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)
Features tour of ENG’s new design, manufacturing studio
The Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC) hadn’t yet opened for its inaugural semester, and it already had a wait list of students eager to register for classes in the sleek, glass-fronted Commonwealth Avenue building that not too long ago was the Guitar Center. That bodes well for the College of Engineering and the University officials and corporate sponsors who made the new facility possible.
ENG will host EPIC’s ribbon-cutting ceremony this Thursday, January 23. Among those present will be President Robert A. Brown, ENG Dean Kenneth Lutchen, local dignitaries, and key corporate partners, including representatives from principal industry sponsors GE Aviation, Procter & Gamble, PTC, and Schlumberger.
Lutchen, who is also an ENG professor of biomedical engineering, says that EPIC’s opening “now begins the opportunity for us to transform our engineering education at the undergraduate level to really create a much more powerfully enabled graduate who understands the process of designing products from conception to deployment.”
Those skills are particularly important, and valuable, now that manufacturing is making a comeback in the United States. US manufacturers have added at least 500,000 new workers since the end of 2009, energy costs have dropped, and labor costs in competing countries such as China and India have been inching upward.
Companies like Apple and GE are bringing high-tech facilities back home from overseas. While a positive development, “the problem is now there aren’t enough engineers trained in highly technological methods,” says Bruce Jordan, ENG assistant dean of development and alumni relations.
EPIC could help fill that void. “We’re hoping to set a standard for the training of engineers for the future manufacturing economy in this country,” says EPIC director Gerry Fine, an ENG professor of the practice.
Funded through the University, ENG alumni and friends, and regional industry, EPIC’s 20,000-square-foot space houses a computer-aided design (CAD) studio, demonstration areas, fabrication facilities, materials testing, and project management software available to engineering students in all specialties — from computer and electrical engineering to biomedical engineering and nanotechnology. The facility has a flexible design and offers students supply chain management software, 3-D printers, robotics, laser processing, and around-the-clock digital access to the studio’s online resources.
A representative from each principal industry sponsor, GE Aviation, Procter & Gamble, PTC, and Schlumberger, will sit on EPIC’s Industrial Advisory Board, whose primary function will be to offer suggestions on how the ENG undergraduate curriculum might be redesigned to better prepare students for employment in the years ahead.
“We want to create as many options for our graduating students as possible,” Fine says. “By teaching them some of the things that regional industry wants, we think we’re giving our students more options. And we’re making our students more desirable to potential employers.”
Representatives from the principal sponsors will also participate in guest lectures and provide case studies and projects, and the companies will offer internship and employment opportunities to qualified students.
While other universities have manufacturing-oriented centers, most focus on basic research, but EPIC allows engineering students to put theory into practice by converting their ideas into products that could one day benefit society.
Fine has given tours of the facility to at least five teams from other universities since June. “We’re not aware of anyone who’s invested in this scale and made this commitment to undergraduate education,” he says.
“When I first heard from Dean Lutchen about the idea of EPIC, I was thrilled,” says Michael Campbell (ENG ’94), executive vice president of PTC’s CAD segment, who will serve on EPIC’s advisory board. “I always felt that my engineering education lacked that real-world perspective, that real-world exposure to the challenges, processes, and complexities of collaboration and the sophistication of tools. Now we have a chance to share all of that with students.”
J. David Rowatt, research director and technical advisor at Schlumberger, echoes that sentiment. “There were so many things I didn’t learn in school that I picked up on the job,” he says. “Some of these are clearly being addressed by what EPIC is trying to do,” which is exposing students to the entire engineering process — from conception and manufacturing to working on deadlines and understanding resource constraints.
Greg Morris, strategy and business development leader for additive manufacturing with GE Aviation, says this generation of students grew up in a world where computers and software were second nature, but tinkering under the hood of a car was not. EPIC will provide engineering students with the hands-on experience that gives them an advantage in the marketplace. “I can’t tell you how much that resonates with an employer,” he says.
Both BU and its partners see EPIC as a win-win. ENG faculty and students will benefit from a revamped curriculum and access to global leaders in innovation and manufacturing, while industry partners will interact with the University’s deep bench of cutting-edge researchers and get exposure to a new crop of engineers.
“If we tap into EPIC,” says Bruno De Weer, the vice president of global engineering at Procter & Gamble, “we can find ourselves connected with another hub of innovation that brings the very best.”
The EPIC ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 23, at 750 Commonwealth Ave., followed by a reception and tours for those invited. The event is not open to the public.
-Leslie Friday, BU Today
Boston University students have big ideas – whether they’re aiming to prevent cyber attacks or using GPS data to improve cattle herding. As good as their work is though, they don’t always know the best way to present their research.
Ph.D. students, Yasaman Khazaeni, Greg Castanon, and Jing Wang, initially came up with the idea for the event last semester and hoped it would give their classmates a chance to practice speaking in front of a large audience.
“One of the main issues we have as students becomes clear at conferences,” said Khazaeni. “We’ve done great research but don’t present it well.”
Often times, she added, engineering students come from international backgrounds and don’t have enough confidence to present in English.
“By speaking in front of a friendly audience, as opposed to a conference where you’d know few people in the audience, your classmates and professors can offer feedback and really help you smooth out your final presentation,” said Khazaeni.
Khazaeni, who helped choose 14 students to present out of a pool of 23 applicants, said that the event also allowed CISE students to learn from classmates and discover more about the projects they’ve been working on.
Among those she learned from were Ph.D. students, Morteza Hashemi and Delaram Motamedvaziri, who took home the Best CISE Presenter awards.
Hashemi, who is advised by Professor Ari Trachtenberg (ECE, SE), spoke about his project, Coded Data Sharing in Intra-Car Wireless Sensor Networks. He has been working with Trachtenberg, Professor David Starobinski (ECE, SE), Ph.D. student, Wei Si, and General Motors Research to determine if using wireless sensor networks (WSN) might allow for a greener way to construct tomorrow’s vehicles. The work previously won the Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cybersecurity Award as well as the Provost’s Award at Scholars Day last year.
Advised by Professor Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE), Motamedvaziri spoke about her work, “Poisson Statistics and the Future of Internet Marketing.”
“The effectiveness of search engine marketing is dropping while the power of social media marketing is rising,” she explained. “Mathematics would suggest that social media is now the better advertising strategy.”
She said that though her research focused on total hits advertisements received, she’d like to expand her work in the future by looking at data concerning how long a person stayed on a website.
“Ultimately, we’re more interested in seeing transactions occur as opposed to clicks,” said Motamedvaziri.
Also honored at a reception at the BU Castle following the presentations were Setareh Ariafar, the Most Attentive CISE Student, and Professor David Castañón (ECE, SE), awarded for his contributions to CISE. Because 20 students attended all fourteen presentations, the most attentive of them was chosen by raffle.
In case any students left the workshop having doubts about their speaking skills, Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE) closed the day by offering some advice, including “never overestimate the intelligence of your audience” and “the maximum pieces of information that should appear on a slide is two.”
“Giving a good talk is a difficult thing,” he said. “It’s as much of an art as a science.”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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)
Goldberg, Wong named to coordinate teaching, recruitment
It’s a fitting acronym: STEM is the basis for budding careers, for the growing of cutting-edge research, and for increased competence across a range of disciplines. While Boston University has long shown a strong commitment to education in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — it has recently launched an initiative to improve that commitment by boosting interdisciplinary cooperation, recruiting more students in underrepresented populations, and arming the University with even more of a competitive edge in seeking outside funding.
Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer, recently named two BU faculty members to take STEM to the next level. Bennett Goldberg, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of physics and a College of Engineering professor of electrical and computer engineering and of biomedical engineering, has been appointed director of BU’s STEM Education Initiatives. Joyce Y. Wong, an ENG professor of biomedical engineering and of materials science and engineering, has been named director of a new University effort to advance women in STEM fields.
Goldberg will be responsible for oversight and coordination of efforts to “increase effectiveness of instruction” in STEM subjects, says Morrison in announcing the appointment. “A world-class scientist, innovator, and teacher, who has devoted his career to impactful interdisciplinary scholarship, Professor Goldberg is exceptionally equipped for this responsibility,” she says. The new post includes four major areas of oversight: leading an effort to “articulate the aspirations” of BU faculty for undergraduate STEM education; working with schools and colleges and the Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching to advance the “sharing of best practices”; working to boost recruitment of students, including women and minorities, underrepresented in STEM programs; and directing the development, writing, and submission of grants supporting STEM education at the University.
“STEM education at BU has a fair amount of innovation, but we don’t have a really coordinated effort or strategic plan,” says Goldberg. “If you look at what’s happening in higher education in the United States, there are a lot of pressures, and our model for the future must include high-engagement learning — moving away from the traditional talking head at the front of the class.” In STEM education in particular, the talking head model reaches “a very small fraction of our students,” he says.
STEM education at BU is already embracing this move away from the traditional lecture model, but Goldberg will coordinate the establishment of more interactive learning studios, more peer learning, more small seminars like those used in some engineering courses, and more roundtable teaching. “My job is really to figure out what kind of support is necessary and how we can create a collective vision,” he says. “It’s planning, it’s discussing, it’s developing, and it’s implementing.”
Goldberg, who was named BU’s 2013 United Methodist Scholar-Teacher of the Year, has long held an active interest in improving education in math and the sciences. Director of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology since 2004, he earned a bachelor’s from Harvard University and a master’s and a doctorate from Brown University. Of Goldberg’s work cultivating clean energy sources, developing new drug delivery systems, and diagnostic methods, Morrison says that he “has committed himself to breaking boundaries, working across fields of scientific research in a way that pushes the limits of our capabilities.”
Wong is “uniquely positioned to help BU emerge as a leader in addressing the underrepresentation of women” in STEM fields, according to Morrison. She notes that while BU attracts outstanding female students and faculty in these fields, “there is more work to be done both in recruitment and retention and in our endeavors to support their success.” Wong’s undergraduate and doctoral degrees are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on the development of biological materials that could aid in detecting cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“I look forward to engaging all members of the BU community and to reaching out to the many people on campus who are running excellent programs at all levels, precollege, undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and faculty, to advance STEM in an equitable manner,” says Wong.
-Susan Seligson, BU Today
Karl, Moustakas and Paschalidis Recognized for Outstanding Achievements
Professors W. Clem Karl (ECE, BME, SE), Theodore Moustakas (ECE, MSE) and Yannis Paschalidis (ECE, SE) have been named as 2014 IEEE Fellows, the highest grade of membership in the world’s leading professional association for advancing technology for the benefit of society.
The IEEE confers the grade of Fellow upon individuals with outstanding records of accomplishment in any of the organization’s fields of interest, which range from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power and consumer electronics. Less than 0.1 percent of voting members — the IEEE currently has 400,000 members in 160 countries — are selected annually for this member grade elevation, considered a major career achievement and prestigious honor across the technical community.
W. Clem Karl
Karl was recognized for his contributions to “statistical signal processing and image reconstruction.” He has developed several statistical models for the extraction of information from diverse data sources in the presence of uncertainty, and applied them in projects that include automatic target detection and recognition for synthetic aperture radar; locating oil deposits and analyzing the earth’s atmosphere; and monitoring medical conditions using tomography and MRI.
“This is a great honor, and I’m humbled that my peers would confer it on me,” said Karl.
A member of the BU faculty since 1995, Karl has assumed many leadership roles for the IEEE. Currently editor-in-chief of IEEE Transactions on Image Processing, he is a member of the Board of Governors and Conference Board of the Signal Processing Society; the Transactions on Medical Imaging Steering Committee; the Biomedical Image and Signal Processing Technical Committee; and the Technical Committee Review Board. He has co-organized IEEE workshops on statistical signal processing and bioinformatics, and was general chair of the 2009 IEEE International Symposium on Biomedical Imaging.
Among other things, Karl is developing methods to improve the detection of explosives in luggage. The technology could increase passenger safety while reducing delays and other inconveniences for air travelers, such as having to remove laptops and other electronic devices from bags.
Moustakas was recognized for his contributions to “the epitaxial growth of nitride semiconductors.” He is a trailblazer in molecular beam epitaxy, a versatile and advanced thin-film growth technique used to make high-precision, nitride (nitrogen compound-based) semiconductor materials used in fiber-optic, cellular, satellite and other applications.
His most notable achievements include pioneering the nucleation steps for the growth of gallium nitride on sapphire and other substrates, an essential process for the manufacture of blue LEDs, which are widely used in solid state lighting applications; and developing highly-efficient, deep ultraviolet (UV) LEDs, which are expected to provide environmentally friendly water and air purification.
“I am delighted to receive this prestigious award and I am very grateful to many of my collaborators at BU and other institutions, as well the outstanding past and current students that I have had the fortune of mentoring,” said Moustakas.
A member of the ENG faculty for more than 30 years and ENG Distinguished Scholar who helped shape the Materials Science & Engineering Division, Moustakas has had a broad impact on his field, through 25 patents, hundreds of invited talks and journal papers and 10,000 citations in research literature. Recently selected as the recipient of the Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) Innovator Award, he is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society and Electrochemical Society, and Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. In 2013 he was named the Boston University Innovator of the Year.
Moustakas is currently working to create visible and UV LEDs and lasers for solid-state white lighting, water and air sterilization, and identification of biological and chemical agents; investigating indium gallium nitride “quantum dots” that boost solar cell efficiency; and, in collaboration with Associate Professor Roberto Paiella (ECE, MSE), studying the use of nitride semiconductor structures for green LED applications and for emitters and detectors operating in the far infrared.
Paschalidis was recognized for his contributions to “the control and optimization of communication and sensor networks, manufacturing systems and biological systems.” Since joining the College of Engineering faculty in 1996, he has developed sophisticated algorithms for everything from a homeland security early warning sensor network to a next-generation electronic healthcare management system.
“I am elated to have been named an IEEE Fellow,” said Paschalidis. “Much credit is due to all my students and postdoctoral associates, past and present, who have contributed to the work being recognized, and all my collaborators, many of them here at Boston University.”
Co-director of the College’s Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE), an ENG Distinguished Faculty Fellow and affiliate of the BioMolecular Engineering Research Center, Paschalidis has a diverse research portfolio that spans the fields of systems and control, networking, applied probability, optimization, operations research, computational biology and bioinformatics. His work has resulted in new applications in communication and sensor networks, protein docking, logistics, cyber-security, robotics, the smart grid and finance.
Paschalidis has received several honors, including a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, an invitation to participate in the National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, two best paper awards, and best performance at a computational biology competition. He is the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Transactions on Control of Network Systems and a member of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Control Systems Society.
Visiting Professor Vivek Goyal (ECE), who will be an assistant professor in the ECE Department starting in January, was also named an IEEE Fellow.
Dedicated to the advancement of technology, the IEEE publishes 30 percent of the world’s literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields, and has developed more than 900 active industry standards. The association also sponsors or co-sponsors nearly 400 international technical conferences each year.
In a ceremony held October 25 at the Boston University Photonics Center, the College of Engineering celebrated its alumni and announced the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Awards. Presented by Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen following a buffet dinner and champagne toast, the awards recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to their alma mater, community and profession. Lutchen commended the recipients for bringing honor to the College through their careers, commitment to the highest standards of excellence, and devotion to the College.
Anton Papp (EE ’90), vice president for Corporate Development at Teradata, received the Service to Alma Mater award, which honors alumni who have enhanced the College of Engineering’s stature through voluntary service to BU.
At Teradata Papp oversees, evaluates and executes investments, mergers and acquisitions, and strategy. Prior to joining Teradata, he served as vice president of Corporate Development & Global Alliances at Aprimo and held numerous investment banking positions. A graduate of the prestigious US Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), Papp attended BU on a Naval ROTC scholarship and served as a Naval Officer and F-14 Tomcat Flight Instructor. He also earned an MBA in Finance from Columbia Business School.
Papp serves on the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Board, the ENG West Coast Alumni Leadership Council, and the BU West Coast Regional Campaign Committee. He has been the leading supporter for the ENG/SMG Summer Leadership Institute program, and part of the College’s efforts to recruit top undergraduates.
Dan Ryan and Aaron Ganick (both ECE ’10), cofounders of the telecommunications company ByteLight, received the Distinguished Young Alumni award, which honors outstanding alumni within 10 years of graduation for outstanding service to their profession or community.
A startup that emerged out of the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at BU, ByteLight has produced a system that’s similar to an indoor GPS. Special LED lights provided by Bytelight enable your smartphone to determine your location and to bring up location-based information ranging from store coupons to museum exhibit descriptions.
George Savage (BME ’81), Chief Medical Officer and cofounder of Proteus Digital Health, and a member of the BU College of Engineering West Coast Advisory Council, received the Service to the Profession award, which honors alumni whose work has significantly contributed to the advancement of their profession and brought them recognition within their field.
Savage has started 10 companies since 1989 as entrepreneur or founding investor, including FemRx (acquired by Johnson and Johnson), CardioRhythm (acquired by Medtronic) and QRx Pharmaceuticals. He holds an M.D. from Tufts University School of Medicine and an M.B.A. from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and serves on the boards of Menlo Healthcare Ministry, the Pacific Research Institute and Silent Cal Productions.
At Proteus, Savage has advanced a system of small, ingestible event markers that are implanted in a patient’s medications. A monitor worn as a patch on the patient identifies each pill upon swallowing and tracks vital signs, which are uploaded to the patient’s mobile phone and transmitted to caregivers and healthcare professionals. The system allows for instantaneous and personalized treatment and promises to transform the way doctors monitor patients’ medicine.
NSF Research Program Helps ENG Vets Shape Careers
US military personnel return from active duty with highly marketable knowledge and skills, but many find it difficult to quickly parlay their experience into well-paying jobs. To help rectify the situation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funds the Veteran’s Research Supplement (VRS) program, which allows veterans at selected colleges and universities to participate in industrially relevant research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — fields in which job openings far outpace the supply of qualified US applicants.
Since the inception of VRS in 2011, the College of Engineering’s NSF Industry/University Collaborative Research Center for Biophotonic Sensors & Systems has welcomed the opportunity to engage veterans in research through this program.
“Vets come to us with an unusually strong work ethic and high confidence but often lack the experience to be comfortable in taking on a big research project,” said BU Photonics Center Director and Professor Thomas Bifano (ME, MSE). “VRS gives them the opportunity to take on such projects and pursue careers in research, which is the main engine of our economy.”
So far two veterans have thrived in faculty-supervised summer projects funded by VRS, emerging not only with new research skills but also a more well-defined career path.
Cliff Chan: From Technician to Engineer
Cliff Chan, who deployed four times in the Middle East and Southeast Asia as an Air Force Guidance and Control Specialist, came to BU seeking to take his skillset to the next level. With a B.S. in mathematics and computer science from the University of California, San Diego, two years developing software for an electronic health records company, and four years maintaining aircraft control systems for the Air Force under his belt, Chan aspired to learn how to design the kinds of technologies he came across during his military service.
To transform himself from a technician to an engineer, he sought a way to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering in a reasonable timeframe without having to start from scratch, and he found it in the College of Engineering’s Late Entry Accelerated Program (LEAP). Like all LEAP students, Chan spent his first year taking undergraduate engineering courses to get up to speed, but got his first taste of engineering design the following summer (2011), thanks to the VRS program. Working for three months in Professor Jerome Mertz’s (BME) Biomicroscopy Lab within BU’s Center for Biophotonic Sensors and Systems, he developed software that enables microscopes to provide high-contrast images of biological samples in real time.
“The project was a real transition for me, as I had to solve a problem by first figuring out what I needed to learn, and then how to apply it,” recalled Chan, who was used to getting more explicit instructions in the Air Force and had never worked in a research lab. “It opened up my eyes to another world.”
Subsequently hired to work full-time in the Biomicroscopy Lab while completing his Master of Engineering in electrical engineering, Chan has continued to advance microscopy techniques aimed at improving medical diagnostic imaging. The experience has led him to consider working in research and development for defense and other industries, conducting experiments and designing devices with real-world applications.
It has also prepared him to work through the inevitable unexpected challenges that arise in advancing new technologies.
“What I like about Cliff is that he’s undaunted,” said Mertz. “He wants to learn everything that’s out there to tackle his work. The problems we faced were much more complex than I had anticipated, but Cliff’s efforts definitely kept us on track, and kept us progressing.”
Chris Stockbridge: From Defusing Roadside Bombs to Protecting Future Soldiers
Chris Stockbridge returned to civilian life after five years as an officer and combat engineer in the Army that included two tours of duty in Iraq. During each deployment he came to appreciate the engineering behind technologies used to protect soldiers, including devices used to search for and destroy roadside bombs. Equipped with those experiences and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the US Military Academy at West Point, he applied to the PhD program in mechanical engineering at BU with the goal of working as a civilian engineer at a national military research lab.
“I came to BU to study micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), particularly those which could be of great value in military applications, and because I knew that the Photonics Center has a strong relationship with the US Army Research Laboratory,” said Stockbridge.
Supported last summer by the VRS program to serve as the lead student in an NSF-funded project in Bifano’s Precision Optics Research Lab, he began fabricating MEMS for a new deformable mirror design for use in the Keck and other very large telescopes. Aimed at supplying the telescopes with mirrors that have more pixels for finer imaging control, his work could enable astronomers to make observations that shed light on the origin of the universe and the existence of life on extra-solar planets.
“The primary benefit to me from this project was spending more time doing hands-on MEMS fabrication work,” said Stockbridge, who had already spent two years working on the design of deformable mirrors in Bifano’s lab. “While I would prefer to work more in design after graduation, the hands-on skills are important for getting an appreciation of each process step that goes into building a MEMS mirror.”
As he has cultivated those skills, Stockbridge has proven to be an invaluable asset in Bifano’s lab.
“Chris is a consummate engineer who seems to thrive on tackling problems that are both thorny and hard, and I can see in his work the experience and training that he gained while serving in the Army,” said Bifano. “He is a natural collaborator, and all of the other students in my lab and in the labs of my close colleagues have come to rely on him for his strong sense of mechanical design and for his eagerness to help those around him. Chris will make a great professional engineer.”
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
Each day, we find ourselves sharing our personal information across the internet – whether it’s to pay a bill or buy a gift on Amazon.
As we send more of our data through these channels, there is a growing concern about privacy. Earlier this month, a breach at Adobe, for example, impacted more than 38 million users. Cases like this are not uncommon and as a result, cyber security has become a major area of research for electrical and computer engineers.
Last week, Professor George J. Pappas, the Chair of the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, visited Boston University and shared his own work on the topic.
Pappas is looking at how differential privacy, a method that aims to maximize the accuracy of information extracted from databases while also minimizing the chance of records being identified, can be applied to systems like smart grids and intelligent transportation systems.
“Privacy breaches are generally due to side information that a company collects,” Pappas explained. He believes that by using a differentially private mechanism to transfer information, it’ll be possible to hide secure data.
“You’re trying to hide in the noise and make it hard to know who’s who,” he said.
Pappas believes that one of the greatest challenges is figuring out how to give companies like Google and eBay the information they need without the sensitive data they don’t.
An advantage of differential privacy, he said, is that once you indicate a particular segment of information is private, it stays private even after the data is sent to another system. Pappas believes that by adding noise during the streaming process, secure information can be blocked. The trick is figuring out how much noise should be added.
Pappas is a Fellow of IEEE and has received several awards including the Antonio Ruberti Young Research Prize, the George S. Axelby Award, and the National Science Foundation PECASE. In addition to differential privacy, his research focuses on control theory and, in particular, hybrid systems, embedded systems, hierarchical and distributed control systems, with application to unmanned aerial vehicles, distributed robotics, green buildings, and biomolecular networks.
Pappas’s talk was the second in the three-part Fall 2013 Distinguished Lecture Series. The next talk will feature Professor Larry A. Coldren, University of California, Santa Barbara, who will speak on the topic, “Photonic Integrated Circuits as Key Enablers for Coherent Sensor and Communication Systems.” Hear him on Wednesday, November 20, at 4 p.m. in PHO 211.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)