Cultivating Excellence, Transforming Society
In 1963, the College of Industrial Technology (CIT) offered only three degree programs — in technology, aeronautics and management — and occupied a single, four-story building, but the former aviation school’s new dean, Arthur T. Thompson, was bullish about CIT’s future. He aspired to do no less than transform this dot on the Boston University map into an accredited engineering program, and to develop engineers with “the capacity for responsible and effective action as members of our society.”
Thompson began to work this transformation on February 27, 1964 — 50 years ago today — when CIT was officially renamed as the Boston University College of Engineering. Since then the College has grown to become one of the world’s finest training grounds for future engineers and platforms for innovation in synthetic biology, nanotechnology, photonics and other engineering fields, attracting record levels of student applications, research funding and philanthropic support.
Between 1964 and 2013, the number of degrees conferred annually has increased from zero to 281 bachelors, 184 masters and 53 PhDs; enrollment from around 100 to 1416 undergraduate, zero to 394 masters and zero to 349 PhDs; faculty from 10 to more than 120; advanced degree programs offered from zero to nine masters and six PhDs; and annual sponsored research dollars from zero to $52 million. Meanwhile, the College’s position in the annual US News & World Report’s annual survey of US engineering graduate programs has surged from unranked to the top 20 percent nationally.
At the same time, the College’s faculty, students and alumni have significantly advanced their fields and spearheaded major innovations in healthcare, energy, information and communication, transportation, security and other domains.
Building a World Class Institution
The infrastructure for the world class research and education taking place at today’s College of Engineering was built in stages.
During Thompson’s deanship from 1964 to 1974, the new Aerospace, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering departments received accreditation, with the Manufacturing Engineering program the ﬁrst of its kind to be accredited in the US. The College also instituted the nation’s first BS degree program in bioengineering and expanded to five BS and three MS programs in five fields. Between 1975 and 1985, when Louis Padulo was dean, the College’s student body grew from 250 to 2481; minority and female enrollments skyrocketed; degree offerings rose to 24 BS, MS and PhD programs in eight fields; full-time faculty increased to 67; and sponsored research exceeded $3 million.
When Professor Charles DeLisi (BME) became the new dean in 1990, he recruited many leading researchers in biomedical, manufacturing, aerospace, mechanical, photonics and other engineering fields, establishing a research infrastructure that ultimately propelled the College to its ranking in US News & World Report’s top 50 engineering graduate schools (realized in 2003). A case in point is the BME Department, which DeLisi turned into the world’s foremost biomolecular engineering research hub, paving the way for his successor, Professor David K. Campbell (Physics, ECE), to oversee the department’s receipt in 2001 of a $14 million Whitaker Foundation Leadership Award and discussions leading to additional support from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. Between 1990 and 2005, as the number of full-time faculty rose to 120, research centers to eight, and PhD programs to seven, the College’s external research funding surpassed $26 million.
When Professor Kenneth R. Lutchen (BME) took over as dean in 2006, he aligned the curriculum with undergraduates’ growing interest in impacting society, redefining the educational mission of the College to create Societal Engineers, who “use the grounded and creative skills of an engineer to improve the quality of life.”
Lutchen rolled out several programs to advance this agenda, ranging from the Technology Innovation Scholars Program, which sends ENG students to K-12 schools to show how engineering impacts society, to the new Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC), a unique, hands-on facility, that will educate all ENG students on product design-to-deployment-to-sustainability. He also ushered in a new era of multidisciplinary education and research collaboration by establishing the Systems Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering divisions along with several new minors and concentrations. Meanwhile, professional education opportunities surged on campus with the introduction of eight new Master of Engineering programs and four new certificate programs.
Moving On to the Next 50 Years
That said, what do the next 50 years hold for the College of Engineering? For starters, upcoming educational initiatives include increased integration of digital technologies in courses; new programs with the schools of Management, Education and Public Health; continued efforts to build the engineering pipeline through outreach to K-12 students; and the Summer Institute for Innovation and Technology Leadership, which recruits companies to host teams of ENG and SMG students to tackle targeted problems.
BU also plans to construct the Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering Building — a seven-story, 150,000-square-foot facility that will include interdisciplinary research space for faculty and students in systems and synthetic biology (expanding the College’s recently launched Center of Synthetic Biology (CoSBi)) — within the next 10 years, as well as a 165,000-square-foot science and engineering research building. By 2016, ENG expects to add about 61,500 square feet of new lab and classroom space.
In its first half-century, the College of Engineering — through its students, faculty and alumni — has made its mark on several fields while improving the quality of life around the globe. If its rich history of high-impact education and innovation is any guide, the College can expect many more life-enhancing achievements in the coming 50 years.
As a master’s candidate studying Photonics at Boston University, Kevin Mader (ECE ’08, MS ’08) decided to become an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow, a position that allowed him to work with students and help them master difficult concepts.
“I felt like I could help students because I had just struggled with learning the concepts a year before and could relate well to what they were going through,” he said.
The experience made Mader realize he wanted to become a teacher and today, he is a lecturer at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, where he is hoping to inspire the next generation to get excited about engineering.
“I think that a lot of students lose interest in science and engineering early on because it becomes too technical before it gets interesting,” he said. “I hope to try and make it exciting without watering it down too much.”
Prior to living in Switzerland, Mader’s roots were in the United States, where he lived in California, Ohio, Oregon, and Massachusetts. Still, moving abroad wasn’t quite the challenge you might expect.
“For some things it is no adjustment at all – there are Starbucks and McDonald’s restaurants on nearly every street corner – but for other aspects getting used to a new language and a different culture can take some time,” he explained. “Luckily, students seem to be pretty similar all around the world and Zürich is a very international city so it’s never a problem finding interesting people and somewhere to fit in.”
As an undergraduate studying Electrical Engineering at BU, Mader worked closely with Senior Lecturer, Babak Kia, on his senior design project. Like in Switzerland, Mader never had any problems finding other researchers he could collaborate with effortlessly.
“He was a very effective team player, espousing a humble leadership style and patiently sharing his thoughts and ideas with his team,” said Kia, who served as Mader’s customer during senior design.
Mader’s team, Esplanade Runner, was tasked with enabling a robot to navigate a Google Maps route while avoiding obstacles in its path. Known as autonomous navigation, the project was assigned a few years before Google Street View cars were popularized.
Calling the research one of his “most valuable experiences at BU,” Mader said, “Our project was particularly cool since it was tangible: make a little car follow a route and avoid obstacles. It was also deceptively simple, and I learned how difficult it is to make timelines and get everything running on time. We spent a few nights in the lab banging our heads against the wall trying to synchronize our vehicle, compass, sensors, and GPS.”
The hard work ultimately paid off and their team won the ECE Day Best Presentation Award that year.
“Kevin could hardly contain his drive and enthusiasm throughout the project,” said Kia. “He has such a natural ability and curious mind for exploring the unknown that is just a joy to witness.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Mader decided to continue his studies by pursuing a master’s in Photonics at BU.
“Initially I was intrigued by Photonics because I had no idea what it really was and had studied in the building by that name for years,” said Mader. “After taking the introductory class I was surprised by how complicated imaging really is – iPhones make it so easy – and how much potential there was in the field.”
Mader had completed a summer internship at the Center for Biophotonics at the University of California, Davis, where he looked at how cellular spectroscopy and imaging could be used to detect cancer. Upon returning to BU, he decided to build upon what he learned by taking a course on imaging and microscopy with Professor Jerome Mertz (BME).
“What struck me about Professor Mertz from my first interaction with him was how much interest and passion he had for the science he was working on,” explained Mader. “He seemed like one of those people who would continue to do the exact same thing even after winning the lottery because he enjoyed it so much.”
Mader went on to work on his master’s thesis in Mertz’s laboratory, where he worked on improving bioluminescence imaging so that a small group of cells, like a tumor, could be detected without using lasers or X-rays.
“Kevin was great to work with – really creative,” said Mertz. “He could always look at things from different and unexpected perspectives that were really intriguing. I think he’ll make a great professor someday.”
Since completing his master’s, Mader has taken more steps toward eventually becoming a professor, including earning a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Biomechanics from ETH Zürich.
He has also earned a Pioneer Fellowship from the university, which will allow him to work toward pairing microscopes, MRIs and CT-scanners with tools that will turn pictures into meaningful statistics.
“There seems to be sufficient industrial interest. The real challenge will be connecting with the right people at the right times,” he said.
As Mader balances research with teaching, he continues to give his all in both.
“I think one of the best ways to really understand a topic is to have to disseminate it to other people,” he said. “In particular, I enjoy trying to connect abstract concepts like parallel computing to everyday ones like card games with friends.”
Truly committed to being the best teacher he can be, Mader can often be found tweaking his lecture slides minutes before a talk, even though he’d finished preparing weeks before.
Said Kia: “I have no doubt, not even for a second, that he will become a highly effective professor and that his deep passion for research and discovery will be surpassed only by his immense passion for his students.”
Learn more about Mader’s new company, 4Quant.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In pursuit of the Hariri Institute’s mission to catalyze and propel collaborative, interdisciplinary research through the use of computational and data-driven approaches, the Institute supports a portfolio of ambitious computational research projects, as well as forward-looking educational and outreach initiatives at Boston University.
In line with this mission, we are pleased to announce the Call for selecting and funding 2014 Institute portfolio projects. The process is designed to be fairly lightweight, imposing minimal overhead on proposing investigators, while ensuring that the process itself acts as a catalyst for the exchange and development of research ideas among Institute affiliates.
The process for exploring and developing projects to be sponsored by the Institute encourages principal investigators to involve the Institute in shaping and refining their research ideas, suggesting potential collaborations, identifying additional or alternative sources of funding, and finding other creative ways to help support the project.
Eligibility: Faculty affiliates of the Hariri Institute are eligible to submit proposals for support from the Institute for research and other activities by completing the Research Funding Application.
Process: For details, please check the project proposal development, submission, and evaluation process and complete the Research Funding Application.
Deadline: April 4, 2014 is the deadline for Summer/Fall start dates. There will be a November 2014 deadline for Spring 2015 start date projects.
For more information: please contact Linda Grosser, Director, Program & Project Development, of the Hariri Institute, by email at email@example.com.
Many engineers have great ideas for products, but unfortunately, they don’t often have a background in business that will allow them to bring their designs to market.
To help with this problem, two Boston University research teams recently participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps), a program that encourages scientists and engineers to broaden their focus beyond lab work through entrepreneurship training.
“We had been trying to bring some of our ideas to a commercial state when we heard about the program,” said David Freedman, a BU research associate in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. “It seemed like a great fit for us.”
Freedman and postdoctoral associate, George Daaboul, had been working closely with Professor Selim Ünlü’s (ECE, BME, MSE) research group trying to determine how their technology, IRIS, used to detect viruses and pathogens, might be applied in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and emergency care centers. They soon decided that forming an I-Corps team would allow them to evaluate the commercial potential.
Teams receive $50K in grant money and consist of an Entrepreneurial Lead (Daaboul), a Principal Investigator (Freedman), and a business mentor. The researchers asked BU lecturer and entrepreneur, Rana Gupta (SMG), to take on the latter role.
Also participating from BU were Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) and Research Assistant Professor Swapnil Bhatia (ECE). They pitched Lattice Automation, technology that will allow technology by the Cross-disciplinary Integration of Design Automation Research (CIDAR) group to transition into commercial products. Ultimately, they hope to create software that will help synthetic biologists work more efficiently.
“Our technology is building upon state-of-the-art techniques in computer science, electrical engineering, and bioengineering,” explained Densmore.
Over eight weeks in the fall, participants attended workshops in Atlanta, Ga., met with researchers from the 21 teams, followed an online curriculum, and spoke with up to 100 different potential consumers of their technology – a process known as “customer discovery.”
Through this experience, Freedman and Daaboul quickly learned that introducing a new technology to customers might not be the right approach for their research.
“We decided instead to focus on the pains customers had with existing technologies and hone in on how we could alleviate those,” said Freedman.
Added Daaboul: “Finding out what people really needed before developing a technology really allowed for a much different perspective than what I’m used to.”
Much of the knowledge gained through I-Corps will be used to advance science and engineering research. Some products tested during the workshops even show immediate market potential by the conclusion of the curriculum.
“I would recommend this program to anyone working in science or industry,” said Freedman. “Not only did this change how we think about our research, we also learned how to better tell our narrative.”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s been a bitter winter in Boston, but that didn’t keep students and faculty from making their way toward the Photonics Building Colloquium Room on January 22. Anxious undergraduate students looking for research opportunities mingled among the 28 tables of Boston University researchers at the recent ECE Undergraduate Research and Lab Job Fair hoping to find opportunities to gain hands-on engineering experience.
The story of the research fair goes back four years ago when Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen spoke to matriculating freshman about the importance of research. While listening to the talk, Professor Mark Horenstein (ECE) realized that while entering students were being encouraged to engage in research, no one was telling them how.
In response, Horenstein started the annual ECE Undergraduate Research and Lab Job Fair as a way for undergraduates and faculty to explore mutual interests related to research and for students to ask about available research positions. The event also provides a public forum in which faculty can showcase what is happening in their laboratories. “This is a get-to-know-you meet-and-greet event,” says Horenstein.
Watching presentations and submitting resumes to BU faculty and graduate students, about 75 students attended this year. Two sophomores, Dean De Carli (EE ’16) and Matthew Owney (EE ’16), were scouting for summer and fall positions.
“Even though I didn’t get any research jobs, I was able to connect with the faculty,” said second-time attendee, De Carli. Owney added that he is looking for any opportunity since it’s his first time attending the fair.
Horenstein tells younger attendees, such as Alexandra Miller-Browne (CE ’17), that it’s important to “build up your skills as time goes on; don’t get discouraged.”
People on the other side of the table have a similar thought process. Dr. Traci Haddock, Executive Director of the Center for Synthetic Biology at BU, says, “Most students have no experience, but we will take anyone who is interested.” For example, she is looking for students to help develop the iGEM team’s website and build genetic devices this summer.
Third-time veteran, Associate Professor Robert Kotiuga, changes his presentation every year but remains steadfast in his belief that though people will always possess different areas of expertise, “it is important to be passionate about the project.”
Every year since the program’s initiation, the event has turned out eager attendees, and 2014 was no exception. Students continue to return each year, hoping to gain experience and take advantage of the department’s available opportunities.
-Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)
Several new faces are walking the halls of Boston University’s Photonics Center this year after the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering welcomed three new faculty members in 2013-14.
Gray, who specializes in information theory, statistical signal processing, and quantization theory and algorithms, has received a long list of accolades since earning his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1969.
Among his honors, Gray is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and a Fellow of the Institute for Mathematical Statistics and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He has also received the IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal, the IEEE Information Theory Society Claude E. Shannon Award, and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).
In addition to his post at BU, Gray holds the title of Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, where he authored more than a dozen textbooks.
Like Gray, Goyal also specializes in statistical signal processing and holds the title of IEEE Fellow after being recognized last year.
Goyal’s additional research interests include computational imaging, information representation, quantization, and human decision making and perception.
Though he is new to BU, Goyal is familiar with Boston, having previously taught at MIT just across the river.
“I’m excited to join BU because it is a perfect place to work at the intersection of information sciences and photonics. Both are great strengths of BU ECE,” he said.
Goyal believes that a central focus of future information processing research will be on addressing problems that exist outside of engineering, and he is eager to work across department boundaries.
“For such pursuits, it is a privilege to be part of a university with world-class programs ranging from economics to health,” he said.
A previous winner of the NSF CAREER Award, Goyal is already off and running at BU. Research he conducted with colleagues at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics on imaging methods that could potentially improve remote sensing and microscopy was recently published in the journal, Science.
Also new to the department is Bhatia, a familiar figure in BU ECE since he started as a postdoctoral associate, working closely with Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE). Bhatia was drawn to BU instead of a career in industry because of both the university’s emphasis on student learning and the prospect of working on synthetic biology research.
“When Doug talked to me about the postdoc position, he also pointed me to people in the field, and I saw some of [BU Biomedical Engineering Professor] Jim Collins‘s talks on YouTube,” said Bhatia. “It was all fascinating and I could see the potential impact of the field and the role of computer science in making it happen.”
Currently, Bhatia specializes in algorithms in biology, discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science, and network and storage systems.
Prior to working at BU, Bhatia, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, received their Richard Lyczak Memorial Teaching Award and Teaching Achievement Award.
Now that class is back in session, look for Gray, Goyal and Bhatia – plus the rest of the ECE faculty – this semester.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
Features tour of ENG’s new design, manufacturing studio
The Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC) hadn’t yet opened for its inaugural semester, and it already had a wait list of students eager to register for classes in the sleek, glass-fronted Commonwealth Avenue building that not too long ago was the Guitar Center. That bodes well for the College of Engineering and the University officials and corporate sponsors who made the new facility possible.
ENG will host EPIC’s ribbon-cutting ceremony this Thursday, January 23. Among those present will be President Robert A. Brown, ENG Dean Kenneth Lutchen, local dignitaries, and key corporate partners, including representatives from principal industry sponsors GE Aviation, Procter & Gamble, PTC, and Schlumberger.
Lutchen, who is also an ENG professor of biomedical engineering, says that EPIC’s opening “now begins the opportunity for us to transform our engineering education at the undergraduate level to really create a much more powerfully enabled graduate who understands the process of designing products from conception to deployment.”
Those skills are particularly important, and valuable, now that manufacturing is making a comeback in the United States. US manufacturers have added at least 500,000 new workers since the end of 2009, energy costs have dropped, and labor costs in competing countries such as China and India have been inching upward.
Companies like Apple and GE are bringing high-tech facilities back home from overseas. While a positive development, “the problem is now there aren’t enough engineers trained in highly technological methods,” says Bruce Jordan, ENG assistant dean of development and alumni relations.
EPIC could help fill that void. “We’re hoping to set a standard for the training of engineers for the future manufacturing economy in this country,” says EPIC director Gerry Fine, an ENG professor of the practice.
Funded through the University, ENG alumni and friends, and regional industry, EPIC’s 20,000-square-foot space houses a computer-aided design (CAD) studio, demonstration areas, fabrication facilities, materials testing, and project management software available to engineering students in all specialties — from computer and electrical engineering to biomedical engineering and nanotechnology. The facility has a flexible design and offers students supply chain management software, 3-D printers, robotics, laser processing, and around-the-clock digital access to the studio’s online resources.
A representative from each principal industry sponsor, GE Aviation, Procter & Gamble, PTC, and Schlumberger, will sit on EPIC’s Industrial Advisory Board, whose primary function will be to offer suggestions on how the ENG undergraduate curriculum might be redesigned to better prepare students for employment in the years ahead.
“We want to create as many options for our graduating students as possible,” Fine says. “By teaching them some of the things that regional industry wants, we think we’re giving our students more options. And we’re making our students more desirable to potential employers.”
Representatives from the principal sponsors will also participate in guest lectures and provide case studies and projects, and the companies will offer internship and employment opportunities to qualified students.
While other universities have manufacturing-oriented centers, most focus on basic research, but EPIC allows engineering students to put theory into practice by converting their ideas into products that could one day benefit society.
Fine has given tours of the facility to at least five teams from other universities since June. “We’re not aware of anyone who’s invested in this scale and made this commitment to undergraduate education,” he says.
“When I first heard from Dean Lutchen about the idea of EPIC, I was thrilled,” says Michael Campbell (ENG ’94), executive vice president of PTC’s CAD segment, who will serve on EPIC’s advisory board. “I always felt that my engineering education lacked that real-world perspective, that real-world exposure to the challenges, processes, and complexities of collaboration and the sophistication of tools. Now we have a chance to share all of that with students.”
J. David Rowatt, research director and technical advisor at Schlumberger, echoes that sentiment. “There were so many things I didn’t learn in school that I picked up on the job,” he says. “Some of these are clearly being addressed by what EPIC is trying to do,” which is exposing students to the entire engineering process — from conception and manufacturing to working on deadlines and understanding resource constraints.
Greg Morris, strategy and business development leader for additive manufacturing with GE Aviation, says this generation of students grew up in a world where computers and software were second nature, but tinkering under the hood of a car was not. EPIC will provide engineering students with the hands-on experience that gives them an advantage in the marketplace. “I can’t tell you how much that resonates with an employer,” he says.
Both BU and its partners see EPIC as a win-win. ENG faculty and students will benefit from a revamped curriculum and access to global leaders in innovation and manufacturing, while industry partners will interact with the University’s deep bench of cutting-edge researchers and get exposure to a new crop of engineers.
“If we tap into EPIC,” says Bruno De Weer, the vice president of global engineering at Procter & Gamble, “we can find ourselves connected with another hub of innovation that brings the very best.”
The EPIC ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 23, at 750 Commonwealth Ave., followed by a reception and tours for those invited. The event is not open to the public.
-Leslie Friday, BU Today
Boston University students have big ideas – whether they’re aiming to prevent cyber attacks or using GPS data to improve cattle herding. As good as their work is though, they don’t always know the best way to present their research.
Ph.D. students, Yasaman Khazaeni, Greg Castanon, and Jing Wang, initially came up with the idea for the event last semester and hoped it would give their classmates a chance to practice speaking in front of a large audience.
“One of the main issues we have as students becomes clear at conferences,” said Khazaeni. “We’ve done great research but don’t present it well.”
Often times, she added, engineering students come from international backgrounds and don’t have enough confidence to present in English.
“By speaking in front of a friendly audience, as opposed to a conference where you’d know few people in the audience, your classmates and professors can offer feedback and really help you smooth out your final presentation,” said Khazaeni.
Khazaeni, who helped choose 14 students to present out of a pool of 23 applicants, said that the event also allowed CISE students to learn from classmates and discover more about the projects they’ve been working on.
Among those she learned from were Ph.D. students, Morteza Hashemi and Delaram Motamedvaziri, who took home the Best CISE Presenter awards.
Hashemi, who is advised by Professor Ari Trachtenberg (ECE, SE), spoke about his project, Coded Data Sharing in Intra-Car Wireless Sensor Networks. He has been working with Trachtenberg, Professor David Starobinski (ECE, SE), Ph.D. student, Wei Si, and General Motors Research to determine if using wireless sensor networks (WSN) might allow for a greener way to construct tomorrow’s vehicles. The work previously won the Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cybersecurity Award as well as the Provost’s Award at Scholars Day last year.
Advised by Professor Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE), Motamedvaziri spoke about her work, “Poisson Statistics and the Future of Internet Marketing.”
“The effectiveness of search engine marketing is dropping while the power of social media marketing is rising,” she explained. “Mathematics would suggest that social media is now the better advertising strategy.”
She said that though her research focused on total hits advertisements received, she’d like to expand her work in the future by looking at data concerning how long a person stayed on a website.
“Ultimately, we’re more interested in seeing transactions occur as opposed to clicks,” said Motamedvaziri.
Also honored at a reception at the BU Castle following the presentations were Setareh Ariafar, the Most Attentive CISE Student, and Professor David Castañón (ECE, SE), awarded for his contributions to CISE. Because 20 students attended all fourteen presentations, the most attentive of them was chosen by raffle.
In case any students left the workshop having doubts about their speaking skills, Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE) closed the day by offering some advice, including “never overestimate the intelligence of your audience” and “the maximum pieces of information that should appear on a slide is two.”
“Giving a good talk is a difficult thing,” he said. “It’s as much of an art as a science.”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BU to be compensated for technology in popular electronics products
Technology giants Apple, Amazon, and Sony are among 25 companies that have settled lawsuits filed by BU alleging infringement of a professor’s patented technology for producing blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
The settlement, whose dollar amounts have not been disclosed, was negotiated with RPX, a San Francisco firm that acquires patent rights for corporate clients to help them avoid lawsuits. RPX will pay BU a licensing fee for the patents, which will be available to all RPX members. About a dozen firms that aren’t RPX members remain in litigation with the University.
The suits, filed last year, involved the use of gallium nitride thin films, patented in the 1990s by Professor Theodore Moustakas (ECE, MSE). The films facilitate the production of high-quality blue LEDs, which are used in an array of electronics products, from flat-panel displays on handheld devices to televisions and general lighting. Many popular consumer products incorporate the technology, the University says, including the iPhone 5, the iPad, and the Kindle Paperwhite 6”.
“This settlement, as well as the licensing of the patents previously by other blue LED manufacturers, is recognition of the importance of my work in the development of this novel technology,” said Moustakas.
Vinit Nijhawan, managing director of BU’s Office of Technology Development, said the settlement “acknowledges Ted’s patent as being a key part of the blue LED industry, which is estimated at about $11 billion annually.
“This is really a victory for him,” said Nijhawan. “It acknowledges him as one of the key inventors behind the blue LED.”
BU said it sued the companies to safeguard the research and invention of one of its faculty members. “We’re protecting our intellectual property,” Provost Jean Morrison said when the suits were announced last year. “The creation of new knowledge is fundamental to our mission. Ted Moustakas created a process that significantly improves the performance of these products. It’s incredibly important for a university to defend its intellectual property.”
Before filing the lawsuit, the University retained a law firm specializing in intellectual property. Nijhawan says the law firm hired independent experts, who confirmed BU’s suspicions of patent infringement. The University tried to negotiate licensing royalties with several product manufacturers, but was rebuffed, leading to the suits, Nijhawan said.
“Our faculty are increasingly working with industry and finding practical applications for their work,” said Gloria Waters, vice president and associate provost for research. “We will protect their intellectual property as they do so.”
-Rich Barlow, BU Today
Telecommunications companies – those that allow us to talk on the phone, communicate over the Internet and watch cable television – used to operate under the notion that there was an infinite amount of fiber bandwidth available to transmit these signals. Then we moved into the Y2K era.
“There was a big explosion of data around the year 2000,” said Larry A. Coldren, the Fred Kavli Professor of Optoelectronics and Sensors at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Computers were also getting faster and faster at this time and the demand for bandwidth was rising quickly.”
Coldren and his team had started looking at photonic integrated circuits (PICs), devices that allow signals to travel on optical waves on semiconductor chips, back in the 1980s and discovered that they could viably be produced much like analogous electronic integrated circuits (ICs) that generally use electrical wires for transferring data.
Last month, he spoke about his research during Boston University’s Electrical & Computer Engineering Distinguished Lecture Series. He suggested that PICs could be the key component in the future of telecommunications.
Just a couple of decades ago, wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) was introduced to meet the demand for more fiber bandwidth. This method allowed a number of signals to be simultaneously transferred on a single optical fiber. However, at the terminals where the WDM channels must be either combined or separated, the optical and electronic equipment became more and more complex as the channel count and signal speed increased. That’s where Coldren’s research comes into play.
“PICs have the potential of improved performance, reliability and cost while also reducing the size, weight and power of the equipment,” said Coldren.
PICs for various applications have been made using indium phosphide, silica on silicon, polymer technologies, and silicon photonics. Electronic ICs, however, usually use silicon as a dominant ingredient. Coldren’s team currently focuses on a monolithic indium phosphide integration platform.
“Ultimately, we may find that the best results will come from a hybrid solution using more than one of these materials,” said Coldren.
Today, PICs are widely deployed commercially and outperform many discrete device approaches, but Coldren is optimistic that they can work even better in the future and hopefully result in more environmentally friendly supercomputers and data centers.
“Our efforts have always been focused on making PICs very efficient and very fast,” said Coldren. “Now we need to look at how they can be used to create more green data centers.”
Assistant Professor Jonathan Klamkin (ECE), who introduced Coldren at the lecture, previously had an opportunity to study with Coldren while earning his Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara.
“I benefitted immensely from his guidance and even use his books in my class here,” Klamkin said. “It’s a pleasure having him on our campus.”
Prior to teaching, Coldren worked at Bell Labs, where he studied surface-acoustic-wave signal processing devices and tunable coupled-cavity lasers. He continued his work at UC Santa Barbara, where he has developed more widely-tunable DBR lasers and efficient, high-speed vertical-cavity-surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) in addition to his PIC research.
Coldren is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Optical Society (OSA) and the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE).
Coldren’s talk was the third in the three-part Fall 2013 Distinguished Lecture Series. The seminars will resume in Spring 2014.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)