McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair Professor Georgios B. Giannakis has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Election to NAI Fellow is the highest professional distinction conferred solely on academic inventors. The 2019 class of Fellows has 168 prolific academic inventors from across the world. The Fellows Program calls attention to academic inventors “who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.”
Georgios is a renowned, field-shaping engineer and scientist best known for his contributions to the fundamental understanding of signal processing, wireless communications, networking, and data science. He leads a research team whose work has had significant impact on a variety of technologically important fields, including the Internet of Things, social, brain, and power networks with renewables.
Georgios holds over 32 U.S. and foreign wireless communications patents, several of them related to the 4G LTE standard, signal processing, and power systems. He has authored and co-authored more than 450 journal, and more than 750 conference publications, 25 book chapters, two books, and two research monographs (the latter are marked by 73,000 Google Scholar citations and an h-index 143). He is the recipient of 10 best journal paper awards from the IEEE Signal Processing SP, and Communications Societies (papers were authored by multiple researchers), technical achievement awards, the IEEE Fourier Technical Field Award, and the IEEE Communications Society Education Award.
Over the years, Georgios has led more than 65 sponsored projects with funding in excess of $17 million. He has mentored 50 doctoral students and 25 postdoctoral researchers,all of whom are currently pursuing illustrious careers in industry, academia, and government labs.
The 2019 NAI Fellows will be inducted to NAI in the annual NAI meeting on April 8-10, 2020 at The Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.
Georgios earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering and mathematics from the University of Southern California (USC), and his doctoral degree in electrical engineering from USC in 1986. He began teaching at the University of Virginia in 1987, rising from assistant to full professor by 1998. In 1999, he moved to the University of Minnesota and currently directs the Digital Technology Center (since 2008). Since 2016 he has also held the McKnight Presidential Chair in ECE.
Prof. Tony Low has been included in the 2019 global list of Highly Cited Researchers, compiled by the Web of Science Group. According to the Group, the compilation “identifies scientists and social scientists who have demonstrated significant influence through publication of multiple papers, highly cited by their peers, during the last decade.” The Methodology section on the Group’s web site offers details on the selection criteria, and what inclusion on the list means for researchers. Professors Christopher Cramer (University of Minnesota Vice President for Research) and Donald Truhlar (Regents Professor) from the Department of Chemistry have also been recognized in the list.
Tony is the recipient of several awards that recognize his work and its far-reaching impact. These include: the University’s McKnight Presidential Fellowship (2019), IBM Pat Goldberg Memorial Best Paper Award (2014), IBM Invention Award (2013), KITP Rice Family Fund Fellowship (2012), Singapore Millennium Fellowship (2007), and the IEEE Electron Device Society Fellowship (2005).
ECE alumni are scattered across the globe working to make the world a better and safer place, and it is not unusual to hear news of their accomplishments. Yet, it is always a delight when news floats back to us about their specific triumphs, and to see their name and their work being lauded in public fora for the world to see. One such alumnus is Eric Rutayisire.
For a young CEO running an even younger fast growing company, time is obviously at a premium. But we did get a chance to connect with Eric and learn about his motivation to set up Charis UAS, and his vision for the future of his company.
Q: Tell us about your background and what brought you to the University of Minnesota? I am the youngest of 8 siblings, born in Kinshasa, DRC, of Rwandan parents who had taken refuge there due to the genocide against the Tutsis that was happening then. I finished my high school in Rwanda, then moved to the US to further my studies in electrical engineering. I started in Seattle, but when I found out about the engineering program at the University of Minnesota, and the opportunities it offered, I thought it was a good fit for me, and I transferred.
Q: Since earning your MS degree in electrical engineering in 2015, you have returned to Rwanda. Tell us what you are doing now. I am the CEO of Charis UAS, the first drone company in Rwanda. Charis specializes in understanding our customers’ needs and does a system integration around drone technology to answer their needs. So we serve customers in disparate sectors ranging from health to construction, and mining to agriculture.
Q: Why Charis and why Rwanda? I always wanted to do something for my country. The idea for Charis came when I was in the mentorship program at the University. I was paired with a mentor who was a drone technology hobbyist. So we started working together and built the first few drones which kick started our company. The deeper I dove into the technology, the more apparent it became to me that there was immense opportunity for it, and we have been providing more and more solutions since then.
Q: Building the company probably meant a lot of sacrifices. And it’s hard to get potential customers to take you seriously. Tell us about your experience building Charis UAS. It was hard to build a company at a very young age because people wouldn’t take us seriously, and we lacked funding at that early stage. So I used my tax refunds while still at school to kickstart operations. Once we started providing solutions for free and people started seeing the value, we started attracting many more customers who had confidence in the service we could provide. Charis began to gain traction in the market when we introduced our mapping solutions. And it didn’t hurt that we had a meeting with the President of Rwanda, His Excellency Paul Kagame; that made people really sit up and take notice.
Q: How has Charis UAS grown now? Charis now has 18 full time employees, operating in 5 countries and still growing. We are expanding our services around Africa and that’s our focus for now.
Q: Has your experience as a student at the University, and in ECE been formative in any way? It was through CSE’s mentorship program that I met a mentor who inspired me and guided me in the right direction. Without that experience, I am not sure I would have ventured into drone technology.
ECE provided me with a solid foundation. I was challenged to develop critical thinking skills, and was taught how to acquire and research information I needed to accomplish a difficult and unfamiliar task. That has helped me become who I am today and I am grateful for the training I received from the department.
As for us in ECE, we proudly watch alumnus Eric Rutayisire go from strength to strength, and wish him success in his endeavors.
The well deserved award recognizes Georgios’ influential educational tools in the field of signal processing, his dedication to supporting his students, excellence in the classroom, and overall contributions to his field of expertise through monographs, papers, committee and other service responsibilities.
Georgios is a keen advisor and mentor to his students, committed to helping them navigate graduate level academics and all the accompanying complexities in ways that have made them successful students as well as professionals. Reflecting on the impact of his dedication to and enthusiasm for his craft, one of Georgios’ PhD graduates, Prof. Shengli Zhou (currently a faculty at the University of Connecticut) says: “[He] inspired me to pursue an academic [career] path, turning an undecided student into a motivated faculty member, with him as my model for a researcher and teacher.”
In his tenure as a professor over the last 28 years, Georgios has awarded 50 doctoral degrees, including 12 women and four Arican Americans. All his graduates are pursuing successful careers in academia, government labs, and industry in the areas of wireless communications, networking, power systems, and data science. 30 out of his 50 students are now faculty members at high ranking universities across the country and abroad (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Georgia Tech., University of Texas – Austin, Virginia Tech, Shanghai Tech and IIT, India are just a few of them),15 of them are high ranking industry professionals (Sanyogita Shamsunder, vice-president of 5G labs and Innovation at Verizon to name just one), and 5 of them are scientists at government labs such as National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), NRL (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory), and Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR).
He is deeply engaged in guiding his students not only in the actual research process, but also everything that surrounds research: communicating ideas and results, presenting them to a diverse audience, writing, revising, and editing journal articles, seeking funding opportunities and preparing appropriate proposals for these opportunities. Bearing testimony to his work as a teacher and mentor are the 9 journal papers and conference paper awards that that his graduate student co-authors have won. In fact, 15 of his students are IEEE Fellows and of those who went on to pursue careers in academia, 15 are recipients of NSF CAREER awards.
Georgios has also generously devoted his time to giving tutorial presentations at numerous flagship conferences worldwide. Some of these include the 2018 IEEE GLOBECOM, BigDat 2017, CAMSAP, and EUSIPCO to name a few. He has also served as a member of the steering committee of IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications, inaugural chair of the IEEE Technical Committee for Signal Processing In Communications, IEEE Distinguished Lecturer (2006-2008), and delivered over a 100 keynote and plenary speeches. He has also led other service responsibilities as editor, member, secretary, chair and co-chair of many IEEE boards, groups, and committees, as well as non-IEEE committees, and agencies. Additionally, he has co-authored two influential and widely taught research monographs, and 25 book chapters.
Georgios is the recipient of several awards and honors in recognition of his scientific, teaching, and service contributions. These include the IEEE Fourier Award for Signal Processing (2015), the IEEE Signal Processing Society Technical Achievement Award (2001), and the EURASIP Technical Achievement Award (2008). He currently holds an ADC Endowed Chair in Wireless Telecommunications (since 2001), and is a recipient of the McKnight Presidential Chair from the University of Minnesota, one of the University’s highest honors.
The 2019 IEEE Communications Society Education Award will be presented at GLOBECOM 2019 slated to be held in Waikoloa, Hawaii in December. The award comprises a plaque, certificate, and an honorarium.
Georgios earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering and mathematics from the University of Southern California (USC), and his doctoral degree in electrical engineering from USC in 1986. He began teaching at the University of Virginia in 1987, rising from assistant to full professor by 1998. In 1999, he moved to the University of Minnesota and currently directs the Digital Technology Center (since 2008).
The isolation of atomically thin 2D graphene ten years ago introduced us to an entire family of truly 2D atomic layered materials with a wide range of electrical and optical properties, such as transition metal dichalcogenides, black phosphorus, and boron nitride, among many others. In recent years, we have learned that the mere stacking of just two such atomic layers can drastically alter its electronic properties, from turning on and off its piezoelectricity and nonlinear optical response, to emerging superconductivity, and functional properties such as magnetism and ferroelectricity. Indicating the enormous potential of such stacking, Prof. Tony Low says, “The opportunities for materials science and engineering are huge with 2D materials heterostructures.
However, stacking these 2D layers to assess their specific properties is no small matter. There are about 1000 different 2D materials that can be accessed experimentally, and simply the lowest energy configuration stacking of these 2D atomic layers into bilayers will lead to a million possible heterostructures. The permutations would become incomprehensible if we consider trilayers, teralayers, and beyond. State-of-the-art materials computation tools allow for the evaluation of the properties of a given 2D stack typically in a matter of hours. However, scanning through all these different permutations would be near impossible even with the most powerful computers.
THE ROLE OF MACHINE LEARNING
To bring the goal of evaluating these 2D layers within reach, the research team has turned to machine learning. Much like how artificial intelligence can one day potentially drive the car to its destination, machine learning tools can be employed to guide progressive materials computation towards a specific goal, such as perfect light absorption in the visible spectrum, and giant piezoelectricity.
To put the team’s endeavor in perspective, 50 years ago at an American Physical Society meeting at Caltech, physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman posed : What could we do with layered structures with just the right layers? What would the properties of materials be if we could really arrange the atoms the way we want? […] I can hardly doubt that when we have some control of the arrangement of things on a small scale we will get an enormously greater range of possible properties that substances can have, and of different things that we can do.” With this NSF grant, the researchers are closer to bringing Feynman’s vision to reality.
To reach the goal, the team comprises experts in data science and the application of machine learning, materials modeling of 2D materials, molecular beam epitaxial growth of 2D heterostructures, and materials and device characterization. The successful demonstration of these new designer 2D heterostructures will usher in a new era of efficient and purposeful materials design methodology.
The Division of Materials Research (DMR) awards are designed to expand the understanding of “electronic, atomic, and molecular mechanisms and processes that govern nanoscale to macroscale properties; manipulation and control of these properties; discovery of emerging phenomena of matter and materials; and creation of novel design, synthesis, and processing strategies that lead to new materials with unique characteristics. These discoveries and advancements transcend traditional scientific and engineering disciplines. The Division supports research and education activities in the United States through funding of individual investigators, teams, centers, facilities, and instrumentation. Projects supported by DMR are essential for the development of future technologies and industries that meet societal needs, as well preparation of the next generation of materials researchers.”
David Orser joined ECE in 2016 as a teaching faculty hired to breathe new life into the laboratory experience of our degree curricula. He has been instrumental in introducing some substantive changes that have since shaped our students’ engagement with the hands-on parts of their ECE coursework. Project-based experiential learning can make complex concepts more accessible, and our students are reaping the benefits of our newly refreshed labs.
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with David and learn about his journey to ECE, his experience as a mentor, and his advice for students interested in robotics.
Tell us about your educational background and what brought you to the University. I graduated from Minnesota State University with a BSEE degree and started working for IBM developing custom chips for fiber optic networks. For the next ten years, I continued to develop cutting-edge custom mixed-signal chips while raising a family and finishing my Master’s Degree from the University of Minnesota through the UNITE program. Having always felt a call to teach, I decided to return to the University to earn a doctoral degree. I chose to shift fields slightly from microelectronics to power electronics, to expand my horizons. Over the course of four years, I earned my PhD by developing a new power converter control strategy, building a power converter to test it, while also working (separately) for MISO as a consultant on a project to scope both the cost and technical feasibility of a coast-to-coast 15GW macro-grid.
What are some key drivers that have motivated you in your academic and professional life? All throughout my career, I have taken an active interest in developing new solutions to help my colleagues work more efficiently. From an automatic simulation submission systems, to a lab-based automated data generation and jitter analysis scripts, these tools are used even today by my former colleagues. I love to extend my knowledge into new areas to develop solutions that help my teams solve problems, both current and in the future.
When you were hired as a teaching faculty, your primary charge was to innovate and update ECE’s lab curricula. Tell us about your work in the area. I have been working over the past four years to update our ECE lab curricula based on both, the teaching of fundamental concepts and by providing open-ended student-defined projects within our courses. Each of the early weekly labs are tied to specific learning objectives. Those are followed by intermediate or final projects that allow students to address areas that interest them, but still meet specific course requirements and more importantly, tight deadlines. These final projects span the entirety of our student experience here in ECE with at least one hands-on lab-based project each year. So far this includes the freshman Internet of Things showcase, sophomore low-level device API development for microcontrollers, junior design project, and the ECE senior design show.
Farmington High School’s FIRST Robotics team was recently in the news for a wheelchair the students built for 2-year old Cillian Jackson, who has mobility issues. You are a mentor for the team. How did you get involved with FIRST? I was introduced to FIRST by my eldest daughter, Siri. At the time she joined the Robotics Club in high school, I had no idea what FIRST was and didn’t coach that season. I simply showed up to support my daughter in the competition held at Williams Arena on campus and was blown away by the 2000-plus competing-cheering-helping-building teenagers inspired by technology. I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to help grow.
How did the mobility device project for Cilliam Jackson come about? And how did the team handle it? The entire opportunity was an amazing experience. Late last November, I received a text message from the team’s head coach that a family had reached out for help to build a mobility device for their 2-year old son. In less than two days, putting on hold a couple of pre-season training events, we pulled together a plan, and a schedule, and had both students and mentors signed up to contribute to the project. Over the course of the next three weeks, there were several ups and down, as well as late nights, but we finished it just in time for Christmas!
How long have you been engaged with the Farmington team? And what are some of your responsibilities? I have been a mentor for Farmington’s FIRST robotics team, Rogue Robotics, for 6 seasons now. I am the lead programming mentor for the team and my primary responsibilities include teaching high school students how to program in C++, and develop control systems for the robot including Robot Vision and PID systems. I also play a primary role in the Aesthetics Team, which develops our LED-based cheering signs and robot bling. I am the most senior non-teacher mentor on the team and organize many of our non-school-based events, including student leadership lessons learned meetings, mentor season review meetings, conference attendance, and student summer projects.
What are some key highlights of working with the team? I love that FIRST and Rogue Robotics provide students with both, the opportunity to learn new science and engineering skills, as well as the places to apply those skills to solve real problems. This includes obviously, doing the work to solve a problem, but more importantly, setting tight deadlines such that you must negotiate compromises among competing needs such as power, weight, complexity, time, etc. in order to be successful. Another part of the experience that I highly value is that students on the team have always jumped at the opportunity to help others, whether that is through a Feed My Starving Children outing, cleaning up a park, or building a wheelchair for a 2-year old boy. To have students who ask to be taught, and then push to do more with those skills every week provides me with an incredible amount of energy.
What are some other volunteer opportunities you have previously engaged in, or are currently involved with? I volunteer as an instructor with University on the Prairie, a three day University of Minnesota outreach event for students entering grades seven through eleven in rural Lamberton, Minnesota. Using active and experiential learning techniques, I teach students engineering topics such as soldering, electronics, and programming. At the end of the course, students take home a project (solar powered blinking owl, and 3D printed solar tracking servo motor) they have built over the three days.
I am also currently working on projects that will expand the teaching of programming to high school students, both through FIRST and hopefully as a College in the Schools (CIS) course.
How does your work in ECE connect with your mentoring activities? And does work in one area help trigger ideas, teaching/coaching methods, or learning outcomes in the other? My work in ECE is focused on undergraduate education and the work I do in FIRST influences my teaching every day. For instance, I learned to teach closed-loop control to high school students, without advanced math, and in doing so developed robust analogies and real-world examples. I use these analogies and examples in my teaching at the sophomore and junior levels in the department to illustrate the implications of complex mathematical theories.
Seeing the work ethic, strength, and ingenuity of the FIRST Robotics students inspires me to expect more from our students. And my University students always inspire me with how far they can reach, from the EE 1301 students with no previous coding experience to students, in the very same class who come in with ten years of real-world coding experience. An instructor just has to ask, and our students will rise to the challenge. The CSE 1012 and EE 1301 project showcases are examples of the heights to which our students are capable of soaring.
What advice do you have for students interested in robotics ? As students, you will need to develop strong fundamentals through your math and science courses, and through your ECE-centered theory courses. Regularly applying these theory skills in real-world environments and projects is critical to understanding which effects are important and which can be safely ignored or need to be bent. Learning to be a good engineer requires technical skills, but engineers who learn to work with others in spite of conflict, learn how to help others succeed, and learn to communicate to non-engineers, are the ones who will really succeed.
What is ECE’s role in your expanding portfolio of responsibilities? My volunteer efforts are enabled by the department’s support of volunteer and outreach efforts as part of my appointment and through their financial donations to University on the Prairie and the Solar Vehicle Project. This support allows me to be involved at the level I am. The University and the department’s support is critical to the success of my volunteer efforts, and for that I am very grateful.
Acknowledgements to Go Baby Go, and FIRST
Rogue Robotics credits the GoBabyGo program at the University of Delaware for providing technical help as they worked on the device for Cilian, and FIRST for opportunities and inspiration along the way.
Prof. Harjani and his group has been awarded the 2018 European Solid-State Circuit Conference (ESSCIRC) Best Paper Award. ESSCIRC is the premier European conference in Integrated Circuit (IC) design. The paper was co-authored by PhD students Naser Mousavi, Zhiheng Wang, and Professor Harjani. The paper was presented at the 2018 European Solid State Circuits Conference held on September 2018 in Dresden, Germany. The research was funded under the DARPA SPAR program.
ESSCIRC is the premier European Conference in Integrated Circuit (IC) designand the award-winning paper was presented at the European Solid State Circuits Conference held in September 2018 in Dresden, Germany. The research was funded under the DARPA SPAR program. One of the co-authors Naser Mousavi has since graduated with his doctoral degree.
Prof. Harjani and members of his team on their research
Diqing’s poster is titled “Large-Scale, High-Resolution Brain Sensing and Stimulation with Flexible Magnetic Nanosensors and Nanostimulators,” and was showcased in the Neural category.
The poster demonstrates the use of magnetic tunnel junctions as magnetic nanosensors for neuron signal detection. As magnetic fields are less impacted by the surrounding neuron cells as compared to electric fields or current, these magnetic nanosensors hold the potential of large-scale, high-resolution detection of neuron signals. The nanosensors can be integrated with magnetic neuron stimulators on flexible substrates using microfabrication techniques.
Diqing has been the recipient of several awards including the best poster award at the 2017 MMM Conference, and Outstanding TA award two years in a row. Her research interest is in developing magnetic nanosensors for biological applications, and she is working under the guidance of Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Jian Ping Wang.
Renata Saha, a doctoral student in ECE, won the best poster award and was placed first within the Neural category. Her poster is titled, “Highly Tunable, Ultra-Low Power, Cellular-Level, Magnetic Neurostimulation through Flexible Spintronic Nanostructures.”
One of the reasons micromagnetic stimulation has an edge over deep brain stimulation (DBS) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is that a magnetic field has higher permeability through biological tissues. However, micromagnetic stimulation reportedly consumes 103 times more power than conventional DBS electrodes, which can have a detrimental effect on tissues. In her poster, Renata provides proof-of-concept that magnetic materials from modern-age computer hard-disk drives can be used as next-generation implantable magnetic neurostimulators. These devices, known as spintronic nanodevices, being nanometer sized can activate neurons with cellular resolutions and can be fabricated onto flexible biocompatible substrates.
Renata, a recipient of a 3-year College of Science and Engineering fellowship, recently received the Brain Tumor Program travel grant from the University’s Masonic Center to share her work titled, “A Highly Tunable Skyrmion-based Neurostimulator (SkyNS) for Low-Power Cellular-Level Implantable Magnetic Stimulation” at the Annual Conference on Magnetism and Magnetic Materials (MMM 2019) to be held in Las Vegas in November.
Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities invites applications for faculty positions in Communications, Networking, and Data Science.
The Communications, Networking, and Data Science position invites applications at all levels (assistant, associate, and full professor). The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is fully committed to a culturally and academically diverse faculty; candidates who will further expand that diversity are particularly encouraged to apply.
Successful candidates will have outstanding academic and research records and are expected to establish a vigorous, funded research program, teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and be involved in service to the university and the profession.
An earned doctorate in an appropriate discipline is required at the time of the appointment. Rank and salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. Applications will be considered as they are received. Applications will be accepted until the positions are filled, but for full consideration, please apply on-line by December 15, 2019.
Regents Professor Ned Mohan (NAE) is the recipient of IEEE’s 2019 IAS Outstanding Educator award. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to education and mentorship of students and young engineers within the fields of interest of the IEEE Industry Applications Society.
The criteria for the award include development of educational materials, teaching and mentorship activities of students and young professionals, innovations in teaching and mentoring, awards and recognition for the same, and content development for the IAS resource center.
Ned’s contributions speak volumes about how well he deserves the award. What follows is a very brief roundup of his work till date. He has authored five books, widely used as textbooks in the power curriculum, which have been translated into 9 languages. He has also developed semester-long online courses for teaching, that are freely accessible at the CUSP web site.
He has also developed several hardware laboratories that have been acquired by more than a 100 universities across the United States, besides institutions outside the country, and agencies such as NASA.
With funding from the Office of Naval Research, Ned has developed a controller that his postdoctoral associate Dr. Siddharth Raju has successfully licensed for a startup (www.sciamble.com), with the University of Minnesota holding a ten-percent equity stake in this company.
Ned has mentored undergraduate students (NSF-Research Experience for Undergraduates) and two high school teachers (NSF-Research Experience for Teachers). One of the students (from the University of Puerto Rico) returned as a doctoral student, graduating with a PhD in 2017. Most recently, Ned has developed a freshman course EE 1701 “Climate Crisis: Implementing Solutions” that is currently also being taught in high schools under the dual-credit, concurrent-enrollment program. Ned has graduated nearly 150 master’s students, and 46 PhDs. Currently, his research group comprises 8 doctoral students and 3 postdoctoral associates.
Ned has facilitated over 30 workshops for faculty (sponsored by the NSF, NAE, and other agencies) in the United States. He is the recipient of several awards and honors over the years including being elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2014, named Regents Professor (at the University of Minnesota) in 2019, and numerous IEEE awards. ECE is proud of Ned’s contributions and achievements, and the 2019 Outstanding Educator Award is an honor that he richly deserves!