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.
Mike Kasparian (ECE ’12, MS ’13)
As many of us try to stick to our New Year’s resolution of going to the gym more, we often find ourselves looking toward apps and equipment that can help us keep track of our progress.
Jawbone and Nike Fuel Band are just some of the wearable products on the market that allow you to keep track of this data, but what if these devices could be more customizable?
That’s the idea behind Atlas, the company founded by Mike Kasparian (ECE ’12, MS ’13) and his preschool friend, Peter Li.
Atlas tracks and identifies exercises, counts reps, calculates burned calories, and evaluates form. It also displays workouts live and is compatible with many popular fitness apps such as MapMyFitness.
Said Kasparian: “It’s one thing to come up with a great idea that will disrupt a technology, but it’s another thing to formulate the idea into a business and develop it into something that will one day not only generate revenue but also be in the hands of consumers.”
Li initially came up with the idea and contacted Kasparian to help with the hardware. Techstars, a startup accelerator in Austin, provided them office space, funding, and mentorship.
It was not an easy decision for Kasparian, who had a stable position at Philips Healthcare, to leave his day job. However, he took the risk and now holds the position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the growing company.
The company gained funding through a campaign on indiegogo, a web platform that helps people raise money for new ideas and products. Atlas has surpassed its $125,000 fundraising goal, collecting over $450K.
Even though there is a lot of uncertainty associated with this venture, Kasparian feels that providing people with a personalized workout experience outweighs the risk.
Kasparian, who studied Electrical Engineering at Boston University, attributes the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering’s senior design course as having a significant impact on his career. He said, “It was really the first time I was able to fully apply all of the technical skills from my coursework toward a legitimate project.”
As his advisor, Professor Bakak Kia gave Kasparian invaluable help and guidance during senior design. Kia is very proud of Mike, saying, “To reach this level, where he is competing with some of the most innovative companies in this field, speaks volumes about Mike’s vision, ability, and the value of the education he has received at BU.”
While working on the project, MINSensory, for senior design, Kasparian said he learned the importance of both collaboration and taking feedback. He did both well, too, winning the top team prize, the P. T. Hsu Memorial Award for Outstanding Senior Design Project, and an individual honor, the Michael F. Ruane Award for Excellence in Senior Capstone Design.
Later, his M.S. research project involved designing the hardware platform that would be used in the Atlas wristband. Professor Ajay Joshi (ECE) was Kasparian’s academic and research advisor, and he advised him during the platform design process. Joshi believes “the fitness band market is just picking up” and said he hopes “the Atlas wristband becomes the preferred choice of most fitness enthusiasts.”
Kasparian continues to remain close to the department, serving as one of the judges for senior design last year and graduating with his M.S. in December.
- Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)
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)
Recognizing senior and junior faculty for major contributions to their fields and to society at large, the College of Engineering has bestowed its annual Distinguished Scholar Award on Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE), and its annual Early Career Excellence Award on Assistant Professor Xue Han (BME).
The Distinguished Scholar Award honors senior faculty members who have helped move their field and society forward through outstanding, high-impact research, and provides the recipient with a public forum to discuss his or her work before the Boston University academic community. The Early Career Research Excellence Award celebrates the significant, recent, high-impact research achievements of exemplary tenure-track faculty who are within 10 years of receiving their PhD.
In conjunction with his award, Cassandras will deliver a public lecture, “Complexity Made Simple (at a Small Price),” on March 19 at 4 p.m. in the Photonics Center Auditorium (room 206). Cassandras plans to highlight methods he’s developed to solve difficult problems by exploiting their specific structure, asking the “right” questions and challenging some conventional engineering approaches — and show how these methods have resulted in energy savings, enhanced security and other benefits.
Distinguished Scholar Award
The Distinguished Scholar Award recognizes Cassandras as “one of the pioneers of an emerging field, discrete event dynamical systems, that is used extensively in the modeling, analysis and design of dynamical systems in diverse applications such as manufacturing systems, communications, transportation networks and cyber-physical systems,” said Electrical and Computer Engineering Chair and Professor David Castañón.
“I am honored to be selected as the 2014 College of Engineering Distinguished Lecturer,” said Cassandras, who also specializes in hybrid systems, stochastic optimization and computer simulation. “I have always enjoyed research which involves new, relatively unexplored areas and unusual ways to tackle ‘real world’ problems, from contributing to the establishment of the field of discrete event dynamic systems to envisioning new ways to design and manage complex systems such as ‘smart cities.’”
A member of the BU faculty since 1996, head of the College’s Division of Systems Engineering and cofounder of BU’s Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE), Cassandras has published five books and more than 300 refereed papers. He was editor-in-chief of the IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control from 1998 through 2009, and the 2012 president of the IEEE Control Systems Society (CSS). He has chaired several technical conferences and served as plenary speaker at various international conferences, including the American Control Conference in 2001 and the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control in 2002, and Distinguished Lecturer for the CSS.
Cassandras’s numerous awards include a 2012 Kern Fellowship, a 2011 prize for the IBM/IEEE Smarter Planet Challenge competition, the 2011 IEEE Control Systems Technology Award, the Distinguished Member Award of the IEEE Control Systems Society (2006), the 1999 Harold Chestnut Prize (International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) Best Control Engineering Textbook) for Discrete Event Systems: Modeling and Performance Analysis, and a 1991 Lilly Fellowship. He is also a Fellow of the IEEE and IFAC.
Early Career Research Excellence Award
A member of the BU faculty since 2010, Han develops and applies high-precision genetic, molecular, optical and electrical tools and other nanotechnologies to study neural circuits in the brain. By using these novel neurotechnologies to control and monitor a selected population of brain cells, she and her research team seek to identify connections between neural circuit dynamics and behavioral pathologies. Establishing such connections could improve our understanding of neurological and psychiatric diseases, and lead to new treatments.
In recognition of her innovative research on developing novel neurotechnologies using light sensitive nanoparticles to sense neurons’ cellular environment and to deliver drugs directly to the brain, Han was named by President Obama in January as one of 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the US government on science and engineering researchers in the early stages of their careers. Han has also received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award and recognition as a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, Sloan Research Fellow and Peter Paul Fellow.
“We are delighted that the College of Engineering has chosen to celebrate Xue’s remarkable achievements with this award, and I can think of no one more deserving,” said Professor Sol Eisenberg, who heads the BME Department.
When a bug in Pentium processors was discovered that gave rise to incorrect solutions of scientific and mathematical calculations, the company was forced to take action. The result? Public outcry and the loss of $475 million worth of earnings.
It’s been almost two decades since the Pentium FDIV bug made headlines, but its discovery led to a new research thrust in computer science and engineering – one that Professor Sharad Malik, Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Princeton University, knows quite well.
“It’s an instance of how real practical concerns have driven solutions to real, fundamental problems,” said Malik.
The incident brought the examination of Boolean Satisfiability or SAT, the challenge of determining if a logic formula will ever evaluate to true, to the forefront. In proving the correctness, this problem has a direct application to hardware and software and more specifically, avoiding costly bugs. SAT was already well known in computer science, but theoretical analysis deemed it to be too difficult to be applied in practice.
Malik is one of the nation’s experts on the topic, and his group has made several critical contributions to the field of SAT solvers that are now widely used in practice. On January 29, he visited Boston University to share his findings during the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering Distinguished Lecture Series, which brings groundbreaking engineers to campus.
Currently, there is a strong motivation to discover useful SAT solvers thanks to all of the potential practical uses, such as in applications in artificial intelligence, circuit synthesis, and malware analysis.
“It’s already very widely used in hardware verification and we’re seeing an increasing use of the theory in software verification,” added Malik.
Though the SAT problem may be relatively unknown outside computer science and engineering, a very active community of researchers exists and can be found sharing their research and questions on the website, SAT Live!
Malik notes that the biggest change he’s noticed with SAT studies over the years is a revolution in how the topic is approached.
“There has been a significant shift from theoretical interest in SAT to how it can have a practical impact,” he said. What was once considered practically impossible due to its theoretical hardness is now within reach thanks to challenge-driven algorithmic and experimental research.
Malik’s talk was the first in the three-part Spring 2014 Distinguished Lecture Series. The next talk features Professor C. V. Hollot of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who will speak on the topic, “Regulation of Cell Populations in Individuals Using Feedback-Based Drug-Dosing Protocols.” Hear him on March 5, 2014, at 4 p.m. in Room 211 of the Photonics Center, located at 8 Saint Mary’s St.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Imagine two hiring managers sizing up an applicant. The first gathers all the information she can before forming a first impression. The second collects the bare minimum but does so strategically, arriving at virtually the same impression with far less effort and in far less time.
It turns out that the latter approach can be taken to produce reasonably accurate photos of objects under low lighting conditions using a remote sensing technology such as LIDAR, which bounces pulsed laser light off of a targeted object to form an image. Rather than waiting to collect and compare hundreds of reflected photons to generate each pixel of the image, as is typically done, you can instead count the number of laser pulses it takes to detect the first photon at each pixel. The lower the number, the greater the intensity of the light reflected off the object’s surface — and thus, the brighter the pixel.
Assistant Professor Vivek Goyal (ECE), who joined the College of Engineering faculty in January, and who, along with former colleagues at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, demonstrated the concept in a recent issue of the journal Science, calls his method “first-photon imaging.”
“The project started out as a thought experiment,” said Goyal, whose research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Information in a Photon Program, and the National Science Foundation. “We wondered what we could infer about a scene from detecting only one photon from each pixel location, and eventually realized that when the intensity of light is very low, the amount of time until you detect the photon gives you information about the intensity of the light at each pixel.”
First-photon imaging may ultimately improve night vision and low-light remote sensing technologies by extending the distance at which images may be taken. The new method may also dramatically increase the speed of biological imaging and the variety of samples — many of which degrade when subjected to higher-intensity lighting — that can be photographed.
To produce a high-quality image from the raw, single-photon-per-pixel data, Goyal’s method applies a computer model of surfaces and edges typically encountered in three-dimensional, real-world objects, correcting the intensity and depth of neighboring pixels as needed to fit the model; and filters out noise coming from ambient light sources.
While many researchers are pursuing new techniques to boost remote sensing and microscopy capabilities, most focus on building more effective detectors. Goyal is working to significantly enhance existing detectors by incorporating accurate physical models in signal processing, and to further explore the potential impact of first-photon imaging on remote sensing and microscopy.
After the Boston Marathon bombings last year, it took authorities just three days to sift through an abundance of footage and find their suspects – light speed compared to the weeks it took to find those responsible for the London bombings in 2005.
Still, can this happen faster? Professor Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE) thinks so, and he’s working to making that vision a reality.
The Office of Naval Research awarded him $900K for his project, Video Search and Retrieval, which will focus on developing a visual search system. Think Google but for security videos.
“Our initial idea was to develop a system that could annotate web videos,” said Saligrama, who collaborated with Pierre-Marc Jodoin at the University of Sherbrooke on early stages of this research. “That project turned out to be extremely challenging so we started to focus on surveillance videos, where the footage is obtained in a controlled environment.”
Manually searching large archives of footage can be both time-consuming and monotonous. Saligrama and Ph.D. students, Greg Castanon (ECE) and Yuting Chen (SE), are now working closely with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to help change this.
Chen said she is looking forward to working on this project with Saligrama, who she first encountered while conducting her own research.
“I spent almost a year and a half working on an idea that employs correlating motion clues to calibrating camera networks,” she said. “When I came to BU Systems Engineering and browsed the research papers, I found the exact idea implemented by Venkatesh’s group. I was surprised and just a little bit bitter.”
From there, she knew that she wanted to study with Saligrama.
“He is an experienced researcher and just as passionate and curious as a young freshman,” she said. “I find that one sentence from him can help me through a problem that’s been troubling me for weeks.”
Chen, Castanon and Saligrama hope that together, they can make the process of searching through security footage more automated and responsive to user query video searches.
“Currently, for many YouTube videos, there are textual meta-tags that are used in the search process,” Saligrama explained. “For surveillance videos, we do not often have this so our searches need to be based purely on visual features and patterns.”
One of the challenges in video search is that activity patterns can be highly inconsistent and can occur for unpredictable amounts of time.
“Unlike image search though, videos have some temporal patterns we can exploit,” said Saligrama.
In the future, Saligrama hopes that the research will not only improve security but improve medical database searches as well.
For more information about the project, visit our Research Spotlight page.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)