Alumnus Nathan Lindquist is the recipient of the NSF CAREER Award. The award is titled “Digital Plasmonics-based nano-tweezing and nano-imaging for nano-particles.” The CAREER award supports junior faculty who are committed to outstanding research and excellence in education. Nathan is currently working as Assistant Professor of Physics at Bethel University. He earned his doctoral degree in 2011 under the guidance of Prof. Sang-Hyun Oh.
Dr. Sung-Min Sohn, currently a research associate at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR), has been awarded the highly competitive K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award ($1 million for 5 years) by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is a two-part award with the first part (K99 phase) providing 1 to 2 years of mentored support. Part 2, the R00 phase, will support 3 years of independent research contingent on starting an approved tenure-track or equivalent faculty position. His research entitled “Automatic RF signal tuning and matching system for MR imaging and spectroscopy” proposes an electrically driven automation system to tune and match RF coils rapidly and accurately. The automatic system will be implemented on a custom designed MR compatible microchip. Dr. Sohn received his doctoral degree in February 2013 under the guidance of Prof. Anand Gopinath.
March was an exciting month for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Keller Hall, where the department is housed, played host to a one-day conference titled IoT Fuse 2015 on the Internet of Things on March 19, 2015. It was organized by the IoT Minneapolis Meetup group and presented some lively conversations that gave us an insight into what lies ahead in a connected world. Patrick Delaney, an ECE alumnus, was one of the organizers of the conference, and we had the opportunity to ask him some questions after the event. Here is what he had to say about his interest in IoT, the key points of the conference, and the road ahead:
Tell us about your interest in IoT. When were the seeds of interest first planted?
I have had a wonderful time building my two businesses, particularly my second one, designing and manufacturing LED solar lamps. I am fascinated with the concept of being able to work with and design new gadgets, as I am sure many people within this space are. I started working with network-connected gadgets as far back as 2011, when I began developing connected solar products. However at the time the phrase, “Internet of Things,” had not yet hit mainstream. I think the phrase “Internet of Things,” went from the “Buddy Holly,” level of popularity to the “Elvis,” level of popularity some time last year. I became acquainted with some semiconductor devices, which were specifically marketed toward industrial Internet of Things applications, and started to notice the word pop up in the news more and more. Large companies such as CISCO started to put a lot of marketing dollars into the phrase, and people unaffiliated with the tech world started to refer to it. That’s the point at which I decided to start a Meetup.com group here in the Twin Cities around the concept; it became something to rally people around.
How has your interest in IoT evolved over the years?
The Internet of Things is not a real thing; it’s just a conceptualization. It’s a way to get people together around a topic. There are certain technology areas which are associated with it such as wireless connectivity, distributed computing enabled by cheaper processors, big data tools and analytics, as well as the emergence of rapid development, prototyping and agile software methods. That being said, we are living in very exciting technological times in which the edge of the internet can potentially be pushed further out via cheaper, smaller devices. Thus, my approach has been to look at the conceptualization as a “group,” i.e. the truth about the “Internet of Things,” is pluralistic. There are different perspectives from different industries, which help inform each other as a whole. That being said, as an electrical engineer I have been pushing myself very hard (re)learning to code. The basic skills I learned in C++ and MATLAB back at the University of Minnesota have proved to become more relevant over time as I go forward learning Java, Python, and start to understand more about software architecture.
How is the MN tech industry poised to participate in the Internet of Things?
From a historical-cultural perspective, Minnesota is very well positioned—we were the first place to realize commercialized networking with the advent of Engineering Research Associates and Control Data Corporation. Adapting hardware for computing and networking is in our DNA—we are arguably the strongest Midwestern state by far in this area and have been for over half a century. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation have ranked Minnesota as the second highest performing tech state in the nation after Massachusetts. We have over 400 different software companies, particularly within the mobile space, which is arguably the first wave of the Internet of Things. We also have a vast, diverse industrial base. So overall, I believe that as long as we can continue to learn to collaborate and listen to each other, to manage the vast technological challenges associated with bringing connectivity to physical things, we will continue to be one of the leading states, if not the leading state in this area. Of course we are not an island, and will work with many different parts of the world to make this happen. The world is faced with managing a whole new type of IT architectural challenge, we will be a significant contributor because of our technological talent, but also because we are a Midwestern state, where we live and interact with all sorts of industries and “things,” out there in the real world which can be transformed with the power of distributed computing and wireless connectivity.
[Details on the ranking are available here:
What is the IoT Minneapolis Meetup group about?
Within the theme of collaborative learning @iotmpls was formed as a way to bring people together so that we can learn from each other and try to take in different perspectives about how we see the present state of technology shaping up in various industries. It’s like the story of the six blind men: one goes out and says, “Hey, I think this is a rope,” the next goes out and says, “No, it’s a pillar,” the next goes out and says, “No, it’s a wall.” Turns out, they were all right in their own way—they were looking at an elephant, feeling the trunk, leg, and belly. This is a type of technological phenomenon and age where it is beneficial to take in different perspectives on the subject and try to imagine a better world. So each month, we pick a different industry or technological vertical, and bring in real people, folks who live and breathe Internet of Things – either they started a business that harnesses a certain form of connected device, or they are a hacker or researcher with an incredible depth of knowledge on a particular subject, such as “open hardware,” or “remote monitoring of biosensors.” Each person gives a 5-10 minute talk, and then we open up to the audience for questions and collaborative learning and suggestions. Almost without fail, there is an incredible amount of learning and perspective exchange that takes place—for me at least! But people keep coming back; we usually get around 50-70 people there. Of course, networking afterwards is a significant part of the value as well. Some terms that have been coined by some of our presenters and contributors have included, “IoT architecting,” “system of systems engineering,” “real-life mouse,” (referring to Playtabase), and “hardware as a service,” all of which entail various aspects of the present-day ecosystem that can be leveraged to create new business models and occupation types.
How was the idea for IoT Fuse 2015 conceived?
In the software development world, there are a number of homegrown conferences that take place on a regular basis to delve into a topic, such as the Midwest Python Summit, and Mobile March. My friend Justin Grammens, who is part of the senior management of a local software company Code42, came to me with the idea of putting together our own Internet of Things conference. He was one of the founders of Mobile March [a conference that explores trends in mobile technology], which has been going on for about five years now. The University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering was kind enough to sponsor our location, and we found interesting local speakers within the IoT Space, and marketed the event through various avenues. We ended up selling out completely, and had a wonderful set of speakers. The venue worked out great and we can’t thank the University enough for providing the space.
What was the purpose of the conference?
While @iotmpls is more about the individuals and different perspectives on a monthly basis, typically within a more entrepreneurial realm, IoTFuse was about fusing together all walks of life, including large corporate interests, within the space. While I tend to be someone who is biased toward scrappy entrepreneurial startups because of my background, it is important to realize that one of our competitive advantages here in Minnesota is our large corporate environment. So, about half of our presenters were entrepreneurs and hobbyists, while corporate presenters comprised the other half.
What are some key takeaways from IoT Fuse 2015?
What came out of IoTFuse is that there is an interesting interplay between the large corporate players already out there providing all sorts of software and hardware tools and perspectives, and the individuals who are looking to strike out on their own and do something totally innovative. While large companies do not tend to excel at completely breakthrough innovation, they provide the process and control necessary to have a stable environment that a given entrepreneur can pick from in terms of technical tools to utilize. The trick for the entrepreneur or startup CTO is of course being able to pick and architect the right tools, which have the correct amount of overhead and features to fit a given situation. Next year will be even better, and we will continue to propel Minnesota to the top of the IoT scene!
With the creation of a new Power Electronics curriculum by ECE faculty Ned Mohan, Bill Robbins, Vern Albertson (retired), Bruce Wollenberg, Paul Imbertson, Tom Posbergh, and Sairaj Dhople, the need emerged for a new method of presenting the materials and testing the students’ learning and retention of the complex concepts. Jia-Ling Lin, Ph.D., a research scientist for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education Center in the College of Human Development and Education, and ECE instructor Prof. Paul Imbertson collaborated throughout three semesters during three years to develop a new instructional model to present the new curriculum effectively. Before they were done, Lin would conduct hours of research into education practicum and Imbertson would shape and reshape his teaching methods.
Throughout the three semesters, they conducted surveys and focus group meetings. In spring 2013 and 2014, they taped classroom discussions and prepared transcripts. Says Lin, “We knew our model was a success the day a student in class asked a question of a classmate, ‘Why did you use this equation instead of that one?’ Students had learned to think for themselves, to ask the deeper questions, and to demonstrate that they understood the material.”
“No longer was the classroom one-sided with a leader providing information and the students parroting it back during testing,” Lin says. “Dr. Mohan’s new curriculum provided a new context and our new instructional model reinforced an active learning model.”
Three years of instructional modeling
Tamara Moore, Ph.D., the former director of the STEM education Center, had worked with Mohan during the Power Electronics curriculum development process, and upon the project’s completion, Moore asked Lin to assess the implementation of new inquiry-based STEM teaching practices designed to enhance learning in the new curriculum. “I observed that the classical education theory still would be incorporated but the method had to be modernized in some fashion,” Lin says. “We would have to devise new ways of identifying students’ mastery of the material.”
Imbertson was the instructor assigned to EE4701 Electric Drives, one of three core courses to the Power Electronics curriculum. Lin and Imbertson discussed the risks for the new curriculum, the ways new concepts could be provided, and the best use of the pre-recorded lectures and other materials provided by Prof. Mohan and his team. Imbertson says, “It’s important that the students master new skills because engineers must talk to everyone, they must ask questions, they must learn from their peers, and they must work well in groups without a leader present. If choices are difficult in problem solving, they must be able to keep talking and asking great questions.”
Lin conducted an extensive literature search of classroom practice models involving problem-centered learning. “I found developing new methods would require the classroom professor to make moment to moment decisions as he taught,” she says. “The literature stressed that students must be engaged and that learning would include actual implementation of practice rather than passive listening. The instructor’s role would change considerably; no longer would the instructor be the sole authority, rather, he would be a consultative partner with the students. “The notion of flipping classrooms, originating from Khan Academy, has extended into the design of pedagogical support techniques. The model that we created incorporated some techniques from inquiry-based math and science teaching in pre-college classrooms to foster active learning,” Lin says.
Lin and Imbertson turned the short project into a scholarly and fruitful collaboration. Lin attended and critiqued all of the class meetings during a three-year period and Lin and Imbertson met an hour every week to fine-tune the method. “At the beginning of the semester, students had been boisterous and noisy,” Lin says. “As the group problem presentation and evaluation sessions became more refined, the students became more engaged and focused. When Prof. Imbertson gave the important clarifying lectures, both long and short, students began to ask thoughtful questions and were eager to understand and learn more. One day, more than 20 students stayed an extra 40 minutes after class to continue the discussion. We knew then that the new method was working to build engagement.”
At the end of each semester, students provided positive feedback about the new classroom method. One student reported that the best part of this class was that he learned how to ask questions. “We were delighted with that observation,” Lin says. “Formulating and asking questions is one of the most important skills an engineer can have. It was Mother’s Day week and this student’s observation was a wonderful Mother’s Day gift for me. ”
Lin and Imbertson “Four-Practice Model”
Practice One – Anticipating included creating problems for students to solve within the context of having listened to the lectures outside of class time. This technique often is referred to as “Flipping the Classroom” where lecture and reading occur outside the classroom and solving and discussion of problems occur in the classroom among one’s classmates and with the instructor as a guide. During class time, the Electric Drives students worked in groups of three to five, discussing and helping each other with the problems presented.
Practice Two – Monitoring involved the instructor’s active observation of the students’ discussion during their group work. During this time, the instructor shared authority in the classroom with the students encouraging them to take the ownership of their learning. Imbertson walked around listening to the students, coaching as he went along, and noting the problematic areas where students were struggling.
Practice Three – Connecting and contrasting involved scaffolding inquiries, displaying the groups’ work and sharing the students’ responses with the whole class. During the classroom discussion, the instructor would either “connect” or “contrast” the students’ views with the discipline. Through this process, Imbertson would reassure the students’ authority of their answers, and hold them accountable by asking questions of how their work related to the context materials, and move the whole class forward.
Practice Four – Contextualized Lecturing involved the instructor presenting a lecture based on the student’s responses to the material. This involved “teaching in the moment” in response to the areas which seemed problematic to the students, or were in need of reinforcement. It helped students to understand what it means to be accountable for knowledge in the engineering discipline
Key Points from the Research
- In a single model of problem-based learning classroom, some students did well, while others were stuck and were just wasting time.
- A short discussion leading to a numerical solution doesn’t mean that the students know the concepts. The longer the discussion lasts the more clearly one can ascertain if the students are engaging in true learning.
- Solving problems and knowing the solution is successful only if the students also understand the learning process.
- Instructors embraced this new model because it frees time to help students learn to learn.
- Students were more cooperative, more open to sharing and helping each other, and avoided the sometimes negative side of group dynamics with this instructional model.
- Using the new model requires the instructor to revise his problems and solutions as well as discussions on the spot – one needs to be able to shift focus during the class time. When the instructor observed students displaying difficulty with a concept, the instructor would shift to coaching and lecturing if necessary.
- Active learning is observed daily.
- Instructors model transparency and honesty through the use of inclusion techniques, i.e. “Let’s find out together”, rather than “I have all the answers, listen to me.”
- Memorizing for the test and low excitement for learning in the classroom were eliminated.
- Learning becomes a positive activity, even when students were wrong about a problem. Reframing the content and trying again reinforces learning to learn.
It’s an honor and an exceptional opportunity to be invited to conduct research in Antarctica. It’s also a challenge for life and limb, creativity and ingenuity, as well as patience. Rapidly-changing weather can become life threatening, inhibiting travel and research plans.
ECE Prof. Joseph Talghader became involved in technology called optical borehole logging because of his interest in Antarctica and how optics might be used to advance knowledge in glaciology—more specifically how properties of optics could be used to deter-mine the crystal properties of glacial ice. His research is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Current methods of studying ancient ice use core samples drilled out of the ice sheets in places like Antarctica. Optical borehole logging involves sending a laser instrument down the open borehole that remains after an ice core has been drilled and using that laser to determine the dust content of the ice. As the logger is lowered deeper and deeper into the ice, if it encounters a dust layer, for example one produced by a past volcano eruption, the laser will scatter off of that dust and produce a spike in the light received by the logger detector. Dust signatures in the ice can range from obvious dark layers a centimeter thick, such as might come from a huge volcanic eruption, or they can be subtle features that vary over kilometers such as the dust record from glacial and interglacial cycles. A specific set of dust layers can be compared to other dust layers seen in other parts of Antarctica to produce a characteristic chronology that tells scientists how old the ice is at each depth.
Beyond dust, studying ancient ice crystals reveals more information about geological events that have occurred over the last few hundred thousand years. However, attempting crystal structure analysis with a borehole logger will require more advanced optics than a dust logger and is a primary goal of Talghader’s program. In traditional crystal studies, an ice core is pulled from the ice sheet, taken into a laboratory, sliced into sections, and placed between crossed polarizers that are illuminated by polarized light. The resulting images show irregular areas of dark and light corresponding to different crystal within the ice. From this information, scientists can draw conclusions about local temperatures and ice flow from many thousands of years. Currently, however, crystal data obtained from studying the ice cores can be unreliable. When the ice is taken out of the borehole, changes can occur in its structure, through bubble formation or recrystallization. These changes are due to the post-extraction loss of the surrounding ice sheet pressure.
To solve this problem, Talghader, and a graduate student, Wing Chan, teamed up with Dr. Ryan Bay of UC-Berkeley, who constructed some of the earliest optical borehole logging instruments. Bay’s devices measure dust rather than crystal structure, but before attempting to build an instrument that had the new crystal capabilities, Talghader’s group cut their teeth this field season by constructing a logger with similar capabilities to the Berkeley dust instrument but made from optical fiber to make it smaller and more lightweight.
The two researchers brought loggers built in their respective university labs; in Antarctica, they tested both and are now processing data and comparing measurements. Results so far show that where the Berkeley and Minnesota instruments overlap, there are great similarities in the data—a successful first step. Next year, Talghader and Bay will return to the Antarctica to test the Berkeley dust logger and the Minnesota crystal logger at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide.
The Antarctic Experience
This was the scientific expedition that almost wasn’t. During the recent U.S. government shut down, Talghader wondered if the trip would even happen. When the budgetary dust settled, he learned the trip was on, but the destination site had changed. WAIS Divide, the original plan’s first-year test site, had become a victim of government budget cuts and was closed for a year. Talghader’s team was switched to Siple Dome, a remote site that is used primarily as a fuel depot and emergency stopover point for planes flying over the continent. Its personnel this season consisted of only two people before Talghader’s five-person team arrived (three researchers: Talghader, Bay, and Chan, plus two support personnel from the USAP Drilling Office, Elizabeth Morton and Josh Goetz who were going to test a new winch system at the site.)
In a trip that covered more than 15,000 miles each way, Talghader and Chan traveled from Minneapolis to Dallas to Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia to Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica to Siple Dome Base, Antarctica and back. The first four flights were standard commercial ones and occurred all in a row, but several days separated the commercial flights from the trips to and from the continent.
On their first day (Dec. 18) in Christchurch, New Zealand, Talghader and Chan went to the Clothing Distribution Center and were issued the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear that they would use and then return at the end of their research trip. They watched orientation videos about environmental concerns, how to interact with wildlife, and what conditions are like in this cold place.
Their first flight out of Christchurch towards Antarctica went straight into a 100 mile per hour head wind. After 4.5 hours, the pilot turned back. “We were flying in a Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport plane that was fitted with landing skis rather than wheels,” Talghader says. “What took 4.5 hours out, took only 2.5 hours back to Christchurch. We spent the next four days waiting for weather and mechanical issues to resolve before another flight actually took off.”
Finally on Dec. 23, near midnight, they arrived at Pegasus Air Field on the Ross Ice Shelf. A giant multi-wheeled vehicle—IVAN—took them to McMurdo Station where they were handed their keys for the dorms and shown the cafeteria (open 24 hours a day.)
The team took a number of trainings—what to do, what not to do. “Then it was on to the main training session—officially called Snowcraft—but universally called “Happy Camper” by USAP participants,” Talghader says.
Located on the Ross Ice Shelf, Happy Camper is where Talghader and Chan learned to build snow walls, pitch tents on the ice, tie the correct knots to secure the tents, use a shortwave radio, and survive a white-out storm at an isolated base.
Transport to Siple Dome from McMurdo, was delayed by weather, mechanical issues, and other on-continent priorities, so Talghader, who had access to an office cubicle at Crary Labs, wrote and submitted a white paper he had been preparing. “Good thing I submit-ted it then,” he says. “When we returned from Siple Dome, it was eight days later than we expected, and the paper would have been many days late!”
Finally, on Jan. 3, the team arrived at Siple Dome. Living conditions were simple. A heated “rack tent” (about 20 x 20 ft.) served as a kitchen and dining hall. Each member of the research group had his or her own one-person tent for sleeping on the ice sheet. The team subsisted on decade-plus-old food supplies that had been stored in a freezer space dug into the ice sheet. “We found we definitely could eat food many years past its expiration date without getting sick,” Talghader says. “We had no fresh food, but we ate well—Thai chicken curry, lobster tails, whatever we could dream up from the ingredients and supplies that had been laid down many years before.
“Upon arrival, we unloaded our equipment and met the Siple site team, Dan and Cricket, husband and wife, who took care of the camp during the summer. They showed us the snowmobiles we’d be using and the locations of unstable ground. Then we went out to the borehole, which was about two miles from camp, and set up a tent near it for our scientific equipment. We checked out an automated weather station that was about a mile from the borehole and then went back to camp.”
For the next five days, the team worked outside every day in blue-sky weather with 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures. Bay set up his logger in a day and a half and tested it for a day. His logger was fairly large but had been used in many boreholes before and was easy to use. Talghader’s equipment, designed for the WAIS Divide borehole, had to be reworked to fit into the smaller Siple Dome borehole.
“I was glad we had a site to ourselves because we weren’t in any-one’s way while we retooled the logger. As we yanked off the protruding stabilizing arms to make the diameter of our logger smaller, Bay let us borrow some of his mechanical supports to ensure that our logger stayed in the center of the hole. We completed our testing the next day. Our results were very good; we went down about 250-300 meters. Bay’s data and our data exhibited similar features with few differences even though the wavelengths of our lasers were very different. Light from his logger scatters many times in the ice while ours scatters once, or at most a few times, before being absorbed. Even though we had trouble adapting the logger to Siple instead of WAIS site, eventually we got everything to work well.”
The team had a late lunch on the last day of testing (the sixth day) and prepared to leave the site. As the fog began to roll in, they quickly took down the logger tent and transported all the equipment back to the Siple Dome base camp. The return flight to McMurdo was supposed to arrive the next day, but storms rolled in and between weather and organizational issues, it was eight days before they could be transported out.
To pass the time, Talghader worked on a proposal, prepared meals with the team, and completed tasks around the base (shoveling out the fuel bladders and packing pallets with equipment for transport.) “It was pretty boring; we had no Internet access and our only connection to the outside world was a satellite phone. But I did find an old novel someone with a sense of humor had left behind on a shelf—H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which is an Antarctic horror story where an expedition discovers the ruins of an ancient non-human civilization and, of course, most of the expedition dies off before the leader finds even greater horrors buried in the ice. That book helped pass the time. We finally left Siple Dome on Jan. 17 rather than Jan. 9. Dan and Cricket told us that the weather while we were performing experiments was the best they’d had all season. The storms and fog while we were waiting to leave was much more typical. Siple has a reputation of having some of the worst weather on the continent.”
The team returned to McMurdo and within two days flew to New Zealand and returned their ECW without incident.
Next year, two researchers from Minnesota will return to Antarctica to test a newly built crystal structure logger at the WAIS Divide site.
Prof. Tryphon Georgiou in a paper led and co-authored by Prof. Allen Tannenbaum and other researchers and faculty from Stony Brook University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, demonstrates that a certain geometric feature of protein networks can be used to identify cancer cells. The paper published in the Nature research journal Scientific Reports, addresses a key challenge in cancer therapy, to explain and quantify the apparent robustness of cancer cells. Advances on this front may significantly impact targeted treatment of cancer cell networks. The paper titled “Graph Curvature for Differentiating Cancer Networks” reveals the role of curvature as a cancer network characteristic, and its relationship to robustness as a functionality of the network. While the paper is focused on cancer cells, it points to the use of the analytical approach to the study of complex cellular networks to understand phenomena in molecular biology.
Mustafijur Rahman received the Best in Session Award at Techcon 2015 for his paper “An Ultra-Low Power 2.3-2.5 GHz WBAN Receiver Frontend Employing Frequency Translated Mutual Noise Cancellation”. The paper was authored by Mustafijur and his advisor Prof. Ramesh Harjani. Techcon 2015 is conducted by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC).
Prof. Jarvis Haupt has been awarded the inaugural Russell J. Penrose Excellence in Teaching Award by the University of Minnesota. The award recognizes his genuine interest and excellent performance in teaching undergraduate and graduate students, and is based on strong student and peer evaluations, and quality of course materials.
Prof. Mehmet Akcakaya received the NIH R00 award in September. This is part two of the two-part Pathway to Independence award (K99/R00), with the second part being awarded at the start of a tenure-track or equivalent faculty position. It is one of the most competitive NIH early career awards, and is designed to support outstanding researchers transition from mentored research positions to tenure-track positions.
Prof. Tryphon Georgiou in a paper led and co-authored by Prof. Allen Tannenbaum and other researchers and faculty from Stony Brook University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, demonstrates that a certain geometric feature of protein networks can be used to identify cancer cells.
The paper published in the Nature research journal Scientific Reports, addresses a key challenge in cancer therapy, to explain and quantify the apparent robustness of cancer cells. Advances on this front may significantly impact targeted treatment of cancer cell networks.
The paper titled “Graph Curvature for Differentiating Cancer Networks” reveals the role of curvature as a cancer network characteristic, and its relationship to robustness as a functionality of the network. While the paper is focused on cancer cells, it points to the use of the analytical approach to the study of complex cellular networks to understand phenomena in molecular biology.