Category: Graduate Student Opportunities
By Rebecca Jahnke (COM ’17)
ECE PhD student Onur Sahin won first prize this November at the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group on Design Automation (SIGDA) Student Research Competition. Sahin, who is advised by ECE Professor Ayse Coskun, won for his project on providing sustainable performance to mobile device users, titled “Pushing QoS-Awareness into Thermal Management for Sustainable User Experience in Mobile Devices”
Sahin soared through the competition’s multiple rounds at the International Conference on Computer Aided Design (ICCAD) in Austin. Contestants had entered by submitting a write-up describing their research focuses, the novel aspects of their approaches and the impact their projects could have on society. Sahin was among the 20 entrants invited to the poster presentation at the ICCAD, and the five subsequently selected by industry and academic judges to proceed. Those five delivered 10-minute presentations before a judging panel, where they were assessed for their knowledge of their areas, contributions of their research and the quality of their presentations. Judges named Sahin winner following this round.
Sahin’s project idea is a response to modern mobile devices that have significantly increased computational abilities, but generate significant amounts of heat and power dissipation. Unlike other computation devices, mobile devices’ limited battery-life and small size limit their cooling capabilities. This poses a problem for the many users who run computationally intensive applications – like gaming, browsing, media and data processing – for extended durations.
Currently, mobile devices employ a thermal throttling mechanism to slow the devices and reduce their temperatures. However, this reduces performance levels and degrades the user experience.
Sahin’s project addresses the drawbacks of current thermal throttling techniques to mitigate thermal limitations on smartphones. By instituting techniques that prevent an application from boosting performance beyond what is actually required to run that application, Sahin proposes that heating can be slowed. This will allow users to interact with their devices for longer at higher performance levels. Having experimented with real-life smartphones, Sahin and his team reassure that their technology can be easily integrated into current mobile devices.
This competition is one of the several student research competitions annually co-located with ACM sponsored conferences. Each conference focuses on a different major area of computing. The competition is sponsored by Microsoft Research and allows undergraduate and graduate students across computing disciplines to gain visibility for their research projects and finesse their abilities to effectively communicate their ideas.
Sahin will join winners from all conferences to compete in the ACM Grand Final against researchers from all computing areas. From there, the top three contenders and their advisors will receive formal recognition at the ACM Awards Banquet, where the Turing Award – the highest distinction in computer science – is presented annually.
Further information regarding the competition and the winners are provided at http://src.acm.org/winners.html.
Wireless Sensors Developed by Interdisciplinary Engineering Team to be Launched into Space
By Rich Barlow Video by Joe Chan for BU Today
On March 10, 1989, a solar eruption blasted plasma toward Earth. Canadian utility Hydro-Quebec noticed a hop-skip-and-jump in the voltage on its grid two days later. On March 13, with plasma sweeping Earth’s magnetic field and causing electric currents in the outer atmosphere, the grid shut down, plunging the province into darkness for nine hours.
Such bolts from the blue (or black) of space rarely wreak such havoc. But less severe irritants—interrupted radio transmissions, disrupted GPS devices, even rusting of pipelines—can result when electric currents course through the magnetic field, says Joshua Semeter, who’d like to know more about this phenomenon (largely because the magnetic field may be an essential ingredient for life on Earth). So would the federal government, which is why NASA has agreed to launch a network of wireless sensors named ANDESITE, developed by Semeter’s College of Engineering students to study changes in Earth’s magnetic field caused by space weather.
It is the final frontier, finally crossed: the first space launch for eight-year-old BU Student-satellite for Applications and Training, overseen by Semeter (ENG’92,’97), an ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering. Colloquially known as BUSAT, the program engages students in designing and operating small satellites. Earlier this year, the BUSAT group was one of the teams from a half dozen universities that beat out nine competitors to continue receiving support from the Air Force, which has contributed more than $500,000 to BUSAT projects. (BU also provided funding.) NASA will set a date for the launch late this year, Semeter says, assuming the agency’s review shows that ANDESITE’s ejecting sensors “won’t blow up their vehicle.”
ANDESITE sensors are DVD-sized boxes packed with electronics boards, and eight of them will hitch a ride on a NASA spacecraft that will spit them out roughly 280 miles above the Earth. Each sensor, traveling at a speed of approximately six miles per second, will complete an orbit of the Earth in roughly 90 minutes. The sensors will measure variations in electrical currents flowing in and out of the upper atmosphere along Earth’s magnetic field. “From this we will learn about how turbulence forms in space plasmas and what the eventual effects of this will be” on things like radio signals, allowing for better modeling of those effects, Semeter says.
ANDESITE’s success has already led to one terrestrial development, he adds. ENG has hired Brian Walsh (GRS’09,’12) as an associate professor of mechanical engineering. Walsh researches small satellites and space technology.
“This whole idea of taking any kind of spacecraft and spitting out small sub-payloads is really experimental,” says Semeter.
“This whole idea of taking any kind of spacecraft and spitting out small sub-payloads is really experimental,” says Semeter, although ANDESITE employs “technology that’s very well established here on Earth. They use it for self-driving cars and finding cabs in a city; Uber uses this kind of thing. This is wireless mesh network technology.…Our innovation was, why can’t we use that in space? What science could you do?”
In July, government representatives visited the students’ lab at the Engineering Product Innovation Center for a demonstration of how the sensors would deploy during an upcoming zero-gravity test flight, a nausea-inducing trial that previous BUSAT students have experienced firsthand. The students rigged a contraption to gently fire sensors into a mesh net, a form of soccer-meets-space.
“Looks like a good setup,” Zane Singleton of the Defense Department’s Space Test Program and tech company MEI Technologies said at the demonstration.
Earlier in the history of miniaturized satellites, “NASA didn’t give a rat’s ass” about them, Semeter says, with one official harrumphing, “Why would somebody who drives a Ferrari care about Matchboxes?” Then the National Science Foundation convinced NASA that solid science research could be done by mini-satellites. Today, ANDESITE is but one government effort to study space weather. Last February, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite was launched to record data about solar wind.
Cody Nabong (ENG’15), ANDESITE’s project manager, joined BUSAT on a buddy’s recommendation after being stymied in his search for an internship. (A picture of his friend on a zero-gravity flight was a grabber.) “I’ve been interested in aerospace since I came here, so it wasn’t a hard decision,” says Nabong, who appreciates the hands-on practice of the classroom concepts he’s studied that the team has provided. “The computer program that you use to make your 3-D models—I got a lot of practice with that. And then I learned a bunch about communications stuff that I wouldn’t have been exposed to if I had just had courses.…The biggest thing I’ve learned is how you meet requirements for an engineering project,” he says, referring to the government competitions and reviews the ANDESITE project has hurdled.
If the foregoing sounds uber-Star Trek-y, BUSAT’s members include some liberal arts disciplines majors who came for graduate engineering study through BU’s LEAP (Late Entry Accelerated Program) initiative. One BUSAT alumnus was a building contractor from San Francisco, who was “perfectly suited for this job,” says Semeter. “He’s used to going to the project site, telling people what to do. That’s all we needed. And he was technically competent.”
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.
One of Six Teams Selected
By Gabriella McNevin
ANDESITE, a task force within Boston University’s Small Satellite Program, qualified to launch a self-designed satellite into orbit. The ANDERSITE team is one of six that qualified for the final round of the US Air Force University Nanosat Program competition.
The ANDESITE satellite is on the forefront of an international movement to advance our understanding of “space weather” and its effects on society. Space weather arises from interactions between the Earth’s plasma environment and the impinging solar wind. These interactions can damage satellites, harm astronauts in space, render GPS information erratic and unreliable, disrupt ground-space communications, and even cause electricity blackouts on Earth. In 2013, the White House raised inadequate space weather forecasting to the global agenda, citing the significant “threat to modern systems posed by space weather events” and “the potential for “significant societal, economic, national security, and health impacts.”
The ANDESITE satellite has been designed to deploy a network of magnetic sensors from a central mother ship. The ejected sensors will operate collectively as a space-based wireless mesh network with the aim of studying fine-scale variations in Earth’s geomagnetic environment caused by space weather events. The ANDESITE satellite’s scientific and technological innovations place it at the cutting edge of the burgeoning cubesat movement.
ANDESITE is a unique interdisciplinary university-wide collaboration. The team of 16 students is comprised of Astronomy, Electrical, Computer, and Mechanical Engineering scholars. The group is under the guidance of two faculty advisors, Joshua Semeter (ECE/Photonics) and Ray Nagem (ME). Research Engineer Aleks Zosuls also provides support and acts as a liaison with the Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC).
The qualifying competition took place in the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February 2015. Now, the qualifiers must shift their focus from satellite fabrication to implementation. The University Nanosat Program will provide Air Force technical guidance and $110,000 to support each of the remaining six competitors.
After returning to Boston from New Mexico, ANDESITE advisor Professor Semeter recalled, “it was a stressful experience for the students with an exciting outcome.”
The University Nanosat Program provides hands-on experience for graduate and undergraduate students and an opportunity to create and launch a satellite with a specific research capacity. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics developed the program in 1999.
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.”
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.”
$4.5M NSF CPS Frontier Award to Fund BU-Led Project
By Mark Dwortzan
Researchers have long sought to enable collections of living cells to perform desired tasks that range from decontaminating waterways to growing tissue in the lab, but their efforts have largely relied on trial and error. Now a team of scientists and engineers led by Boston University is developing a more systematic approach through a deft combination of synthetic biology and micro-robotics. Supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) five-year, $4.5 million Cyber-Physical Systems Program (CPS) Frontier grant, the researchers aim to engineer bacterial or mammalian cells to exhibit specified behaviors, and direct a fleet of micro-robots to corral the engineered cells into working together to perform desired tasks.
Drawing on experts in control theory, computer science, synthetic biology, robotics and design automation, the team includes Professor Calin Belta (ME, ECE, SE), the lead principal investigator, and Associate Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME, Bioinformatics) from the BU College of Engineering; University of Pennsylvania Professor Vijay Kumar; and MIT Professor Ron Weiss, who directs the Institute’s Synthetic Biology Center; and members of SRI International.
“We came up with the idea of bringing robotics in to control in a smart way the emergence of desired behavior patterns among collections of engineered cells,” said Belta, who will develop algorithms to catalyze such behavior. “Our ultimate goal is to automate the entire process from engineering individual cells to controlling their global behavior, so that any user could submit requests from the desktop.”
If successful, the research could yield new insights in developmental biology, lead to greater standardization and automation in synthetic biology, and enable a diverse set of applications. These range from nanoscale robots that can manipulate objects at the micron (one-millionth of a meter) level to chip-scale technologies that transform stem cells into tissues and organs for human transplantation or drug design.
The team’s first main challenge is to advance a synthetic biology platform—what it calls a Bio-Design Automation (BDA) workflow system—that can predictably engineer cells to sense their environment, make decisions, and communicate with neighboring cells. To produce such “smart cells,” Densmore will use and enhance software he’s developed to specify, design and assemble gene networks (also known as gene circuits) with desired functions, and insert them in living cells.
The complex behaviors we wish to engineer are too difficult to manually specify and analyze,” said Densmore. “Design software makes this project manageable as well as formally captures the process so that it can be used in the future to enable new discoveries.”
The second challenge is to design micron-scale, mobile robots that can affect cells’ interactions so that they ultimately bring about a specified global behavior. Composed of organic and inorganic material and controlled by magnetic fields and light, each micro-robot interacts and communicates with individual cells at specified locations and times, implementing control strategies needed to achieve the desired global behavior. For example, the micro-robots could be controlled to optimize tissue formation from stem cells by triggering desired chemical reactions within the cells.
Finally, the researchers will test how well the micro-robots are able to direct the emergent, global behavior of collections of engineered bacterial cells and mammalian cells. They’ll attempt to form Turing patterns—dots and patches of varying sizes—in E. coli and hamster ovarian cells, and liver tissue from human stem cells. In the process, they will employ a magnetic manipulation system developed by SRI to control multiple robots with sub-millimeter precision.
Project leaders also plan to develop associated educational activities for high school students; lab tours and competitions for high school and undergraduate students; workshops, seminars and courses for graduate students; and specific initiatives for underrepresented groups. At BU, the Technology Innovation Scholars Program will develop hands-on design challenges and disseminate them in Boston schools.
Designed to address grand challenge research areas in science and engineering and limited to one or two multi-university teams per year, NSF CPS Frontier Awards support large-scale engineered systems built from, and dependent on, the seamless integration of computational algorithms and physical components.
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 Mark Dwortzan
Vying with nearly 3,000 entries in the Poster Session competition at the 2014 Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting and Exhibit on December 3, a Boston University College of Engineering entry won second place honors. In addition, another ENG poster received the award for the MRS University Chapters Program’s “Sustainability @ My School” competition highlighting leading-edge sustainability research.
Attended by up to 6,000 materials researchers from around the world, the MRS Fall Meeting is the preeminent annual event for those in the field.
Former LEAP student Steven Scherr’s (ME, PhD’16) second-place-winning poster, “Real-Time Digital Virus Detection for Diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease,” describes an optical detection system he developed for real-time, highly sensitive, label-free virus detection. The system, which combines an optical interference reflectance imaging biosensor(SP-IRIS) with a microfluidics cartridge, could be used for early detection of the Ebola virus at the point of care.
Working with a sample of bovine blood serum, Scherr recently used the system to digitally detect individual 100 nanometer-diameter vesicular stomatitis viruses—safe-for-human models of Ebola—as they adhered to an antibody microarray. Completed within 10 minutes, this lab test demonstrates the potential of SP-IRIS as the core technology for field-ready, point-of-care viral diagnostic tests that’s fast, sensitive, cheap and easy to implement, and requires minimal sample preparation.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the research was a collaboration between Scherr, who designed the microfluidics components, and ECE postdoc George Daaboul (BME, PhD’13), Professor Bennett Goldberg (Physics, ECE, BME, MSE), Professor John H. Connor (MED) and Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME, MSE, Physics), who developed SP-IRIS.
“I think we have the potential to make a big impact in the world of diagnostics and controlling future outbreaks like the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa,” said Scherr, who is continuing to develop the microfluidic cartridge.
Shizhao Su and Yihong Jiang’s (both MSE, PhD’15) winning entry in the MRS university chapter’s “Sustainability @ My School” contest, “Carbon-free Solid Oxide Membrane (SOM) Based Electrolysis for Metals Production and Sustainable Energy Applications,” showcases SOM electrolysis, an environmentally friendly, low-cost metals production technology. Developed by Professor Uday Pal (ME, MSE) over the past 15 years, it requires far less energy than existing methods to extract pure magnesium, silicon, aluminum and other metals from their oxides. Poster co-author Abhishek Patnaik, who is also an MSE doctoral candidate, is exploring adapting SOM electrolysis for waste-to-energy conversion.
Conducted with guidance from Pal, Professor Soumendra Basu (ME, MSE) and Assistant Professor Jillian Goldfarb (ME, MSE), the research was funded by the National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy.
“I was delighted when Boston University was announced as the first place winner,” said Su. “It was an honor to present our work in front of peers in the MRS community, including some of the world’s leading experts in sustainable research and development. I was glad to see our lab’s many years of hard work recognized and appreciated by the community.”
The Materials Research Society comprises more than 16,000 researchers from academia, industry and government in more than 80 countries, and is a recognized leader in the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research.