$145,000 Contribution Focuses on Improving High School Graduation Rates
By Jan Smith
The College of Engineering has received a $145,000 contribution from AT&T to create a two-year engineering and technology program for an urban high school population, and to document its impact on high school graduation rates.
The funding from AT&T will enable undergraduate Inspiration Ambassadors from the College’s Technology Innovation Scholars Program (TISP) to deliver classroom and after-school engineering activities at the Josiah Quincy Upper School (JQUS) in Boston beginning in September.
Gretchen Fougere, associate dean for Outreach and Diversity for the College of Engineering, noted, “This contribution validates the extraordinary vision driven by the College and likely impact of TISP. It will provide the resources to apply formal methods to measure our program’s success and to advance its national impact.”
Fougere, who leads TISP, noted, “We are creating a diverse pipeline of secondary students who are motivated to graduate from high school because of their raised appreciation and understanding of STEM and engineering. This contribution will enable us to provide all the benefits of TISP engineering outreach: fun design activities, after-school robotics, and summer enrichment and scholarships and deliver our relatable role-models to a partner high school in Boston. We continue to engage students of all backgrounds and abilities and both inspire and prepare them for post-secondary success.”
AT&T’s support is a part of AT&T Aspire, the company’s signature education initiative focused on high school success and career readiness. With an unwavering commitment to data-driven education outcomes, AT&T Aspire has impacted more than 1 million students since its launch in 2008.
“We’re committed to investing in efforts that prepare the next generation of Americans for success in the increasingly competitive global economy, and the mentorship provided by Boston University’s Technology Innovation Scholars Program is a perfect example of the enrichment that our local urban students need and deserve,” said Patricia Jacobs, president of AT&T New England. “We applaud BU and TISP for their passion for the issue and their proven track record of readying local students for success in college and in their careers. We’re particularly excited that Josiah Quincy students will have the chance to explore telecommunications projects with their BU mentors.”
The AT&T contribution will help measure the impact of this deep dive of TISP in one high school. A cohort of 9th grade students at JQUS will benefit from the program through 10th grade. JQUS students are a diverse and underserved population representative of many urban public schools where improving high school graduation rates and proficiency with math and science are concerns.
Richard Chang, co-headmaster at Josiah Quincy Upper School, said, “We are very excited to welcome Boston University’s Inspiration Ambassadors into our classrooms to make mathematics, science and engineering concepts come to life for our students. Engaging students in these real-world projects with college students of similar backgrounds will be significant motivators for them to focus on mathematics and science coursework and to attend college.”
TISP’s mission is to inspire and prepare a diverse workforce for 21st century technology-related fields. Each year, the program professionally trains and manages 50 select BU undergraduate engineers as “Inspiration Ambassadors,” who share their passion for and understanding of technology and engineering design with youth nationwide.
Inspiration Ambassadors visit middle and high school classrooms to provide information and experiences that demonstrate how engineers improve our quality of life and solve the problems that resonate with younger students. In Boston, the Ambassadors guide students in the engineering design process as teams innovate to create technologies associated with communications, energy, the environment and healthcare. In Boston area schools, for example, these design challenges relate to cellphone towers, wind turbines, fuel cells, robotics, and coding and app development. The technologies and engineering are derived from cutting-edge engineering research at BU and corporate supporters like AT&T.
The Inspiration Ambassadors, select undergraduate engineers majoring in biomedical, mechanical, electrical, or computer engineering, also mentor many after-school FIRST ® robotics teams, creating competitive robots in a short design cycle. The College has a rich partnership with FIRST®, with Dean Kamen and John Abele on the Dean’s Leadership Advisory Board, and scholarships and TISP available to FIRST ® participants.
Validation and Impact Research
Since its launch in 2011, the Inspiration Ambassadors have reached more than 13,200 young people in 26 states and six countries. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the program has had a direct and favorable impact on underprivileged youth, influencing many to seek out STEM coursework in high school, to graduate from high school, and even to pursue and secure university placements and scholarships. Five have received full scholarships for study at BU’s College of Engineering or other schools. Several of the former high school students reached and mentored are now Ambassadors themselves.
The AT&T grant will enable the program to empirically measure and document that impact, while also providing a test case with a dedicated cohort of students over two years. Lasting impact will drive further scaling and nationwide replication. The College has a comprehensive approach to creating a continuous flow of Societal Engineers, which is now endorsed and supported by $375,000 in gifts and pledges from esteemed ENG alumni, such as Girish Navani and John J. Tegan III, and the Argosy, Ingalls and Kern Family Foundations. The grant from AT&T comes on the heels of other recent corporate support from NASA and Accenture. The combined funding will go far to advance the College’s mission to create a continuous flow of diverse graduates ready for college STEM majors and the workforce.
Data Scientist and Physician Team Up to Reduce Preventable Hospitalizations
By Suzanne Jacobs
Yannis Paschalidis, a data scientist, has built a career on making things run smoothly and efficiently—transportation systems, communication networks, supply chains, sensor networks—and now he’s taking on perhaps his most ambitious challenge yet: the US health care system.
It all started about three years ago. Paschalidis, a professor and Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Boston University’s College of Engineering (ENG), read in a study by the US Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that in 2006, the US spent about $30.8 billion on hospitalizations that could have been prevented through better patient care, healthier patient behavior, or improved ambulatory services.
“I was reading a lot of things about the sorry state of the health care system in the US and how inefficient it is, and I thought it’s an opportunity to do something,” says Paschalidis, who also directs BU’s Center for Information & Systems Engineering. “I thought people like me that have a quantitative, more optimization-oriented background could contribute something.”
And so, having never worked in medicine before, Paschalidis teamed up with William G. Adams, a Boston Medical Center (BMC) physician and BU School of Medicine professor of pediatrics. With a team of graduate students and nearly $2 million from the National Science Foundation, the two set out to build a piece of software that could automatically flag patients at increased risk for medical emergencies by using data from their electronic health records (EHRs). They decided to start with heart diseases, which alone cost the US more than $9.5 billion in preventable hospitalizations in 2006, according to the AHRQ study.
To understand how Paschalidis works, think of how an autopilot controls an airplane. As a plane flies, autopilot software takes in data about its position and uses that data to adjust the plane’s trajectory as necessary. It’s a constant flow of data intake, analysis, and feedback. Similarly, when Paschalidis sets out to improve, say, a network of sensors, he and his research team write computer software that takes in data about how the system is working and then finds ways to correct or improve it.
In this project, hospital patients are the systems.
Fortunately, EHRs offer plenty of data—test results, diagnoses, prescriptions, emergency room (ER) visits, previous hospitalizations, demographic information. It’s far too much for doctors and nurses to comb through manually, but enough to feed an algorithm that automatically processes the information and flags at-risk patients. The software works by sifting through records of patients who were previously hospitalized and learning which risk factor—a certain number of chest complaints or an unusual level of a particular enzyme in the heart, for example—might have been red flags. The algorithm then uses those red flags to warn of future hospitalizations.
The challenge for Paschalidis was understanding how to properly use medical data and how to incorporate this kind of software in an actual hospital. That’s where Adams comes in.
A pediatrician and medical informatician (someone who uses information technology to improve health care), Adams has spent the past 20 years thinking about how to use data from EHRs to improve patients’ health outcomes, especially among families in Boston’s urban communities. He’s also one of the lead scientists at BU’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI), one of 60 such sites across the country that aim to accelerate medical advances by encouraging researchers in disparate fields to collaborate on medical research.
“This is a perfect example of translational research collaboration,” Adams says. “Yannis and his lab have exceptional skills in data mining that we don’t have, but we have extraordinary data and clinical expertise.”
To use that data, Paschalidis and his team first needed a crash course in medical terminology to make sure they understood what they were working with. Much of EHR data is contained in a kind of “clinical language” that only doctors understand, Adams says. Sometimes, he says, even the same term can have different meanings, depending on the context in which the doctor records it. For example, a diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) can be recorded as either a diagnosis made during a visit or a problem on the patient’s problem list. Both could be recorded with the same code (ICD-9 401.9), but users would need to know to look further to decide which of the two meanings the data represents. Cleaning up “messy” data—figuring out what it means, what to use, and how to represent it in the software—is time-consuming but important, Paschalidis says. “If you fit garbage to an algorithm,” he says, “you’ll get garbage as output.”
The researchers remove any identifying information from the EHRs using open-source software from a National Institutes of Health-funded center at Harvard University called i2b2 (Informatics for Integrating Biology & the Bedside).
Once the data is cleaned up and anonymized, Paschalidis and his graduate students can enter it into their software. The algorithm they built classifies patients as either at risk or not at risk for heart-related hospitalizations within one year. An elderly patient or someone who visited the ER in the previous year, for example, might be at risk, while a younger person who hasn’t been to the hospital in a few years might not be at risk. How the algorithm will ultimately present this information to doctors is still under development.
To test the software, Paschalidis and his students collected the EHRs of just over 45,500 patients from BMC. They used about 60 percent of the records to train their so-called machine learning software, teaching it which factors had put patients at risk for hospitalizations in the past. Then, they used the remaining data to test the software’s ability to make predictions. They found that it could correctly predict up to 82 percent of heart-related hospitalizations, while falsely predicting hospitalizations in about 30 percent of patients who weren’t actually at risk. Paschalidis says that it’s possible to reduce the number of false predictions, but doing so would correspondingly lower the number of accurate predictions. A false prediction rate of 10 percent, for example, would correspond to an accurate prediction rate of 65 percent.
“In medicine, we’re constantly trying to balance between something that’s concerning and something that might be a false positive,” Adams says. In many cases, however, the recommendations that would come of a false positive—healthy eating, exercise, an extra check-in with the doctor, extra visits from a nurse—could still benefit the patient. And, Paschalidis says, preventing hospital visits that each cost thousands of dollars is worth the occasional unnecessary checkup that only costs a couple hundred dollars.
Adams and Paschalidis published their findings about the machine learning software’s success in predicting heart-related hospitalizations in March 2015 in the International Journal of Medical Informatics. Their co-authors included Venkatesh Saligrama, an ENG professor of electrical and systems engineering; Wuyang Dai and Theodora Brisimi, ENG PhD students working with Paschalidis; and Theofanie Mela, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“If coupled with preventive interventions, our methods have the potential to prevent a significant number of hospitalizations by identifying patients at greatest risk and enhancing their patient care before they are hospitalized,” the researchers write in the study. “This can lead to better patient care, but also to substantial health care cost savings. In particular, if even a small fraction of the $30.8 billion spent annually on preventable hospitalizations can be realized in savings, this would offer significant results.”
Ultimately, Adams says, having this kind of ongoing, automated analysis within electronic medical records could not only help doctors, nurses, and case managers monitor their patients more effectively, it could also elucidate disease risk factors previously undetected by doctors.
“All of us know that a serious problem like diabetes is always going to increase your likelihood of being admitted to the hospital,” Adams says, “but the trick is to determine whether it’s about the thing that’s happening to your diabetes or something else unrelated to your diabetes that has substantially increased the likelihood of being hospitalized. The machine learning software has the potential to learn new associations.” These could be associations between some clinical features that make it more likely for the patient to develop serious complications from diabetes.
In the coming year, Paschalidis and Adams will be interviewing doctors, trying to figure out how best to put this kind of predictive software to work in an actual hospital.
“I’m confident that it will work,” Paschalidis says. “The issue is, what is the best way of incorporating something like that in the practice? Will the doctors use it or ignore it?”
Eventually, Paschalidis says, he’d like to expand the software to predict other, non-heart-related hospitalizations. He’s also currently working with BMC’s surgery department on software designed to flag patients at risk for readmission within 90 days, so hospitals could perhaps monitor those patients more closely. The 90-day window is of particular interest to hospitals because Medicare doesn’t reimburse for readmissions within that timeframe.
Down the road, Paschalidis says, it might also be possible to use data from wearable technologies in addition to EHR data. The data is there, he says; it’s just a matter of getting access to it.
“We carry these smartphones and now these smart watches and all of these fitness trackers and other devices that know much more than the hospital knows about our state of health,” he says. “You now have a much richer record about the patient, and the richer the record is, the better prediction you can make.”
Throughout his career, Paschalidis has put his data analysis skills to use in a lot of different areas. For the past three years, he’s been applying those skills to developing sensor networks for “smart cities.” He says he thinks he’ll be working in health care for a while.
“I feel that health care is an important area,” he says, “and the contributions that you make are somehow more tangible in terms of the potential outcome.”
White House pledge to address major global challenges of the 21st century
By Jan Smith
College of Engineering Dean Kenneth Lutchen is one of 122 deans presenting a letter of commitment to President Barack Obama this week to educate a new generation of engineers expressly equipped to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century.
These “Grand Challenges,” identified through initiatives such as the White House Strategy for American Innovation, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges for Engineering, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, include complex yet critical goals such as engineering better medicines, making solar energy cost-competitive with coal, securing cyberspace, and advancing personalized learning tools to deliver better education to more individuals.
In his commitment letter Dean Lutchen explained how the College of Engineering’s long-standing focus on creating Societal Engineers addresses the Grand Challenges.
“Societal Engineers have the passion and attributes to integrate people from all disciplines and lead organizations to address society’s challenges and improve lives,” he wrote. “In addition to their discipline strength, Societal Engineers’ attributes include broad communication skills, systems thinking, global awareness, and a passion and understanding of the entrepreneurial process, the role public policy plays in technology innovation, and strong social consciousness. These attributes, which echo those of the National Academy of Engineering’s Engineer of 2020, are developed with the specific courses and programs that will translate into creating Grand Challenge Scholars.”
The Grand Challenge, organized by the National Academy of Engineering, is supported by 122 signing schools, each of which has pledged to graduate a minimum of 20 students per year who are specially prepared to lead the way in solving such large-scale problems. The Grand Challenge goal is to train more than 20,000 formally recognized “Grand Challenge Engineers” over the next decade.
Grand Challenge Engineers will be trained through special programs at each institution that integrate five educational elements: a hands-on research or design project connected to the Grand Challenges; real-world, interdisciplinary experiential learning with clients and mentors; entrepreneurship and innovation experience; global and cross-cultural perspectives; and service-learning.
“The NAE’s Grand Challenges for Engineering are already inspiring more and more of our brightest young people to pursue careers that will have direct impacts on improving the quality of life for people across the globe,” said NAE President C.D. Mote, Jr. “Imagine the impact of tens of thousands of additional creative minds focused on tackling society’s most vexing challenges. ‘Changing the world’ is not hyperbole in this case. With the right encouragement, they will do it and inspire others as well.”
Nine ENG Faculty Among Those Promoted
By Rich Barlow, BU Today
Beholding creation, Christopher Schneider longs to understand the forces—evolution, environment, history—that have woven the astounding tapestry of living things. He researches how animal ecology acts with those forces in a given region, especially the tropics, to create new species and maintain biodiversity. His teaching, he says, aims to give students “direct experience with organisms in nature.”
Which is why they must tread carefully around alligators.
Schneider’s research and his instructional prowess, including a field trip to Florida for a herpetology class last spring, helped to make him one of 21 Charles River Campus faculty members elevated to full professor recently—in Schneider’s case, in the College of Arts & Sciences biology department.
Director of BU’s Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Schneider has contributed to our understanding of biodiversity (he led the discovery several years ago of more than 100 species of tree frogs. He also trumpets the peril that biodiversity faces from climate change and the conversion of wild habitats to farming and other uses. “We are living in an age during which our actions threaten the world with the sixth great mass extinction in the history of life,” he says, adding that such disaster could be avoided if humans can only adopt more sustainable lifestyles. “Time,” however, “is not on our side,” he says.
While Schneider studies the vast interconnectedness of nature, Kamil Ekinci views the infinitesimally minute world of nanotechnology. Ekinci—now Professor Ekinci (ME, MSE) at the College of Engineering—earned his promotion in part by developing techniques to build nanoscale devices and to measure extremely small signals coming from these devices. His work, which promises many practical uses, including biomedicine, won him a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and a visiting fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology.
Several new professors are known for pushing the boundaries of traditional academic responsibility. Michael Reynolds, elevated at the College of Fine Arts—doesn’t confine himself to his BU charges. Trying to reverse a decline in string instrument instruction in the late ’90s, Reynolds, an accomplished cellist and member of the Muir String Quartet, founded the Classics for Kids Foundation, which gives matching grants for instruments to schools and art groups nationally, especially for underserved kids. “Strong music programs have a very positive ripple effect on a school’s academics and student behavior,” he says.
At BU, Reynolds teaches his students ensemble management and entrepreneurship in music: “I spend a lot of time talking with them about finding best fits down the road for them, whether it be performing, teaching, arts administration, the growing world of musical entrepreneurship, or all of the above.” Winner of a Grammy and other awards, he knows what he’s talking about, having performed almost 2,000 concerts around the world (and a PBS broadcast from the White House during the Reagan administration).
As well as Christopher Schneider, Kamil Ekinci, and Michael Reynolds, the other promoted professors are:
Thomas Berger, CAS professor of international relations
Berger studies German and Japanese politics, focusing on nationalism, identity, and security. His War, Guilt and World Politics after World War II was named one of 2013’s best books by Foreign Affairs magazine. He is now writing a comparative study of alliance politics. His articles and essays have appeared in such publications as International Security, Review of International Studies, German Politics, and World Affairs Quarterly.
Sean Elliott, CAS professor of chemistry
Elliott helped pioneer the study of electron transfer in metal-requiring proteins, using electrochemistry and spectroscopy. His dozens of journal articles, papers, and international talks are widely cited. He has won an NSF CAREER Award, two Research Corporation for Science Advancement Collaborative Innovation awards, BU’s Gitner Award, and the CAS Templeton Award for innovation and excellence in teaching.
Robert Pollack, CAS professor of mathematics and statistics
Pollack is an internationally known numbers theorist whose research is NSF-funded and whose papers have been published worldwide in the Annals of Mathematics, lnventiones Mathematicae, and Duke Mathematical Journal. He won BU’s Gitner Award for Innovation in Teaching with Technology.
Leonid Reyzin, CAS professor of computer science
Reyzin is an internationally known cryptography researcher studying the minimal assumptions needed for provably secure communication (such as user authentication and network security). He has helped to develop cryptography standards and consulted for industry. He won an NSF CAREER Award and the CAS Neu Family Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Daniel Segré, CAS biology and ENG bioinformatics and biomedical engineering
Segré uses theoretical and computational modeling and experimental tests to unravel cellular metabolism in microbes, yielding biomedical advances. With almost $8 million from the NIH, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense, he has written dozens of articles in leading publications and was a DuPont Horizons in Biotechnology distinguished speaker.
Irene Zaderenko, CAS professor of romance studies
Zadarenko specializes in the prose and medieval epic poetry of Spain, especially the Poema de mio Cid. She wrote two books on the poem and many journal articles on Spain’s Middle Ages. She is a regular on the lecture-and-panel circuit at conferences in the United States, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Mexico, and Canada.
Christopher Daly, College of Communication professor of journalism
Daly teaches reporting techniques and ethics to budding journalists. He writes a blog for learners of diverse backgrounds. He has written many scholarly essays, thousands of magazine and newspaper articles, and several books, including the centuries-spanning history Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism (2012).
Calin Belta, ENG professor of mechanical engineering and systems engineering
Belta helps answer important questions in engineering and systems biology with work in robotics and control, for which he develops computational tools, including network systems. A senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Belta is an associate editor of the SIAM Journal on Control and Optimization and has received an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award and an NSF CAREER Award.
Edward Damiano, ENG professor of biomedical engineering
Damiano, famous for his development of a “bionic pancreas” for Type 1 diabetes sufferers, specializes in endocrinology and biomechanics. Last November’s University Lecturer, Damiano has raised more than $14 million for his research from such donors as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He has written dozens of journal articles and organized numerous seminars.
Martin Herbordt, ENG professor of electrical & computer engineering
Herbordt, a scholar of computer architectures and high-performance computing, researches accelerating algorithms that can be used in areas such as bioinformatics and computational biology. He created a commercially successful software package, has written widely cited articles and presentations, and received NSF, NIH, and industry grants, as well as IBM’s Faculty Award.
Catherine Klapperich, ENG professor of biomedical engineering and materials science & engineering
Klapperich integrates systems science and engineering to design diagnostic, cancer screening, and treatment-monitoring tools for underserved groups. A Kern Innovation Faculty Fellow, she directs the NIH-funded Center for Future Technologies in Cancer Care and the Laboratory for Diagnostics and Global Healthcare Technologies. She is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.
Elise Morgan, ENG professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, and materials science & engineering
Morgan studies how mechanical signals contribute to the development, adaptation, degeneration, and regeneration of bone and cartilage. She has written dozens of widely cited journal articles and presentations. Her research and teaching awards include a Young Investigator Award from the International Osteoporosis Foundation and last year’s ENG Faculty Service Award.
Roberto Paiella, ENG professor of electrical & computer engineering and materials science & engineering
Paiella studies photonics and materials science and develops semiconductor structures and efficient devices, such as lasers, green light LEDs, and infrared detectors, that emit stronger light. He has won grants from the NSF, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Department of Energy. A senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, he sits on the editorial board for Scientific Reports.
Muhammad Zaman, ENG professor of biomedical engineering and materials science & engineering
Zaman specializes in the interface of cell biology, mechanics, systems biology, and medicine, using computational and experimental tools to understand and ultimately prevent cancer metastasis. He is equally devoted to the delivery of modern medical technology to the developing world. The recipient of numerous NIH grants and a recent Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professorship, he has authored two books, seven book chapters, and dozens of widely cited articles on the properties of cell clusters and improved global health.
Martin Amlin, CFA professor of music
Amlin composes and plays classical music on the piano, chairs the school’s composition and theory department, and directs BU’s Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Composition Program. Internationally known for his work with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Boston Pops, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Amlin has recorded works for major labels and received many grants.
Joshua Fineberg, CFA professor of music
Fineberg, a preeminent scholar and composer of electronic music, combines acoustical research with psychological aspects of music perception to create aural landscapes, a sense of place created by music that’s similar to people’s visual sense of place. Winner of international prizes and fellowships, Fineberg founded and directs BU’s Center for New Music. He has authored a book on contemporary music as well as music performed and recorded by leading American and European new music artists.
Edward Riedl, School of Management professor of accounting
Riedl studies the effect of international accounting and fair value accounting on accuracy in financial reporting. He has written for leading journals, and he sits on the editorial board for The Accounting Review. He is associate editor for the Journal of International Accounting Research. Last year, Riedl cochaired the American Accounting Association’s annual conference, the world’s largest gathering of accounting researchers.
Marshall Van Alstyne, SMG professor of information systems
Van Alstyne studies information economics, communications markets, intellectual property, and the effects of technology and information on society and productivity. He has two patents involving encryption technology and cocreated the concept of “two-sided networks” (in which products and services link two groups, as, for instance, a credit card links buyers and sellers.) The winner of an NSF CAREER Award, he has written for Science, Nature, Harvard Business Review, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.
“We are incredibly proud of this talented group of faculty and the work they’ve been able to accomplish during their time here at BU,” says Jean Morrison, University provost. “Whether publishing seminal writings that challenge and expand our understanding of the world around us, discovering brighter, more efficient ways to deliver light, or engineering sophisticated, low-cost tools to diagnose and treat illness in underserved populations, all are helping to redefine their fields of inquiry and impacting countless lives through their research and teaching. They go to the very heart of our mission as a research university, and we are glad to see them continuing their careers here.”
By Gabriella McNevin
NexGen Arrays develops light-based virus detection tests that have potential to improve the health care industry. Alumnus David Freedman (ECE ’09, @DScottFreedman) is the company Co-Founder & CEO.
Recently, Freedman connected with representatives from the National Science Foundation (NSF) while attending the 2015 International Consumer Electronic Show® (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. NSF filmed their conversation. The video underlines that NexGen Arrays is developing tests to rapidly identify viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola, Lassa, and Marburg. Nexgen Arrays is also developing additional healthcare tests with clinical collaborators in the area of Oncology and Diabetes.
As highlighted in the NSF video conversation, NexGen Arrays tests are used at the patient’s health care site, resulting in actionable clinical information. This feature is a huge deviation from standard sensitive diagnostic tests. Typically, diagnostic tests are less timely because they require the support of a full lab that is often located at a separate location.
The technology that NexGen Arrays is commercializing sprouted from novel biomedical optics research that was performed in Professor M. Selim Unlu’s (@MSelimUnlu) laboratory. NexGen Arrays is working in collaboration with Becton Dickerson (BD), John Connor from the BU School of Medicine and the BU Photonics Center. The mission has received funding from the NSF Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, and the National Institute of Health (NIH) and industrial partners.
As a post-doctoral researcher for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Freedman led the development of prototype development in 2011-2012 as part of an NSF Accelerated Innovative Research (NSF-AIR) grant. The NSF-AIR program led Freedman to participate in the NSF Innovation Corps (I-CORPS) program in 2013 to determine the commercial potential of Nexgen Arrays light-based technology. The future of Nexgen Array looks bright to Freedman, who established the company in 2014, “I’m excited for 2015. We’re growing rapidly, and are positioning ourselves for great commercial success.”
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Projects Address Everyday Problems with Embedded Technology
By Mark Dwortzan
Two Electrical & Computer Engineering senior design teams have been named finalists in the Intel-Cornell Cup 2015 competition, which challenges science and engineering college students to conceive of, design and demonstrate the next great embedded technology application. One team’s project, C.A.R.R. System (Cyclist Alert Real-time Response), notifies drivers of potential collisions with approaching cyclists. The other, GrowBox, is an automated hydroponic device that enables users to grow an edible plant, virtually carefree.
The C.A.R.R. System and GrowBox teams will attend talks, network with leading engineering firms and showcase their work along with 20 other finalists from across the country on May 1-2 at NASA Kennedy Space Center. They’ll vie for the competition’s grand prize, $10,000 or one of up
to seven $2,500 awards, all of which include an invitation to exhibit in Intel’s booth at the Maker Fair in New York City or San Mateo, California.
Having survived an hour-long, online semifinal round in February to make it to the finals, both teams subsequently received
$1,500, Intel Atom boards and other equipment, and access to technical experts at Intel and other sponsoring companies to develop their systems.
“Both teams are passionate about their projects and are dedicated to using their engineering skills for the betterment of society,” said Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano(ECE), the lead faculty member for the ECE Senior Design Project course. “They are continually seeking ways to improve their designs, and it’s rare not to see them in the lab working on aspects of their projects.”
Concerned about the rising number of annual bicycle accidents in Boston and other metropolitan areas, the C.A.R.R. System team aims to equip motorists with a bike detection system that consists of cameras attached to both side-view mirrors and a real-time image-processing algorithm. When the system pinpoints a potential or impending collision through the algorithm, it displays and announces a warning on an alerting device that’s easily mountable on the dashboard. Issued within about 200 milliseconds from the moment of detection, the warning indicates which side of the vehicle is on a collision course with an approaching cyclist. In a recent test producing one hour of sample footage, the system successfully identified 92.55 percent of cyclists present, with an overall accuracy of 83.65 percent.
Testing out several designs and detection algorithms, the team settled on a dual camera system with a single, centralized alert hub, and an algorithm that provided the most accuracy and fastest response time.
“After living in Boston for four years, we are very aware of the dangers that exist on the road for drivers and cyclists alike,” said C.A.R.R. team member Omar Rana (CE). “We wanted to create a product that could fit both old and new vehicles, be easy to install and remove, and theoretically reach the market at an affordable price.”
Seeking to help would-be vegetable gardeners who lack the space, time or requisite green thumb to grow their own food, the GrowBox team has designed an automated system that can see to a plant’s needs and report on its status through a combination of sensors, actuators and image processing software. If human intervention is required, an iOS app will notify the user with instructions. GrowBox consists of a hydroponic subsystem that periodically floods the plant with water and nutrients; red, white and blue LEDs tuned to provide optimal lighting conditions for the plant; a backend subsystem that controls all sensors, actuators and lights; and a cloud-based database that backs up all sensor and image data. GrowBoxes are designed to be stackable so a user could grow a column of vegetables in a compact space.
The team’s biggest challenge has been to create and maintain the water/nutrient solution that’s needed to sustain the plant. To solve the problem, they found a nutrient mixture that keeps pH, electrical conductivity and other essential GrowBox parameters constant.
“Together, we developed ideas for the GrowBox and the reduction of the user’s role in the growth of a plant,” said Sasha Rosca (CE), who came up with the idea for the project. “Once the automation technology is developed, it can be implemented in large grow houses around the world to provide people with food year-round.”
By Gabriella McNevin
Boston University Electrical Engineering Professor Mark Horenstein was invited to deliver the Bill Bright Memorial Lecture Electrostatics 2015, sponsored by the Institute of Physics. Horenstein has accepted the honor, and will join other world-leading experts in electrostatics in England in April 2015.
The Institute of Physics Electrostatics Group (IOP) organizes this conference every four years to provide the opportunity to unite academic and industry electrostatics experts. Horenstein’s research in electrostatics is well known, and he is regarded as one of the leading experts in the field in both academia and industry.
Horenstein will discuss “The Contribution of Surface Potential to Diverse Problems in Electrostatics.” The lecture will focus on the role that the simple concept of surface potential plays across numerous applications of electrostatics. Surface potential is the driving factor, for example, in the propagating brush discharge, a dangerous explosion hazard in industrial environments. Surface potential is also key to such seeming obscure topics as the electrostatics of parachutes and the backflow of charge on moving webs (large, industrial sized sheets of polymer or textile used in roll-to-roll industrial processes).
In 2013, Horenstein was an invited speaker at the Electrostatics 2013 International Conference on Electrostaics held by the Static Electricity in Industry group of the European Federation of Chemical Engineers. At the conference, he was bestowed the honor of being named International Fellow.
Currently, Horenstein serves as the Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Electrostatics and is an honorary life member of the Electrostatics Society of America (ESA). In 2012, he was named Outstanding Professor of the Year by the College of Engineering at Boston University. Horenstein is a named inventor on five patents. He received his Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1978, and his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975.
In addition to Horenstein’s expertise in electrostatics, he is known for his textbooks on microelectronics and engineering design. He currently works on technology for self-cleaning photovoltaic solar panels and concentrating solar mirrors.
By Gabriella McNevin
While Boston University recuperated from the Blizzard of 2015, Computer Engineering Professor Roscoe Giles (ECE, CISE) offered a testimony on Supercomputing that took place in Washington D.C on January 28. Due to flight cancellation, Giles testified from his home in Massachusetts through video link.
Professor Giles was invited to the Supercomputing and American Technology Leadership hearing held by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy. The new Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), set the meeting agenda in the hearing’s opening remarks, “As we face the reality of ongoing budget constraints in Washington, it is our job in Congress to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, on innovative research that is in the national interest.”
Giles was appearing as the chair of the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (or ASCAC). Joining a panel of distinguished supercomputing experts, Giles was called to provide insight on the dynamic relationship between supercomputing, and U.S. economy, and country’s status as a global leader in science and technology.
Giles was called to testify based on his experience with high performance computing applications and systems and his understanding of their role in advancing science and engineering. Giles’ testimony highlighted recent applications successes and emphasized the need to aggressively push the technology, mathematics, computing, and applications research required for the next generation (exascale) supercomputers.
Since Giles left the Center for Theoretical Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1985 to join the Boston University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, his research has earned a number of awards. He has since won the College of Engineering Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Computing Research Association (CRA) A. Nico Habermann Award. During the Supercomputing Conference in Baltimore, Maryland in 2002, Giles was the first ever African American conference chairman. In 2004, the Career Communications Group selected Giles as one of the “50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science.”
ECE Researchers Develop Powerful New Software Tools
By Mark Dwortzan
Over the past 15 years, synthetic biology researchers have rewired and reprogrammed genetic “circuits” in living cells and organisms to enable them to perform specified tasks, both to improve our understanding of biology and to solve critical problems in healthcare, energy and the environment, food safety, global security and other domains. While practitioners dream of engineering each new organism as expeditiously as today’s new mobile phone apps are produced, serious obstacles remain. Genetic parts are hard to find and tune, the final behaviors of engineered organisms are difficult to predict, and few tools exist that can handle the scale and complexity of the enterprise.
In recent years, however, two researchers at the College of Engineering, Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME, Bioinformatics) and Research Assistant Professor Swapnil Bhatia (ECE) have joined forces to streamline synthetic biology from concept to design to assembly, encoding solutions in a rich suite of software tools. In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, they and collaborating researchers at MIT demonstrated how their tools can be used iteratively to help synthetic biologists to specify, analyze and improve large-scale designs for engineered biological organisms.
“Currently, people write down a sequence of genetic parts, one in each column, for each design,” said Bhatia. “You can do this correctly when you have a few designs, but when you want to do it for a 100 designs, you begin to wonder if there’s a more powerful approach. Our algorithms allow researchers to describe whole spaces of designs, including those they might not have thought of because the possibilities are so vast.”
In the paper, Densmore and Bhatia showed the potential of their software tools by describing a network of 16 genes central to engineering nitrogen fixation—a key pathway which, if engineered into plants, could mitigate the need for fertilizer. Using specifications generated by the software, they and their collaborators “rewired” a network of genes extracted from one bacterial species, Klebsiella oxytoca, and transplanted it into another one, E. coli, that’s easier to work with in the desired application.
The researchers, who were funded by a $3.6 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant, thus demonstrated the first instance in which synthetic biologists ported a large gene cluster from one organism into another. It’s a process Bhatia likens to persistently tinkering with an app that runs on an iPhone to make it work on a Kindle, and believes will pave the way for many synthetic biology applications.
“This paper is an excellent example of parallel development of biological and computational tools,” said Densmore. “Recombinant DNA and cloning techniques have improved at a rapid pace, but the state of computational tools for engineering biology has lagged behind. People still use spreadsheets and notebooks for large projects. This has to change.”
Seeking to accelerate that change, Densmore and Bhatia are already focused on developing the next generation of tools for synthetic biology that will automatically learn biological design rules, propose genetic circuit designs, plan DNA assemblies and automate much of the pipetting labor involved in the assembly of engineered biological systems.
Selected for “creating or facilitating” inventions that have helped society
By Susan Seligson, BU Today
Boston University President Robert A. Brown, who came to BU following a career as a prominent chemical engineer, has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), the academy announced today.
Brown, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, is one of 170 new fellows in NAI and one of the total of 414 fellows currently representing more than 150 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutions. “Fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society,” NAI said in its press release.
“It is an honor to be counted among so many amazingly innovative people,” says Brown. “In my role as NAI Fellow, I look forward to supporting the efforts of NAI to promote academic technology and innovation—especially the applied use of inventions to improve quality of life and spur the economy.”
Election as a NAI Fellow is the latest in a long string of honors and distinguished appointments for Brown, who is also a member of National Academy of Engineering, which awarded him the 2013 Simon Ramo Founders Award. Brown is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He chairs the Academic Research Council of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Singapore and is a member of Singapore’s Research Innovation and Enterprise Council. Brown is a director of both the DuPont Company and the American Council on Education, and a trustee of the Universities Research Association. He served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology for President George W. Bush.
Brown, a former dean of the MIT School of Engineering and head of MIT’s department of chemical engineering, has published more than 250 papers in areas related to mathematical modeling of transport phenomena in materials. Executive editor of the Journal of Chemical Engineering Science from 1991 to 2004, he was honored as one of the top 100 Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era by theAmerican Institute of Chemical Engineers.
Brown earned a BS and MS in chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
Included among all of the NAI Fellows are 61 presidents and senior leaders of research universities and nonprofit research institutes, 208 members of the other national academies, 16 recipients of the US National Medal of Technology and Innovation, 10 recipients of the US National Medal of Science, and 21 Nobel Laureates.
The NAI Fellows will be inducted by the Deputy US Commissioner for Patent Operations, from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, during the 4th Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors, on March 20, 2015, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.