he had no obvious ties to farming or Africa, Youn learned compassion at an early age. “My mom reminded us every night of people less fortunate,” he says. “It helped build empathy in me for the hard-working poor.”

Youn graduated magna cum laude from Yale in 2000. After four years as a management consultant, Youn arrived at Kellogg looking to hone his business skills for a future career in the social sector.

During his first year, a Kellogg “Innovating Social Change” conference piqued Youn’s interest in the world’s second-largest continent. In the summer of 2005, an internship took Youn to South Africa, where he helped link HIV/AIDS patients with treatment options. But it was a two-week side trip to rural Kenya that changed his life.

“I met one farmer who was yielding two tons of food per acre,” he recalls. “Her neighbor was yielding four times less food.” The thriving farmer, it turned out, used environmentally appropriate seed, applied a tiny dose of mineral fertilizer and properly spaced her plantings. For Youn, this was his “aha” moment.

“These simple technologies didn’t require an agriculture degree,” he explains. “They just required business skills to expand distribution of resources at a mass scale to empower the poor to solve their own problems.”

Youn returned to Kellogg that fall with an idea, one with huge implications, but now he needed to learn the skills and acquire the resources necessary to launch his grand endeavor.


IT TAKES A ‘KELLOGG’ VILLAGE
Kellogg Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship Barry Merkin got an inkling of Youn’s persistence before the “pleasant, soft-spoken” student even arrived on campus for his first year. Youn wanted to enroll in Merkin’s course on entrepreneurship and new ventures. Merkin denied his request. Only second-year students were accepted, but his door was always open and Andrew began to visit.

“For the longest time I was convinced Andrew’s plan was crazy,” recalls Merkin, now retired. “Yet the great entrepreneurs often have a passion that seems to exceed reality. They have an idea that works and pretty soon you find yourself going along with it.”

In September 2005, just before the start of his second year, Youn emailed Merkin: I am even more interested (obsessed?) with improving farm productivity since returning from Kenya this summer. I am haunted by the hunger there. It is the largest killer of children; a human toll that exceeds any disease. But there is an opportunity to change things.

Youn enrolled in Merkin’s class that fall quarter. Inspiring 10 of his classmates with his One Acre idea, Youn and his team wrote a 30-page business plan that thoroughly impressed Merkin, who says, “It was one of the best I’ve ever seen.” The enterprising second-year student also invested $7,000 of his own money to buy seed and fertilizer and hire staff in Africa to launch a pilot project that would become One Acre Fund. He managed the project by telephone. In the meantime, Youn recruited Forti, a classmate and founding board chair, to start fundraising. They won over more than 100 classmates to the cause.

“I was wowed that a fellow student could make a difference, but I was also a little skeptical that it could actually work,” recalls Forti, who left his consulting job at Boston-based Bridgespan Group in 2013 to become One Acre’s U.S.-based managing director. “Andrew inspires people through his actions. The fact that he had thoroughly done his research and used his own money to get this project off the ground inspired us all.”


REAPING FRUITFUL PARTNERSHIPS

Youn traveled widely, making countless presentations, but by the end of the school year, he was short on the funds necessary to launch One Acre. Just before graduation, he made a last-minute pitch to the board of the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice at Kellogg.


After the pitch, Merkin heard murmuring around the room. He knew Youn needed to raise a significant amount of money or else his fledgling idea was doomed. Says Merkin, “I was thinking, why aren’t these people paying attention?!”

While Larry Levy ’67 admits to some of the whispering, it was for a good reason: The board members of the institute bearing his name couldn’t contain themselves.

“Andrew’s presentation was so compelling and incredibly ambitious,” says Levy. “I didn’t know whether his idea would be successful, but it was absolutely worth trying.” On the spot, Levy and another board member offered Youn and the One Acre Fund their first significant grant, giving Youn the boost he needed.

Additionally, Kellogg Clinical Professor of Strategy Harry Kraemer’s recent book Becoming the Best: Build a World-Class Organization through Values-Based Leadership (2015, Wiley) features a chapter on Youn. Kraemer is donating all proceeds from this book, just as he did with his first book From Values to Action published in 2011, to One Acre Fund. Over the past four years, Kraemer has given more than 600 talks about values and leadership, with all proceeds going to Youn’s organization as well.

Youn remains grateful for the encouragement — financial and otherwise — of the Kellogg community. But many say that Youn’s unwavering commitment to his vision makes it easy to support him. Northwestern trustee Chris Combe (WCAS70), former CEO and president of Combe Incorporated, said in a 2014 interview, “We need to create more Andrew Youns.” Subsequently, the Combe family made a generous gift to Kellogg that year to endow the Youn Impact Scholars, a project that supports budding social entrepreneurs.

Supporters understand that farmers come first at One Acre Fund. In fact, all the organization’s leadership and staff, including Youn, live in the same farming communities as their customers. Youn’s office overlooks a beautiful hillside, dotted with farms tilled by hardworking farm families whose backbreaking work and desire to live productive lives is never lost on him.

“I proudly serve the strongest people, both physically and mentally, on the planet,” he says. “These farmers are my inspiration.”

Read the full story here.

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John M. Torkelson, a Walter P. Murphy Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, has found a solution to a common problem with rubber: it can’t be recycled.

Separating recyclables from the waste stream has become routine behavior. Paper, many plastics, glass, and metals are collected and converted into reusable (economically valuable) products, reducing landfill diversion and minimizing ecological footprint.

The ability of a non-paper material to be recycled – heated at high temperatures and recast for reuse – depends largely on the way in which its polymers are linked. Polymers, or chains of molecules arranged to give structure to larger molecules, are usually configured in either linear or cross-linked chains. Polymers that we typically recycle, namely thermoplastics, are made of linear chains, which can be heated to high temperatures, remolded in their melted state, and effectively reformed when cooled without losing their original properties.

When rubber - which is made of permanent cross-linked chains - is heated, it strengthens and can’t be remolded or reheated into a usable product that retains its original durability and elasticity.

Torkelson and two of his Ph.D. students, Kailong Jin (Chem. Eng. ’17) and Lingqiao Li (Chem. Eng. ’19) have developed a simple, one-step strategy to solve this problem by modifying the way in which the polymers in rubber are linked. The research, supported by the McCormick Research Catalyst Awards Fund at Northwestern University and by discretionary funds associated with Torkelson’s Walter P. Murphy Professorship, will be detailed in an upcoming issue of Advanced Materials, and is currently available online as anearly view article.

“Our approach can be used for any rubber applications that require elasticity and durability—from common products like shoes, to aerospace materials,” said Torkelson.

Torkelson sees particular impact for the tire industry.  The Rubber Manufacturers Association estimates that the US disposed of 244 million scrap tires in 2013.  Only about 30 percent of those disposals were down-cycled for scrap tire markets like ground rubber applications or civil engineering, while more than 50 percent were simply burned for fuel.  Nearly 10 percent - 20 million tires – were landfilled.

The team’s approach would allow tires to be made using conventional polymers, maintaining the properties that make tires effective, but with modifications to the way the polymers are cross-linked. Currently, the resulting material has shown full retention of properties after two cycles of the process, with further trials to come.

The one-step synthesis approach, based largely on a process called nitroxide-mediated polymerization, separates the cross-links in rubber at high temperatures, making it possible for them to reform and retain their properties in a cooled state.

To successfully reform, the individual electrons that remain when a cross-link comes apart at high temperatures, called radicals, must find each other upon cooling. To be effective, the team needed to find a molecule that had both a stable (reforming) radical, as well as a carbon-carbon double bond, which they found in a molecule called TEMPO methacrylate.

The research builds on more than 15 years of work in the area by various researchers. Limitations of prior approaches included processes that were costly, chemically-intensive, and required many reaction steps under specific conditions. These processes were also characterized by low recovery of cross-links and material properties, according to Torkelson.

“Our approach requires only one round of chemical synthesis, uses all commercially-available components, which are also inexpensive and easy to synthesize, and is adaptable to a large fraction of cross-linked polymers out there,” said Torkelson.

The research is patent pending and will be presented at the 2016 National American Institute of Chemical Engineers Meeting in August, as well as the National American Chemical Society Meeting in November. Lingqiao Li will build on this work as a 2016-2017 ISEN Cluster Fellow.

The team’s next steps will include iterations to improve the methodology, and searching for industry partners to help bring the technology to market. They will also explore new applications.

“My group will dedicate the coming decade to this new line of research,” said Torkelson. “It has that much potential.”

Read the full story here.

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Over the past several years, Northwestern Engineering’s Michael Jewett did the seemingly impossible. He overcame the critical barrier to making mutant ribosomes, the core catalyst in cells that are responsible for life.

Now, with funding from the Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) program, Jewett is ready to take this research to the next level. Along with a multi-school team, he plans to use engineer and repurpose the ribosome to make new kinds of polymers for flow batteries.

“We are in a new era of biomaterial design,” Jewett said. “So far, the ribosome has been this untouchable biomolecular machine — one that we couldn’t engineer or modify. Now, armed with recent advances in our ability to construct new versions, new applications may only be limited by our imagination.”

The MURI grant joins researchers from Northwestern, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Texas at Austin, and Georgia Institute of Technology who will work together to develop new types of electrical materials for battery storage. By using biological catalysts, the team aims to produce materials for sustainable, rechargeable batteries that are currently impossible to make chemically.

The MURI program aims to accelerate research progress by supporting teams of investigators that intersect more than one traditional science and engineering discipline. Jewett’s team is one of 23 advanced science and engineering research projects funded by the MURI program this year. The highly competitive award grants $1.25 million a year for five years.

“This opportunity is especially exciting because it brings together collaborators who would not typically work together,” said Jewett, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and the principal investigator on the grant. “The most exciting science happens at the intersection of problems and possibility. This award connects interdisciplinary researchers and allows them to play at that intersection.”

“The ability to make synthetic polymers with perfect sequence control is a holy grail in polymer science,” said Charles Schroeder, associate professor and Ray and Beverly Mentzer Scholar in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Our approach holds strong promise to enable the synthesis of precision polymeric materials with levels of control that have not yet been achievable.”

A synthetic biologist and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology, Jewett will collaborate with University of Texas’s Andrew Ellington and Georgia Tech’s Eric Gaucher to reengineer the ribosome as a biological catalyst to make novel chemical polymers. While the ribosome already makes biopolymers, such as proteins like insulin or subtilisin in laundry detergents, the MURI team aims to teach the ribosome to make different types of polymers, enabled by chemistry that has yet to exist in the living world. Polymer scientists at the University of Illinois, including Schroeder and Jeff Moore, will then test and characterize the work, which could have applications well beyond batteries, such as in nanoscale self-assembly, electromagnetic interference shielding, and anticorrosion coatings for steel.

“We are merging the best of biology and chemistry to set up an innovative future,” Jewett said. “These fields can work together to solve many of society’s needs and our efforts hold promise to enable synthetic biology to become a major driver of global innovation and sustainable economic growth.”

Read the full story here.

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Two Northwestern University neuroscientists have identified the neurochemical signal likely missing in Parkinson’s disease by being the first to discover two distinctly different kinds of neurons that deliver dopamine to an important brain region responsible for both movement and learning/reward behavior.


“It has been dogma for decades that all dopamine neurons are somehow involved in both movement and reward, but this didn’t really make sense,” said Daniel A. Dombeck, the study’s senior author. “Now, it is so obvious in our recordings that there are different kinds of neurons. We can literally see this in behaving animals. Our findings will likely help answer many questions about Parkinson’s disease and other neurological mysteries.”

 

Dombeck, an assistant professor of neurobiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, conducted the study with postdoctoral fellow Mark W. Howe.


The findings provide a new framework for understanding the role of the dopamine system in movement control and learning/reward and how dysfunction of the dopamine system can result in a range of neurological disorders.

Prior to this study, there was little evidence for rapid movement-locked dopamine signaling in the brain. The findings were published today (July 11) by the journal Nature.


The scientists developed sophisticated imaging techniques to see what no one else has seen before: two distinct populations of dopamine neurons in the brain region of the striatum, one carrying signals for motor control and movement and the other transmitting signals about unpredicted (surprise) reward. The findings overturn the current model of how dopamine neurons influence behavior.

 

“There has always been this paradox about how dopamine does both movement and reward-based behavior,” Howe said. “What we found is that it does both and that there are different populations that do each one. And the neurons that do movement care about it on a very rapid timescale. These are the dynamics likely affected in Parkinson’s.”


The study provides critical information for the development of more targeted treatments of Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease caused by the death of dopamine neurons. Current treatments focus on replacing ambient pools of brain-wide dopamine. This study suggests that future treatments could be more effective by targeting the specific cell types, regions and timescales that appear to be most involved in movement control.


Dombeck and Howe’s high-resolution imaging tools enabled them to observe the dynamics of the dopamine system with unprecedented detail in active mice. In studying the animals while either running on a wheel or receiving an unpredicted reward and imaging the axons of the dopamine neurons in the striatum during those activities, the scientists were able to tease apart different dopamine axons and identify the two distinct populations.


They imaged a couple of axons to many dozens of axons at a time, depending on the experiment, to see what the activity looked like. The axons related to movement and Parkinson’s were active when the animal was running but not when the animal got a reward.


Also, using optogenetics, the researchers showed they can control an animal’s movement by shining a light on genetically labeled movement axons, showing that dopamine can trigger locomotion.


“This study changes the way we think about the role of dopamine neurons in movement,” said Raj Awatramani, an associate professor in neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “It is a very important study in the field.”


Awatramani, an expert in the molecular basis of dopamine neuron diversity, recently began a research collaboration with Dombeck and his group to further study dopamine neurons, both their function and molecular makeup.

Highlights of the Nature paper include:

  • The discovery that signals from dopamine axons terminating in the striatum (a region central to movement control) are strongly and rapidly activated when animals begin to move and then exhibit bursts of ongoing activity as animals accelerate during locomotion.
  • Turning dopamine axons on with light (expressing a light-activated ion channel) in the striatum can rapidly induce locomotion, indicating a correspondence between the signals observed and their functional role in generating movement.
  • Axons signaling unpredicted reward were largely distinct from those that signaled movement and terminated primarily in different regions of the striatum: the areas more involved in goal-directed learning.


The research was supported by the Klingenstein Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Whitehall Foundation, Chicago Biomedical Consortium with support from the Searle Funds at Chicago Community Trust, Northwestern University and the National Institutes of Health (grant T32 AG20506).


The paper is titled “Rapid Signaling in Distinct Dopaminergic Axons During Locomotion and Reward.”


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Left: Herb Evert's yearbook photo; Right: Evert, 81, wearing a Northwestern shirt given to him on his 44th birthday

 

Herb Evert didn't plan to attend Northwestern.

 

 

“I planned to go UIC for two years and become an accountant and that would take care of things,” the former finance executive says.

 

 

The son of German immigrants, Evert grew up in Riverdale, Illinois and attended elementary school and high school in Harvey. In his senior year Evert was president of a class of 600 people; that year, both Northwestern and Princeton offered him admission and a scholarship. He ultimately chose Northwestern, and, he says, “I’ve always been happy that I did.”

 

 

At the time, Northwestern offered an undergraduate business degree, and Evert dove into that world. He also joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity. “To this day, the fraternity has been very important to me,” he says. “My closest friends were from there and frequently when in contact with other alums from Northwestern fraternity membership has come up.” The fraternity alumni adviser, the then-dean of students James C. McLeod, was also a DU, and an influential person in Evert’s life.

 

 

In a chance meeting with McLeod, Evert mentioned that he could stay an extra year at Northwestern for graduate school, but that he also wanted to attend Harvard Business School. Two days after that conversation, Harvard admitted him. “I’m sure Dean McLeod played a major part in that,” he says. “In a sense, the fraternity and Northwestern were the catalysts that resulted in [my Harvard admission].”

 

 

Evert says his post-graduate experience of the two schools couldn't be more different. “After two years [at Harvard], I had a number of acquaintances, but few close relationships existed over the years in contrast to Northwestern.” Meanwhile, he’s active in his local Northwestern alumni club in Naples, Florida and attends Bowl games with his wife, Jeanette. He’ll return to campus this October for his class’s 60th year reunion.

 

 

Football is one area he’s seen the school improve over the years. “My senior year at Northwestern, the football team was 0 and 9,” he says (at the time, that was the University’s lowest record ever; last year, Coach Fitzgerald led the team to a 10-3 finish). “I’ve appreciated the success that’s been achieved in subsequent years.”

 

 

After a successful career with Northern Trust Company, a Chicago-based bank, including three years in Switzerland, Evert held senior financial executive roles with insurance companies and became a partner with a money management firm in the Philadelphia area from which he retired to Florida, where he still wears his purple proudly.

 

 

“My wife and I frequently walk along the ocean,” he says. “If it’s cold I’ll wear a Northwestern sweatshirt, and without exception someone will say something about Northwestern during the walk. It’s special to be associated with [the University].”

 

 

For more on Reunion Weekend 2016 and to register for events, visit alumni.northwestern.edu/reunions.