Category: Grants

Sensor Research Wins $1M NSF Award

October 23rd, 2013 in Awards, Faculty, Graduate Student Opportunities, Grants, News-ISS, Recognition, Research, Research-ISS

ENG researchers’ intelligent information management methods will aid in archaeological field work. Archaeological surveys, such as the site in western Turkey shown here, can be scanned by a team of sensor-carrying UAVs (top) to create topographical maps (center) and determine features of potential interest for later excavation. Potential features of interest include Tumuli (bottom), or burial mounds, which have a higher likelihood of containing archaeological artifacts than surrounding areas.

ENG researchers’ intelligent information management methods will aid in archaeological field work. Archaeological surveys, such as the site in western Turkey shown here, can be scanned by a team of sensor-carrying UAVs (top) to create topographical maps (center) and determine features of potential interest for later excavation. Potential features of interest include Tumuli (bottom), or burial mounds, which have a higher likelihood of containing archaeological artifacts than surrounding areas.

Enhancing the functionality of cyber-physical systems — systems that integrate physical processes with networked computing — could significantly improve our quality of life, from reducing car collisions to upgrading robotic surgeries to mounting more effective search and rescue missions.

Recognizing Boston University as a key contributor to this effort, the National Science Foundation has awarded Professors Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE) and David Castañón (ECE, SE), and Assistant Professor Mac Schwager (ME, SE), nearly $1M for their project, “CPS: Synergy: Data Driven Intelligent Controlled Sensing for Cyber Physical Systems.”

Drawing on earlier work by Saligrama and Castañón investigating machine learning under cost and budget constraints, the researchers will focus on improving sensors that collect data in transportation, security and manufacturing applications. A key challenge in such applications is to choose the most effective physical sensors from the vast amount available and develop systems that can efficiently process large quantities of collected data.

“Many of these systems are energy-hungry,” Saligrama explained. “The goal is to use such sensors only when they are needed by using feedback control of the sensing actions to obtain the best information possible given energy budget constraints.”

Castañón, who has developed some of the leading theories used in controlled sensing studies, sees the project as “an opportunity to extend that theory to big data environments with high-dimensional measurements.”

The team plans to validate its techniques through archaeological surveying, working with Associate Professor Chris Roosevelt (Archaeology). Determining where to deploy the sensors on a smaller scale — for example, finding where best to dig — could lead to far-reaching solutions for deep-sea exploration, firefighting and traffic monitoring.

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

Upgrading the Grid

October 1st, 2013 in Faculty, Graduate Programs, Graduate Student Opportunities, Graduate Students, Grants, News-EP, News-ISS, Recognition, Research, Research-EP, Research-ISS

New Algorithms Could Cut Costs, Add Renewables

The ARPA-E project research team at BU - Visiting Researcher Rebecca Carroll (ME), Research Fellow Xiaoguang (Xiao) Li (ME) and Ph.D. student Evgeniy Goldis (SE) and co-principal investigators Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE) and Research Associate Professor Pablo Ruiz (ME) - viewing a map of congestion in the PJM power transmission network.

The ARPA-E project research team at BU - Visiting Researcher Rebecca Carroll (ME), Research Fellow Xiaoguang (Xiao) Li (ME) and Ph.D. student Evgeniy Goldis (SE) and co-principal investigators Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE) and Research Associate Professor Pablo Ruiz (ME) - viewing a map of congestion in the PJM power transmission network.

When power transmission lines reach their capacity in a particular region during high demand periods, controllers have little choice but to tap local power plants to keep the electricity flowing and prevent blackouts. This practice, which favors expensive, local generation sources such as coal and natural gas over cheaper, typically more remote, renewable sources such as wind farms and solar arrays, adds an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion per year to the cost of running the US power grid. As more and more renewable generation sources join the grid and increase transmission line congestion, that price is expected to rise substantially.

To mitigate this cost, College of Engineering researchers and collaborators at Tufts University and Northeastern University have a plan that could enable controllers to exploit cheaper, renewable generation sources when transmission lines become congested. Supported by a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Programs Agency (ARPA-E) in 2012 and an additional $1 million as of September, the researchers are developing algorithms and software that can produce short-term changes in the power transmission network that redistribute power across the network and utilize renewable sources without overloading transmission lines.

They estimate that the algorithms they’re developing will save $3 billion to $7 billion annually and significantly improve the resilience of today’s power transmission network.  Based on a fundamental law of physics dictating that electric current is distributed along the paths of least resistance, the algorithms are designed to discover, in real time, preferred reconfigurations of the transmission network.

In the "before" map above, high-red-electricity price areas reflect transmission line congestion (e.g., the red circle shows power flow at 101 percent of capacity). In the "after" map below, low-green-electricity prices are made possible by disconnecting two remote transmission lines (shown by a circled X) - which relieve congestion (e.g., the orange circle shows power flow at 98 percent of capacity).

In the "before" map above, high-red-electricity price areas reflect transmission line congestion (e.g., the red circle shows power flow at 101 percent of capacity). In the "after" map below, low-green-electricity prices are made possible by disconnecting two remote transmission lines (shown by a circled X) - which relieve congestion (e.g., the orange circle shows power flow at 98 percent of capacity).

ARPA-E_Diagram1

“By removing a small number of critical transmission lines, you change the relative resistances across alternative network paths, and electric power redistributes itself, relieving the congestion,” said Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE), the project’s co-principal investigator along with Research Associate Professor Pablo Ruiz (ME), who is leading the research effort. “If you disconnect the right lines, you can relieve congestion, increase use of inexpensive power sources and lower congestion costs.”

Having already implemented their algorithms in reproducing real-life situations in collaboration with the PJM transmission system, the largest power market in the US covering many eastern states, the researchers – with the recent addition of Professor Yannis Paschalidis (ECE, SE) – are now fine-tuning their software. Their immediate goal is to provide new ways of integrating wind generation with lower costs while strengthening the power transmission network. But to achieve that goal entails wrestling with a lot of computational complexity. Out of tens of thousands of transmission lines, the software must select a few, perhaps four or five, whose connection or disconnection will minimize the “spilling” or waste of inexpensive wind generation that might occur during high-congestion periods.

“Based on our understanding of power markets, in which prices can vary every five minutes at each node of the network, we can infer which lines would be beneficial to disconnect and which not,” said Caramanis. “When we disconnect a line, we also know how it will change the power flow over every other line, and how much we will gain by relieving the transmission network capacity a little bit. The idea is to optimize the network to reduce costly congestion.”

Over the next two-and-a-half years, the team plans to continue refining its algorithms in collaboration with PJM, two software companies and an energy consulting firm. It will also design tests and procedures to ensure that the dynamic reconfiguration of the transmission network causes no disruption in the security and stability of the power system. If the software is adopted across PJM or other vast transmission networks, controllers seeking to relieve congestion will have the capability to connect and disconnect selected transmission lines every half hour or hour as needed, rather than once or twice a month, as they do now – or even automate the process.

-Mark Dwortzan

Molly Crane Wins Clare Booth Luce Award

August 20th, 2013 in Alumni, Awards, Faculty, Graduate Programs, Graduate Student Opportunities, Graduate Students, Grants, News-ISS, Recognition, Research, Research-ISS, Students

ECE Ph.D. candidate, Molly Crane (MS '12)

ECE Ph.D. candidate, Molly Crane (MS '12)

Not too many students make the transition from studying English to Electrical & Computer Engineering, but Boston University Ph.D. candidate, Molly Crane (MS ’12), did just that – with flying colors.

Crane was recently named a recipient of a Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship, given for two academic years to advanced degree candidates. Each fellowship covers the cost of tuition, medical insurance, mandatory fees, a $20,000 stipend and $4,000 for allowance to cover educational and professional development expenses.

The Clare Boothe Luce Program (CBL), the largest source of private funding for women in science, mathematics, and engineering, aims to increase women’s participation in science and engineering at every level of higher education.

Given the recent honor, it’s hard to believe that Crane, who earned her master’s degree through the Late Entry Accelerated Program (LEAP), only began studying engineering three years ago after graduating with an English degree summa cum laude from Clark University.

“I was unsure how long it would take to fulfill the many course requirements, as I was coming in with virtually none of them completed,” said Crane. “I dove in headfirst though and often overloaded on courses to finish in a timely fashion.”

Crane said that earning her master’s in a short timeframe motivated her to apply for her doctorate at BU.

“I didn’t even apply anywhere else,” she said. “There is tremendous value in students having familiarity with the faculty and vice versa, and in having an established rapport with a doctoral advisor right at the outset of research. There is no other school in the world where I would have had that advantage.”

At BU, Crane has been working closely with her advisor, Professor Hamid Nawab (ECE), who nominated her for the award.

“Molly is precisely the type of person who would help to further shatter the glass ceiling in the male-dominated world of electrical engineering research and academia,” said Nawab. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she wound up becoming a tenured faculty member in a leading ECE department or an internationally renowned leader in her field.”

Crane said she was taken by surprise when she won the award, especially since she had a very non-traditional path into engineering.

“The foundation’s support has allowed me to move into a coveted realm in doctoral research, where the student is free to define the problem on which her research will focus without having to worry about focusing solely on a problem as defined in a grant,” said Crane.

Crane’s research at BU focuses on signal processing, though her work overlaps into other areas.

“We’re at the point now where artificial intelligence is really exploding, and fields like signal processing are interwoven in that explosion,” said Crane.

Crane said that she hopes her work will help improve the ability of artificial intelligence (AI) applications to work in the face of mutually interfering inputs.

Examples of such AI applications include Apple’s Siri or Google’s voice recognition. Both work if a user is speaking clearly into a microphone, but if there are signals like music or other voices superimposed on the input speech signal, the results are often inaccurate.

She hopes to find a way to extract the meaningful input even when interfering signals are in the way, and do so in a way that can be applied to multiple applications.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do research on a problem that has far-reaching implications and the potential to contribute something meaningful to the signal processing community at large,” she said.

Crane has been thrilled with her BU experience, describing her professors as “accessible and brilliant.”

“I am happy to be at BU, to call Boston home, and am looking forward to the experiences ahead,” said Crane. “Honestly, I’ve never been happier.”

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

BU ECE Security Research Featured in the Boston Globe

July 23rd, 2013 in Faculty, Grants, News-ISS, Publications, Recognition, Research, Research-ISS

Professor Janusz Konrad (ECE) demonstrates gestures that could be used in place of passwords in the future. Photo by Melody Komyerov, Boston University Photography.

Professor Janusz Konrad (ECE) demonstrates gestures that could be used in place of passwords in the future. Photo by Melody Komyerov, Boston University Photography.

Many of us type passwords into computers and ATMs more times a day than we care to remember. The process isn’t exactly fun but it does help protect our identity and belongings.

In the future, Boston University Electrical & Computer Engineering professors, Janusz Konrad and Prakash Ishwar, believe passwords and ID cards could be replaced by human gestures. In other words, you might find yourself moonwalking into your office in the near future.

In The Boston Globe, Ishwar and Konrad explained how one’s physical features and unique cadence of movements can help identify a person.

“We’re not trying to recognize gestures per se; we’re trying to recognize users making the gestures,” Ishwar told the Globe.

Read the full story.

The professors have received funding from the National Science Foundation for this research and are in the early stages of examining the feasibility of the approach.

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

Ramachandran Research Promises Breakthrough in Internet Bandwidth

June 27th, 2013 in Awards, Faculty, Grants, News-EP, Publications, Recognition, Research, Research-EP

New Fiber Optic Technology Could Ease Internet Congestion, Video Streaming

Professor Siddharth Ramachandran (ECE) has demonstrated a promising new way to boost fiber optic data rates considerably that exploits donut-shaped laser light beams called optical vortices. In an optical vortex, the light twists like a tornado as it moves along the beam path, rather than in a straight line.

Professor Siddharth Ramachandran (ECE) has demonstrated a promising new way to boost fiber optic data rates considerably that exploits donut-shaped laser light beams called optical vortices. In an optical vortex, the light twists like a tornado as it moves along the beam path, rather than in a straight line. (Image courtesy of D. Steinvurzel/INMAGINE)

In an increasingly data-driven world where everything from cell phones to cities are getting “smarter,” demand for Internet data traffic capacity continues to soar. But it will become harder and harder to meet that demand unless new approaches emerge to dramatically increase the bandwidth, or amount of data per second that can be transmitted across the network’s communications channels. Now a new fiber optic technology developed by Professor Siddharth Ramachandran (ECE) offers hope of increasing bandwidth considerably, enabling Internet providers to offer much greater connectivity – from decreased network congestion to on-demand video streaming – at a comparable cost.

Described in the June 28 issue of the journal Science, the technology centers on donut-shaped laser light beams called optical vortices, in which the light twists like a tornado as it moves along the beam path, rather than in a straight line. Widely studied in molecular biology, atomic physics and quantum optics, optical vortices (also known as orbital angular momentum (OAM) beams) were thought to be unstable in fiber, until Ramachandran recently designed an optical fiber that can propagate them. In the paper, he and collaborators from University of Southern California, OFS-Fitel (a fiber optics company in Denmark) and Tel Aviv University demonstrate not only the stability of the beams in optical fiber but also their potential to boost Internet bandwidth.

“For several decades since optical fibers were deployed, the conventional assumption has been that OAM-carrying beams are inherently unstable in fibers,” said Ramachandran. “Our discovery, of design classes in which they are stable, has profound implications for a variety of scientific and technological fields that have exploited the unique properties of OAM-carrying light, including the use of such beams for enhancing data capacity in fibers.”

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency under the Information in a Photon (InPho) program, the technology could not come at a better time, as one of the main strategies to boost Internet bandwidth is running into roadblocks just as mobile devices fuel rapidly growing demands on the Internet. Traditionally, bandwidth has been enhanced by increasing the number of colors, or wavelengths of data-carrying laser signals—essentially streams of 1s and 0s—sent down an optical fiber, where the signals are processed according to color. Increasing the number of colors has worked well since the 1990s when the method was introduced, but now that number is reaching physical limits.

An emerging strategy to boost bandwidth is to send the light through a fiber along distinctive paths, or modes, each carrying a cache of data from one end of the fiber to the other. Unlike the colors, however, data streams of 1s and 0s from different modes mix together; determining which data stream came from which source requires computationally and energy-intensive digital signal processing algorithms.

Ramachandran’s approach combines both strategies, packing several colors into each mode, and using multiple modes. Unlike in conventional fibers, OAM modes in these specially designed fibers can carry data streams across an optical fiber while remaining separate at the receiving end. In experiments appearing in the Science paper, Ramachandran and his collaborators created an OAM fiber with four modes (an optical fiber typically has two), and showed that for each OAM mode, they could send data through a one-kilometer fiber in 10 different colors, resulting in a transmission capacity of 1.6 terabits per second.

That’s the equivalent of being able to transmit eight Blu-RayTM DVDs every second.

-Mark Dwortzan

Densmore Among High Tech Grant Winners

May 2nd, 2013 in Awards, Faculty, Grants, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE

Our 2013 High Tech Awardees were Assaf Kfoury, Douglas Densmore, and Ramesh Jasti, for developing commercial applications in Information Technology, Healthcare IT, and chemistry, respectively.

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME)

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME)

Douglas Densmore, Assistant Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, works on a high throughput, combinatorial, constraint-based DNA cloning software platform called Clotho. One approach in synthetic biology is a combinatorial exploration of biological “Part” composition directed by the satisfaction of constraints on performance and composition. Creating these designs in parallel with automated liquid handling robotics and introducing them into living systems automatically can be called “High Throughput Cloning” (HTC). The Clotho design software has been created for this process and has been demonstrated successfully as a proof-of-concept. This proposal will transition this proof-of-concept software into commercial grade software for multiple, unique, awaiting customers to launch a large-scale commercial enterprise.

Ramesh Jasti, Assistant Professor in the Chemistry Department, has jasti-185x300developed a novel method to synthesize cycloparaphenylenes (CPPs), which are nanostructures made of carbon. Porous carbon nanotubes have shown great promise as energy storage materials for high performance batteries and as ultracapacitors. In his research, Dr. Jasti has developed the synthesis of the smallest possible slice of a carbon nanotube – termed “carbon nanohoops.” These structures can be prepared with specific diameters and uniformity in high yield and low cost.  Interesting, the 6-CPPs self-assemble in the solid-state into nanotubular materials. This renders them ideal candidates for carbon-based energy storage materials.  Carbon nanohoops have wide ranging applications, including hydrogen storage, CO2 sequestration, light emitting diodes, and nanofiltration. In this proposal, the investigators will develop a “flow” system for the continuous chemical synthesis of cycloparaphenylenes nanohoops.  In addition, they propose to explore the effects that hoop diameter and crystallinity have on charge capacitance, discharge rate, and energy storage.

Assaf Kfoury, Professor in the Computer Science Department, recently kfoury-300x178supervised the creation of PhD student Mark Reynold’s Software Inspection and Certification Service (SICS). The invention was part of Mark’s doctoral dissertation and he is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Computer Science. SICS is an entirely novel method for discovering malware in software applications and web pages. Malicious software on the Internet continues to be a pervasive and vexing problem. Among the most serious type of threats are the so-called “zero-day” exploits, so named because they have never been seen before. Antivirus (AV) and Intrusion Preventions Systems (IPS) do a very good job at recognizing known threats, but they do significantly worse when confronted with malware based on a zero-day. Zero-day exploits can hide for months or even years before they are detected, and account for billions of dollars in damage each year. The SICS method is a completely new approach to address the threat of zero-day exploits. SICS has been demonstrated to do extremely well at detecting zero-days, to have a zero positive rate, and a false negative rate that can be tuned to be as small as desired. Funding from this grant will be used to extend the existing SICS implement (Java and Flash) to the Android platform, as well as building out the necessary infrastructure to support the service.

The winners brought in a range of fantastic high tech innovations in healthcare IT, chemistry, and information technology. The funding granted this year will help these innovators reach their goals, and we eagerly await their success.

-Zara Mahmood
This article first appeared on the Boston University Technology Development website.

Three ENG Students Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

April 23rd, 2013 in Awards, Faculty, Graduate Programs, Graduate Student Opportunities, Graduate Students, Grants, News-EP, Recognition, Research, Research-EP, Students


Patrick Gregg (ECE)

Patrick Gregg (ECE)

College of Engineering PhD students Patrick Gregg (ECE), Daniel Reynolds (BME) and Benjamin Weinberg (BME) have received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. The prestigious award provides a $30,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for up to three years to outstanding full-time U.S. graduate students deemed likely to contribute significantly to the advancement of science and engineering in the U.S.

The nation’s oldest fellowship program directly supporting graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is highly competitive: this year only 2,000 fellowships were awarded out of more than 13,000 applicants. Since the GRFP’s inception 60 years ago, it has funded several graduate students who went on to become Nobel Prize winners and industry and government leaders.

Daniel Reynolds (BME)

Daniel Reynolds (BME)

“The success of our graduate students in the NSF Fellowship competition is further evidence of the quality of our doctoral programs and the recognition our research efforts are receiving,” said Professor M. Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME, MSE), associate dean for Research and Graduate Programs. “I congratulate our students for capturing these prestigious and highly competitive grants.”

Gregg, a second-year graduate student, is working with Associate Professor Siddharth Ramachandran (ECE, MSE) on a new method to modify current optical communications systems to provide increased bandwidth, so more information can be transmitted over the same volume of optical fiber.

“One of the current problems with optical communications systems today is the so-called ‘capacity crunch,’ which is dictated by the projected increasing demand for bandwidth and the limitations of current technology,” said Gregg, who with Ramachandran is advancing a potential solution in which light beams that twist forward like a spiral are simultaneously transmitted through an optical fiber.

Benjamin Weinberg (BME)

Benjamin Weinberg (BME)

Reynolds, a first-year graduate student focused on biomaterials research, is considering a project to grow cancer cells on biomaterial scaffolds as a way to simulate the tumor environment in the laboratory setting.

“These engineered tumor constructs provide an advantageous platform on which to investigate basic cancer biology as well as to test anticancer drug efficacy,” explained Reynolds, who is also interested in using biomaterials to improve the delivery of such drugs to tumor cells.

Weinberg, a first-year graduate student, aims to answer major scientific questions and create new therapeutic strategies through genetic reprogramming of mammalian organisms using synthetic biology tools.

“With the fellowship, I plan to engineer novel synthetic genetic circuits in mammalian brains for precise optical control of neural activity,” he said. “This method can be utilized to systematically analyze the causal role of each cell type in neural circuit computation, cognition and pathology, and develop gene therapy-based treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders.”

-Mark Dwortzan

Opening Movements

March 21st, 2013 in Awards, Faculty, Graduate Student Opportunities, Grants, News-ISS, Recognition, Research, Research-ISS, Video

Your next security ID may be a defining gesture

Watch this video on YouTube
In the video above, two College of Engineering professors explain, and demonstrate, the computer software they are developing to recognize a gesture, from your torso, your hand, or perhaps just your fingers. They hope this could be the future security portal to your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or the locked door to authorized personnel-only spaces.

To the casual passerby, Janusz Konrad seems a bit fanatical about tai chi: standing in his office, waving one arm to and fro, then spreading both arms and bringing them together. Duck inside, however, and you’ll notice he’s not stretching for his health; he’s stretching for a camera, and images on a computer monitor are responding to each gesture – zooming in and out of photos or leapfrogging through a photo series.

Konrad, a College of Engineering professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Prakash Ishwar, an associate professor, designed the computer’s software to recognize specific body motions. They’re not making video games. This, they hope, is the future security portal to your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or the locked door: software programmed to recognize a gesture, from your torso, your hand, or perhaps just your fingers.

Armed with an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and collaborating with colleagues at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, the BU duo is developing algorithms for ever-smarter motion sensors. In doing so, they have to thread a tricky technological needle. “On the one hand,” says Ishwar, “you want security and privacy; nobody else should be able to authenticate on your behalf” by aping your gesture. On the other hand, if the system demands a perfectly precise gesture, you may have to flail your arms or other parts 10 times to get into your own account. “That’s annoying,” says Ishwar. (And people may think you’re either crazy or infested with lice.)

A workable system must be able to screen out distractions, like the motion of someone moving behind you or of the backpack you’re wearing, or changes in ambient lighting.

Yet using gestures as keys to cyber-locks would have some great advantages. A gesture, like a lateral swipe of your hand, has “subtle differences in the way people do it,” Ishwar says – and people vary in arm length, musculature, and other traits that might help a detector distinguish between you and Arnold Schwarzenegger or Elle Macpherson. True, gestures aren’t as unique as fingerprints or as irises or faces, for which there are authentication scanners. But unlike those traits, which theoretically are vulnerable if someone hacks the database storing them, an authenticating gesture that’s been compromised by an impostor can be replaced immediately, whereas getting a new fingerprint – well, “you wouldn’t like it,” says Ishwar.

Security passwords pose another problem: the most effective ones tend to be inconveniently complex. Konrad surveyed one of his classes and found that no one used a smartphone passcode longer than four digits. An effective motion sensor could “simplify, make more secure and more pleasant the process of logging in,” he says. He and Ishwar are working to develop gesture-based authentication software to be test-run on Microsoft’s motion-sensing Kinect camera, used with the Xbox video game and the Windows computer operating system. “It can track your body,” says Ishwar, “get some skeleton approximation for your body, and then that information is provided to you in some real-time format.”

They also hope to use start-up company Leap Motion’s smaller motion-sensing device for notepads and laptops. The company claims that its device, the size of an iPod, will be able to read “micro-motions of your fingers,” says Konrad. In the next three to four years, “we want to develop something that’s extremely simple, inexpensive, and can be imbedded into other products and could be used daily by millions of people.”

One thing that is clear is that certain body parts, like hands, lend themselves to identity authentication better than others. “The degree of freedom that you have with your hands is significantly higher,” Ishwar says. “Maybe if I’m a yoga master, I can move my right leg and put it across my left shoulder, but most people can’t do that.” They’d like to experiment also with the torso, says Konrad, since people’s posture can vary. Then there’s Leap Motion and its potential finger recognition.

“We plan to involve more and more body parts” as the research progresses, Konrad says. If that sounds vaguely Frankenstein-ish, consider that today’s security technology already involves fingerprints, iris scans, and face recognition. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” muses Ishwar, “if we could do that using our everyday body language or gestures?”

-Rich Barlow
Video by Alan Wong

This article originally appeared in BU Today.

Three ENG Faculty Win NSF CAREER Awards

March 14th, 2013 in Awards, Faculty, Grants, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE

Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME)

Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME)

Assistant professors Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME), Ramesh Jasti (Chemistry, MSE) and Bobak Nazer (ECE, SE) have each received the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award in recognition of their outstanding research and teaching capabilities. Collectively, they will receive nearly $2 million over the next five years to pursue high-impact projects that combine research and educational objectives.

Densmore’s CAREER award will advance a synthetic biology platform designed to dramatically reduce the time, costs and complexities associated with assembling DNA to create novel living systems. Such systems could be used to address renewable energy, medical, environmental remediation and other critical societal challenges. The platform Densmore envisions will assemble DNA with automated, optimized and efficient open-source software and liquid handling operations suitable for a wide range of applications.

Ramesh Jasti (Chemistry, MSE)

Ramesh Jasti (Chemistry, MSE)

“This award will allow my research group to push the boundaries of what is possible with DNA assembly automation,” he said. “Our research will not only advance the science and engineering required to perform this work but also introduce a paradigm shift where researchers no longer focus on the tedium of laboratory work but rather on the intellectual exercise of designing new biological systems.”

The award will also help Densmore to continue introducing synthetic biology and DNA assembly techniques to underrepresented students and other researchers ranging from elementary school students to postdoctoral fellows, including College of Engineering students who participate in the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) software division competition.

Supported by his CAREER award, Jasti aims to develop new ways to synthesize well-defined, uniform structures from which carbon nanotubes – extremely thin, hollow cylinders composed of carbon atoms – could be constructed. Because of their unique properties, carbon nanotubes may ultimately be used to enable diverse applications including new solar energy materials, components for faster electronics and single-molecule biosensors.

“Carbon nanotubes have enormous potential for applications in electronics, energy and biotechnology,” said Jasti. “In order to harness the power of these nanomaterials, we need to be able to find a way to synthesize them in a homogeneous manner. My research group is inventing new methods to do just that.”

Bobak Nazer (ECE, SE)

Bobak Nazer (ECE, SE)

Jasti’s work may lead to new classes of nanotechnologies that could spawn novel devices and systems. He’ll use the NSF funding not only to further his research, but also to introduce high school students to the interdisciplinary nature of nanoscience through a series of workshops.

Nazer plans to use his CAREER award to explore a novel approach to wireless communication that could lead to substantially higher data rates. The conventional wisdom is that interference between users is a source of noise to be avoided at all costs. For instance, modern wireless systems operate by assigning users to dedicated time or frequency slots. However, interfering signals are not simply noise: they encode data sent by other users and often have considerable structure. Nazer has discovered a technique that can harness the inherent algebraic structure of interference; properly applied, it may eventually enable many users to simultaneously occupy the same channel while operating at extremely high data rates.

“Although wireless connectivity is now available almost everywhere, we still only employ wireless communication for the last hop in a network, owing in large part to the interference bottleneck,” said Nazer. “By designing protocols that can harness the structure of interference, we hope to create networks that can effortlessly scale to handle more users while maintaining high throughputs.”

Nazer’s project also incorporates interactive presentations on cellular communication for high school students, tutorials, workshops and other outreach efforts.

To date, 34 College of Engineering faculty members have received NSF CAREER awards during their service to the College.

-Mark Dwortzan

Meeting Tomorrow’s Sustainability Demands Today

February 28th, 2013 in Awards, Faculty, Graduate Programs, Graduate Student Opportunities, Graduate Students, Grants, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Students

A feedback control mechanism monitors the performance of the consolidated applications and makes resource allocation decisions to improve the energy efficiency while meeting the user-defined performance constraints.

A feedback control mechanism monitors the performance of the consolidated applications and makes resource allocation decisions to improve the energy efficiency while meeting the user-defined performance constraints.

When it comes to high-powered computers, increased energy consumption and lack of reliability continue to be problems researchers are trying to overcome. Unfortunately, some of the best current methods for achieving these goals have their flaws.

One example is seen in server consolidation, during which resources are shared across multiple applications and virtual CPUs. Without careful optimization, consolidation may result in sub-optimal energy efficiency or in high temperatures that increase cooling costs.

Over the last year, Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE) researched how server consolidation could be improved, in part thanks to an award from VMware, a leading provider in virtualization software.

Coskun and her team’s initial work focused on designing server consolidation techniques that run on virtualized servers, targeting high-performance computing applications. They now have a working system that is able to improve energy efficiency on a real-life server.

“Working with VMware has proven to be a rewarding partnership because they’re always offering valuable feedback,” said Coskun. “They work with customers so they’re aware of problems we might not be able to observe in the lab setting.”

Since 2011, she and her team have published several research papers on their progress in improving energy efficiency through server consolidation.

“We have met the early milestones that we set with VMware,” said Coskun. “Now, we’re looking at more broad, realistic data center scenarios and exploring the reliability aspects in addition to improving the energy efficiency.”

Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE)

Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE)

Pleased with their initial results, VMware recently renewed Coskun’s funding, providing $75,000 for another year of research.

“Based upon promising early results, we are excited to extend our collaboration with Professor Coskun to investigate techniques for energy-efficient use of multi-core processors with virtualized workloads,” said Steve Muir, director of the VMware Academic Program (VMAP).

Part of Coskun and her team’s continued research will include testing their techniques on multiple server nodes that are connected over the network as a representative data center scenario.

“Professor Coskun plans to build on this base by exploring clustered environments and extending experiments to include general enterprise workloads is particularly interesting; we look forward to our continued relationship over the next year,” said Muir.

The renewed funding will allow Coskun to hire additional PhD students or postdoctoral researchers later this summer. She will also continue supporting student researchers, Can Hankendi (PhD ’15) and Samuel Howes (ECE ’14). Hankendi played a major role in developing a technique for automated resource management while Howes, newer to the project, focuses on setting up the virtualized experimental infrastructure for data center benchmarks.

“Can has single-handedly done most of the implementations and has put together great work so far,” said Coskun, “and Sam is rapidly learning about virtualization, which is a hot research topic right now.”

Truly a team effort, students not only help with the research; they attend company meetings and symposiums with VMware as well.

“VMware is very research focused so we have a lot of exposure to their own researchers and engineers,” said Coskun. “It’s been a beneficial collaboration on both sides, so we hope to keep this partnership going in the future.”

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

Related link:
May 19, 2011 -”VMware Funds Coskun’s Server Consolidation Research