April 2017 Newsletter: SJSU Professor Yambrach Develops Water Vest for Developing Countries

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging help to develop a way to package water to transport to disaster areas or areas where water is not readily available. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging help to develop a way to package water to transport to disaster areas or areas where water is not readily available. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

In parts of the world where potable water is difficult to reach and even harder to transport, a San Jose State University professor has devised an invention that could dramatically improve the quality of daily life.

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging, has developed the Fritz Water Vest, a 10-liter, double-pouch “vest” made of sturdy, multi-layer plastic material that can serve as an alternative to transporting water in heavy buckets, vases or other containers. Such tasks in developing countries are typically handled by women and children. The work can result in injuries to those transporting water-filled containers, which carry up to five gallons, atop their heads.

The vest-like water carrier that can be worn over the head — with the pouches suspended over the chest and back — could also find application in more affluent nations like the United States during emergency situations resulting from floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters that interrupt the supply and availability of clean water.

Yambrach, who arrived at San Jose State in 2007, is a veteran of the packaging industry, starting his career 40 years ago at the Chrysler automobile company in Michigan. He went on to work in the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors before moving into academia, including at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Yambrach said he first became aware of the phenomenon of people in impoverished nations having to walk long distances on a daily basis to fetch clean water for drinking and cooking purposes during his childhood. He attended a Catholic elementary school and heard church missionaries talk of seeing women and girls hauling water long distances on their heads.

According to the United Nations, women and girls in sub-Saharan African nations spend 40 billion hours annually collecting water — equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce of France, which numbers about 30 million. Water for the Ages, a blog written by water activist Abigail Brown, estimates the average distance traveled daily by those fetching water in Africa and Asia is 3.7 miles. Brown said water carriers can suffer severe neck and spine damage from toting heavy, inflexible water containers.

Yambrach said he has tried to take everything into account in designing his life-saving vest.

A prototype of the water vest. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

A prototype of the water vest. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

“The construction of the vest makes it very robust,” Yambrach said, noting the edges of the vest are heat-sealed to make it leakproof. “We have even included an additive in the material to inhibit microbial growth,” he said.

The vest is being beta tested in the African nations of Ethiopia and Burundi, as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean region.

Manufacturing of the vest is being overseen by Heritage Packaging of Victor, N.Y. News of Yambrach’s invention has attracted the attention of former colleagues and students. One of those is Eric Steigelman, a student in Yambrach’s packaging science class at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2006. Now a San Diego-based entrepreneur, Steigelman is handling marketing of the vest and the beta-testing projects.

“I am helping the organization find strategic partnerships,” Steigelman said, adding that he hopes to partner with larger companies to “leverage their strengths in funding and distribution. The beauty of this solution is that it is so intuitive. It doesn’t require a lot of instruction or direction. It can help millions of people who struggle every day with water issues, or temporarily because of an emergency.”

Steigelman said one such situation here in the U.S. that has occurred to him as an opportunity for the water vest is the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., where cost-cutting measures by state officials led to the city’s water supply becoming polluted with lead and other toxins.

“The worldwide problem is so big and broad, you need a simple, inexpensive solution to have any chance of success,” he said. “Whether it is a daily need or an emergency, the water vest is a really effective solution.”

Final University Scholars Series Lecture Features Rachael French April 26

Early Career Investigator Award Winners Rachael French, left, and Miranda Worthen pose for a photograph at San Jose State University on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Early Career Investigator Award Winner Rachael French, left, will present her work at the final University Scholars Series of the semester on April 26. Also pictured is Miranda Worthen, who was also honored with the ECIA in February. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

Associate Professor Rachael French, recipient of a 2017 Early Career Investigator Award, will present the final lecture in the University Scholars Series on Wednesday, April 26, from noon to 1 p.m., in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Room 225/229. Dr. French, who has brought in more than $1.2 million in external funding to support her research, will discuss the work she is conducting in her Drosophila Genetics lab. She and her student researchers are studying the impact of fruit fly development when eggs are laid in an alcohol-rich environment. Her goal is that her research may someday help in treatment of fetal alcohol syndrome in humans. Financial backing for her studies, which started during her post-doctoral days at UC-San Francisco, comes from the National Institutes for Health and the National Science Foundation. Her research is aided by three graduate students and six undergraduate SJSU students.

The University Scholars Series is supported by the University Library, the Spartan Bookstore, Faculty Affairs, the Office of Research and the Office of the Provost.

February 2017 Newsletter: Spring University Scholars Series Launches

Sharon Rose Riley poses for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Riley will be participating in the Spring University Scholars Series. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Sharon Rose Riley poses for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Riley will be participating in the Spring University Scholars Series. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

When Shannon Rose Riley was a graduate student at the University of California, Davis – with a background in fine arts, performance art and video, among other artistic disciplines – a conversation with a respected colleague more than a decade ago encouraged her to follow her passion for the nations of Cuba and Haiti and their impact on American arts, culture and society.

It eventually led to Riley publishing the book entitled, “Performing Race and Erasure: Cuba, Haiti, and US Culture, 1898-1940” last year. Riley, an associate professor who also serves as chair of the Department of Humanities and coordinator of the university’s Creative Arts Program, will discuss her book on March 22 as part of the Spring University Scholars Series.

This season’s Scholars Series will also feature presentations by Ahmet Bindal, a computer engineering professor, and Sotoudeh Hamedi-Hagh, an associate professor in electrical engineering, on Feb. 22; and Rachael French, an associate professor in biological sciences, April 26.

Riley said the spark that led to her book grew out of a conversation she had with the late Marc Blanchard, a highly regarded UC Davis comparative literature professor, who was impressed with her passion on the subject.

“I was talking about my belief that those countries, which are on opposite sides of the Windward Passage and provide a corridor for travel between the U.S. East Coast and the Panama Canal, have had a major impact on culture in the United States,” Riley said.

The proximity has been significant to the nation’s artistic culture as well as perceptions of race and racial relations in the U.S. Riley’s interest in the Caribbean grew out of a trip she made to Haiti through the Art Institute of Chicago as a young art student.

Representing the diversity of topics in the Scholars Series, Bindal and Hamedi-Hagh will discuss their book entitled “Silicon Nanowire Transistors”. Published in late 2015, it describes the “n-” and “p-channel” Silicon Nanowire Transistor designs with single and dual-work functions, which emphasize low static and dynamic power consumption. The book reveals a process flow for fabrication and generates Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis (SPICE) models for building different digital and analog circuitry.

The final event in the University Scholars Series will feature French, who will discuss her research into how the growth and development of fruit fly offspring are affected by exposure to alcohol. She hopes the research can someday help develop new treatments for babies with fetal alcohol syndrome.

All lectures will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on their respective dates in Room 225/229 of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library.

February 2017 Newsletter: Early Career Investigator Awardees Honored in February

Early Career Investigator Award Winners Rachael French, left, and Miranda Worthen pose for a photograph at San Jose State University on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Early Career Investigator Award Winners Rachael French, left, and Miranda Worthen pose for a photograph at San Jose State University on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

Research into subjects as varied as how exposure to alcohol can affect the development of both humans and insects, as well as the impacts of trauma on vulnerable populations, will be recognized during San Jose State University’s annual Celebration of Research.

Receiving the 2017 Early Career Investigator Awards during the Feb. 16 ceremony at the Diaz Compean Student Union ballroom will be Rachael French, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Miranda Worthen, assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Recreation.

French has generated more than $1.2 million in external funding to support her work examining how the development of the common fruit fly is affected by laying its eggs in the alcohol-rich environment of newly rotting fruit. Financial backing for her studies, which began when she was doing post-doctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco, comes from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. She has three graduate students and six undergraduate students assisting her work.

“We wanted to see if we could detect the detrimental impacts alcohol could have on development of the flies,” said French, who earned a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Washington in 2003. “They can cope with exposure to higher levels of alcohol, but we wanted to see if fewer survived and if growth was slower in those that do. We found some of the impacts are similar to mammals.”

French hopes her research could lead to treatments for babies suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome. That would likely occur “way down the line,” she said.

Worthen came to San Jose State in 2012 after earning a doctoral degree in epidemiology from UC Berkeley, a MPhil in international development from Oxford University and a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University. She described her research as wide-ranging, focusing on social justice and public health, specializing in the areas of gender and violence. She has raised “more than $100,000” for her projects, including from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and The Thoracic Foundation.

Her interest in these issues was sparked at an early age. Her mother, Kaethe Weingarten, with whom Worthen has co-authored academic papers, is a retired associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

“My mother always impressed on me that your own personal experience can have an important impact on your research and the questions you ask,” Worthen said, who has published articles about her experience with trauma.

Worthen and French were selected by members of the Early Career Investigator subcommittee, comprised of Research Foundation board members and faculty. One award goes to a College of Science or Engineering faculty member, the other to a faculty member in another college. Each winner receives a cash award of $1,000.

February 2017 Newsletter: Researchers Target Human Factors in Cybersecurity

Left to right, Ian Cooke, Dr. Dave Schuster and Soham Shah pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Schuster has received a grant for cybersecurity research. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Left to right, Ian Cooke, Dr. Dave Schuster and Soham Shah pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Schuster has received a grant for cybersecurity research. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By Barry Zepel

Anyone aware of last year’s reports about Russian hacking of the Democratic and Republican parties’ computer networks will be familiar with the term “cybersecurity.” As hackers attempt to invade network systems via the Internet – to either damage them or steal proprietary information – cybersecurity has become among the highest priorities for governments, corporations and many other types of organizations.

David Schuster, an SJSU faculty member since 2013, won a National Science Foundation Early Career Development Award grant of $516,000 over five years to conduct research on strengthening cybersecurity and computer network defense. The approach that Schuster and his team of SJSU students are taking in their research is very different than what most people might expect. Schuster is an assistant professor of psychology – not computer science or information technology.

“My field within psychology is called human factors psychology,” Schuster said. “Human factors psychologists study things like the design of a technological device – such as a smartphone – to determine the easiest way to make that device most intuitive for any person to operate with a minimum of frustration. Human factors psychologists study both the technology side and the human side.”

Schuster and his 14 assistants – seven graduate students and seven undergraduates – are focusing their research on the people hired to defend computer networks, not on the technology itself. Two of his graduate students are paid through research assistantships, while two undergraduates are compensated through scholarships; other students are volunteers. They all are dedicated to their research assignments in the Virtual Environments, Cognition and Training Research Laboratory managed by Schuster, located in the newly renovated Dudley Moorhead Hall.

“We aren’t studying the individual using their computer at home and wanting to remain safe on the Internet,” Schuster explained. “Rather, we want to get to know the cybersecurity professionals charged with protecting the computer network systems of organizations like corporations, governments, universities and school districts – organizations across all sectors.”

Schuster notes that no organization can protect its computer network by simply using or turning on some security software.

“There is at some level someone who is making decisions that determine the effectiveness of that organization’s line of defense against a cyber attack,” he said. “We are studying those people; learning who they are, what their role is within the organization, what decisions they make on an ongoing basis, and how those decisions impact the overall cybersecurity of their organization.”

Soham Shah, an undergraduate majoring in computer science, said he spends 10 to 12 hours per week working in Schuster’s lab. The research matches his intellectual passions.

“My interest has been to know more about cybersecurity,” Shah said. But beyond that, “I am learning how to think. Being part of the lab and doing the research is broadening my horizon and lending me a unique perspective.”

Ian Cooke, a second-year graduate student working on his master’s degree in research and experimental psychology, feels the tasks he takes on in Schuster’s lab are a perfect fit with his interests and goals.

“I live for this kind of stuff. I love research,” Cooke said. “I love working on projects that are actionable in some way (like) developing a tool to facilitate some socio-technological need to solve problems, as opposed to simply recognizing them. That’s what I am doing here.”

Schuster, as the grant’s principal investigator, gives credit to his students for “their work ethic, determination and contributions to the research.”

“We’re really one unified team at the moment, as we’re all working towards similar milestones,” Schuster explained. “I continue to be impressed by what the students are capable of, and how they rise to new challenges. With research, there’s one new unexpected challenge after another.”

Ultimately, Schuster’s goal is for their research findings to help determine ways for cyber security employees to make better decisions that more effectively protect their organizational computer networks.