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.”

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.

February 2016 Newsletter: Provost Update: A Culture of Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity

As Provost, I am always excited to learn about the amazing research, scholarship and creative activity (RSCA) our students and faculty accomplish. I also understand the dedication that is required to balance teaching, service and RSCA. From my own experience in conducting and publishing research, I know both faculty and students benefit from a campus culture that supports such endeavors.

I am committed to creating an environment that fosters this important aspect of higher education. In the last two years, we have invested $2.2 million to support university-wide workshops and college-specific programs to assist faculty in starting or continuing their RSCA agendas. Annual funding for RSCA has been built into our budget and we are finalizing a plan to ensure it remains a key priority.

My hope is that our current planning efforts will foster more stellar research like that of two faculty members honored at the Celebration of Research this month with Early Career Investigator Awards. Aaron Romanowsky, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Science, and Virginia San Fratello, from the Department of Design in the College of Humanities and the Arts, both exemplify the Spartan spirit of innovation. Romanowsky and his students are discovering new galaxies while San Fratello is using 3-D printing to create sustainable building materials. Both have been recognized by colleagues in their disciplines and have been successful in securing funding to further their research.

At the Celebration of Research, I was also pleased to highlight our Undergraduate Research Pairs program and see the wide range of projects students are pursuing with faculty mentors, some of which we highlight in this month’s newsletter. High-impact practices, including undergraduate research, improve student learning and support student retention, but faculty also benefit from students as research assistants. I applaud our faculty for their commitment to engaging students in their research along with attracting public and private funding to support regional, national and global collaborations.

The SJSU Research Foundation plays an essential role in sustaining our efforts. In 2014-15, the Research Foundation oversaw more than $63 million in revenues that included resources from grants and contracts with government agencies, corporations and private foundations to support more than 150 RSCA projects. See the full list of contracts and awards along with stories of faculty and student work in the San Jose State University Research Foundation 2014-15 Annual Report published this month. I am dedicated to the continued growth of the SJSU research enterprise and the role of the SJSU Research Foundation in supporting our campus.

Join the ‘Celebration of Research’ on Feb. 10

celebrationofreserachStudents, staff, faculty and members of the public are invited to the SJSU Celebration of Research on Wednesday, Feb. 10, from 4-6 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom.

This year’s event will feature presentations from the 2015 Early Career Investigator Award Winners Aaron Romanowsky and Virginia San Fratello. An assistant professor in the College of Science’s physics and astronomy department, Romanowsky has produced 47 refereed publications in journals such as “The Astrophysical Journal” and recently received $40,718 from the National Science Foundation to continue his research. He and his students are credited with discovering a hypercompact cluster, or one of the densest galaxies.

An assistant professor in the College of Humanities and the Arts design department, San Fratello has successfully secured funding for her work that includes materials and fabrication processes, including 3-D printing. She recently received a $90,000 grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. San Fratello is an active architect who is working with manufacturers and distributors to launch innovative and sustainable building components into the market place.

In addition to the presentation of the faculty awards, student researchers will also be highlighted at the event. Students and faculty involved in the Center for Faculty Development’s Undergraduate Research Pairs program will have their research exhibited at the event and will be available to talk with guests. The program has paired 32 undergraduate students with 20 faculty members. Some of the research topics include:

  • Developing culturally-tailored mental health programs for Vietnamese caregivers
  • Resilence of college students following a failure
  • Developing nanodelivery of insulin to improve diabetes treatment
  • The impact of individuals tracking their own fitness levels
  • The effect of obesity on metabolic markers
  • Outcomes of mentoring first-year, first-generation graduate students of color
  • See the full list of 2015-16 awardees and research topics

Students who competed in the 2015 CSU Research Competition will also be recognized at the event. Light refreshments will be served.

The Celebration of Research is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, SJSU Research Foundation, the Office of Research and the Center for Faculty Development.

 

November newsletter: Provost update – Spartans give back to campus community

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for the generous Spartan spirit I see expressed throughout the year. Our students, staff and faculty are often developing ways in which they can give back to campus community members.Our theme at the Academic Affairs Staff Appreciation Breakfast has been “Full Circle Giving” for the last few years and the event is one example of the giving spirit at SJSU. This year donations from the staff and administrators supported the SJSU Food for Students Fund.

There are many more instances of our Spartans giving back to SJSU community members. Emeritus and retired faculty are supporting research, scholarship and creative activity through a grant program for current SJSU faculty; a staff member who is also an SJSU alumna created a scholarship for staff members pursuing a degree; and faculty and students tackled a 320-mile bike ride to raise money to teach middle school students about sustainability.

I talk to my own children about the importance of giving back to the community and hope to instill in them a sense that giving is important. My family and I donate to Spartan causes, includingThe Guardian Scholars Program. The Guardian Scholars Program is special to me because I was adopted at a very young age. I was fortunate enough to become part of a loving family that valued education, but I understand the unique challenges our Guardian Scholars face without this support system.

I hope all of you find your own Spartan causes to support through donations, volunteering or staying engaged in our campus community. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving break.