Peter Christenson Awarded Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship for 2021-2022

Peter Christenson has been awarded the 2021-2022 Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship by the University of Minnesota Graduate School. Working under the guidance of Professor Sang-Hyun Oh whose own expertise lies in exploring the use of nanotechnology for biosensing, Christenson’s doctoral research is focused on the use of optics and plasmonics for the study of protein pathologies. 

Christenson’s background as an undergraduate student, and his undergraduate research experience helped chart his path to ECE. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Bethel University where under the careful tutelage of his professors, and with the hands-on experience gained in laboratories he quickly learned that classroom knowledge does not exist in isolation; it has practical applications. The combination of in-class learning and laboratory experience played a critical role in laying the foundation for his future interest in research. Another shaping factor happened to be the conversations he had with his brother who has a PhD in biochemistry. Although physics and its engineering applications had always been Christenson’s first love, these discussions got him interested in biological systems, and the seed for interdisciplinary research was planted.

In the summer of his junior year, Christenson eagerly took up the opportunity to work in Professor Carrie Wilmot’s lab (College of Biological Sciences) under the University of Minnesota’s Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program (LSSURP). The time spent developing methods to purify novel proteins was a whole new world of science that he had not experienced before. The summer proved to be a turning point. Christenson realized that the road he wanted to travel on would be one where he could use the principles and technologies he learned in his physics classes to solve problems in biological systems.

Christenson’s Research Interests

Christenson is currently working on developing methods to detect chronic wasting disease (CWD) in cervids such as elk, moose, and deer. CWD is a prion disease caused when healthy prions misfold and form large, pathogenic fibrils. Over time, these fibrils accumulate in the deer’s central nervous system ultimately causing it to die. CWD is sweeping across the United States. Already well established in Colorado and Wisconsin, it is now starting to spread throughout Minnesota, threatening the deer farming and hunting economy, estimated to be around $500 million. Nationally, the disease has an even broader impact. Current CWD detection methods require tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that cannot be used outside of a traditional lab setting, and tests take several days to complete. 

As part of his doctoral research which is situated at the crossroads of engineering and biology, Christenson is working with Professors Sang-Hyun Oh from ECE and Peter Larsen of the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach (MNPRO). MNPRO is a multi-disciplinary center at the University of Minnesota focused on the biology and epidemiology of human and animal prion diseases and related human protein-misfolding disorders. Under their guidance, Christenson is exploring cheaper, and more time efficient methods that use plasmonics in combination with surface functionalization chemistry for the detection of CWD. Very simply put,  plasmonics is a field where nanostructures are used to squeeze the energy of light down to very small spaces, where well confined, it can be a sensitive detector. Scientists can use techniques based in plasmonics to gain insights into the folding states of proteins. Christenson’s doctoral work is focused on making these techniques more robust, which could lead to widely applicable, rapid field tests for the detection of CWD and other protein-misfolding diseases.

Yali Zhang Wins ARFTG Roger Pollard Student Fellowship in Microwave Measurement

Doctoral candidate Yali Zhang’s work on the study of copper (Cu) nanowires (NWs) for ultrathin via technology used in 3D integrated circuits (IC) was rated highly by the Automatic Radio Frequency Techniques Group (ARFTG) review panel. Her proposal titled, “Characterization of Copper Nanowire for Millimeter Wave and Submillimeter Wave Applications” was awarded the ARFTG Roger Pollard Student Fellowship in Microwave Measurement. 

In integrated circuits and systems, vias play a key role providing high-density interconnections between active devices. They are also used in grounding, signal routing, and transition from microstrip to coplanar waveguide (CPW). However, as the communication frequency band expands into millimeter and submillimeter wave frequencies, higher skin depth loss and parasitic inductance for vias become prohibitive. To address these issues, scientists have tried using different substrate materials such as high resistivity silicon (Si) wafers, glass, and commercial anodized alumina oxide (AAO). Due to substrate thickness limitations, the via thickness of these materials ranges from 50-250 µm. However, size limitations for a 3D IC/Si integration require a via thickness in the range of 1-30µm.  Yali has taken on the challenge, and her proposal develops a technique for fabricating and characterizing ultra-thin vias required for 3D CMOS applications.

Yali’s proposal offers a novel integrated via structure in integrated AAO with Cu NWs onto a high resistivity Si wafer. Such a structure provides low power loss due to the substrate material and the properties of the NWs. Their size makes NWs easily penetrable by high frequency fields, and therefore show less skin depth effect. The use of bundles of NWs reduces total power loss. Also, the use of integrated AAO provides vias that are ultrathin and offer improved integration. Under the proposal, the goal is to develop accurate and sensitive methods to characterize Cu NWs as vertical interconnects, and build circuits with Cu NW vias for use in millimeter and submillimeter wave IC systems for communication. The development could be a game changer for future millimeter and sub-millimeter wave communication systems that are key to internet of things technology, autonomous vehicles, and low-power Cube satellites where small device size and low power consumption are critical features. Ultimately, the goal is to develop low-loss, fast-speed 3D integrated circuits based on the Cu NWs study. 

Yali’s award winning proposal stems from her doctoral research interest in RF properties and applications of magnetic and non-magnetic nanostructures, especially for future communication and nanomedicine technologies. She was also the winner of the CSE 3MT competition where she took on the challenge of presenting her research in 3 minutes in a compelling manner to a non-scientific audience. Yali is a member of professor Rhonda Franklin’s MPACT research group.

Marie Wulff Wins Prestigious Brooke Owens Fellowship

Marie Wulff, ECE senior pursuing an electrical engineering degree, has been awarded the prestigious Brook Owens fellowship. The 44 fellows for the class of 2021 were chosen from among more than 800 competitive applications from prestigious institutions within the US and abroad. As part of the fellowship experience, Brookies (as the fellows are called) are matched with internship opportunities in aerospace organizations, and two senior or executive level industry mentors. Marie is headed to Planet Labs, a geospatial insights company based in California.

The Brooke Owens Fellowship was established in honor of space industry pioneer and pilot Brooke Owens (1980 – 2016) to inspire and serve “as a career boost to capable young women and other gender minorities who, like Brooke, aspire to explore our sky and stars, to shake up the aerospace industry, and to help their fellow people here on planet Earth.”

Marie keeps a whirlwind schedule, but we did manage to snag a few moments with her. She shared her thoughts on her academic journey, her hopes, and advice for students.

On her path to electrical engineering:

I came to the University of Minnesota initially with an interest in biomedical engineering, but switched to electrical engineering as I felt it to be more flexible. I’m really glad I switched! When I was in elementary school, my science teacher encouraged me to apply to a STEM camp for women. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I came out of it knowing that I wanted to be an engineer. From there, I attended as many STEM camps as I could. At one of these camps I actually met Kale Hedstrom (lab coordinator for AEM) while taking a summer course on circuits and robotics. I was also part of my high school robotics team. I was attracted to the U because of its location, the great engineering programs it had, and the opportunities for scholarships and financial aid.

On her opportunity with Planet Labs:

I am really excited to work at Planet Labs. They do Earth-based observation satellites! Their mission to learn more about our planet speaks to me. I am very excited to work in a new city, and to work on cool new projects! I think I will be able to gain new perspectives and connect with amazing people with similar interests.

On her hopes and goals for the future:

I’d like to work in industry for a bit, and perhaps return for a master’s degree in systems engineering, or attend law school. Then I plan to run for senator. I’d also like to start my own business. Overall, I have a lot of big dreams!

On other awards or opportunities received:

I am a recipient of the MN Space Grant Consortium scholarship, Brian L. Fitterer scholarship (from the University), the Bernice M. Eiswirth scholarship, and the St. Paul Area Athena Award.

On her involvement in co- and extracurricular activities:

I am the chief engineer for the Small Satellite Research Lab, the MCAE kickoff ambassador, and helped establish the Diversity and Inclusion committee for the UMN SWE chapter. I have also served as vice chair for SESB D&I committee, and subsequently became its executive director, social media coordinator for WIE, vice chair for IEEE UMN, and peer leader for CSE. I am also engaged in directed research, and am on the ballroom dance competition team.

Advice for aspiring engineers, aerospace or otherwise:

Utilize resources! I have never hesitated to reach out for help when I needed it, academically or personally, and that has been critical to smoothing out the wrinkles in my journey through college. It’s okay to feel awkward or nervous about asking for help, but make the leap. It’s worth it!

We wish Marie the best as she embarks on this new and exciting journey.

Professor Jungwon Choi Receives NSF CAREER Award

Professor Jungwon Choi has been awarded the CAREER award by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. One of the most prestigious awards instituted by the NSF, it recognizes and supports faculty early in their careers who show the potential to “serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” The CAREER award minimum for the Division of Electrical, Communications, and Cyber Systems  starts at $500,000 and is disbursed over a 5-year period.


As demand for automation has risen, several technologies such as artificial intelligence, and control systems that play critical supportive roles have kept up by revolutionary improvements in their own technologies. However, smart charging systems, vital in the role they play in enabling automation, have been lagging behind. Power electronics is a key component of the charging system, converting electrical energy to a different level or delivering it to an electric load such as a battery. Therefore any effort to update and improve charging systems entails that steps be taken to improve the state of current power electronics. 

In her NSF CAREER award project, Jungwon addresses the challenge by focusing on wireless power transfer (WPT) technology. WPT eliminates cables, connectors, and the risk of power plug failure resulting from dust, dirt, and other environmental factors. In the context of autonomous driving technology, WPT is especially beneficial because vehicles can get themselves to the charging station when their batteries run out. However the success of the WPT system is dependent on efficient and reliable power converters. Currently, power converters are limited in their performance by the limitations of available technologies and designs.

In her project titled, “Toward a Wireless Power Transfer System: High-frequency Power Electronics,” Jungwon aims to explore new design techniques that can improve power density and performance of power electronics. She also hopes to investigate innovative approaches that enhance charging ability in the WPT system. Her project will progress across three related areas: design and implementation of a high-frequency resonant converter with magnetic resonant coupling coils to efficiently increase power density; investigation of a bidirectional WPT system using self-synchronous rectification and control system to provide Vehicle-to-Grid capability; and exploration of WPT charging approaches such as vehicle-to-vehicle and dynamic charging to reduce the charging time

Jungwon also plans to explore the extent to which circuit performance depends on switching devices, magnetic designs, gate drive circuitry, and compensation network topology. The project entails simulation of the proposed WPT system to evaluate human exposure to electromagnetic fields due to high-power operation at high frequencies. She will also undertake a study of the multiple coil structure to reduce the leakage fields, and minimize the expensive and lossy shields. 


Jungwon hopes that successful completion of the project will result in the expansion of the operating range and power level of power-electronic circuits for WPT systems that use novel charging approaches. The goal is that research outcomes of the project will also accelerate advances in various applications such as transportation electrification and renewable energy technologies through improvements in battery charging methods. The proposed system could potentially be deployed in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and commercial electric vehicles (EVs).

There are broader transformative impacts expected. As a program committee member on the IEEE Workshop on Control and Modeling for Power Electronics, Jungwon plans to organize tutorials to disseminate research outcomes of the project. She also plans to leverage her collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies to engage students and researchers in the project. On the academic front, she will integrate research outcomes with the undergraduate and graduate curricula, while also seeking opportunities for direct involvement of undergraduate and underrepresented students in her work. Opportunities for outreach to K-12 students, and local industries to introduce wireless power transfer and power-electronic circuits will also help ensure the transformative impact of Jungwon’s research activities.

Learn more about Professor Jungwon Choi’s research

Professor Tony Low on List of 2020 Highly Cited Researchers

Professor Tony Low has been named one of the most influential researchers in his field according to the 2020 global list of Highly Cited Researchers released by Clarivate Analytics, an insights and analytics firm. This is the second time he has been on the list; he was previously included in 2019. According to Clarivate, the list is a compilation of “scientists and social scientists who have demonstrated significant influence through publication of multiple papers, highly cited by their peers, during the last decade.”

Twenty-four University of Minnesota researchers have been named in the 2020 list. The international list comprises researchers who published multiple papers from 2009 through 2019 whose citation counts placed them in the top 1 percent by field and publication year. Clarivate explains its methodology for drawing up the list, and while it includes some of the most influential scientists at the University, the list is not by any means exhaustive. For instances, as its methodology indicates, the list might not include the work of some highly cited researchers whose work spans multiple academic disciplines. Other platforms for measurement might indicate different but overlapping results.

Tony is a widely known authority on the theory and design of nanophotonics and nanoelectronics devices based on 2D materials. The isolation of atomically thin 2D graphene about a decade ago, has been an important development in meeting the increasing demand for innovations in solid state technologies. Solid state devices have been critical to the development and advancement of 20th century engineering achievements such as electrification, electronics, internet, laser and fiber optics, and others. The development of 2D graphene has opened the door to an entire family of 2D layered crystals with a range of electrical and optical properties, which have presented opportunities for new devices and their applications. Tony’s research in the area is published in premier journals such as Nature Nanotechnology, Nature Photonics, Nature Communication, Nature Materials, Science Advances, Nano Letters, ACS Nano, and Physical Review Letters. He has shared his research through several invited talks at top conferences in the field such as the American Physics Society (APS) meeting, Materials Research Symposium (MRS) meeting, and as a plenary and keynote speaker at others.

Tony leads a research group in ECE that works on expanding the understanding and design of nanomaterials and nanodevices. In recent years they have focused on the class of 2D crystals and their heterostructures, topological, and magnetic materials. Tony’s team has revealed their basic electronic and optical properties, and the opportunities they present for novel electronics, spintronics, optoelectronics, nanophotonics and plasmonics. Currently, he is leading two multi-university teams supported by a $1.7 million NSF grant to explore 2D heterostructures that demonstrate perfect light absorption and giant piezoelectricity, and a $2 million NSF grant to explore topological photonic effects in 2D materials.

Tony is the recipient of several awards that recognize his work and its far-reaching impact. These include the University’s McKnight Presidential Fellowship (2019), IBM Pat Goldberg Memorial Best Paper Award (2014), IBM Invention Award (2013), KITP Rice Family Fund Fellowship (2012), Singapore Millennium Fellowship (2007), and the IEEE Electron Device Society Fellowship (2005).

Tony received his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the National University of Singapore in 2008. He subsequently joined the Network for Computational Nanotechnology at Purdue University as a postdoctoral research associate. In spring 2011 he joined IBM T.J. Watson Research Center as a research associate, and also served as an industry assignee to the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative funded by the Semiconductor Research Consortium, tasked with finding the next breakthrough electronic switch. In 2014, he moved to academia, joining our department as an assistant professor in September of that year.

Meghna Madhusudan, Susmita Dey Manasi, and Wen Zhou Receive Cadence Technology Awards

Doctoral students Meghna Madhusudan  (advisor Professor Ramesh Harjani), Susmita Dey Manasi (advisor Professor Sachin Sapatnekar), and Wen Zhou (advisor Professor Yahya Tousi) are recipients of Cadence’s Women in Technology scholarships for 2020-2021. These scholarships are awarded as part of Cadence’s mission to foster inclusion and diversity in technology programs and careers.


Meghna’s research interest lies in electronic design automation (EDA) of analog circuits, which are found in diverse applications ranging from cell phones to biomedical devices. Current industry practice involves an individual designing these circuits, and the process can take weeks or even months, and demands high levels of expertise. The time intensive nature of circuit design often causes bottlenecks in the chip design process, and raises costs. Ongoing research in analog EDA seeks to automate circuit design to speed it up, and require minimal human intervention.

Meghna is currently engaged with ALIGN (Analog Layout Intelligently Generated from Netlists), a DARPA-funded project (under its Electronics Resurgence Initiative) led by Professor Sapatnekar with Professor Harjani as collaborator. ALIGN is working on automating a complex and sensitive part of the design process: constructing the layout of devices as they will appear on the chip. These layouts are critical to the successful functioning of a circuit. A collaborative endeavor comprising University of Minnesota, Texas A&M University, and Intel, ALIGN will build software that can understand and build specific layouts in a matter of minutes. (Eventually, ALIGN aims to automatically generate analog layouts for most analog circuits in less than 24 hours.) Contrast this to a manually undertaken design process which can take several days or even weeks. However, one of the challenges of analog EDA is building robust solutions for automating a variety of analog circuits. Meghna addresses this particular challenge. Her work involves splitting an analog circuit into common circuit structures that are typically found across a variety of different types of analog circuits, and framing the automation methodology to build these common structures in the best possible way.


Successful implementation will result in significant savings in time while retaining high levels of accuracy. Automation of the design of analog circuits releases the bottleneck in the chip design process, while opening up the opportunity to explore and utilize the design space more efficiently. The outcome is improved circuit performance when compared to a manual chip design process.

Another significant outcome that Meghna hopes to achieve is industry wide acceptance of analog EDA. For many years, designers in the industry have been sceptical of the tools built by EDA researchers due to issues such as predictability and control. But Meghna hopes that with her use of the building block method, an approach similar to what is used in the manual design process prevalent in the industry, she can overcome current reluctance while also providing savings in time and other resources. The ALIGN group has been working on this particular challenge by running Intel circuit designs through the tool, and by working closely with industry entities so the tool can be built keeping in mind designers’ needs.


Meghna’s undergraduate years had a formative influence on her interest in analog circuits. She undertook projects that involved designing common analog circuits for applications such as the low noise amplifier (LNA) for an RF receiver block that is commonly used in cellular communications. An undergraduate internship designing a software tool proved to be eye opening: Meghna realized that while the specific application she was working on did not excite her, she did have a passion for programming, and programming for a hardware application would be the best of both worlds. Coming to the University of Minnesota was an easy decision: Professor Harjani’s work in analog circuit design was an obvious choice for her. His research and professional experience has been a career inspiration for Meghna, and participation in ALIGN has been in many ways the ideal research opportunity. The work carried out in the project is gaining traction within the EDA community and Meghna presented the research conducted by the group at the DARPA IDEA and POSH program meetings in early 2019, and at the ERI summit in summer 2019.

Meghna views the Cadence scholarship as a significant morale booster. The award affords her the opportunity to invest further in her field of interest in the form of courses, conferences, workshops, and also share her work broadly within the EDA community.


Susmita’s research interest is in the area of domain-specific custom hardware platforms for deep learning (DL) applications, and algorithmic optimizations in VLSI design automation. As part of her research, she has developed an analytical energy simulator for convolutional neural network (CNN) workloads on ASIC-based (application-specific integrated circuit) DL accelerators. Titled CNNergy, the simulator accounts for the complexities of scheduling computations over multidimensional data, while capturing key parameters to automatically map neural computation on the backend hardware. She has also applied CNNergy to drive energy-efficient partitioning of CNN workloads on cloud-connected mobile clients. As part of her effort to expand available tools for ASIC-based DL hardware, Susmita has also developed DeepOpt, a framework which performs layer-specific and hardware-specific scheduling of deep learning workloads to optimize the energy and throughput of the hardware. As a part of the VeriGOOD-ML project, a major undertaking that seeks to build a no-human-in-the-loop Verilog generator for real-time machine-learning hardware, she is currently engaged in developing a performance analyzer that can boost support for DL training on an ASIC platform.


Susmita’s research has the potential for far reaching impact. Given that customized neural hardware has wide applicability, and can provide performance gain that is orders of magnitude above conventional machines with CPUs, and GPUs, it is imperative to develop accurate prediction models to perform design evaluations of such hardware. Currently, DL hardware architects have access to only a limited number of tools for performance simulation and design insights. For Susmita, this has been an appealing challenge. It has motivated her to work on the development of specialized simulation platforms and optimization frameworks for domain-specific neural processors. Her work is supported by her interest in backend hardware and algorithmic optimization.

The tools developed by Susmita, CNNergy and DeepOpt, are open-source, allowing the wider community of practitioners to adapt and customize it to specific needs. Capable of providing detailed performance characteristics associated with various components of the network and hardware, the tools can be used to evaluate various design choices for the deployment of deep learning applications. Ultimately, Susmita’s goal is to contribute to the development of industry-standard tools that can guide the design process of neural engines.


Susmita’s interest in VLSI circuits and systems started in her sophomore year in college, and by her senior year, the interest was firmly cemented as she gained hands-on experience in VLSI design. Pursuing research opportunities in VLSI system designs and closely allied areas seemed a logical next step. For Susmita, the University of Minnesota was an easy choice given faculty expertise (she is being advised by Professor Sachin Sapatnekar), and strength in disciplinary and interdisciplinary research.

A recipient of the Kevin and AJ KleinOsowski fellowship (2017-2018) and the Peter and Deborah Wexler Graduate Award (University of Illinois at Chicago), Susmita views her Cadence Technology Award as motivational and supportive. It gives her recognition among her peers, and encourages her to continue research in her field of interest.


Wen works on the development of distributed/collaborative sensing architectures and hardware. Collaborative sensing helps paint an image of the target terrain that is otherwise impossible to get with a single radar. Exploring optimal hardware solutions that provide multi-radar sensing in a scalable fashion, while tackling existing implementation challenges is a pathway to address the problem. To this end, Wen has been working on designing low-power, low latency, and low data throughput radar sensing nodes and sensing networks based on these distributed nodes. Currently, she is engaged in research on a DARPA Young Faculty Award funded project titled, “Wideband and Interference-Resilient Mixed Mode Time Transfer for Distributed Radars.” The project is led by Professor Yahya Tousi


Currently, Wen is responsible for developing a systematically novel approach for distributed high resolution sensing using microwave and mm-wave integrated circuits and antennas. Such large scale sensing has the potential to revolutionize self-driving cars, robotics, and security monitoring. For a solution with cm-scale accuracy it is necessary to operate at multi-gigahertz bandwidths at mm-wave and sub-terahertz frequency ranges. However, digital processing, and digital matched filter implementation of such wideband signals is not possible. To address the challenge, Wen proposes an elegant approach for the wideband signal processing that can allow low-cost, low-power, and distributed deployment of such sensor nodes in a variety of situations where sensing would be critical and useful. Recent developments have shown a rising trend towards applications in miniaturized sensing systems, which can have immense potential in healthcare, and industrial and agricultural automation.


When Wen started her college education, she was interested in system engineering as it draws on electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science. Her experience as a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) researcher, and her work on her Master’s thesis strengthened her knowledge in building a complex sensing system. Around the time Wen had applied to the department’s doctoral program, Professor Tousi was putting together a new group focused on mmWave circuits and systems. She had the opportunity to speak with him and realized that his research interests coincided with her own: sensing systems and mmWave integrated circuit design. As a doctoral student is his group, she felt ready to take the next step:  miniaturization and integrated circuit design. A research topic that has captured her attention that demands both sophisticated system-level design knowledge and intricate IC design skills is high-resolution mmWave radar.  The interdisciplinary nature of the field has been a driver for Wen. 

Wen is the recipient of the Bruce Bergman and the D. Sun and H. Hu ECE fellowships (2018). Wen’s entry was a best student paper finalist in the International Microwave Biomedical Conference. The Cadence scholarship is a recognition of her academic and professional potential, and Wen plans to continue her work with redoubled effort. 

Where It Starts: Guide for the Bumpy Journey

Part of the “Where It Starts” series celebrating Black History Month

“Guide for the Bumpy Journey” documents Professor Rhonda Franklin’s musings on her role as a teacher and mentor, and her students Modou Jaw’s and Casey Murray’s reflections on her influence on them. It is part of the “Where it Starts” series highlighting the incredible accomplishments of our Black community during their journey at the University of Minnesota.

Professor Franklin is the recipient of several awards that recognize her contributions to student success. Most recently, she was honored with the ARCS Scientist of the Year 2020 award. The story includes a link to a video recording of her conversation with ARCS on her experience as a scientist and mentor to students and young professionals. In 2018, Franklin received the IEEE MTT-S N. Walter Cox Award for her service to the society as an engaged researcher, educator, and volunteer. She was also the recipient of the 2016-17 Tate Award for excellence in undergraduate advising.

In 2017 we chronicled alumnus Modou Jaw’s journey to and through the University of Minnesota. We encourage you to read his story. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 2019 and is currently working in California. 

Read “Guide For The Bumpy Journey” Here

“Where it Starts” is a collaborative undertaking brought together by a team of faculty, staff, and student content advisors from the University’s Black community, and University Relations. Each story is a reflection on overcoming obstacles, building community, and finding purpose. We encourage you to read all the stories in the series on individuals and communities who are making Black history at the University of Minnesota. We also encourage you to join us in the events and programs throughout February that celebrate Black History Month.

Alumnus Yingjie Lao Receives NSF CAREER Award

Alumnus Yingjie Lao has been awarded the CAREER award by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. One of the most prestigious awards instituted by the NSF, it recognizes and supports faculty early in their careers who show the potential to “serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” Yingjie earned his doctoral degree in 2015 under the guidance of Professor Keshab Parhi.

Yingjie’s Project: Protection of Deep Learning Systems

As artificial intelligence (AI) approaches human-level performance, its successful deployment requires robust protection from adversarial attacks. While there has been significant progress on strengthening AI algorithms, there is a gap in the systematic study of hardware oriented vulnerabilities and related countermeasures. In his project titled, “Protecting Deep Learning Systems against Hardware-Oriented Vulnerabilities,” Yingjie’s goal is to explore novel hardware-oriented adversarial AI concepts, and develop defense strategies against such vulnerabilities to protect next-generation AI systems.

The project has four key areas: exploit new adversarial attacks that feature the design of an algorithm-hardware collaborative backdoor attack; develop methodologies to incorporate the hardware aspect into defense against vulnerabilities in the untrusted semiconductor supply chain; develop novel signature embedding frameworks to protect the integrity of deep neural network models in the untrusted model building supply chain; and finally model recovery strategies to mitigate hardware-oriented fault attacks in the untrusted user-space.

Practical and Educational Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the project, Yingjie hopes to offer novel methodologies that ensure trust in AI systems from both the algorithm and hardware perspectives, and provide for future commercial and national defense needs. His intent is to accelerate advances in AI applications across diverse sectors including healthcare, autonomous vehicles, and Internet of things (IoT), and trigger widespread implementation of AI in mobile and edge devices.

Yingjie plans to integrate new theories and techniques developed throughout the course of the project into undergraduate and graduate education. He also hopes to use them to raise public awareness, and promote understanding of the importance of AI security.

Yingjie Lao’s dissertation is titled “Authentication and Obfuscation of Digital Signal Processing Integrated Circuits,” and focuses on authentication and obfuscation based techniques for protecting hardware devices. He has developed and implemented several novel hardware security primitives, including reconfigurable Physical Unclonable Functions (PUFs), modified feed-forward PUFs, two-arbiter PUF, and Beat Frequency Detector (BFD) based True Random Number Generator (TRNG). Currently, Yingjie is an assistant professor at Clemson University’s Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Prof. Keshab Parhi Named ACM Fellow

The Association for Computing Machinery has named Distinguished McKnight University Professor Keshab Parhi as one of its 2020 ACM Fellows for “contributions to architectures and design tools for signal processing and networking accelerators.”

Professor Parhi is a leader in design techniques and tools that enable hardware accelerators for digital signal processing (DSP) and networking systems, and is well known across the world for his contributions to hardware accelerators, the key building blocks of computing systems. Parhi’s research outcomes have advanced achievable data rates (that would otherwise only have evolved over several technology generations), and made chips more energy and cost efficient. The Gigabit Ethernet chip that has been in use in computers since 1998 is a result of his accelerator designs. Parhi holds 31 US patents, and has authored 650 papers, and his inventions and research have benefited many companies: Broadcom, Marvell, Aquantia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments (TI), and Intel are some of them. In 2003, he was awarded the IEEE Kiyo Tomiyasu Technical Field Award for his groundbreaking contributions to broadband communications systems. In the light of the communication industry’s search for faster and energy efficient technologies as conventional silicon CMOS technologies slow down, Parhi’s work has gained further significance and impact.

Speeding Up the Internet

Physical layer communications transceiver chips are the backbone of both, wired and wireless internet. The DSP functions and error-control coders in these transceivers contain many layers of feedback loops, and the computation demands cannot be achieved using traditional pipelining and/or parallel processing. Keshab’s research on algorithm-architecture transformations has overcome these bottlenecks and has paved the way for a faster wired and wireless internet.

A pioneer of many forms of look ahead approaches for pipelining and parallel processing in DSP computations, Parhi proposed the pipelining of quantizer loops, using parallel-branch delayed decision. This was particularly critical to companies such as Broadcom, Lucent, and Marvell for the development of the Gigabit Ethernet chip. Parhi’s pioneering and innovative spirit were on display during a stint at Broadcom. When the company struggled to meet the throughput requirements of serializers/deserializers and backplanes for data rates in excess of 10 Gbps, he created arbitrarily-parallel decision-feedback equalizers where the chip complexity grew logarithmically with respect to the level of parallelism, Later, when the linear feedback shift register in Broadcom’s fiber transceiver could not be operated at the 10 Gbps data rate due to the fanout bottleneck, he developed a new parallel linear feedback shift register architecture.

Parhi’s high-speed parallel architecture design of the Tomlinson-Harashima precoder was instrumental in the creation and preservation of the IEEE 802.3an standard for 10-gigabit Ethernet on copper. His fast parallel filters with sub-linear complexity were critical to overcome the excessive costs and energy consumed for data transmission at 10 to 400 Gbps.

His work on parallel decoders is at the vanguard of modern error-control codes that approach the Shannon limit, and his low-latency polar code decoder architectures are in use in 5G smartphones.

Tools for Accelerator Design

Professor Keshab Parhi’s ground-breaking papers on high-level transformations on iterative data-flow graphs (DFGs) include systematic unfolding and folding. Digital filters designed using folding have been deployed in cable modems, set-top boxes and radio-frequency demodulators by companies such as Broadcom, TI, and others. Parhi used folding transformation to develop FFT architectures that achieve full hardware utilization, do not contain feedback loops, and can be pipelined at arbitrary levels. These FFT architectures are incorporated into 5G iPhones.

With the aid of DARPA funding, Parhi developed the Minnesota architecture synthesis (MARS) high level DSP synthesis system. A powerful tool, it has paved the way for synthesis of chips from hardware descriptions to highly pipelined functional units while guaranteeing the fastest possible scheduling. Parhi’s other contributions include crypto-accelerators for RSA and AES for fast secure e-commerce transactions, fast and accurate power estimation (his paper on the topic was named the 1996 ACM/IEEE Design Automation Conference Best Paper, and the technology deployed in Synopsys PowerMill Tool), and obfuscation techniques for hardware security (2017 IEEE Transactions on Very Large Scale Integration Systems Best Paper Award).

Awards and Service

VLSI Digital-Signal-Processing Systems: Design and Implementation (Wiley, 1999), authored by Professor Keshab Parhi is considered an authoritative textbook, and is used by graduate students and practising engineers across the world. The book won him the Frederick Emmons Terman award from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). In his academic tenure so far, he has supervised 48 doctoral theses, 65 master’s theses, 19 visiting pre- and postdoctoral fellows, and numerous undergraduate senior design projects. His students are employed in technology companies, academic institutions, and government research laboratories, with several of them being IEEE Fellows.

Parhi is the recipient of several awards that recognize his brilliant contributions. The most recent awards include the Mac Van Valkenburg Award from IEEE CASS (2017), and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2017). In December 2020, the National Academy of Inventors announced that Professor Keshab Parhi was to be inducted Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) in recognition of his “highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.” The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is proud of Professor Parhi’s achievements and congratulates him on his well-earned election as Fellow of the ACM.

Learn more about Distinguished McKnight University Professor Keshab Parhi’s research

Professor Martina Cardone Receives NSF CAREER Award

Professor Martina Cardone has been awarded the CAREER award by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. One of the most prestigious awards instituted by the NSF, it recognizes and supports faculty early in their careers who show the potential to “serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” The CAREER award minimum for the Division of Computing and Communication Foundations starts at $400,000 and is disbursed over a 5-year period.

Martina’s Project: Secure Communication in mmWave Networks

As wireless communication becomes ubiquitous, commercial entities are increasingly providing information or transacting business, over wireless networks. With the volume of wireless data transfer increasing, the communication industry is turning toward the millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum comprising frequencies from 30 gigahertz to 300 gigahertz to support the high data rates.

However, the open and shared nature of the wireless medium, makes it vulnerable to eavesdropping attacks which pose a serious threat to sensitive and confidential information related to mobile banking, credit card transactions, and health data. Today, the assumption that eavesdroppers have limited computational capabilities is one that is seriously placed in doubt by recent advances in (quantum) computing. Yet, in large and dense mmWave networks, it is reasonable to assume that an eavesdropper can intercept transmissions only over a subset of the communication links over which she has to be physically present.

Titled, “Foundations of Secure Communication in mmWave Networks,” Martina’s CAREER award winning project seeks to address the challenges posed by such threats by exploring and establishing protocols that can ensure secure communication over millimeter-wave (mmWave) networks, in the presence of an eavesdropper with unlimited computational capabilities but limited network presence.

The highlight of the project is the establishment of novel theoretical foundations that identify and model unique features of secure communication in the mmWave spectrum, and the study of their effect on the operations in the network layer. Martina’s research is multidisciplinary, and it leverages concepts and tools from other fields including information theory, optimization and linear programming, algorithms, and graph theory. The key specifics of her project include: introduction of a theoretical framework that captures the essentials of mmWave communication and eavesdropper capabilities; characterization of the maximum secure information flow and trade-offs over mmWave networks; and finally, the development of scalable and secure communication architectures.

Practical and Educational Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the project, Martina hopes to provide guidelines for the design of secure transmission mechanisms over mmWave networks. Given that the mmWave communication is expected to play a key role in supporting a variety of applications, and the pressing need for protocols that will maintain the confidentiality of data, the current project is compelling and can make significant and timely contributions to industrial and societal needs.

Martina has plans to share and integrate her research outcomes with students and the curriculum in several ways. As chair of the Student and Outreach Subcommittee of the IEEE Information Theory Society, she will use the opportunity to facilitate knowledge sharing of her project research. She also hopes to tap into the outreach opportunities available within the University of Minnesota and the ECE department. Other critical and relevant educational undertakings that Martina plans to pursue are the development of a graduate-level course on mechanisms to secure communication over wireless networks, mentoring of undergraduate students through avenues such as senior design projects, conference participation, and creation of short videos to share the information with a broader audience of students beyond the University of Minnesota.

Professor Martina Cardone earned her doctoral degree in 2015 from Télécom ParisTech, France with work done at Eurecom. From 2015 to 2018, she held postdoctoral positions at UCLA’s Henry Samueli School, and the University of Minnesota in ECE. In early 2018, she joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as an assistant professor. Her research interests are in estimation theory, network information theory, network coding, wireless networks with a special focus on their capacity, security, and privacy aspects. Besides the CAREER award, Martina also leads two other NSF-funded projects.

Learn more about Professor Martina Cardone’s work