Hail to Thee!

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty and staff wish all our graduating students congratulations on completing this important milestone in your lives.

Message from Department Head, Prof. Randall Victora

Dear graduating seniors,

The faculty and staff of ECE would like to extend our congratulations to each of you today, the date of your online commencement ceremony. Despite not being able to celebrate in person, it is important to recognize this major milestone that you accomplished, especially after the last two months of adversity. We compliment you on your hard work and perseverance over your entire undergraduate experience, and in the many years leading to your arrival at the University of Minnesota.

As you commence the next stage of your life, I encourage you to continue the path you have started. Almost 20 years ago, Nelson Mandela stated that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, and I believe it is still true. I urge you to continue your education, either formally or informally, always trying to better understand the world around you. By bringing focus, energy, and your education to the task, you can drive the change you want to see.

Returning to today’s graduation, we are all proud of your achievement. We are arranging a gift that will be mailed to you in the next week or so to complement the online commencement. In addition, the faculty has prepared a short video of congratulations. Even though this is not the commencement most of you expected, it does not diminish the magnitude of your achievement. Again, the entire faculty and staff congratulate you and wish you well in your future career as newly minted electrical and computer engineers.

Sincerely,

Randall Victora
Professor and Head 
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Systemwide Virtual Commencement

On May 16, the University of Minnesota will honor the Class of 2020 with a virtual commencement.

Information and links for each pre-recorded virtual commencement can be found here on May 16 and will be available until June 30.

Congratulations to our 2020-2021 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Winners

The recipients of the 2020-2021 Graduate School Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship are Alireza Sadeghi (advisor: Prof. Georgios Giannakis), Karthik Srinivasan (advisor: Prof. Beth Stadler), Masoud Zabihi (advisor: Prof. Sachin Sapatnekar), and Kaveh Khilji (advisor: Prof. Tony Low).

Photo of  doctoral candidate Alireza Sadeghi
Alireza Sadeghi

Alireza Sadeghi

Alireza Sadeghi is a recipient of the fellowship for his doctoral research titled, “Scalable Learning Robust to Uncertainties with Applications in Cyber-Physical Systems.” He is working under the guidance of Prof. Georgios Giannakis. 

Alireza’s research interests span across several areas: artificial intelligence, machine learning, signal processing, and optimization with applications in networks including smart power networks, wired and wireless networks. 

In his doctoral research, Alireza addresses some of the challenges facing machine learning. Currently, machine learning algorithms are vulnerable to adversarially manipulated input data, and to uncertain environments. This discourages their use in safety-critical applications. Besides, such algorithms often rely on the premise that training and testing data are drawn from the same distribution, which may not hold in practice. Alireza’s work targets these challenges, and builds learning models that are robust to uncertainties arising from, for instance, distributional mismatches. By wedding innovative machine learning tools, with recent advances in stochastic function interval estimation, robust optimization, control, networking, and communications, he develops scalable and robust algorithms with applications in cyber-physical systems. 

Alireza Sadeghi earned his bachelor’s degree from Iran University of Science and Technology, Tehran, in 2012, and his master’s degree from University of Tehran in 2015 (both in electrical engineering). He is currently pursuing his doctoral degree with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

In 2015, he was a visiting scholar with the Department of Information Engineering (DEI) at the University of Padua, Padua, Italy. Previously, he was a recipient of the ADC Fellowship awarded by the Digital Technology Center at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and the Student Travel Awards from the IEEE Communications Society and the National Science Foundation.

Photo of doctoral candidate Karthik Srinivasan
Karthik Srinivasan

Karthik Srinivasan

Karthik Srinivasan is a recipient of the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship awarded by the University’s Graduate School for his research titled, “Magneto-Optical Isolators – The “Missing-Link” in Integrated Photonics.” He is conducting his research under the guidance of Prof. Bethanie Stadler. 

Karthik’s work is primed for the future of the computational world, as it moves away from pure electronics towards using photons, spins, and magnons for solving emerging computational problems. His primary research interest is in process development and characterization of novel magneto-optic materials with unique gyrotropic and magnonic properties that can be used for the design of photonic integrated circuits and high frequency microwave filters. 

While a fully integrated photonic circuit can perform computations significantly faster than a current day electronic chip, the challenge remains that such a photonic circuit is impeded by the lack of chip-scale optical isolators. These isolators allow for the unidirectional propagation of light which is critical to the protection of on-chip lasers from destabilizing reflections. Karthik is working on the development of exotic magneto-optical materials for Si-integrated isolators that can manipulate light regardless of an external magnetic field. He is currently focused on ways to increase the gyrotropy of cerium doped terbium iron garnet (Ce:TbIG), and to investigate material properties that support magnetless isolation. 

One of the key outcomes of Karthik’s research so far is that waveguide isolators fabricated with this new garnet match the mode and dimensions for on-chip lasers. In terms of specific outcomes, these isolators allow for magnetless isolation and increase up to 40 times in device density, which translates to at least 85000 devices per square inch on a photonic integrated circuit. 

What’s next for Karthik? He intends to continue working on downsizing waveguide isolators. And the next step to that is the development of garnets with positive Faraday rotation to complement existing negative Faraday rotating garnets. Successful development of such garnets would mean a 50% reduction in device dimensions.

Currently, the absence of an on-chip laser-isolator pair has been a bottleneck even as the photonics community is making significant strides in the development of components such as modulators, circulators, and logic-gates. However, the development of a “ready-to-integrate” optical isolator that is foundry friendly and favorable for industry adoption could change that. Karthik’s research brings us closer to the goal, while simultaneously contributing knowledge to the field.

Karthik Srinivasan earned his bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering from Anna University, in the southern Indian city of Chennai. He moved to Minneapolis in 2016 and earned his masters degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Spring 2019. His research lies at the intersection of photonics, magnetism and materials, and addresses the challenges of data storage and computation needs for high-speed high-volume processes

Besides the highly competitive doctoral dissertation fellowship, Karthik is also the recipient of  a travel Award by the IEEE Magnetics Society (2019), and a fully sponsored IEEE magnetics summer school in Quito, Ecuador (2018; he was one of 70 students selected from around the world). He is the Vice-Chairperson for the IEEE Magnetics Society chapter for Twin Cities, MN; he has held the position for three consecutive years now.

Photo of doctoral candidate Masoud Zabihi
Masoud Zabihi

Masoud Zabihi

Masoud Zabihi’s fellowship winning doctoral research is titled “In-Memory Processing Using Spintronics Computational RAM (CRAM).” He is working on his dissertation under the guidance of Prof. Sachin Sapatnekar. Masoud’s research interests include spintronics circuits and architectures, emerging memory technologies, in-memory computing, computing with post-CMOS devices, 3-D integration, VLSI power distribution network design, and VLSI design automation.

In his doctoral research, Masoud is focused on improving the performance of today’s data processing platforms by developing a spintronics-based true in-memory computing method. The size of the data that must be processed by big data applications is growing exponentially: today’s computational engines are inadequate for the analysis of such large and complex data sets. 

With current-day hardware engines struggling to provide solutions to this data onslaught, there is a rapidly growing demand for reducing the gap between the computational requirements of big data applications and today’s computational capabilities. One of the most notable challenges is the large amount of time and energy that is wasted by today’s data processing platforms moving data to and from the memory, where data is stored, and the processor, where computations are performed. Masoud’s spintronics-based method eliminates the access overhead by performing computation inside a memory array. He achieves this through a novel reconfiguration scheme that allows the array to either act as a computational unit, or as a conventional memory unit. Taking this idea from concept to practical implementation requires interdisciplinary work with aspects of materials science/physics, circuit design, and computer architecture. His proposed approaches and platforms are demonstrated to tremendously reduce the energy and execution time required to perform big data computations.

Masoud received his bachelor of science degree from University of Tabriz in 2010, and his master’s degree from Sharif University of Technology in 2013. Both degrees were in electrical engineering and electronics. He is currently pursuing his doctoral degree with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. He has interned with Cadence Design Systems (Voltus R&D team, Austin, TX) over fall 2019 and spring 2020. Preciously, Masoud won the best paper award at the 20th ISQED (March 2019) for his work on in-memory computation using spin-Hall magnetic tunnel junctions.

Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: One Faculty Member’s Perspective

Stress tends to bring about change, and a great stressor such as COVID-19 can radically alter lives. There is no question that the current pandemic has been disruptive to our activities, moods, and our ability to perform productive work. Our roles as educators and students have been upended, causing us to question our methods of teaching and learning. I found myself in this position the first day I moved my lectures to the online format required by the University.  Could I translate my face-to-face lectures into the Zoom format? Should I do this directly? And if not, what changes should I make to my teaching?

My Physical Optics Lecture

For my physical optics class (EE 5621), I had a series of pre-recorded lectures that could serve as a basis for the instruction. However, good teaching is a two-way street where students can ask questions and the instructor can take the educational pulse of the class. Obviously, my pre-recorded lectures did not allow for this. My first challenge then was to find a way to augment my EE5621 class in a way that could offer meaningful online content. So, I chose to enhance the taped lectures with online sessions that review the highlights, allow for dialog, and probe the important concepts in more detail. In essence, I flipped my classroom, requiring the students to watch a video while using the “in-class” time for summation, discussion, and problem solving. So far, I have found this to be a positive experience. My students seem to be engaged and are free to ask questions about basic concepts, technical details, and homework problems. Although I greatly miss seeing and interacting with everyone face-to-face, the inverted classroom style has offered some new advantages that I hope to preserve when we return to in-class teaching.

My Physical Optics Lab

My lab course (EE5622) is another story altogether. How do I offer a meaningful experience in a laboratory-based class where touching, adjusting, and observing are key aspects of the learning experience?  During a normal year, the teaching assistant (TA) and I are both present in the lab and can circulate around to answer questions. The lab is a classic physics set-up, complete with lasers, optics of various kinds, detectors, camera, and computers. Converting this into a look but don’t touch format has indeed been challenging. Luckily, my TA Nathan Mowry took extensive notes and high-quality data when he was a student in the class last year.  Nathan and I now meet with the students on Zoom every week for roughly the same amount of time as a standard lab period. But rather than helping the students set up equipment and take data, we devote the session to a discussion of experimental intricacies and mathematical methods that they need to apply to our pre-recorded data. Is it the same as a real laboratory experience? No. But that’s not to say it’s bad – just different. Although it pains me to know that our students are missing the joy of actually seeing the interference fringe from the interferometer they just spent an hour aligning, I know they still can appreciate the power of the optical effects and techniques we are presenting.

Lessons Learned

So how have my first two weeks of online instruction been? Well, there are definitely things I miss about face-to-face lecturing. But at the same time, the online format has forced me to evaluate my teaching methods and has introduced me to new teaching styles. In essence, I am learning new things along with the students. Sometimes adversity can be the key to advancement. And when we all come out of this struggle, I expect to be a better teacher for it.

Multidisciplinary Team Work on Development of Handheld COVID-19 Diagnostic Device

A multidisciplinary team of scientists led by Prof. Jian-Ping Wang (Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Robert F Hartmann Chair) of ECE, and Prof. Maxim Cheeran of the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine have designed a handheld diagnostic device that is capable of detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

MagiCoil, as the device is currently called, is based on magnetic particle spectroscopy (MPS) and is capable of assaying blood and respiratory material, and delivering results in about 10 minutes. It is designed to be a point-of-care system that can rapidly diagnose diseases and share test results with healthcare professionals and agencies through its smartphone interface. In a scenario such as the current Covid-19 situation, such a device can provide critical data not only for diagnosis, but also to follow and monitor the spread of the virus in the population, a vital step to control the spread of the disease.

Prof. Jian-Ping Wang affirms the importance of affordability and accessibility: “The estimated cost per unit is about $100 or lower. I think there is a way to produce a large enough number of MPS systems to meet a significant portion of the demand.”

Jian-Ping, whose research in the area dates back to over 10 years, is eager to join the fight against the virus. Keenly aware of the importance of affordability and widespread testing in the pandemic scenario, he says: “Once our first-generation prototypes are demonstrated successfully, we can ask for a company to produce the device in mass production. The estimated cost per unit is about $100 or lower. I think there is a way to produce a large enough number of MPS systems to meet a significant portion of the demand.”

Commenting on the increased accessibility that such a device provides, Prof. Cheeran says, “This MPS device coupled with a smartphone interface will allow testing in remote areas and on-site settings, such as in households and clinics.”

Maxim, whose expertise lies in immunology, specifically the neuroimmune response to brain infections, sees immense value in point-of-care diagnostic devices such as the MPS for their accessibility: “This MPS device coupled with a smartphone interface will allow testing in remote areas and on-site settings, such as in households and clinics. By transmitting test results collected from distant locations to centrally located data analysis units, governments can have real-time epidemiological data at their fingertips.”

Underscoring the accessibility of MagiCoil, Dr. Venkatramana D Krishna says: “The MPS handheld device can help mitigate the health burden and provide early diagnosis to effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as save lives.”

Echoing Maxim’s opinion, Dr. Venkatramana D Krishna, a researcher on the team from the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, says: “The MPS handheld device can help mitigate the health burden and provide early diagnosis to effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as save lives.”

THE TECHNOLOGY DRIVING MAGICOIL

Jian-Ping’s Nano Magnetism and Quantum Spintronics lab has been working on magnetic particle spectroscopy (MPS), the technology driving the handheld device, over the last 10 years. The lab has previously successfully demonstrated the feasibility of using an MPS system for rapid, and sensitive detection of the H1N1 virus.

MPS is a novel non-invasive measurement method that is based on the collection of magnetic responses from superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (magnetic nanoparticles or MNPS, in short). This allows for easier analysis as biological samples can be assayed with minimal processing i.e. the samples do not have to be purified or washed. The technology has two critical implications. Firstly, it supports sample handling and testing by non-technicians with minimal training requirements. A second critical advantage of this magnetic assay platform is that the biological samples show virtually no magnetic background noise, so high sensitivity measurements can be performed on minimally processed samples.

Emphasizing the unique advantages of the MagiCoil, Jian-Ping says, “This homogenous, volumetric-based, one-step, wash-free sensing scheme allows for the press of one button to get the result within a few minutes.”

HOW DOES MAGICOIL DIAGNOSE THE SARS-CoV-2 VIRUS

In the COVID-19 scenario, antibodies specific to the SARS-CoV-2 virus are applied to the surface of the nanoparticles that are enclosed in a tube. When a respiratory sample is introduced to these MNPs, the latter bind to the proteins in the sample through antibody-antigen interaction. The process triggers the detection of specific biomarkers unique to the disease, such as the S protein (the spike structure seen in illustrations of the virus structure that attach to cells in the human body), and the N protein (seen as bound to the viral genome, it plays a critical role in how cells in your body respond to the virus). When an AC-induced magnetic field is applied (by the MPS drive system through excitation coils) to the MNPs, their response is monitored by a pair of pick-up coils. As more and more of the treated nanoparticles bind with the proteins, the magnetic responses from the MNPs weaken, thereby returning a positive result for the specific disease biomarker. The device is currently undergoing further tests to fine tune aspects critical to accurate diagnosis, and we will keep you posted.

But the story of MagiCoil will not end with swift and widespread diagnosis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Eventually, MagiCoil’s capability can be extended to diagnose other diseases. As Jian-Ping says, “Our technology could provide another platform for the rapidly expanding telemedicine and remote diagnosis settings”.

Highlighting the adaptability of the technology, team scientist Dr. Kai Wu says: “MPS is a versatile platform that allows for extending this technology to other disease monitoring, food safety monitoring, and water quality monitoring simply by adjusting the reagents on nanoparticles for different target analytes.”

Dr. Kai Wu, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who has worked with Prof. Jian-Ping Wang since the early days of development of the device, reiterates the potential: “MPS is a versatile platform that allows for extending this technology to other disease monitoring, food safety monitoring, and water quality monitoring simply by adjusting the reagents on nanoparticles for different target analytes.”

The bioassay platform is a truly multidisciplinary effort: besides the lead scientists, the work is supported by undergraduate and graduate student researchers from the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, and Mechanical Engineering. The development of the device also receives critical support from the University’s Medical School and the Institute for Engineering in Medicine.

Check this space or the project site for the latest news and updates on the testing platform.

Prof. Ramesh Harjani Receives Alumni Award from Alma Mater

Prof. Ramesh Harjani was recently awarded the L.K. Maheshwari Foundation Distinguished Alumnus award by his alma mater, the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani. BITS is one of the premier engineering institutions in India, and with this award, Ramesh will be joining the ranks of select alumni from the institution who have won this recognition. 

Ramesh’s Educational Arc

Born in Kathmandu, Nepal, Ramesh completed his schooling at St. Xavier’s School, graduating in 1976 at the top of his class. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering (with honors) from BITS in 1982. He has fond memories of his time there, inspired by professors L.K. Maheshwari and the late K.V. Ramanan, both of whom instilled a love of electronics in him.

Honored and delighted by the award, Ramesh says: A good friend of mine once told me that recognition from one’s alma mater is perhaps the most satisfying.  I couldn’t put it more succinctly.

After graduating from BITS, Ramesh went on to earn his master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in 1984, where he architected, developed the assembly language, designed and completed the layout of an 8-bit NMOS microprocessor in collaboration with his colleague Badri Lokanathan.

Prof. Ramesh Harjani on the extreme right, receiving the award

Ramesh earned his doctoral degree from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in 1989 under the guidance of professors Rob. A. Rutenbar and L. Richard Carley. The focus of his research work was the automatic design and synthesis of analog circuits, and Rutenbar guided him with the CAD aspects, while Carley guided him with the analog design aspects of his research. His 1987 IEEE/ACM Design Automation Conference (DAC) paper titled, “A Prototype Framework for Knowledge-Based Analog Circuit Synthesis”, won best paper award, and was later selected as one of the most significant papers presented over the last 24 years in the Design Automation Conference. Continuing on that trajectory, Ramesh’s 1988 IEEE International Conference on Computer-Aided Design paper titled “Analog Circuit Synthesis for Performance in OASYS” was selected for The Best of ICCAD – 20 Years of Excellence in Computer Aided Design, in 2002. The book is a collection of the 42 best papers from 20 years of ICCADs selected for their impact on research and applications.

Ramesh’s Professional Contributions

After graduating from CMU in 1989 Ramesh joined Mentor Graphics in San Jose, CA where he started working on analog synthesis, but transitioned to managing a group focused on developing tools and models for power electronics due to market shifts. 

In 1990 he was hired by Prof. Mos Kaveh (now Dean of the University’s College of Science and Engineering) as an assistant professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. During his interview he was asked if he would be able to teach an analog circuits course. Little did he know then how fortuitous this question would prove to be. Although he spent his initial professional years on analog CAD techniques, he eventually turned his focus to biomedical and low power analog circuit design, and hasn’t looked back since. His research remains centered on low power analog circuits, data converters, and CMOS RF circuits for wireless communications. 

In 2001, Ramesh had a short stint as an entrepreneur when he co-founded Bermai, Inc., a startup company developing CMOS chips for wireless multimedia applications with his then ECE colleague Prof. Jaekyun Moon. At Bermai, headquartered in Palo Alto, CA, Ramesh and Jaekyun ended up raising over $45 million in venture financing and growing the company to over 100 employees spread across multiple locations in the US.

Ramesh is the co-author of 9 books and over two hundred refereed publications. He has advised 33 doctoral and 33 master’s degree students since he joined the University of Minnesota. Grateful for the academic and professional mentoring he has received over the years, Ramesh is keen on passing it forward. He is extremely proud of his students, and is keenly appreciative of the fact that the quality of research is dependent on the caliber of the students. He considers himself very fortunate to have advised some of the best of them and credits them with being instrumental in his professional success. He takes great pleasure in meeting regularly with his former students and basking in their successes, as any proud mentor.

Ramesh’s current research efforts focus on the development of high‐performance front‐end component designs for broadband and multi‐standard wireless systems, and the development of next generation high‐speed wired communication systems. Other areas of interest include biomedical devices, data converters and sensor interface circuits, analog circuit synthesis, and micro‐power analog circuit design.

Prof. Ramesh Harjani is the E.F. Johnson Professor of Electronic Communications, and a Fellow of the IEEE, class of 2006 (“for contributions to the design and computer aided design (CAD) of analog and radio frequency circuits). He has been a visiting professor at Lucent Bell Labs, Allentown, PA and at the Army Research Laboratory, Adelphi, MA. His group has won the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) design challenges twice, in 2000 and 2003. His group has won a number of best paper awards including 1987 DAC, 1988 ICCAD, 1998 GOMAC, and the 2018 European Solid-State Circuits Conference. He has given a number of keynote talks at IEEE conferences, including APCCAS 2010, MWSCAS 2013, ASICON 2013, GlobalSIP 2014, JEC-ECC 2015. He has held numerous editorial roles with IEEE journals and has been on the technical program committee of several IEEE conferences including being the TPC Chair for IEEE CICC in 2012. 

He is an avid photographer, and enjoys hiking, cooking, and traveling. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Savita, whom he met during his time at IIT Delhi.

Prof. Steven Koester to Lead Minnesota Nano Center Starting Summer 2021

Prof. Steven Koester has been appointed the new director of the Minnesota Nano Center (MNC). The appointment will be effective July 1, 2021, and Prof. Koester will succeed Prof. Stephen Campbell, the current center director.

Steve’s Training and Experience

Steve brings to the position nearly 30 years of expertise in nanoscience and nanotechnology. His connection with, and experience in the area goes back to his days as a master’s student at the University of Notre Dame in the early 1990s, when he was first introduced to nanofabrication, patterning ultra-small gold dot arrays using a technique known as electron-beam lithography. Later as a doctoral student at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he continued his research by using nanofabrication to create ultrasmall “quantum wire” devices. After earning his doctoral degree, Steve worked as a postdoctoral research associate, and later as a research staff member with IBM. Some of the projects he worked on while at IBM include developing transistors with enhanced operation based upon strain engineering, and high-speed germanium photodetectors for use in optical communication links.

Steve’s breadth of experience is aptly suited to the position. He has investigated electronic, photonic, spintronic, and biosensing technologies, and a range of semiconductor materials systems including silicon (Si), III-V compounds, complex oxides, and two-dimensional (2D) materials. He has worked in small scale research facilities where samples were processed one at a time using specialized equipment, as well as large industrial scale labs where batches of 12″ diameter silicon wafers (think of a medium pizza) are processed using fully automated robotic systems. He has closely engaged with the MNC over the last 10 years, and has a keen understanding of its resources, facilities, and operations.

Prior to his appointment as director, Steve was, and continues to be, a co-principal investigator on the NSF Midwest Nano Infrastructure Corridor (MINIC) with the center’s current director Prof. Stephen Campbell. He is entrusted with the task of developing a processing infrastructure for 2D materials (such as graphene and phosphorene), and building a user base for these emerging materials platforms.

Steve has also organized 4 summer schools on 2D materials in collaboration with Prof. Tony Low. These well-attended and positively-reviewed schools have offered lectures from world-renowned leaders in 2D materials research, as well as hands-on demo components.

Steve’s Vision for the MNC

Steve is keen that the MNC support innovations in biotechnology: “I believe the Minnesota Nano Center is well positioned to play an important role in enabling nanotechnology-based solutions for infectious diseases, as well as many other critical healthcare-related issues.”

Steve intends to continue expanding the role of the MNC as a world-class nanotechnology facility, which is a primary enabler for research innovation both locally and globally. A strong proponent of developing a proactive vision, he plans on working and interacting with other University facilities and institutes, as well as other nanofabrication facilities across the country to ensure the competitiveness of the MNC, and secure its dynamic capability as a center that is ready to enable the next big idea. In particular, he is looking to expand the nanoscale biotechnology offerings of the center, an important capability in the context of the critical need for technology related to diagnosis, testing and treatment in the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition, recognizing that it is critical to identify and work in accordance with long term trends, Steve is keen that the MNC make a foray into quantum information technology; he envisions the center as a place where materials and infrastructure can be shared and developed so faculty successfully engage in quantum technology research and development.

Sharing his excitement about the potential capabilities of quantum technology, Steve says: “Over the next 20 years, advancements in quantum technology could allow us to tackle scientific problems that are beyond the reach of conventional computers; it holds the promise of breakthroughs in medicine, biology, security and communications.”

Steve will hold the title of director designate and work alongside current MNC director Prof. Stephen Campbell during the course of the leadership transition; Prof. Campbell will continue as director through June 30, 2021.

Burhaneddin Yaman Receives Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship and the 2020 IEEE ISBI Best Paper Award

Doctoral candidate Burhaneddin Yaman was recently awarded the interdisciplinary doctoral fellowship for the 2020-2021 academic year. His research focuses on MRI reconstruction from sub-sampled data to improve patient care while also reducing scan time.

Continuing on that trajectory of excellence, Burhan also recently received the best paper award at the 2020 ISBI for his research on MRI reconstruction. Sponsored by the IEEE Signal Processing Society, and the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, the ISBI is a major conference on biomedical imaging. It is a competitive platform, and success at the symposium will help Burhan’s methodology gain wider traction and circulation. He is working towards his doctoral degree under the guidance of Prof. Mehmet Akçakaya. Burhan is also a recipient of several other awards: multiple ISMRM travel awards, an ECE department fellowship, the IEM Walter Lang Barnes travel fellowship, and an ISBI travel award. Supporting his doctoral work, are Burhan’s broad interests in the areas of signal processing, machine learning, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Burhan’s research mainly focuses on MRI reconstruction from sub-sampled data. Data acquisition during MRI is a slow process, one that involves trade-offs between  resolution, scan time, and noise or signal-to-noise ratio. One way to improve the process without increasing the scan time, is to acquire less data (sub-sampling), and reconstruct the images using redundancies that are built into the data acquisition process such as multiple sensors, or redundancies in image structures.

A key part of Burhan’s doctoral work has to do with accelerated multi-dimensional MRI datasets suffering from high noise amplification. A critical outcome of this work is high-quality high-resolution images that are useful in a clinical context. The results have been shared at various conferences, and published in IEEE Transactions on Computational Imaging.

Another part of his research involves the application of machine learning to MRI reconstruction. Deep learning has recently emerged as an alternative technique for accelerated MRI because of its superior reconstruction quality as compared to conventional techniques. Although deep learning can be used as a black-box-tool for MRI reconstruction, it is beneficial to incorporate the information we know about the physics of MRI to this process, as it can ensure consistency with acquired measurements. Most current deep learning methods require fully sampled data to train artificial neural networks (ANN). But acquiring fully sampled datasets is typically impractical in the face of challenges such as organ movement, (a beating heart), signal decay during some MR scans, as well as long scan times during which the subject has to remain still.

To counter the problem, Burhaneddin has developed a self-supervised learning framework that enables training of physics-based deep learning MRI reconstruction without requiring fully-sampled data. He does this by splitting available data into two complementary disjoint sets, where one is used to train ANNs and the other is used to check the quality of the reconstruction.

Burhaneddin is thrilled to receive the fellowship: “It opens up an opportunity for me to fully utilize my knowledge and skills  to address one of the main challenges in accelerated medical imaging in the hopes of improving the care of patients worldwide .”

The results so far have been promising, already demonstrating fourfold gains in scan time in both musculoskeletal and brain MRI. The results will soon be shared at multiple conferences, and a journal article detailing the work is set to be published in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, a leading journal for MRI in medical applications.

Information on the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship

Prof. Chris Kim’s Protégés at 2020 ISSCC

In an impressive coincidence, five alumni who earned their doctoral degrees under the guidance of  Prof. Chris Kim presented their papers at the prestigious and competitive 2020 International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), often dubbed the Chip Olympics.

Prof. Jie Gu, Chris’ first student presented “A Compute-Adaptive Elastic Clock-Chain Technique with Dynamic Timing Enhancement for 2D PE-Array-Based Accelerators” at the conference. He earned his doctoral degree in 2008, after which he worked with Texas Instruments and Maxlinear. In 2015, Jie joined Northwestern University as an assistant professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer science. He leads the VLSI research lab in the department and his research interests include energy efficient mixed-signal computing, machine learning accelerators, and emerging neuromorphic computing design among other things.

Prof. Bongjin Kim presented a paper on “CIM-Spin: A 0.5-to-1.2V Scalable Annealing Processor Using Digital Compute-In-Memory Spin Operators and Register-Based Spins for Combinatorial Optimization Problems.” During his doctoral studies, he held internships at Texas Instruments, IBM, and Rambus. After earning his PhD in 2015, Bongjin worked for a couple of years with Rambus before returning to academia as a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University. In 2017, he joined Nanyang Technological University, Singapore as assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Dr. Somnath Kundu, who graduated in 2016, presented “A Self-Calibrated 1.2-to-3.8GHz 0.0052mm2 Synthesized Fractional-N MDLL Using a 2b Time-Period Comparator in 22nm FinFET CMOS.” This is his third presentation at ISSCC, having previously presented at the conference as a student. His research interest as a doctoral student was clock generator circuit design, and he is continuing work in the area with Intel.

Dr. Kichul Chun who graduated with his PhD in 2012 presented the next generation 16GB HBM memory chip for big data and AI applications. The paper is titled, “A 1.1V 16GB 640GB/s HBM2E DRAM with a Data-Bus Window-Extension Technique and a Synergetic On-Die ECC Scheme.” Kichul currently is a senior manager of Samsung’s High Bandwidth Memory design team. 

Dr. Po-Wei Chiu, earned his doctoral degree in 2019 and is currently a circuit design engineer with Apple. He presented, “32Gb/s Digital-Intensive Single-Ended PAM-4 Transceiver for High-Speed Memory Interfaces Featuring a 2-Tap Time-Based Decision Feedback Equalizer and an In-Situ Channel-Loss Monitor.” The paper was a presentation of his doctoral research, and the first ever demonstration of a pulse amplitude modulation 4 (i.e. 2 bits per clock cycle) transceiver with noise cancellation performed entirely in the time domain, as opposed to in the voltage domain.

Learn more about Prof. Chris Kim’s research

Sandeep Avvaru Receives MnDrive Graduate Fellowship in Neuromodulation

Doctoral candidate Sandeep Avvaru has been awarded the MnDrive Graduate Fellowship in Neuromodulation. The fellowship recognizes and advances excellence in graduate training by providing financial support to outstanding doctoral students specializing in neuromodulation.

Sandeep’s doctoral research focuses on the analysis and introduction of changes in neural activity to enhance cognitive control through deep brain stimulation (DBS). To that end he is working on identifying and understanding the mechanisms underlying cognitive control. Currently, neuropsychiatric disorders are among the leading causes of disability in the United States, with one in five American adults experiencing some form of  mental health disorder. Yet existing treatments have low effectiveness; some estimates mark them as low as fifty percent. Sandeep hopes that with better knowledge of the cognitive control process will come improved and more effective treatment options. 

Having always been fascinated by the inner workings of the brain and the nervous system, research in the area seems a natural fit for Sandeep. His doctoral research topic is supported by his broader interests in signal processing, computational neuroscience, neuromodulation and machine learning, all of which have helped him unravel and understand how the brain functions. He is conducting his research under the guidance of Prof. Keshab Parhi from ECE, and Prof. Alik Widge from the Department of Psychiatry.

Sandeep earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bhubaneswar in 2013 in Electrical Engineering. He went on to earn his master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in spring 2019 and is currently a doctoral candidate in Prof. Keshab Parhi’s research group.

The purpose of the MnDRIVE Graduate Fellowship in Neuromodulation is to promote excellence in graduate training by providing funding to outstanding doctoral students specializing in neuromodulation. This fellowship is funded by the Brain Conditions area of the Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE) initiative. It expands the University’s partnerships with industries and will bring neuromodulation innovations to market, benefiting patients and advancing the state’s economy.

The fellowship award is for one year and supports the recipient financially while they are  engaged in the research training program described in their application.

Teaching Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Insights from ECE

Teaching in the best of times requires instructors to be nimble and adept at meeting the needs of individual students academically and otherwise. Throw in an infectious disease such as COVID-19 making the rounds, and faculty and support staff have to dig deep and come up with innovative ways to keep the show going.

On March 16, 2020, President Joan Gabel announced that classes and labs for all students throughout the University of Minnesota system would continue through alternate means. For instructors, this meant quickly swiveling from a traditional classroom set up to distance learning. In ECE, our faculty had to rapidly turn around all in-person lectures and labs to fit remote instruction. And they did this with the support of resources from the CEI, the OIT, and by drawing on the experience of those who have previously taught entire courses online.

However, it is no easy matter for curricula that are typically situated within a face to face classroom context to be migrated online, and in the case of classes supported by critical experiential learning components such as labs, the challenges are myriad. In ECE, our faculty and staff have been working on resolving the finer aspects of teaching: course recitations, labs, accessibility issues, device issues, fair substitutions when labs simply cannot be replicated, community building, and a myriad other concerns. Navigating these challenges while keeping in mind equity, and the integrity of the degree have been foremost on their minds as they continue teaching during these strange and tumultuous times. Here are some thoughts, and insights from some of our faculty and staff involved in the pivot from the early days as the department worked their way through just a few of these challenges. 

Prof. Randall Victora, ECE Department Head: An Overview

I am writing this as we complete our second full week of teaching. Overall, it has been an adventure, and I think most of us have been pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of Zoom for online lectures. It also seems to work well for office hours, especially if both professor and student have a device to quickly share handwritten pictures and equations, such as a tablet or document camera. As might be expected, labs have been challenging. [Prof. Orser will discuss this in more detail] Remote exams without a proctor remain an issue. Faculty are trying various approaches and I expect we will need to learn what works.  Of course, the possibility of S/N grading offered by President Gabel takes some of the pressure off this issue.

Learn more about Prof. Victora’s work

Prof. David Orser on the State of Our Labs: Successes and Challenges

We have had some successes and some stumbles along the way as we work on getting our labs to work online. In recent years, we have been steadily updating some of our lab courses to be almost entirely disconnected from the physical lab environment. This was done so that students could continue to work outside of the lab on programming, wiring, and development of projects. Such labs have benefited the most; their transition to online teaching has been mostly resilient. But there have been other issues such as poor connectivity in alternate locations, lost lab kits, and broken devices. Nevertheless, the labs have been set back no more than a week. 

Other labs have been less successful, but still useful.  We have moved a couple of labs to simulation which has allowed us more time to explore topics we wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to explore. However, certain learning objectives such as building and debugging actual hardware will still be impacted; simulation is not a replacement for hardware experiments.

A unique success of online instruction is randomized breakout rooms, which allow students to work in groups without forcing people to sit according to a seating chart. Students have been very engaged during group work. Putting students in random groups inevitably makes them pay closer attention to the lectures, and not just rely on their known neighbor to do the work for them. It is also a way for students to know more members of the class and expand their study support network.

Learn more about Prof. Orser’s work

Prof. James Leger (DUGS) on His Experience Teaching a Course and a Lab Online (EE 5621)

There is no question that the current pandemic has been disruptive to our activities, moods, and our ability to perform productive work. Our roles as educators and students have been upended, causing us to question our methods of teaching and learning.

In my own case, for my physical optics class (EE 5621), I had a series of pre-recorded lectures that could serve as a basis for the instruction. However, as good teaching is a two-way street where students can ask questions and the instructor can take the educational pulse of the class, I chose to augment the taped lectures with online sessions that review the highlights, allow for dialog, and probe the important concepts in more detail. So far, I have found this to be a positive experience. My students seem to be engaged and are free to ask questions about basic concepts, technical details, and homework problems. Although I miss seeing and interacting with everyone face-to-face, the inverted classroom style has offered some new advantages that I hope to preserve when we return to in-class teaching.

My lab course (EE5622) is another story altogether. How do I offer a meaningful experience in a laboratory-based class where touching, adjusting, and observing are key aspects of the learning experience? The lab is a classic physics set-up, complete with lasers, optics of various kinds, detectors, camera, and computers. Luckily, my teaching assistant (Nathan Mowry) took extensive notes and high-quality data when he was a student in the class last year. Nathan and I now meet with the students on Zoom every week, but rather than helping them set up equipment and take data, we now discuss experimental intricacies and mathematical methods that they need to apply to our pre-recorded data. Is it the same as a real laboratory experience? No. It’s just different. Although it pains me to know that our students are missing the joy of actually seeing the interference fringe from the interferometer they just spent an hour aligning, I know they still can appreciate the power of the optical effects and techniques we are presenting.

A longer version of Prof. Leger’s reflections appears here

Learn more about Prof. Leger’s work

Kyle Dukart, Department Administrator on Learning Technologies and Support

A key challenge for our department was  figuring out how to get all of our faculty up to speed on teaching online. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, we had a couple of instructors who had taught an entire course online, and a few who had taught a lecture or two online while traveling. However, most were unfamiliar with the tools available for delivering lectures online, creating exams that work remotely, and setting up environments that allowed for positive connection with their students and within the classroom as a whole. To address the challenge, ECE created a site in our campus learning management software, Canvas, specific to providing tips on using learning technologies and best practices for accomplishing our pedagogical goals. The University’s resources have been useful of course, but having a site that addressed our particular needs, and relevant to the courses we teach has proven helpful.

Zoom, of course, has been critical to this move to online delivery. Both students and instructors are discovering some advantages to this method of course delivery, even if they are missing the traditional classroom. Advantages for faculty such as being able to poll students to check on their grasp of a concept, and for students to be able to look back at recorded lectures, have helped offset the disruption. 

Supporting our students’ learning is a top priority and we have been able to continue tutoring through IEEE-HKN (ECE’s honor society); the student tutors are offering a full slate of Zoom-based online tutoring hours. Online office hours are working well. In fact, some of our faculty are considering offering office hours on Zoom when classes reconvene face to face, as it allows them to hold hours in the evening when there are fewer conflicts, and students are more likely to attend if they don’t need to travel to an office. In other highlights, ECE has mailed out lab kits that were left behind by students during spring break so they can continue their work online. The department has also shipped out a laptop on loan to a student whose computer was too old and slow to work in our courses.

Contact Kyle Dukart

It has been a work in progress as faculty and students inch closer to exams large and small, and come up on other new challenges. But these challenges are also opportunities for everyone involved, opportunities to explore what might be perceived as problems, fix vulnerabilities, improve upon available options, and come up with new ways of teaching and learning that can be shared as we continue to fulfill our teaching mission.