Doctoral candidate Bhaskar Sen is a recipient of the 2019-2020 IEM (Institute for Engineering in Medicine) fellowship. Bhaskar is motivated by interdisciplinary collaborative work and his research combines ideas from engineering and computing with psychiatry and neuroscience. In his doctoral dissertation, Bhaskar uses machine learning and signal processing- based techniques for diagnosing psychiatric disorders such as depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Bhaskar has previously been a College of Science and Engineering (CSE) graduate school fellow and MnDRIVE-UMII research assistant. He was also recipient of the 2016 IEM Walter Barnes Lang fellowship which supports travel for research presentations. Bhaskar earned his master’s degree in computing science from the University of Alberta, Canada and and his bachelor’s degree in electronics and telecommunications engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He is conducting his doctoral research under the guidance of Prof. Keshab Parhi.
The Institute for Engineering in Medicine is an interdisciplinary research organization encouraging collaboration between the disciplines of engineering and biomedicine at the University of Minnesota, and with medical device industry (from the IEM website). The IEM fellowship is available only to students of IEM members, and includes a $25,000 stipend plus $2,500 for professional development.
Prof. John Sartori is the recipient of a Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) award from the National Science Foundation. The award, effective July 2019 for the Technology Transfer track, will amount to $250,000 for a duration of two years through June 2021.
The NSF’s PFI program supports researchers in science and engineering disciplines that are funded by NSF to perform translational research and technology development, accelerating the conversion of lab discoveries to commercial and industry-ready concepts and devices that can be of communal benefit.
The outcome of the research conducted by Sartori’s lab on application-specific design and optimization of ultra-low-power embedded processors will now, with the support of the PFI award, be translated to commercial-level tools that can be applied in industry. These tools can automatically customize hardware for target applications, reducing power consumption, cost, and area. Additionally, the new technology is an enabler for printed plastic processor technology and also offers security guarantees that protect systems from being compromised. The latter is especially critical with the coming boom in Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Through deployment of ubiquitous sensing, mobile, and IoT systems, we are beginning to transmit all of our data through the cloud. As sensors embedded into every part of our lives have access to all of our data – private, vital, financial, and otherwise – securing this immense attack surface will be critical.
The project presents researchers associated with the lab the opportunity to interact closely with industry and build sustaining relationships with them as they develop compelling technology. Considering the outlook for pacemakers and printed electronics (the pacemakers market is projected to hit nearly $5 billion, and the printed electronics market is estimated to reach $13.6 billion by 2023), these are growing markets and pose a significant opportunity for research labs and related commercial enterprises.
The lab’s grant application process was supported by letters of interest from three potential customers: ARM, a leading supplier of microprocessor technology, Medtronic, a major medical device company based in the Twin Cities, and PragmatIC, supplier of ultra-low-cost flexible integrated circuits. The application also included a detailed commercialization plan that was based on extensive customer discovery and exploration of commercialization opportunities. These were led by Prof. Sartori and doctoral student Hari Cherupalli, with the support of the NSF I-Corps program.
Hari Cherupalli is a doctoral student in ECE, working on developing design optimization techniques for ultra-low-power processors under the supervision of Prof. John Sartori. He is a student lead for the development of the technology and research methodology for the grant. Hari was also the entrepreneurial lead of a team in the NSF I-Corps program to conduct customer discovery and develop an initial commercialization plan.
The University of Minnesota has honored Prof. Ned Mohan with the Regents Professorship. It is the highest honor the University bestows on its faculty and is in recognition of the recipient’s “exceptional contributions to the University through teaching, research, scholarship, or creative work, and contributions to the public good.”
As a faculty member who specializes in energy systems and power electronics, Ned’s work is an embodiment of the University’s key missions: research and education. And he carries out these entwined missions with his eyes set on the future, while being keenly aware of the simultaneous need for access, equality, and social justice. Even as a child, growing up in a small town in central India, Ned came to the conclusion that access to electricity is a basic human right. With more than a billion people lacking access to electricity or reliable power supply, as a specialist in the field, he has dauntlessly fought for access, and improvement of materials and equipment for carbon-free generation.
NED’S RESEARCH IMPACT
His holistic approach to electrical systems has underpinned his research and academic efforts. His keen awareness of the interwoven nature of energy generation, power, control, and access to electricity, has informed much of his pioneering inventions:
current-shaping circuit in 1978, for supplying power from photovoltaic systems, which was a precursor to the current-shaping circuits in our current day laptops)
active filters to supply ripple-free electricity (patented by the University in 1979) followed up by researchers around the world and commercialized
Minnesota Rectifier for charging fleets of electric vehicles and patented by the University in 1994
Ultra-compact DC-DC converter for aircraft, funded by NASA and patented by the University in 2003
A critical aspect for faculty in research institutions is fundraising to support their research. And Ned has been particularly skillful at raising funds from external entities, both federal and industrial. To date, he has drawn over $20 million dollars in external funding. The University of Minnesota Center for Electrical Energy (UMCEE) started by Ned with his mentor, Prof. Vern Albertson, in 1981 is one of the longest lasting centers here, comprising six regional utilities such as Xcel Energy contributing an average of $130,000 dollars per year since its inception, funding and guiding his research in relevant directions. Hardware labs he developed with the support of NSF funds have been commercialized by Vishay HiRel Systems at their Duluth, MN plant. This had wide-reaching job creation impact in the state, but at no financial interest to Ned himself. The labs have been acquired by 109 U.S. universities and many more abroad. Ned’s research is now mostly funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) that considers his work vital to national security.
Recognizing his wide and deep impact on electrical and computer engineering, several prestigious flagship groups have honored him: in 1996, he was elevated to Fellow of IEEE; in 2010 Ned received the Utility Wind Integration Group’s Achievement Award; in 2012, the IEEE’s Renewable Energy Excellence Award; and in 2014, the IEEE’s FACTS Award. It was in 2014 again that the National Academy of Engineering elected Ned as member “for contributions to the integration of electronics into power systems and innovations in power engineering education.” He is one of only seven active NAE members at the University of Minnesota. Most recently, he received the 2019 IEEE IAS award for “outstanding contributions to education and mentorship of students and young engineers within the fields of interest of the IEEE Industry Applications Society.”
DEDICATION TO EDUCATION
However, Ned is not driven by research alone. He is dedicated to his students and their success, education, pedagogy, and equality and diversity. As a testimony of his success as a teacher, of the 46 doctoral students he has graduated, many are pursuing academic careers in prestigious institutions in the United States and abroad, while others are working in leading companies around the world (Apple, Tesla, and General motors are some of the few); 11 of them are employed locally. His bachelor’s and master’s students are working locally in regional utilities such as Xcel Energy, and his first and his latest doctoral students started companies in the area. Having mentored nearly a hundred and fifty graduate students, Ned’s impact is on a global scale.
Beyond the confines of the University, Ned believes in sharing his knowledge and has given guest lectures, and keynote addresses at conferences and symposia. He was instrumental in the development of 19 graduate level video courses, prepared by experts in the field (7 are NAE members, and 15 are IEEE Fellows), to function as resources to students and practicing engineers. Using an ONR grant, these lectures will be widely accessible to students across the world, which is especially important to those who might not have access to such advanced education. These courses will be disseminated via CUSP (Consortium of Universities for Sustainable Power), an organization created by Ned comprising 450 faculty from 235 universities in the United States. Ned has written five widely used textbooks that have been translated into nine languages and implemented as standard texts in universities in the United States. All five are required texts in five of the department’s senior level and graduate courses.
His teaching philosophy is based on mutual respect. Treating each of his students as his legacy, he works tirelessly with them to ensure they have a clear and deep understanding of the subject matter, to be successful in their career. In “Climate Change: Implementing Solutions,” a course developed and taught by Ned, he has a unique set of challenges. As an introductory course with no prerequisites, it is open to students of all stripes, from freshmen to seniors, from those pursuing performing arts majors to those in STEM majors. Ned has designed the course and prepares for it in ways that ensure that all students who take the course are successful. His students and those who have worked with him closely as his advisees or mentees can attest to the close attention he pays to everyone of them, making sure they are included in all discussions and well prepared for future challenges. In recognition of his deep and unwavering commitment to education and the success of his students, the University has conferred Ned with both teaching awards: the Morse-Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2007, and the Outstanding Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, Professional Education Award in 2014. These are the highest teaching awards the University offers. Ned is also the recipient of teaching and education awards conferred by the IEEE (in 2008 and 2010).
Not one to rest on his laurels, or confine teaching to the realms of a classroom, Ned in his drive to share his knowledge and take on challenges such as climate change, and low enrollment numbers in electrical and computer engineering, has donned the role of teacher to the teachers. Through funding support from the NSF, the ONR, and the Department of Energy, he has compiled educational materials for instructors in electrical and computer engineering, and organized over 30 faculty workshops to present the material. More than 100 faculty members, deans, and department heads have attended eachof these workshops, raising the profile of our department and improving our national ranking.
IN PURSUIT OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVITY
Outside academic topics, Ned has doggedly pursued diversity and inclusivity, mentoring underrepresented students through an NSF-REU program. Concerned by the lagging numbers of women in ECE, he organized a meeting to address the issue across the college. According to former student and current Intel employee, Dr. Rinkle Jain who is a senior female expert in the industry, the lack of women in the field is stark. She notes that the challenges faced by women in the corporate world are not trivial and the world needs more advocates like Ned “who care to even begin to effect changes.”
Yet another undertaking related to inclusivity that Ned has consistently participated in is reaching out to prospective students and engaging with them on the topic of climate change. His experience has shown that these conversations resonate the most with those who will suffer the consequences of climate change the most: students from minority and low-income communities. Equipping them with the right tools and knowledge to combat and navigate the challenges that loom on the horizon is, according to Ned, the key responsibility of instructors and educational institutions.
Beyond the confines of education, Ned is a keen believer in humility and respect as answers to ideological extremism. As one who practices these principles, and as a board member of the Collegeville Institute’s Multi-Religious Fellows Program, he has been helping young people explore ways to get along while preserving their own diverse faiths. He has carried on this work through the University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute as well as theInstitute for Global Studies. Ned has also developed a popular free resource on Hinduism for teachers teaching a year-long course on world history and cultures at many Minnesota high schools.
NEVER ONE TO SLOW DOWN
Ned’s engagement and commitment to diverse responsibilities and issues have not slowed him down. On the contrary, he seems to be working at a pace that outstrips others in the department. He currently leads a research group of eight doctoral students and three postdoctoral research associates. Since 2013, he has graduated 14 doctoral students, a number that is four times the department’s average. During that time, he has also received four major awards, and published 23 journal papers, and 61 conference proceedings. In 2018 alone, he drew in over $1.3 million in external funding, four times the departmental average. His h-index, a critical scholarly metric that measures the “productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar” is 61, with over 30,000 citations. His citation record is one of the best in the department, and he is currently working on his sixth textbook with his postdoc, Dr. Siddharth Raju, on vector control in electric drives, to be published by Wiley.
Most recently, Ned was invited to testify by the Minnesota House Committee on Energy and Climate. Subsequently, Representative Jamie Long proposed legislation to make electricity in Minnesota carbon-free by 2050, which was endorsed by Gov. Tim Walz.
Prof. Ned Mohan is clearly in the vanguard of research in a critical and frontline field. A dedicated teacher who leads by example, and a respectful and humble participant in issues of diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance, he is the embodiment of a world citizen: one who has impacted the lives of many in direct and indirect ways at many levels, through his research, his teaching and mentoring, and his engagement in promoting peace and understanding across borders of language, faith, and culture. The Regents Professorship is the latest in a steady string of prestigious awards and honors that he has received, commending the depth, and breadth of his research and academic commitment, and the generosity with which he shares his knowledge.
Ned earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1967 from the Indian Institute of Technology. He then earned his master’s degree in 1969 at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. Keen on pursuing a doctoral degree, he worked under the guidance of Prof. Harold A. Peterson, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his PhD in electrical power systems in 1973, and along the way his interests led him to acquire a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1972 (also from UW- Madison). Ned and his wife Mary have two grown-up children.
M. Hassan Najafi has received the Best Poster Award at the 2019 Design Automation Conference (DAC) PhD Forum for his dissertation research. Jointly hosted by ACM SIGDA and IEEE CEDA, the Forum is a platform for doctoral students to present their research to the electronic design automation (EDA) community. The Forum is highly competitive with an acceptance rate of 30 percent.
Hassan’s dissertation is titled “New Views for Stochastic Computing: From Time-Encoding to Deterministic Processing.” Stochastic computing first emerged in the 1960s, positioned as a new paradigm for emerging technologies and post-CMOS computing, and an alternative to conventional computing. While there are several advantages to stochastic computing, latency of operations, which translates to higher energy consumption, is a noteworthy disadvantage. The cost of bit-stream generators is another important downside.
In his dissertation, Hassan addresses these issues by proposing an unorthodox idea: performing computation with digital constructs on time-encoded analog signals. He presents a new, energy-efficient, high-performance and inexpensive approach for stochastic computing using time-encoded pulse signals. His experimental results have shown several gains: 99% performance speedup, 98% savings in energy loss, and 40% area reduction compared to prior stochastic implementations.
Hassan also addresses achieving progressive precision, another key challenge with deterministic methods of stochastic computing, He proposes a high-quality down sampling method which significantly improves processing time and energy consumption of typical deterministic methods. His research offers two noteworthy firsts: introduction of two novel deterministic methods of processing bit-streams using low-discrepancy sequences, and exploitation of the skew tolerance of stochastic circuits to develop polysynchronous clocking. Most significantly, as an outcome of his research, Hassan presents a seamless stochastic system, StochMem, which uses analog memory to trade the energy and area overhead of data conversion for computation accuracy in stochastic systems.
IMPACT OF HASSAN’S RESEARCH
In the course of his research, Hassan developed new design methodologies, and new research directions to the stochastic computing and unary processing fields. His work has established some counterintuitive and fundamental new design methodologies for the design of digital stochastic systems. The results of his research have challenged the perceived limitations of stochastic computing, while simultaneously paving a path to designing significantly smaller, faster, and energy-efficient embedded systems.
His work on polysynchronous stochastic circuits was selected as the Feature Paper of the Month in the October 2017 issue of IEEE Transactions on Computers. His work on high-quality down-sampling of deterministic bit-streams was presented in the Best Papers Session of the 35th IEEE International Conference on Computer Design (ICCD 2017)and received the Best Paper Award of the conference. The paper was also among the top-ranked papers of the conference for publication in IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computing: Special Issue on Emerging Topics in Computer Design.
Prof. Georgios Giannakis from ECE is ranked 17 worldwide (ranked 13 nationally) in the areas of computer science and electronics, and has an H-index of 140. The author of 450 journal articles and 750 refereed conference proceedings publications, he has over 70,000 citations. In addition, he has authored seven books and numerous book chapters.
Prof. Giannakis has served as director of the University of Minnesota’s Digital Technology Center since 2008. He has also held the ADC Endowed Chair in Wireless Telecommunications since 2001. He holds 28 patents in wireless technologies, several related to the 4G LTE standard. More recently, he has been a pace-setting leader in bringing the power of statistical signals and system theory to the emerging challenges in the smart grid and the integration of renewable energy systems into the grid. He is ranked at the top in areas of signal processing and wireless communication.
He has received numerous awards from the University and professional organizations, including being named the inaugural recipient of the Fourier Technical Field Award in Signal Processing by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2015.
Prof. Giannakis has been honored with one of the University’s highest faculty awards, a McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair. The Presidential Endowed Chair acknowledges the critical contributions of University faculty to the missions of research, education, and public engagement. Prof. Giannakis is only the third professor from the College of Science and Engineering to receive the honor.
He has advised or co-advised more than 45 Ph.D. students and 55 post-doctoral fellows and has led more than 60 sponsored projects with funding in excess of $16 million. He leads a research team that comprises doctoral students, postdoctoral associates, and visiting researchers.
Prof. Giannakis received his undergraduate degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece in 1981. He went on to receive his master’s degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics in 1983 and 1986 and his doctoral degree in electrical engineering in 1986, all from the University of Southern California. After serving as a professor at the University of Virginia, Giannakis joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 1999.
Prof. Sairaj Dhople is a recipient of the 2019 IEEE Power and Energy Society’s Outstanding Young Engineer Award. The award recognizes his contributions to the “analysis and control of renewable generation and microgrids.”
Sairaj’s primary research interests are modeling, analysis, and control of power electronics and power systems with a focus on renewable integration. He currently serves as Associate Professor in ECE. The research group he leads is focused on advancing solutions at the circuit and system levels that can bring about power systems that are sustainable, resilient in disaster situations, and customized to meet local needs.
Among other prominent awards Sairaj has previously received are the University’s McKnight Land-Grant Professorship (2017-2019), and the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award (2015). He is currently serving as an editor of IEEE Transactions on Power Systems, IEEE Transactions on Energy Conversion, and IEEE Power Engineering Letters. He is also serving as vice president of the University Education Subcommittee, part of the Power and Energy Education Committee (IEEE PES).
Sairaj earned his doctoral degree in 2012 from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
The IEEE PES Outstanding Young Engineer Award was established to recognize engineers 35 years of age or under “for outstanding contributions in the leadership of technical society activities including local and/or transnational PES and other technical societies, leadership in community and humanitarian activities, and evidence of technical competence through significant engineering achievements.” The award, administered by the PES Awards and Recognition Committee, is presented annually at the IEEE PES Annual Meeting.
ECE faculty, Prof. Murti Salapaka (Vincentine Hermes-Luh Chair in Electrical Engineering) has been named an IEEE Fellow effective January 2019. He has been cited by the IEEE for his application of control and systems technology in nano-science. Prof. Salapaka’s research focuses on systems and control, and spans control theory and its applications to nano-interrogation and bio-manipulation at the molecular scale using laser tweezers and atomic force microscopes. Under his direction, Prof. Salapaka’s research group are exploring several complementary areas: network, control, and system theory, nanoscience and related physics, molecular biology, and energy. These areas of research have had and are poised to have far reaching impact on fundamental research and application.
NETWORK, CONTROL, AND SYSTEM THEORY
At the theoretical level, Salapaka and his team of researchers have made significant contributions to several strands of theoretical research including, learning structure from measured data in networks with feedback, structured control, multiobjective control synthesis, and distributed computations over networked systems. Outcomes of their theoretical research have informed their approach to the applied aspects of their work.
NANOSCIENCE AND NANOTECHNOLOGY
In the area of nanoscience and nanotechnology, Salapaka and his team have deployed control and systems frameworks to establish new perspectives and methods. At the experimental level, this has included customized atomic force microscopes, in-house realized optical tweezers to supplement opto-mechanical effects, and advanced TIRF (total internal reflection fluorescence) microscopy. At the theoretical level, his research has included exploration of fundamental limits on energy need for computation, sources of noise, and how feedback relates to nanoscience and nanotechnology.
Wielding innovative tools and technologies based in control and systems, and in nanoscience and nanotechnology research that Salapaka has been carrying out, his lab has been conducting single molecule research focused on intracellular transport and protein folding-unfolding. Intracellular transport is effected by molecular-motors, and a disturbance in the motion of these motors has been linked to neuro-degenrative diseases. Murti created a learning-based approach for the detection of events in single-molecule interactions, and the software implementing the method is being widely used by molecular biologists. His work bears significant import on detection and emergence of diseased states.
ENERGY AND POWER NETWORKS
Salapaka’s research interest extends to energy and power networks, seeking novel ways to address the challenges of system reliability and power quality introduced by renewable power generation. Using techniques for cloud-based and peer-to-peer networks, he proposes a system that can provide a coordinated response by multiple units to adjust consumption and generation of electricity in response to grid events. He uses concepts from nonlinear and robust control theory to design such self-organizing power systems, a key feature of which is plug-and-play architecture which allows devices and smaller power networks to engage or disengage from the other power networks or the entire grid. A revolutionary design, it is soon to be tested across multiple scenarios, deploying more than a hundred devices ranging from photovoltaics and battery storage inverters, to home appliances.
Salapaka is the author of numerous journal articles that document and present his pioneering systems approach to nanoscience and nanotechnology. Besides carrying out trailblazing research with outcomes at the fundamental and application levels, he has also generously given his time towards sharing his research know-how, techniques, and tools with the controls community through workshops and tutorials. He has also performed critical service roles as editor, keynote speaker, and lecturer at platforms organized by IEEE and non-IEEE entities.
ECE faculty, Prof. Chris Kim has been named an IEEE Fellow effective January 2019. He has been cited by the IEEE for his contributions to on-chip circuit reliability evaluation and characterization. Prof. Kim’s research focuses on developing circuit technologies that can enable smart and energy-efficient integrated systems. He leads the VLSI Research Laboratory, and under his direction, his team are engaged in high-impact work with applications that include internet of things, neuromorphic computing, microprocessors, medical devices, and post-CMOS technologies.
An outstanding contribution to the advancement of technology is Kim’s work in the area of circuit reliability. His invention of odometer circuits, a new class of compact on-chip sensors can reveal details of circuit aging that are otherwise impossible to detect and measure using conventional characterization methods. His research team has since developed and demonstrated over twenty odometer designs, each of them uniquely targeting different aging mechanisms in technologies ranging from 130nm to 14nm.
The original silicon odometer design is based on a simple circuit that measures the beat frequency between a new ring oscillator, and an old one. The design was presented at the 2007 VLSI Circuits Symposium and was subsequently invited to the IEEE JSSC, and to many other fora after.
Among the other odometers that Kim’s research team has designed are: the all-in-one silicon odometer (separately monitors the impact of Bias Temperature Instability, and Hot Carrier Injection, both of which are critical reliability issues), statistical odometer (designed to study the statistical nature of circuit aging); dielectric breakdown odometer; random telegraph noise odometer; and the plasma induced damage odometer. The work was presented at several high profile publications, symposia, and other venues, and the team are recipients of multiple design awards. In addition to these, Kim has presented several odometer structures for diagnosing SRAM aging at various eminent publications.
In 2016, Kim received the Semiconductor Research Corporation Technical Excellence Award in recognition of his silicon odometer invention. As a further testament of the critical nature of his work, the odometer design has been adopted by companies such as IBM, GlobalFoundries, and Texas Instruments.
While Kim and his team have carried out invaluable research that has direct application and impact in and of itself, from a longview perspective, the research and experience behind the design of novel odometers has established a robust and enduring foundation for work involving the modeling and mitigation of circuit aging.
BEYOND-CMOS ELECTRONIC CIRCUITS
Besides Kim’s path-breaking contributions to circuit reliability technologies, he has also made singular contributions to beyond-CMOS electronic circuits such as spintronics and flexible electronics. He works closely with physicists, material scientists, and chemical engineers in his quest for circuit-based solutions. Besides developing solutions that have direct impact on current and future technology, Kim’s interdisciplinary work is also setting the foundation for future research by drawing attention to some of the challenges that lie ahead, ranging from materials to design to architectures that are yet to be developed to make spin-based computing a reality.
Kim is an active contributor to multiple journals in his discipline through much-cited technical reports, publications, and presentations. He and his team of researchers have also been recipients of several best paper and IC design contest awards. In addition to these contributions, he has generously shared his time by volunteering as chair of several committees, sub-committees, and program committees, as associate editor, panelist and tutorial organizer.
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is proud of We are proud of Prof. Chris Kim’s accomplishments, and those of the team he leads, and congratulate him on his elevation to IEEE Fellow.
ECE faculty, Prof. Nicola Elia has been named an IEEE Fellow effective January 2019. He has been cited by the IEEE for his contributions to networked control systems. Prof. Elia’s research focuses on topics within decision and control systems, including control with communication constraints and networked control systems. His recent research has focused on networked distributed optimization, and cooperative multi-agent systems.
INTEGRATED THEORY OF INFORMATION AND CONTROL
Control theory and communication theory and their applications have been evolving independently over the recent decades, but with the wide availability of large communication networks, there was the potential for groundbreaking new applications that would entail close interaction between control and communication systems. Prof. Elia recognized the challenge and spearheaded the development of an integrated theory of information and control. In the separate evolution of the two lines of theory, each focused on unique problems and used different mathematical tools in their approach to problem-solving, which presented significant conceptual roadblocks. Elia and some of the early researchers recognized the need for a unified theory that could augment both control and communication theories as they currently existed.
Elia’s research contributions were based off his search for an integrated theory that would interpret feedback control systems as real-time information processing systems, while simultaneously interpreting feedback communication systems as causal decision making systems. His work has shone new light on how limited information provided by unreliable communication channels can impact the performance and stability of feedback systems. At the level of applications, his research has demonstrated how feedback controls could help design efficient communication systems.
PROF. ELIA’S RESEARCH CONTRIBUTIONS
Elia’s body of research is pivotal, and has made significant contributions in the bringing together of information and control theories, which in turn have impacted the analysis and design of networked systems. His work will have wide ranging impact, from better designed networks of autonomous vehicles and robots to electric grids, and from manufacturing systems to social networks. The education and training of systems engineers will eventually reflect Elia’s unified theories, which will lead to further technological innovations.
Prof. Elia has made seminal contributions to networked control systems as seen in his numerous technical publications, reports, and presentations (communication uncertainties, networked control systems design, design of communication systems with access to feedback, and controller design methods). But in addition to these, he has also actively and generously shared his time by serving as a chair and member of various IEEE and non-IEEE committees, as associate editor and reviewer for journals, and organizer of multiple expert sessions and workshops.
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is proud of Prof. Nicola Elia’s accomplishments, and those of the team he leads, and congratulate him on his elevation to IEEE Fellow.
Meet Kriti Agarwal. Kriti is a doctoral candidate working on improving detection times and analysis of cancer-causing DNA mutations using big data and mathematical techniques. She is conducting her research under the guidance of ECE faculty Prof. Jeong-Hyun Cho.
A recipient of two fellowships and several other honors recognizing her research, Kriti’s path to excellence in research began in India. Raised by academic parents, who emphasized the value of education and exploration, Kriti earned her bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication from Manipal Institute of Technology, India. Work beckoned after graduation, and Kriti joined IBM as an engineer, quickly making her way up as project lead. But even as Kriti was rising through the ranks at IBM, she began to feel restless, and yearned for new challenges. In her search for a new path, Kriti went back to her undergraduate roots, where as a student of engineering, she was introduced to nanotechnology. And while she was always interested in the area, it now struck an exciting chord within her.
Kriti is working on developing innovative mathematical techniques that can improve cancer detection, and eventually disease prognosis.
Kriti started toying with the idea of a career in research, particularly in nanotechnology, and applied to the University of Minnesota, drawn by its reputation in nano-based research. When she arrived at the department, she sought out Prof. Cho, intrigued by his 3D micro and nano engineering research group, and requested a tour of his lab. The tour clinched it for Kriti; she had found her calling. And after careful vetting by Prof. Cho, she became a member of his research team.
Currently, Kriti is working on developing innovative mathematical techniques that can improve cancer detection, and eventually disease prognosis. Working with other researchers in Prof. Cho’s lab, she has developed a novel liquid biopsy method that is capable of detecting DNA mutations. However, along the way, Kriti has accomplished several firsts, and introduced many innovations, starting with fabricating three-dimensional incarnations of the typically two-dimensional structure of graphene.
Why 3D Graphene?
Kriti found that when planar 2D graphene nanoribbons are curved to form 3D cylindrical graphene nanotubes, changes are introduced in the near-field enhancement.
When disease causing DNA mutations take place, there is a corresponding modification in the proteins, which makes detection and analysis of proteins critical for diagnosing diseases, as well as for predicting the prognosis. The Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) method can provide vital information about the structure of biological specimens, besides molecular vibrations, hydrogen bonds, chemical composition, and other characteristics that serve as disease markers. However, there is a significant mismatch between the wavelength of incident infrared light, which is on the micrometer scale, and the size of the proteins, which are on the nanometer scale. The mismatch leads to low levels of light absorption and the resulting peaks in the frequency spectrum are barely discernible. The situation presents a need for a technique that can bridge the mismatch.
Enter graphene. With its unique optical, chemical, and other properties, this wonder material is being widely used in and tested for a number of medical and biological applications. When light on the microscale wavelength falls on nanoscale graphene it causes the surface electrons in graphene to oscillate, a phenomenon called surface plasmon resonance (SPR). The graphene plasmons confine the incident light to its surface and enhance the weak energy density due to spatial constrictions. However, limiting the near field (a region of the electromagnetic field around an object) to only the surface of graphene as in the case of 2D graphene-based sensors presents a new challenge. The proteins under observation cannot retain their structure and biological functions if immobilized on 2D graphene. Also, the area of confinement of light is so small that at low molecular concentrations it can take more than twenty-four hours for the specimen to diffuse to the graphene surface.
In her search for a suitable solution, Kriti found that when planar 2D graphene nanoribbons are curved using a process much like the Japenese art of Origami to form 3D cylindrical graphene nanotubes, changes are introduced in the near-field enhancement. The SPR in the fabricated graphene nanotubes offers a stronger confinement of the incident light throughout the enclosed volume, increasing the electric field by six orders of magnitude. Thus, any molecules flowing within the tube are detected with sensitivities in the picomolar range (the concentration of a solution is conveyed by its molarity, and a picomole is a trillionth of a mole).
Kriti uses mathematical techniques for analysis of the data gathered through this liquid biopsy technique. Through methods such as finite element modeling, the spectroscopy measurements will be verified, and deconvoluted, tracking frequency changes for each cancer DNA mutation that takes place as a result of changes in the vibrations of molecular bonds within the DNA specimen.
As Kriti’s research progresses, the deliverable she seeks is a fast, real-time, highly sensitive liquid biopsy technique of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) that is capable of detecting multiple mutations simultaneously. Ultimately, Kriti hopes to create a library of sorts, where such changes in structure and composition, i.e. mutations, are correlated to changes in the spectrum, which can aid in accurate and faster disease diagnosis.
Recognition for her work
Kriti believes that the liquid biopsy technique she is working on, once realized, could substantially improve diagnosis, treatment options, and disease prognosis.
Kriti’s research is gaining recognition, and she is the recipient of multiple awards and honors. She recently received a UMII MnDrive graduate assistantship for 2019-2020, for her work on cancer detection via an innovative liquid biopsy technique based on big data and mathematical methods. Previously, she was the recipient of the Louise T. Dosdall fellowship (2018 – 2019). The fellowship is awarded to women graduate students in the natural or physical sciences and engineering, who hold superior academic records and show professional promise. She also received the Best Poster award at the fall 2018 meeting of the Materials Research Society for her poster, “Geometrical Modification of Hybridized Plasmon Modes in 3D Graphene Nanostructures.” She was one of twenty other recipients from the 2,640 poster entries at the meeting.
Kriti’s other awards and honors include:
Best poster award runner-up at 2018 American Vacuum Society Minnesota Chapter Annual Symposium and Vendor Exhibition. • Best poster award (3rd place) at 2018 Annual Retreat and Conference organized by the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, University of Minnesota. • Best poster award at Material Research Society Fall Meeting, November 2017, awarded to 20 posters out of 2500 participants. • Best poster award at Material Research Society Spring Meeting, April 2015, awarded to 11 posters out of 1900 participants. • Materials Research Society poster exchange fellowship, 2015 to attend International Materials Research Congress at Cancun, Mexico in August 2015.
Kriti’s research could have far reaching impact. The American Cancer Society estimated 1.7 million new cancer cases in the United States, and approximately 600,000 cancer related deaths in 2018. It is increasingly common for us to have a personal story of dealing with the disease and its aftermath. Despite advancements in treatment options, mortality rates remain high due to delayed detection of the disease owing to reasons such as poor healthcare accessibility, and complications associated with biopsies. Kriti believes that the liquid biopsy technique she is working on, once realized, could substantially improve diagnosis, treatment options, and disease prognosis, especially for people living in non-urban and remote areas. And we are rooting for Kriti all the way!
The George W. Taylor Awards are endowed within the College of Science and Engineering in memory of George W. Taylor, a 1934 graduate of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Established in 1982, the award for Distinguished Teaching recognizes outstanding contributions to undergraduate and/or graduate teaching.
Over his 37-year career at the University of Minnesota, Doug has demonstrated his deep commitment to teaching, innovation, and mentoring not only students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, but also those across the University. He has placed his students at the center of all his teaching oriented endeavors, be they in the classroom, or programs directed at improving the educational experience.
Improving Student Learning Outcomes in the Classroom
As an instructor, Doug has taught classes that range from those offered at the sophomore level, to graduate level courses. Regardless of the level, he brings the same high level of dedication and enthusiasm to his classroom. He is routinely the recipient of outstanding teaching evaluations regardless of the type of class: large lectures, small group discussions, or laboratory experiences. A firm believer in the active learning pedagogy, he acts as a facilitator by encouraging thoughtful discussions among his students over the course material, rather than simply lecturing to them. He takes the active learning approach further by bringing in real world examples into the classroom, so students can relate concepts learned in class with their applications in technological artifacts that are commonly used.
Over his 37-year career at the University of Minnesota, Prof. Ernie has demonstrated his deep commitment to teaching, innovation, and mentoring students, placing them at the center of all his teaching oriented endeavors, within the classroom, and outside.
As one of the faculty leads in the department coordinating the capstone experience, EE 4951W (Senior Design), Doug has persistently endeavored to increase the number of industry-sponsored projects for our students, to expand their real-world experience. In addition to building their technical knowledge and skills, he is committed to honing their non-technical skills such as communication, and developing their sense of professional ethical practice. Doug ensures that there are opportunities for guided written and oral presentations, supported by peer review workshops. More recently, he drew faculty from MIN-Corps to expose students to methods such as Lean LaunchPad to propose and try out their designs.
Doug has actively worked on improving student learning outcomes by revitalizing the introductory circuits/systems and electronics courses, and by integrating the curriculum. The step was taken based on the benefit students would gain—increased retention of core concepts. Another change introduced for similar reasons was the redesign of our laboratories. Being deeply engaged in monitoring our students’ learning outcomes and making continuous improvements in our programs, Doug has (serving on ECE’s ABET Committee) successfully shepherded and assisted our undergraduate programs through the ABET accreditation review process in 2007 and 2013. He continues to lead the department’s ABET’s data collection, analysis, and program improvements in readiness for the upcoming review.
Encouraging Learning Outside the Classroom
In his commitment to enhancing students’ educational experience, Doug has worked to include opportunities that exist outside the traditional classroom. From 1997 to 2013, he coordinated two NSF funded summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs, one within ECE, and another with the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network. Focused on underrepresented groups, the programs aligned with his sustained commitment to expanding the diversity of the student body within STEM. The REU programs successfully encouraged many of the attendees to pursue graduate school, and motivated our students to pursue REU opportunities at other institutions.
In his commitment to enhancing students’ educational experience, Prof. Ernie has worked to include opportunities that go beyond the traditional classroom.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Doug has continued to explore and expand the educational opportunities that our students can draw on. Working with two other ECE faculty members, and the University’s Learning Abroad Center, he has developed a four week study abroad experience for our undergraduate students, in Kenya. Launched in 2015 under the title “Engineering in the Developing World,” Doug assisted in on-site orientation and lead instruction for the course in Nairobi, and oversaw the launch of course related field experience in Nanyuki.
Improving Access to Course Materials
Doug has been leading UNITE Distributed Learning as Director, since 1996. With his guidance, UNITE has improved the availability of graduate courses and programs to working professionals through distance learning. He has also augmented the learning experience for undergraduate and graduate students by making recordings of course lectures delivered in UNITE capable classrooms available to all on-campus students. In addition to this, UNITE’s online course option is now available to all on-campus students who have special circumstances or needs.
Service and Support
Among other student centered commitments, Doug has dedicated his time and energy as faculty advisor to the University chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers for three years from 2009 to 2011. He is also a founding member of the Dignity Project, engaged in supporting the advisor/mentor relationships of faculty and students, and a member of the Student Conflict Resolution Center’s advisory board.
Doug is also the recipient of the Outstanding Mentor Award (2010) by the President’s Distinguished Faculty Mentor Program, of which he is also a supporter and regular participant. He has also previously received the Morse-Alumni Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2016, and is currently chair of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering congratulates Prof. Doug Ernie on the Taylor Award. We are proud of him and thank him for his selfless service and dedication to the University’s educational mission.
Besides Doug, previous ECE recipients of the award include, professors James Leger, Stephen Campbell, and Ned Mohan
In recognition of his entrepreneurial spirit and his outstanding ability to bring to life and commercialize innovative new technologies, Prof. Jian-Ping Wang (Robert Hartmann Chair in Electrical Engineering) has been awarded the 2019 Innovation Award for Entrepreneurial Researcher. The award celebrates his research on the magnetic spin of electrons, and exploration of its usage for next-generation computing technologies. His work has led to the setting up of two startups: Niron, and Zepto Life Technology.
Founded in 2014, Jian-Ping’s start up Niron Magnetics is engaged in the mass production of permanent magnets. Niron’s proprietary iron nitride magnets have greater magnetization and are the less expensive answer to rare-earth magnets, ready to revolutionize the design of electric motors and generators. The magnets are manufactured by a unique process said to be the first of its kind in the world.
Zepto Life Technology is engaged in pioneering work that supports early disease detection that can lead to better patient outcomes and reduce the burden of cost on the patient. The company is developing portable diagnostic devices as well as large scale diagnostic equipment, based on giant magnetoresistance technology and information technology, that are highly sensitive, low cost, and easy to use.
The Innovation Awards, hosted by the OVPR, are a celebration of the achievements of the University’s researchers and the breakthroughs that come about as a result of their efforts. There are four categories of the award: Early Innovator, Entrepreneurial Researcher, Impact, and Committee’s Choice. Read more about the award here