Category: Grants

From Cells To Circuits

April 14th, 2016 in ECE, Faculty, Grants, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE

Transforming Living Cells into Computers

By Sara Elizabeth Cody

CELLO is software designed by Densmore's research team that encodes logical operations and bio-sensors right into the DNA of E. coli bacteria

CELLO is software designed by Densmore’s research team that encodes logical operations and bio-sensors right into the DNA of E. coli bacteria

Whether it’s artificial skin that mimics squid camouflage or an artificial leaf that produces solar energy, a common trend in engineering is to take a page out of biology to inspire design and function. However, an interdisciplinary team of BU researchers have flipped this idea, instead using computer engineering to inspire biology in a study recently published in Science.

“When you think about it, cells are kind of computers themselves. They have to communicate with other cells and make decisions based on their environment,” says Associate Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME), who oversaw the BU research team. “By turning them into circuits, we’ve figured out a way to make cells that respond the way we want them to respond. What we are looking at with this study is how to describe those circuits using a programming language and to transform that programming language into DNA that carries out that function.”

Using a programming language commonly used to design computer chips, ECE graduate student Prashant Vaidyanathan created design software that encodes logical operations and bio-sensors right into the DNA of Escherichia coli bacteria. Sensors can detect environmental conditions while logic gates allow the circuits to make decisions based on this information. These engineered cells can then act as mini processing elements enabling the large scale production of bio-materials or helping detect hazardous conditions in the environment. Former postdoctoral researcher Bryan Der facilitated the partnership between BU and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue this research study.

“Here at BU we used our strength in computer-aided design for biology to actually design the software and MIT produced the DNA and embedded it into the bacterial DNA,” says Densmore. “Our collaboration is a result of sharing the same vision of standardizing synthetic biology to make it more accessible and efficient.”

Historically, building logic circuits in cells was both time-consuming and unreliable, so fast, correct results are a game changer for research scientists, who get new DNA sequences to test as soon as they hit the “run” button. This novel approach of using a common programming language opens up the technology to anyone, giving them the ability to program a sequence and generate a strand of DNA immediately.

“It used to be that only people with knowledge of computers could build a website, but then resources like WordPress came along that gave people a simple interface to build professional-looking websites. The code was hidden in the back end, but it was still there, powering the site,” says Densmore. “That’s exactly what we are doing here with our software. The genetic code is still there, it is just hidden in the back end and what people see is this simplified tool that is easy, effective and produces immediate results that can be tested.”

According to Densmore, this study is an important first step that lays the foundation for future research on transforming cells into circuits, and the potential for impact is global, with applications in healthcare, ecology, agriculture and beyond. Possible applications include bacteria that can be swallowed to aid in digestion of lactose to bacteria that can live on plant roots and produce insecticide if they sense the plant is under attack.

“The possibilities are endless, and I am excited about it because this is the crucial first step to reach that point where we can do those amazing things,” says Densmore. “We aren’t at that level yet, but this is a stake in the ground that shows us we can do this.”

The BU/MIT collaboration will continue underneath the Living Computing Project which was recently awarded a $10M grant from the National Science Foundation. Future studies will look to improve upon the circuits that were tested, add other computer elements like memory to the circuits and expand into other organisms such as yeast, which will pave the way for implanting the technology into more complex organisms like plant and animal cells.

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ECE Research is Critical to DARPA Sponsored “Bio-Foundry” Contact

November 2nd, 2015 in Awards, ECE, Faculty, Grants, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE

Densmore’s Contributions Part of a $32 Million DARPA Contract to Cutting Edge Synthetic Biology Effort

By Rebecca Jahnke (COM ’17)

Douglas Densmore

Douglas Densmore, Professor in Boston University Computer Engineering, played a key role in helping MIT’s DARPA Sponsored “Bio-Foundry” Land a $32 million contract.

A $32 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was awarded to “The Foundry” (, a DNA design and manufacturing facility at the Broad Institute of MIT to support the engineering of novel biological systems. Boston University Computer Engineering Professor Douglas Densmore’s role in automating the facility’s design process with software inspired by electrical and computer engineering was key in establishing novel, large scale, parallel design processes that landed the contract.

The Foundry focuses on designing, testing and fabricating large sequences of genetic information. The intent is to create DNA nucleotide arrangements that can be applied widely for medical, industrial and agricultural purposes.

Engineers at the Foundry work with chains containing millions of nucleotides, all of which are specified using only the letters A, T, G and C. The Foundry sought Densmore’s computer aided design expertise to help automate complex processes because the feat is impossible for an engineer writing out such vast sequences by hand.

Densmore’s contributions will allow the Foundry to significantly increase its output of DNA designs beyond what would have been possible relying on conventional design techniques. The Foundry’s work will lead to greater advances faster – tackling issues like delivering nitrogenous fertilizer to cereal crops and converting compounds that naturally occur in human bacteria into therapeutic drugs.

DNA Graphic

Densmore automated the complex processes by which The Foundry designs, tests and fabricates vast sequences of genetic information.

Douglas Densmore is a Kern Faculty Fellow, Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering Junior Faculty Fellow, and Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Boston University. He also acts as the director of the Cross-disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research (CIDAR) group at Boston University, where his team develops computational and experimental tools for synthetic biology. His research facilities include both a computational workspace in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as experimental laboratory space in the Boston University Biological Design Center. Densmore is the President of the Bio-Design Automation Consortium, Nona Research Foundation, and Lattice Automation, Inc.

For more information, please see the Broad Institute of MIT press release.

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Bhatia Receives First Annual Biodesign Automation Award

July 20th, 2015 in Awards, ECE, Faculty, Grants, News-CE, News-EP, Research-CE, Research-EP

By Mark Dwortzan


Research Assistant Professor Swapnil Bhatia (ECE)

Research Assistant Professor Swapnil Bhatia (ECE) was awarded the first annual Allan Kuchinksy International Workshop on Bio-Design Automation (IWBDA) Scholarship by the Bio Design Automation Consortium, which promotes education, research, training and advancement of state-of-the-art technology in synthetic biology and bio-design automation.

Kuchinsky made seminal contributions to synthetic biology and design automation that have led to the creation of foundational, state-of-the-art technologies and tools. The scholarship recognizes his efforts by highlighting a student or young researcher who shares his vision for the field.

Bhatia, who is also a co-founder of Lattice Automation, has made significant contributions to bio-design automation in the areas of liquid handling automation, design space specification/generation, and end-to-end toolchain integration. He collaborated with Kuchinsky on several occasions and was an active participant in many of his interactions with Boston University.

This award will be presented at IWBDA 2015, and includes an honorarium provided by Cytoscape. More information on this award will be posted in the coming weeks to

Dean’s Catalyst Awards Fund Promising, Early-Stage Projects

May 20th, 2015 in Awards, ECE, Faculty, Grants, News-IDS, Recognition, Research, Research-IDS

By Mark Dwortzan

Picture of a hoarder's room. With Dean's Catalyst Award funding, Professor Janusz Konrad (ECE) and Associate Professor Jordana Muroff (SSW) plan to develop an objective, automatic, image-based, real-time hoarding assessment algorithm running on a smartphone or tablet.

Picture of a hoarder’s room. With Dean’s Catalyst Award funding, Professor Janusz Konrad (ECE) and Associate Professor Jordana Muroff (SSW) plan to develop an objective, automatic, image-based, real-time hoarding assessment algorithm running on a smartphone or tablet.

The College of Engineering has funded four new projects through the Dean’s Catalyst Award (DCA) grant program, each focused on technologies that promise to make a significant impact on society. ENG and collaborating faculty will receive $40,000 per project to develop novel techniques to advance these technologies.


Early result of automatic detection of clutter in the same room (red stars denote clutter; blue circles denote non-clutter). The severity of hoarding disorder is judged based on clutter.

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 and energy.

Professor Janusz Konrad (ECE) and Associate Professor Jordana Muroff (SSW) will explore ways to automate the assessment of hoarding, a complex psychiatric disorder and public health problem characterized by persistent difficulty and distress associated with discarding of possessions. Current assessment methods of hoarding are subjective and time-consuming, as they require patients and/or clinicians to complete questionnaires or select images. To overcome these drawbacks, Konrad and Muroff plan to develop an objective, automatic, image-based, real-time hoarding assessment algorithm running on a smartphone or tablet. Such technology could enable cost-effective, precisely-targeted mental healthcare for hoarding disorder patients.

Professors Elise Morgan (ME, BME, MSE), Katya Ravid (MED) and Louis Gerstenfeld (MED) will test whether blocking a metabolic receptor associated with the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) can help mitigate the destructive progression of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a debilitating disease characterized by joint pain and stiffness. In patients with RA, angiogenesis occurs in the membrane surrounding the joint in an uncontrolled way, thus advancing the destruction of joint tissues. If blocking this receptor proves successful, this research could lead to the development of a new class of pharmacological therapies for RA patients that, unlike current treatments, do not lose their effectiveness over time.

Associate Professor Srikanth Gopalan and Assistant Professor Emily Ryan (both ME, MSE) observe that power generation and energy storage devices such as fuel cells and lithium ion batteries have not found more widespread applications because the micro-structured electrodes they typically use do not provide sufficient energy capacity and power density to make these devices commercially attractive in a broader class of applications. To overcome this shortcoming, the researchers plan to develop a novel molten salt-based fabrication technique for nanostructured electrodes, which have the potential for unprecedented improvements in both energy capacity and power densities.

Professor Joyce Wong (BME, MSE) and Associate Professor Glynn Holt (ME) aim to perform a definitive proof-of-concept experiment to establish the potential for the use of microbubbles and ultrasound to noninvasively break blood clots. Clots are a major problem in the medical device industry because they can form on device surfaces, which can then lead to pulmonary embolisms if the clots end up in the lung or a stroke in the brain. Building on past studies by Wong, the researchers will conduct experiments aimed at developing a commercial “clot-busting” microbubble that binds to clots and breaks them in the presence of focused ultrasound.

A Robotic Approach to Engineering Living Cells

May 12th, 2015 in ECE, Faculty, Graduate Student Opportunities, Grants, News-CE, News-EP, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Research-EP, Uncategorized

$4.5M NSF CPS Frontier Award to Fund BU-Led Project

By Mark Dwortzan

Liver-like tissue formation in human-induced pluripotent stem cells. The research team's robotic approach to engineering living cells could lead to technologies that transform human stem cells into tissues and organs for transplantation or drug design. (Image courtesy of the Weiss Lab, MIT)

Liver-like tissue formation in human-induced pluripotent stem cells. The research team’s robotic approach to engineering living cells could lead to technologies that transform human stem cells into tissues and organs for transplantation or drug design. (Image courtesy of the Weiss Lab, MIT)

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.

See NSF press release about this research.

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Biological Design Center Comes to Life

May 12th, 2015 in Alumni, ECE, Faculty, Graduate Programs, Grants, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Uncategorized

Finding better ways to produce clean energy, fight infection, attack cancer

By Sara Rimer, BU Research


Bioengineers Doug Densmore (from left), Chris Chen, Mo Khalil, and Wilson Wong will work together to pursue ways to regenerate tissue, reprogram bacteria to fight infection, and reengineer the body’s immune system to kill tumors. Photo by Janice Checchio

Imagine the state-of-the-art 21st-century life sciences and engineering lab. It would bring together forward-thinking researchers from the hottest fields in bioengineering. These scientists would combine genomic technologies like DNA sequencing and synthesis, 3-D printers, and robots to make new molecules, tissues, and entire organisms. They would tinker in pursuit of cutting-edge questions like these: How do you guide cells to regenerate and build new tissue? How do you reprogram bacteria to fight infection—or reengineer the body’s immune system to attack tumors so they disappear? How do you organize the circuitry inside a cell so it sends all the right signals for optimal health?

This is the lab that Christopher Chen, a College of Engineering Distinguished Professor and one of the world’s leading experts in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, began dreaming up last summer with three ENG faculty who are young stars in synthetic biology—Ahmad (Mo) KhalilDouglas Densmore, and Wilson W. Wong.

Now this dream is on its way to becoming a reality. The University is launching the new Biological Design Center (BioDesign Center), with Chen as the director and Khalil, an ENG biomedical engineering assistant professor and an Innovation Career Development Professor, as associate director. The other two core faculty members at the outset will be Densmore, an ENG electrical and computer engineering assistant professor and a Junior Faculty Fellow with the Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, and Wong, an ENG biomedical engineering assistant professor and a recipient of a National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award.

Through advances in genomics and stem cell research, many of the molecular and cellular building blocks of life have been cataloged. A central challenge is to understand, control, and reengineer how these component parts fit together to bring about functional biological systems that define life and solve important societal problems, ranging from producing clean energy to fighting infection and attacking cancer. That is the fundamental quest that brought Chen, Khalil, Densmore, and Wong together and that will drive the new center.

“Unlocking the underlying design logic of biological systems will revolutionize our approach to medicine, energy, and the environment,” Chen says, describing their shared vision. “Spanning synthetic biology, cell and tissue assembly, and systems biology, the Biological Design Center is positioned to lead this revolution.”

Up until now, he says, fields such as synthetic biology and tissue engineering have arisen as separate disciplines. Synthetic biology involves designing and synthesizing genes, genetic and signaling networks, and genomes to predictably control cellular behavior. Tissue engineering involves trying to manipulate and combine cells and extracellular materials to induce the assembly of tissues.

“But we realized that even though these two fields may involve slightly different tools,” Chen says, “they belong under one roof.”

Kenneth R. Lutchen, dean of ENG, was immediately excited about the possibilities when Chen broached the group’s idea.

“This is a unique approach to using engineering principles to understand and exploit biology,” Lutchen says. “Very few people are using bioengineering techniques and methods to help discover fundamental principles that govern how biological systems work, especially on multiple levels, from the gene level up to multiple organs.”

Chen, who earned an MD at Harvard Medical School and a PhD at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, arrived at BU in 2013 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding director of the Center for Engineering Cells and Regeneration. Khalil, Densmore, and Wong had all been recruited to the University a few years earlier and were already collaborating.

“Chris is a very dynamic, visionary engineering scientist who is highly respected throughout the biomedical engineering community,” Lutchen says. “He brings a very deep sense of how to connect visionary research to medical and clinical questions. He has the depth and breadth of understanding the engineering challenges, the biological challenges, and the medical challenges as well as a sense of how things are connected between the gene level and the synthetic and systems biology level up to the level of multiple organ systems.”

Creating a community with no walls

Chen and his core faculty members will begin working together out of their existing labs in nearby buildings along Cummington Mall until they can move the BioDesign Center into laboratory space on several floors at what will be the Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering (CILSE) building. Construction on the 610 Commonwealth Avenue building will begin late this spring and is expected to be completed within two years. Four to six new researchers—all exceptional innovators, says Chen—will be added to the center’s faculty over the next several years.

Housing the group at the CILSE, says Gloria Waters, University vice president and associate provost for research, “is a prime example of the goals of the new building—bringing together great scientists from different fields and breaking down the barriers to collaboration.”

Chen’s work spans tissue engineering and mechanobiology, which combines engineering and biology to study how physical forces and changes in cell or tissue mechanics affect development, physiology, and disease. He is a pioneer in the use of 3-D printing to help create organs using a patient’s own cells.

“One of the areas I’m interested in is regeneration,” Chen says. “How do you get cells not to go down the path of inflammation or dying or pathologic response? How do you guide them to go into a regenerative response where they might heal tissue?”

Khalil’s research involves using synthetic biology to understand and engineer genetic circuits that govern important cellular decisions and behaviors. Densmore, who is a Kern Faculty Fellow and the director of the Cross-Disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research group, automates the specification, design, assembly, and verification of synthetic biological systems using techniques from computer design and manufacturing. Wong’s research focuses on ways to reprogram the body’s immune system to target and kill tumors.

The idea for the center was born when Chen, Khalil, Densmore, and Wong got together over a working lunch early last summer. The chemistry among the group flowed.

“We were talking about what kind of science we each want to do,” Chen says. “We realized how much commonality we shared in terms of the general concept of trying to understand how biological systems operate through the process of trying to control them. We just developed different kinds of tools to manipulate these systems. At that point we realized we should be working in one space rather than doing things separately.”

“It was clear to me, within a few minutes of speaking to Chris,” says Khalil, “that he fundamentally shares the synthetic biology philosophy, which is a desire to understand the rules of building complex and functional biological systems, regardless of whether one uses molecular parts, cellular components, or other raw biological materials.”

To achieve their vision, the BioDesign Center will mix and match researchers from multiple academic fields, undergraduates, graduate students, and innovators from industry. Their lab will have no walls. They will create a community, sharing tools, resources, and ideas with scientists across the University and beyond. They will invent, discover, experiment.

“The idea of tinkering is key,” Khalil says.

They want the center to be a leader in reinventing biological education, engaging students by framing concepts around understanding the logic of how things work. And they want students to learn through hands-on work—by making things and doing things in the lab.

“Classically, biology in high schools and colleges is often taught as a facts-based field,” says Chen. “We think that being able to actively tinker with a biological system—for example, making cells do things they weren’t intended to do—is how one learns more deeply about how these systems work. And the process of being able to do an experiment to see if an idea makes sense is part of the learning cycle for us as scientists, but also for students. The center will be a place where that cycle will be fostered amongst students as well as researchers.”

Khalil says he views the BioDesign Center as an experiment and an opportunity to shape the future of synthetic biology. For all its excitement and vast potential, he says, “if this discipline looks largely the same in five years, then it will have been a failure.”

It is his opinion, he says, that “we will have succeeded when this engineering approach to biology is adopted by all life science researchers—both to understand living systems and to exploit biology as a new technology for addressing societal problems.”

A version of this article originally appeared on the BU Research website.


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ENG Prof Wins NASA Early Career Faculty Award

September 12th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, ECE, Faculty, Grants, News-EP, Recognition, Research

Given for developing deep space communication technology

By Amy Laskowski, BU Today

Jonathan Klamkin, an ENG assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, says photonic integrated circuits will “soon fly into deep space and send large amounts of data back to Earth.” Photos by Cydney Scott

Jonathan Klamkin, an ENG assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, says photonic integrated circuits will “soon fly into deep space and send large amounts of data back to Earth.” Photos by Cydney Scott

Ready to view deep space in high-def?

Jonathan Klamkin is working to make it possible. A College of Engineering assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and a member of the ENG Division of Materials Science & Engineering, Klamkin was recently awarded a NASA Early Career Faculty Space Tech Research Grant for his work developing new and faster ways to send data using integrated laser transmitter technology, which could aid NASA in sending high-definition video of space back to Earth. The grant is given to “outstanding researchers early in their careers” engaged in the development of space technology that has been deemed of high priority for NASA.

Last October, NASA completed the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, the first mission to demonstrate two-way, high-rate laser communication from lunar orbit aboard the Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). Using traditional methods, it would take the NASA spacecraft 639 hours to download an average-length high-definition movie. But using this new technology, downloading takes fewer than eight minutes. As NASA prepares future trips to Mars, it has granted Klamkin up to $600,000 over three years to develop technologies that can be used in future space missions.

“Technology drives exploration, and these researchers will provide fuel for NASA’s innovation engine,” says Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, of this year’s NASA early career grant winners. “Sustained investments must be made to mature the capabilities required to reach the challenging destinations that await exploration, such as an asteroid, Mars, and outer planets. These investments help to assure a robust university research community dedicated to advanced space technology development.”

Klamkin says he was thrilled to learn he had been selected for the honor, which was awarded to only seven university-based researchers nationwide. “This grant not only allows my research group to interact with NASA and develop technologies for future space missions,” he says, “but will also assist us in developing relationships with leading research institutions conducting optical communications research for NASA, including the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.”

Klamkin leads BU’s Integrated Photonics Laboratory, where he and his team research how to consolidate several photonic functions onto a single chip.
Klamkin leads BU’s Integrated Photonics Laboratory, where he and his team research how to consolidate several photonic functions onto a single chip.

“These NASA early career awards are incredibly competitive,” says Kenneth Lutchen, dean of ENG. “Professor Klamkin is advancing highly creative photonic principles and technologies that can transform our ability to communicate efficiently into deep space. It is wonderful to have such a creative young faculty member impacting these challenging problems.”

Klamkin came to BU last year from the Scuola Superiore Sant’ Anna in Pisa, Italy, where he was an assistant professor and director of the Integrated Photonic Technologies Center. Prior to that, he was a member of the technical staff at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. In 2013 he received an ENG Dean’s Catalyst Award, granted to faculty to support promising early-stage projects, and he was recently named a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

At BU, Klamkin heads up the Integrated Photonics Laboratory, where his team researches optical communications, microwave photonics, and sensing. Photonic integration consolidates several photonic functions onto a single chip. Klamkin’s research focuses specifically on specialized data delivery that relies on laser transmitters.

Thinking of new and faster ways to transmit data is critical, he says, because existing radio frequency systems have low data rates. Laser transmitters are able to send data to Earth through space, similar to how internet traffic is sent over fiber-optic cables.

“Deep space communication requires very high performance, but there is less space and power available on spacecraft,” and thus traditional lasers aren’t practical, he says. “Photonic integration, therefore, could be an enabler for reducing the size, weight, and power of laser transmitters for future missions.” The hope is that the photonic integrated circuits will “soon fly into deep space and send large amounts of data back to Earth.”


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Klamkin Wins NASA Early Career Faculty Award

July 23rd, 2014 in Awards, ECE, Faculty, Grants, Recognition, Research, Research-EP, Uncategorized

Recognized for Efforts to Improve Deep Space Communication

By Gabriella McNevin

Klamkin (ECE, MSE) at the Jeppix Photonic Integration Training Workshop at the Boston University Photonics Center.

Klamkin (ECE, MSE) at the Jeppix Photonic Integration Training Workshop at the Boston University Photonics Center.

Assistant Professor Jonathan Klamkin (ECE, MSE) is one of seven university researchers nationwide to receive the 2014 NASA Early Career Faculty Award. The recognition honors early career faculty focused on space technology that address critical needs in the US space program.

Since joining Boston University in 2013, Klamkin’s impressive accomplishments include, winning the College of Engineering Dean’s Catalyst Award in 2013 and being elevated to Senior Member status of the IEEE in 2014.

Klamkin caught NASA’s attention with a proposal to develop integrated laser transmitter technology for deep space communications. NASA recently completed a mission, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), which demonstrated high-rate laser communication between Earth and the Moon. Now NASA wants to further this technology for future missions to Mars, and Klamkin will develop technology to allow for such deep space communication.

High-rate space communication is made possible by laser communication transmitters. The laser sends data to Earth through space similar to how ground-based lasers send data over fiber-optic cables for the Internet.

With funding from the NASA grant and partnerships with MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Klamkin expects to apply photonic integrated circuit technology to reduce the size, weight, and power of space laser transmitters. Photonic integration is a means to integrate several photonic functions on a chip in a manner analogous to integrating transistors in an electronic integrated circuit. Klamkin hopes that this technology will inspire new design methodologies for space laser transmitter hardware.

NASA’s Early Career Faculty Award will serve as a benchmark to measure the achievements to come for Professor Klamkin. To put the award into perspective, Michael Gazarik of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate said, “Technology drives exploration, and these researchers will provide fuel for NASA’s innovation engine.”

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Research Grants for Three ECE Undergraduates

July 14th, 2014 in Awards, ECE, Grants, Recognition, Research, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

By Paloma Parikh (COM’15)

Three ECE undergraduate students won grants from two programs affiliated with Boston University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Annie Lane (ENG’16) and Maya Saint Germain (ENG’16) are recipients of the Clare Boothe Luce Award; and Dean Shi, (ENG’16) won the Hariri Award.

Annie Lane; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Annie Lane; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Annie Lane won the Clare Boothe Luce Award for her research project, “Data Center Power Regulation Modeling,” which she is working on with mentor Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE). The goal of the project is to minimize electricity costs for data centers. To do so, Lane is developing a power control policy based on a mathematical model. Additionally, she will evaluate alternative research models in the hopes of finding the most effective process. Lane believes the practicality of her project caught the attention of the judges. In an email correspondence, Lane mentioned that the project has potential for real-life application, “BU has partnered with other universities, the state, and companies to build and manage the Massachusetts Green High Power Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, MA. The research results will help increase energy savings at MGHPCC.”


Maya Saint Germain; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Maya Saint Germain; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Maya Saint Germain, with mentor Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies Hamid Nawab (ECE), won the Clare Boothe Luce Award to fund a project entitled “Human-in-Circuit Signal Processing.” Saint Germain explains Human-in-Circuit Signal Processing as, “a subfield of signal processing in which the signal that is being processed is produced by a human, and – after processing – will be perceived by a human.” Her goal is to improve how the signal is processed. Saint Germain feels proud that she won the award, “It means that my research is important and relevant.”



Dean Shi; Hariri Award Recipient

Dean Shi; Hariri Award Recipient

Dean Shi won the Hariri Award for his project, “Power Optimization and Development of Power Policies on Mobile Devices,” which he is working on with mentor Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE). Shi is working to lengthen battery life for cell phones. To do so, he is researching how cell phones use battery power through different functions, such as applications. With this understanding, he will be able to optimize power usage and make cell phone batteries last longer. Shi recalls, All of my friends are always complaining, ‘Oh I just charged my phone this morning but it’s already at 10% battery.’” This award will help Shi achieve his goal of lengthening cell phone battery life.


The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) is a supportive resource for faculty-mentor research. It provides grants to students through various organizations such as the Clare Boothe Luce Program and the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering. The Clare Boothe Luce Program aims to support women in science, mathematics, and engineering. Recipients of the undergraduate research awards receive funding to conduct a research project with a faculty mentor. The Hariri Institute promotes innovation in the sciences of computing and engineering. With the Hariri award, they provide grants for collaborative research and training initiatives.

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Bellotti Receives Two Grants for Engineering Advancements

July 8th, 2014 in Awards, ECE, Faculty, Grants, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE

Professor Bellotti Receives Two New Grants to Develop Vertical Power Electronic Devices and Heterogeneous Computer Architectures

Bellotti’s work will benefit a number of industries including railroad transportation and electrical power distribution. The switch concept is expected to improve utility pole efficiency and reduce developmental costs of electric trains. Image provided by Photobucket (GreenThoughts), and

Bellotti’s work will benefit a number of industries including railroad transportation and electrical power distribution. The switch concept is expected to improve utility pole efficiency and reduce developmental costs of electric trains. The left image provided by Photobucket (GreenThoughts); and right image provided by

The Computational Electronics Group led by Professor Enrico Bellotti (ECE, MSE) has been awarded funding for two new programs to study novel power electronic devices based on III-Nitride semiconductors and to develop and evaluate heterogeneous computer architectures to simulate advanced materials and devices.

The new grant from the National Science Foundation will provide Prof. Bellotti with $336,000 over a period of three years to establish the theoretical foundation of vertical power switches based on III-Nitride semiconductors. If successfully developed, the power switches proposed in this program may lead to a number of breakthroughs in the areas of energy conversion that may profoundly change how and to what extent energy is consumed by society. First of all, these devices will aid in the implementation of the smart grid concept, delivering an unprecedented quality of service to the utilities’ customers while reducing transmission losses and increasing the capacity of these systems for wind and solar sources. In the area of transportation systems, they will enable the cost and size effective design of electric drives, not only for cars, but also for large vehicles, such as trucks or buses with immediate environmental benefits. They will reduce the development cost of electric trains, reducing the size of the motor control systems, leading to a further expansion and upgrade of local and regional railway systems.

The Army Research Office (ARO), through a DURIP Award, will provide the Computational Electronics Group with the resources totaling $150,000 to develop a heterogeneous computational hardware platform composed of distributed and shared memory systems integrated with GPUs to evaluate novel simulation methodologies for the design of electronic and optoelectronic materials and devices. Exploiting heterogeneous computing platform may significantly increase the ability of material scientists to predict novel material properties and possibly design new ones with specific properties.

For further information contact Prof. E. Bellotti at

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