Collaborations and Revelations from the Third Gathering of the ARA Academy

Set at Winthrop Rockefeller Institute atop beautiful Petit Jean Mountain, members and guests of the ARA Academy of Scholars and Fellows convened (Oct. 21-22) to elevate the role of research in Arkansas. Each of the state’s five research universities were represented, plus the U.S. FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research.

“The theme of these year’s gathering was Impact,” said Bryan Barnhouse, ARA Chief Operating Officer. “We really want our members to not only understand how important their work is, but we want to learn from them what we can do to help take their research to the next level.”

Louise Epstein and Bryan Barnhouse were ready to weigh in.

Among the announcements made at the two-day conference was the introduction of ARA Impact Grants, designed to help boost researchers over obstacles.

“The primary intent of the Impact Grants is for the funded projects to have very specific results and defined outcomes,” explained Jerry Adams, ARA President and CEO. Details remain to be ironed out, but Mr. Adams hopes to start awarding the Impact Grants in the spring of 2019.

The Academy would not be complete without special guests. This year, the annual gathering hosted three. Mark Crowell, Executive Chairman of the Academic Venture Exchange, and Louise Epstein, Director of University Partnerships for the Walton Family Foundation, teamed up for a discussion titled Emerging Strategies for Moving Early Stage Innovation through the Development Gap. Later, Tom Chilton of Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), delivered a preview of the 2018 State Science & Technology Report.

Jerry Adams took lead on Sunday’s evening panel.

Perhaps the most engaging moments of the gathering occurred on Sunday evening, when Jerry Adams and Mark Crowell emceed a lively panel titled Lessons from the Trenches, featuring anecdotes and pragmatic business advice from Alex Biris (UA Little Rock), Morten Jensen (University of Arkansas), Mike Owens (UAMS), and Carolina Cruz-Neira (UA Little Rock).

The gathering came to a close with a group photo and a round robin discussion centered on Defining Your Impact.

“Every year, the Academy evolves into something greater,” said Mr. Adams.

Watch as Governor Asa Hutchinson welcomes the third gathering of the ARA Academy.

New Reality: Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira inducted into the National Academy of Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering has inducted  2,293 members in its 54-year history. But only one for “contributions to immersive visualization” – Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira, ARA Scholar and professor at UA Little Rock, who was formerly inducted on September 30 during a ceremony at the NAE’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“I hope it opens the path to other researchers working in the field of virtual reality,” says Dr. Cruz-Neira, who is director of the George W. Donaghey Emerging Analytics Center located on the UA Little Rock Campus.

No longer a novelty for gaming, virtual reality has become an important tool for architects and engineers. For example, Dr. Cruz-Neira and her EAC team partnered with Hytrol Conveyor Co. to create an immersive environment to show potential customers how Hytrol’s products would look and integrate with their existing operations.

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) is a private, independent, nonprofit institution that provides engineering leadership in service to the nation. The mission of the National Academy of Engineering is to advance the well-being 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.

To learn more about Dr. Cruz Neira’s induction in to the National Academy of Engineering, see our latest video.




Platinum Planet: How Dr. Tansel Karabacak is using a precious metal to save the world

Dr. Tansel Karbacak’s laboratory is not the colorful menagerie of test tubes and Bunsen burners one might imagine. Instead, his lab feels more like an auto garage, with a rack of precision (and not-so-precision) hand tools hung on the wall, and a noisy piece of machinery humming in the center of the scuffed linoleum floor. Dr. Karabacak admits that his experience in applied physics has made him a more-than-capable mechanic.

“A researcher in this kind of work can easily fix a car,” says Dr. K with a laugh. He explains how it is up to he and his team to constantly repair and update the sputter deposition system – the steel machine making all the racket. Somewhere inside the machine resides a small quantity of platinum, which is not only a popular metal for jewelry, but essential material to the creation of fuel cells.

“Fuel cells are a clean source of energy, giving off water and heat. so they’re used in electric powered automobiles,” says Dr. K., “But the common catalyst used to make the fuel cell work is platinum. And it’s very expensive.”

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Dr. Karabacak transforms platinum into thin materials that can make fuel cells less expensive.

Dr. Karabacak is a professor of applied physics at UA Little Rock, where he’s conducted groundbreaking research in Materials Physics, Materials Science and Solid State Physics. Dr. K and his team recently received $500,000 grant to develop high-performance, cost-effective transportation fuel cells. Dr. K is focused on making the platinum component more efficient through a process called sputter deposition, which brings more atoms to the surface of the platinum, making the material more efficient.

And efficiency is critical. If electric vehicles are ever to become pragmatic modes of transportation, fuel cells must become less expensive and more productive. If Dr. Karabacak’s team is successful, we could see more electric powered vehicles on the road very soon, reducing dangerous carbon emissions significantly.

To learn more about Dr. Karabacak’s work, see our video now.