Commencement Ceremonies Celebrate the Class of 2016
By Sara Elizabeth Cody
Sunshine from the warm, cloudless day penetrated the air of excitement inside the Track and Tennis Center, where faculty, staff, family and friends gathered to celebrate the 63rd commencement of 350 undergraduate students from the College of Engineering on May 14.
Dean Kenneth Lutchen began the ceremony by acknowledging the challenges students had to face and overcome in order to arrive at that moment today, noting that while engineering is the toughest course of study at BU, “the hard is what makes it great, and you made it.”
Lutchen also recognized the important role that family and friends played in supporting their graduates, noting that commencement was a celebration that was years in the making.
“From first steps to learning you were admitted into this great institution, you have been celebrating achievements and important milestones for the past 22 years,” he said. “Today you will celebrate the best investment you could have made walking across this stage.”
Student speaker Alexander James O’Donovan (BME’15) spoke about his personal experience of being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and how it drove him to pursue his career in biomedical engineering and ultimately landed his dream job working in Professor Ed Damiano’s (BME) laboratory developing the bionic pancreas. From the beginning, he identified closely with the College’s vision of creating Societal Engineers and that allowed him to carve out a path for his success.
“I came here because I wanted to change the world and [the College] wanted to create people to change the world,” said O’Donovan. “We now have what we need to leave our footprint on the world—the only question now is how big the footprint will be.”
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (Hon.’16) took the stage after O’Donovan to deliver his keynote address. After a lighthearted moment where he explained he wore his beaver print tie because beavers are “nature’s engineer,” he stressed the importance of how engineers help move society forward by describing the four pillars of engineering: to solve problems; to think broadly in order to find novel solutions; to be civic-minded; and to think globally to have a lasting impact on the world. Echoing O’Donovan’s sentiments about the Societal Engineer, he noted how BU’s vision brings these pillars together.
“As an engineer, you have both an obligation and an opportunity to improve the lives of the underserved, both in this country and across the world,” said Moniz. “It is the highest form of diplomacy.”
Moniz—who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the university-wide commencement ceremony the next day—also noted that the newest generation of engineers must pick up the mantle to continue tackling some of society’s greatest challenges, from political discourse to climate change, by harnessing their education and skills acquired during their time at BU.
“I personally believe that the engineering profession is one that is associated with social progress,” said Moniz. “No matter what you decide to do with your engineering degree, your ‘science-based approach with a system-wide view’ to solve problems will present new opportunities for solutions.”
Lutchen presented Department Awards for Teaching Excellence to Professor Hamid Nawab (ECE), Associate Professor of Practice William Hauser (ME) and to Assistant Professor Ahmad Khalil (BME), who also received Outstanding Professor of the Year Award. The Faculty Service Award went to professor Irving Bigio (BME).
Later in the afternoon, Dean Lutchen presented 200 Master’s degrees and presided over the hooding of 48 PhD students in the Fitness and Recreation Center.
Alfred O. Hero (EE’80), R. Jamison and Betty Williams Professor of Engineering at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and co-director of the Michigan Institute for Data Science gave the graduate convocation keynote address. As a BU alum, he remembered sitting in the same place as this year’s graduates 36 years ago. He encouraged graduates never to succumb to challenges, to defend their work, and to remain humble and kind throughout their future careers.
“Engineering has given you the skills to organize and navigate through complex data and use it to solve problems,” Hero concluded. “In my experience, the two most prominent characteristics of successful engineers is the pursuit of unconventional ideas and the perseverance to get it done.”
By Gabriella McNevin
Professor Dimitris Pavlidis (ECE) received the 2015 Distinguished Educator Award from the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S). The award recognizes an individual who has achieved outstanding success in the field of microwave engineering and science as an Educator, Mentor, and Role Model for Microwave Engineers and Engineering Students. The award consists of a recognition plaque, a certificate and an honorarium of $2,500. Pavlidis was conferred at the IEEE International Microwave Symposium the week of 17-22 May 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Pavlidis has pursued microwave research while remaining active in both academia and the microwave engineering industry. He boasts citation in more than 550 publications, and his work with semiconductor devices and circuits have an extraordinary impact on high-speed, high-frequency and photonic applications.
Early in Pavlidis career, he recognized the importance of mentoring engineering students, and in improving microwave engineering academic programs. In 1989 he introduced the first comprehensive Microwave Monolithic Integrated Circuits (MMIC) course, of many, that would be taught around the world. The MMIC course (IEEE Trans. on Education, 1989) was followed by courses covering design, processing and characterization of high frequency components; also, microwave and millimeter-wave circuits and devices. The courses have been well received by students, because they are structured to shed light on the fundamental principles of each topic, and simultaneously provide information on cutting-edge applications.
Pavlidis’ decorated academic career is complemented by achievements in the field of microwave engineering. Pavlidis was involved in pioneering University Research Centers like the Space Terahertz Center and the High-Frequency Microelectronics Center and played a key role in establishing Nanofabrication facilities.
Pavlidis is recognized for a dedication to advancing global microwave engineering efforts. He was appointed to be the Chair of the High Frequency Electronic Department at the Technical University of Darmstadt (TUD) and Director of International Relations at the Institute of Electronics, Microelectronics and Nanotechnology (IEMN). In this capacity, Prof. Pavlidis created an entirely new facility for high frequency micro-/nano-electronics at TUD that served for education and research.
He introduced double degree teaching programs between the universities of Georgia Tech. and the University of Lille1 that have been supported by the US Department of Education/EU Directorate General for Education and Culture (ATLANTIS Program) and Partner University Fund (PUF Program). He initiated major programs for graduate education through transatlantic mobility of students and obtaining of double degrees from US and European institutions. These involved consortia consisting of the universities of Darmstadt, Lille1, Imperial College, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia Tech and UC Irvine and funded by the Funds for Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) and the European Union under joint US-EU initiatives. He has also coordinated and contributed to the initiation of CINTRA, a new international laboratory in Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University for research and education in micro/nano technology and high frequency electronics and optoelectronics. This laboratory is sponsored by the CNRS French Agency, and encourages graduate and postdoctoral students gain experience in Singapore. He played a key role in promoting microwave to Terahertz engineering, chaired and assisted in the organization of numerous international and IEEE meetings and was the general TPC Chair of the 2010 European Microwave Conference.
Ultimately, Prof. Pavlidis has trained and inspired several generations of students by providing them with the tools for setting up extremely successful careers in science and engineering.
Pavlidis has guided students to become highly influential Professors at top schools (Purdue; Seoul National University; Central University Taiwan; Nanyang University, Singapore) as well as key managers and senior scientists in industry (Northrop Grumman, TRW, IQE, Raytheon, Tyco, Freescale, Thales Alenia Space, EADS, Skyworks, Intel, Global Foundries, Samsung, ITRI).
His contributions to Education continue as the Program Director of the National Science Foundation’s Program on “Electronic, Photonic and Magnetic Devices”, Coordinator of future emerging technologies such as the “Beyond Graphene” (2DARE) program, and ECCS Coordinator of the Materials Genome (DMREF) program and various ERC Centers. In his present capacity, he is focused on boosting innovative potential by integrating the education of future scientists, engineers, and educators into a broad portfolio.
ECE alums’ class project earns spot at Black Hat USA 2015
By Joel Brown, published in BU Today
The Square Reader, used by millions of businesses in the United States, could at one point be converted in less than 10 minutes into a skimmer that could steal and save credit card information, according to three recent ENG grads. Their findings will be presented today at the Black Hat USA 2015 cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas.
Computer engineering grads Alexandrea Mellen (ENG’15), John Moore (ENG’15), and Artem Losev (ENG’15) discovered the vulnerability last year in a project for their Cybersecurity class, taught by Ari Trachtenberg, an ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering.“The beauty of the hardware attack itself was that there would be no sure way to know if it was the merchant with the Square Reader that actually took your information,” Mellen says.
The trio also found that Square Register software could be hacked to enable unauthorized transactions at a later date.
“The merchant could swipe the card an extra time at the point of sale,” says Moore. “You think nothing of it, and a week later when you’re not around, I charge you $20, $30, $100, $200… You might not notice that charge. I get away with some extra money of yours.”
Moore, who was valedictorian of his ENG class, says the three reported the vulnerabilities to Square last fall, and the company quickly moved to close them. Square also sent Moore a $500 “bounty” for the software hack.
Moore says there is no evidence that either of the vulnerabilities has been used to scam credit card holders, but warns that the group’s findings raise red flags for the fast-growing mobile commerce field in general.
“This isn’t just about Square,” he says. “Over the past six years, mobile point-of-sale has really taken off…and all of these providers are offering new hardware and software to process payments, and customers are trusting their credit card information to new devices that haven’t been tested as much as traditional point-of-sale devices. They’re interacting with the personal cell phone of the merchant in a lot of cases. There’s just a lot going on.”
The three turned their class project into a paper that submitted to the Black Hat conference and waited two months before learning it had been accepted, which was a huge thing, “because Black Hat is the premiere information security conference in the world,” Mellen says. The weeklong event draws everyone from hackers to government officials. Mellen and Moore will give a 25-minute presentation on their work at the conference, where they get free passes to the briefings at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, worth $2,195.
Trachtenberg says students have derived papers from class projects before, but none were undergraduates and none of the conferences have had the stature of Black Hat. “This is a conference with a very high impact,” he says. “There are 10,000 security professionals that pay a lot of money to come to this conference and listen to the latest interesting security research.”
Vulnerabilities in payment software present more of an inconvenience than a financial risk, he says, at least for consumers who check their credit card statements regularly, because losses are generally covered by the credit card companies.
“The bigger reason to be scared is that Square had security in mind from the very beginning and designed these to be secure,” he says. “They should have known better than to have left these kind of holes. It kind of bodes poorly for other vendors who might not be taking security quite as seriously and what kind of problems they might be having.”
Square doesn’t disclose how many businesses use its software or how much revenue it derives by taking a small percentage of their transactions, but Bloomberg quoted one analyst as estimating that the company took in $300 million in merchant fees in 2013.
Mellen and Moore say they made Square aware of the two potential problems late last fall, and the company was receptive to their warning.
Through the winter and spring, Square staffers discussed possible solutions and their difficulties with Moore on a page on the HackerOne platform, and they eventually settled on a solution that would alert the company if the hack was ever used.
Square did not respond in detail and declined to discuss specific solutions on the record with BU Today, but a spokesperson offered a statement: “With so many sellers relying on Square to run their business, we’ve made protecting them a priority. We protect sellers by encrypting transactions at the moment of swipe, tokenizing data once it reaches our servers, and monitoring every transaction to detect suspicious behavior. We’ve also recently migrated the small percentage of remaining sellers who use an out-of-date, unencrypted card reader to new hardware. Today, those unencrypted card readers no longer work. We’re always making advances in security, and we appreciate John Moore’s research, which encouraged us to speed up our deprecation plans.”
All three alums have other plans now. In September, Mellen will return to running her own company, Terrapin Computing LLC in Cambridge, which sells four iOS apps. Moore will start work as a software engineer for Google, and Losev will continue his computer science education at New York University.
Moore says another lesson to draw from their experience has nothing to do with hackers or credit cards and everything to do with the classroom.
“Don’t be afraid to take on a project that goes a little bit above and beyond what’s required,” he says. “We could have done a project that was a lot simpler and easier, but instead we decided to do something that was quite challenging for us. We learned a lot in the process. We put in a lot more time than we expected, and it ended up paying off in the long run.”
Additional press coverage on ECE alums cyber security discovery:
The Department of ECE is again seeking engineering challenges suitable for undergraduate seniors to address in their required capstone Senior Design project, a year-long, team-based course. Would you or a colleague be able to suggest a project and serve as a volunteer ‘customer’? We have a very large class this year so I do hope that you can help. Last year 2 of our teams were selected to compete in the finals round of the Intel-Cornell Cup competition at NASA and brought home First and Second prizes!
Each year Boston University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering seeks real-world problems from industry, government, non-profits, small businesses, and individuals (especially our Alumni). These problems are presented to our Senior Design capstone project student teams in early September. Teams then work through the fall semester to develop a plan for delivering a solution to the problems and begin execution. In the spring they complete their proposed design, test, and deliver the project prototype. Many students report that capstone design was the single experience that best prepared them for employment and real-world challenges.
Projects guidelines are listed below, as is a sample one-page description template. Please contact Professor Alan Pisano (email@example.com) to submit a project or discuss a potential project idea. Students return to classes after Labor Day, and we would like to have general problem descriptions available shortly thereafter. After projects are assigned to the teams, their first responsibility will be to contact their ‘customers’ and learn the details of the problems. We do not require financial support from our “customers” although many choose to donate equipment or other resources.
Master’s students can now specialize in these fast-growing fields
By Janet A. Smith (ENG) and Amy Laskowski (BU Today)
In an effort to train its graduate students in rapidly expanding fields, this fall the College of Engineering will begin offering three new master’s degree specializations in the fields of data analytics, cybersecurity, and robotics.
“The corporate sector has voiced frustration with the shortage of trained engineers in key sectors of the innovation economy,” says Kenneth Lutchen, dean of ENG. “By combining a master’s degree in a foundational engineering discipline with a specialization in a fast-growing, interdisciplinary field, students will be well positioned to meet this need and impact society. This unique combination should greatly enhance the power of their degrees in the marketplace.”
The specialization programs are open to all master’s degree candidates in ENG. Students who opt to add a specialization will select at least four of their eight required courses from a list specific to that field. Specializations will be noted with the degree title on students’ final transcripts.
Classes for the fall 2015 semester begin September 2, and master’s degree students who are interested in focusing on one of the three fields should contact the Graduate Programs Office for more information.
Two years ago, the Harvard Business Review noted that jobs in the field of data analytics are expected to continue to increase. Glassdoor.com reports that the average data scientist salary is currently $118,700. ENG’s new data analytics specialization will emphasize decisions, algorithms, and analytics grounded in engineering application areas. Students choosing to specialize in data analytics can expect to find jobs in finance, health care, urban systems, commerce, pharmaceuticals, and other engineering fields.
Recent, brazen cyber attacks on companies such as Target and Sony Pictures as well as the data breach thought to originate in China that compromised the records of 21.5 million Americans who had applied for government security clearances over the past 15 years highlight the growing importance of cybersecurity.
ENG’s cybersecurity specialization will teach students security-oriented theory and train them in practical cybersecurity applications including software engineering, embedded systems, and networking. It will also provide a context for cybersecurity threats and mitigation strategies ranging from protecting corporate and government systems, to home and building automation accessories and medical devices.
Global spending on robotics is predicted to increase to $67 billion by 2025 from just $15 billion in 2010. Today, robotics are used in everything from prosthetics and telemedicine to autonomous vehicles, feedback control systems, and brain-machine interface. The new ENG specialization will prepare master’s students for careers in research and development and deployment and operation of advanced individual or multi-coordinated robotic systems.
Tom Little, an ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering and systems engineering and associate dean of educational initiatives, says these new specializations are meant to be complementary to the numerous existing master’s degree programs. Come fall, someone getting a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, for instance, could specialize in cybersecurity, and learn how to prevent a car’s computer system from being hacked.
“These are all very exciting areas that are emerging,” Little says. “ENG is active in doing research, but also active in developing the next generation of scientists and engineers who can contribute to companies who want to build applications that have an impact.”
Prysm’s custom video walls use proprietary LPD technology
By Mark Dwortzan
After Amit Jain earned his first bachelor’s degree, in physics, chemistry, and math, in India, his older brother hired him to help out at the audiotape manufacturing company he owned in Kolkata. Despite knowing nothing about how to assemble audiotapes, Jain jumped right in and was soon running the factory floor.
That training later proved invaluable. During his senior year at the College of Engineering, Masud Mansuripur, then an associate professor of electrical engineering (now at the University of Arizona), made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: he would hire Jain as a research assistant and teach him everything he knew about optics if he decided to stay at ENG for graduate study. Jain (ENG’85,’88) accepted, and became one of the first ENG students to graduate with a master’s in electrical engineering with a focus on optics.
Fast forward to 2005. When investors asked Jain and his business partner, Roger Hajjar (ENG’88), to shift from optical networking to large displays, they came up with a new display technology that wound up transforming the industry—despite the fact that neither had prior knowledge of the field.
Jain and Hajjar cofounded Prysm, Inc., and their new display technology laid the foundation for the Silicon Valley–based designer and manufacturer of video wall systems now used across the globe by leading technology, retail, financial services, and media companies, governments, and universities, among them Beijing TV, CNBC, General Electric, and ENG.
“I have learned to never be afraid of trying new things and to go with my gut,” says Jain, 53, now Prysm CEO (Hajjar is CTO). “When we started Prysm, Roger and I had no fear of entering a new industry and no baggage from previous companies on what couldn’t be done—just ideas that could be applied in a new context. Within 18 months we came up with the concept for a new display technology, built a prototype, and shipped our first product.”
Today Prysm designs, assembles, installs, and provides software support for large, modular, interactive video walls of nearly any size, brightness, or resolution, customized to users’ needs, as well as 117-inch and 190-inch standard video walls used in collaboration rooms. The custom video walls enable architects, designers, and brand managers to provide unique, engaging, immersive experiences in lobbies, conference centers, control rooms, stores, and other environments. The collaborative walls empower teams in multiple locations to boost their productivity through real-time interactions, whether through touch or gesture, or by posting, sharing, and editing content uploaded from smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices.
At the heart of Prysm’s video walls is the company’s proprietary laser phosphor display (LPD) technology, which features a solid-state ultraviolet laser engine, phosphor panel, and advanced optics. Mirrors direct beams from the laser engine across the phosphor panel, which in turn emits red, green, or blue light to form image pixels. The process occurs on multiple 25-inch tiles that fit together to make up a single integrated wall. Compared to conventional LED- and LCD-based technologies, LPD video walls deliver superior image quality, viewing angles, energy efficiency, and environmental impact—resulting in a lower ownership cost. With an an eco-friendly manufacturing process and nontoxic materials and requiring no consumables, they use up to 75 percent less energy than competing large-format display technologies and give off far less heat, eliminating the need for electrical system or HVAC upgrades.
“The Prysm video wall…delivers astounding image quality and ultrawide 178-degree viewing angles,” says Yao Hong, a sales director at the State Grid Corporation of China, which uses a curved, 80-foot-wide-by-11-foot-high wall to monitor the electrical grid system of China’s Jiangsu province. “These attributes combined with the tremendous scalability of LPD technology provide an ideal display solution for the command and control environment.”
Chris Van Name, a regional vice president at Time Warner Cable, chose Prysm to impress customers and minimize environmental impact. “Prysm’s video wall creates a significant ‘wow’ factor for any customer visiting our store and enables us to showcase our technologies in TV, broadband internet, and digital phone in a brilliant and beautiful fashion,” he says.
For Jain, Prysm represents the pinnacle of a 20-year career of growing successful technology-related businesses. Before cofounding Prysm, he was CEO of Bigbear Network and cofounder and CEO of Versatile Optical Networks, which was acquired by Vitesse Semiconductor Corporation; he led the Vitesse Optical Systems Division as vice president and general manager. Previously, he had held several management positions in start-ups and large companies, such as Terastor, Optex Communications, and Digital Equipment Corporation.
Throughout his career, Jain has drawn on expertise in both engineering and business and on lessons learned from an extended family, many also entrepreneurs. While working for his brother in the audiotape business, he imagined inventing technologies rather than just assembling them on the factory floor, so he came to ENG in 1983 to earn a second bachelor’s degree, in electrical engineering.
He learned not only engineering, but also how to communicate effectively to large groups as the first undergraduate teaching assistant of Kenneth Lutchen, a biomedical engineering professor at the time and now dean of ENG.
“Because I already had a bachelor’s degree, Ken gave me the opportunity to teach classes while still an undergraduate,” recalls Jain. “As I faced up to 40 friends and peers, I learned how to explain complex ideas clearly and concisely.”
Fortunately, he had already developed a penetrating voice, capable of drawing attention. “My projectile voice comes from survival of the fittest,” he says. “I have 48 cousins and am second from the bottom in age, so you needed a powerful voice to get your point across.”
After earning both undergrad and grad degrees at BU and an MBA at the University of Maryland, Jain became well-versed in the technological, communications, entrepreneurial, and other skills that are the hallmark of the societal engineer (basically, one who has a sense of purpose and appreciation for how engineering education and its experiences are superior foundations for improving society), a concept he embraces both as CEO of Prysm and as a member of the ENG Dean’s Leadership Advisory Board.
His close relationships with his family and his 200-plus employees, he says, are critical to his success and those relationships are anchored by his religion, Jainism, some of whose tenets—Don’t kill. Ask forgiveness. Respect different views—appear on a card he carries in his pocket.
“Everyone has a viewpoint,” he says. “The important thing is to listen to all views in order to make the right decisions.”
A version of this article appeared in Engineer.
First ENG Dean Put College on Path to Prominence
By Mark Dwortzan
Arthur T. Thompson, the first dean of Boston University College of Engineering, died on May 9 at the age of 96.
Serving with distinction from 1964 to 1974, Thompson laid the foundation for the College’s accreditation, instituted novel degree programs and considerably expanded the College’s undergraduate and graduate offerings. His achievements helped pave the way for the College to become one of the world’s finest training grounds for future engineers and platforms for innovation in synthetic biology, nanotechnology, photonics and other engineering fields. Since 1964, the College’s position in the US News & World Report’s annual survey of US engineering graduate programs has surged from unranked to the top 20 percent nationally.
In 1963, Boston University hired Thompson, then a longtime associate dean of engineering at Penn State University, to become dean of the College of Industrial Technology (CIT). At the time, CIT offered only three degree programs—in technology, aeronautics and management—and occupied a single, four-story building, but Thompson was bullish about CIT’s future. Reflecting on that time during an interview conducted last year in advance of the College’s 50th anniversary, Thompson noted that “the soil was rich for this little technical school to grow.”
He pledged to develop engineers with “the capacity for responsible and effective action as members of our society” at dedication ceremonies on February 27, 1964, when CIT was officially renamed as the Boston University College of Engineering. His primary mission was to transform CIT into an accredited engineering program.
During his deanship, the new Aerospace, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering departments received accreditation. The College also instituted the nation’s first BS degree program in bioengineering and expanded to five BS and three MS programs in five fields.
“Dean Thompson took some major risks and took on the responsibility of starting a small engineering college in the shadow of a very large, world-class college across the river, and did it successfully,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen.
“Art had defined the College—he recruited people willing to start with nothing,” recalled Professor John Baillieul (ME, SE). Key appointments included Richard F. Vidale, who would later head the Systems Engineering program, and Merrill Ebner, who headed the Manufacturing Engineering program.
“Thompson and [Ebner] came up with this idea of manufacturing engineering,” said Louis Padulo, who served as dean from 1975 to 1985. “They had the two first accredited programs in the country in systems engineering and manufacturing engineering—way ahead of their time. The real strength, almost like in any startup, is to do something innovative.”
Thompson left the College in 1974 having accomplished the mission he had signed up for a decade earlier. “I felt I had completed my job because the school had taken off, we were accredited and applications were coming in,” he said.
After serving Boston University as engineering dean, associate vice president and professor of engineering, Thompson became provost at Wentworth Institute of Technology.
He was a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and a Registered Professional Engineer. In addition, he was a trustee emeritus at Colby College and Wentworth and served on the Academic Board of the US Merchant Marine Academy and as a trustee of Norwich University. His honors include the Education Award of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal of the US Army, in which he served during World War II.
Thompson received an arts degree from Colby College, an engineering degree from Penn State, amaster’s degrees in engineering from Harvard University and a master of business administration degree from the University of Chicago. He was also awarded honorary doctorates from Colby, Norwich and Wentworth.
Most recently residing in Newton, Thompson was predeceased by his wife of 70 years, Virginia (Deringer) Thompson, and survived by daughters Deborah A. and Harriet T. Thompson of Newton; granddaughter Ashima Scripp and husband Robert Bloomfield of Windham, NH; and great grandson Thatcher Bloomfield.
A memorial service will be held at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 79 Denton Road, Wellesley on Friday, June 12 at 11 a.m. For tributes and guest book, visit www.duckett-waterman.com.
More information about Dean Thompson’s role in launching the College of Engineering can be found in the brochure ENG @ 50: Moving Society Forward.
College of Engineering Celebrates New Graduates
By Jan A. Smith
There has never been a better time to be an engineer, because society has never needed these skills more urgently. This was the overarching message in speeches delivered at the College of Engineering’s undergraduate and graduate Commencement ceremonies on May 16.
In the morning, Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen welcomed the 268 graduating seniors and their families by acknowledging their accomplishment in completing what he described as the most challenging curriculum at Boston University.
“The single most important skill in life is the ability to work really hard,” he said. “There isn’t a student in any other college on this campus who has worked as hard as you to earn your place at today’s commencement. Now begins the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned and move society forward.”
Atri Raychowdhury (ECE’15), past Class of 2015 president and this year’s BU IEEE student chapter vice president, echoed this sentiment in his student address. He exhorted all to keep their passion for engineering strong. “Let us use our education to solve the Grand Challenges of society. This truly is our responsibility as Societal Engineers,” he noted to resounding cheers. “The end of our time here marks the beginning of a new journey.”
“Now is the best and most exciting time to be an engineer,” said Commencement speaker Dr. Angela M. Belcher, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy at MIT’s Biological Engineering Laboratory and leader of a research team that engineers viruses to grow and assemble materials for energy, electronics and medicine. “From clean energy and the environment to healthcare, education, food and water, there has never been a time when we have had more opportunities to make an impact.”
Belcher, who founded Cambros Technologies and Siluria Technologies, has been cited by Rolling Stone, Time and Scientific American for her work’s impact on society.
Dean Lutchen presented Department Awards for Teaching Excellence to asst. professor Ahmad Khalil (BME), lecturer Osama Alshaykh (ECE) and assoc. professor Raymond Nagem (ME), who also received Outstanding Professor of the Year Award. The Faculty Service Award went to professor Joyce Wong (BME).
Later in the day, Lutchen presented 68 Master of Science and 60 Master of Engineering degrees, and presided over the hooding of 18 PhD students.
Farzad Kamalabadi (ECE, MS’94, PhD’01) professor of ECE and Statistics at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), exhorted the new masters and PhD graduates to combine science with policy work. “The world faces multiple problems of diminishing resources, which are all intertwined with social and economic stability,” he said. “You are poised to address these vital questions from a fresh, solutions-oriented perspective. But you can’t do it from within the scientific community alone. We need more engineers in Washington, Brussels, and the other policy centers of the world. It is crucial that the engineering leaders of the future – you – play central roles in social policy.”
Project Enhances Learning for Students with Disabilities
By Mark Dwortzan
The students who attend Boston’s William E. Carter School come with major mental and physical disabilities, making learning a challenge. Seeking to enhance the learning environment at the school, the principal, Marianne
Kopaczynski, came up with the idea to install automated announcing systems that would deliver a personalized greeting for each student upon taking a specific action when entering a room. Her rationale: the technology would help the students, who range in age from 12 to 22, to make associations between cause and effect, developing their cognitive skills while making them feel welcome.
Now an ECE senior design team has designed and built three such devices and installed them in the school, to the delight of students and teachers alike. Each student takes a card (an RFID tag), taps it on the device, triggering a greeting from a teacher or parent, such as “Hi [student’s name], welcome to Art.”
In recognition of this achievement, the College of Engineering has named the team as first-place winners of the annual Societal Impact Capstone Award, which honors outstanding senior design projects aimed at improving the quality of life. Team members are Yicheng Pan, Sihang Zhou, Alexis Weaver, Sinan Eren and Jose Bautista.
“What possibly could be more societal than to provide a system to make a student who struggles with severe physical and mental challenges just to smile, make them feel comfortable, and at the same time help them understand cause and effect?” said Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE), who advised the team and runs the ECE Senior Design Program.
To develop the system, the ECE seniors drew on their knowledge and skills in remote sensing, circuit design, application and database development and user interface development. Adhering to all applicable safety standards and taking advantage of resources at the Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC), they produced custom handheld and wearable RFID tags for each student; a desktop application and database to enter each student’s identification information; and a rugged, durable, user-friendly interface that can be updated and maintained by the school.
“For our students to acquire a skill, repetition is needed in everything we do,” said Kevin Crowley, an instructor at the Carter School who was a 2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year semifinalist. “The technology is easy to use, helps establish a consistent routine and will benefit our school greatly.”
Two previous ECE senior design teams took on the principal’s challenge but were unsuccessful.
“This team succeeded where prior teams failed, even solving last-minute problems and working around the clock to fix them,” said Pisano. “They visited the school on many occasions and stand ready to provide support if any operational issues arise. We plan to do additional projects for the school next year.”
The 2015 Societal Impact Capstone Award second place winners are “Pressure Profile for Kidney Stone Removal” by Nikolaos Farmakidis, Alexandros Oratis, Syed Shabbar Shirazi, John Subasic and See Wong, who assisted a Massachusetts General Hospital physician in determining the most suitable surgical procedure for medium kidney stone removal.
Finding better ways to produce clean energy, fight infection, attack cancer
By Sara Rimer, BU Research
Imagine the state-of-the-art 21st-century life sciences and engineering lab. It would bring together forward-thinking researchers from the hottest fields in bioengineering. These scientists would combine genomic technologies like DNA sequencing and synthesis, 3-D printers, and robots to make new molecules, tissues, and entire organisms. They would tinker in pursuit of cutting-edge questions like these: How do you guide cells to regenerate and build new tissue? How do you reprogram bacteria to fight infection—or reengineer the body’s immune system to attack tumors so they disappear? How do you organize the circuitry inside a cell so it sends all the right signals for optimal health?
This is the lab that Christopher Chen, a College of Engineering Distinguished Professor and one of the world’s leading experts in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, began dreaming up last summer with three ENG faculty who are young stars in synthetic biology—Ahmad (Mo) Khalil, Douglas Densmore, and Wilson W. Wong.
Now this dream is on its way to becoming a reality. The University is launching the new Biological Design Center (BioDesign Center), with Chen as the director and Khalil, an ENG biomedical engineering assistant professor and an Innovation Career Development Professor, as associate director. The other two core faculty members at the outset will be Densmore, an ENG electrical and computer engineering assistant professor and a Junior Faculty Fellow with the Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, and Wong, an ENG biomedical engineering assistant professor and a recipient of a National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award.
Through advances in genomics and stem cell research, many of the molecular and cellular building blocks of life have been cataloged. A central challenge is to understand, control, and reengineer how these component parts fit together to bring about functional biological systems that define life and solve important societal problems, ranging from producing clean energy to fighting infection and attacking cancer. That is the fundamental quest that brought Chen, Khalil, Densmore, and Wong together and that will drive the new center.
“Unlocking the underlying design logic of biological systems will revolutionize our approach to medicine, energy, and the environment,” Chen says, describing their shared vision. “Spanning synthetic biology, cell and tissue assembly, and systems biology, the Biological Design Center is positioned to lead this revolution.”
Up until now, he says, fields such as synthetic biology and tissue engineering have arisen as separate disciplines. Synthetic biology involves designing and synthesizing genes, genetic and signaling networks, and genomes to predictably control cellular behavior. Tissue engineering involves trying to manipulate and combine cells and extracellular materials to induce the assembly of tissues.
“But we realized that even though these two fields may involve slightly different tools,” Chen says, “they belong under one roof.”
Kenneth R. Lutchen, dean of ENG, was immediately excited about the possibilities when Chen broached the group’s idea.
“This is a unique approach to using engineering principles to understand and exploit biology,” Lutchen says. “Very few people are using bioengineering techniques and methods to help discover fundamental principles that govern how biological systems work, especially on multiple levels, from the gene level up to multiple organs.”
Chen, who earned an MD at Harvard Medical School and a PhD at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, arrived at BU in 2013 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding director of the Center for Engineering Cells and Regeneration. Khalil, Densmore, and Wong had all been recruited to the University a few years earlier and were already collaborating.
“Chris is a very dynamic, visionary engineering scientist who is highly respected throughout the biomedical engineering community,” Lutchen says. “He brings a very deep sense of how to connect visionary research to medical and clinical questions. He has the depth and breadth of understanding the engineering challenges, the biological challenges, and the medical challenges as well as a sense of how things are connected between the gene level and the synthetic and systems biology level up to the level of multiple organ systems.”
Creating a community with no walls
Chen and his core faculty members will begin working together out of their existing labs in nearby buildings along Cummington Mall until they can move the BioDesign Center into laboratory space on several floors at what will be the Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering (CILSE) building. Construction on the 610 Commonwealth Avenue building will begin late this spring and is expected to be completed within two years. Four to six new researchers—all exceptional innovators, says Chen—will be added to the center’s faculty over the next several years.
Housing the group at the CILSE, says Gloria Waters, University vice president and associate provost for research, “is a prime example of the goals of the new building—bringing together great scientists from different fields and breaking down the barriers to collaboration.”
Chen’s work spans tissue engineering and mechanobiology, which combines engineering and biology to study how physical forces and changes in cell or tissue mechanics affect development, physiology, and disease. He is a pioneer in the use of 3-D printing to help create organs using a patient’s own cells.
“One of the areas I’m interested in is regeneration,” Chen says. “How do you get cells not to go down the path of inflammation or dying or pathologic response? How do you guide them to go into a regenerative response where they might heal tissue?”
Khalil’s research involves using synthetic biology to understand and engineer genetic circuits that govern important cellular decisions and behaviors. Densmore, who is a Kern Faculty Fellow and the director of the Cross-Disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research group, automates the specification, design, assembly, and verification of synthetic biological systems using techniques from computer design and manufacturing. Wong’s research focuses on ways to reprogram the body’s immune system to target and kill tumors.
The idea for the center was born when Chen, Khalil, Densmore, and Wong got together over a working lunch early last summer. The chemistry among the group flowed.
“We were talking about what kind of science we each want to do,” Chen says. “We realized how much commonality we shared in terms of the general concept of trying to understand how biological systems operate through the process of trying to control them. We just developed different kinds of tools to manipulate these systems. At that point we realized we should be working in one space rather than doing things separately.”
“It was clear to me, within a few minutes of speaking to Chris,” says Khalil, “that he fundamentally shares the synthetic biology philosophy, which is a desire to understand the rules of building complex and functional biological systems, regardless of whether one uses molecular parts, cellular components, or other raw biological materials.”
To achieve their vision, the BioDesign Center will mix and match researchers from multiple academic fields, undergraduates, graduate students, and innovators from industry. Their lab will have no walls. They will create a community, sharing tools, resources, and ideas with scientists across the University and beyond. They will invent, discover, experiment.
“The idea of tinkering is key,” Khalil says.
They want the center to be a leader in reinventing biological education, engaging students by framing concepts around understanding the logic of how things work. And they want students to learn through hands-on work—by making things and doing things in the lab.
“Classically, biology in high schools and colleges is often taught as a facts-based field,” says Chen. “We think that being able to actively tinker with a biological system—for example, making cells do things they weren’t intended to do—is how one learns more deeply about how these systems work. And the process of being able to do an experiment to see if an idea makes sense is part of the learning cycle for us as scientists, but also for students. The center will be a place where that cycle will be fostered amongst students as well as researchers.”
Khalil says he views the BioDesign Center as an experiment and an opportunity to shape the future of synthetic biology. For all its excitement and vast potential, he says, “if this discipline looks largely the same in five years, then it will have been a failure.”
It is his opinion, he says, that “we will have succeeded when this engineering approach to biology is adopted by all life science researchers—both to understand living systems and to exploit biology as a new technology for addressing societal problems.”
A version of this article originally appeared on the BU Research website.