COSMOS and Arkansas Partner to Counter Plague of COVID-19 Misinformation

ARA Fellow Dr. Nitin Agarwal Puts Science on the Frontlines

Anyone monitoring the nation’s daily COVID-19 updates know just how deadly the virus is and how rapidly it spreads. However, another dangerous contagion is infecting communities worldwide right alongside COVID-19, and it’s even more difficult to contain.

“We call it an ‘infodemic’ which is in many ways more dangerous than COVID-19,” explains Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) Fellow and Distinguished Professor of Information Science at UA Little Rock. “The cases of misinformation about the virus are rising exponentially from the dark corners of the web.”

Dr. Agarwal is Director of The Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies, or COSMOS. He and his team of cosmographers study social media and online behavior to combat threats to social good, ranging from safeguarding elections to countering terrorism. The work of COSMOS is now being used to put down this current threat of harmful misinformation regarding the pandemic.

The range of misinformation is expansive. “Fake cures. Medical equipment scams. Anti-foreign sentiment. Basically, anything designed to sow division and unravel the fabric of our society,” says Dr. Agarwal. “This environment of high-anxiety makes it easy for us to fall prey to fake news.”

COSMOS is partnering with the Arkansas Office of the Attorney General to develop a website that can help people identify, understand, and even report fake news regarding COVID-19. The technology is supported by the work COSMOS has completed for agencies like the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, DARPA, and the National Science Foundation among many others. Still, the new website requires new methodology to combat the problem at hand.

“We’re working night and day because we really wanted to do something to help Arkansas,” says Dr. Agarwal. “The Arkansas Research Alliance helped put us in touch with the Attorney General, and now we believe this can be a resource used nationally, or even globally.”

Dr. Agarwal also credits the ARA Fellows grant with helping him fund projects dealing with unexpected events like COVID-19.

“We’re working with the Arkansas Attorney General on a volunteer basis,” says Dr. Agarwal. “The ARA funds made that possible.”

The website, cosmos.ualr.edu/covid-19, is an essential tool to countering the spread of misinformation, which too often takes fraudulent advantage the anxiety associated with the virus. “This pandemic has created an unprecedented  level of uncertainty and I will not tolerate bad actors seeking to leverage this crisis to fill their pocketbooks,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The goal with this partnership is to make sure we are quickly identifying fake websites that are spreading misinformation with the purpose of stealing from Arkansans.”

Dr. Agarwal wants to remind people that news spreads fast online – the weirder the faster. “The only way to expose these dark characters on the web is to shine a light on them. Our mission is to shine that light.”

 

 

Artificial Intelligence Campus Demonstration Held In Little Rock

On Friday, February 15, professors and students from seven Arkansas research universities met at the Arkansas State University System Office in Little Rock to demonstrate projects related to solving problems through artificial intelligence.

Representatives from the University of Arkansas, UAMS, UALR, Arkansas State, UAPB,  Arkansas Tech University and Philander Smith College participated in intra-campus collaborations on a host of AI projects, including self-driving automobiles, medical imaging, genomics, and more.

 

Kaimen Zeng, Arkansas Tech, demonstrates new breakouts in self-driving technology.

 

“The AI Campus has brought students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty together in teams with coaches across the state, with each of the projects starting at the frontier of the artificial intelligence discipline,” according to Dr. Xiuzhen Huang, director of AI Campus, professor of computer science at Arkansas State, and Arkansas Research Alliance Fellow.

In addition to groundbreaking research, the event featured introductory statements from Dr. Kelly Damphousse (Arkansas State University Chancellor), Dr. Lynita Cooksey (A-State Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs & Research), Dr. Larry Cornett (Vice Chancellor for Research, UAMS) and Dr. Fred Prior (Professor & Chair, Department of Bioinformatics, UAMS).

“150 years ago, Arkansas was on the geographic frontier,” said Bryan Barnhouse, COO of ARA. “Today, Arkansas is on the scientific frontier of artificial intelligence.”

 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

ARA welcomes new faces at August BoT meeting

The Arkansas Research Alliance board of trustees met on August 2 at the Little Rock Club for its mid-year session. Among the items on the agenda, greeting new members of the board.

Present at the meeting were the board’s new additions, Ronnie Dedman, President of AT&T Arkansas and Kent Fonvielle, Executive Director for MISO. This was the first ARA meeting for the two executives.

Mr. Dedman, a 40 year veteran of AT&T, replaces longtime ARA board member, Edward Drilling. Mr. Fonvielle joined MISO in April of 2017 by way of Duke Energy Corp. based in North Carolina.

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Jerry Adams, president and CEO of ARA, discusses the future of research with UAPB Chancellor and ARA board member Dr. Laurence Alexander.

The Board also welcomed new member Chancellor Cam Patterson of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Dr. Patterson was unable to attend the meeting.

The August assembly was also the first for Bryan Barnhouse as ARA’s new Chief Operating Office. Members in attendance were treated to a pair of research discussions of distinguished ARA Fellows, Dr. Tansel Karabacak of UA Little Rock and Dr. Min Zou of the University of Arkansas.

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ARA Academy of Fellows and Scholars changes venue (and expands view)

The ARA Academy of Scholars and Fellows is a unique assembly of the state’s brightest researchers, comprised of more than 20 scientists from Arkansas’ six research campuses. Meeting one time a year, The Academy is a special opportunity for these talented people to collaborate on projects, share ideas, and gain new perspective.

“The Academy is the future of ARA,” says ARA President Jerry Adams, who has guided ARA since its founding in 2008. “The membership of the Academy is such that it can really influence the direction science takes in Arkansas.”

This October, the Academy meets for the third time in its history. But this time, the gathering transitions from a one-day event in Little Rock to a more robust two-day event at Winthrop Rockefeller Institute atop Petit Jean Mountain.

“An ambitious itinerary is difficult to complete in just one day,” says ARA Communications Director Jeremy Harper. “The two day format will allow for more collaboration, which is really what ARA is about.”

While this year’s itinerary continues to take shape, the third gathering of The Academy promises to feature compelling speakers and workshops designed to spark conversation and foster partnership. Last year’s guest attendee, Sharon Ballard, provided a compelling groundwork for bringing research to market.

The third gathering of The Academy is October 21-22, 2018. To learn more, contact Jeremy Harper at jharper@aralliance.org.