Highlights from BYU colleges: engineering team brings science fiction to life, study proves effectiveness of text reminders to increase vaccinations


Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering

BYU professor Dan Smalley and other engineering students show off their recent work. (Video produced by Julie Walker)

Electrical engineering professor Dan Smalley and a team of engineering students are making science fiction a reality through their work with particles and lasers. The team has managed to manipulate a single particle and laser beam in a contained volume to produce animated images. The group of researchers use the movement of the particle illuminated by the laser beam to create scenes found in sci-fi films, like Star Trek laser beams and Star Wars lightsabers. They even created a stick figure man that walked on a student’s finger.

The project began over three years ago when the team found a way to create still images in a holographic form through the same technology, but now they have advanced to animations. And unlike other animations, this one is interactive.

“Most 3D displays require you to look at a screen, but our technology allows us to create images floating in space — and they’re physical; not some mirage,” Smalley said. “This technology can make it possible to create vibrant animated content that orbits around or crawls on or explodes out of every day physical objects.”

Marriott School of Business

A study run in part by BYU Marriott School of Business dean Brigitte Madrian shows that text message reminders can significantly help people to get vaccinated. (Nate Walker)

A recent study shows that people who received text message reminders to get their flu shot saw an 11 percent increase of vaccinations. This percentage is large enough to significantly increase national herd immunity and could aid the COVID-19 vaccination efforts greatly.

“A lot of people have good intentions to do things that are in both society’s and the individual’s interest, like getting vaccinated, but for whatever reason—they forget, they procrastinate—they’re not following through,” co-author of the study and BYU Marriott School of Business dean Brigitte Madrian said. “The big question is, how do you motivate that group to actually go get the vaccine?”

The study involved 47,306 participants and used 19 different text formats, which Madrian helped create, to see which one was most effective. Text messages sent 72 to 48 hours before the appointment that stated the vaccine was specifically reserved for the patient were the most effective. The researchers hope this study can be used to aid COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“Our results suggest a promising way to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations at scale,” lead author and Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania professor Katy Milkman said.

J. Reuben Clark Law School

A new website created by BYU Law students helps people expunge their records. (goodbyerecord.com)

Students in the BYU LawX lab designed a website that helps people expunge records and navigate the legal process. The website, Goodbye Record, helps individuals, lawyers, government officials and corporate partners understand the issues facing expungement and solutions to solve it. This way those who have their records expunged can permanently keep their records clean.

The website was designed by BYU LawX students with the help of Utah Supreme Court Justice Constandinos “Deno” Himonas and other prominent Utah judges. The main issue they found through the creation of the website was that despite the goal of expunged records to erase criminal histories, oftentimes landlords and employers can still find those records. With the LawX student’s findings, the Utah Office of the Courts made amendments to improve the expungement process.

“I am really excited about this project,” Justice Himonas said. “It is such a powerful example of design thinking and application. Rather than trying to replicate other efforts, LawX studied the space and sought to understand what the real choke points are to create some really innovative approaches to the expungement process.”

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