Attendees Celebrate New IEEE Journal Edited by ENG’s Paschalidis
By Mark Dwortzan
Microbes are all around us—even inside us—and that’s a good thing. Left alone, these tiny organisms have a huge impact on everything from human health to wastewater treatment. But with a little engineering, they could do even more. In certain environments, their metabolic processes could be exploited to make biofuels, vaccines and other useful products and services. To tap their potential,Associate Professor Daniel Segrè (Biology, BME, Bioinformatics) and collaborators have developed mathematical models to predict the metabolic interactions that occur among different microbial species under varying environmental conditions, and to design new microbial networks with desired properties.
Sponsored by the IEEE Control Systems Societyand the Center for Information and Systems Engineering at Boston University, SCONES celebrated the inaugural March 2014 issue of theIEEE Transactions on Control of Network Systems(TCNS), a new IEEE Transactions journal edited by Professor Yannis Paschalidis (ECE, BME, SE) focused on problems related to the control, design, study, engineering, optimization and emerging behavior of network systems.
“We live in a world that is extremely interconnected,” said Paschalidis, the journal’s editor-in-chief. “This is also true of systems, biological or manmade, that support our modern way of life. Networks, which both connect system components and influence how they function as a whole, are increasingly the focus of leading edge research, and this is the impetus forTCNS and SCONES.”
One author of each paper in the inaugural issue presented at the symposium, along with talks and posters from several other researchers in the field. Representing major research institutions from around the world, SCONES presenters explored the analysis, control and optimization of electric power, computer, communication, transportation, biological, cyber-physical, social and economic networks. As if bringing the TCNS journal to life, the 23 featured speakers illustrated complex concepts with a flurry of equations, algorithms, graphs and diagrams.
“TCNS aspires to become the premiere destination for mathematically rigorous work in network systems,” said Magnus Egerstedt, an ECE Professor at Georgia Tech and the TCNS deputy editor-in-chief—and the SCONES presenters lived up to that promise.
In addition to Segrè, two other Boston University researchers shared highlights of papers they co-authored in the inaugural issue of TCNS on resource allocation and routing, the selection of optimal path by which to transmit information across the nodes of a network.
Professor Lev Levitin (ECE, SE) presented an alternative to wormhole routing, a widely used routing technique that’s prone to deadlock—multiple messages getting blocked by one another in a vicious cycle—under heavy computer network traffic. Levitin described a series of new, high-performance algorithms that he, Professor Mark Karpovsky (ECE) and ECE Visiting Researcher Mehmet Mustafa developed to break such cycles and prevent deadlock formation during routing and thus preserve network connectivity.
Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE) presented an optimal control strategy that he, Tao Wang (SE, PhD’13) and Sepideh Pourazarm (SE, PhD candidate) devised to maximize the lifetime of sensor batteries deployed at each node of a wireless sensor network for surveillance, environmental monitoring or other applications where human intervention may be inconvenient or costly.
“Because every node has limited energy, you have to worry about the battery dying and the network ceasing to function,” said Cassandras, “so you need to focus on battery lifetime.”
Modeling each battery as a dynamic system in which energy does not dissipate in a linear fashion, the strategy uses an algorithm to determine the routing scheme that will minimize that energy loss.
The symposium, which was well-attended and featured many fruitful exchanges between speakers and attendees, signified how well the TCNS journal has been received by the international research community, Paschalidis observed.
“In the first three TCNS issues published in 2014, we have seen papers covering many types of network systems, from networked control and multi-agent systems, to communication, transportation, electric power, biological and social networks,” he noted. “SCONES is playing a key role in coalescing a community of researchers around the journal.”
Yasaman Khazaeni, Theodora Brisimi, and Sepideh Pourazarm represented the Division of Systems Engineering (SE) and Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE) at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) Of Women In Computing Conference on October 8-10, 2014, in Phoenix, AZ. These women had the opportunity to network, increased visibility in their respective disciplines, engaged in discourse with other professionals, and more importantly, learned and were inspired by prominent women who transform the course of technology. SE and CISE encourage talented individuals by organizing events and workshops to support their research and by sponsoring their participation in conferences such as GHC.
Theodora Brisimi, an Electrical and Computer Engineering PhD student, whose advisor is Professor Ioannis Paschalidis, presented a poster, “Modeling and Prediction of Heart-Related Hospitalization Using Electronic Health Records” at the conference this year. “I want to better the world by improving the incorporation of data analytics in city and societal general projects”, said Theodora, which is indicative of where her interests lie in the development and application of new techniques in machine learning, optimization, and decision theory. “CISE has been a great source of information and an excellent opportunity to meet with other researchers. CISE seminars, along with the Women’s Networking Forum and CISE Student Presentation Practice Sessions, have helped me develop my presentation and professional development skills”.
Yasaman Khazaeni, an SE PhD student working with Professor Christos Cassandras, attended the GHC because she anticipated meeting “the women who have made it to the top tier of engineering and computer science field which has been historically dominated by men. I believe I can learn a lot from their experience and achievements”. Yasaman’s work focuses on the development of algorithms and optimization problems that can be utilized in many real world problems such as disaster evacuation, and resource allocation.
Sepideh Pourazarm, an SE PhD student who also works under the guidance of Professor Cassandras, is currently working in the CODES lab developing an optimal control approach to solve the routing problem in sensor networks and electric vehicles with energy constraints. She believes that CISE has contributed to her education especially with “the weekly seminars, which explore different areas of engineering from diverse majors and schools as well as with the BU Scholars Day.” She attended this conference primarily to network and meet the professional women who have contributed to the advancement of technology.
In 1994, Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney co-founded this conference with the vision of bringing women technologists together to celebrate achievements, discuss career interests, and present research. Two decades later, attendees exceed 4,500 participants from 53 countries, 1,900 students from 400 academic institutions, and 2,850 industry professionals. GHC is notably the world’s largest conference for women in technology.
The Grace Hopper Celebration incorporates career sessions with technical sessions, including proposal presentations, mentoring workshops, papers, a PhD forum, panel discussions, and a Poster Session. Conference keynote speakers and presenters were leaders in their respective discipline from academia, government and industry such as DARPA and Microsoft.
This year’s presenters included:
- Shafi Goldwasser – keynote speaker – (RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, winner of the 2012 ACM Turing Award),
- Maria Klawe (President, Harvey Mudd College)
- Satya Nadella (CEO Microsoft),
- Dr. Arati Prabhakar (Director of DARPA).
The Division of Systems Engineering (SE) at Boston University (BU) is seeking candidates for a tenured faculty position at the rank of Professor or Associate Professor in the area of Network Systems. The Division of Systems Engineering is seeking a proven accomplished researcher to provide leadership in the area of network systems and to develop a research program that enhances and complements a number of existing activities that span the ECE and ME Departments. The Division, in conjunction with the Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE), has established widely recognized research excellence in areas such as Sensor Networks, Multi-Agent Systems, and Mobile Robotics. These and other areas where Division faculty are active represent instances of a broader emerging class of network systems. Beyond traditional computer and communication networks, this new class is characterized by network structures whose nodes are complex dynamic systems in themselves (wireless physical devices, robots, power supply centers in a smart grid, vehicles in smart cities, factories/warehouse in supply chains, etc). Candidates with research interests that transcend the traditional boundaries of SE are strongly encouraged to apply. The successful candidate will be given a primary appointment in our Mechanical Engineering or Electrical and Computer Engineering departments as applicable. Additional appointments with other BU departments and the Division of Materials Science and Engineering are available for candidates with appropriate experience and interests.
To apply and for further details, please visit and follow the application instructions online.
Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Preferred deadline for full consideration is December 31, 2014. Therefore, applicants are encouraged to apply early. Boston University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
Belta to Co-Lead $1 Million Study
By Mark Dwortzen
Traffic congestion is a waste not only of time, but also of energy and money. In 2011, it caused Americans in metropolitan areas to spend 5.5 billion extra hours on the road and pump 2.9 billion extra gallons of fuel into their gas tanks, with associated costs reaching $121 billion—a nearly six-fold increase since 1982. Municipalities have attempted to mitigate traffic congestion through highway onramp metering and fees at peak travel times, but the problem continues to worsen.
Now a research team led by Associate Professor Calin Belta (ME, SE) and University of California, Berkeley Associate Professor Murat Arcak (EECS) is advancing a novel solution that could reduce congestion considerably. Supported by a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers plan to develop algorithms for a data-driven traffic management software system that optimizes the timing of traffic lights at both highway onramps and roadway intersections in real time.
The work represents a novel application of “formal methods,” a discipline within computer science focused on efficient techniques for proving the correct operation of systems ranging from computer programs to digital circuits, thus ensuring their reliability and robust performance.
“We want to develop a system in which we can guarantee specifications for traffic networks, just as we do for computer programs,” said Belta. “These specifications will include minimizing traffic jams and maximizing the flow of traffic, all while ensuring that pedestrians don’t have to wait a long time to cross the street.”
Whereas current traffic management systems can reduce traffic congestion within small networks of freeways and arterial roads, the formal methods approach promises to do so across much larger networks. In their algorithms, the researchers plan to partition a large road network into small sub-networks, and establish specifications so that enforcing desired traffic patterns in small sub-networks (and on roads linking one sub-network to another) guarantees desired traffic patterns in the original network.
The proposed techniques will be tested in current and upcoming traffic management projects in California sponsored by Caltrans, the state transportation agency. Applications include a prototype decision support system to be deployed along the Interstate 210 corridor north of Los Angeles, and coordinated ramp metering, arterial intersection and variable speed limit management on a freeway in Sacramento and a freeway-arterial interchange in San Jose.
Over the next three years, the team aims to accomplish three main tasks.
“We plan to develop the theory and algorithms to solve the problem, enable the system to accommodate extreme situations such as sporting events and accidents, and apply statistical methods to enhance its performance,” said Belta.
“Complexity Made Simple (at a Small Price)”
Recognizing senior and junior faculty for major contributions to their fields and to society at large, the College of Engineering has bestowed its annual Distinguished Scholar Award on Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE).
The College of Engineering is expanding its suite of master’s degree programs to give students more flexibility in choosing a program best suited to their career aspirations. Anticipated to be fully in place for the fall 2014 semester, these programs emphasize advanced technical coursework and include an individual or team-based practicum design project. Students will be able to choose among Master of Science and Master of Engineering programs.
“We’ve added new dimensions to our master’s degree programs that speak to the career paths of prospective graduate students,” said College of Engineering Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen. “Whether students want a strictly technical program, one that includes some leadership training or one that prepares them for doctoral work, all options will be available to them.”
All Master of Science programs emphasize advanced technical coursework and include an individual or team-based practicum design project, as well as a range of opportunities to gain practical experience, including company or research internships. MS programs are available in Computer, Electrical, Mechanical, Manufacturing, Systems and Photonics engineering. Programs in Biomedical and Materials Science & Engineering are expected to be available in the fall.
Master of Engineering programs include advanced technical coursework, as well as the option to take elective courses in Project Management and Product Design, some of which are offerred in the School of Management. The programs—offered in Biomedical, Computer, Electrical, Manufacturing, Mechanical, Systems, Photonics, and Materials Science & Engineering—also include a practicum requirement.
All programs can be completed in one or two years. The application deadline for the fall 2014 semester is March 15.
by Mark Dwortzen
In 1963, the College of Industrial Technology (CIT) offered only three degree programs—in technology, aeronautics and management—and occupied a single, four-story building, but the former aviation school’s new dean, Arthur T. Thompson, was bullish about CIT’s future. He aspired to do no less than transform this dot on the Boston University map into an accredited engineering program, and to develop engineers with “the capacity for responsible and effective action as members of our society.”
Thompson began to work this transformation on February 27, 1964—50 years ago today—when CIT was officially renamed as the Boston University College of Engineering. Since then the College has grown to become one of the world’s finest training grounds for future engineers and platforms for innovation in synthetic biology, nanotechnology, photonics and other engineering fields, attracting record levels of student applications, research funding and philanthropic support.
Between 1964 and 2013, the number of degrees conferred annually has increased from zero to 281 bachelors, 184 masters and 53 PhDs; enrollment from around 100 to 1416 undergraduate, zero to 394 masters and zero to 349 PhDs; faculty from 10 to more than 120; advanced degree programs offered from zero to nine masters and six PhDs; and annual sponsored research dollars from zero to $52 million. Meanwhile, the College’s position in the annual US News & World Report’s annual survey of US engineering graduate programs has surged from unranked to the top 20 percent nationally.
At the same time, the College’s faculty, students and alumni have significantly advanced their fields and spearheaded major innovations in healthcare, energy, information and communication, transportation, security and other domains.
Building a World Class Institution
The infrastructure for the world class research and education taking place at today’s College of Engineering was built in stages.
During Thompson’s deanship from 1964 to 1974, the new Aerospace, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering departments received accreditation, with the Manufacturing Engineering program the ﬁrst of its kind to be accredited in the US. The College also instituted the nation’s first BS degree program in bioengineering and expanded to five BS and three MS programs in five fields. Between 1975 and 1985, when Louis Padulo was dean, the College’s student body grew from 250 to 2481; minority and female enrollments skyrocketed; degree offerings rose to 24 BS, MS and PhD programs in eight fields; full-time faculty increased to 67; and sponsored research exceeded $3 million.
When Professor Charles DeLisi (BME) became the new dean in 1990, he recruited many leading researchers in biomedical, manufacturing, aerospace, mechanical, photonics and other engineering fields, establishing a research infrastructure that ultimately propelled the College to its ranking in US News & World Report’s top 50 engineering graduate schools (realized in 2003). A case in point is the BME Department, which DeLisi turned into the world’s foremost biomolecular engineering research hub, paving the way for his successor, Professor David K. Campbell (Physics, ECE), to oversee the department’s receipt in 2001 of a $14 million Whitaker Foundation Leadership Award and discussions leading to additional support from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. Between 1990 and 2005, as the number of full-time faculty rose to 120, research centers to eight, and PhD programs to seven, the College’s external research funding surpassed $26 million.
When Professor Kenneth R. Lutchen (BME) took over as dean in 2006, he aligned the curriculum with undergraduates’ growing interest in impacting society, redefining the educational mission of the College to create Societal Engineers, who “use the grounded and creative skills of an engineer to improve the quality of life.”
Lutchen rolled out several programs to advance this agenda, ranging from the Technology Innovation Scholars Program, which sends ENG students to K-12 schools to show how engineering impacts society, to the new Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC), a unique, hands-on facility, that will educate all ENG students on product design-to-deployment-to-sustainability. He also ushered in a new era of multidisciplinary education and research collaboration by establishing the Systems Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering divisions along with several new minors and concentrations. Meanwhile, professional education opportunities surged on campus with the introduction of eight new Master of Engineering programs and four new certificate programs.
Moving On to the Next 50 Years
That said, what do the next 50 years hold for the College of Engineering? For starters, upcoming educational initiatives include increased integration of digital technologies in courses; new programs with the schools of Management, Education and Public Health; continued efforts to build the engineering pipeline through outreach to K-12 students; and the Summer Institute for Innovation and Technology Leadership, which recruits companies to host teams of ENG and SMG students to tackle targeted problems.
BU also plans to construct the Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering Building—a seven-story, 150,000-square-foot facility that will include interdisciplinary research space for faculty and students in systems and synthetic biology (expanding the College’s recently launched Center of Synthetic Biology(CoSBi))—within the next 10 years, as well as a 165,000-square-foot science and engineering research building. By 2016, ENG expects to add about 61,500 square feet of new lab and classroom space.
In its first half-century, the College of Engineering—through its students, faculty and alumni—has made its mark on several fields while improving the quality of life around the globe. If its rich history of high-impact education and innovation is any guide, the College can expect many more life-enhancing achievements in the coming 50 years.
by Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)
The monthly magazine that publishes articles pertaining to embedded systems and programming initially reached out to Coskun for a Q&A session in its July 2012 issue. Pleased with the in-depth knowledge of the NSF CAREER Award winner, the editors contacted her again last spring to offer a permanent position.
Editor-in-Chief C. J. Abate said that because the magazine is international, he believed Coskun, who has professional and educational experience in the US, Switzerland and Turkey, would be a good fit.
“I’m always looking for contributions from talented, engaging engineers and academics who are working on cutting-edge technologies, such as green computing, thermal management and many-core systems,” Abate added. The magazine’s needs aligned with Coskun’s main research focus – energy-efficient computing.
Coskun was eager to begin. “This opportunity allows me to communicate research ideas, practical implementation aspects of research problems and solutions to engineering problems we come across in my lab to a general engineering and embedded systems audience,” she said.
So far Coskun has enjoyed the change of pace. As opposed to writing technical articles that involve solving open-ended problems specific to research communities, the columns enable her to connect aspects of her work to real-world problems in order to reach a broader audience. In her first column, Coskun discussed how one can build ‘leakage-power aware’ cooling control strategies to save energy and demonstrated an example implementation on a commercial server.
It was only after Coskun wrote her first column that she discovered she was the first female columnist in a magazine with a 25-year history. Noting that one of the magazine’s main goals is to inspire a wider, more diverse audience, Abate expects Coskun’s work to be an inspiration for young engineers and academics.
To add value to Circuit Cellar, Coskun plans to emphasize practical aspects while discussing solutions to energy efficiency problems. She looks forward to receiving feedback from readers to better understand their expectations and interests.
Teaching automatons to figure out what needs to be done
By Rich Barlow
As dancers, this couple is no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The leader’s moves are clunky, his partner’s so tentative that she’s constantly behind a beat. But be kind: they’re beginners at salsa, and they’re bedeviled by something Fred and Ginger never faced.
They’re robots. Watch the video.
H. Kayhan Ozcimder (ENG’11,’15), a dancer with the Boston troupe Collage, has had the inelegant experience of dancing with one of these machines, which resemble a vacuum cleaner minus the hose. Ozcimder dreams of a more agile automaton someday, but for now he’s pleased to have helped program these salsa-bots, proving that “it’s possible to do an art form in a robotic platform.”
Ozcimder is a graduate student in John Baillieul’s Intelligent Mechatronics Lab, whose mission, says the College of Engineering mechanical engineering professor, is to give machines the ability to respond to their environment. The researchers began by mapping the coordinates of actual salsa dancers and programming the robots with four basic beginner moves (relying on his dancer’s knowledge, Ozcimder suggested salsa as a simple starting point for the mechanized dance amateurs). The robots, which are outfitted with motion sensors, read each other’s moves and respond according to the programming.
Ozcimder thinks motion-reading robots might someday serve as useful tools for judging dance competitions (possibly bouncing Kirstie Alley even sooner from Dancing with the Stars), but Baillieul is hunting bigger game. He’s not out to help “some high school guy who had trouble getting a date, so you get a robot. The ultimate goal is to understand human reaction to gestures and how machines may react to gestures.” That could enable robots to team with, and perhaps take over from, humans in hazardous jobs, from treacherous rescues to repairs in lethal environments (think the workers who plunged into the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after the 2011 Japanese tsunami).
The intelligent mechatronics lab is littered with things from dancing robots to flight vehicles. The work builds on an established fact of 21st-century life: computing machines will do more of the work. “Everyday objects like automobiles have gone from almost entirely mechanically engineered things to being machines that are basically controlled at every level by computers,” notes Baillieul. “A typical automobile now has 100 or more microprocessors in it.”
The challenge is to build machines that can perform tasks with some autonomy and respond in fluid situations they might not have been precisely programmed for, an instance where man still has it all over machines. Whereas human reaction is the child of several parents—instinct, surely, but also the ability to learn from experience and sometimes override instinct—robots are not yet agile enough to ignore their “instinct” (programming). The solution, says Baillieul, is to give the machines sufficiently “massive experiential data sets” that they can react to numerous situations.
One avenue the lab is exploring is humans’ use of nonverbal cues to communicate. Good dancers move seamlessly together, responding to each other’s touch and motions; amateurs without experience reading each other’s cues often come off looking stilted. Nonverbal cues can also be used to send misinformation; bats, for example, camouflage their motions so that they can sneak up on insect prey, a fake-out familiar to anyone who’s tried to swat a pesky fly. Hence the lab’s work with getting robots to use sensors to read each other’s metal-body language, aimed at “how you might program flying vehicles or mobile robots to do the right thing, in terms of communicating or not communicating through their motions,” Baillieul says.
Dance companies like Ozcimder’s can rest easy; even he doesn’t foresee automating human dancers out of a job. Robots may be geniuses at detecting footwork, body angles, and other technical metrics that go into a performance, but they can’t judge the intangible artistic panache that might please an audience, like dancers’ facial expressions.
Ozcimder has bad news for our mechanized friends: intangibles make up half the judging criteria at a typical salsa competition.
‘App’lying What They Learned: Profs. Trachtenberg and Coskun’s Students Design Mobile Games for Their Final Projects
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When students think of studying engineering in college, problem sets, heavy textbooks and challenging midterms all come to mind.
During the fall semester, Boston University’s Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE) and Associate Professor Ari Trachtenberg (ECE, SE) took a different approach to teaching by giving students a chance to design mobile games for their final projects.
At the end of their Introduction to Software Engineering course (EC327), Coskun and Trachtenberg asked students to design a marketable Android app.
“Students had to learn how to interface different software components, work in teams – which is often the case in the real world – and think about important aspects of their apps like the target audience, robustness and user interface,” said Coskun.
Many students took a fun approach and came up with apps for chess, tic-tac-toe, or Catch the Fruit, a game that involves squishing as many fruits as possible in a given time limit.
“One of the goals of this project was to make students think about how their application will actually be used, as use-considerations often have a significant influence on real engineering design decisions,” said Trachtenberg.
As part of the assignment, John Moore (ECE ’15) and his teammates designed an app based off of one of the earliest arcade games, Pong.
MorSMS allows text messages to be converted into Morse coded vibrations.
Students had about a month to complete the projects before in-class demonstrations. They worked in teams of four or five people.
Moore said that one of his favorite parts of the project was seeing the interesting ways his teammates would tackle a programming problem – ideas that were often different from his own.
“With this project, you really learned how to work on a team,” he said. “Group members couldn’t improve the app unless they understood how it was working so that forced us to communicate with each other constantly.”
Like Moore, the majority of students designed games for their final projects but some groups took a different approach. Patrick Crawford (ECE ’15) and his teammates created MorSMS, an app that converts text messages into Morse coded vibrations.
“I had a blast working on it,” he said. “Finding the best ways to create the app, for user interface as well as efficiency, is definitely an important skill we took away from this.”
These final projects were possible, in part, because of funding from the Kern Family Foundation. As a Kern Faculty Fellow, Trachtenberg is responsible for helping develop an entrepreneurial mindset among engineering students. Overall, he and Coskun were very pleased with their first results.
“We were impressed by the quality and functionality of the projects as well as the amount of creativity students put into them,” said Trachtenberg.
Their students also gained some insight into what working as an engineer might be like one day. Crawford said, “This was my first time in mobile development, and though it can be time-consuming and difficult to learn something as new as this, it’s well worth it.”