Over the last few weeks, nearly 20 million Americans tried accessing a broken United States health care site that couldn’t handle the traffic, among other problems. And even if you weren’t one of the many applying for health coverage, you’ve probably experienced network congestion at some point.
Typically, network congestion occurs if a link or node is carrying too much data; as a result, the quality of service drops. The most severe form of communication disruption is deadlocks. A deadlock happens when several messages mutually block each other so that their delivery is not just delayed but stopped permanently.
“This is a long-standing problem, which is practically important and theoretically challenging,” said Distinguished Professor Lev Levitin (ECE, SE). “It has been attracting the efforts of many researchers for decades.”
Professors Levitin and Mark Karpovsky (ECE) have been working with their students on this problem for several years, developing new algorithms, specifically turn prohibition algorithms, to help direct data and essentially prevent information from being stuck in a deadlock as it travels through communication networks. This work covered a lot of ground by establishing lower and upper bounds for an optimal solution, outlining their discovery of a new class of algorithms, and developing a few algorithms that could actually solve the initial optimization problem.
The last advance on this project was achieved this year by Levitin and his team – ECE alum, Ye Wu (MEng ’13), and Visiting Scholar, Mehmet Mustafa. They have been working on developing new algorithms, specifically turn prohibition algorithms, to help direct data and essentially prevent information from being stuck in a deadlock as it travels through communication networks.
“Without changing the topology of existing networks, we managed to improve saturation points so that congestion is less likely to happen and latency is reduced which means lower waiting time for users,” said Wu.
The team recently presented their work at OPNETWORK 2013, a conference that focused on advancing the state of application and network performance management. Impressed by their research, “A Study of Modified Turn Prohibition Algorithms for Deadlock Prevention in Networks,” the judges awarded them Best Technical Paper.
“Computer experiments, executed earlier and in the latest work by Ye Wu and other students under the guidance of Dr. Mustafa, clearly showed the superior performance of our algorithms versus different algorithms suggested by other research groups,” said Levitin. He went on to add that the majority of publications in the field are on ad hoc algorithms as opposed to the “tree-free” algorithms he and his team explored.
The work gave Wu a chance to travel to Washington, D.C., and deliver the presentation at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
“I met some really nice students and professors from different countries who were happy to talk about their research,” said Wu. “The audience, I think, was also smart enough to understand the key points of our project and asked really good questions.”
Now a Boston University graduate, Wu looks back at his professor fondly, describing Levitin as open-minded, even when his student was questioning his own theories.
“Professor Levitin is the best professor I’ve ever known,” said Wu. “Even when we had no idea how to begin a project, he’d point us in the right direction.”
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
Enhancing the functionality of cyber-physical systems — systems that integrate physical processes with networked computing — could significantly improve our quality of life, from reducing car collisions to upgrading robotic surgeries to mounting more effective search and rescue missions.
Recognizing Boston University as a key contributor to this effort, the National Science Foundation has awarded Professors Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE) and David Castañón (ECE, SE), and Assistant Professor Mac Schwager (ME, SE), nearly $1M for their project, “CPS: Synergy: Data Driven Intelligent Controlled Sensing for Cyber Physical Systems.”
Drawing on earlier work by Saligrama and Castañón investigating machine learning under cost and budget constraints, the researchers will focus on improving sensors that collect data in transportation, security and manufacturing applications. A key challenge in such applications is to choose the most effective physical sensors from the vast amount available and develop systems that can efficiently process large quantities of collected data.
“Many of these systems are energy-hungry,” Saligrama explained. “The goal is to use such sensors only when they are needed by using feedback control of the sensing actions to obtain the best information possible given energy budget constraints.”
Castañón, who has developed some of the leading theories used in controlled sensing studies, sees the project as “an opportunity to extend that theory to big data environments with high-dimensional measurements.”
The team plans to validate its techniques through archaeological surveying, working with Associate Professor Chris Roosevelt (Archaeology). Determining where to deploy the sensors on a smaller scale — for example, finding where best to dig — could lead to far-reaching solutions for deep-sea exploration, firefighting and traffic monitoring.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The College of Engineering has funded five new projects through the Dean’s Catalyst Award (DCA) grant program, each focused on technologies with the potential to make a significant impact on society. The projects will receive a total of $114,000 to develop novel techniques to advance these technologies.
Established by Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen in 2007 and organized by a faculty committee, the annual DCA program encourages early-stage, innovative, interdisciplinary projects that could spark new advances in a variety of engineering fields. By providing each project with seed funding, the awards give full-time faculty the opportunity to develop collaborations and generate initial proof-of-concept results that could help secure external funding.
This year’s DCA-winning projects could yield new applications in healthcare, energy, information systems and defense.
Associate Professor Tyrone Porter (ME, BME) and Professor Jianlin Gong (MED) will apply their DCA funding to design and test a new method to encapsulate the drug cisplatin – the standard of care for ovarian cancer – in nanoparticles. Conventional high-dose chemotherapy with cisplatin has led to severe kidney dysfunction, but the researchers’ strategic packaging of the drug within polymer nanoparticles could enable it to target ovarian cancer cells while dramatically reducing its toxic effects on the kidneys.
Assistant Professor Aaron Schmidt (ME) and Associate Professor Srikanth Gopalan (ME, MSE) plan to engineer an efficient thermoelectric material that can recover waste heat at temperatures between 700 and 1000 degrees Celsius and convert it to electricity. Such materials can be retrofitted to boilers, furnaces, power plants and diesel engines to improve overall energy efficiency.
Assistant Professor Jonathan Klamkin (ECE, MSE) aims to develop ultra-high-speed and energy-efficient nanophotonic devices that exploit graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms that’s less than one nanometer thick and exhibits unique electrical and optical properties that can significantly improve the performance of electronics, optoelectronics, sensors and photovoltaics. Nanophotonic devices that incorporate graphene layers in a silicon photonics platform could be used in optical interconnects for data centers and high-performance computers, and in image sensors.
Assistant Professor Wilson Wong (BME) and Associate Professor Heng-ye Man (Biology) propose to create a novel set of tools that will allow genetic manipulation of specific populations of mammalian neurons so as to better understand the structure and function of individual cell types in the human brain. Such understanding would help clarify which cell populations are responsible for specific neural functions that are essential for cognition and the progression of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and schizophrenia.
Associate Professor Sheryl Grace (ME) and Professor David Mountain (BME) will use their DCA funding to conduct a pilot study to investigate whether infrasound (frequencies below 20 Hz) and low-frequency noise (ILFN) can lead to symptoms reported by residents living near some wind turbine installations. Known as “wind turbine syndrome,” these symptoms include nausea, vertigo and disturbed sleep. The researchers plan to determine if ILFN directly activates the vestibular system or outer hair cells of the inner ear and subsequently triggers such symptoms in humans.
When it comes to wireless communications, the school of thought is that interference between users is an obstacle to avoid.
That is to say, when multiple users transmit on the same frequency band, nearby receivers only see the superposition of their signals, which makes it hard to discern the individual packets of data.
Work by Assistant Professor Bobak Nazer (ECE) and Professor Michael Gastpar, who holds positions at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of California, Berkeley, is causing other researchers to rethink that notion.
A paper by them titled, “Compute-and-Forward: Harnessing Interference Through Structured Codes,” explores the possibility of exploiting the algebraic structure of interference to achieve higher data rates.
Specifically, their framework makes it possible for a receiver to recover linear combinations of packets from superimposed signals. Recovering the original packets is simply a matter of collecting enough equations to solve for the unknowns. Ultimately, this technique may enable wireless networks to operate at significantly higher throughputs by allowing several users to simultaneously occupy the same channel.
“Much of the prior work has focused on the statistical aspects of the interference problem,” said Nazer. “One of the main emphases of this paper is that there is a benefit to thinking about algebraic structure as well.”
“I was very happy to hear about the award and really appreciate the recognition from the communications and information theory communities,” said Nazer. “This is a project we’ve been working on for a long time. More than anything it’s nice to see that others are getting as excited about the work as we’ve been.”
In July, Nazer and Gastpar were recognized with a plaque and honorarium at the IEEE International Symposium on Information Theory in Istanbul, Turkey.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
Crane was recently named a recipient of a Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship, given for two academic years to advanced degree candidates. Each fellowship covers the cost of tuition, medical insurance, mandatory fees, a $20,000 stipend and $4,000 for allowance to cover educational and professional development expenses.
The Clare Boothe Luce Program (CBL), the largest source of private funding for women in science, mathematics, and engineering, aims to increase women’s participation in science and engineering at every level of higher education.
Given the recent honor, it’s hard to believe that Crane, who earned her master’s degree through the Late Entry Accelerated Program (LEAP), only began studying engineering three years ago after graduating with an English degree summa cum laude from Clark University.
“I was unsure how long it would take to fulfill the many course requirements, as I was coming in with virtually none of them completed,” said Crane. “I dove in headfirst though and often overloaded on courses to finish in a timely fashion.”
Crane said that earning her master’s in a short timeframe motivated her to apply for her doctorate at BU.
“I didn’t even apply anywhere else,” she said. “There is tremendous value in students having familiarity with the faculty and vice versa, and in having an established rapport with a doctoral advisor right at the outset of research. There is no other school in the world where I would have had that advantage.”
At BU, Crane has been working closely with her advisor, Professor Hamid Nawab (ECE), who nominated her for the award.
“Molly is precisely the type of person who would help to further shatter the glass ceiling in the male-dominated world of electrical engineering research and academia,” said Nawab. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she wound up becoming a tenured faculty member in a leading ECE department or an internationally renowned leader in her field.”
Crane said she was taken by surprise when she won the award, especially since she had a very non-traditional path into engineering.
“The foundation’s support has allowed me to move into a coveted realm in doctoral research, where the student is free to define the problem on which her research will focus without having to worry about focusing solely on a problem as defined in a grant,” said Crane.
Crane’s research at BU focuses on signal processing, though her work overlaps into other areas.
“We’re at the point now where artificial intelligence is really exploding, and fields like signal processing are interwoven in that explosion,” said Crane.
Crane said that she hopes her work will help improve the ability of artificial intelligence (AI) applications to work in the face of mutually interfering inputs.
Examples of such AI applications include Apple’s Siri or Google’s voice recognition. Both work if a user is speaking clearly into a microphone, but if there are signals like music or other voices superimposed on the input speech signal, the results are often inaccurate.
She hopes to find a way to extract the meaningful input even when interfering signals are in the way, and do so in a way that can be applied to multiple applications.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do research on a problem that has far-reaching implications and the potential to contribute something meaningful to the signal processing community at large,” she said.
Crane has been thrilled with her BU experience, describing her professors as “accessible and brilliant.”
“I am happy to be at BU, to call Boston home, and am looking forward to the experiences ahead,” said Crane. “Honestly, I’ve never been happier.”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ENG Alums’ iPad App Helps Speech-Challenged Communicate
Every year, more than seven million people are affected by conditions that prevent them from speaking or understanding language. The disability may mean that stroke victims can’t tell a nurse that they need to use the bathroom, can’t share with their spouse that they are hungry, or can’t simply ask to please change the channel because they are about to watch a fourth straight episode of Law & Order.
To the rescue comes an iPad app designed by College of Engineering alumni Nick Dougherty, Eric Hsiao, and Gregory Zoeller (all CE ’12). Their creation, called Verbal Care, helps nonverbal patients communicate a desire for things like food, medicine, and pain relief by touching one of the large picture-based icons. After creating a few iterations of the software over the course of a year and testing in beta, the last stage of testing for a computer product, the trio will make the latest version of the app available in the iTunes store August 12.
“Our goal is to bridge the communication gap between patients and caregivers,” says Dougherty, CEO of Verbal Applications, the alums’ new company. “Patients will receive custom care faster, and hospitals will get money back in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements because of higher patient satisfaction scores.”
Verbal Care must be downloaded from the iTunes store and loaded onto an iPad. Once opened, the user is asked, “What would you like to say?” as nine icons pop up on the screen, among them “pain scale,” “food,” “bathroom,” and “entertainment.” Each category is subdivided into requests for certain types of food, for example, or a specific television station. Caregivers, who can receive the request on an iPad, can confirm requests with a “yes or no” module, and the app can also act as a rudimentary translation tool. Based on the needs of the patient, caregivers can add their own text, voice recordings, and images (“If the patient’s favorite food is Oreos, they can add that personal icon,” Zoeller says).
In addition to helping people who have trouble speaking, Verbal Care could one day make a difference for those with aphasia, a complex communication disorder caused most often by stroke. “Aphasia patients often mix up signals,” Hsiao says, “So our app has three different inputs, where they can see the pictures and icons, read the text, and hear audio feedback.”
After being challenged senior year to create a communications device by Theodore Morse, an ENG professor emeritus of electrical engineering, Dougherty, Hsiao, and Zoeller designed the Verbal Care app as part of ENG’s electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department senior design project. The three, along with former teammates Kenneth Zhong (ENG ’12) and Kholood Al Tabash (ENG ’12), won the ECE department’s Entrepreneurial Award and second place at the ENG Societal Impact Capstone Project Awards last year.
After graduating, Dougherty, Hsiao, and Zoeller formed their own business venture. Their research, shadowing nurses and speech pathologists at Massachusetts General Hospital, revealed some similar devices targeted specifically for aphasia patients, ALS patients, and stroke victims, but with price tags upwards of $7,500. Verbal Care was designed as a far more affordable app for all types of communications disorders. Currently the app is free, but Dougherty says it may be priced at around $10 a month, or $99 a year. The three alums also learned the importance of user-friendly design, which they achieved by using hard contrast, brighter colors, and very simple icons for patients with lower visibility, Hsiao says.
CEO Dougherty continues to meet with speech language pathologists, nurses, and patients to better understand what they need from the product. He also develops relationships with potential investors and hunts for grants. Zoeller, the COO, deals with pricing and projects how much money they will need from investors to become profitable and in what areas they should spend their money. Chief technology officer Hsiao oversees the product’s infrastructure and technology.
This summer, the three quit their jobs as web developers and software engineers to focus full-time on their business. They had plenty of encouragement – Verbal Care was selected both for the School of Management’s 2013 ITEC New Venture Competition, taking the People’s Choice Award, and the MassChallenge, an annual $1 million global accelerator program, two start-up camps where they could get excellent advice from experienced mentors. And while that advice is certainly helpful, Dougherty says, one of the most important lessons was learned while he was still a student.
“You have to be able to totally burn what you have and start over,” says Dougherty, who also founded the popular campus nonprofit Project Mailbox. “We’ve done Verbal over maybe four times. Every time it’s like a phoenix, where it crumbles to ashes and then rises out of the flames. I think there’s a lot to learn from that, and that’s the benefit of being a younger entrepreneur.”
The latest version of Verbal Care will be launched in the iTunes store on August 12. Users can e-mail the company for more information.
-Amy Laskowski, BU Today
Recognized for scientific contributions with commercial potential
Professor Theodore Moustakas (ECE, MSE, Physics) has won BU’s 2013 Innovator of the Year Award, recognizing a faculty member whose research and ideas have led to the formation of companies that benefit society at large.
Jean Morrison, BU provost and chief academic officer, presented the award to Moustakas on July 16 at Tech, Drugs and Rock & Roll – the University’s annual networking event for those involved in university technology transfer in the Boston area.
Moustakas is the coinventor of the blue light-emitting diode (LED). His lab develops semiconductors for photonics and other applications. Moustakas is also the founder of RayVio Corp., a venture-backed company that makes ultraviolet LEDs, a compact, energy-efficient, durable, and environmentally friendly substitute for mercury lamps used in water purification and disinfection systems.
“Professor Moustakas is an entrepreneurial scientist, whose inventions have been licensed to a number of companies, including major manufacturers of blue LEDs and lasers - Cree and Philips-LumiLeds in the United States and Nichia in Japan,” says Morrison. “His accomplishments in the past year include nine peer-reviewed papers published and five patent filings.”
The Innovator of the Year Award recognizes faculty members who have conducted peer-recognized world-class research and whose research projects show potential for commercialization.
Moustakas says he is honored to receive the award. “In a research university like ours there are many gifted and talented individuals who deserve such an award,” he says. “Through working in an interdisciplinary field like materials and device physics I have had the privilege to collaborate and benefit from many colleagues at BU as well as at other institutions. And I have been blessed to have mentored so many bright and talented young people over the last 26 years.”
Moustakas’ contributions cover a broad spectrum of topics in optoelectronic materials and devices. He is the coeditor of eight books and the author of chapters in nine books and more than 300 papers in technical journals and conference proceedings. He has been granted 25 US patents and several are pending in the fields of nitride semiconductors, amorphous silicon, and diamond materials. He was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1994 and of the Electrochemical Society in 1997. In 2003 he received an honorary degree from Aristotle University for outstanding contributions to research and teaching. In 2010 he was awarded the MBE Innovator Award and in 2011 was chosen for ENG’s Distinguished Scholar Award. He is also a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.
“Ted has been a prolific academic entrepreneur, but this past year was especially productive with the launch of RayVio,” says Vinit Nijhawan, managing director of the office of Technology Development, which sponsors the award.
-Kira Jastive, BU Today
The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) recently named 81 engineers under the age of 45 to participate in the U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, and among those chosen was Boston University Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME).
Densmore, who was awarded the honor for performing exceptional engineering research, will attend the 19th annual symposium in Wilmington, Del., this September.
“The well-being of society will rely on engineering ideas developed by our nation’s leading technological thinkers,” said NAE President Charles M. Vest. “The Frontiers of Engineering programs give some of our most talented early career innovators the opportunity to create interdisciplinary relationships that are critical to shaping and advancing the future.”
Densmore, who was nominated by Boston University’s President Robert A. Brown, stood out in a pool of 310 applicants from industry, academia and government.
“The National Academy of Engineering invites the brightest young researchers from across the country to attend the U.S. Frontiers of Engineering symposium,” said Brown. “Dr. Densmore belongs in this group; he is a very promising researcher who is engaged in important cross-disciplinary work.”
Since joining BU’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Densmore has been working to advance the field of synthetic biology. Specifically, he is designing a platform that could reduce the cost and time involved in assembling DNA. His research could potentially be applied in renewable energy, medical, environmental remediation, and other critical societal challenges.
“I am looking forward to the symposium so that I get to interact with other faculty from around the world that are all working on really cutting edge research in a variety of disciplines,” said Densmore. “This will give me a chance to think about big picture applications and how we can use technology on a much more global scale.”
Over two and a half days, the symposium will cover developments in designing and analyzing social networks; cognitive manufacturing; energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels; and flexible electronics.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
Lasers are a staple in our day-to-day lives and used in acne treatment, fingerprint detection, dentistry, printing, and a variety of other areas.
Researchers continue to find new applications for the devices, and in the future, they might be used in explosive identification, underwater sensing, and various high power communications applications.
A Boston University team in the Nanostructured Fibers and Nonlinear Optics lab, led by Associate Professor Siddharth Ramachandran (ECE), is hoping to help make that vision a reality by developing new high power fiber laser sources at frequencies not achievable by current means.
In a recent paper by Electrical & Computer Engineering Ph.D. students, Jeffrey Demas and Boyin Tai; postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Paul Steinvurzel; Yuhao Chen (MS ’13); and Ramachandran, the team described how they were able to generate new wavelengths by pumping a specially designed fiber with a higher order, bull’s-eye-shaped mode.
“The research itself is very visually dynamic due to the extent of the visible frequencies we generated,” said Demas. “I think on a deeper level, it’s also interesting because we were able to take a chaotic process in a system that allows dozens of intermodal interactions and simplify it to a well-understood pattern.”
Demas presented the paper, “Two Octaves of Frequency Generation by Cascaded Intermodal Nonlinear Mixing in Solid Optical Fiber,” during the 2013 Maiman Student Paper Competition. This contest takes place annually at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) and recognizes student innovation, research excellence and presentation skills in the areas of laser technology and electro-optics.
“I am delighted to note that several scientists in the field approached me at CLEO to comment on the excellent presentation Jeff made at the conference,” said Ramachandran.
The panel of judges, impressed by the work, awarded Demas honorable mention, which puts his paper in the top 3 out of more than 1000 student papers submitted to the conference.
“I was, and still am, incredibly honored and surprised,” said Demas. “This project has been incredibly stimulating and rewarding for me personally, so it was very nice to see that others were interested as well.”
Additionally, Ph.D. student, Patrick Gregg (ECE), was named a semi-finalist for his paper, “Stable Transmission of 12 OAM States in Air-Core Fiber.”
This was Demas’s second CLEO conference, and he said he was “blown away” by the quality and diversity of the research presented.
“Photonics can feel like a very tightknit community, but this conference in particular seems to do a good job sampling a large extent of the field,” said Demas.
Ramachandran said that the research offers “exciting implications” for high-power fiber laser development and is happy about the great strides the team has made on this project.
“I was particularly impressed by Jeff’s detailed analysis of the seemingly ‘chaotic’ data obtained in the lab, which resulted in uncovering a methodical rule for the nonlinear interactions we observed, and was the basis of his rather impressive CLEO paper and talk,” said Ramachandran.
Demas, who is a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering, said that working with Ramachandran has been a “spectacular” experience.
“It has been great to find a research advisor whose work aligned so well with both my background and my own interests,” said Demas. “Our lab is very driven, so the pace of the research is incredibly fast and we are constantly generating exciting results.”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shawn Jin (SAR ’15) may be majoring in human physiology, but that hasn’t kept him from diving into research that combines both biology and computer engineering.
A Kilachand Honors College student, Jin has been working this summer on synthetic biology research with Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) and Traci Haddock, a post-doctoral associate in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.
Densmore, who recently spoke about the challenges facing this field on a DISCOVER panel, said that DNA assembly is not an efficient practice currently. To help alleviate this, Jin is designing a standardized method for tracking genetic circuits that has the potential to help solve this problem.
“We’re essentially creating a library of well characterized DNA parts that will allow synthetic biologists to share and compare information more quickly,” said Jin.
To help support his summer research, Jin was awarded a Hariri Award by the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computation Science & Engineering. The prize is given to students conducting research in computer science.
In addition to researching, Jin will also spend the next several months preparing for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) regionals competition.
The iGEM competition, which is geared toward undergraduates, is dedicated to advancing the field of synthetic biology by developing its community and collaborations.
Last year, Jin and Monique De Freitas (MET ’13) took home gold in the competition. The BU team will be partnering with Wellesley College like previous years, and with five teammates this time instead of two, Jin and Haddock have high hopes for this year’s contest.
“Our partnership with Wellesley is great because they’re able to provide feedback on our software tools,” said Haddock, who advises the team. “We’re looking forward to working with them again.”
Eventually, Jin hopes to further his education by earning a medical degree. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to competing in iGEM this October in Toronto.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)