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by Lorraine Longhi
September 09, 2013
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International scholars bring a world of perspective to ASU

As another school year kicks off, Arizona State University faculty and students are joined by a group of scholars from all over the world who visit our campuses to conduct research and share ideas.

The J-1exchange visitor program, administered by the U.S. Department of State, offers temporary educational, collaborative and cultural exchanges in the hope of increasing mutual understanding between the United States and other countries. Researchers visiting on the J-1 visa give ASU faculty and students the opportunity to learn and share best practices, as well as foster relationships with different universities around the world.

“These scholars will not only benefit from the trans-disciplinary, solutions-oriented and entrepreneurial research activities at ASU, but also contribute to our global perspective as we work to find solutions to grand challenges,” explains Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

The visiting scholars hail from Asia, Australasia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. For Joanna Bulger, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, the opportunities afforded to her at ASU have helped to enhance her research.

“The department I came from is nothing in size compared to what I’m working in here,” says Bulger. “Everything is very interdisciplinary here with all of the departments working together, so I think it offers more opportunities in that sense.”

Bulger studies astronomy and young star formation in ISTB-4, ASU’s newest and largest research facility. She works with Jennifer Patience in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Having studied star formation for her undergraduate degree, Bulger is now examining the primordial dust that forms in discs around young stars. These discs are similar to the rings that form around the planet Saturn.

This data aids in understanding how stars and planets form and allows researchers to study patterns in the formation of these objects in space.

“One of the great things about ASU is that they have access to all of the Arizona telescopes,” says Bulger. “I feel very lucky to be out here and utilizing the resources ASU has at its disposal.”

In addition to graduate student researchers, J-1 exchange visitors also include professors who teach at universities around the world. Bao Weidong, a professor at the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) in the Hunan province of China, studies information engineering systems and how they are developed and structured.

“An information system’s role is to support organizations, but sometimes we focus too much on the technology instead of the need,” says Bao. “If we want to develop useful systems, we need to know how organizations run, their main problems and their guiding principles so we can develop more efficient systems.”

Bao is currently collaborating with Carlos Castillo-Chavez in the Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Services Center (MCMSC) at ASU. He hopes to take the teaching methods he has observed at ASU back to NUDT in order to improve his own classrooms.

“I’ve seen a lot of advanced thoughts, advanced ideas and advanced management methods since I’ve been here. Students have more flexible time to study and freedom to choose here,” says Bao. “My goal in coming here is eventually to do better in my own university. I’m already thinking about how I want to organize my own class and research group once I return so it can be more flexible.”

Despite the J-1 being a temporary-stay visa, some researchers are able to work in a foreign country for several years before returning home. For Carlo Altamirano, becoming a Fulbright fellow gave him the opportunity to pursue a doctorate degree in the United States.

Altamirano is currently a third-year Ph.D. student studying Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology (HSD). He is also a research assistant with ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society.

After receiving his Master’s degree in physics from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Altamirano decided to change fields and explore the inter-connectivity between scientific research and technological development with societal needs. His research is focused on public engagement with emergent technologies as a means to build different capacities for citizens involved in decision-making processes.

“I’m interested in urban environments and studying cities as a system that engage citizens in technological change,” says Altamirano. “From its name, I knew the [HSD] program encompassed everything that I wanted to pursue.”

As part of his research, Altamirano is working on a project called Futurescape City Tours, which invites citizens of Phoenix to experience nanotechnology through guided walking tours of the city. Nanotechnology can be seen in hidden locations throughout Phoenix’s infrastructure. Examples include nano-asphalt, which can be more effective in cooling surfaces, and nanomaterials used in coating surfaces to repel graffiti,

Altamirano studies the effects this nanotechnology may have on society as a whole, as well as individual citizens’ awareness of and response to this technology.

“This research will hopefully help us learn how technology can help shape the future and the role it will play,” said Altamirano. “We want to explore how this can empower the individual to think about the repercussions of the decisions they make and to articulate a narrative about the future.”

Ultimately, all of this collaborative research will increase our foundations of knowledge and help create solutions to important global problems.

"We are delighted to welcome this new cohort of international visiting scholars to ASU,” says Panchanathan. “We look forward to working with these scholars and wish them the very best during their tenure at ASU."

Banner photo by Kevin Dooley on Flickr.

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