Category: Undergraduate Students
Projects Automates Pothole Detection and Management
By Mark Dwortzan
The impact of a long and stormy winter continues to be felt on the roads. According to the Boston Globe, this year the City of Boston has already filled more than 8,800 potholes, primarily reported by drivers, including one in Cleveland Circle that sent a man to the hospital. Taking a more proactive approach could prevent vehicular damage, injuries and claims against the city while saving time and money for all concerned.
Now a vehicle mounted pothole detection system developed by Electrical Engineering seniors as part of their senior design project aims to do just that. Instead of relying on citizens to report potholes or paying crews to look for them, the system, known as AutoScan, could enable city vehicles to detect them automatically as they go about their daily routes. Coupled with tracking and scheduling software and incorporating a low-cost, embedded technology development platform called a Gizmo board, the system could provide a comprehensive and economical road repair solution.
“The low cost, achieved through the extensive use of open source solutions, made it compelling to the Gizmo community,” said Scott Hoot, president of GizmoSphere. “But the idea of how seamlessly this idea fit into the Internet of Things, made the BU project a winner. Clearly this is a project that takes close to real-time measurements in the physical world, and utilizes those measurements through the open standards available in the Internet.”
The AutoScan senior design team consists of Austen Schmidt (systems integration), Vinny DeGenova (image processing), Nandheesh Prasad (power engineering), Charlie Vincent (networking and GPS) and Stuart Minshull (Web application). The EE seniors developed their prototype under the supervision of ECE Adjunct Professor Babak Kia, who often assumed the role of prospective customer.
While there are several solutions available that can quickly measure potholes on a mobile platform, ranging from lasers to accelerometers, the EE team focused on a “time-of-flight” infrared camera that determines distance between the camera and various points in its field of view.
“Our system is basically an onboard computer that mounts to the bottom of a city vehicle, such as a bus,” said Schmidt. “As the bus goes along, it uses the infrared camera to scan the road for potholes and computes their depth, and sends the data collected on each pothole—volume, GPS coordinates, time and date—over a cellular network to a database hosted by a website. The website interprets data coming in from multiple scanners, displays it on a Google map and updates a Web-accessible road repair schedule.”
Exploiting the Gizmo board and open source software, the team has advanced a prototype of a system that promises to cost a few thousand dollars, far cheaper than alternatives that can range from $10,000 to $100,000. The only sacrifice is a bit of accuracy.
“Our system is a little less accurate than our competitors, because they focus on applications where you really need high-fidelity detection, such as airport tarmacs or bridges,” said Minshull. “We wanted a cheaper way for potholes to be detected without having to worry about tracking millimeter-line cracks in the road.”
To put AutoScan to the test, the team used cardboard boxes to create an elevated road surface with cutouts of different volumes representing potholes. Tests showed that the system accurately measured the volume of each cutout and successfully relayed collected data to the website. Next steps include conducting high-speed tests beyond the lab environment, and finding a way to protect the unit against vibration and adverse weather conditions.
Starting March 21 at 7 PM, students have 24 hours to “hack” a digital or physical product. Hackers will work on starting a website or mobile app from scratch, which could be useful for present applications.
“There have been various hackathons before run by BUILDS [an organization that strives on hacker ethic] and other student organizations but we believe this will be the largest, first to take place at EPIC, and includes a collaboration between multiple student organizations,” says team coordinator Connor McEwen (ECE ’14).
Boston University students are invited to get into groups of 2-4 people to learn new practical skills, meet other students interested in building things, having fun, and producing a project to show to potential employers or friends.
In addition, alumni interested in mentoring are welcomed to show up at 7 PM on Friday or 10 AM on Saturday, and those interested in judging should come at 5 PM on Saturday.
There are interesting categories students are being judged on, such as Most Fun Project, Best Noob Project (for those who have not competed or hacked before), Best Mobile Project, Best Web Project, and Best Hardware Project.
The most rewarding prize, however, will be the hands-on and educational experience.
For more information: http://make.bu.edu/
- Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)
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 (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)
It’s been a bitter winter in Boston, but that didn’t keep students and faculty from making their way toward the Photonics Building Colloquium Room on January 22. Anxious undergraduate students looking for research opportunities mingled among the 28 tables of Boston University researchers at the recent ECE Undergraduate Research and Lab Job Fair hoping to find opportunities to gain hands-on engineering experience.
The story of the research fair goes back four years ago when Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen spoke to matriculating freshman about the importance of research. While listening to the talk, Professor Mark Horenstein (ECE) realized that while entering students were being encouraged to engage in research, no one was telling them how.
In response, Horenstein started the annual ECE Undergraduate Research and Lab Job Fair as a way for undergraduates and faculty to explore mutual interests related to research and for students to ask about available research positions. The event also provides a public forum in which faculty can showcase what is happening in their laboratories. “This is a get-to-know-you meet-and-greet event,” says Horenstein.
Watching presentations and submitting resumes to BU faculty and graduate students, about 75 students attended this year. Two sophomores, Dean De Carli (EE ’16) and Matthew Owney (EE ’16), were scouting for summer and fall positions.
“Even though I didn’t get any research jobs, I was able to connect with the faculty,” said second-time attendee, De Carli. Owney added that he is looking for any opportunity since it’s his first time attending the fair.
Horenstein tells younger attendees, such as Alexandra Miller-Browne (CE ’17), that it’s important to “build up your skills as time goes on; don’t get discouraged.”
People on the other side of the table have a similar thought process. Dr. Traci Haddock, Executive Director of the Center for Synthetic Biology at BU, says, “Most students have no experience, but we will take anyone who is interested.” For example, she is looking for students to help develop the iGEM team’s website and build genetic devices this summer.
Third-time veteran, Associate Professor Robert Kotiuga, changes his presentation every year but remains steadfast in his belief that though people will always possess different areas of expertise, “it is important to be passionate about the project.”
Every year since the program’s initiation, the event has turned out eager attendees, and 2014 was no exception. Students continue to return each year, hoping to gain experience and take advantage of the department’s available opportunities.
-Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Features tour of ENG’s new design, manufacturing studio
The Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC) hadn’t yet opened for its inaugural semester, and it already had a wait list of students eager to register for classes in the sleek, glass-fronted Commonwealth Avenue building that not too long ago was the Guitar Center. That bodes well for the College of Engineering and the University officials and corporate sponsors who made the new facility possible.
ENG will host EPIC’s ribbon-cutting ceremony this Thursday, January 23. Among those present will be President Robert A. Brown, ENG Dean Kenneth Lutchen, local dignitaries, and key corporate partners, including representatives from principal industry sponsors GE Aviation, Procter & Gamble, PTC, and Schlumberger.
Lutchen, who is also an ENG professor of biomedical engineering, says that EPIC’s opening “now begins the opportunity for us to transform our engineering education at the undergraduate level to really create a much more powerfully enabled graduate who understands the process of designing products from conception to deployment.”
Those skills are particularly important, and valuable, now that manufacturing is making a comeback in the United States. US manufacturers have added at least 500,000 new workers since the end of 2009, energy costs have dropped, and labor costs in competing countries such as China and India have been inching upward.
Companies like Apple and GE are bringing high-tech facilities back home from overseas. While a positive development, “the problem is now there aren’t enough engineers trained in highly technological methods,” says Bruce Jordan, ENG assistant dean of development and alumni relations.
EPIC could help fill that void. “We’re hoping to set a standard for the training of engineers for the future manufacturing economy in this country,” says EPIC director Gerry Fine, an ENG professor of the practice.
Funded through the University, ENG alumni and friends, and regional industry, EPIC’s 20,000-square-foot space houses a computer-aided design (CAD) studio, demonstration areas, fabrication facilities, materials testing, and project management software available to engineering students in all specialties — from computer and electrical engineering to biomedical engineering and nanotechnology. The facility has a flexible design and offers students supply chain management software, 3-D printers, robotics, laser processing, and around-the-clock digital access to the studio’s online resources.
A representative from each principal industry sponsor, GE Aviation, Procter & Gamble, PTC, and Schlumberger, will sit on EPIC’s Industrial Advisory Board, whose primary function will be to offer suggestions on how the ENG undergraduate curriculum might be redesigned to better prepare students for employment in the years ahead.
“We want to create as many options for our graduating students as possible,” Fine says. “By teaching them some of the things that regional industry wants, we think we’re giving our students more options. And we’re making our students more desirable to potential employers.”
Representatives from the principal sponsors will also participate in guest lectures and provide case studies and projects, and the companies will offer internship and employment opportunities to qualified students.
While other universities have manufacturing-oriented centers, most focus on basic research, but EPIC allows engineering students to put theory into practice by converting their ideas into products that could one day benefit society.
Fine has given tours of the facility to at least five teams from other universities since June. “We’re not aware of anyone who’s invested in this scale and made this commitment to undergraduate education,” he says.
“When I first heard from Dean Lutchen about the idea of EPIC, I was thrilled,” says Michael Campbell (ENG ’94), executive vice president of PTC’s CAD segment, who will serve on EPIC’s advisory board. “I always felt that my engineering education lacked that real-world perspective, that real-world exposure to the challenges, processes, and complexities of collaboration and the sophistication of tools. Now we have a chance to share all of that with students.”
J. David Rowatt, research director and technical advisor at Schlumberger, echoes that sentiment. “There were so many things I didn’t learn in school that I picked up on the job,” he says. “Some of these are clearly being addressed by what EPIC is trying to do,” which is exposing students to the entire engineering process — from conception and manufacturing to working on deadlines and understanding resource constraints.
Greg Morris, strategy and business development leader for additive manufacturing with GE Aviation, says this generation of students grew up in a world where computers and software were second nature, but tinkering under the hood of a car was not. EPIC will provide engineering students with the hands-on experience that gives them an advantage in the marketplace. “I can’t tell you how much that resonates with an employer,” he says.
Both BU and its partners see EPIC as a win-win. ENG faculty and students will benefit from a revamped curriculum and access to global leaders in innovation and manufacturing, while industry partners will interact with the University’s deep bench of cutting-edge researchers and get exposure to a new crop of engineers.
“If we tap into EPIC,” says Bruno De Weer, the vice president of global engineering at Procter & Gamble, “we can find ourselves connected with another hub of innovation that brings the very best.”
The EPIC ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 23, at 750 Commonwealth Ave., followed by a reception and tours for those invited. The event is not open to the public.
-Leslie Friday, BU Today
When Connor McEwen (ECE ’14) learned about Refresh, an energy-efficient vending machine designed by recent alums from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rhode Island School of Design, he knew this was an idea that showed potential and wanted to invest in it.
Not too many undergraduates have the ability to make a difference in getting a startup off the ground financially, but McEwen isn’t just any student. He’s one of the investment decision makers for the Dorm Room Fund.
The Dorm Room Fund, a student-run venture fund supported solely by Philadelphia-based First Round Capital, allows entrepreneurial students to have $500,000 to use toward investing in student startups over a two-year period. The program has roots in New York, Philadelphia, and Silicon Valley and came to Boston last fall, where members hope to invest in about 25 companies by 2015.
McEwen, who has been passionate about technology all of his life, was one of 11 students chosen to work with the Dorm Room Fund’s inaugural Boston group, who meet weekly at the Cambridge Innovation Center.
When it comes to investment strategy, McEwen said: “I personally am most interested in student-led tech startups that have the potential to really solve a problem and impact how we live our lives. Since our goal is to help students build their companies, I also like companies where I can understand and use the product and therefore help the most.”
McEwen, who is also a member of the BU Entrepreneurship club and runs a BU Startups newsletter, first became interested in entrepreneurship during his freshman year, thanks to his roommate, Nam Chu Hoai (CS ’14), who had previously worked at a startup.
“We started reading about them on a few websites, discussing companies, and working on an idea ourselves,” McEwen said.
He even took a year off to work on that project, Credport. Though he and Chu Hoai eventually realized that the market didn’t need their product, they learned a lot and McEwen called the time “a great experience.”
Today, when McEwen’s not working on the Dorm Room Fund, he’s back at Boston University working on his senior design project. He teamed up with biomedical engineering students in Assistant Professor Ahmad Khalil’s lab to design an LED device that will help improve synthetic biology experiments.
“Our device basically shines an LED light on a well plate, an enclosure holding a bunch of different cell samples, for a programmable duration, which will enable researchers in optogenetics and synthetic biology to run better experiments more efficiently and accurately,” said McEwen.
As a senior design mentor, Khalil has noticed that McEwen has shown great passion when applying his strong technological background toward his research.
“He brings infectious enthusiasm and wonderful ideas to the lab and is never reluctant to seek advice from my graduate students and me,” said Khalil.
Though McEwen initially thought about working on a startup-related project for senior design, he decided instead to focus his research on something he could only do at BU. Through this project, he’s able to utilize his own background in computer engineering and also work with students majoring in electrical, mechanical, and biomedical engineering.
That being said, his long-term focus remains the same. He doesn’t know exactly where he’ll be when he graduates this spring but he’s confident he’ll be working with a startup.
Interested in learning more about startups or the Dorm Room Fund? E-mail McEwen at email@example.com.
12/3/13: The Boston Globe – “Young college investors back vending machine”
10/29/13: The Daily Free Press – “Starting-up early”
9/10/13: The Boston Globe – “First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund expands to Boston, with initial investments this fall”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In 1998, Sam Keene completed his first college experience when he graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Nearly a decade later, he now also holds a doctoral degree in Electrical Engineering (PhD ’07) and works on the other side of the classroom as an Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering at The Cooper Union in New York City.
His job not only entails teaching two or three classes each semester and supervising Master’s Theses and various undergraduate projects; it also demands that he keep up with the latest technology.
“I’m always amazed at how much my students are capable of, so the pressure is on me to keep challenging them with interesting work, whether they are course projects, contests, senior projects or thesis topics,” said Keene. He added that watching his students overcome the research challenges put in front of them is a rewarding experience.
It’s easy to see how Boston University could prepare Keene for teaching in the classroom, but he credits the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department for launching another career as well – communication engineer at The Mathworks Inc. After a few years in the industry, he decided to fully immerse himself in research by going back to school and focusing his studies on wireless communications and networks.
“While doing my Ph.D., I learned from my many advisors and professors how to do research, publish papers, and teach classes,” said Keene. “All of these skills helped me land the job I currently have.”
He credits many faculty members, including Professor Hamid Nawab (ECE), Associate Professor Jeffrey Carruthers (ECE), and Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), for having a great impact on his career. Each had different qualities that Keene wanted to emulate.
“I am so proud of Sam’s progress from Boston University to professor,” said Carruthers. “He was disciplined, doing excellent work and staying on track with his research. Sam and I had many interesting discussions about academic life and finding the right fit between balancing teaching and research.”
Keene hopes to inspire his students in the same manner the ECE faculty inspired him and is even collaborating with a student of Little’s who mentors one of his undergraduates. He may have graduated, but Keene still has a strong connection to his alma mater.
- Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)