Category: Research

Bellotti Wins Ignition Award For an Effective New Approach to Photon Detection

April 23rd, 2015 in Awards, Faculty, Graduate Students, Recognition, Research

The work promises to modernize a range of industries & common commercial products

By Gabriella McNevin

Adam Wichman (left), Professor Enrico Bellotti (middle), and Ben Pinkie (right)

Adam Wichman (left), Professor Enrico Bellotti (middle), and Ben Pinkie (right)

Professor Enrico Bellotti (ECE) and his PhD students Adam Wichman and Ben Pinkie won the Ignition Award for research in High sensitivity optical detectors in light starved applications.” The Boston University Office of Technology Development sponsors the Ignition Award to help launch promising new technologies into the marketplace.

Recipients of the Ignition Award are entered into a program. which supports further research and enables investigators to develop technology that will be well received in the consumer marketplace. “Ignition Awards help bring new technologies to a mature enough state” states the Boston University Technology Develop office, “where they can be licensed, spun off as a new venture, or create a new, non-profit social enterprise.”

The Ignition Award will help develop Bellotti’s infrared detector prototype. The technology is based on a novel architecture, originally invented by Adam Wichman, that overcomes the deficiencies of existing technologies. Dr. Bellotti has been interested in infrared detectors for several years, dating back to his investigations into the physics of avalanche photon detectors, for which he won an NSF Early Career Award in 2005.

Benjamin Pinkie and Adam Wichman joined Bellotti in 2012, and have been the driving forces in executing a fresh approach to image detection.

The team’s invention will lead to more sensitive infrared detectors that can operate using less power and at higher temperatures. As a result, they will not require the same cooling devices that are needed for the current generation of infrared cameras. This feature may enable novel applications especially for portable devices where weight and power consumption are at a premium.

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Big Data and Improving Health Care

March 26th, 2015 in Faculty, News-EP, News-IDS, Recognition, Research, Research-EP, Research-IDS

Data Scientist and Physician Team Up to Reduce Preventable Hospitalizations

By Suzanne Jacobs

Big Data Meets Healthcare—Bill Adams, a physician and medical informatician, and Yannis Paschalidis, a data scientist and engineer, are working together to use data from electronic health records to reduce preventable hospitalizations and cut health care costs. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

Big Data Meets Healthcare—Bill Adams, a physician and medical informatician, and Yannis Paschalidis, a data scientist and engineer, are working together to use data from electronic health records to reduce preventable hospitalizations and cut health care costs. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

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.”

 

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Dean Lutchen Joins 122 Engineering Deans Pledging to Educate Engineers for Grand Challenges

March 26th, 2015 in Graduate Programs, News-CE, News-EP, News-IDS, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Research-EP, Research-IDS, Research-ISS, Students, Undergraduate Programs

White House pledge to address major global challenges of the 21st century

By Jan Smith

Societal Engineers have the passion and skills to integrate people from all disciplines and lead organizations to address major challenges and improve lives.

Societal Engineers have the passion and skills to integrate people from all disciplines and lead organizations to address major challenges and improve lives.

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.”

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Unexpected Discoveries from an International Electricity Blackout

March 24th, 2015 in Events, Faculty, Lectures, Research, Students, Undergraduate Students

By Gabriella McNevin

ECE Professor Castañón (left), Distinguished Lecturer Kenneth Loparo (center), and Mechanical Engineering Professor John Baillieul (right).

ECE Professor Castañón (left), Distinguished Lecturer Kenneth Loparo (center), and Mechanical Engineering Professor John Baillieul (right).

On August 14, 2003, traffic lights in New York City went black. People lost electricity in cities and towns spanning from the northeastern part of the United States to Ontario, Canada. That month, the Head of the North American Electric Reliability Council Michehl R. Gent echoed a common question, “How could this happen? (CNN)”

Today, answers to that question are available in Dr. Kenneth Loparo’s research.

On Wednesday, March 4th, Dr. Kenneth Loparo gave a lecture at Boston University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His lecture was part of the ECE Distinguished Lecture Series that brings the country’s leading researchers to the department to share their novel contributions to the field. At the conclusion of his talk, hands flew up in the air with participants eager to engage with the speaker. Loparo’s audience of professors, researchers, and students, were riddled with questions and comments on his work.

Loparo had the crowd’s inquisitive attention after relating how his research can provide further insights into how a complex dynamical system can fail, using the events of the 2003 blackout as an exemplar. He explained that his research in “Modeling, Stability, and Security in Cyber-Physical Systems: Challenges, Opportunities & Future Directions”; can be applied to manage critical infrastructure, such as those involved in energy and transportation. A topic of particular interest to Loparo’s audience was the development of modeling and analytical tools that can be used to study how disturbances can affect system response through complex interactions that can lead to “cascading” events.

Professor Loparo was visiting from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. He is a Nord Professor of Engineering and A.L. Parker Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Loparo’s talk was the first of a three part Distinguished Lecture Series. The Spring 2015 series will feature a lecture from Professor Luke Lester from Virginia Tech on March 18, 2015. The title of his lecture is “Quantum Dot Laser Diodes and Mode-Locking.”

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Giles Testifies at Supercomputing & American Leadership Hearing

February 6th, 2015 in News-CE, Recognition, Research, Uncategorized

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 testified via video link from his home in Massachusetts. The image above was taken a day before the hearing, in the Rayburn House Office. Mounted on the wall, is a TV monitor displaying Professor Giles’ live feed.

Professor Giles testified via video link from his home in Massachusetts. The image above was taken a day before the hearing, in the Rayburn House Office. Mounted on the wall, is a TV monitor displaying Professor Giles’ live feed.

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.”

Scaling Up Synthetic Biology

January 22nd, 2015 in Faculty, Recognition, Research

ECE Researchers Develop Powerful New Software Tools

By Mark Dwortzan

Douglas Densmore, engineering assistant professor, and Swapnil Bhatia, engineering research assistant professor, are collaborating to streamline synthetic biology from concept to design to assembly. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

Douglas Densmore, engineering assistant professor, and Swapnil Bhatia, engineering research assistant professor, are collaborating to streamline synthetic biology from concept to design to assembly. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

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.

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ENG Grad Students Win Awards at Premier Materials Research Conference

December 11th, 2014 in Awards, Graduate Student Opportunities, Graduate Students, Recognition, Research

By Mark Dwortzan

Second-place poster author Steven Scherr (ME, PhD'16) (second from left) with 2014 MRS Fall Meeting Chairs

Second-place poster author Steven Scherr (ME, PhD’16) (second from left) with 2014 MRS Fall Meeting Chairs

Vying with nearly 3,000 entries in the Poster Session competition at the 2014 Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting and Exhibit on December 3, a Boston University College of Engineering entry won second place honors. In addition, another ENG poster received the award for the MRS University Chapters Program’s “Sustainability @ My School” competition highlighting leading-edge sustainability research.

Attended by up to 6,000 materials researchers from around the world, the MRS Fall Meeting is the preeminent annual event for those in the field.

Former LEAP student Steven Scherr’s (ME, PhD’16) second-place-winning poster, “Real-Time Digital Virus Detection for Diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease,” describes an optical detection system he developed for real-time, highly sensitive, label-free virus detection. The system, which combines an optical interference reflectance imaging biosensor(SP-IRIS) with a microfluidics cartridge, could be used for early detection of the Ebola virus at the point of care.

Working with a sample of bovine blood serum, Scherr recently used the system to digitally detect individual 100 nanometer-diameter vesicular stomatitis viruses—safe-for-human models of Ebola—as they adhered to an antibody microarray. Completed within 10 minutes, this lab test demonstrates the potential of SP-IRIS as the core technology for field-ready, point-of-care viral diagnostic tests that’s fast, sensitive, cheap and easy to implement, and requires minimal sample preparation.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the research was a collaboration between Scherr, who designed the microfluidics components, and ECE postdoc George Daaboul (BME, PhD’13), Professor Bennett Goldberg (Physics, ECE, BME, MSE), Professor John H. Connor (MED) and Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME, MSE, Physics), who developed SP-IRIS.

Shizhao Su and Yihong Jiang (both MSE, PhD'15) with their first place award in the "Sustainability @ My School" poster contest

Shizhao Su and Yihong Jiang (both MSE, PhD’15) with their first place award in the “Sustainability @ My School” poster contest

“I think we have the potential to make a big impact in the world of diagnostics and controlling future outbreaks like the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa,” said Scherr, who is continuing to develop the microfluidic cartridge.

Shizhao Su and Yihong Jiang’s (both MSE, PhD’15) winning entry in the MRS university chapter’s “Sustainability @ My School” contest, “Carbon-free Solid Oxide Membrane (SOM) Based Electrolysis for Metals Production and Sustainable Energy Applications,” showcases SOM electrolysis, an environmentally friendly, low-cost metals production technology.  Developed by Professor Uday Pal (ME, MSE) over the past 15 years, it requires far less energy than existing methods to extract pure magnesium, silicon, aluminum and other metals from their oxides. Poster co-author Abhishek Patnaik, who is also an MSE doctoral candidate, is exploring adapting SOM electrolysis for waste-to-energy conversion.

Conducted with guidance from Pal, Professor Soumendra Basu (ME, MSE) and Assistant Professor Jillian Goldfarb (ME, MSE), the research was funded by the National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy.

“I was delighted when Boston University was announced as the first place winner,” said Su. “It was an honor to present our work in front of peers in the MRS community, including some of the world’s leading experts in sustainable research and development. I was glad to see our lab’s many years of hard work recognized and appreciated by the community.”

The Materials Research Society comprises more than 16,000 researchers from academia, industry and government in more than 80 countries, and is a recognized leader in the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research.

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Silicon: The Material That Fueled Technological Revolutions

November 17th, 2014 in Events, Faculty, Lectures, News-EP, Research, Research-EP

Vanderbilt University Dean Philippe Fauchet Visits BU to join the ECE Distinguished Lecture Series

By Gabriella McNevin

Mechanical Engineering Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Alice White (left) and Dean of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University, Professor Philippe Fauchet (right) paused for a photo after the lecture. White and Fauchet met while she was working at Bell Labs.

Mechanical Engineering Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Alice White (left) and Dean of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University, Professor Philippe Fauchet (right) paused for a photo after the lecture. White and Fauchet met while she was working at Bell Labs.

“Aside from oxygen, silicon is the most abundant material on earth’s crust,” stated Professor Philippe Fauchet while speaking as part of the ECE Distinguished Lecture Series at Boston University.

On Wednesday, October 29th, Fauchet’s lecture audience sat waiting to learn how silicon has evolved in the last 20 years to become an almost universal material outside electronics. He answered their anticipation with a disclaimer.

“I will not cover the details of the extensive research. I will give a tour.”

Thus, Fauchet began a lecture, entitled ‘Nanoscale Silicon as an Optical Material,’ to share a big picture view of a wide-ranging subject. He provided an overview on the history of silicon research, and insight on how it may be practically applied for mass-market consumption. He reviewed properties of bulk silicon and techniques by which is may be exploited in research.

In the last 20 years, researchers have expanded and repurposed silicon for use in new industries. Professor Fauchet elaborated on breakthrough silicon biosensor technology that can lead to Ebola detection equipment. Early work was considered to be a success, but was not adapted for wide-use in the health care sector. Its detection capacity was not considered sensitive enough.

Currently, Professor Fauchet is working to advance research on silicon biosensors for the detection of viruses such as Ebola. Fauchet and his team are developing technology with increasing sensitivity, and the ability to concentrate affected Ebola viruses.

Professor Philippe Fauchet has been the Dean of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University since 2012. He has founded a successful startup, has over 400 publications, and is a Fellow of SPIE, OSA, IEEE, APS, and MRS.

Professor Fauchet concluded the 2014 Fall ECE Distinguished Lecture Series. The 2015 Spring ECE Distinguished Lecture Series will include Professor Ken Loparo (3/4), Professor Luke Lester (3/18), and Professor John Lach (4/1).

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CE Assistant Professor Densmore Joins the Ranks of IEEE Senior Members

November 7th, 2014 in Awards, Faculty, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE

By Gabriella McNevin

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME, Bioinformatics). Photo by Mike Pecci for Boston University Photography.

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME, Bioinformatics). Photo by Mike Pecci for Boston University Photography.

Douglas Densmore (ECE) was selected to be elevated to the grade of IEEE Senior Member, which is bestowed on those who have made significant contributions to the profession.

As a Senior Member, Densmore has the ability to hold executive IEEE positions and serve as a reference for other applicants for senior membership. To be eligible one must have shown significant performance in at least ten years in professional practice. Additionally, three references must be submitted on behalf of the applicant.

Densmore’s research is focused on bio-design automation.  He elaborated, “my work uses principles from computer engineering like abstraction, modularity, and standardization to design living systems. Computer software is going to be vital to not only store large amounts of biological material but also to implement algorithms for its specification, design, and assembly.”

Densmore is pleased to receive IEEE validation for interdisciplinary research.  “It is great that IEEE is realizing that those working in interdisciplinary fields have an important role to play in the organization and serve as ambassadors for IEEE.”

Douglas Densmore is an Affiliated Investigator in the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), an Affiliate Faculty Member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Bioinformatics faculty member. Densmore participated in the 2013 National Academy of Engineering (NAE) U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium and received a National Science Foundation CAREER award.

In regards to recognition received from Boston University’s internal programs, Densmore received a 2013 Ignition Award, 2013 College of Engineer Early Career Excellence Award, and was named 2012-2014 Hariri Institute Junior Faculty Fellow. A list of Densmore’s awards, research interest, and selected publications are available on the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering website.

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CISE Hosts International Symposium on Control of Network Systems

November 4th, 2014 in Faculty, Publications, Recognition, Research

Attendees Celebrate New IEEE Journal Edited by ENG’s Paschalidis

By Mark Dwortzan

Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE) describing a strategy to maximize battery lifetimes in wireless sensor networks at SCONES, held October 27-28 in the Photonics Center Colloquium Room (Photos by Dave Green)

Microbes are all around us—even inside us—and that’s a good thing. Left alone, these tiny organisms have a huge impact on everything from human health to wastewater treatment. But with a little engineering, they could do even more. In certain environments, their metabolic processes could be exploited to make biofuels, vaccines and other useful products and services. To tap their potential, Associate Professor Daniel Segrè (Biology, BME, Bioinformatics) and collaborators have developed mathematical models to predict the metabolic interactions that occur among different microbial species under varying environmental conditions, and to design new microbial networks with desired properties.

TCNS Editor-in-Chief Professor Yannis Paschalidis (ECE, SE, BME) (center) with MIT PhD student Andras Gyorgy (left) and another SCONES participant (right) during a poster session.

Segrè presented his research at the first Symposium on the Control of Network Systems (SCONES), held on October 27-28 in the Photonics Center Colloquium Room.

Sponsored by the IEEE Control Systems Society and the Center for Information and Systems Engineering at Boston University, SCONES celebrated the inaugural March 2014 issue of theIEEE Transactions on Control of Network Systems(TCNS), a new IEEE Transactions journal edited by Professor Yannis Paschalidis (ECE, BME, SE) focused on problems related to the control, design, study, engineering, optimization and emerging behavior of network systems.

“We live in a world that is extremely interconnected,” said Paschalidis, the journal’s editor-in-chief. “This is also true of systems, biological or manmade, that support our modern way of life. Networks, which both connect system components and influence how they function as a whole, are increasingly the focus of leading edge research, and this is the impetus forTCNS and SCONES.”

One author of each paper in the inaugural issue presented at the symposium, along with talks and posters from several other researchers in the field.
Representing major research institutions from around the world, SCONES presenters explored the analysis, control and optimization of electric power, computer, communication, transportation, biological, cyber-physical, social and economic networks. As if bringing the TCNS journal to life, the 23 featured speakers illustrated complex concepts with a flurry of equations, algorithms, graphs and diagrams.

“TCNS aspires to become the premiere destination for mathematically rigorous work in network systems,” said Magnus Egerstedt, an ECE Professor at Georgia Tech and the TCNS deputy editor-in-chief—and the SCONES presenters lived up to that promise.

In addition to Segrè, two other Boston University researchers shared highlights of papers they co-authored in the inaugural issue of TCNS on resource allocation and routing, the selection of optimal path by which to transmit information across the nodes of a network.

Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE) (second from right), who chaired the symposium’s first session on control and optimization of electric power networks, with University of Maryland Professor John Baras (ECE) (left), BU Systems Engineering PhD student Bowen Zhang (second from left) and California Institute of Technology Professor Steven Low (ECE) (right) during a break.

Professor Lev Levitin (ECE, SE) presented an alternative to wormhole routing, a widely used routing technique that’s prone to deadlock—multiple messages getting blocked by one another in a vicious cycle—under heavy computer network traffic. Levitin described a series of new, high-performance algorithms that he, Professor Mark Karpovsky (ECE) and ECE Visiting Researcher Mehmet Mustafa developed to break such cycles and prevent deadlock formation during routing and thus preserve network connectivity.

Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE) presented an optimal control strategy that he, Tao Wang (SE, PhD’13) and Sepideh Pourazarm (SE, PhD candidate) devised to maximize the lifetime of sensor batteries deployed at each node of a wireless sensor network for surveillance, environmental monitoring or other applications where human intervention may be inconvenient or costly.

“Because every node has limited energy, you have to worry about the battery dying and the network ceasing to function,” said Cassandras, “so you need to focus on battery lifetime.”

Modeling each battery as a dynamic system in which energy does not dissipate in a linear fashion, the strategy uses an algorithm to determine the routing scheme that will minimize that energy loss.

The symposium, which was well-attended and featured many fruitful exchanges between speakers and attendees, signified how well the TCNS journal has been received by the international research community, Paschalidis observed.

BU Systems Engineering PhD student Tingting Xu and ECE PhD student Theodora Brisimi during a poster session.

“In the first three TCNS issues published in 2014, we have seen papers covering many types of network systems, from networked control and multi-agent systems, to communication, transportation, electric power, biological and social networks,” he noted. “SCONES is playing a key role in coalescing a community of researchers around the journal.”