Prof. Randall Victora in the News: Interview in AIP

Prof. Randall Victora and doctoral student Rizvi Ahmed, recently presented a technique for the simulation of a magnetic field in chromia (Cr₂O₃), a material that in the not too distant future, could form the key component of computer memory. The findings appear in the paper “A fully electric field driven scalable magnetoelectric switching element,” published in the journal Applied Physics Letters. Prof. Victora was interviewed by the American Institute of Physics about the new development. 

A switching element made from chromia could be the answer to the problem of reducing the size of memory components while also increasing energy efficiency. While consumers have come to expect greater memory sizes in small devices as a matter of routine, semiconductor companies have had to slow down; the size of memory components is not going down as rapidly as they once did, and current designs display a marked reduction in energy efficiency.

To overcome these challenges, researchers are investigating the use of magnetic fields to store information, a move away from transistors and electric fields that are typically used in memory devices, to store and retrieve information. A promising version of such a magnetic device depends on the magnetoelectric effect to switch the magnetic properties of a devices. However, the challenge here is that currently such a device requires large electric and magnetic fields.

According to Prof. Victora, the use of chromia as a possible answer to this lies in the fact that it has shown better potential for scaling and with refinements, could possibly be sized down, and be more energy efficient. The authors have designed a device where the chromia is surrounded with magnetic material, thereby doing away with the need for an externally applied magnetic field for it to operate. The details of the technique are explained in the paper.


The authors intend to collaborate with other researchers familiar with chromia to fabricate and test the device. If all ends well, then the new chromia-based device stands to replace dynamic random access memory (DRAM), and this could be a revolutionary change in computer memory components. DRAM is what provides the fast memory that we are all used to in our devices, but it is energy inefficient and volatile. (You can blame its volatility when you lose an unsaved document when your computer crashes.) A chromia-based device however would be non-volatile. There are challenges yet to be overcome; the study’s authors point to chromia’s low heat tolerance. Currently, their modeling predicts that the device will stop functioning around 30 degrees celsius, and computers tend to run hotter than that. A possible solution the authors suggest is the introduction of other elements to optimize its functioning. So rein in your excitement just a dash. It might be a few years before such a memory device hits the market.

This research was supported by C-SPIN, one of six STARnet centers, a Semiconductor Research Corporation Program sponsored by MARCO and DARPA.

Read the complete paper

Prof. Randall Victora’s research

Mehran Elyasi Is A Facebook Fellowship Awardee

Doctoral candidate Mehran Elyasi has been recognized as a 2018 Facebook Fellow. The Facebook Fellowship Program awards its fellows with tuition and fees for the academic year (up to two years), a stipend, travel funds, and the opportunity to meet with and present their work to other researchers at Facebook’s annual summit. 

Established seven years ago, the Facebook Fellowship program seeks to support doctoral students engaged in research that is promising, innovative, and pertinent to the fields of computer science and engineering. This year 17 doctoral students have been awarded the Fellowship. The topics from this year’s cohort range from natural language processing to networking and connectivity hardware, to security and privacy. The Fellowship application is open to doctoral students pursuing research in an accredited institution in any country.

Mehran’s fellowship winning work is his design of a novel coding scheme called Determinant Coding, for Distributed Storage Systems (DSS). The scheme seeks to overcome some of the challenges currently faced by such systems.


A large volume of digital data is generated by Internet users everyday. At the same time, the number of users seeking access to such data through applications such as Facebook, is also rapidly increasing. Distributed Storage Systems (DSS) are widely used in such large scale storage systems to maintain data availability and reliability. However there are several concerns faced by such systems, key among them being their unreliability. While the issue can be overcome by building in redundancy in the data, it leads to storage overheads. Additionally, with failures being common in large scale storage systems, a significant volume of network traffic is diverted to repair failed storage nodes. While the ideal goal is to minimise the repair bandwidth while also maximizing the storage efficiency of the system, currently one can be optimized only at the cost of the other.     

To counter these challenges, Mehran has designed a novel coding scheme, called Determinant Coding, for Distributed Storage Systems. The construction of the scheme provides encoding/decoding algorithms for storage as well as an efficient mechanism for the repair of failed storage units. These universally structured codes can operate in all the optimum points of the storage-bandwidth trade-off.

Mehran earned his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics from Isfahan University of Technology, Iran, in 2014. His areas of interest include information theory and its applications in communication, distributed storage systems, and statistical machine learning. He is pursuing his doctoral degree under the guidance of Prof. Soheil Mohajer.

Check the complete list of the 2018 cohort of Facebook Fellows

Prof. Bethanie Stadler Elevated to Fellow of the Materials Research Society

The Materials Research Society has recognized Prof. Bethanie Stadler as an MRS Fellow, honoring her exceptional research and her outstanding contributions to the field of materials research. The fellowship is a lifetime appointment, and commends Prof. Stadler “[f]or distinguished service to materials research and for pioneering work in magneto-photonics integration and magnetic nanowire devices that enable far-reaching applications of fundamental science to improve the quality of life.”

Scientific Contributions to the Field

Prof. Stadler’s contributions to the field of materials research through her work on magnetic nanowires and magneto-optical garnets, and her service to the MRS have gone a long way to the advancement of the field. She has led her research group to develop a process that  creates the largest number of perfectly ordered closely packed magnetic metal nanowires known till date. She has also proposed nanowires for novel array read heads in hard drives, for which she has been invited to present at magnetics conferences by Seagate.

She has also applied materials research to control the strain and defect structure of garnets to produce low optical loss waveguides on multiple substrates, including the silicon-insulator-silicon substrate. More recently, her group has developed push/pull garnets that can be used to make efficient devices in uniform magnetic fields. Her work has practical implications for industrial and biomedical applications. 

Read more about Prof. Stadler’s research

Service to the Society

Prof. Stadler’s engagement with the Materials Research Society began early, while she was a graduate student at MIT, as its student chapter president. While chapter president, she was invited to join the Society’s membership committee, during which time she created the first annual report template for student chapters. Her template guided chapters on identifying what was important, planning their activities accordingly, and submitting successful chapter reports, which are all integral to the running of successful chapters. Her success led to an invitation to form a new subcommittee, the Special Projects Subcommittee, which was responsible for encouraging student chapters to undertake projects that coincided with the Society’s goals. She was later asked to be the chair of the Academic Affairs Committee while a postdoctoral fellow. This was followed by a request to further undergraduate research within the MRS. To fulfill this charge, Prof. Stadler established the Undergraduate Materials Research Initiative, which endured for five years, before the funds were redirected to another Society effort, a global science museum called Strange Matter, an effort that she strongly supported. She has been on the MRS’ Board of Directors (2005 – 2007), and then Secretary of the MRS (2008 – 2010). She has served on, and actively engaged with several Society committees, while also organizing several symposia in her areas of research, magnetics and photonics. Since the start of 2018, Prof. Stadler has been serving as chair of the Program Development Subcommittee. 

Prof. Stadler’s continued engagement and active contributions to the scientific world and to the MRS should not come as a surprise to anyone. She was honored as an IEEE Distinguished Lecturer in 2015. And in 2017, she was honored with the George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service by the University’s College of Science and Engineering. Prof. Stadler has carried on her service engagements, along with her research and teaching responsibilities, and we in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are very proud of her achievements.

Read more about Prof. Stadler’s Taylor Award and Elevation to IEEE Distinguished Lecturer

Read more about Prof. Stadler’s current appointment as ECE’s Associate Department Head


Aelios Technology Move To the National Cleantech UP Competition

The Aelios Technology team, comprising ECE doctoral students Shreyas Bhaban and Sourav Patel, and mechanical engineering doctoral student Saurav Talukdar, and Carlson MBA student Atul Fotedar, were one of two startup companies named runners-up in the 2018 Cleantech University Prize (Cleantech UP) Midwest Showcase. Bagging the runner-up position gives the team the opportunity to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Cleantech UP national level competition to be held in Washington, D.C. in June.

Supported and advised by ECE’s Prof. Murti Salapaka, Prof. Carla Pavone from the Carlson School of Management (CSOM), and MGMT 5102 (a course offered by CSOM on testing a business concept and the market for it), Aelios Technology have developed a device called iPlugD, Intelligent Plug for Devices. The device can lessen the adverse effects of unreliable power supply in developing nations, especially in the healthcare field. An intelligent switch, it is designed to redirect power from non-critical to critical devices in the event of a power outage, or unreliable power supply, and thereby reduce the adverse impact on healthcare services, and even prevent the loss of lives.

Cleantech UP was established by the U.S. Department of Energy to “inspire and equip the next generation of clean energy entrepreneurs and innovators by providing them with competitive funding for business development and commercialization training and other educational opportunities.” The Midwest Showcase titled Switched On: Student Innovations in Cleantech, saw teams from eight universities across the midwest present their cleantech business innovations. Cleantech Hub, a national level center for the support of student led clean energy business ideas, will coordinate the national competition which awards $100,000 in prizes.

Recently, Aelios Technology also took first place in the University’s Acara Challenge, in the graduate division. Hosted and facilitated by the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota, the Acara Challenge is an entrepreneurship competition that recognizes students who develop solutions to some of the most acute challenges currently facing the world.

The team has showcased their technology at other business plan competitions too. They are final round contenders at the First Look West (FLOW) competition organized by the Resnick Institute at Caltech. They were also one of the finalists in the Energy for Developing Economies track at the MIT Clean Energy Prize and were considered one of “17 of the world’s most promising clean energy ventures”.

Read more about the Acara Challenge and other winners of the challenge 

More information about the Cleantech UP competition 

Prof. Chris Kim Receives Taylor Award for Research

Prof. Chris Kim has been honored with the 2018 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Research. Prof. Michael McAlpine from the Department of Mechanical Engineering is the other honoree for this year. The research award is typically awarded to a faculty member who has shown outstanding ability in research and is within 15 years of having earned their doctorate at the time of their nomination. The award comes with a citation and an honorarium.

The award recognizes Prof. Kim’s expertise in integrated circuit design, in particular advanced CMOS technologies and post-CMOS devices. He is a leading authority on circuit-based characterization and mitigation techniques to combat circuit-aging effects, hardware-based solutions for preventing hacking attacks (a key contribution being the digital fingerprint design called Soft Physical Unclonable Function or PUF for authentication purposes), and a new neural network hardware paradigm called “time domain computing,” a low energy, compact alternative to conventional digital computers. He is also engaged in collaborative research that is investigating new materials, fabrication techniques, and circuit design for flexible electronic devices, working alongside faculty from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Material Science at the University, and from Northwestern University. In a similar exploratory research venture, he has been working with several faculty from ECE and other departments at the University to address the design challenges posed by spintronics devices.

Prof. Kim leads an active research group that is conducting research in improving energy efficiency, performance, and security in connected devices, as well as exploring future computing systems based on emerging technologies such as spintronics, and post-CMOS transistors. Through research funded by the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), Prof. Kim’s group has successfully transferred technology to the US industry. The silicon odometer technology is a key case in point. The silicon odometer, a circuit that can measure the wear and tear of a silicon chip, has become a critical technology adopted by IBM. For this groundbreaking invention, he received the 2016 SRC Technical Excellence Award. The technology has also been transferred to Texas Instruments, and Global Foundries. The award recognizes researchers who make “key contributions to technologies that significantly enhance the productivity of the US semiconductor industry.”

Prof. Kim’s publications have appeared in highly competitive peer-reviewed journals and conferences. The International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), VLSI Technology and Circuits Symposium, Custom Integrated Circuits Conference (CICC), International Symposium on Low Power Electronics and Design (ISLPED), and IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits (JSSC) are some of them. His collaborated publications have appeared in journals such as Nature Nanotechnology, Nano Letters, ACS Nano, and others.

Prof. Kim has also been successful in raising funds to the tune to $5.9 million in sponsored projects, besides several million in non-sponsored gifts, and equipment. He has also been active in several center related fundraising efforts such as the SRC/DARPA Center for Spintronics, and ONR MURI. He has successfully raised funds from multiple entities: federal, industry, state, and non-profit.

Prof. Kim earned his doctorate in 2004 at Purdue University, and joined the University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor in the same year. In 2015, he became a full professor. Besides the SRC Technical Award, he has also received several other prestigious awards at the national and international level: IBM faculty partnership awards, the NSF CAREER award, several design contests, and the McKnight Land-Grant Professorship are some of them.

You can read more about Prof. Chris Kim’s research here

Endowed within the College of Science and Engineering, the Taylor Awards were established in memory of George W. Taylor, a 1934 graduate of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Each year, an award is made to a tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the categories of teaching, research, and service. 

Alumnus Michael Roman Appointed CEO of 3M

Alumnus Michael Roman has been selected to be the next CEO of Minnesota-based multinational 3M. He will replace Inge Thulin starting July 1. Thulin will move into the newly created position of executive chairman of the company’s board, and continue working closely with Roman on 3M’s long term strategy.

At 58, Roman has worked with the company for 30 years, serving most recently as chief operating officer and executive vice-president since July 1, 2017.

Roman earned his B.E.E. degree in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota in 1982, and his master’s degree in 1987 from the University of Southern California. Over the years, Roman has taken on roles of successively greater technical and managerial leadership. He has held positions such as Technical Manager, Project Manager of Intelligent Transportation Systems, and Six Sigma Director of Safety, Security and Protection Services Business Center.

In more recent years, his roles have included managing director of 3M Korea, vice- president of business development – Optical Systems Division, Asia, and  vice-president and general manager of Industrial Adhesives and Tapes Division. In his latest role before being appointed COO, Roman served as executive vice- president of Industrial Business Group, 3M’s largest business group.  

As chief operating officer, he has been overseeing the company’s international operations as well as its five business groups (consumer, electronics and energy, health care, industrial, and safety and graphics).

A thorough midwesterner, Roman has continued his ties with his alma mater. He serves on the University of Minnesota Foundation’s Board of Trustees as Treasurer. The members of the board are “responsible for providing governance, advocacy, and philanthropic support to advance the mission of the Foundation.” 

Read about CEO  news announcement available here and here in addition to other places.



ECE Alumnus Bodhisatwa Sadhu leads IBM Research Team to win the Lewis Winner Award at the 2017 ISSCC

ECE alumnus Bodhisatwa Sadhu (Ph.D. 2012), led the team from IBM Research to win the Lewis Winner Award for Outstanding Paper at the 2017 ISSCC (International Solid-State Circuits Conference). The winning paper is titled “A 28GHz 32-Element Phased-Array Transceiver IC with Concurrent Dual Polarized Beams and 1.4 Degree Beam-Steering Resolution for 5G Communications,” and is the outcome of collaborative research between IBM Research and Ericsson. Team members also include ECE’s Prof. Yahya Tousi.

The paper is the world’s first reported silicon-based 5G mmWave phased array antenna module operating at 28GHz. Silicon chips continue to be critical technology of choice for computation and communications, and are a ubiquitous presence in all cell phones and computers. 5G mmWave specifications for the next wave of cellular communications was released late last year, and are currently being demoed by carriers.

Bodhisatwa earned his doctorate under the guidance of Prof. Ramesh Harjani.

Additional details about the paper are available here.

Read an IBM interview with Bodhisatwa regarding the impact of 5G on wireless communications, and the benefits to consumers.

(Photo courtesy of IBM)



ECE in Communications of the ACM

The approaching end to Moore’s law has compelled researchers to look for alternatives to CMOS technology, and spintronics is fast appearing to be a viable option. In a recent article in Communications of the ACM titled “The Rise of Spintronics,” ECE faculty Prof. Sachin Sapatnekar explains the challenges posed by the end of Moore’s Law.

He addresses spintronics as a promising option, presenting the advantages (speed, capacity, lower power consumption) it offers, especially in the face of new applications that require computational capabilities vastly different from CMOS processors. Explaining how spintronic devices operate, he underscores the edge they have over conventional CMOS-based technologies, especially in industries where uninterrupted power supply is critical to smooth operations.

The article gives a glimpse of areas where spintronics-based technology could have a clear advantage. Of course, there are development and price challenges that can slow the path to market for spintronics-based chips and devices. Read more about how the technology works, and the advantages it holds in “The Rise of Spintronics.

Related articles by Prof. Jian-Ping Wang here and here.

Prof. Sapatnekar was honored as an ACM Fellow in 2016 by the Association for Computing Machinery for his “contributions to the enhancement of performance and reliability in integrated circuits.” 

Read more about his work here.

Prof. Soheil Mohajer Wins NSF CAREER Award

Prof. Soheil Mohajer has been awarded the CAREER award by the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. This is one of the most prestigious awards instituted by the NSF to recognize and support 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 minimum CAREER award size is typically  $500,000 (for the Directorate for Engineering) and is disbursed over a 5-year period.

The rising demand for broadband data has driven an increase in the volume of network traffic. And despite improvements in wireless communication technology, data rates continue to lag behind the exponential growth in demand. In such a scenario, opportunistic transmission strategies based on network characteristics, demand profile, and content type can help meet expectations.

Broadband video, a major contributor to this traffic explosion, is typified by repeat requests by multiple users, and having highly variant temporal traffic. These properties open up an opportunity: cache the data at local storage units closer to users during off-peak hours of the network, and thereby reduce network traffic at peak hours. Recent developments in coded caching offer a promising solution for high data rates.

Soheil’s CAREER award winning project addresses the practical challenges of caching in real world communication networks, and pursues a theoretical foundation for adopting caching as a universal resource in data delivery networks. Some of these challenges include substantial variations in caching gains in networks with real characteristics such as time-varying channels, asynchronous and delay sensitive requests, and absence of a central coordinator.

Soheil’s project promises coding techniques to overcome these barriers, and improve system performance. A rate-distortion theoretical framework will be developed to characterize the fundamental trade-off between cache size, delivery rate, and reconstruction quality, alongside efficient coding schemes to achieve this tradeoff. The project will also study the interaction between caching gains and spatial diversity, and the successful completion of this study will lead to optimum resource (cache size, power, and rate) allocation as well as transmission scheduling in non-homogenous multi-input-multi-output (MIMO) networks.

A final outcome of the project includes development of software to simulate caching techniques for a range of networks and applications, supporting both research and education. This particular part of the project will support Prof. Mohajer in his efforts to integrate his research into the graduate and undergraduate curricula, and expand the research process and outcomes to include the local K-12 student community through outreach.

Soheil earned his doctoral degree in 2010 from  École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). He was a postdoctoral scholar at Princeton University from 2010 to 2011, and a postdoctoral fellow at University of California, Berkeley, from 2011 to 2013. He joined the University of Minnesota in 2014, as a faculty member with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research interests include information theory, distributed storage systems, data delivery networks, and statistical machine learning. He has authored over 13 journal papers and 60 conference papers. Learn more about his research here.

Prof. Mehmet Akçakaya Named 2018-20 McKnight Land-Grant Professor

Prof. Mehmet Akçakaya has been named McKnight Land-Grant Professor for his work on “Transforming Healthcare and Biomedical Sciences with Fast High-Precision Magnetic Resonance Imaging.” He is one of nine recipients of the McKnight Land-Grant Professorship Program for 2018-20.

His research is inter-disciplinary in nature, and lies at the intersection of signal processing, computational imaging, machine learning and MRI physics.  Prof. Akçakaya’s contributions to these fields include theoretical guarantees for sparse signal processing, new reconstruction methods that learn anatomy-specific structures in MRI, high-precision techniques for quantitative MRI, and subject-specific deep learning MRI reconstruction. His applications focus on heart and brain MRI, and he collaborates with scientists across multiple departments, including the Departments of Radiology, and Cardiology.

Prof. Akçakaya’s work aims to reduce the acquisition duration in MRI, improving patient comfort, allowing improved resolutions, and enabling the visualization of structures that cannot be characterized with the current technology. His lab develops high-precision imaging biomarkers for various anatomies and diseases to improve healthcare, and to answer fundamental questions in biomedical sciences. Undergirded by the philosophy of taking individual variability into account, Prof. Akçakaya’s techniques are well-suited for the era of precision medicine.

He is also a faculty member at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, which plays a leading role in multiple Human Connectome Projects that seek to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain in health and disease. The techniques that Prof. Akçakaya has developed have been used to image more than 300 patients in multiple centers, and his patents have been licensed by major MRI vendors. His research group has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).

The McKnight Land-Grant Professorship Program was established to advance the careers of new assistant professors at a crucial point in their professional lives. The designation of “McKnight Land-Grant Professor” is held by recipients for a two-year period.

Prof. Akçakaya was previously a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award and NIH R00 Award. Learn more about his research here.