Category: Graduate Programs
White House pledge to address major global challenges of the 21st century
By Jan Smith
College of Engineering Dean Kenneth Lutchen is one of 122 deans presenting a letter of commitment to President Barack Obama this week to educate a new generation of engineers expressly equipped to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century.
These “Grand Challenges,” identified through initiatives such as the White House Strategy for American Innovation, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges for Engineering, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, include complex yet critical goals such as engineering better medicines, making solar energy cost-competitive with coal, securing cyberspace, and advancing personalized learning tools to deliver better education to more individuals.
In his commitment letter Dean Lutchen explained how the College of Engineering’s long-standing focus on creating Societal Engineers addresses the Grand Challenges.
“Societal Engineers have the passion and attributes to integrate people from all disciplines and lead organizations to address society’s challenges and improve lives,” he wrote. “In addition to their discipline strength, Societal Engineers’ attributes include broad communication skills, systems thinking, global awareness, and a passion and understanding of the entrepreneurial process, the role public policy plays in technology innovation, and strong social consciousness. These attributes, which echo those of the National Academy of Engineering’s Engineer of 2020, are developed with the specific courses and programs that will translate into creating Grand Challenge Scholars.”
The Grand Challenge, organized by the National Academy of Engineering, is supported by 122 signing schools, each of which has pledged to graduate a minimum of 20 students per year who are specially prepared to lead the way in solving such large-scale problems. The Grand Challenge goal is to train more than 20,000 formally recognized “Grand Challenge Engineers” over the next decade.
Grand Challenge Engineers will be trained through special programs at each institution that integrate five educational elements: a hands-on research or design project connected to the Grand Challenges; real-world, interdisciplinary experiential learning with clients and mentors; entrepreneurship and innovation experience; global and cross-cultural perspectives; and service-learning.
“The NAE’s Grand Challenges for Engineering are already inspiring more and more of our brightest young people to pursue careers that will have direct impacts on improving the quality of life for people across the globe,” said NAE President C.D. Mote, Jr. “Imagine the impact of tens of thousands of additional creative minds focused on tackling society’s most vexing challenges. ‘Changing the world’ is not hyperbole in this case. With the right encouragement, they will do it and inspire others as well.”
By Janet A Smith
The College of Engineering has introduced a new Engineering Practice option for Master of Science (MS) and Master of Engineering (MEng) students in all concentrations. Students may now add the designation “with Engineering Practice” to their degree by completing an approved internship in their field of study. The designation is widely recognized by employers and research institutions.
The Engineering Practice option recognizes the power of combining rigorous academic coursework with supervised real-world research or industrial applications. Participating students enhance classroom learning with practical experiences that enable them to both develop and apply technical, project management and leadership skills.
Opening Doors to Future Careers
The new designation formalizes and gives recognition to graduate-level internships, which several engineering students have pursued in recent years. Some, like Abhinav Nair (MEng’14), who last summer helped develop a major new online educational curriculum for the educational publisher Pearson, have parlayed their internships into a full-time jobs. He was paired up with a senior developer at Pearson who was available round the clock to answer questions, and reported to a development manager who held one-on-one sessions with him to provide feedback and guidance. The position ultimately led to a full-time post for Nair when the developer left the company.
“Over the course of my experience at Pearson, I learned the importance of truly being accountable for work that I produced,” said Nair. “The product that I worked on caters to millions of students and thousands of educators all over the world and everything we did as a part of the team touched their lives in a positive way every day. I learned the importance of maintaining that standard. Handling work that was this important also instilled a great deal of confidence in me as an engineer.”
Nair believes that practical work experience is a vital adjunct to classroom learning. “There is no doubt about how inspiring classroom education at Boston University is,” he noted. “But for a truly eye-opening experience it is extremely important for a graduate student to step out of their comfort zone into the real world. It is a fantastic platform to apply one’s expertise and knowledge.
“The program has been a great stepping stone for me into industry. My internship helped me transition from being a student in a nest to spreading my wings as a professional engineer. I wouldn’t think twice before endorsing it to my peers.”
Real-World Mastery, Exciting Projects
College of Engineering graduate students have completed internships with many leading companies, including industry leaders such as Intel, GE, and iRobot.
MEng student Anish Shah (CE) discovered this during a 12-week internship with Intel in which he and his team captured the attention of world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. The interns worked on creating a practical gateway device to improve the wheelchair experience and benefit health care monitoring for disabled individuals.
“My internship at Intel allowed me to apply everything I have learned in the classroom and involved working and interacting with multiple groups in the company,” said Shah. “Practical experience is very important if you are looking for a job after graduation. It gives you exposure to a professional work environment. It adds value to your resume/CV and serves as a platform to launch your career.”
All Master of Science or of Master of Engineering students can apply for the new Engineering Practice designation. They must first identify an internship opportunity and seek faculty approval for their project. Specific requirements are available online. For more information, contact the ENG Graduate Programs Office.
IBM & IEEE recognize ECE & SE research contributions that are expected to improve urban life in Boston.
By Gabriella McNevin
Ushered in with the 21st century, are challenges that require real technological innovations. The global population is growing and, like magnets, people are moving to cities. According to the UN, by 2030, 60% of the population will live in a city, and by 2050, 70% (source). City officials are taking measures to adapt to the steadily increasing population. Today, Boston is zeroing in on population sustainability issues that threaten driver safety and drain energy: Inadequate road infrastructure and an antiquated repair system.
As part of a multifaceted collaboration to create technology to solve urban problems, the City of Boston and a Boston University-led team of researchers have developed equipment to improve the local thoroughfare, called “Street Bump.”
IBM and IEEE has recognized “Street Bump” as a significant contribution to Boston, and have presented the developers the second place prize in “IBM Students for a Smarter Planet/IEEE Smarter Planet Challenge: Student Projects Changing the World.” The team’s project, entitled, “Street Bumps and Big Data Analytics: Crowdsourcing Our Way to Better Roads,” demonstrates engineering expertise and a commitment to improving the world.
The team of researchers includes graduate students Theodora Brisimi (ECE), Yue Zhang (SE), Wuyang Dai (ECE), Setareh Ariafar (SE) and Nicholas Baladis (MIT). Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE) and Professor Ioannis Paschalidis (ECE, SE, BME) are team advisors. All BU researchers are affiliated with the Center for Information and Systems Engineering.
The project focuses on an iPhone app – “Street Bump” – developed by the City of Boston to collect data on road conditions. The app is used by city employees and many citizens and was designed to facilitate crowdsourcing in collecting relevant road condition data. It uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to detect “bumps” sensed during a trip. The app then transmits the data to the City of Boston. The information can be used to alert repair crews of road damage. The algorithms developed by the BU-led team analyze the data received by the City and classifies the detected bumps into “actionable” and “non-actionable.” Severe bumps like potholes are actionable and can be prioritized in scheduling repairs.
In this work, the team collaborated with The City of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, which provided actual data from the City’s servers. Office Co-Chair Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood have echoed the Office’s website saying, “there is a revolution going on in how cities are designed & built. This new focus on technology infrastructure and sustainable design links how a city is built with how it is managed and experienced.”
“Street Bump” is the second smart city application Professor Casssandras has advised that received national attention. The first app, Smart Parking, also won 2nd place in the “IBM Students for a Smarter Planet/IEEE Smarter Planet Challenge: Student Projects Changing the World” competition in 2011.
By Gabriella McNevin and Donald Rock (COM ’17)
A man in a wheelchair is home alone when he accidentally maneuvers too close to a staircase. One wheel passes over the edge of the top stair, and the wheelchair teeter-totters on the brink. Instinctively, the man jerks his arms upwards to regain balance, but he can’t. He and the heavy wheelchair tumble down the steps.
The wheelchair and the man are suited for this situation. The man and his chair are connected to devices that transmit information through the Internet to the man’s health care provider. The caretaker is alarmed to see the chair’s abnormal degree of orientation, the acceleration, and the man’s rapid heartbeat. The health care provider jumps into action and rushes to the man’s aid.
Although the story above is fictitious, the technology is not. Anish Shah, a Boston University electrical and computer engineering graduate student, developed the novel technology with a team of Intel interns. For twelve weeks Shah was focused on creating a practical gateway device to improve the wheelchair experience and benefit health care monitoring.
The team linked the wheelchair to the “Internet of Things” by developing technology that attaches to the chair and to the user to collect and send information. The technology monitors fluctuating data and transmits it to a second party by route of an Internet application. The story above illustrates how the technology can be used to help caretakers respond in emergency situations.
Shah and his team started the design thinking process with a 3-4 week research period. The team discovered a huge variation in the needs of wheelchair users due to varying mobility and health restraints of each individual. To answer the range in needs, the team created technology that measured and sent information to Internet applications. The applications were designed for different health and wellbeing needs.
The technology integrated a bio-harness able to track bio data of the wheelchair user. It was programmed to track a range of body measurements like heart rate, skin temperature, and the orientation of whoever sits in the wheelchair. The harness was a tool with a number of applications when it was connected to the Internet. The technology can connect to Internet applications specifically designed to allow health care providers to respond to emergency situations. The technology can also be connected to applications designed to improve how long-term internal vitals were monitored.
Another feature of the gateway device was mechanical data monitoring. Here, the orientation of the chair, rather than the orientation of the user was observed. This capability can be applied to identify mechanical usage patterns and anomalies.
The wheelchair’s battery was also connected to the internet-of-things to answer questions like, “Will the chair battery die tomorrow?” and “is the chair consuming an irregular amount of energy?”
Lastly, a geo-location monitor was enabled to benefit user navigation of urban areas. With this technology, wheelchair users could find wheelchair accessible venues and thus improve their future transportation preparations.
Shah and his team tested the technology during a two-week trial period. They collected data and feedback and found highly positive results.
Stephen Hawking, world-renowned theoretical physicist and user of wheelchairs, publicly lauded the technological advancement. In a video response, Hawking applauded the design for it’s potential to change lives. “Medicine can’t cure me so I rely on technology,” noted Hawking. “It lets me interface with the world. It propels me. It is how I’m speaking to you now. It is necessary for me to live.”
Shah started the Intel internship one year into the Master of Engineering program at Boston University. He arrived at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with an interest in embedded systems in 2013, and successfully applied the knowledge to create a device that received press coverage around the world. Now, he is working under Professor Thomas Little in the NSF Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at Boston University.
Two BU grads seek to revolutionize the eye exam
By Barbara Moran, BU Research
Imagine that you’re nearsighted. For many Americans, that’s not hard to do. Around 30 percent of people in the United States are nearsighted, and for most of them, the solution is simple: go to the eye doctor and get some glasses or contact lenses. That way, they can drive, read street signs, and recognize friends walking down the street.
For most of the world, it’s not so easy. About 90 percent of the world’s visually impaired people live in low-income settings, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And often, there are no eye doctors or eyeglasses available. In Rwanda, for example, there are about 10.5 million people—and 14 vision specialists. Without access to an eye exam or glasses, simple nearsightedness becomes debilitating.
Now two Boston University College of Engineering graduates, Yaopeng Zhou and Marc Albanese, are trying to change those statistics. They’ve invented a handheld device called Smart Vision One (SVOne) that scans a person’s eyes, instantly determines whether he or she needs glasses, and decides what their prescription should be. Bolstered by a $1 million 2013 Powerful Answers award from Verizon, their company, Smart Vision Labs, is poised to start manufacturing and delivering SVOne devices in early 2015.
“This could be big,” says Thomas Bifano, director of BU’s Photonics Center, who advised both Zhou and Albanese on their theses at BU and now serves on their board of directors. “If this caught on, it could be so cheap that everyone has one, like a thermometer. It has the potential to be hugely disruptive.”
The device is a small block of plastic, a little larger than a deck of playing cards, which slips over an iPhone. To perform an exam, one person holds the device (technically known as a “wavefront aberrometer”) up to a patient’s eye, and presses a button. Light shines into the patient’s eye, bouncing off the retina and back out the front of the eye. Curves and imperfections in a patient’s eye will cause beams of light to bend, bouncing out of the front at slightly different angles. A sensor collects this information, the computer in the iPhone interprets it, and the result is a prescription specific to that eye. (Unless, of course, the person has perfect vision.)
Traditionally, optometrists have determined eyeglass prescriptions by asking patients to look through a phoropter, a bulky device on a swivel arm containing multiple lenses. A patient looks through lenses of different strengths and reports which ones make his or her vision the sharpest. “It’s a big, clunky, subjective measure,” says Albanese. “What we have is a small, portable device that offers you an objective number. It just gives you the answer! All you have to do is look straight.”
Albanese also says that the device could work well for young children, who are generally not known for their cooperation during eye exams.
The genesis for the device came over a decade ago, when both Zhou and Albanese were working on their graduate degrees in electrical engineering at BU’s College of Engineering. Bifano, a mechanical engineering professor, had worked for years developing “adaptive optics”—tiny, adjustable telescope mirrors that could help astronomers correct for atmospheric haze and see distant objects more distinctly. Then the technology took a twist. Bifano was invited to join a team from Schepens Eye Research Institute that was working with a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use adaptive optics for a different application: taking better resolution photos of the mouse retina.
“All the major eye diseases affect the cells in the retina,” says Bifano. “If you have a disease like, say, diabetic retinopathy, your capillaries get clogged up, and you get little microaneurysms and new, leaky vessels forming in the retina. Seeing these in the early stage of disease would help diagnosis and treatment. But because your eye is misshapen, the physician can’t see the cellular structures in your eye. They just see a gray mishmash.”
In the summer of 2002, Bifano chose Zhou and Albanese to join the team at Schepens and help develop the technology in mice. “The eye is a window into all these health issues,” says Albanese. “Our goal was to see the blood flow in the retina, but it’s not a clear optical path.”
Eventually Zhou and Albanese wrapped up their work on the project and went their separate ways. They got jobs and then each landed separately at New York University (NYU), at different times, to work on their MBAs. In early 2012, Zhou started thinking again of his work at Schepens. He had read an article about billions of people worldwide suffering with poor vision, with no access to an optometrist. He met up with his old friend Marc Albanese at a bar in Union Square, and they discussed the problem over beers. “And Yaopeng said, ‘Why not use the same optical measurements that we used at Schepens to give people prescriptions?’” says Albanese.
In the intervening years, technology had changed to their advantage. During their work under Bifano, they had used a Dell computer costing $5,000 and a camera costing the same. “Now a $500 iPhone has basically the same camera and processing ability,” says Albanese. “You have a computer and a camera in your pocket that can do most of the work for you. It just all came together.”
The two decided to work on the project together, and formed a company. While they worked on optical problems (like finding the perfect light source and screening out unwanted reflections from the front of the eye), they also started raising money. In 2013, they won $75,000 in the NYU business plan competition. That was followed by a $100,000 grant from Founders.org, and then, in January 2014, the $1 million award from Verizon.
“That helped a lot,” says Albanese. “Yaopeng had been working on a prototype, but nothing helps a prototype like a million dollars.” The money allowed them to buy a 3D printer, hire a full-time mechanical engineer and a software engineer, and also a “director of social venture” (and director of sales) to help them bring the device to the developing world.
They now have 11 working devices—all handmade—and they will soon start production in Boston for 100 more. They are now accepting preorders for the SVOne and expect the first orders to ship out in early 2015. The device costs $3,950 with an iPhone, compared to other similar devices on the market, which cost between $15,000 and $40,000.
While their primary market is American optometrists (they made their first sale to one running a Pearle Vision center in Philadelphia), their ultimate goal is to make the device widely available in less-affluent countries. Albanese and Greg Van Kirk, the company’s director of social venture, envision a fleet of “optometrist entrepreneurs” who use the device to prescribe and sell glasses in the developing world, creating jobs and saving sight.
“I’m really excited to see this thing go,” says Bifano. “These two guys took what we taught them at BU and just ran with it. It’s been a thrill for me to see them build something from scratch. They just buckled down and made it happen.”
By Donald Rock (COM ’17)
On May 17th, Dr. Jie Meng received a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and was presented with the 2014 Best ECE Ph.D. Dissertation Award. Her dissertation is entitled Modeling and Optimization of High-Performance Many-core Systems for Energy-Efficient and Reliable Computing and focuses on improving the energy efficiency of many-core processors and large-scale computing systems.
Accomplishing this goal, as Meng’s thesis argues, requires detailed, full-system simulation tools that can simultaneously evaluate power, performance, and temperature. Her award-winning thesis includes the design of such simulation methods and leveraging these methods for the development of dynamic optimization policies for computing systems.
This prestigious award is just one of a number of awards that the ambitious engineer has received throughout her Ph.D. career. In 2012, Dr. Meng won the Best Paper Award at the High Performance Extreme Computing Conference; in 2011 she won the A. Richard Newton Graduate Scholarship Award with her advisor, Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE), at the Design Automation Conference; and in 2010 she received the Google Scholarship at the Google GRAD CS Forum. Furthermore, Dr. Meng has won a number of awards from Boston University, including the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Fellow in the School of Engineering and the 2009 ECE Graduate Teaching Fellow of the Year Award.
Dr. Meng started her academic career at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), where she earned a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Electrical Engineering in 2004. She went on to earn a Master of Applied Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering at McMaster University before coming to Boston University in 2008 to pursue her Ph.D.
Dr. Meng simultaneously pursued career advancement while maintaining her academic workload. She landed an internship at the Intel Corporation, and another at Sandia National Laboratories.
Currently, Dr. Meng works as a software engineer at CGG, a French-based geophysical services company. “To be specific, I am working on developing software modules for modeling and imaging geological structures in the exploration [of] seismic field,” Meng clarified in an email correspondence.
When Dr. Meng reflects back on her time at BU, she remembers, “I was very lucky and grateful to have Professor Ayse Coskun as my advisor. [She was] a role model for me.” Professor Coskun felt similarly, noting, “Jie is a very hard-working researcher and she has the necessary perseverance to succeed. Seeing Jie graduate successfully as my first Ph.D. student and continue to her career has been among the most satisfying accomplishments of my time at BU.”
By Michael G Seele
The College of Engineering is expanding its suite of master’s degree programs to give students more flexibility in choosing a program best suited to their career aspirations. Anticipated to be fully in place for the fall 2014 semester, these programs emphasize advanced technical coursework and include an individual or team-based practicum design project. Students will be able to choose among Master of Science and Master of Engineering programs.
“We’ve added new dimensions to our master’s degree programs that speak to the career paths of prospective graduate students,” said College of Engineering Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen. “Whether students want a strictly technical program, one that includes some leadership training or one that prepares them for doctoral work, all options will be available to them.”
All Master of Science programs emphasize advanced technical coursework and include an individual or team-based practicum design project, as well as a range of opportunities to gain practical experience, including company or research internships. MS programs are available in Computer, Electrical, Mechanical, Manufacturing, Systems and Photonics engineering. Programs in Biomedical and Materials Science & Engineering are expected to be available in the fall.
Master of Engineering programs include advanced technical coursework, as well as the option to take elective courses in Project Management and Product Design, some of which are offerred in the School of Management. The programs—offered in Biomedical, Computer, Electrical, Manufacturing, Mechanical, Systems, Photonics, and Materials Science & Engineering—also include a practicum requirement.
All programs can be completed in one or two years. The application deadline for the fall 2014 semester is March 15.
Cultivating Excellence, Transforming Society
In 1963, the College of Industrial Technology (CIT) offered only three degree programs — in technology, aeronautics and management — and occupied a single, four-story building, but the former aviation school’s new dean, Arthur T. Thompson, was bullish about CIT’s future. He aspired to do no less than transform this dot on the Boston University map into an accredited engineering program, and to develop engineers with “the capacity for responsible and effective action as members of our society.”
Thompson began to work this transformation on February 27, 1964 — 50 years ago today — when CIT was officially renamed as the Boston University College of Engineering. Since then the College has grown 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, attracting record levels of student applications, research funding and philanthropic support.
Between 1964 and 2013, the number of degrees conferred annually has increased from zero to 281 bachelors, 184 masters and 53 PhDs; enrollment from around 100 to 1416 undergraduate, zero to 394 masters and zero to 349 PhDs; faculty from 10 to more than 120; advanced degree programs offered from zero to nine masters and six PhDs; and annual sponsored research dollars from zero to $52 million. Meanwhile, the College’s position in the annual US News & World Report’s annual survey of US engineering graduate programs has surged from unranked to the top 20 percent nationally.
At the same time, the College’s faculty, students and alumni have significantly advanced their fields and spearheaded major innovations in healthcare, energy, information and communication, transportation, security and other domains.
Building a World Class Institution
The infrastructure for the world class research and education taking place at today’s College of Engineering was built in stages.
During Thompson’s deanship from 1964 to 1974, the new Aerospace, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering departments received accreditation, with the Manufacturing Engineering program the ﬁrst of its kind to be accredited in the US. 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. Between 1975 and 1985, when Louis Padulo was dean, the College’s student body grew from 250 to 2481; minority and female enrollments skyrocketed; degree offerings rose to 24 BS, MS and PhD programs in eight fields; full-time faculty increased to 67; and sponsored research exceeded $3 million.
When Professor Charles DeLisi (BME) became the new dean in 1990, he recruited many leading researchers in biomedical, manufacturing, aerospace, mechanical, photonics and other engineering fields, establishing a research infrastructure that ultimately propelled the College to its ranking in US News & World Report’s top 50 engineering graduate schools (realized in 2003). A case in point is the BME Department, which DeLisi turned into the world’s foremost biomolecular engineering research hub, paving the way for his successor, Professor David K. Campbell (Physics, ECE), to oversee the department’s receipt in 2001 of a $14 million Whitaker Foundation Leadership Award and discussions leading to additional support from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. Between 1990 and 2005, as the number of full-time faculty rose to 120, research centers to eight, and PhD programs to seven, the College’s external research funding surpassed $26 million.
When Professor Kenneth R. Lutchen (BME) took over as dean in 2006, he aligned the curriculum with undergraduates’ growing interest in impacting society, redefining the educational mission of the College to create Societal Engineers, who “use the grounded and creative skills of an engineer to improve the quality of life.”
Lutchen rolled out several programs to advance this agenda, ranging from the Technology Innovation Scholars Program, which sends ENG students to K-12 schools to show how engineering impacts society, to the new Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC), a unique, hands-on facility, that will educate all ENG students on product design-to-deployment-to-sustainability. He also ushered in a new era of multidisciplinary education and research collaboration by establishing the Systems Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering divisions along with several new minors and concentrations. Meanwhile, professional education opportunities surged on campus with the introduction of eight new Master of Engineering programs and four new certificate programs.
Moving On to the Next 50 Years
That said, what do the next 50 years hold for the College of Engineering? For starters, upcoming educational initiatives include increased integration of digital technologies in courses; new programs with the schools of Management, Education and Public Health; continued efforts to build the engineering pipeline through outreach to K-12 students; and the Summer Institute for Innovation and Technology Leadership, which recruits companies to host teams of ENG and SMG students to tackle targeted problems.
BU also plans to construct the Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering Building — a seven-story, 150,000-square-foot facility that will include interdisciplinary research space for faculty and students in systems and synthetic biology (expanding the College’s recently launched Center of Synthetic Biology (CoSBi)) — within the next 10 years, as well as a 165,000-square-foot science and engineering research building. By 2016, ENG expects to add about 61,500 square feet of new lab and classroom space.
In its first half-century, the College of Engineering — through its students, faculty and alumni — has made its mark on several fields while improving the quality of life around the globe. If its rich history of high-impact education and innovation is any guide, the College can expect many more life-enhancing achievements in the coming 50 years.
As a master’s candidate studying Photonics at Boston University, Kevin Mader (ECE ’08, MS ’08) decided to become an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow, a position that allowed him to work with students and help them master difficult concepts.
“I felt like I could help students because I had just struggled with learning the concepts a year before and could relate well to what they were going through,” he said.
The experience made Mader realize he wanted to become a teacher and today, he is a lecturer at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, where he is hoping to inspire the next generation to get excited about engineering.
“I think that a lot of students lose interest in science and engineering early on because it becomes too technical before it gets interesting,” he said. “I hope to try and make it exciting without watering it down too much.”
Prior to living in Switzerland, Mader’s roots were in the United States, where he lived in California, Ohio, Oregon, and Massachusetts. Still, moving abroad wasn’t quite the challenge you might expect.
“For some things it is no adjustment at all – there are Starbucks and McDonald’s restaurants on nearly every street corner – but for other aspects getting used to a new language and a different culture can take some time,” he explained. “Luckily, students seem to be pretty similar all around the world and Zürich is a very international city so it’s never a problem finding interesting people and somewhere to fit in.”
As an undergraduate studying Electrical Engineering at BU, Mader worked closely with Senior Lecturer, Babak Kia, on his senior design project. Like in Switzerland, Mader never had any problems finding other researchers he could collaborate with effortlessly.
“He was a very effective team player, espousing a humble leadership style and patiently sharing his thoughts and ideas with his team,” said Kia, who served as Mader’s customer during senior design.
Mader’s team, Esplanade Runner, was tasked with enabling a robot to navigate a Google Maps route while avoiding obstacles in its path. Known as autonomous navigation, the project was assigned a few years before Google Street View cars were popularized.
Calling the research one of his “most valuable experiences at BU,” Mader said, “Our project was particularly cool since it was tangible: make a little car follow a route and avoid obstacles. It was also deceptively simple, and I learned how difficult it is to make timelines and get everything running on time. We spent a few nights in the lab banging our heads against the wall trying to synchronize our vehicle, compass, sensors, and GPS.”
The hard work ultimately paid off and their team won the ECE Day Best Presentation Award that year.
“Kevin could hardly contain his drive and enthusiasm throughout the project,” said Kia. “He has such a natural ability and curious mind for exploring the unknown that is just a joy to witness.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Mader decided to continue his studies by pursuing a master’s in Photonics at BU.
“Initially I was intrigued by Photonics because I had no idea what it really was and had studied in the building by that name for years,” said Mader. “After taking the introductory class I was surprised by how complicated imaging really is – iPhones make it so easy – and how much potential there was in the field.”
Mader had completed a summer internship at the Center for Biophotonics at the University of California, Davis, where he looked at how cellular spectroscopy and imaging could be used to detect cancer. Upon returning to BU, he decided to build upon what he learned by taking a course on imaging and microscopy with Professor Jerome Mertz (BME).
“What struck me about Professor Mertz from my first interaction with him was how much interest and passion he had for the science he was working on,” explained Mader. “He seemed like one of those people who would continue to do the exact same thing even after winning the lottery because he enjoyed it so much.”
Mader went on to work on his master’s thesis in Mertz’s laboratory, where he worked on improving bioluminescence imaging so that a small group of cells, like a tumor, could be detected without using lasers or X-rays.
“Kevin was great to work with – really creative,” said Mertz. “He could always look at things from different and unexpected perspectives that were really intriguing. I think he’ll make a great professor someday.”
Since completing his master’s, Mader has taken more steps toward eventually becoming a professor, including earning a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Biomechanics from ETH Zürich.
He has also earned a Pioneer Fellowship from the university, which will allow him to work toward pairing microscopes, MRIs and CT-scanners with tools that will turn pictures into meaningful statistics.
“There seems to be sufficient industrial interest. The real challenge will be connecting with the right people at the right times,” he said.
As Mader balances research with teaching, he continues to give his all in both.
“I think one of the best ways to really understand a topic is to have to disseminate it to other people,” he said. “In particular, I enjoy trying to connect abstract concepts like parallel computing to everyday ones like card games with friends.”
Truly committed to being the best teacher he can be, Mader can often be found tweaking his lecture slides minutes before a talk, even though he’d finished preparing weeks before.
Said Kia: “I have no doubt, not even for a second, that he will become a highly effective professor and that his deep passion for research and discovery will be surpassed only by his immense passion for his students.”
Learn more about Mader’s new company, 4Quant.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
Many engineers have great ideas for products, but unfortunately, they don’t often have a background in business that will allow them to bring their designs to market.
To help with this problem, two Boston University research teams recently participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps), a program that encourages scientists and engineers to broaden their focus beyond lab work through entrepreneurship training.
“We had been trying to bring some of our ideas to a commercial state when we heard about the program,” said David Freedman, a BU research associate in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. “It seemed like a great fit for us.”
Freedman and postdoctoral associate, George Daaboul, had been working closely with Professor Selim Ünlü’s (ECE, BME, MSE) research group trying to determine how their technology, IRIS, used to detect viruses and pathogens, might be applied in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and emergency care centers. They soon decided that forming an I-Corps team would allow them to evaluate the commercial potential.
Teams receive $50K in grant money and consist of an Entrepreneurial Lead (Daaboul), a Principal Investigator (Freedman), and a business mentor. The researchers asked BU lecturer and entrepreneur, Rana Gupta (SMG), to take on the latter role.
Also participating from BU were Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) and Research Assistant Professor Swapnil Bhatia (ECE). They pitched Lattice Automation, technology that will allow technology by the Cross-disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research (CIDAR) group to transition into commercial products. Ultimately, they hope to create software that will help synthetic biologists work more efficiently.
“Our technology is building upon state-of-the-art techniques in computer science, electrical engineering, and bioengineering,” explained Densmore.
Over eight weeks in the fall, participants attended workshops in Atlanta, Ga., met with researchers from the 21 teams, followed an online curriculum, and spoke with up to 100 different potential consumers of their technology – a process known as “customer discovery.”
Through this experience, Freedman and Daaboul quickly learned that introducing a new technology to customers might not be the right approach for their research.
“We decided instead to focus on the pains customers had with existing technologies and hone in on how we could alleviate those,” said Freedman.
Added Daaboul: “Finding out what people really needed before developing a technology really allowed for a much different perspective than what I’m used to.”
Much of the knowledge gained through I-Corps will be used to advance science and engineering research. Some products tested during the workshops even show immediate market potential by the conclusion of the curriculum.
“I would recommend this program to anyone working in science or industry,” said Freedman. “Not only did this change how we think about our research, we also learned how to better tell our narrative.”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)