Shawn Jin (SAR ’15) may be majoring in human physiology, but that hasn’t kept him from diving into research that combines both biology and computer engineering.
A Kilachand Honors College student, Jin has been working this summer on synthetic biology research with Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) and Traci Haddock, a post-doctoral associate in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.
Densmore, who recently spoke about the challenges facing this field on a DISCOVER panel, said that DNA assembly is not an efficient practice currently. To help alleviate this, Jin is designing a standardized method for tracking genetic circuits that has the potential to help solve this problem.
“We’re essentially creating a library of well characterized DNA parts that will allow synthetic biologists to share and compare information more quickly,” said Jin.
To help support his summer research, Jin was awarded a Hariri Award by the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computation Science & Engineering. The prize is given to students conducting research in computer science.
In addition to researching, Jin will also spend the next several months preparing for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) regionals competition.
The iGEM competition, which is geared toward undergraduates, is dedicated to advancing the field of synthetic biology by developing its community and collaborations.
Last year, Jin and Monique De Freitas (MET ’13) took home gold in the competition. The BU team will be partnering with Wellesley College like previous years, and with five teammates this time instead of two, Jin and Haddock have high hopes for this year’s contest.
“Our partnership with Wellesley is great because they’re able to provide feedback on our software tools,” said Haddock, who advises the team. “We’re looking forward to working with them again.”
Eventually, Jin hopes to further his education by earning a medical degree. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to competing in iGEM this October in Toronto.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Computer scientist Anita Borg began programming in 1969 and helped pave the way for women working in science and technology by establishing the Institute for Women and Technology and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
After she passed away in 2003, Google started a scholarship in her memory that is meant to remove any barriers keeping women from entering the computing and technology fields.
“Cassie is a student that is quick to learn, inquisitive, and proactive regarding her education and goals. Her ability to set and carry out her own research agenda sets her apart from average graduate students,” said her advisor, Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE). “It comes as no surprise that she was a finalist for this award and I expect this to be the first of many accolades to come.”
As a finalist, Huang will receive a $1000 scholarship and is invited to attend the annual Google Scholars’ Retreat this summer in New York City. The event provides an opportunity to network with other recipients and participate in developmental activities.
At BU, Huang has been working closely with Densmore, developing computer-aided design (CAD) tools for synthetic biology. Specifically, she is focusing on how to integrate synthetic biology and microfluidics.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time in Professor Densmore’s lab so far,” said Huang. “I like the interactions and collaborations with my lab-mates and the intellectually challenging work.”
To learn more about the award, visit Google’s scholarship page.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
San Francisco, CA – After advancing to the US Finals in the Imagine Cup, Boston University students, Brad Berk, Nick Lippis, Patrick Maruska, and Robins Patel (all ECE ’13), won the SkyDrive Boost Award for their innovative software system.
The students make up the team, Pitch, and are aiming to make sharing files easier and more applicable to daily situations. Their product uses Windows 8 and a Windows Azure backend server in order to create a secure account that makes accessing any type of document manageable.
Team Pitch has been formulating this idea over the last year as part of their senior design project, a requirement for Electrical & Computer Engineering seniors. On May 6, the students presented their software system at ECE Day and were awarded with the Entrepreneurial Award.
The SkyDrive Boost Award
The SkyDrive Boost Award was given on May 13, 2013, at the U.S. Finals. Pitch was one of the ten teams that won $1,000. The team members will use the money to help launch their start-up. The award was given to United States finalists who utilized the SkyDrive API in a meaningful way into their projects. The SkyDrive API’s common tasks include viewing, editing, creating, and sharing photo albums.
About Imagine Cup
Since 2003, the Microsoft Imagine Cup has challenged students from more than 190 countries to submit ideas that solve the tough societal problems we face today. Each step of the way, students have the opportunity to make friends and win cash, grants, and prizes.
-Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)
“What is synthetic biology and what can it do?” asked Corey Powell, the editor-at-large of DISCOVER magazine, at a recent conference on the topic. “You’re lucky that you have the world’s leaders in that field right here giving you authoritative answers.”
One of those leaders was Boston University Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) who participated in the event, Programming Life: The Revolutionary Potential of Synthetic Biology, on March 25. The conference was sponsored by DISCOVER magazine and SynBERC.
“To me, synthetic biology really is to be able to engineer things using abstraction, modularity and rules,” said Densmore. “If we can compose systems rationally, then ultimately people like myself can get in and build tools and techniques and algorithms to do that.”
Currently, Densmore is working to make the design of synthetic biological systems more mechanized through electronic design automation. CLOTHO, a unified tool set he and his team have designed, encapsulates this research.
His interest in synthetic biology began, in part, when he realized that DNA assembly was not a very efficient or organized practice.
“As a computer engineer, I said there’s a lot of things wrong with this fundamentally,” said Densmore.
At the conference, Densmore spoke on the Catalyzing Biological Engineering panel. The only computer engineer in the discussion, Densmore served as an example of how non-linear the field of biology really is.
Much of the day-long event aimed to show that synthetic biology could be used to make a better world – improving everything from human health to food supplies. To make these changes though, minds from many academic disciplines will need to work together.
Densmore is playing his part by getting students excited about the field, which can be a challenge since researching synthetic biology isn’t as much of an established career path as opposed to, say, working for Google.
“You really have a chance to be a pioneer in this field,” said Densmore. “The kinds of things that we establish now I believe will set the stage for the future.”
Watch the complete video of the panel discussion at DISCOVER.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s not uncommon to find hospital patients unable to speak to their nurses and doctors as a result of language barriers or speech-debilitating medical issues.
Three alumni – Nick Dougherty (ECE ’12), Eric Hsiao (ECE ’12), and Gregory Zoeller (ECE ’12) – have been working to solve that problem with the creation of an app called Verbal that allows patients to communicate with picture-based icons. By touching one of the images, patients can let their nurses know that they require help – whether they need water or want to use the restroom.
In April, the team presented their app at the Boston University Institute of Technology Entrepreneurship & Commercialization (ITEC) New Venture Competition. The alumni competed against almost four dozen teams and took home the People’s Choice Award, which included a $1,000 cash prize.
“This was a great experience for us,” said Dougherty. “Other than a few courses at BU, we don’t have a lot of business experience yet. By participating, we were able to get a lot of helpful feedback about our business strategy.”
The initial idea for Verbal stemmed from a Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering senior project with Professor Emeritus Theodore Morse (ECE) and won both the ECE Entrepreneurial Award and College of Engineering Societal Impact Capstone Project award last year. Since then, the three alumni have shadowed nurses at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and perfected their design.
“For us, the main focus of Verbal is helping people,” said Dougherty. “Competitions like ITEC’s are helping us move closer toward that goal.”
Verbal was up against some tough competition at ITEC. Cellanyx Diagnostics, a startup that aims to improve results for prostate cancer patients by combining nanomedicine and predictive diagnostics, took the top prize. The team is made up of Brad Hogan (GRS ’13), Kevin Yu (BME ’10) and Jonathan Varsanik.
“Coming from a scientific background, it really helped to come to ITEC and learn more about the business side,” said Hogan.
Cellanyx has used proprietary matrix biology, microfluidics, and nanomedicine to provide quantitative live-cell in vitro diagnostic service to physicians and hospitals.
As part of the win, Cellanyx receives $20,000 rental credit from Cummings Properties to provide a space for their business as well as legal advice from WilmerHale and many additional mentoring opportunities.
“We were super excited about winning, and this will be very beneficial to our company moving forward,” said Hogan. “We’re eager to move into our summer startup space.”
Additional winners at the ITEC competition included second place team, ScanKart, and third place team, Aeolus Building Efficiency. ScanKart is an integrated mobile commerce and marketing platform for businesses designed by Kavita Mehta (GSM ’12), Guarav Tanna (GSM ’13), Okeno Palmer, and Guarav Mehta. Aeolus, designed by David Cushman (GSM ’14), Jonathan Ellermann (GSM ’13), Benjamin Smith (GSM ’13), Ryan Cruz (ME ’13), Michael Gevelber and Donald Wroblewski, provides software-based optimization of airflow in large commercial office buildings.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
“The Verbal Advantage” – January 2013
Auto technology has come a long way over the years and includes recent advances ranging from night vision to automatic high-beam controls. With these new developments come more physical wires that will increase the cost, weight, and maintenance of a car.
“In the future, as much as four kilometers of wires may be necessary for a car to operate,” said Wei Si (PhD ’15). “On top of that, these wires could weigh as much as 40 kilograms, an amount that would have a bad effect on fuel consumption.”
To solve this potential problem before it happens, Si and Morteza Hashemi (PhD ’16) have been working with Electrical & Computer Engineering Professors David Starobinski and Ari Trachtenberg, as well as General Motors Research, to determine if using wireless sensor networks (WSN) might be a greener way to construct tomorrow’s vehicles.
Some research has already been done on wireless car sensors and electronic control units (ECU) arranged in a single-hop model, but the BU research team thinks this can be improved.
“[In existing models], if some sensor-to-ECU links experience high power loss, then the quality of service degrades,” they wrote in an abstract about their work. Instead, they’re working on a multi-hop model that uses different sensors to cooperate and relay information in the car.
“Our results show that the transmission rate of previous models can be as low as 78 percent while our network performs at higher than 95 percent,” they wrote in their abstract, adding that their design provides energy savings as well.
Spending more than three years of work on the project, the researchers’ efforts are paying off. After competing in Scholars Day, the annual Boston University graduate student research symposium, Hashemi and Si have won both the Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cybersecurity Award as well as the Provost’s Award.
“We were very proud of Morteza and Wei for this accomplishment,” said Trachtenberg. “They had stiff competition from some very good researchers.”
Trachtenberg and Hashemi both said that they think their research stood out because it was easy to understand and could be applied to a real-life issue.
“One of the critical skills we try to teach is being able to talk about your research to those outside of your field,” said Trachtenberg. “They did a very good job in presenting their work in a way that was clear to a non-engineering audience.”
Still, finding success wasn’t always easy. The students were met with many challenges, including having only three weeks to test their work on a Cadillac Escalade and quickly discovering their initial design needed to be altered significantly.
“Sometimes, we’d stay up all night working,” said Hashemi, “but we’ve learned a lot along the way and hope the learning process continues.”
After seeing the long hours his students are putting into the project, Starobinski has noticed that the Ph.D. candidates are gaining confidence in their research, too.
“This project involves possessing a good understanding of various fields including wireless networks and low system processing,” said Starobinski. “They’ve done a great job using what they’ve learned in courses and applying it to a real-world application.”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Recently in the Photonics Center, passersby were met with a curious sight on the ninth floor. In a small setup resembling a couple of grocery store shelves, a robot, aptly named ShopBot, was picking out items from a grocery list.
Designed by seniors Jeffrey Chang, John-Nicholas Furst, Ngozi Nwogwugwu, Gurwinder Singh, and Hei Po Yiu, the Grocery Shopping Robot was one of 17 senior design projects on display as part of Boston University’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering’s annual ECE Day.
“We wanted to come up with a cheap, automated way to find groceries in a store,” said Singh during their presentation. Their robot uses a pathfinding algorithm to take the shortest path possible and scans barcodes to find its items.
Singh was one of 74 students showing the results of two semesters of work to faculty, friends, parents, and guests on May 6. Additionally, three seniors opted to write an honors thesis and presented their posters during the event.
The projects, one of the last requirements for seniors before they earn their undergraduate degree, allow students to design a prototype, electronic device or software system. Teams work with real world customers that include BU professors and companies like Microsoft and Bell Labs – Alcatel-Lucent.
“This year’s senior design class has been one of the very best,” said Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE), the senior design advisor. “I have enjoyed working with such a talented and dedicated group.”
This year’s projects ranged from a deshredder, designed to test if shredding is secure with today’s computing techniques, to an application that would allow professors to more easily track how a student is performing using BU’s education software, Blackboard.
Six alumni who previously completed senior design projects, David Lancia (ECE ’02, MS ’04), Craig LaBoda (ECE ’11), David Mabius (ECE ’07, MS ’09), Mike Kasparian (ECE ’12), Aaron Ganick (ECE ’10), and Bradley Rufleth (ECE ’04), returned to their alma mater in the roles of judges.
Said Pisano: “The ECE Day judges told me that the job of selecting the winners was most difficult this year because of all of the excellent projects, and they wished we had more awards to give.”
After much deliberation, the judges awarded Calibration Device for Microarray Slides the top prize, the P. T. Hsu Memorial Award for Outstanding Senior Design Project. Sasha Gazman, Ryan Lagoy, Allison Marn, and Jyotsna Singh worked with Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME) to develop a system for detecting target proteins, allergens, and diseases on microarray slides.
“Our system improves upon the accuracy of fluorescence based testing and is compact, portable, and user-friendly,” Singh said during her team’s presentation.
“Overall, we’re increasing the accuracy of diagnostics,” added Lagoy, who also was awarded the Michael F. Ruane Award for Excellence in Senior Capstone Design.
In a show of solidarity, the graduate students in Ünlü’s Optical Characterization and Nanophotonics Laboratory turned out to support the undergraduates during their team presentation.
The day centered around the seniors’ accomplishments, but two teachers were awarded as well. David Castañón, ECE professor and department chair, presented Ari Trachtenberg with the ECE Award for Excellence in Teaching and Molly Crane was named the GTF of the Year.
Other awards at this year’s ECE Day included:
Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award
Senior Honors Thesis Award
Beat Wave Generation and Interactions with Space Plasmas at Gakona, Alaska: Lisa A. Rooker
Pitch: Brad Berk, Nick Lippis, Patrick Maruska, and Robins Patel
Design Excellence Awards
Choreographed LED Artwork: Chris Davis, Mike Gurr, Chris Hall, Matt Lee, and Kevin Meyer
Automated DNA Assembly Platform for Bioengineering: Alejandro Pelaez Lechuga and Janoo Fernandes
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
Just fifteen years ago, internet browsing usually involved leaving the room to kill time as a dial-up modem slowly connected you to the world wide web. The process might have been painful but we didn’t know any better.
Fast forward to 2013 and these past connection speeds seem archaic. Still, that doesn’t stop some researchers from asking the question – can we be faster?
Professor Keren Bergman of Columbia University is one of those researchers asking that and she believes the answer is yes.
“It’s all about communication,” she said. “How do you get all of this data to talk to each other in the most effective way?”
In April, Bergman visited Boston University’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series. She offered insight into one of her areas of expertise, optically enabled data.
During the lecture, Bergman discussed how recent advances in chip-scale silicon photonic technologies have the potential for developing optical interconnection networks that provide communications that are highly efficient and improve upon computing performance-per-Watt.
“With optical interconnects, it’s possible to build a better system that you couldn’t with electronics,” said Bergman.
As part of her work with the Lightwave Research Laboratory, some of Bergman’s other research centers around fiber optics through which data can be sent in the form of light waves.
“Compared to electronic routers, you can send a tremendous amount of data using photonic interconnects for computing platforms,” she said.
At this time, the fiber optic network isn’t configured in a way that’s particularly efficient, but according to Bergman, it has the potential to carry data faster than traditional copper wires.
In addition to teaching at Columbia, Bergman is an IEEE and Optical Society of America Fellow and serves as co-Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE/OSA Journal of Optical Communications and Networking.
Bergman’s talk was the third in the three-part Spring 2013 Distinguished Lecture Series. The lectures will resume again in Fall 2013.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.
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 developed 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 supervised 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.
This article first appeared on the Boston University Technology Development website.
Before the Singh Imagineering Lab was launched in October 2011, Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen envisioned the facility as a place where College of Engineering students could cultivate their entrepreneurial spirit and develop as Societal Engineers who apply their expertise to advance our quality of life. Since the Lab’s opening, more and more undergraduates have taken advantage of its tools and machinery to pursue their own ideas on how to do just that — including nine who vied for top prizes in the College’s second annual Imagineering Competition, held April 16 and 23 at Ingalls Engineering Resource Center.
Facing a panel of five judges — Associate Dean for Administration Richard Lally, Associate Dean for Educational Initiatives/Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs/Professor Solomon Eisenberg (BME), Engineering Product Innovation Center Director/Professor of Practice Gerry Fine (ME, MSE), and last year’s first prize winner, David A. Harris (ME ’15)—across an oblong conference table, the competitors described, demonstrated and defended seven projects that they developed in the Imagineering Lab and other on-campus facilities. The judges assessed each project for originality, ingenuity and creativity; quality of design and prototype; functionality; and potential to positively impact society.
Biking, 21st-Century Style
The project that wowed the judges the most and garnered the competition’s $2,500 first prize was Smart Bike, a bicycle that Konstantinos Oikonomopoulos (ME ’14) and Lanke A. Fu (ME ’14) enhanced to automatically shift gears in response to changing terrain and road conditions, such as hills and traffic lights.
To provide that capability, they developed an automatic transmission device that’s attached to the rear wheel along with a set of sensors measuring torque (turning force), cadence (peddling rate) and speed, and microcontrollers that adjust gears to keep each of these three factors steady. The gearing can change both manually and electronically via custom designed gear shifter.
“Given the platform’s ability to collect data as well as electronically adjust the gearing with the addition of microcontrollers, the bicycle can become a self-regulating system,” said Oikonomopoulos. “By making the biking experience more pleasant, technologically enhanced and ‘care free,’ we believe that more people will view biking as a modern means of transportation.”
In addition to adding new appeal to an alternative, non-polluting mode of transportation, the Smart Bike may be used as a means of outpatient rehabilitation for people recovering from leg injuries; by regulating the amount of torque on the crank set, the bicycle can reduce strain on riders’ legs.
Fu and Oikonomopoulos — who won second prize last year for his highly-accurate, affordable, easy-to-assemble desktop 3D printer — developed the Smart Bike using workspace and tools in the Imagineering Lab and 3D-printed parts from Mechanical Engineering Department labs.
“It’s like a gym bike that is used for real-life bike riding,” said Lanke, who sees fitness riders, rehab patients and commuters as its most likely customers.
“They started with an interesting premise — an exercise bike you could program with a certain setting and take out on the street and achieve that setting — and they solved a lot of mechanical, electrical, control system and software problems,” said Little. “It was a thorough, end-to-end design, and they built it and demonstrated it by getting on the bike in the presentation.”
Smarter Medicine Cabinets and Alarm Clocks
The second prize winners, John Aleman (ME ’14) and Benjamin Corman (EE ’14), received $1,500 for their project, Roommate Friendly Alarm Clock, which they designed to wake up and keep awake only one person in a room at a set time by shining a concentrated beam of high-brightness LEDs at the user’s face and an under-pillow motor that vibrates the bed.
“I’m a heavy sleeper, so the motor worked for me,” said Corman. “But I’m also a snooze button person, and the light helped me get out of bed.”
Two entries, Can of Corn and Smart Medicine Cabinet, tied for third place, splitting the $1,000 prize.
Can of Corn, developed by Yingming Wang (EE ’13), Ajith Prasad (SMG ’13) and Lalitha Kumaresan (EE ’13), couples electronics — LEDs, a photoresistor and microcontroller — with conventional bug traps to automate the counting of corn borers, which have caused massive crop damage in recent years in China. When counts spike at the start of mating season, farms are sprayed with an environmentally benign pheromone to kill the borers.
Designed by Benjamin Graham (ME ’16), Smart Medicine Cabinet upgrades the traditional medicine cabinet by exploiting built-in electronic sensors and Internet connectivity to make taking medicine and monitoring and ordering prescriptions simple and stress-free, particularly for seniors.
Other entries included a system to manufacture arrays of microneedles for faster, painless diagnostic blood tests; an electronic go-cart; and a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller.
Sponsored by John Maccarone (ENG ’66), the competition was designed to reinforce the ideal of creating the Societal Engineer by spotlighting student efforts to design, build and test new technologies that promise to positively impact society.
Imagineering Lab programming is supported by the Kern Family Foundation and alumni contributions to the ENG Annual Fund.