Category: Students

ECE Technology Helping People With Disabilities

December 3rd, 2014 in Graduate Programs, Graduate Student Opportunities, News-CE, Recognition, Research-CE, Students, Video

While Interning at Intel, a BU CE Student Caught Stephen Hawking’s Attention

By Gabriella McNevin and Donald Rock (COM ’17)

Anish Shah was hired to be 2014 Intel intern. Shah is working towards a Master of Engineering Degree and specializing  in computer  engineering.

CE MEng student Anish Shah working at an Intel Lab

The wheelchair and the man are suited for this situation. The man and his chair are connected to devices that transmit information through the Internet to the man’s health care provider. The caretaker is alarmed to see the chair’s abnormal degree of orientation, the acceleration, and the man’s rapid heartbeat. The health care provider jumps into action and rushes to the man’s aid.

Although the story above is fictitious, the technology is not. Anish Shah, a Boston University electrical and computer engineering graduate student, developed the novel technology with a team of Intel interns. For twelve weeks Shah was focused on creating a practical gateway device to improve the wheelchair experience and benefit health care monitoring.

The team linked the wheelchair to the “Internet of Things” by developing technology that attaches to the chair and to the user to collect and send information. The technology monitors fluctuating data and transmits it to a second party by route of an Internet application. The story above illustrates how the technology can be used to help caretakers respond in emergency situations.

Shah and his team started the design thinking process with a 3-4 week research period. The team discovered a huge variation in the needs of wheelchair users due to varying mobility and health restraints of each individual. To answer the range in needs, the team created technology that measured and sent information to Internet applications. The applications were designed for different health and wellbeing needs.

The technology integrated a bio-harness able to track bio data of the wheelchair user. It was programmed to track a range of body measurements like heart rate, skin temperature, and the orientation of whoever sits in the wheelchair. The harness was a tool with a number of applications when it was connected to the Internet. The technology can connect to Internet applications specifically designed to allow health care providers to respond to emergency situations. The technology can also be connected to applications designed to improve how long-term internal vitals were monitored.

Another feature of the gateway device was mechanical data monitoring. Here, the orientation of the chair, rather than the orientation of the user was observed. This capability can be applied to identify mechanical usage patterns and anomalies.

The wheelchair’s battery was also connected to the internet-of-things to answer questions like, “Will the chair battery die tomorrow?” and “is the chair consuming an irregular amount of energy?

Lastly, a geo-location monitor was enabled to benefit user navigation of urban areas. With this technology, wheelchair users could find wheelchair accessible venues and thus improve their future transportation preparations.

Shah and his team tested the technology during a two-week trial period. They collected data and feedback and found highly positive results.

Stephen Hawking, world-renowned theoretical physicist and user of wheelchairs, publicly lauded the technological advancement. In a video response, Hawking applauded the design for it’s potential to change lives. “Medicine can’t cure me so I rely on technology,” noted Hawking. “It lets me interface with the world. It propels me. It is how I’m speaking to you now. It is necessary for me to live.”

Shah started the Intel internship one year into the Master of Engineering program at Boston University. He arrived at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with an interest in embedded systems in 2013, and successfully applied the knowledge to create a device that received press coverage around the world. Now, he is working under Professor Thomas Little in the NSF Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at Boston University.

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Downtyme Wins Beantown Throwdown Business Competition

November 24th, 2014 in Awards, Recognition, Students

Startup Founded by CE Juniors Wows Innovation District Audience 

By Mark Dwortzan

Downtyme_Beantown_WEB_READY

Downtyme team members Barron Roth (ENG’16), Luke Sorenson (ENG’16), John Moore (ENG’15), Nick Sorensen (SMG’14), Darryl Johnson (ENG’17), Ben Pusey (CAS’16) and Tufts University senior Nikki Dahan placed first in the Beantown Throwdown. The team’s trophy will be etched with their names and passed on to winners of future competitions. (Photo by Sonia Su COM’15)

Downtyme, a startup co-founded by Barron Roth and Luke Sorenson (both CE ’16) based on their final project in ENG EC 327, Introduction to Software Engineering, won the second annual Beantown Throwdown entrepreneurial business pitch competition. Held on November 18 at Boston’s District Hall before a sellout audience of more than 200 and organized by the MIT Enterprise Forum, the competition featured three-minute pitches from local college student entrepreneurs. Edging out teams from Harvard, MIT, Northeastern and five other Boston-area colleges and universities vying for votes from a sellout audience of more than 400 students, sponsors and investors, Downtyme received more than $20,000 in in-kind legal and marketing services, mentoring and office space.

Roth gave the pitch for Downtyme, representing a cross-functional team that includes Sorenson, John Moore (CE ’15), Nick Sorensen (SMG ’14), Darryl Johnson (CE ’17), Ben Pusey (CAS ’16) and Tufts University senior Nikki Dahan. The Downtyme app enables users to meet up with other users who are available and nearby. Users identify their friends by linking the app to their Facebook account and indicate their availability by entering or importing their calendars. To bring up a list of nearby Facebook friends, they may either press “Now” or “Later,” depending on when they want to get together. Launched in beta mode last March, a full version of the app will be released in January.

After a panel discussion on entrepreneurship moderated by Boston Globe Innovation Economy columnist Scott Kirsner, representatives from each team were given three minutes to pitch their startups and one minute to field questions from the panelists. Afterwards, audience members received $3 million in fake cash to “invest” in one or more of the startups. After all pitches were completed, attendees were invited to “invest” in their top three picks with the $3 million in play money they received upon arrival. Downtyme emerged with $68 million, $2.5 million more than the closest competitor.

“My competitors encompassed such a wide variety of industries, from biotech to advertising startups. It was really a tossup as to who would walk away with the trophy,” said Roth, who was subsequently featured in Foley Hoag’s 2014 MVPs of Boston Tech event, a panel discussion among finalists from Boston-area business competitions. “We’re confident this win is more validation that our product is something people want, even beyond the student spectrum. Many attendees came up to me after the pitch requesting an enterprise version, and it’s certainly something my team is considering.”

The second place winner, Nonspec, is a University of Massachusetts-Lowell startup seeking to produce low-cost, long-lasting prosthetic devices for resource-limited countries. Placing third was Gentoo Inc., a Wentworth Institute of Technology startup that’s developed a vest to simplify outpatient treatment involving intravenous medicines.

“Downtyme’s presentation was engaging and compelling, addressing a problem that many of the students and young professionals in the audience recognized,” said Ian Mashiter, Boston University director of Entrepreneurship Activities and lecturer in the School of Management. “Downtyme is the first app that uses mobile devices as a way of facilitating face to face interaction rather than substituting for it.”

Downtyme earned its opportunity to enter the competition by placing first in an earlier competition for Boston University startups hosted by the BUzz Lab, BU’s new student center for entrepreneurship that Mashiter runs.

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Electrical Engineering Student Marissa Petersile Wins IEEE Power & Energy Society Scholarship

November 18th, 2014 in Awards, Recognition, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

By Donald Rock (COM 17)

Marissa Petersile (EE '15)

Marissa Petersile (EE ’15)

Marissa Petersile (EE ’15) is among a small percentage of students to be recognized by the IEEE Power and Energy Society (PES) Scholarship Plus Initiative™. PES is the world’s largest forum for technological developments in the electric power industry.

The scholarship program recognizes undergraduate electrical engineering students. To receive the award, applicants must demonstrate high academic achievement, strong GPAs, distinctive accomplishments in extracurricular activities, and commitment to exploring the power and energy field. The scholarship is listed at $2,000 and recipients are able to receive funding for up to 3 years.

“I was motivated to apply when I recognized that many of the goals described for IEEE PES scholars aligned with my own,” Petersile elaborated. “I am interested in a career in the power and energy field, and I am hoping to make a positive impact on the role of clean energy sources on the grid.”

Petersile spent the past year conducting research in the Applied Electromagnetics Lab at BU. She worked on a team that addressed the buildup of dust and sand on large-scale solar panel arrays in arid, desert regions. Although there is ample sunlight in those regions, the collection of dust on the solar panels can trigger major efficiency losses. Petersile worked on a custom power system for self-cleaning electrodynamic screens that induce electrical waves across the surface of solar panels, cleaning them off in a fast, lower-power way. This research received international press coverage and was featured in esteemed publications like The New York Times.

Currently, Petersile is working on her team Senior Design Project entitled, “Smart Grid Test Facility.” She is designing an educational tool for undergraduate students that research power electronics and grid networks. The grid test she is developing would allow students to connect designed loads and generators to a small-scale grid to examine how the grid reacts to their designs.

Petersile’s resume boasts well-rounded experiences from around the university. She serves as a Dean’s Host for BU’s College of Arts and Sciences where she welcomes high school students to Boston University at Open House events, meets with distinguished alumni of the university, and conducts information sessions for prospective students at the undergraduate admissions office. Additionally, she serves as a tutor at the engineering tutoring center. She also runs half marathons and triathlons in her free time.

“I truly appreciate this scholarship award, not just because it will financially assist my college tuition, but because it makes me feel supported by IEEE PES—a group of motivated, distinguished, and hardworking engineers and scientists,” Marissa explained. “This support encourages me to continue my efforts in clean energy technologies and power grid improvements. I am so thrilled to be a member of this inspiring group, and I’m proud to say that this scholarship will not only help me financially, but also academically, career-wise, and beyond.”

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ENG Students Represent SE & CISE at Women in Computing Conference

October 24th, 2014 in Graduate Students, Students

Theodora Brisimi, Yasaman Khazaeni, and Sepideh Pourazarm represented the Division of Systems Engineering (SE) and Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE) at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) Of Women In Computing Conference on October 8-10, 2014, in Phoenix, AZ. These women had the opportunity to network, increased visibility in their respective disciplines, engaged in discourse with other professionals, and more importantly, learned and were inspired by prominent women who transform the course of technology. SE and CISE encourage talented individuals by organizing events and workshops to support their research and by sponsoring their participation in conferences such as GHC.

Theodora Brisimi, an Electrical and Computer Engineering PhD student, whose advisor is Professor Ioannis Paschalidis, presented a poster, “Modeling and Prediction of Heart-Related Hospitalization Using Electronic Health Records” at the conference this year. “I want to better the world by improving the incorporation of data analytics in city and societal general projects”, said Theodora, which is indicative of where her interests lie in the development and application of new techniques in machine learning, optimization, and decision theory. “CISE has been a great source of information and an excellent opportunity to meet with other researchers. CISE seminars, along with the Women’s Networking Forum and CISE Student Presentation Practice Sessions, have helped me develop my presentation and professional development skills”.

Yasaman Khazaeni, an SE PhD student working with Professor Christos Cassandras, attended the GHC because she anticipated meeting “the women who have made it to the top tier of engineering and computer science field which has been historically dominated by men. I believe I can learn a lot from their experience and achievements”. Yasaman’s work focuses on the development of algorithms and optimization problems that can be utilized in many real world problems such as disaster evacuation, and resource allocation.

Sepideh Pourazarm, an SE PhD student who also works under the guidance of Professor Cassandras, is currently working in the CODES lab developing an optimal control approach to solve the routing problem in sensor networks and electric vehicles with energy constraints. She believes that CISE has contributed to her education especially with “the weekly seminars, which explore different areas of engineering from diverse majors and schools as well as with the BU Scholars Day.” She attended this conference primarily to network and meet the professional women who have contributed to the advancement of technology.

In 1994, Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney co-founded this conference with the vision of bringing women technologists together to celebrate achievements, discuss career interests, and present research. Two decades later, attendees exceed 4,500 participants from 53 countries, 1,900 students from 400 academic institutions, and 2,850 industry professionals. GHC is notably the world’s largest conference for women in technology.

The Grace Hopper Celebration incorporates career sessions with technical sessions, including proposal presentations, mentoring workshops, papers, a PhD forum, panel discussions, and a Poster Session. Conference keynote speakers and presenters were leaders in their respective discipline from academia, government and industry such as DARPA and Microsoft.

Some of this year’s presenters included:

Shafi Goldwasser – keynote speaker – (RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, winner of the 2012 ACM Turing Award), Maria Klawe (President, Harvey Mudd College), Satya Nadella (CEO Microsoft), and Dr. Arati Prabhakar (Director of DARPA).

Full list of speakers: (http://gracehopper.org/speakers-honorees/speakers/)

Full program: (http://gracehopper.org/2014-program/)

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Science Gets a Front Door on Comm Ave

October 22nd, 2014 in Faculty, Recognition, Students, Undergraduate Students

Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering will bridge disciplines

By Barbara Moran and Sara Rimer, BU Research

This story was originally published on the BU Research website.

CILSE will contain lab space for approximately 160 researchers, postdoctoral students, and staff, 270 graduate students and additional space for future faculty.

CILSE will contain lab space for approximately 160 researchers, postdoctoral students, and staff, 270 graduate students and additional space for future faculty.

For decades, some of the most exciting research at Boston University has been unfolding in a row of buildings hidden on Cummington Mall, designed originally for making carriages instead of studying the life sciences.

Now University President Robert A. Brown is giving science a more prominent address on the University’s main thoroughfare. In late May or early summer 2015, at what is now a parking lot at 610 Commonwealth Avenue, BU will break ground for its new Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering (CILSE), a $140 million, state-of-the-art, nine-story research facility that will bring together life scientists, engineers, and physicians from the Medical and Charles River Campuses. The building will be dedicated to systems neuroscience, cognitive neuroimaging, and biological design. With shared, flexible lab spaces, meeting rooms, and other common areas, it is being designed to encourage the kind of collaborative, interdisciplinary research that will be the hallmark of 21st-century science.

“Today, many of the outstanding challenges in science lie at the boundaries between traditional disciplines or the unchartered spaces between them,” says Brown. These unchartered spaces will be explored at CILSE, a place he says will foster “major interdisciplinary research efforts led by faculty from many departments and schools, but with common interests.”

Professor Barbara Shinn-Cunningham (BME). Photo by Vernon Doucette

Professor Barbara Shinn-Cunningham (BME). Photo by Vernon Doucette

CILSE will be built adjacent to historic Morse Auditorium and is expected to be finished in late 2016 or early 2017. It will contain lab space for approximately 160 researchers, postdoctoral students, and staff, 270 graduate students, and additional space for future faculty. The architects are from Payette, a Boston firm that has built prizewinning science buildings for major research universities and other institutions around the world.

The 170,000-square-foot building will house the Center for Systems Neuroscience, the Biological Design Center, the Center for Sensory Communication and Neuroengineering Technology, and the Cognitive Neuroimaging Center, with a 3 Tesla fMRI—a fundamental tool for studying the brain’s trillions of neural connections and how they relate to human behavior. The imaging technology will serve faculty from schools and departments across BU’s sprawling neuroscience community—and from other universities around Boston—who study brain topics from how we learn, think, and remember to traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease.

“In the life sciences and engineering, we have world-class faculty. We need facilities to match,” says Gloria Waters, vice president and associate provost for research. “We decided to invest in better lab space that would bring faculty together in a very unique and interdisciplinary environment.”

The new Center for Sensory Communication and Neuroengineering Technology will be directed by Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, and will bring together neuroscientists and sensory physiologists who study hearing, speech, and language, as well as mathematicians who investigate neural coding. The center will connect scientists in these areas to enhance technological innovation and develop technologies such as neural prosthetics and brain-computer interfaces.

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME, Bioinformatics). Photo by Jessica Scranton

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME, Bioinformatics). Photo by Jessica Scranton

Chantal Stern, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of psychological and brain sciences and the director of the Brain, Behavior and Cognition program, will direct the Cognitive Neuroimaging Center. She says the building—and especially the new imaging technology—signals the administration’s commitment to first-class research at BU.

The University boasts one of the nation’s largest clusters of researchers in the emerging fields of systems neuroscience, which examines brain function at the cellular, molecular, and cognitive levels, and biological design, which seeks to build new biological systems with the tools and techniques of engineering. These interdisciplinary fields tackle some of the thorniest problems in science and medicine, like the detection and treatment of infectious diseases, treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, how memory works, and the root causes of autism. These problems draw researchers from diverse fields who are currently spread across both campuses.

“One of the great things about BU is that we have spectacular faculty from many different disciplines,” says Waters. “This building will allow us to bring them together in ways that wouldn’t happen if they occupied space in their individual school or college. By placing new groups in proximity to one another, we are hoping to develop collaborations that would not happen otherwise, and ultimately some unique areas of excellence.”

Like many scientists working across disciplines, Douglas Densmore, an ENG assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of biomedical engineering and a primary investigator in the young field of biological design, has multiple offices and students scattered in buildings across campus. CILSE will allow him to gather his various research projects, and his students, under one roof. “I want students to be able to see each other,” says Densmore. “It will be great to be in a welcoming environment that facilitates collaboration.”

Ask other researchers what tops their wish list for the new building and many of them echo Densmore. Their number-one priority is simple: finally having a place to bring their colleagues together.

“You find neuroscientists and people who define themselves as neuroscientists on both campuses—in psychological and brain sciences, biomedical engineering, biology, at Sargent College, in mathematics, physics, radiology, psychiatry, anatomy, neurobiology, pharmacology—and they’re all in different buildings,” Stern says. She is looking forward to the collaborative projects these researchers might be inspired to undertake once they’re under the same roof.

So how do you encourage biologists to talk to engineers? One way to do that, says principal architect Charles Klee, is by creating lab spaces large enough—the plan for CILSE is 17,000 to 20,000 square feet per research floor—to put two or three principal investigators on each floor. “With people in the same space, you can say, ‘I’m having a problem with my protein sequencer; have you ever seen this?’ Another person can answer, ‘Sure—someone over here can help you with that,’” says Klee.

Scientists from different disciplines may also share lab space on the same floor in some instances. In addition to the abundance of other common spaces, there will be kitchenettes on each research floor and—one of Klee’s favorite ideas for promoting serendipitous, cross-disciplinary encounters—an inviting, open stairway connecting the kitchenettes.

“We understand you’ll talk to someone when you have to,” says Klee. “What we’re looking for is the chance discussion that happens just because you bump into someone. It jars something loose in your mind, causes you to think about something in a new way—that’s very much what this kind of a building is trying to do.”

As science has evolved, so has the design of science buildings. “When I was beginning my career, most buildings were designed to function within single disciplines,” says Brown. “I have seen this change dramatically over the last two decades. Now, almost all universities are focused on allocating quality space to strategically important interdisciplinary research.”

“Whenever they ask if we want a wall or not, we say no wall,” says Densmore. “You need this flexibility or you’re going to paint yourself into a corner.” Densmore imagines a futuristic lab space for his work in biological design, with multiple microfluidic devices, 3-D printers creating custom equipment, and RFID-enabled name tags to track students’ experiments. “When people walk in, they’ll say, ‘Something different is going on here,’” he says.

Other scientists have different ambitions for the building, especially for the Cognitive Neuroimaging Center. “We want to have room to put in an exercise bike, in case we want to study exercise and the brain,” says Tyler Perrachione, a Sargent College assistant professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences and a Peter Paul Career Development Professor. “Or beds, so we can study sleep and the brain. We’ll have the ability to study the biology of the brain in action.”

Perrachione, who plans to use the Cognitive Neuroimaging Center primarily for pediatric imaging, has been working with the architect to make sure it will be welcoming for children. “It turns out when you set up a center that’s friendly for kids,” he says, “it’s friendly for adults, too.”

Perrachione notes that the neuroimaging facility will also include a “mock scanner” (“kind of like a scanner play set,” he says) that will allow special populations—children, people with autism or anxiety, the elderly—to become familiar with the MRI before entering the actual scanner.

Another critically important feature for neuroscientists at CILSE will be the sophisticated testing rooms that will minimize vibrations and shield experiments from electrical noise and electromagnetic interference. These factors can hinder research, whether it involves interviewing human subjects or the painstaking work of recording signals from individual neurons. Some of the lab space will have special floors that minimize everyday vibrations—from, say, footsteps—that could get in the way of research.

“It’s very different than setting up an office building—it’s not just a computer and desk,” says Michael Hasselmo, director of the Center for Systems Neuroscience and a CAS professor of psychological and brain sciences. “A person walking past your lab can ruin your whole experiment.”

When it comes to the exterior, says Klee, the new science building will be “airy, transparent, beautiful.” He says his team is mindful that CILSE should not overshadow iconic Morse Auditorium, which is eligible for historic landmark status. “This will be a quiet building,” he says. “It won’t shout.”

And that, the architect says, seems to suit the researchers. They just want to get inside and do their work. “Research is much more than a job; it’s not a 9-to-5 activity,” he says.

“There’s this kind of passion. They want a facility that will let them do what they want to do. Come hell or high water, it has to function.”

Brown has emphasized that the research inside the building be reflected in its exterior, says Klee. Just as EPIC (the new Engineering Product Innovation Center on Commonwealth Avenue) allows the public to see the hands-on nature of engineering, CILSE’s glass-walled exterior will provide a window onto basic science research at BU.

“This is not a building that wants to be ashamed that it’s a research building,” Klee says. “You’ll be able to see the exhaust fans on the roof, for example. It’s transparent. You can see life in it. A lot of buildings are opaque—you have no idea whether it’s a dorm, an office building, or a bank. We’re giving science a front door on Commonwealth Avenue.”

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New Grants from BU’s Digital Learning Initiative

October 20th, 2014 in Courses, Students

Funds assessment tool, secure communications portal, blended computer courses

By Rich Barlow, BU Today

BU faculty members Eric Braude (from left), Thomas Little, and Jacey Greece will develop educational technologies with grants from the Digital Learning Initiative. Braude photo by Vernon Doucette. Little photo courtesy of the Center for Information & Systems Engineering. Greece photo courtesy of the School of Public Health

BU faculty members Eric Braude (from left), Thomas Little, and Jacey Greece will develop educational technologies with grants from the Digital Learning Initiative. Braude photo by Vernon Doucette. Little photo courtesy of the Center for Information & Systems Engineering. Greece photo courtesy of the School of Public Health

BU faculty members Eric Braude (from left), Thomas Little, and Jacey Greece will develop educational technologies with grants from the Digital Learning Initiative. Braude photo by Vernon Doucette. Little photo courtesy of the Center for Information & Systems Engineering. Greece photo courtesy of the School of Public Health

MOOCs (massive open online courses) use online technology to reach students who are far from the classroom. Could technology help instructors do some test grading as well? That question punched Eric Braude’s ticket for the latest round of EdTech Seed Grants from BU’s Digital Learning Initiative (DLI).

Braude, a Metropolitan College associate professor of computer science, is designing his Knowla (“knowledge assembly”) system and already has a prototype. Knowla would allow students to respond to test questions in forms that could be automatically graded, he says. Knowla first would dissect test material, be it a speech, poem, essay, or computer program, into fragments according to the instructor’s specifications. The student would view the randomly ordered fragments. “A drag-and-drop interface will allow students to rearrange the fragments and inspect the evolving result,” Braude says. Knowla would score the student based on how well she reconstructs the fragments to match the original document.

Two other proposals, from the School of Public Health and the College of Engineering, won EdTech grants from the DLI, the faculty-led group that develops BU’s MOOCs and awards the grants, which pay for faculty and staff innovations in educational technology. This was the second round of EdTech grants, following inaugural awards earlier this year.

The DLI is seeking proposals for its next round of grants and will hold informational meetings about that process on October 20, 21, and 22 at the Hariri Institue. Information about DLI’s call for proposals is also on its website.

In addition to Braude, two other faculty members received grants in this latest round:

Jacey Greece, a SPH clinical assistant professor, is designing an online portal, the Community Link, for courses that involve collaboration with community service agencies. The portal would allow secure communications between the various parties, regardless of their location or schedule, says Greece. “For example,” she says, “students may be developing a program to address low usage of sexual reproductive services in male high school students for a community-based health center in western Massachusetts. The platform will allow the BU students and the center to engage remotely throughout the semester,” sharing ideas, information, and student assignments.

While several existing SPH courses link students with community agencies, the Community Link would allow more such collaborations while ensuring that student projects “are well-informed, innovative, and evidence-based, and meet the scope of work” requested by the agency, Greece says, adding that the technology could be used by other University schools.

Thomas Little, an ENG professor of electrical & computer engineering and systems engineering who serves as the College’s associate dean for educational initiatives, hopes to reboot two core sophomore courses—Circuits and Introduction to Computing—as “blended” courses involving both online instruction and in-class time with professors. The idea would be to move “the lecture component to online video and allow more in-class time [to be] spent on the application of learned concepts,” he says.

“The potential for impact on our residential experience makes this a very interesting endeavor,” he says. “If we can be successful in transforming our large, core courses, we will affect more than 600 students per year.”

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CISE Graduate Students at “Women in Computing Conference”

October 2nd, 2014 in Events, Recognition, Research, Students

By Christina Polyzos

Theodora Brisimi, Yasaman Khazaeni, and Sepideh Pourazarm will represent the Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE) at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) Of Women In Computing Conference on October 8-10, 2014, in Phoenix, AZ. These women will have the opportunity to network, increase visibility in their respective disciplines, engage in discourse with other professionals, and more importantly, learn and be inspired by prominent women who transform the course of technology. CISE encourages and embraces talented individuals by organizing events and workshops to support their research and by sponsoring their participation in conferences such as GHC.

Theodora, whose advisor is Professor Ioannis Paschalidis, will be presenting a poster, “Modeling and Prediction of Heart-Related Hospitalization Using Electronic Health Records” at the conference this year. “I want to better the world by improving the incorporation of data analytics in city and societal general projects,” said Theodora, which is indicative of where her interests lie in the development and application of new techniques in machine learning, optimization, and decision theory. “CISE has been a great source of information and an excellent opportunity to meet with other researchers. Attending CISE seminars, along with CISE’s Women’s Networking Forum and Student Presentation Practice Sessions, has helped me develop my presentation and professional development skills”.

Yasaman, a CISE student working with Professor Christos Cassandras, will be attending the GHC because she anticipates meeting “the women who have made it to the top tier of engineering and computer science field which has been historically dominated by men. I believe I can learn a lot from their experience and achievements”. Yasaman’s work focuses on the development of algorithms and optimization problems that can be utilized in many real world problems such as disaster evacuation and resource allocation.

Sepideh, who also works under the guidance of Professor Cassandras, is currently working in the CODES lab developing an optimal control approach to solve the routing problem in sensor networks and electric vehicles with energy constraints. She believes that CISE has contributed to her education especially with “the weekly seminars, which explore different areas of engineering from diverse majors and schools as well as with the BU Scholars Day.” She will be attending this conference primarily to network and meet the professional women who have contributed to the advancement of technology.

In 1994, Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney co-founded this conference with the vision of bringing women technologists together to celebrate achievements, discuss career interests, and present research. Two decades later, attendees exceed 4,500 participants from 53 countries, 1,900 students from 400 academic institutions, and 2,850 industry professionals. GHC is notably the world’s largest conference for women in technology.

The Grace Hopper Celebration incorporates career sessions with technical sessions, including proposal presentations, mentoring workshops, papers, a PhD forum, panel discussions, and a Poster Session. Conference keynote speakers and presenters are leaders in their respective discipline from academia, government and industry such as DARPA and Microsoft.

This year’s presenters include:

  • Shafi Goldwasser – keynote speaker – (RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, winner of the 2012 ACM Turing Award),
  • Maria Klawe (President, Harvey Mudd College)
  • Satya Nadella (CEO Microsoft),
  • Dr. Arati Prabhakar (Director of DARPA).

Full list of speakers at Grace Hopper Celebration.  Event Program

Reimagining Engineering Education

August 6th, 2014 in Courses, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities

How ENG is Transforming the Classroom through Digital Learning Technology

By Mark Dwortzan

Active learning in EK301, Engineering Mechanics

Active learning in EK301, Engineering Mechanics

You’ve seen it before: a single faculty member on stage delivering a lecture to row after row of students dutifully taking notes, with little or no interaction between the lecturer and the note takers. It’s been the model for science and engineering education for more than a century, but a new paradigm is emerging that turns this model on its head, all while improving student outcomes: the flipped classroom.

Screenshot of online course video from EK 127, Introduction to Engineering Computation

Screenshot of online course video from EK 127, Introduction to Engineering Computation

In the flipped classroom, students view lectures online while at home, and spend classroom time applying what they learned both individually and in small group exercises. Collaborating with their peers at round tables in a revamped “learning studio” and guided by the faculty member and a team of teaching assistants moving from table to table, they solve problems that reflect the scope of the lecture material. And the difficulty: some problems are chosen based on trouble spots identified via mandatory quizzes that accompany the online lectures to assess student comprehension.

This is where engineering education is heading, and Boston University, which launched its Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) last year to spearhead innovative projects in online learning at all of its schools and colleges, is fully on board. The DLI recently awarded $80,000 to fund a College of Engineering proposal to enhance two core undergraduate engineering courses, EK127 (Introduction to Engineering Computation) and EK307 (Electric Circuits), with a suite of classroom-flipping, studio-based educational technologies and techniques. Lessons learned from this pilot program could be used to upgrade the learning experience in other engineering courses.

Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), the College of Engineering’s associate dean for Educational Initiatives, sees these pilot projects as part of a broader College-wide effort to use digital learning technologies—from tablets to Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)—to bring engineering education into the 21st century.

“Inspired by the success of these technologies in other disciplines and energized by the support and training that the DLI is providing, we are developing new ways to improve what’s important to the student: learning; retention; and career preparation,” said Little.

In both EK127 and EK307, instructors and teaching assistants funded by the DLI grant will develop course content using edX, a non-profit online platform that offers interactive online classes and MOOCs—not as a vehicle to reach large numbers of students via the Internet, but as a tool to boost active learning in the classroom. For each class meeting, they will record a video on the material students need to learn for that class, make it accessible through the edX platform, use edX assessment tools to set up online quizzes, and design active learning exercises.

The instructor for EK127, 2014 Metcalf Cup and Prize winner and Assistant Professor Stormy Attaway (ME), has been gradually flipping the course over the last three years. With the new funding—and support by “course builders” such as Declan Bowman (BME’15), one of the first students in the College’s STEM Educator-Engineer Program (STEEP)—she aims to completely flip the course. Once all course content is placed online along with assessments, Attaway will devote all classroom time to active learning in Photonics Room 117, an instructional space that the College is converting into an active learning studio complete with round tables and modern electronic displays.

“At this point there is ample evidence that flipped classes with active learning environments work; the focus is now on how to get faculty to adopt these best practices,” she said, noting that transforming a traditional lecture into an online course module—breaking it into bite-sized chunks, recording the video and hosting it on the edX platform—can take up to 20 hours. “Although my primary goal is to improve the learning experience for my students, my secondary goal is to be a resource for my colleagues so that I can help them transform their courses.”

With his portion of the DLI funding, Professor Mark Horenstein (ECE) is developing a series of 30-minute course modules to aid fellow EK307 instructors who wish to flip their classrooms or enhance them with online instruction. Always available to students and consisting of animated, voice-over PowerPoint and/or videotaped lectures, the modules are intended to provide an interactive learning tool to supplement traditional textbooks, lectures, discussions and lab work.

“In my experience, students learn in a myriad of different ways,” said Horenstein. “Some students thrive in the traditional lecture/homework environment, while others learn best in a hands-on setting, for example, when a small group works with a professor during office hours on specific problems and concepts. Still other students learn best in the laboratory, where they can transfer lecture/discussion concepts into the hands-on design of electric circuits that solve a problem or meet a desired specification. The hope is that these modules will service all of these learning styles, and more.”

The two pilot projects leverage earlier digital technology-enabled active learning efforts by Lecturer Caleb Farny (ME) in EK301 (Engineering Mechanics) and Assistant Professor Martin Steffin (BME, MED) in BE 209 (Principles of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology), and pioneering work by faculty in the Physics Department in peer-based learning and the use of studio space.

“As these early adopters show what’s possible, we look forward to bringing additional faculty on board,” said Little. “By working with people who are taking risks to do the right thing for students, we’re going to demonstrate the potential of digital learning technologies to make a difference for our engineering students.”

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Where Students Play & Design Video Games

July 31st, 2014 in Courses, Faculty, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students, Video

The Digital Design Industry & ECE Evolve with New Programing Techniques; Verilog and FPGA

By Gabriella McNevin

Video created by Donald Rock (COM ’17 ) and Paloma Parikh (COM ’15)

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) organizes the course around fundamental computer aided design techniques, the hardware description language Verilog, and finally introduces lessons on “synthesizing” the Verilog to a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), which is technology similar to a microprocessor but is programmable at the hardware level.

FPGA technology is important because it gives the engineer an opportunity to reprogram and reconfigure the digital design after manufacturing. By using FPGAs, engineers do not have to fabricate a new chip for every design. This allows for rapid prototyping of designs quickly and at a low cost.

Student projects are evaluated on their success in creating an FPGA design of their choosing for their final project. Teaching assistants like Prashant Vaidyanathan mentor the students and provide help with the design tools. For example, in Spring 2014, four students submitted a digital design video game which performed like an improved version of the game Flappy Bird by allowing multiplayer game mode, and cell phone integration via Bluetooth.

A student rendition of the 1993 game Super Bomberman was submitted in Fall 2012. The game included standard functions of Super Bomberman, including display engine, character movement, and graphics. Additionally, the team programmed multi-screen display modes, an operating scoreboard, and character blocking.

Producing a functioning FPGA prototype provides a student experience that is essential in developing an overall, hands on proficiency with the technology. With the support of Prof. Densmore and ECE resources, students can conclude EC551 with skills that have the potential to jump-start their careers.

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Research Grants for Three ECE Undergraduates

July 14th, 2014 in Awards, Grants, Recognition, Research, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

By Paloma Parikh (COM’15)

Three ECE undergraduate students won grants from two programs affiliated with Boston University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Annie Lane (ENG’16) and Maya Saint Germain (ENG’16) are recipients of the Clare Boothe Luce Award; and Dean Shi, (ENG’16) won the Hariri Award.

Annie Lane; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Annie Lane; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Annie Lane won the Clare Boothe Luce Award for her research project, “Data Center Power Regulation Modeling,” which she is working on with mentor Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE). The goal of the project is to minimize electricity costs for data centers. To do so, Lane is developing a power control policy based on a mathematical model. Additionally, she will evaluate alternative research models in the hopes of finding the most effective process. Lane believes the practicality of her project caught the attention of the judges. In an email correspondence, Lane mentioned that the project has potential for real-life application, “BU has partnered with other universities, the state, and companies to build and manage the Massachusetts Green High Power Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, MA. The research results will help increase energy savings at MGHPCC.”

 

Maya Saint Germain; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Maya Saint Germain; Clare Boothe Luce Award Recipient

Maya Saint Germain, with mentor Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies Hamid Nawab (ECE), won the Clare Boothe Luce Award to fund a project entitled “Human-in-Circuit Signal Processing.” Saint Germain explains Human-in-Circuit Signal Processing as, “a subfield of signal processing in which the signal that is being processed is produced by a human, and – after processing – will be perceived by a human.” Her goal is to improve how the signal is processed. Saint Germain feels proud that she won the award, “It means that my research is important and relevant.”

 

 

Dean Shi; Hariri Award Recipient

Dean Shi; Hariri Award Recipient

Dean Shi won the Hariri Award for his project, “Power Optimization and Development of Power Policies on Mobile Devices,” which he is working on with mentor Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE). Shi is working to lengthen battery life for cell phones. To do so, he is researching how cell phones use battery power through different functions, such as applications. With this understanding, he will be able to optimize power usage and make cell phone batteries last longer. Shi recalls, All of my friends are always complaining, ‘Oh I just charged my phone this morning but it’s already at 10% battery.’” This award will help Shi achieve his goal of lengthening cell phone battery life.

 

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) is a supportive resource for faculty-mentor research. It provides grants to students through various organizations such as the Clare Boothe Luce Program and the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering. The Clare Boothe Luce Program aims to support women in science, mathematics, and engineering. Recipients of the undergraduate research awards receive funding to conduct a research project with a faculty mentor. The Hariri Institute promotes innovation in the sciences of computing and engineering. With the Hariri award, they provide grants for collaborative research and training initiatives.

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