TISP Gains Major Boost from AT&T

March 27th, 2015 in Recognition, Students

$145,000 Contribution Focuses on Improving High School Graduation Rates

By Jan Smith

Inspiration Ambassador Aniekan Inoyo (ME15, center) works with Dorchester MA high school students engineering a cellphone wireless business.

Inspiration Ambassador Aniekan Inoyo (ME15, center) works with Dorchester MA high school students engineering a cellphone wireless business.

The College of Engineering has received a $145,000 contribution from AT&T to create a two-year engineering and technology program for an urban high school population, and to document its impact on high school graduation rates.

The funding from AT&T will enable undergraduate Inspiration Ambassadors from the College’s Technology Innovation Scholars Program (TISP) to deliver classroom and after-school engineering activities at the Josiah Quincy Upper School (JQUS) in Boston beginning in September.

Loretta Walker, VP AT&T External Affairs for AT&T California with Dr. Gretchen Fougere, Associate Dean BU College of Engineering

Loretta Walker, VP AT&T External Affairs for AT&T California with Dr. Gretchen Fougere, Associate Dean BU College of Engineering

Gretchen Fougere, associate dean for Outreach and Diversity for the College of Engineering, noted, “This contribution validates the extraordinary vision driven by the College and likely impact of TISP. It will provide the resources to apply formal methods to measure our program’s success and to advance its national impact.”

Fougere, who leads TISP, noted, “We are creating a diverse pipeline of secondary students who are motivated to graduate from high school because of their raised appreciation and understanding of STEM and engineering. This contribution will enable us to provide all the benefits of TISP engineering outreach: fun design activities, after-school robotics, and summer enrichment and scholarships and deliver our relatable role-models to a partner high school in Boston. We continue to engage students of all backgrounds and abilities and both inspire and prepare them for post-secondary success.”

AT&T’s support is a part of AT&T Aspire, the company’s signature education initiative focused on high school success and career readiness. With an unwavering commitment to data-driven education outcomes, AT&T Aspire has impacted more than 1 million students since its launch in 2008.

“We’re committed to investing in efforts that prepare the next generation of Americans for success in the increasingly competitive global economy, and the mentorship provided by Boston University’s Technology Innovation Scholars Program is a perfect example of the enrichment that our local urban students need and deserve,” said Patricia Jacobs, president of AT&T New England. “We applaud BU and TISP for their passion for the issue and their proven track record of readying local students for success in college and in their careers. We’re particularly excited that Josiah Quincy students will have the chance to explore telecommunications projects with their BU mentors.”

The AT&T contribution will help measure the impact of this deep dive of TISP in one high school. A cohort of 9th grade students at JQUS will benefit from the program through 10th grade. JQUS students are a diverse and underserved population representative of many urban public schools where improving high school graduation rates and proficiency with math and science are concerns.

Richard Chang, co-headmaster at Josiah Quincy Upper School, said, “We are very excited to welcome Boston University’s Inspiration Ambassadors into our classrooms to make mathematics, science and engineering concepts come to life for our students. Engaging students in these real-world projects with college students of similar backgrounds will be significant motivators for them to focus on mathematics and science coursework and to attend college.”

TISP’s mission is to inspire and prepare a diverse workforce for 21st century technology-related fields. Each year, the program professionally trains and manages 50 select BU undergraduate engineers as “Inspiration Ambassadors,” who share their passion for and understanding of technology and engineering design with youth nationwide.

Inspiration Ambassadors visit middle and high school classrooms to provide information and experiences that demonstrate how engineers improve our quality of life and solve the problems that resonate with younger students. In Boston, the Ambassadors guide students in the engineering design process as teams innovate to create technologies associated with communications, energy, the environment and healthcare. In Boston area schools, for example, these design challenges relate to cellphone towers, wind turbines, fuel cells, robotics, and coding and app development. The technologies and engineering are derived from cutting-edge engineering research at BU and corporate supporters like AT&T.

The Inspiration Ambassadors, select undergraduate engineers majoring in biomedical, mechanical, electrical, or computer engineering, also mentor many after-school FIRST ® robotics teams, creating competitive robots in a short design cycle. The College has a rich partnership with FIRST®, with Dean Kamen and John Abele on the Dean’s Leadership Advisory Board, and scholarships and TISP available to FIRST ® participants.

Validation and Impact Research
Since its launch in 2011, the Inspiration Ambassadors have reached more than 13,200 young people in 26 states and six countries. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the program has had a direct and favorable impact on underprivileged youth, influencing many to seek out STEM coursework in high school, to graduate from high school, and even to pursue and secure university placements and scholarships. Five have received full scholarships for study at BU’s College of Engineering or other schools. Several of the former high school students reached and mentored are now Ambassadors themselves.

The AT&T grant will enable the program to empirically measure and document that impact, while also providing a test case with a dedicated cohort of students over two years. Lasting impact will drive further scaling and nationwide replication. The College has a comprehensive approach to creating a continuous flow of Societal Engineers, which is now endorsed and supported by $375,000 in gifts and pledges from esteemed ENG alumni, such as Girish Navani and John J. Tegan III, and the Argosy, Ingalls and Kern Family Foundations. The grant from AT&T comes on the heels of other recent corporate support from NASA and Accenture. The combined funding will go far to advance the College’s mission to create a continuous flow of diverse graduates ready for college STEM majors and the workforce.

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Big Data and Improving Health Care

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

Data Scientist and Physician Team Up to Reduce Preventable Hospitalizations

By Suzanne Jacobs

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

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

Yannis Paschalidis, a data scientist, has built a career on making things run smoothly and efficiently—transportation systems, communication networks, supply chains, sensor networks—and now he’s taking on perhaps his most ambitious challenge yet: the US health care system.

It all started about three years ago. Paschalidis, a professor and Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Boston University’s College of Engineering (ENG), read in a study by the US Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that in 2006, the US spent about $30.8 billion on hospitalizations that could have been prevented through better patient care, healthier patient behavior, or improved ambulatory services.

“I was reading a lot of things about the sorry state of the health care system in the US and how inefficient it is, and I thought it’s an opportunity to do something,” says Paschalidis, who also directs BU’s Center for Information & Systems Engineering. “I thought people like me that have a quantitative, more optimization-oriented background could contribute something.”

And so, having never worked in medicine before, Paschalidis teamed up with William G. Adams, a Boston Medical Center (BMC) physician and BU School of Medicine professor of pediatrics. With a team of graduate students and nearly $2 million from the National Science Foundation, the two set out to build a piece of software that could automatically flag patients at increased risk for medical emergencies by using data from their electronic health records (EHRs). They decided to start with heart diseases, which alone cost the US more than $9.5 billion in preventable hospitalizations in 2006, according to the AHRQ study.

To understand how Paschalidis works, think of how an autopilot controls an airplane. As a plane flies, autopilot software takes in data about its position and uses that data to adjust the plane’s trajectory as necessary. It’s a constant flow of data intake, analysis, and feedback. Similarly, when Paschalidis sets out to improve, say, a network of sensors, he and his research team write computer software that takes in data about how the system is working and then finds ways to correct or improve it.

In this project, hospital patients are the systems.

Fortunately, EHRs offer plenty of data—test results, diagnoses, prescriptions, emergency room (ER) visits, previous hospitalizations, demographic information. It’s far too much for doctors and nurses to comb through manually, but enough to feed an algorithm that automatically processes the information and flags at-risk patients. The software works by sifting through records of patients who were previously hospitalized and learning which risk factor—a certain number of chest complaints or an unusual level of a particular enzyme in the heart, for example—might have been red flags. The algorithm then uses those red flags to warn of future hospitalizations.

The challenge for Paschalidis was understanding how to properly use medical data and how to incorporate this kind of software in an actual hospital. That’s where Adams comes in.

A pediatrician and medical informatician (someone who uses information technology to improve health care), Adams has spent the past 20 years thinking about how to use data from EHRs to improve patients’ health outcomes, especially among families in Boston’s urban communities. He’s also one of the lead scientists at BU’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI), one of 60 such sites across the country that aim to accelerate medical advances by encouraging researchers in disparate fields to collaborate on medical research.

“This is a perfect example of translational research collaboration,” Adams says. “Yannis and his lab have exceptional skills in data mining that we don’t have, but we have extraordinary data and clinical expertise.”

To use that data, Paschalidis and his team first needed a crash course in medical terminology to make sure they understood what they were working with. Much of EHR data is contained in a kind of “clinical language” that only doctors understand, Adams says. Sometimes, he says, even the same term can have different meanings, depending on the context in which the doctor records it. For example, a diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) can be recorded as either a diagnosis made during a visit or a problem on the patient’s problem list. Both could be recorded with the same code (ICD-9 401.9), but users would need to know to look further to decide which of the two meanings the data represents. Cleaning up “messy” data—figuring out what it means, what to use, and how to represent it in the software—is time-consuming but important, Paschalidis says. “If you fit garbage to an algorithm,” he says, “you’ll get garbage as output.”

The researchers remove any identifying information from the EHRs using open-source software from a National Institutes of Health-funded center at Harvard University called i2b2 (Informatics for Integrating Biology & the Bedside).

Once the data is cleaned up and anonymized, Paschalidis and his graduate students can enter it into their software. The algorithm they built classifies patients as either at risk or not at risk for heart-related hospitalizations within one year. An elderly patient or someone who visited the ER in the previous year, for example, might be at risk, while a younger person who hasn’t been to the hospital in a few years might not be at risk. How the algorithm will ultimately present this information to doctors is still under development.

To test the software, Paschalidis and his students collected the EHRs of just over 45,500 patients from BMC. They used about 60 percent of the records to train their so-called machine learning software, teaching it which factors had put patients at risk for hospitalizations in the past. Then, they used the remaining data to test the software’s ability to make predictions. They found that it could correctly predict up to 82 percent of heart-related hospitalizations, while falsely predicting hospitalizations in about 30 percent of patients who weren’t actually at risk. Paschalidis says that it’s possible to reduce the number of false predictions, but doing so would correspondingly lower the number of accurate predictions. A false prediction rate of 10 percent, for example, would correspond to an accurate prediction rate of 65 percent.

“In medicine, we’re constantly trying to balance between something that’s concerning and something that might be a false positive,” Adams says. In many cases, however, the recommendations that would come of a false positive—healthy eating, exercise, an extra check-in with the doctor, extra visits from a nurse—could still benefit the patient. And, Paschalidis says, preventing hospital visits that each cost thousands of dollars is worth the occasional unnecessary checkup that only costs a couple hundred dollars.

Adams and Paschalidis published their findings about the machine learning software’s success in predicting heart-related hospitalizations in March 2015 in the International Journal of Medical Informatics. Their co-authors included Venkatesh Saligrama, an ENG professor of electrical and systems engineering; Wuyang Dai and Theodora Brisimi, ENG PhD students working with Paschalidis; and Theofanie Mela, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“If coupled with preventive interventions, our methods have the potential to prevent a significant number of hospitalizations by identifying patients at greatest risk and enhancing their patient care before they are hospitalized,” the researchers write in the study. “This can lead to better patient care, but also to substantial health care cost savings. In particular, if even a small fraction of the $30.8 billion spent annually on preventable hospitalizations can be realized in savings, this would offer significant results.”

Ultimately, Adams says, having this kind of ongoing, automated analysis within electronic medical records could not only help doctors, nurses, and case managers monitor their patients more effectively, it could also elucidate disease risk factors previously undetected by doctors.

“All of us know that a serious problem like diabetes is always going to increase your likelihood of being admitted to the hospital,” Adams says, “but the trick is to determine whether it’s about the thing that’s happening to your diabetes or something else unrelated to your diabetes that has substantially increased the likelihood of being hospitalized. The machine learning software has the potential to learn new associations.” These could be associations between some clinical features that make it more likely for the patient to develop serious complications from diabetes.

In the coming year, Paschalidis and Adams will be interviewing doctors, trying to figure out how best to put this kind of predictive software to work in an actual hospital.

“I’m confident that it will work,” Paschalidis says. “The issue is, what is the best way of incorporating something like that in the practice? Will the doctors use it or ignore it?”

Eventually, Paschalidis says, he’d like to expand the software to predict other, non-heart-related hospitalizations. He’s also currently working with BMC’s surgery department on software designed to flag patients at risk for readmission within 90 days, so hospitals could perhaps monitor those patients more closely. The 90-day window is of particular interest to hospitals because Medicare doesn’t reimburse for readmissions within that timeframe.

Down the road, Paschalidis says, it might also be possible to use data from wearable technologies in addition to EHR data. The data is there, he says; it’s just a matter of getting access to it.

“We carry these smartphones and now these smart watches and all of these fitness trackers and other devices that know much more than the hospital knows about our state of health,” he says. “You now have a much richer record about the patient, and the richer the record is, the better prediction you can make.”

Throughout his career, Paschalidis has put his data analysis skills to use in a lot of different areas. For the past three years, he’s been applying those skills to developing sensor networks for “smart cities.” He says he thinks he’ll be working in health care for a while.

“I feel that health care is an important area,” he says, “and the contributions that you make are somehow more tangible in terms of the potential outcome.”

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

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

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

By Jan Smith

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

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

College of Engineering Dean Kenneth Lutchen is one of 122 deans presenting a letter of commitment to President Barack Obama this week to educate a new generation of engineers expressly equipped to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century.

These “Grand Challenges,” identified through initiatives such as the White House Strategy for American Innovation, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges for Engineering, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, include complex yet critical goals such as engineering better medicines, making solar energy cost-competitive with coal, securing cyberspace, and advancing personalized learning tools to deliver better education to more individuals.

In his commitment letter Dean Lutchen explained how the College of Engineering’s long-standing focus on creating Societal Engineers addresses the Grand Challenges.

“Societal Engineers have the passion and attributes to integrate people from all disciplines and lead organizations to address society’s challenges and improve lives,” he wrote. “In addition to their discipline strength, Societal Engineers’ attributes include broad communication skills, systems thinking, global awareness, and a passion and understanding of the entrepreneurial process, the role public policy plays in technology innovation, and strong social consciousness. These attributes, which echo those of the National Academy of Engineering’s Engineer of 2020, are developed with the specific courses and programs that will translate into creating Grand Challenge Scholars.”

The Grand Challenge, organized by the National Academy of Engineering, is supported by 122 signing schools, each of which has pledged to graduate a minimum of 20 students per year who are specially prepared to lead the way in solving such large-scale problems. The Grand Challenge goal is to train more than 20,000 formally recognized “Grand Challenge Engineers” over the next decade.

Grand Challenge Engineers will be trained through special programs at each institution that integrate five educational elements: a hands-on research or design project connected to the Grand Challenges; real-world, interdisciplinary experiential learning with clients and mentors; entrepreneurship and innovation experience; global and cross-cultural perspectives; and service-learning.

“The NAE’s Grand Challenges for Engineering are already inspiring more and more of our brightest young people to pursue careers that will have direct impacts on improving the quality of life for people across the globe,” said NAE President C.D. Mote, Jr. “Imagine the impact of tens of thousands of additional creative minds focused on tackling society’s most vexing challenges. ‘Changing the world’ is not hyperbole in this case. With the right encouragement, they will do it and inspire others as well.”

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Strategies for Success in the Engineering Classroom

March 26th, 2015 in Uncategorized

Dr. Thomas Little, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

As we continue to improve the educational experience for our students, the College of Engineering is finding ways to increase student engagement by adopting new teaching formats as alternatives to the traditional lecture. What are these new formats? What should students expect in the classroom? And, how should they prepare to ensure success?

What is ‘Active Learning’?

Standing2In the classic lecture format, familiar to most college students, a professor presents materials using a chalkboard or presentation slides and students take notes. Students perform problem sets as homework and later the students are assessed using exams throughout the course. In the ‘active learning’ approach, students are expected to learn course materials through reading or recorded lectures done as homework, and the time in the classroom is used for the application of the theory learned as preparation for the active learning classroom.

A typical classroom session with active learning consists of one or two topics or active learning modules. In each module the professor will assign to the class, for example, a problem related to the topic material covered as homework. The class will often be decomposed into small groups (of size 3-6 students). Each group will formulate a solution to the assigned problem, discussing amongst themselves appropriate approaches. The instructor, instead of lecturing, will rotate through the classroom discussing solution approaches with each group. At the end of a suitable analysis period, the instructor will call on each group to describe to the class the results of their work. Results are compared and contrasted and insights to the problem solving are discovered and shared with the class. This process is repeated with variations, often with a recap at the conclusion of the classroom session.

The realized benefit of active learning is threefold: (1) students become engaged in the learning process and application of concepts; they must be aware and present in the classroom rather than as scribes of lecture material; (2) students receive more individual attention as the professor’s time is spent interacting with small groups and with individual students in instruction tailored to their needs; instruction can now be done to the level of individuals instead of to the average level of the whole class; and (3) there is evidence that this teaching paradigm leads to better knowledge retention and is generally more fun.

Tips for Active Learning

sittingThe professor will provide the rules for the classroom experience at the start of the course, but students can take several steps to participate effectively and get the most out of the opportunity:

  1. Come to class prepared: This means performing the required reading or review of recorded lectures.
  2. Facilitate your group: When your group is assigned a problem, identify a note-taker, a discussion leader, and contributors. Rotate roles for each active learning unit.
  3. Get involved: When your group is assigned a problem, be engaged and contribute to the problem solution. The combined efforts of the group will be greater than the individual parts.
  4. Ask for help: If anything is unclear, get help. The instructor expects to work directly with groups in the active learning format.
  5. Speak up: being a group’s presenter can be difficult but is an opportunity to be recognized by the instructor and by the class. Be proud of your work!
  6. Have fun: Active learning is not stiff and formal like you find in a lecture. Participation with your peers in a small group is effective, social, and an opportunity to make learning much more satisfying.

The College of Engineering strives to realize the most effective way to educate our students. Active learning is a new approach that is aligned with achieving these goals and is one of many initiatives to educate the next generation of Engineers.


Tom Little is the Associate Dean of Educational Initiatives and a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering, where he is leading an initiative to incorporate ‘active learning’ into the engineering classroom.

Paying it Forward: Masters Alumni Share Tip with Current Students

March 26th, 2015 in Alumni, Events, Graduate Students, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

By Jan Smith

Carolyn Gaut, (BME MEng ’14), Study Manager for InviCRO LLC was one of six Masters program alumni who returned to campus to share job advice with current students.

Carolyn Gaut, (BME MEng ’14), Study Manager for InviCRO LLC was one of six Masters program alumni who returned to campus to share job advice with current students.

Six graduates of the Masters programs at College of Engineering returned to campus in February to help 29 current graduate students with their job searches. For many of the attendees of the latest Professional Development Series event, it was a needed boost.

“I’m always trying to look for ways to give back because I had a great experience at BU,” said Carolyn Gaut (BME Meng ’14), Study Manager for InviCRO LLC. “Talking to students, encouraging them, and giving them some advice makes my struggles when I was looking for a job worth it.”

Even for the strongest students, the job search process can be stressful. In today’s competitive marketplace, employers want to see candidates who offer both professional experience and advanced education. Students don’t always recognize how to present the value of their experiences in the classroom, practicum, work-study, or workplace internships or coops. And many lack the confidence or know-how to network effectively.

The Professional Development Series are tailored to the needs of graduate students. Dr. Jonathan Rosen, Director, Technology Innovation and Senior Lecturer in the BME Department, co-designed the series with Director of Professional Education and Corporate Relations Kirstie Miller to “prepare and successfully launch our professional graduate engineers onto challenging and rewarding career paths.” Many of the evening’s panelists noted that the workshops and Dr. Rosen’s help during their own job search had been invaluable.

Real-World Experience, Practical Advice

Alumni panelists seated L to R): Yuval Harel (BME MEng ’12), Bhavesh Patel (ME MEng ’14), Ben Hertz (ME MEng ’14), Abhinav Nair (CE MEng ’14), Samantha Messier (BME MEng ’14), and Carolyn Gaut (BME MEng ’14). With Professor Rosen and Kirstie Miller.

Alumni panelists seated L to R): Yuval Harel (BME MEng ’12), Bhavesh Patel (ME MEng ’14), Ben Hertz (ME MEng ’14), Abhinav Nair (CE MEng ’14), Samantha Messier (BME MEng ’14), and Carolyn Gaut (BME MEng ’14). With Professor Rosen and Kirstie Miller.

In presentations and roundtable discussions, all six of the recent graduates shared their job-search experiences and what their day-to-day responsibilities and opportunities are in their new jobs. They were eager to “pay it forward,” offering inspiration and advice on how to stay motivated and to be most effective.

Yuval Harel (BME MEng ’12), and Quality Engineer for DePuy Synthes spine, a division of J&J, stressed the importance of using all of the College’s workforce resources. “I started my job search the day I arrived at BU,” he explained. “I asked for help from Dr. Rosen to choose the right courses and to know how to network and what to do.”

Havel advised students to have confidence and sell themselves. “Even graduate students can think that they don’t have value for industry because they are students. You need to be very confident in who you are. Look at what you really have to offer – you’re a master. Now is the time to show your expertise.”

All of the panelists emphasized networking, which Dr. Rosen also stresses throughout the Professional Development Series. Havel added that while social media can help students find critical connections and gain introductions, maintaining those connections is key “When I got out of BU I worked for another company for a year before coming to J&J,” he explained. “One of the only reasons I got my current job is because I had previously met someone at a networking event at BU, and I maintained that connection. When a position arose at J&J, I contacted that individual to say that I was applying and had the experience required. That connection was invaluable.”

Stressing Networking, Internships, Self-Confidence

Bhavesh Patel (ME MEng 2014), R&D Engineer for Medtronic. “Just one year ago, I was in the same shoes as these students.”

Bhavesh Patel (ME MEng 2014), R&D Engineer for Medtronic. “Just one year ago, I was in the same shoes as these students.”

Bhavesh Patel (ME MEng ‘14), R&D Engineer with Medtronic, relished the opportunity to share his experience through the Alumni Panel.

“Just one year ago, I was in the same shoes as these students,” he explained. “The Professional Development Seminars I attended definitely helped me mentally prepare for the job search process. I learned important tips and tricks from the alumni and professionals that were invited to speak at the events. Hearing about the speakers’ experiences gave me a different and unique perspective of the process and was tremendously helpful.

Internships and co-ops were also front and center in the discussion. Carolyn Gaut’s management position at her current company came about through two prior internships with the company, which helped her to hone her career goals and even her coursework as a Masters student.

“The internship was what opened my career and helped many of my friends find jobs,” she said. “so I really encouraged the students to take advantage of any opportunity they have. Work the network you establish for yourself. If you start off in an internship, a lot of times they’ll hire you.”

Manya Chen (ECE MS ’14). “The alumni panelists re-energized me and gave me new ideas and inspiration.”

Manya Chen (ECE MS ’14). “The alumni panelists re-energized me and gave me new ideas and inspiration.”

By the end of the evening, the mood was decidedly upbeat. Even students who had been feeling discouraged in their own job search said they came away with new energy. “The alumni panelists re-energized me and gave me new ideas and inspiration,” said Manya Chen (ECE MS ’14). Manya switched from a PhD track to the Masters program this semester and seeking a position as a quality engineer or software quality assurance engineer in a technology company. “ They all had different approaches to finding their dream job. I’m taking their suggestions into my search for professional happiness.”

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Unexpected Discoveries from an International Electricity Blackout

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

By Gabriella McNevin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charles River Campus Has 21 New Full Professors

March 5th, 2015 in Faculty, Recognition

Nine ENG Faculty Among Those Promoted

By Rich Barlow, BU Today

Faculty from five BU schools on the Charles River Campus have been promoted to full professor. Photo by Robert Dolan

Faculty from five BU schools on the Charles River Campus have been promoted to full professor. Photo by Robert Dolan

Beholding creation, Christopher Schneider longs to understand the forces—evolution, environment, history—that have woven the astounding tapestry of living things. He researches how animal ecology acts with those forces in a given region, especially the tropics, to create new species and maintain biodiversity. His teaching, he says, aims to give students “direct experience with organisms in nature.”

Which is why they must tread carefully around alligators.

Schneider’s research and his instructional prowess, including a field trip to Florida for a herpetology class last spring, helped to make him one of 21 Charles River Campus faculty members elevated to full professor recently—in Schneider’s case, in the College of Arts & Sciences biology department.

Director of BU’s Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Schneider has contributed to our understanding of biodiversity (he led the discovery several years ago of more than 100 species of tree frogs. He also trumpets the peril that biodiversity faces from climate change and the conversion of wild habitats to farming and other uses. “We are living in an age during which our actions threaten the world with the sixth great mass extinction in the history of life,” he says, adding that such disaster could be avoided if humans can only adopt more sustainable lifestyles. “Time,” however, “is not on our side,” he says.

While Schneider studies the vast interconnectedness of nature, Kamil Ekinci views the infinitesimally minute world of nanotechnology. Ekinci—now Professor Ekinci (ME, MSE) at the College of Engineering—earned his promotion in part by developing techniques to build nanoscale devices and to measure extremely small signals coming from these devices. His work, which promises many practical uses, including biomedicine, won him a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and a visiting fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

Several new professors are known for pushing the boundaries of traditional academic responsibility. Michael Reynolds, elevated at the College of Fine Arts—doesn’t confine himself to his BU charges. Trying to reverse a decline in string instrument instruction in the late ’90s, Reynolds, an accomplished cellist and member of the Muir String Quartet, founded the Classics for Kids Foundation, which gives matching grants for instruments to schools and art groups nationally, especially for underserved kids. “Strong music programs have a very positive ripple effect on a school’s academics and student behavior,” he says.

At BU, Reynolds teaches his students ensemble management and entrepreneurship in music: “I spend a lot of time talking with them about finding best fits down the road for them, whether it be performing, teaching, arts administration, the growing world of musical entrepreneurship, or all of the above.” Winner of a Grammy and other awards, he knows what he’s talking about, having performed almost 2,000 concerts around the world (and a PBS broadcast from the White House during the Reagan administration).

As well as Christopher Schneider, Kamil Ekinci, and Michael Reynolds, the other promoted professors are:

Thomas Berger, CAS professor of international relations

Berger studies German and Japanese politics, focusing on nationalism, identity, and security. His War, Guilt and World Politics after World War II was named one of 2013’s best books by Foreign Affairs magazine. He is now writing a comparative study of alliance politics. His articles and essays have appeared in such publications as International SecurityReview of International StudiesGerman Politics, and World Affairs Quarterly.

Sean Elliott, CAS professor of chemistry

Elliott helped pioneer the study of electron transfer in metal-requiring proteins, using electrochemistry and spectroscopy. His dozens of journal articles, papers, and international talks are widely cited. He has won an NSF CAREER Award, two Research Corporation for Science Advancement Collaborative Innovation awards, BU’s Gitner Award, and the CAS Templeton Award for innovation and excellence in teaching.

Robert Pollack, CAS professor of mathematics and statistics

Pollack is an internationally known numbers theorist whose research is NSF-funded and whose papers have been published worldwide in the Annals of Mathematicslnventiones Mathematicae, and Duke Mathematical Journal. He won BU’s Gitner Award for Innovation in Teaching with Technology.

Leonid Reyzin, CAS professor of computer science

Reyzin is an internationally known cryptography researcher studying the minimal assumptions needed for provably secure communication (such as user authentication and network security). He has helped to develop cryptography standards and consulted for industry. He won an NSF CAREER Award and the CAS Neu Family Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Daniel Segré, CAS biology and ENG bioinformatics and biomedical engineering

Segré uses theoretical and computational modeling and experimental tests to unravel cellular metabolism in microbes, yielding biomedical advances. With almost $8 million from the NIH, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense, he has written dozens of articles in leading publications and was a DuPont Horizons in Biotechnology distinguished speaker.

Irene Zaderenko, CAS professor of romance studies

Zadarenko specializes in the prose and medieval epic poetry of Spain, especially the Poema de mio Cid. She wrote two books on the poem and many journal articles on Spain’s Middle Ages. She is a regular on the lecture-and-panel circuit at conferences in the United States, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Mexico, and Canada.

Christopher Daly, College of Communication professor of journalism

Daly teaches reporting techniques and ethics to budding journalists. He writes a blog for learners of diverse backgrounds. He has written many scholarly essays, thousands of magazine and newspaper articles, and several books, including the centuries-spanning history Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism (2012).

Calin Belta, ENG professor of mechanical engineering and systems engineering

Belta helps answer important questions in engineering and systems biology with work in robotics and control, for which he develops computational tools, including network systems. A senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Belta is an associate editor of the SIAM Journal on Control and Optimization and has received an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award and an NSF CAREER Award.

Edward Damiano, ENG professor of biomedical engineering

Damiano, famous for his development of a “bionic pancreas” for Type 1 diabetes sufferers, specializes in endocrinology and biomechanics. Last November’s University Lecturer, Damiano has raised more than $14 million for his research from such donors as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He has written dozens of journal articles and organized numerous seminars.

Martin Herbordt, ENG professor of electrical & computer engineering

Herbordt, a scholar of computer architectures and high-performance computing, researches accelerating algorithms that can be used in areas such as bioinformatics and computational biology. He created a commercially successful software package, has written widely cited articles and presentations, and received NSF, NIH, and industry grants, as well as IBM’s Faculty Award.

Catherine Klapperich, ENG professor of biomedical engineering and materials science & engineering

Klapperich integrates systems science and engineering to design diagnostic, cancer screening, and treatment-monitoring tools for underserved groups. A Kern Innovation Faculty Fellow, she directs the NIH-funded Center for Future Technologies in Cancer Care and the Laboratory for Diagnostics and Global Healthcare Technologies. She is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Elise Morgan, ENG professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, and materials science & engineering

Morgan studies how mechanical signals contribute to the development, adaptation, degeneration, and regeneration of bone and cartilage. She has written dozens of widely cited journal articles and presentations. Her research and teaching awards include a Young Investigator Award from the International Osteoporosis Foundation and last year’s ENG Faculty Service Award.

Roberto Paiella, ENG professor of electrical & computer engineering and materials science & engineering

Paiella studies photonics and materials science and develops semiconductor structures and efficient devices, such as lasers, green light LEDs, and infrared detectors, that emit stronger light. He has won grants from the NSF, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Department of Energy. A senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, he sits on the editorial board for Scientific Reports.

Muhammad Zaman, ENG professor of biomedical engineering and materials science & engineering

Zaman specializes in the interface of cell biology, mechanics, systems biology, and medicine, using computational and experimental tools to understand and ultimately prevent cancer metastasis. He is equally devoted to the delivery of modern medical technology to the developing world. The recipient of numerous NIH grants and a recent Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professorship, he has authored two books, seven book chapters, and dozens of widely cited articles on the properties of cell clusters and improved global health.

Martin Amlin, CFA professor of music

Amlin composes and plays classical music on the piano, chairs the school’s composition and theory department, and directs BU’s Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Composition Program. Internationally known for his work with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Boston Pops, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Amlin has recorded works for major labels and received many grants.

Joshua Fineberg, CFA professor of music

Fineberg, a preeminent scholar and composer of electronic music, combines acoustical research with psychological aspects of music perception to create aural landscapes, a sense of place created by music that’s similar to people’s visual sense of place. Winner of international prizes and fellowships, Fineberg founded and directs BU’s Center for New Music. He has authored a book on contemporary music as well as music performed and recorded by leading American and European new music artists.

Edward Riedl, School of Management professor of accounting

Riedl studies the effect of international accounting and fair value accounting on accuracy in financial reporting. He has written for leading journals, and he sits on the editorial board for The Accounting Review. He is associate editor for the Journal of International Accounting Research. Last year, Riedl cochaired the American Accounting Association’s annual conference, the world’s largest gathering of accounting researchers.

Marshall Van Alstyne, SMG professor of information systems

Van Alstyne studies information economics, communications markets, intellectual property, and the effects of technology and information on society and productivity. He has two patents involving encryption technology and cocreated the concept of “two-sided networks” (in which products and services link two groups, as, for instance, a credit card links buyers and sellers.) The winner of an NSF CAREER Award, he has written for ScienceNatureHarvard Business Review, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

“We are incredibly proud of this talented group of faculty and the work they’ve been able to accomplish during their time here at BU,” says Jean Morrison, University provost. “Whether publishing seminal writings that challenge and expand our understanding of the world around us, discovering brighter, more efficient ways to deliver light, or engineering sophisticated, low-cost tools to diagnose and treat illness in underserved populations, all are helping to redefine their fields of inquiry and impacting countless lives through their research and teaching. They go to the very heart of our mission as a research university, and we are glad to see them continuing their careers here.”

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Alumni Commercializing Technology to Improve the Health Care Industry

February 24th, 2015 in Alumni, Events, News-EP, Recognition, Research-EP

By Gabriella McNevin

David Freedman’s winning pitch on the startup stage at CES, presented by Up Global.

David Freedman’s winning pitch on the startup stage at CES, presented by Up Global.

NexGen Arrays develops light-based virus detection tests that have potential to improve the health care industry. Alumnus David Freedman (ECE ’09, @DScottFreedman) is the company Co-Founder & CEO.

Recently, Freedman connected with representatives from the National Science Foundation (NSF) while attending the 2015 International Consumer Electronic Show® (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. NSF filmed their conversation. The video underlines that NexGen Arrays is developing tests to rapidly identify viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola, Lassa, and Marburg. Nexgen Arrays is also developing additional healthcare tests with clinical collaborators in the area of Oncology and Diabetes.

As highlighted in the NSF video conversation, NexGen Arrays tests are used at the patient’s health care site, resulting in actionable clinical information. This feature is a huge deviation from standard sensitive diagnostic tests. Typically, diagnostic tests are less timely because they require the support of a full lab that is often located at a separate location.

The technology that NexGen Arrays is commercializing sprouted from novel biomedical optics research that was performed in Professor M. Selim Unlu’s (@MSelimUnlu) laboratory. NexGen Arrays is working in collaboration with Becton Dickerson (BD), John Connor from the BU School of Medicine and the BU Photonics Center. The mission has received funding from the NSF Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, and the National Institute of Health (NIH) and industrial partners.

As a post-doctoral researcher for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Freedman led the development of prototype development in 2011-2012 as part of an NSF Accelerated Innovative Research (NSF-AIR) grant. The NSF-AIR program led Freedman to participate in the NSF Innovation Corps (I-CORPS) program in 2013 to determine the commercial potential of Nexgen Arrays light-based technology. The future of Nexgen Array  looks bright to Freedman, who established the company in 2014, “I’m excited for 2015. We’re growing rapidly, and are positioning ourselves for great commercial success.”


Click to read more Alumni Spotlight articles.

Two ECE Senior Design Teams in Intel-Cornell Cup Finals

February 18th, 2015 in Awards, Courses, Events, News-CE, News-EP, Recognition, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

Projects Address Everyday Problems with Embedded Technology

By Mark Dwortzan 

C.A.R.R. team members Jeremy Bensabat (CE), Luke Poitras (EE), Caroline Wu (EE), Omar Rana (CE) and Jason Tow (CE).

C.A.R.R. team members Jeremy Bensabat (CE), Luke Poitras (EE), Caroline Wu (EE), Omar Rana (CE) and Jason Tow (CE).

Two Electrical & Computer Engineering senior design teams have been named finalists in the Intel-Cornell Cup 2015 competition, which challenges science and engineering college students to conceive of, design and demonstrate the next great embedded technology application. One team’s project, C.A.R.R. System (Cyclist Alert Real-time Response), notifies drivers of potential collisions with approaching cyclists. The other, GrowBox, is an automated hydroponic device that enables users to grow an edible plant, virtually carefree.

A high-level illustration of the C.A.R.R. team's prototype. The system uses two cameras (one mounted on each side-view mirror) that feed a detection algorithm housed within an alert hub mounted on the dashboard. The alert hub processes live video of the road, determines if a cyclist is present and delivers feedback to the driver.

A high-level illustration of the C.A.R.R. team’s prototype. The system uses two cameras (one mounted on each side-view mirror) that feed a detection algorithm housed within an alert hub mounted on the dashboard. The alert hub processes live video of the road, determines if a cyclist is present and delivers feedback to the driver.

The C.A.R.R. System and GrowBox teams will attend talks, network with leading engineering firms and showcase their work along with 20 other finalists from across the country on May 1-2 at NASA Kennedy Space Center. They’ll vie for the competition’s grand prize, $10,000 or one of up

to seven $2,500 awards, all of which include an invitation to exhibit in Intel’s booth at the Maker Fair in New York City or San Mateo, California.

Having survived an hour-long, online semifinal round in February to make it to the finals, both teams subsequently received

$1,500, Intel Atom boards and other equipment, and access to technical experts at Intel and other sponsoring companies to develop their systems.

“Both teams are passionate about their projects and are dedicated to using their engineering skills for the betterment of society,” said Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano(ECE), the lead faculty member for the ECE Senior Design Project course. “They are continually seeking ways to improve their designs, and it’s rare not to see them in the lab working on aspects of their projects.”

Concerned about the rising number of annual bicycle accidents in Boston and other metropolitan areas, the C.A.R.R. System team aims to equip motorists with a bike detection system that consists of cameras attached to both side-view mirrors and a real-time image-processing algorithm. When the system pinpoints a potential or impending collision through the algorithm, it displays and announces a warning on an alerting device that’s easily mountable on the dashboard. Issued within about 200 milliseconds from the moment of detection, the warning indicates which side of the vehicle is on a collision course with an approaching cyclist. In a recent test producing one hour of sample footage, the system successfully identified 92.55 percent of cyclists present, with an overall accuracy of 83.65 percent.

GrowBox team members Ahmed Alfuwaires (EE), Sasha Rosca (CE), Mark Barrasso (CE), Patrick Crawford (CE) and Jesse Fordyce (EE)

GrowBox team members Ahmed Alfuwaires (EE), Sasha Rosca (CE), Mark Barrasso (CE), Patrick Crawford (CE) and Jesse Fordyce (EE)

Testing out several designs and detection algorithms, the team settled on a dual camera system with a single, centralized alert hub, and an algorithm that provided the most accuracy and fastest response time.

“After living in Boston for four years, we are very aware of the dangers that exist on the road for drivers and cyclists alike,” said C.A.R.R. team member Omar Rana (CE). “We wanted to create a product that could fit both old and new vehicles, be easy to install and remove, and theoretically reach the market at an affordable price.”

Conceptual model of GrowBox prototype

Conceptual model of GrowBox prototype

Seeking to help would-be vegetable gardeners who lack the space, time or requisite green thumb to grow their own food, the GrowBox team has designed an automated system that can see to a plant’s needs and report on its status through a combination of sensors, actuators and image processing software. If human intervention is required, an iOS app will notify the user with instructions. GrowBox consists of a hydroponic subsystem that periodically floods the plant with water and nutrients; red, white and blue LEDs tuned to provide optimal lighting conditions for the plant; a backend subsystem that controls all sensors, actuators and lights; and a cloud-based database that backs up all sensor and image data. GrowBoxes are designed to be stackable so a user could grow a column of vegetables in a compact space.

The team’s biggest challenge has been to create and maintain the water/nutrient solution that’s needed to sustain the plant. To solve the problem, they found a nutrient mixture that keeps pH, electrical conductivity and other essential GrowBox parameters constant.

“Together, we developed ideas for the GrowBox and the reduction of the user’s role in the growth of a plant,” said Sasha Rosca (CE), who came up with the idea for the project. “Once the automation technology is developed, it can be implemented in large grow houses around the world to provide people with food year-round.”

Horenstein Invited to Speak as a Principal International Electrostatic Expert

February 17th, 2015 in Awards, Faculty, Recognition

By Gabriella McNevin

Electrical Engineering Professor Mark Horenstein

Electrical Engineering Professor Mark Horenstein

Boston University Electrical Engineering Professor Mark Horenstein was invited to deliver the Bill Bright Memorial Lecture Electrostatics 2015, sponsored by the Institute of Physics. Horenstein has accepted the honor, and will join other world-leading experts in electrostatics in England in April 2015.

The Institute of Physics Electrostatics Group (IOP) organizes this conference every four years to provide the opportunity to unite academic and industry electrostatics experts. Horenstein’s research in electrostatics is well known, and he is regarded as one of the leading experts in the field in both academia and industry.

Horenstein will discuss “The Contribution of Surface Potential to Diverse Problems in Electrostatics.” The lecture will focus on the role that the simple concept of surface potential plays across numerous applications of electrostatics. Surface potential is the driving factor, for example, in the propagating brush discharge, a dangerous explosion hazard in industrial environments. Surface potential is also key to such seeming obscure topics as the electrostatics of parachutes and the backflow of charge on moving webs (large, industrial sized sheets of polymer or textile used in roll-to-roll industrial processes).

In 2013, Horenstein was an invited speaker at the Electrostatics 2013 International Conference on Electrostaics held by the Static Electricity in Industry group of the European Federation of Chemical Engineers. At the conference, he was bestowed the honor of being named International Fellow.

Currently, Horenstein serves as the Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Electrostatics and is an honorary life member of the Electrostatics Society of America (ESA). In 2012, he was named Outstanding Professor of the Year by the College of Engineering at Boston University. Horenstein is a named inventor on five patents. He received his Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1978, and his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975.

In addition to Horenstein’s expertise in electrostatics, he is known for his textbooks on microelectronics and engineering design. He currently works on technology for self-cleaning photovoltaic solar panels and concentrating solar mirrors.

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