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Three U. of I. researchers named to Scientific American's 'Top Fifty' list

Kaushik Ragunathan, News Bureau intern


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Robert Ghrist, a professor of mathematics, and Nancy Sottos and Scott White, professors of engineering at the University of Illinois, are among Scientific American magazine’s Top Fifty Innovators of the year. The SciAm 50 awardees are chosen on the basis of their contributions to technology and human health.

Ghrist translates fundamental math research on topology to applications in constructing wireless sensor networks. Topology seeks to determine the global properties of shapes by looking at their local structure. With no sophisticated global positioning system to determine the actual positions of the sensors, topological analysis allows Ghrist and his colleagues to determine the coverage of a wireless network and also reveals information about how many holes are present in such a network. His ideas are applicable to the design of security systems and are relevant to natural disaster management. Ghrist was a recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2002 and a Presidential Early Career Award in 2004.

Sottos and White lead the development of self healing polymers that stitch themselves back together when a crack forms. The epoxy-based polymer contains a three-dimensional microvascular network filled with a monomeric healing agent. When the polymer cracks, the healing agent is released into the matrix where an embedded catalyst initiates a chemical reaction that heals the polymer matrix. Inspired by the human body’s ability to continuously restore itself after repeated injuries, the researchers say that these materials can currently restore themselves up to seven times and recover 82 percent of their original characteristics.

Ghrist, Sottos and White are University Scholars.

Editor’s note: To reach Ghrist, call 217-244-9114; e-mail:
            Sottos, 217-333-1041;
            White, 217-333-1077;