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  COVID-19 Information and Resources for ECE Students, Faculty, and Staff

UW ECE PhD candidate Zerina Kapetanovic breaks new ground, wins Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant

Kapetanovic received the grant for her doctoral thesis research on “Low-Power Communication for Environmental Sensing Systems.” She is one of just 10 PhD students at academic institutions throughout North America to win this year's award.

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UW ECE PhD candidate Zerina Kapetanovic breaks new ground, wins Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant Banner

UW ECE associate professor Kai-Mei Fu will direct a new NSF Research Traineeship focused on an interdisciplinary quantum future

The National Science Foundation has awarded $3 million to establish a NSF Research Traineeship at the University of Washington for graduate students in quantum information science and technology, or QIST.

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UW ECE associate professor Kai-Mei Fu will direct a new NSF Research Traineeship focused on an interdisciplinary quantum future Banner

Professor Eve Riskin receives Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring

This award represents the highest national honor bestowed by the U.S. government upon mentors who work to expand STEM talent.

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Professor Eve Riskin receives Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring Banner

UW launches Institute for Foundations of Data Science

UW ECE professor and Associate Chair for Research Maryam Fazel is leading a new, interdisciplinary research institute that brings together mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists and engineers to develop the theoretical foundations of data science.

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UW launches Institute for Foundations of Data Science Banner

UW nanotechnology infrastructure gets a boost from National Science Foundation

NSF has awarded UW and OSU a five-year, $5 million grant to advance nanoscale science, engineering, and technology in the PNW.

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UW nanotechnology infrastructure gets a boost from National Science Foundation Banner

Professor Maryam Fazel becomes first recipient of the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship

This endowment was established in 2019 by Ganesh and Hema Moorthy to recruit, reward and retain UW ECE faculty members who have demonstrated significant promise early in their careers.

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Professor Maryam Fazel becomes first recipient of the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship Banner

News + Events

https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/quantum-future/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/kapetanovic-mrdg/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/everiskin-paesmem/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/ifdslaunch/
UW launches Institute for Foundations of Data Science

UW launches Institute for Foundations of Data Science

UW ECE professor and Associate Chair for Research Maryam Fazel is leading a new, interdisciplinary research institute that brings together mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists and engineers to develop the theoretical foundations of data science.

https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/nanotech_nsf/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/2020moorthyprofessorship/
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_19924" align="alignright" width="582"] The Electrical & Computer Engineering Building on the University of Washington campus. (photo: Katherine Turner)[/caption]

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $3 million to establish a NSF Research Traineeship at the University of Washington for graduate students in quantum information science and technology, or QIST. Research in QIST includes the development of quantum computers, which hold the promise of performing computations far faster than today’s computers, as well as of fundamentally secure communication systems and simulations of new materials with novel and potentially revolutionary properties.

All QIST pursuits exploit the complex, probability-based principles of quantum mechanics, which underlie the behavior and properties of matter. QIST ventures bring together scientists with diverse areas of expertise — including physics, chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering and materials science. And while diversity is a strength of this dynamic field, it is also a reason to develop a formal training program for budding QIST researchers.

[caption id="attachment_19925" align="alignleft" width="243"] UW ECE associate professor Kai-Mei Fu, University of Washington[/caption]

“Some fields, like physics, have been dealing with quantum mechanics for a long time; for others, it’s a relatively new concept to bring into lecture halls and research laboratories,” said Kai-Mei Fu, the principal investigator and director of the new traineeship, a UW associate professor of physics and of electrical and computer engineering, and a researcher with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We are creating this core educational and training framework so graduate students in these diverse fields can gain the knowledge and skills they need for futures in QIST, while also remaining grounded in their respective fields.”

The new traineeship — known as Accelerating Quantum-Enabled Technologies, or AQET — will make the UW one of just “a handful” of universities with a formal, interdisciplinary QIST curriculum, added Fu, who also co-chairs the UW QuantumX steering committee for QIST research on campus and is a faculty member with the UW Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute, the Clean Energy Institute and the Institute for Nano-engineered Systems.

Initial NSF funds will support the traineeship through one year of development and student recruitment, as well as its first four years of operation. Main features of the AQET traineeship will be:
  • Student cohorts recruited each year among doctoral programs in the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Physics, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering
  • Fellowships for some AQET trainees from the NSF or other sources during the program’s approximately 18-month duration
  • Developing and launching a set of foundational QIST courses for AQET students, which will also be open to other UW graduate and undergraduate students
  • A six- to nine-month capstone project
  • Outreach efforts to recruit female students
The core courses include several already taught at the UW, such as in physics, as well as new ones to introduce additional QIST topics to students from diverse disciplines. “QIST involves many different contributions from science and engineering departments on university campuses, and we’ve all come together speaking different ‘languages’ from our home disciplines,” said Fu. “So we want this foundational coursework to ground students in a common framework for approaching and talking about QIST concepts and principles.” One course, for example, is a project-based introduction to quantum computing. Using IBM and Microsoft cloud quantum computing platforms, students will explore what is currently possible in information storage and retrieval in quantum computing and apply that knowledge to their own background in science and engineering. “Someone with a computer science background can see and understand the current limitations in nascent quantum computing, while a student in materials science can see and understand how important material properties are to the performance of these devices,” said Fu. The AQET capstone project will allow students to pursue their own research interests in QIST after the foundational coursework. It can be conducted at the UW or at a collaborating research institution, university or company. Some potential collaborators already partner with the UW in QIST endeavors, such as the Northwest Quantum Nexus founded by the UW, Microsoft and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We are open to lots of options for these partnerships, because ultimately our goal is to be flexible in response to student interests,” said Fu. “The AQET traineeship will complement the students’ education and research in their respective doctoral programs, and ultimately prepare them for jobs in industries that increasingly demand QIST knowledge and experience.” Co-principal investigators on AQET are Brandi Cossairt, UW associate professor of chemistry; James Lee, UW professor of computer science and engineering; Arka Majumdar, UW assistant professor of physics and of electrical and computer engineering; and Nathan Wiebe, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a UW affiliate assistant professor of physics. Cossairt and Majumdar are also faculty researchers with the Clean Energy Institute, and Majumdar is a faculty researcher with the Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute and the Institute for Nano-engineered Systems. For more information, contact Fu at kaimeifu@uw.edu.
Story by  / UW News [post_title] => UW ECE associate professor Kai-Mei Fu will direct a new NSF Research Traineeship focused on an interdisciplinary quantum future [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => quantum-future [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-04 15:24:58 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-04 22:24:58 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19923 [menu_order] => 1 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19907 [post_author] => 26 [post_date] => 2020-09-09 10:51:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-09-09 17:51:26 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_19900" align="alignright" width="207"]Zerina Kapetanovic Zerina Kapetanovic[/caption] How do we produce 70% more food by the year 2050 to feed the world’s ever-growing population? Zerina Kapetanovic, a 5th-year graduate research assistant in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE), is determined to find solutions to this and other critical environmental dilemmas. Her thesis work on “Low-Power Communication for Environmental Sensing Systems” recently earned Kapetanovic a Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant (MRDG) to help support her ongoing doctoral research on this topic. Advised by Joshua Smith, the Milton and Delia Zeutschel Professor in Entrepreneurial Excellence at UW ECE and a professor at the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, Kapetanovic has been instrumental in the development of cutting-edge wireless and backscatter techniques, battery-free sensing modules, and end-to-end connected Internet of Things (IoT) hubs for such forms of low-power communication. Working together, these technologies and data-driven methods allow for far greater precision and more sustainable solutions to agricultural and environmental issues than previously available. As farmers around the world tackle the looming threat of food shortages resulting from expanding global populations, reduction in arable land and numerous other problems related to climate change, these types of solutions are more imperative and meaningful than ever. “I am deeply passionate about using technology to solve environmental issues, and my goal is to develop new techniques and solutions that make the Internet of Things (IoT) more practical for resource-constrained environments,” explains Kapetanovic. “In particular, my focus is on low-power communication and sensing.” [caption id="attachment_19898" align="alignleft" width="452"]MRDG Awardees The 2020-21 Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant recipients[/caption] Kapetanovic is also a member of Professor Smith’s Sensor Systems Lab, which centers on the development of similar technologies for sensing, robotics, wireless power and medical devices. “Zerina is an incredibly productive graduate student,” says Smith. “In addition to her strong research program at the UW, she has also been a key member of another major research program at Microsoft. I'm not sure how she does so much!” Now in its fourth year, the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant awards up to $25,000 for the 202021 academic year to support Ph.D. students who are underrepresented in the field of computing and are currently completing their doctoral thesis work at North American universities. The grant hopes to provide research funding opportunities to students who self-identify as a woman, African American, Black, Hispanic, Latinx, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and/or person with a disability, increasing the pathway of diverse and talented individuals pursuing advanced degrees in computing-related fields. Awardees are also invited to partake in the Microsoft PhD Summit, a two-day workshop that will be hosted virtually this autumn by Microsoft Research. Fellows have the opportunity to meet with both Microsoft researchers and other top students to share their research. “I am very honored and thrilled to receive the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant,” says Kapetanovic. “It will help me tremendously with completing my research at the University of Washington, giving me an uninterrupted block of time to extend my core research, write my dissertation and help cover the cost of hardware development for my research. I am especially grateful to my advisor, Josh Smith, and Ranveer Chandra, my mentor at Microsoft, both of whom have guided and supported me throughout my PhD career.” The grant is awarded through a highly competitive process. Of the 230 applications submitted this year, the highest number yet for the program, only 10 students were selected to receive the award.

Just beat it

No stranger to Microsoft and its research programs, Kapetanovic has worked on Microsoft’s FarmBeats team as a research intern on three separate occasions–since its early inception in 2015, and again in 2016 and 2019. Providing farmers with long-term, automated and sustainable methods of agriculture through ultra-low-power, networked communications devices at a large scale has been Kapetanovic’s primary area of focus. By integrating her expertise with several new technologies developed at FarmBeats, Kapetanovic helped create and deploy various sensor and communications systems that enable farmers to accurately monitor soil moisture, temperature, humidity levels, address fertilizer and pesticide overuse and, ultimately, increase their crop yields at reduced costs. [caption id="attachment_19899" align="alignleft" width="594"]Zerina At FarmBeats Zerina Kapetanovic checks the FarmBeats ground sensors at Dancing Crow Farm in Carnation, WA. The sensor box features 8 different sensors that collect real-time data on variables that might affect the growth of crops, including wind speed and direction, soil and atmospheric moisture and temperature, barometric pressure, CO2 levels, and rain and light exposure. (Photo by Michael Victor)[/caption] “While my thesis focuses on enabling low-power communication for environmental sensing systems,” says Kapetanovic, “it especially deals with two major challenges: resources constraints and scale. For example, devices deployed in remote locations often lack power and internet connectivity. This becomes even more challenging when considering the sizes of forests, farms and oceans, which all require large-scale sensing systems.” So far, the farmers who have partnered with FarmBeats in their 6-month pilot programs have reaped huge benefits from the system’s added precision and insights, reducing their use of crop spraying by up to 90%, while saving tens of thousands of dollars in the process. 3 key innovations: connectivity, low power and scale The FarmBeats system uses a multi-pronged approach to collect and analyze data from several sources. Since farms and forests can often span thousands of acres, setting up a network of commercially available in-ground sensors to provide sufficiently comprehensive data-gathering coverage at a large scale is prohibitively expensive for many farms. In response to this dilemma, Farmbeats uses a far more spread-out network of different sensors (hundreds, rather than tens, of meters of space between them), as well as a small fleet of flying drones with downward-facing smartphones attached in order to survey the farmland below. Combined with the in-ground sensor data, the optical and infrared (IR) image data captured by the smartphone cameras is later compiled and analyzed to create precision maps of soil moisture, temperature, pH and humidity levels. “Micro-climate” predictions of wind direction, wind speed, ambient temperature and humidity are also provided. These resulting data-driven agricultural predictions give farmers more accurate insights than ever before into what, when and where to plant or spray, leading to far greater sustainability overall. [caption id="attachment_19994" align="alignright" width="579"]FarmBeats Maps FarmBeats Precision Maps: (a) A 40MPixel orthomosaic created from a 3-min. flight over 2-acre area of farmland. The system infers dense sensor measurements from very few sensors deployed on the farm (white circles). (b) The predicted soil moisture map (on a scale of 1-5). The top left region in the image was correctly predicted to have high moisture despite no moisture sensors present on that section of farmland. (c) The predicted pH map. The system identified the entire field as slightly acidic, but the bottom left/center as more acidic than the rest. (d) The predicted soil temperature map (in Fahrenheit).[/caption] Because many farms are too rural to directly access either the Internet or a reliable power source, the data that’s collected is often too limited to be of any use or is unable to reach the farmer’s local computer entirely. To address this constraint, the FarmBeats system relies on an ingeniously clever, yet relatively simple, solution to relay this information to farmers — harnessing the availability of unused television broadcast signals that are being continuously transmitted through the air. A solar-powered TV White Spaces (TVWS) base station takes advantage of the under-leveraged frequencies between television signals in the lower part of the MHz spectrum. What would typically be seen on older, analog TVs simply as static “fuzz” is repurposed by the TVWS base station to send information at broadband speeds using off-the-shelf Wi-Fi routers and antennae, thereby connecting and extending internet connectivity to rural areas. Kapetanovic played a central role in developing a sensor module prototype to interface with the network of sensors and cameras, whose batteries are also solar-powered, as well as a smart IoT hub that connects this information with other drone data. Power from the hub ensures that the entire system operates uninterrupted, even during harsh weather conditions. Since lower frequency waves are able to travel much farther than higher ones, farms that are spread out over long distances, covered by dense forests, or are in different locations from the farmers’ homes, are able to be economically and effectively connected to both internet and power sources using these technologies. Once the farm’s data has been collected and received by the IoT hub, the TVWS base station transmits it to the farmer’s local computer, which is used to compress the information before uploading it to Microsoft’s cloud-based platform. Shrinking the data from gigabytes (Gb) down to mere kilobytes (kb) before it’s uploaded makes the entire process of consolidating, analyzing and storing the information faster and much more efficient overall. In the cloud, all of the necessary data aggregation, visualization and analytics is done through Microsoft’s machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) and vision algorithms. The subsequent maps and recommendations on how and when to best optimize resources to increase production are then made available to the farmers to download onto their smartphone devices from the cloud when needed. [caption id="attachment_19990" align="alignright" width="493"]FarmBeats process diagram The FarmBeats system uses sensor, drone, TV Whites Space, Edge and cloud solutions to provide insights to farmers and enable data-driven agricultural techniques.[/caption] Farms that are unable to afford the high initial costs of flying drones to monitor their farmland, such as those in developing countries for instance, can still utilize an alternative solution developed by the FarmBeats team. With this method, the smartphone is attached to the bottom of a large helium-filled balloon rather than a remote-controlled drone. An operator then manually walks the balloon along the farmland while the smartphone’s camera surveys the ground beneath it to collect the necessary data and imagery. Although she does not have a background in the field of agriculture per se, Kapetanovic says she became interested in her assigned role at FarmBeats after quickly recognizing that her combined technical expertise and environmental interests aligned perfectly with FarmBeats’ mission and needs. Kapetanovic’s motivation and commitment to this groundbreaking (quite literally at times) research is readily apparent. In her dissertation, she explains, “Over the last decade the Internet of Things (IoT) has been changing the world, from enabling connected electronics, to smart homes and smart agriculture. I’m extremely excited about the role that IoT plays when it comes to environmental monitoring, which is now increasingly relevant in the times of the climate change crisis and the need to achieve biodiversity conservation.” [caption id="attachment_19906" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]The FarmBeats system caught the attention of renowned environmentalist, global public health philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Gates wrote an article on his personal blog describing his impressions of the FarmBeats project. Here, he is seen (center) next to Zerina (bottom left) looking up at the smartphone camera tethered to a FarmBeats balloon. Pictured at right, a FarmBeats balloon being tested in the field. The FarmBeats system caught the attention of renowned environmentalist, global public health philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Gates wrote an article on his personal blog describing his impressions of the FarmBeats project. He is seen here (center) standing next to Zerina (bottom left) while looking up at the smartphone camera tethered to a FarmBeats balloon. Shown at right, a FarmBeats balloon being tested at one of the partnering farms.[/caption] One challenge Kapetanovic and others are working on overcoming with these systems is when they are deployed amidst dense forest canopies or on overcast days. Under such conditions, reduced amounts of sunlight could potentially cause the solar-powered IoT hub and its connected routers, sensors and antennae to lose power. To help mitigate this issue and ensure connectivity is maintained throughout a farming season, the entire FarmBeats system has been designed to be weather-aware, with an on/off switch dictated by daily cloud coverage to better conserve power when necessary. The FarmBeats system has recently been developed into a commercially available service, Azure FarmBeats (part of Azure Marketplace). Microsoft’s Airband team has been busy deploying it on farms in several states around the USA. Additionally, with millions of Americans still lacking access to commercially available high-speed internet service (including nearly one-quarter of people living in rural areas), FarmBeats’ TVWS communication technology is also being used to connect those communities, businesses and individual consumers who live and work in remote areas of the country. The Airband team also currently has deployments on farms in India and various countries in Europe and Africa, with upcoming plans to expand their efforts into China. The techniques Kapetanovic has helped develop are already being applied to other, non-agricultural, environmental scenarios where collecting camera and sensor data is tremendously useful, such as monitoring air pollution in urban areas, monitoring animals’ migratory patterns, and alerting authorities to illegal animal poaching or deforestation.
“My past and ongoing research focuses on addressing these challenges by developing systems like FarmBeats to enable data-driven agriculture, enabling low-power communication using backscatter techniques, and using machine learning to improve the performance of mainstream IoT solutions,” says Kapetanovic.
[caption id="attachment_19901" align="aligncenter" width="859"]FarmBeats Deployment. A TV whitespace base station and FarmBeats sensor box deployed on Nelson Farm in Spokane, WA. A TV whitespace base station and FarmBeats sensor box deployed on Nelson Farm in Spokane, WA.[/caption]

Glazed over

The “data hiding” techniques behind Kapetanovic and her team’s latest low-power IoT communication research project, Glaze, sound like something straight out of a John le Carré spy novel. The technologies behind them, however, are very much grounded in reality. [caption id="attachment_19893" align="alignright" width="532"]Glaze modules The Glaze module and receiver prototype hardware: (left) the Glaze Transmitter module prototype using off-the-shelf components; (right) the Glaze Receiver prototype's printed circuit board.[/caption] Combining a transmitter module and receiver/decoder module, the Glaze system introduces tiny perturbations to existing TV, FM radio frequency (RF) or data signals (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth), allowing it to effectively overlay additional data on top of these transmissions (“glazing them over” with new information, so to speak) without distorting or degrading them in any noticeable way. Whereas the TVWS method utilizes unused television frequencies, Glaze is able to take advantage of the already-occupied range of signals being transmitted. This technique, when coupled with other backscatter solutions, can effectively create an end-to-end system of low-power communication. Glaze can encode data not only by introducing small amounts of attenuation to a pre-existing TV or RF signal, but also by detecting the presence or absence of Wi-Fi data packets being sent over a network. Because the consumer communications devices being used have inherent built-in tolerances to certain levels of noise, Glaze’s tiny alterations to the signals do not produce any perceptible change to the integrity of the originally intended signal (a song or podcast, for example) when it is received by a device like an FM radio. Glaze’s receiver, however, is sensitive enough to accurately decode and interpret the packets of data transmitted by the Glaze module. Similar data hiding techniques have been demonstrated previously by other researchers using the visible spectrum of television broadcast signals. With this method, individual pixels of a TV image are brightened or dimmed at levels imperceptible to the human eye. These minuscule deviations from the original source image can still be detected and interpreted as extra, useful information by an appropriate receiver/decoder, however. Such glazing techniques can easily take advantage of these existing broadcast signals since they are constantly being transmitted all around us. With the ability to travel tens of miles, Glaze’s use of these types of low frequencies has many potential real-world applications. As mentioned, lower frequencies tend to travel farther than higher ones, while also penetrating obstacles like walls much more easily, as anyone who’s ever experienced the low, chest-thumping bass frequencies invading their living rooms during a loud car stereo drive-by is well aware. In urban settings, therefore, this system could one day be used to interact with and provide updates to existing IoT smart devices in people’s homes or offices, as one example. [caption id="attachment_19894" align="alignleft" width="441"] Glaze System. The Glaze module connects to the antenna port of a preexisting wireless transmitter to overlay data. The transmitted signal is then received by a Glaze receiver and legacy receivers.[/caption] The Glaze system provides several useful advantages over other existing or proposed backscatter or data hiding solutions in terms of cost, maintenance and scale. Glaze does not require any sort of modification to the existing transmission hardware or wireless access points (AP). Instead, it simply adds its supplementary transmitter module to existing antennae ports and employs a Glaze receiver on the other end that can decode a transmission. Not needing to upgrade existing infrastructure makes Glaze an incredibly low-cost and versatile solution to implement, especially over large-scale scenarios like sprawling metropolitan cities or large swaths of farmland or forests. Additionally, Glaze employs an ultra-low power design. In other systems, the overhead costs associated with single-use battery replacement and routine maintenance can present major obstacles to sustainability. The Glaze system, however, utilizes a low-power receiver with various passive components. Such a design has the potential to work as an entirely battery-free energy model, harvesting the energy it needs to run from ambient light or RF signals alone. And crucially, Glaze provides a downlink communication solution to complement existing backscatter solutions, which nearly always lack a low-power downlink capability. This functionality allows for a complete end-to-end low-power IoT communications setup for both receiving and sending information, making for a much more sustainable and economical peer-to-peer data gathering and feedback device solution. Most recently, Kapetanovic has been using machine learning in an attempt to further improve the communication efficiency of low power wide area networks (LPWAN), such as the popular LoRa LPWAN solution.
[caption id="attachment_19999" align="alignright" width="671"]Horn Antennae experiment set up The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has limited the regular access to research labs for UW ECE students over the past several months. Undeterred, Zerina continues to pursue her research projects at her home lab setup. Pictured above, she has been conducting wireless experiments using two horn antennae. (photo by Zerina Kapetanovic)[/caption] While being awarded a Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant is Kapetanovic’s most recent recognition of her many accomplishments, she was also among four female UW ECE students selected to speak at the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing Conference in 2019. This gave Kapetanovic an opportunity to present her FarmBeats research on low-power communication to a much broader audience, while also expanding her professional network. “It was a really great experience,” says Kapetanovic. “I was able to network with so many women in tech and learn about their work. It was also inspiring to see such a huge group of women all in one place pursuing careers in STEM fields.” In addition to being featured on Bill Gates’ GatesNotes, FarmBeats has also been featured on the BBC, in The Economist, and was highlighted by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as one of the ten projects that most inspired him in 2017. We congratulate Kapetanovic and look forward to seeing what she does next in her ongoing research efforts to help solve the myriad environmental and communication challenges facing people around the world. Visit Kapetanovic’s personal website for more information on her research projects and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Learn more about the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant and this year’s awardees, along with each of their respective academic institutions and dissertations. Story by Ryan Hoover  |  UW ECE News [post_title] => UW ECE PhD candidate Zerina Kapetanovic breaks new ground, wins Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => kapetanovic-mrdg [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-09 10:56:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-09 17:56:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19907 [menu_order] => 2 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19859 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2020-09-02 16:07:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-09-02 23:07:59 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_19872" align="alignright" width="600"]Eve Riskin headshot UW ECE professor Eve Riskin has been the associate dean of diversity and access in the UW College of Engineering for the past six years. She recently received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), which represents the highest national honor bestowed by the U.S. government upon mentors who work to expand STEM talent[/caption] There are few people who have made the kind of impact Eve Riskin has mentoring underrepresented students and faculty while increasing diversity and access in higher education. Now, those efforts are being noticed by the highest level of the U.S. government. Riskin is a professor in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE) and has been the associate dean of diversity and access in the UW College of Engineering for the past six years. She was recently recognized with one of the nation’s highest honors for her many achievements. In August this year, the White House announced Riskin as a recipient of a 2019 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). A virtual ceremony was held August 3. After restrictions due to the novel coronavirus are lifted, she, along with 14 other awardees from across the nation, will receive a certificate signed by the President, travel to Washington D.C. for an in-person ceremony and join a network of over 300 PAESMEM alumni. The award represents the highest national honor bestowed by the U.S. government upon mentors who work to expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent. “Eve has worked tirelessly for decades to improve diversity, equity and inclusion for our students, staff and faculty, both in UW ECE and the College of Engineering,” said UW ECE professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “I personally count her as a mentor, adviser and friend who challenges me to think beyond my own experiences and pushes me to make positive changes in my leadership style. She is an absolutely invaluable resource for our university, and we should all be incredibly proud that she has been distinguished with this award.” Besides being a high honor, this is an award that has deep meaning for Riskin. “The Presidential Award is the honor of a lifetime. It sends the message that our nation’s underrepresented and underserved people deserve our support to access myriad wonderful opportunities in STEM,” Riskin said. “For too long, engineering has lacked diversity in so many dimensions. Finally, as a woman in electrical engineering, the Presidential Award sends me the message that the past 40 years I spent working against so many obstacles have made a difference.”

Challenges and the importance of mentorship

Riskin has faced many challenges in her efforts to improve diversity and access at the university. Institutional racism and sexism are two among many existing and entrenched “isms” she has actively worked to counter. These continue to stand as significant obstacles to achieving equitable education, especially in fields associated with STEM. “Academia is very much designed for privileged white males, especially engineering,” Riskin said. “Black Americans, Latinx Americans, Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ community, women and people from low-income backgrounds are all poorly represented. Also, the belief that STEM is a meritocracy, looking at grades as the be-all and end-all without recognizing that grades are achieved in the context of people’s lives, is really toxic.” According to Riskin, addressing these challenges is a time-consuming, but necessary process to achieve an educational environment that welcomes and includes all. She asserts that real progress can be made through mentorship, working with one student or faculty member at a time, and she is well regarded across the University for her work in this area. “Professor Eve Riskin has been a trailblazer for inclusion, diversity, equality and access since well before these terms became part of the STEM fabric,” said UW ECE professor and former Chair Radha Poovendran, who nominated Riskin for the award. “The impact of her work will be amplified as our communities continue to benefit from her efforts for many decades to come.” Riskin has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining many national diversity-related initiatives and programs at the university such as On-Ramps into Academia and LEAD / LEAD-it-Yourself!, a program to provide professional development to STEM department chairs, enabling them to create a positive department culture for diverse faculty. However, there are two programs that stand out, and according to Riskin, are especially near and dear to her heart.

The STARS program

[caption id="attachment_19879" align="alignright" width="450"]Three women standing next to each other. Riskin (right) with STARS Executive Director Sonya Cunningham (left) and STARS participant and 2019 UW ECE grad Trinh Ha at the STARS Cohort II celebration.[/caption] In 2013, with support from the University of Colorado Boulder Engineering GoldShirt program, Riskin helped launch the Washington STate Academic RedShirt program (STARS) at the UW. This program draws its inspiration from the concept of a “redshirt” year in college athletics, giving students an extra year of preparation to succeed. The program supports engineering and computer science students from low-income, first-generation and underserved backgrounds in navigating the transition to college-level courses, and it is welcoming its eighth student cohort this fall. Riskin currently serves as STARS’ faculty director. “Mentoring is very important at the undergraduate level because students come to the university with varying degrees of preparation,” Riskin said. “If you didn’t provide access for these really smart and talented students from less privileged backgrounds, they’re probably not going to succeed in your system. STARS is another form of institutional transformation.” Over the first seven STARS cohorts, nearly 50% are underrepresented minority students, 40% are women, 70% are first-generation college students and 84% hold Pell Grants. To date, student retention or graduation in engineering or computer science has been at nearly 80%. Nationally, engineering retention numbers hover around 50%, so STARS’ retention rate is truly outstanding. Several STARS participants have also gone on to succeed in graduate-level education and at respected technology companies such as Dropbox and Boeing.

The UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change

[caption id="attachment_19881" align="alignright" width="450"]Three women smiling at a buffet table. Professor Eve Riskin (center) at the 2019 ADVANCE Launching Academics on the Tenure-Track: An Intentional Community in Engineering (LATTICE) workshop. Riskin attended with Christine Grant (left) from North Carolina State University and Joyce Yen (right), director of the UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change.[/caption] In 2002, Riskin became faculty director of the UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change, which provides mentoring and leadership development programs for female faculty in science and engineering at the UW. “A big part of my work has been to mentor and support female faculty,” Riskin said. “The first grant we received for ADVANCE was called an institutional transformation award. We looked at what UW policies, procedures and practices were holding women back, and then we focused on changing the system.” When ADVANCE began at the UW in 2001, the percentage of female faculty in the UW College of Engineering was 14%. Now, thanks in large part to ADVANCE, it is well over 26%, a statistic that can be compared with the national average of 17.4%. Today, ADVANCE continues to thrive as a center aimed at supporting faculty working in STEM disciplines.

Using privilege to help others

The PAESMEM provides its recipients with access to a network of individuals and groups across the country working toward furthering diversity, access, equity and inclusion in higher education. Riskin stated that she hopes receiving the award and becoming part of this new community will help her bring more recognition to and support for diversity and access efforts across the University. She is also continuing to encourage her UW colleagues to use their positions of privilege and power to assist those who may be underrepresented or outside of the educational system. “People on the inside can help warm the system for people on the outside by pointing out some of the flaws of the system,” Riskin said. “That helps people recognize that their challenges are likely not their fault, it’s the system’s fault. That’s the role of a mentor.” Although the challenges ahead remain daunting, Riskin noted that treating others with empathy and consideration, a skill that can be learned and is often taught to children, is foundational to good mentorship. She is also heartened and motivated by what she believes is the intrinsic goodness of people. “I came from a family where my mom taught us that if you want to feel good, do something nice for somebody else. It was just part of how I was raised,” Riskin said. “Most people out there want to help people. Think about how popular the “pay it forward” concept is. There are people all the time making a difference, and I think that’s the majority of people.” Learn more about Eve Riskin’s work in diversity, access, equity and inclusion on the UW STARS and ADVANCE websites. [post_title] => Professor Eve Riskin receives Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => everiskin-paesmem [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-02 19:00:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-03 02:00:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19859 [menu_order] => 3 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19846 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2020-09-01 11:34:24 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-09-01 18:34:24 [post_content] => Story by Jackson Holtz | UW News [caption id="attachment_19851" align="alignright" width="600"]Female professor writing on whiteboard with students surrounding her The UW will host the Institute for Foundations of Data Science to develop the theoretical foundations of a fast-growing field: data science. UW ECE professor and Associate Chair for Research Maryam Fazel, shown here in a 2015 photo, will lead the institute. Photo credit: Patrick Bennett[/caption] The University of Washington (UW) will lead a team of institutions in establishing an interdisciplinary research institute that brings together mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists and engineers to develop the theoretical foundations of a fast-growing field: data science. The Institute for Foundations of Data Science (IFDS) is a collaboration between the UW and the Universities of Wisconsin-Madison, California Santa Cruz, and Chicago, with a mission to develop a principled approach to the analysis of ever-larger, more complex and potentially biased data sets that play an increasingly important role in industry, government and academia. Support for the IFDS comes from a $12.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation and its Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science, or TRIPODS, program. Today, the NSF named IFDS as one of two institutes nationwide receiving the first TRIPODS Phase II awards. TRIPODS is tied to the NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) program, which aims to accelerate discovery and innovation in data science algorithms, data cyberinfrastructure and education and workforce development. “With NSF’s $25 million investment, these interdisciplinary teams will be able to tackle some of the most important theoretical and technical questions in data science,” said NSF Division Director for the Division of Mathematical Sciences Juan Meza. IFDS research will lead to algorithmic decision-making processes that tackle incomplete or ambiguous datasets and are better able to respond and act in changing environments. The team will also study some of the ethical implications of data-driven algorithms. IFDS logo“As data science is increasingly incorporated in all facets of our lives, its success is uncovering pressing challenges that call for new theories,” said Maryam Fazel, a UW electrical and computer engineering professor and the lead principal investigator for the IFDS. “We need the expertise of all core disciplines to understand the mysteries and to address the pitfalls of data science and artificial intelligence algorithms.” "The success of the UW team in establishing the IFDS stems from having fantastic faculty from four departments, representing both arts and sciences and engineering, working collaboratively on the most important foundational questions of data science,” said Nancy Allbritton, dean of the College of Engineering. Dan Pollack, dean for the Nature Sciences, added, “We are confident that this multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary effort will shape the future of the field." The UW team of investigators has been laying the groundwork for IFDS during the past three years. UW’s Phase I TRIPODS Institute was established in 2017 with a $1.5 million award from the NSF. Since then, the team has collaborated across disciplinary boundaries to address reliability and scalability of data science algorithms, and has also forged new partnerships. “The strategic partnership between Washington and Wisconsin was crucial to the success of IFDS in the Phase II competition, and we are excited to build on this relationship over the next five years, ” said Stephen Wright, a professor of computer science who headed the TRIPODS Phase I effort at the University of Wisconsin. In 2018, the UW team received three additional awards from the NSF’s new TRIPODS+X program, through which members of the team partnered with other researchers to address data science challenges in fields such as robotics and epidemiology. “IFDS is an exciting culmination of these Phase I efforts,” said Fazel, who is also the Moorthy Family Professor in the electrical and computer engineering department. “It opens the door to further collaborations across our partner institutions and with practitioners in academia and industry, and helps place the UW and Seattle prominently in the national data science research effort.” IFDS research addresses new fundamental problems that echo classical results in mathematical optimization, robust statistics, statistical inference and decision theory. [caption id="attachment_19857" align="alignright" width="500"]Headshots of IFDS leaders The UW IFDS team, clockwise from top left: Maryam Fazel, Zaid Harchaoui, Kevin Jamieson, Dmitriy Drusvyatskiy, Abel Rodriguez and Yin Tat Lee[/caption] “The team adopts a neoclassical viewpoint in order to define notions of optimality, robustness and calibration, that is relevant for modern day data science. These new notions will shape the research in order to develop new theories, methods and algorithms to be used by scientists and engineers,” said co-principal investigator Zaid Harchaoui, an associate professor of statistics. The five-year funding plan for the IFDS Phase II includes support for new research projects, workshops, a partnership across the four research sites and students and postdoctoral scholars co-advised by faculty from different fields. Plans for education and outreach will draw on previous experience of IFDS members and leverage institutional resources at all four sites. “A central goal of IFDS is to develop algorithms with best-in-class performance for data scientific tasks. Recent breakthroughs in this area (in part by UW investigators) have benefitted from combining techniques across computer science, mathematics and statistics. An interdisciplinary approach to data science will be a key ingredient of the future work at IFDS.” said co-principal investigator Dmitriy Drusvyatskiy, an associate professor of mathematics. IFDS will cultivate existing ties with the UW eScience Institute, as well as work with the newly-announced NSF AI Institute, in which UW also participates. In addition to Fazel, Harchaoui and Drusvyatskiy, the UW IFDS team includes Kevin Jamieson and Yin Tat Lee, assistant professors in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. The original UW team was recently joined by Abel Rodriguez, professor and chair of the statistics department, who comes to the UW from University of California, Santa Cruz and serves as the diversity liaison for the Institute. For more information, contact Maryam Fazel. [post_title] => UW launches Institute for Foundations of Data Science [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ifdslaunch [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-01 11:34:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-01 18:34:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19846 [menu_order] => 4 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19781 [post_author] => 25 [post_date] => 2020-08-25 16:32:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-08-25 23:32:25 [post_content] => The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the University of Washington (UW) and Oregon State University (OSU) a five-year, $5 million grant to advance nanoscale science, engineering, and technology research in the Pacific Northwest. Known as the Northwest Nanotechnology Infrastructure (NNI), the UW and OSU partnership is one of 16 sites in the NSF’s National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) program. NNCI sites provide researchers from academia and industry access to leading-edge fabrication and characterization tools at university facilities. This award will support UW and OSU nanotechnology facilities, enabling innovations in materials and devices, including quantum photonic devices, perovskite solar cells, and flexible electronics for displays and biomedical sensors.  
[caption id="attachment_19783" align="alignright" width="160"] UW ECE professor and NNI site director Karl Böhringer[/caption]   “We are proud to be part of this national network as the Pacific Northwest’s nanotechnology hub,” said UW Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE) professor, NNI site director and UW Institute of Nano-engineered Systems director Karl Böhringer. “NSF’s continued support of our region’s nanotechnology infrastructure will enable us to lower barriers to access for biomedical users, offer additional training opportunities to facility staff, and expand nanotechnology education in tribal schools and community colleges in the region.” “NNCI helps scientists and engineers in diverse fields solve challenging convergent research problems” said Dawn Tilbury, NSF assistant director for Engineering. “Research and education through NNCI will continue to yield nanotechnology innovations – from interconnects for quantum systems to high-resolution imaging to brain-implanted sensors – that bring economic and societal benefits to us all.” [caption id="attachment_19784" align="alignleft" width="264"] Washington Nanofabrication Facility[/caption] Headquartered at the UW, the NNI was established with NSF funding in 2015 to strengthen connections between centers of nanotechnology research in the region, and to expand the breadth of equipment and expertise available to scientists with diverse research interests and needs. Over the past five years under NNCI, NNI facilities have seen significant growth, with a 20% increase in users and a near doubling of the hours of equipment use. In recent years, the UW has also made significant investments in nanotechnology infrastructure, including building new spaces dedicated to nanoscience research and equipment, as well as a $37 million renovation and expansion of the Washington Nanofabrication Facility (WNF). At the UW, NNCI funds support the WNF and the Molecular Analysis Facility (MAF). The WNF is the largest publicly-accessible fabrication facility in the region, providing researchers from academia and industry with access to conventional semiconductor tools and leading-edge fabrication capabilities to make nanoscale structures and devices. [caption id="attachment_19785" align="alignright" width="393"] Molecular Analysis Facility[/caption] Housed in a custom-designed space with minimal vibration and electromagnetic interference, the MAF offers a range of microscopy, spectroscopy and surface science tools for the characterization and development of novel materials and devices, including those made at the WNF. Both facilities employ a team of full-time staff scientists to help users design, perform, or troubleshoot experiments. In addition to serving as critical resources for scientists and engineers in academia and industry, NNCI sites, including NNI, offer education and training opportunities for K-12 students and adults. “We aim to support the development of future engineers and innovators through mentored research training opportunities, course offerings that leverage NNI facilities for hands-on instruction, classroom visits, and participation in larger community events,” said NNI education lead and UW associate dean of academic affairs Daniel Ratner. “Ultimately, our goal is to expand access to nanotechnology so that it can become a more diverse and inclusive discipline.” In addition to Böhringer, co-principal investigators on NNI include MAF director and bioengineering associate research professor Lara Gamble, chemistry professor David Ginger, UW ECE professor Mo Li, and bioengineering professor Daniel Ratner.
For more information, contact NNI site director Karl Böhringer at karlb@uw.edu. To learn more about the WNF or MAF, contact Maria Huffman at wnfinfo@uw.edu or Lara Gamble at uwmaf@uw.edu. [post_title] => UW nanotechnology infrastructure gets a boost from National Science Foundation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => nanotech_nsf [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-08-25 16:32:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-08-25 23:32:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19781 [menu_order] => 5 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19723 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2020-08-12 15:24:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-08-12 22:24:00 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_19724" align="alignright" width="550"]Maryam Fazel writing equations on a glass wall UW ECE Professor and Associate Chair for Research Maryam Fazel was recently named the inaugural recipient of the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship. Fazel’s research interests are in mathematical optimization, machine learning, data science and control theory. In addition to co-directing the Algorithmic Foundations of Data Science Institute, she holds adjunct appointments in the mathematics and statistics departments at the UW, as well as the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Photo by Patrick Bennett.[/caption] Maryam Fazel has built a solid reputation throughout her career for dissolving barriers between electrical engineering, computer science, statistics and math. She is known for the high caliber of her research work and for finding innovative ways to apply mathematical methods from one field to solve problems in another. “So often, you find people in different areas of engineering and the sciences who are working on the same foundational mathematical problems but using different terminology and techniques,” Fazel said. “Making connections through shared mathematical formulations and building bridges between disparate areas has been a strong theme in my research.” As a professor and Associate Chair for Research in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE), Fazel has earned the respect and admiration of her peers. Her current research focuses on addressing pressing computational and statistical challenges in data science algorithms. “Professor Fazel is one of the world’s experts on the theory of mathematical optimization and its applications to machine learning, signal processing and control systems,” said UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “She is a dedicated teacher, advisor, mentor and leader. In her role as the Associate Chair for Research in our department, her guidance and collegiality is indispensable.” In recognition of her outstanding, innovative work as a researcher and educator, Fazel was recently named the inaugural recipient of the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship. This generous endowment was established in 2019 by Ganesh and Hema Moorthy for the purposes of recruiting, rewarding and retaining UW ECE faculty members who have demonstrated a significant amount of promise early on in their careers. “I am grateful to the Moorthy family for their vision and generosity in establishing this professorship. I feel truly honored to be chosen as the first recipient,” Fazel said. “I am especially excited that my group’s current research focus on foundations of data science and machine learning will directly benefit from this support.” For the past several years, Fazel has focused on producing algorithms capable of reaching accurate conclusions despite limited or corrupted data. For example, her work on the problem of estimating low-rank matrices or “matrix completion” connected an approach from the field of signal processing to solving mathematical problems in recommender systems and dynamical system identification. These research findings significantly impacted the fields of machine learning and control systems, and the paper has been cited by other scholarly publications over 3,000 times. In another project, Fazel’s team observed that recent technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence were enabled by machine-learning methods that were commonly used but not well understood. Her team has been filling this knowledge gap by combining the viewpoints of machine learning and control theory (examining the behavior of dynamical systems) to better understand these methods and be able to improve them in a principled manner. Through this new understanding, they are finding ways to make machine-learning methods more robust and resilient in uncertain, ever-changing environments. In addition to her UW ECE roles, Fazel is co-director of the Algorithmic Foundations of Data Science Institute (ADSI), which is supported by the National Science Foundation. ADSI focuses on developing theoretical and algorithmic tools that bridge mathematics, computer science and statistics for addressing contemporary data science challenges. Fazel also has plans for using the professorship award to assist the UW ECE department, including improving remote-work setups, hosting visiting research collaborators, helping to sponsor special lectures and tutorials, and filling-in funding gaps for graduate students engaged in research. “As the UW ECE Associate Chair for Research, I appreciate that this gift will impact the scholarship and innovation of its faculty recipient for many years to come. It’s a gift to the future of our whole department,” Fazel said. [caption id="attachment_19726" align="alignleft" width="500"]The Moorthy family in front of the Taj Mahal, India Ganesh and Hema Moorthy in India, December 2018, with their twin sons Mohan and Ashwin, daughter Anjali and son-in-law Jonathan[/caption] Like Fazel, the Moorthy family is focused on the future and preparing the next generation of engineers. The family has always placed a high value on education and believes in what it can do for an individual and society. Ganesh Moorthy earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the UW in 1981. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Bombay in India and an MBA in marketing from the National University in Sacramento. He has served on the UW ECE advisory board and was guest speaker at the 2019 UW ECE graduation ceremony. Moorthy currently serves as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Microchip Technology, one of the world’s leading providers of semiconductor solutions that enable smart, connected and secure devices. His wife, Hema, was also trained as an electrical engineer, worked at Hewlett-Packard for a number of years and started a Kumon math and reading center in 2010. She holds an MBA from California State University in Sacramento. “Hema and I are very happy to learn that Maryam Fazel will be the inaugural recipient of the professorship,” Moorthy said. “Her fields of interest in data science and machine learning are exciting areas of contemporary innovation, and we are very pleased that our endowment may support further advances in her areas of focus.” The Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship recognizes the encouragement and support that Ganesh and Hema Moorthy found in their parents, their family members and many others, as well as the same inspiration they continually strive to offer their own children. This multi-generational professorship in perpetuity reflects the spirit of their generous endowment. “As UW ECE Chair, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Moorthy family for supporting this professorship,” Klavins said. “This funding and the flexibility that comes with it will allow Professor Fazel to amplify her efforts in many ways, increasing the impact of her research and the stature of our department. I am overjoyed that her excellence is being recognized by this award.” To learn more about the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship, see UW ECE’s newsletter, The Integrator (2019 issue, pages 42–45). A professorship investiture event for Professor Fazel is tentatively scheduled for Fall 2021. 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https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/quantum-future/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/kapetanovic-mrdg/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/everiskin-paesmem/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/ifdslaunch/
UW launches Institute for Foundations of Data Science

UW launches Institute for Foundations of Data Science

UW ECE professor and Associate Chair for Research Maryam Fazel is leading a new, interdisciplinary research institute that brings together mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists and engineers to develop the theoretical foundations of data science.

https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/nanotech_nsf/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/2020moorthyprofessorship/
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(photo: Katherine Turner)[/caption] The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $3 million to establish a NSF Research Traineeship at the University of Washington for graduate students in quantum information science and technology, or QIST. Research in QIST includes the development of quantum computers, which hold the promise of performing computations far faster than today’s computers, as well as of fundamentally secure communication systems and simulations of new materials with novel and potentially revolutionary properties. All QIST pursuits exploit the complex, probability-based principles of quantum mechanics, which underlie the behavior and properties of matter. QIST ventures bring together scientists with diverse areas of expertise — including physics, chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering and materials science. And while diversity is a strength of this dynamic field, it is also a reason to develop a formal training program for budding QIST researchers. [caption id="attachment_19925" align="alignleft" width="243"] UW ECE associate professor Kai-Mei Fu, University of Washington[/caption] “Some fields, like physics, have been dealing with quantum mechanics for a long time; for others, it’s a relatively new concept to bring into lecture halls and research laboratories,” said Kai-Mei Fu, the principal investigator and director of the new traineeship, a UW associate professor of physics and of electrical and computer engineering, and a researcher with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We are creating this core educational and training framework so graduate students in these diverse fields can gain the knowledge and skills they need for futures in QIST, while also remaining grounded in their respective fields.” The new traineeship — known as Accelerating Quantum-Enabled Technologies, or AQET — will make the UW one of just “a handful” of universities with a formal, interdisciplinary QIST curriculum, added Fu, who also co-chairs the UW QuantumX steering committee for QIST research on campus and is a faculty member with the UW Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute, the Clean Energy Institute and the Institute for Nano-engineered Systems. Initial NSF funds will support the traineeship through one year of development and student recruitment, as well as its first four years of operation. Main features of the AQET traineeship will be:
  • Student cohorts recruited each year among doctoral programs in the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Physics, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering
  • Fellowships for some AQET trainees from the NSF or other sources during the program’s approximately 18-month duration
  • Developing and launching a set of foundational QIST courses for AQET students, which will also be open to other UW graduate and undergraduate students
  • A six- to nine-month capstone project
  • Outreach efforts to recruit female students
The core courses include several already taught at the UW, such as in physics, as well as new ones to introduce additional QIST topics to students from diverse disciplines. “QIST involves many different contributions from science and engineering departments on university campuses, and we’ve all come together speaking different ‘languages’ from our home disciplines,” said Fu. “So we want this foundational coursework to ground students in a common framework for approaching and talking about QIST concepts and principles.” One course, for example, is a project-based introduction to quantum computing. Using IBM and Microsoft cloud quantum computing platforms, students will explore what is currently possible in information storage and retrieval in quantum computing and apply that knowledge to their own background in science and engineering. “Someone with a computer science background can see and understand the current limitations in nascent quantum computing, while a student in materials science can see and understand how important material properties are to the performance of these devices,” said Fu. The AQET capstone project will allow students to pursue their own research interests in QIST after the foundational coursework. It can be conducted at the UW or at a collaborating research institution, university or company. Some potential collaborators already partner with the UW in QIST endeavors, such as the Northwest Quantum Nexus founded by the UW, Microsoft and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We are open to lots of options for these partnerships, because ultimately our goal is to be flexible in response to student interests,” said Fu. “The AQET traineeship will complement the students’ education and research in their respective doctoral programs, and ultimately prepare them for jobs in industries that increasingly demand QIST knowledge and experience.” Co-principal investigators on AQET are Brandi Cossairt, UW associate professor of chemistry; James Lee, UW professor of computer science and engineering; Arka Majumdar, UW assistant professor of physics and of electrical and computer engineering; and Nathan Wiebe, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a UW affiliate assistant professor of physics. Cossairt and Majumdar are also faculty researchers with the Clean Energy Institute, and Majumdar is a faculty researcher with the Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute and the Institute for Nano-engineered Systems. For more information, contact Fu at kaimeifu@uw.edu.
Story by  / UW News [post_title] => UW ECE associate professor Kai-Mei Fu will direct a new NSF Research Traineeship focused on an interdisciplinary quantum future [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => quantum-future [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-04 15:24:58 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-04 22:24:58 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19923 [menu_order] => 1 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19907 [post_author] => 26 [post_date] => 2020-09-09 10:51:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-09-09 17:51:26 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_19900" align="alignright" width="207"]Zerina Kapetanovic Zerina Kapetanovic[/caption] How do we produce 70% more food by the year 2050 to feed the world’s ever-growing population? Zerina Kapetanovic, a 5th-year graduate research assistant in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE), is determined to find solutions to this and other critical environmental dilemmas. Her thesis work on “Low-Power Communication for Environmental Sensing Systems” recently earned Kapetanovic a Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant (MRDG) to help support her ongoing doctoral research on this topic. Advised by Joshua Smith, the Milton and Delia Zeutschel Professor in Entrepreneurial Excellence at UW ECE and a professor at the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, Kapetanovic has been instrumental in the development of cutting-edge wireless and backscatter techniques, battery-free sensing modules, and end-to-end connected Internet of Things (IoT) hubs for such forms of low-power communication. Working together, these technologies and data-driven methods allow for far greater precision and more sustainable solutions to agricultural and environmental issues than previously available. As farmers around the world tackle the looming threat of food shortages resulting from expanding global populations, reduction in arable land and numerous other problems related to climate change, these types of solutions are more imperative and meaningful than ever. “I am deeply passionate about using technology to solve environmental issues, and my goal is to develop new techniques and solutions that make the Internet of Things (IoT) more practical for resource-constrained environments,” explains Kapetanovic. “In particular, my focus is on low-power communication and sensing.” [caption id="attachment_19898" align="alignleft" width="452"]MRDG Awardees The 2020-21 Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant recipients[/caption] Kapetanovic is also a member of Professor Smith’s Sensor Systems Lab, which centers on the development of similar technologies for sensing, robotics, wireless power and medical devices. “Zerina is an incredibly productive graduate student,” says Smith. “In addition to her strong research program at the UW, she has also been a key member of another major research program at Microsoft. I'm not sure how she does so much!” Now in its fourth year, the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant awards up to $25,000 for the 202021 academic year to support Ph.D. students who are underrepresented in the field of computing and are currently completing their doctoral thesis work at North American universities. The grant hopes to provide research funding opportunities to students who self-identify as a woman, African American, Black, Hispanic, Latinx, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and/or person with a disability, increasing the pathway of diverse and talented individuals pursuing advanced degrees in computing-related fields. Awardees are also invited to partake in the Microsoft PhD Summit, a two-day workshop that will be hosted virtually this autumn by Microsoft Research. Fellows have the opportunity to meet with both Microsoft researchers and other top students to share their research. “I am very honored and thrilled to receive the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant,” says Kapetanovic. “It will help me tremendously with completing my research at the University of Washington, giving me an uninterrupted block of time to extend my core research, write my dissertation and help cover the cost of hardware development for my research. I am especially grateful to my advisor, Josh Smith, and Ranveer Chandra, my mentor at Microsoft, both of whom have guided and supported me throughout my PhD career.” The grant is awarded through a highly competitive process. Of the 230 applications submitted this year, the highest number yet for the program, only 10 students were selected to receive the award.

Just beat it

No stranger to Microsoft and its research programs, Kapetanovic has worked on Microsoft’s FarmBeats team as a research intern on three separate occasions–since its early inception in 2015, and again in 2016 and 2019. Providing farmers with long-term, automated and sustainable methods of agriculture through ultra-low-power, networked communications devices at a large scale has been Kapetanovic’s primary area of focus. By integrating her expertise with several new technologies developed at FarmBeats, Kapetanovic helped create and deploy various sensor and communications systems that enable farmers to accurately monitor soil moisture, temperature, humidity levels, address fertilizer and pesticide overuse and, ultimately, increase their crop yields at reduced costs. [caption id="attachment_19899" align="alignleft" width="594"]Zerina At FarmBeats Zerina Kapetanovic checks the FarmBeats ground sensors at Dancing Crow Farm in Carnation, WA. The sensor box features 8 different sensors that collect real-time data on variables that might affect the growth of crops, including wind speed and direction, soil and atmospheric moisture and temperature, barometric pressure, CO2 levels, and rain and light exposure. (Photo by Michael Victor)[/caption] “While my thesis focuses on enabling low-power communication for environmental sensing systems,” says Kapetanovic, “it especially deals with two major challenges: resources constraints and scale. For example, devices deployed in remote locations often lack power and internet connectivity. This becomes even more challenging when considering the sizes of forests, farms and oceans, which all require large-scale sensing systems.” So far, the farmers who have partnered with FarmBeats in their 6-month pilot programs have reaped huge benefits from the system’s added precision and insights, reducing their use of crop spraying by up to 90%, while saving tens of thousands of dollars in the process. 3 key innovations: connectivity, low power and scale The FarmBeats system uses a multi-pronged approach to collect and analyze data from several sources. Since farms and forests can often span thousands of acres, setting up a network of commercially available in-ground sensors to provide sufficiently comprehensive data-gathering coverage at a large scale is prohibitively expensive for many farms. In response to this dilemma, Farmbeats uses a far more spread-out network of different sensors (hundreds, rather than tens, of meters of space between them), as well as a small fleet of flying drones with downward-facing smartphones attached in order to survey the farmland below. Combined with the in-ground sensor data, the optical and infrared (IR) image data captured by the smartphone cameras is later compiled and analyzed to create precision maps of soil moisture, temperature, pH and humidity levels. “Micro-climate” predictions of wind direction, wind speed, ambient temperature and humidity are also provided. These resulting data-driven agricultural predictions give farmers more accurate insights than ever before into what, when and where to plant or spray, leading to far greater sustainability overall. [caption id="attachment_19994" align="alignright" width="579"]FarmBeats Maps FarmBeats Precision Maps: (a) A 40MPixel orthomosaic created from a 3-min. flight over 2-acre area of farmland. The system infers dense sensor measurements from very few sensors deployed on the farm (white circles). (b) The predicted soil moisture map (on a scale of 1-5). The top left region in the image was correctly predicted to have high moisture despite no moisture sensors present on that section of farmland. (c) The predicted pH map. The system identified the entire field as slightly acidic, but the bottom left/center as more acidic than the rest. (d) The predicted soil temperature map (in Fahrenheit).[/caption] Because many farms are too rural to directly access either the Internet or a reliable power source, the data that’s collected is often too limited to be of any use or is unable to reach the farmer’s local computer entirely. To address this constraint, the FarmBeats system relies on an ingeniously clever, yet relatively simple, solution to relay this information to farmers — harnessing the availability of unused television broadcast signals that are being continuously transmitted through the air. A solar-powered TV White Spaces (TVWS) base station takes advantage of the under-leveraged frequencies between television signals in the lower part of the MHz spectrum. What would typically be seen on older, analog TVs simply as static “fuzz” is repurposed by the TVWS base station to send information at broadband speeds using off-the-shelf Wi-Fi routers and antennae, thereby connecting and extending internet connectivity to rural areas. Kapetanovic played a central role in developing a sensor module prototype to interface with the network of sensors and cameras, whose batteries are also solar-powered, as well as a smart IoT hub that connects this information with other drone data. Power from the hub ensures that the entire system operates uninterrupted, even during harsh weather conditions. Since lower frequency waves are able to travel much farther than higher ones, farms that are spread out over long distances, covered by dense forests, or are in different locations from the farmers’ homes, are able to be economically and effectively connected to both internet and power sources using these technologies. Once the farm’s data has been collected and received by the IoT hub, the TVWS base station transmits it to the farmer’s local computer, which is used to compress the information before uploading it to Microsoft’s cloud-based platform. Shrinking the data from gigabytes (Gb) down to mere kilobytes (kb) before it’s uploaded makes the entire process of consolidating, analyzing and storing the information faster and much more efficient overall. In the cloud, all of the necessary data aggregation, visualization and analytics is done through Microsoft’s machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) and vision algorithms. The subsequent maps and recommendations on how and when to best optimize resources to increase production are then made available to the farmers to download onto their smartphone devices from the cloud when needed. [caption id="attachment_19990" align="alignright" width="493"]FarmBeats process diagram The FarmBeats system uses sensor, drone, TV Whites Space, Edge and cloud solutions to provide insights to farmers and enable data-driven agricultural techniques.[/caption] Farms that are unable to afford the high initial costs of flying drones to monitor their farmland, such as those in developing countries for instance, can still utilize an alternative solution developed by the FarmBeats team. With this method, the smartphone is attached to the bottom of a large helium-filled balloon rather than a remote-controlled drone. An operator then manually walks the balloon along the farmland while the smartphone’s camera surveys the ground beneath it to collect the necessary data and imagery. Although she does not have a background in the field of agriculture per se, Kapetanovic says she became interested in her assigned role at FarmBeats after quickly recognizing that her combined technical expertise and environmental interests aligned perfectly with FarmBeats’ mission and needs. Kapetanovic’s motivation and commitment to this groundbreaking (quite literally at times) research is readily apparent. In her dissertation, she explains, “Over the last decade the Internet of Things (IoT) has been changing the world, from enabling connected electronics, to smart homes and smart agriculture. I’m extremely excited about the role that IoT plays when it comes to environmental monitoring, which is now increasingly relevant in the times of the climate change crisis and the need to achieve biodiversity conservation.” [caption id="attachment_19906" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]The FarmBeats system caught the attention of renowned environmentalist, global public health philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Gates wrote an article on his personal blog describing his impressions of the FarmBeats project. Here, he is seen (center) next to Zerina (bottom left) looking up at the smartphone camera tethered to a FarmBeats balloon. Pictured at right, a FarmBeats balloon being tested in the field. The FarmBeats system caught the attention of renowned environmentalist, global public health philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Gates wrote an article on his personal blog describing his impressions of the FarmBeats project. He is seen here (center) standing next to Zerina (bottom left) while looking up at the smartphone camera tethered to a FarmBeats balloon. Shown at right, a FarmBeats balloon being tested at one of the partnering farms.[/caption] One challenge Kapetanovic and others are working on overcoming with these systems is when they are deployed amidst dense forest canopies or on overcast days. Under such conditions, reduced amounts of sunlight could potentially cause the solar-powered IoT hub and its connected routers, sensors and antennae to lose power. To help mitigate this issue and ensure connectivity is maintained throughout a farming season, the entire FarmBeats system has been designed to be weather-aware, with an on/off switch dictated by daily cloud coverage to better conserve power when necessary. The FarmBeats system has recently been developed into a commercially available service, Azure FarmBeats (part of Azure Marketplace). Microsoft’s Airband team has been busy deploying it on farms in several states around the USA. Additionally, with millions of Americans still lacking access to commercially available high-speed internet service (including nearly one-quarter of people living in rural areas), FarmBeats’ TVWS communication technology is also being used to connect those communities, businesses and individual consumers who live and work in remote areas of the country. The Airband team also currently has deployments on farms in India and various countries in Europe and Africa, with upcoming plans to expand their efforts into China. The techniques Kapetanovic has helped develop are already being applied to other, non-agricultural, environmental scenarios where collecting camera and sensor data is tremendously useful, such as monitoring air pollution in urban areas, monitoring animals’ migratory patterns, and alerting authorities to illegal animal poaching or deforestation.
“My past and ongoing research focuses on addressing these challenges by developing systems like FarmBeats to enable data-driven agriculture, enabling low-power communication using backscatter techniques, and using machine learning to improve the performance of mainstream IoT solutions,” says Kapetanovic.
[caption id="attachment_19901" align="aligncenter" width="859"]FarmBeats Deployment. A TV whitespace base station and FarmBeats sensor box deployed on Nelson Farm in Spokane, WA. A TV whitespace base station and FarmBeats sensor box deployed on Nelson Farm in Spokane, WA.[/caption]

Glazed over

The “data hiding” techniques behind Kapetanovic and her team’s latest low-power IoT communication research project, Glaze, sound like something straight out of a John le Carré spy novel. The technologies behind them, however, are very much grounded in reality. [caption id="attachment_19893" align="alignright" width="532"]Glaze modules The Glaze module and receiver prototype hardware: (left) the Glaze Transmitter module prototype using off-the-shelf components; (right) the Glaze Receiver prototype's printed circuit board.[/caption] Combining a transmitter module and receiver/decoder module, the Glaze system introduces tiny perturbations to existing TV, FM radio frequency (RF) or data signals (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth), allowing it to effectively overlay additional data on top of these transmissions (“glazing them over” with new information, so to speak) without distorting or degrading them in any noticeable way. Whereas the TVWS method utilizes unused television frequencies, Glaze is able to take advantage of the already-occupied range of signals being transmitted. This technique, when coupled with other backscatter solutions, can effectively create an end-to-end system of low-power communication. Glaze can encode data not only by introducing small amounts of attenuation to a pre-existing TV or RF signal, but also by detecting the presence or absence of Wi-Fi data packets being sent over a network. Because the consumer communications devices being used have inherent built-in tolerances to certain levels of noise, Glaze’s tiny alterations to the signals do not produce any perceptible change to the integrity of the originally intended signal (a song or podcast, for example) when it is received by a device like an FM radio. Glaze’s receiver, however, is sensitive enough to accurately decode and interpret the packets of data transmitted by the Glaze module. Similar data hiding techniques have been demonstrated previously by other researchers using the visible spectrum of television broadcast signals. With this method, individual pixels of a TV image are brightened or dimmed at levels imperceptible to the human eye. These minuscule deviations from the original source image can still be detected and interpreted as extra, useful information by an appropriate receiver/decoder, however. Such glazing techniques can easily take advantage of these existing broadcast signals since they are constantly being transmitted all around us. With the ability to travel tens of miles, Glaze’s use of these types of low frequencies has many potential real-world applications. As mentioned, lower frequencies tend to travel farther than higher ones, while also penetrating obstacles like walls much more easily, as anyone who’s ever experienced the low, chest-thumping bass frequencies invading their living rooms during a loud car stereo drive-by is well aware. In urban settings, therefore, this system could one day be used to interact with and provide updates to existing IoT smart devices in people’s homes or offices, as one example. [caption id="attachment_19894" align="alignleft" width="441"] Glaze System. The Glaze module connects to the antenna port of a preexisting wireless transmitter to overlay data. The transmitted signal is then received by a Glaze receiver and legacy receivers.[/caption] The Glaze system provides several useful advantages over other existing or proposed backscatter or data hiding solutions in terms of cost, maintenance and scale. Glaze does not require any sort of modification to the existing transmission hardware or wireless access points (AP). Instead, it simply adds its supplementary transmitter module to existing antennae ports and employs a Glaze receiver on the other end that can decode a transmission. Not needing to upgrade existing infrastructure makes Glaze an incredibly low-cost and versatile solution to implement, especially over large-scale scenarios like sprawling metropolitan cities or large swaths of farmland or forests. Additionally, Glaze employs an ultra-low power design. In other systems, the overhead costs associated with single-use battery replacement and routine maintenance can present major obstacles to sustainability. The Glaze system, however, utilizes a low-power receiver with various passive components. Such a design has the potential to work as an entirely battery-free energy model, harvesting the energy it needs to run from ambient light or RF signals alone. And crucially, Glaze provides a downlink communication solution to complement existing backscatter solutions, which nearly always lack a low-power downlink capability. This functionality allows for a complete end-to-end low-power IoT communications setup for both receiving and sending information, making for a much more sustainable and economical peer-to-peer data gathering and feedback device solution. Most recently, Kapetanovic has been using machine learning in an attempt to further improve the communication efficiency of low power wide area networks (LPWAN), such as the popular LoRa LPWAN solution.
[caption id="attachment_19999" align="alignright" width="671"]Horn Antennae experiment set up The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has limited the regular access to research labs for UW ECE students over the past several months. Undeterred, Zerina continues to pursue her research projects at her home lab setup. Pictured above, she has been conducting wireless experiments using two horn antennae. (photo by Zerina Kapetanovic)[/caption] While being awarded a Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant is Kapetanovic’s most recent recognition of her many accomplishments, she was also among four female UW ECE students selected to speak at the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing Conference in 2019. This gave Kapetanovic an opportunity to present her FarmBeats research on low-power communication to a much broader audience, while also expanding her professional network. “It was a really great experience,” says Kapetanovic. “I was able to network with so many women in tech and learn about their work. It was also inspiring to see such a huge group of women all in one place pursuing careers in STEM fields.” In addition to being featured on Bill Gates’ GatesNotes, FarmBeats has also been featured on the BBC, in The Economist, and was highlighted by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as one of the ten projects that most inspired him in 2017. We congratulate Kapetanovic and look forward to seeing what she does next in her ongoing research efforts to help solve the myriad environmental and communication challenges facing people around the world. Visit Kapetanovic’s personal website for more information on her research projects and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Learn more about the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant and this year’s awardees, along with each of their respective academic institutions and dissertations. Story by Ryan Hoover  |  UW ECE News [post_title] => UW ECE PhD candidate Zerina Kapetanovic breaks new ground, wins Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => kapetanovic-mrdg [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-09 10:56:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-09 17:56:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19907 [menu_order] => 2 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19859 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2020-09-02 16:07:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-09-02 23:07:59 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_19872" align="alignright" width="600"]Eve Riskin headshot UW ECE professor Eve Riskin has been the associate dean of diversity and access in the UW College of Engineering for the past six years. She recently received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), which represents the highest national honor bestowed by the U.S. government upon mentors who work to expand STEM talent[/caption] There are few people who have made the kind of impact Eve Riskin has mentoring underrepresented students and faculty while increasing diversity and access in higher education. Now, those efforts are being noticed by the highest level of the U.S. government. Riskin is a professor in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE) and has been the associate dean of diversity and access in the UW College of Engineering for the past six years. She was recently recognized with one of the nation’s highest honors for her many achievements. In August this year, the White House announced Riskin as a recipient of a 2019 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). A virtual ceremony was held August 3. After restrictions due to the novel coronavirus are lifted, she, along with 14 other awardees from across the nation, will receive a certificate signed by the President, travel to Washington D.C. for an in-person ceremony and join a network of over 300 PAESMEM alumni. The award represents the highest national honor bestowed by the U.S. government upon mentors who work to expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent. “Eve has worked tirelessly for decades to improve diversity, equity and inclusion for our students, staff and faculty, both in UW ECE and the College of Engineering,” said UW ECE professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “I personally count her as a mentor, adviser and friend who challenges me to think beyond my own experiences and pushes me to make positive changes in my leadership style. She is an absolutely invaluable resource for our university, and we should all be incredibly proud that she has been distinguished with this award.” Besides being a high honor, this is an award that has deep meaning for Riskin. “The Presidential Award is the honor of a lifetime. It sends the message that our nation’s underrepresented and underserved people deserve our support to access myriad wonderful opportunities in STEM,” Riskin said. “For too long, engineering has lacked diversity in so many dimensions. Finally, as a woman in electrical engineering, the Presidential Award sends me the message that the past 40 years I spent working against so many obstacles have made a difference.”

Challenges and the importance of mentorship

Riskin has faced many challenges in her efforts to improve diversity and access at the university. Institutional racism and sexism are two among many existing and entrenched “isms” she has actively worked to counter. These continue to stand as significant obstacles to achieving equitable education, especially in fields associated with STEM. “Academia is very much designed for privileged white males, especially engineering,” Riskin said. “Black Americans, Latinx Americans, Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ community, women and people from low-income backgrounds are all poorly represented. Also, the belief that STEM is a meritocracy, looking at grades as the be-all and end-all without recognizing that grades are achieved in the context of people’s lives, is really toxic.” According to Riskin, addressing these challenges is a time-consuming, but necessary process to achieve an educational environment that welcomes and includes all. She asserts that real progress can be made through mentorship, working with one student or faculty member at a time, and she is well regarded across the University for her work in this area. “Professor Eve Riskin has been a trailblazer for inclusion, diversity, equality and access since well before these terms became part of the STEM fabric,” said UW ECE professor and former Chair Radha Poovendran, who nominated Riskin for the award. “The impact of her work will be amplified as our communities continue to benefit from her efforts for many decades to come.” Riskin has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining many national diversity-related initiatives and programs at the university such as On-Ramps into Academia and LEAD / LEAD-it-Yourself!, a program to provide professional development to STEM department chairs, enabling them to create a positive department culture for diverse faculty. However, there are two programs that stand out, and according to Riskin, are especially near and dear to her heart.

The STARS program

[caption id="attachment_19879" align="alignright" width="450"]Three women standing next to each other. Riskin (right) with STARS Executive Director Sonya Cunningham (left) and STARS participant and 2019 UW ECE grad Trinh Ha at the STARS Cohort II celebration.[/caption] In 2013, with support from the University of Colorado Boulder Engineering GoldShirt program, Riskin helped launch the Washington STate Academic RedShirt program (STARS) at the UW. This program draws its inspiration from the concept of a “redshirt” year in college athletics, giving students an extra year of preparation to succeed. The program supports engineering and computer science students from low-income, first-generation and underserved backgrounds in navigating the transition to college-level courses, and it is welcoming its eighth student cohort this fall. Riskin currently serves as STARS’ faculty director. “Mentoring is very important at the undergraduate level because students come to the university with varying degrees of preparation,” Riskin said. “If you didn’t provide access for these really smart and talented students from less privileged backgrounds, they’re probably not going to succeed in your system. STARS is another form of institutional transformation.” Over the first seven STARS cohorts, nearly 50% are underrepresented minority students, 40% are women, 70% are first-generation college students and 84% hold Pell Grants. To date, student retention or graduation in engineering or computer science has been at nearly 80%. Nationally, engineering retention numbers hover around 50%, so STARS’ retention rate is truly outstanding. Several STARS participants have also gone on to succeed in graduate-level education and at respected technology companies such as Dropbox and Boeing.

The UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change

[caption id="attachment_19881" align="alignright" width="450"]Three women smiling at a buffet table. Professor Eve Riskin (center) at the 2019 ADVANCE Launching Academics on the Tenure-Track: An Intentional Community in Engineering (LATTICE) workshop. Riskin attended with Christine Grant (left) from North Carolina State University and Joyce Yen (right), director of the UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change.[/caption] In 2002, Riskin became faculty director of the UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change, which provides mentoring and leadership development programs for female faculty in science and engineering at the UW. “A big part of my work has been to mentor and support female faculty,” Riskin said. “The first grant we received for ADVANCE was called an institutional transformation award. We looked at what UW policies, procedures and practices were holding women back, and then we focused on changing the system.” When ADVANCE began at the UW in 2001, the percentage of female faculty in the UW College of Engineering was 14%. Now, thanks in large part to ADVANCE, it is well over 26%, a statistic that can be compared with the national average of 17.4%. Today, ADVANCE continues to thrive as a center aimed at supporting faculty working in STEM disciplines.

Using privilege to help others

The PAESMEM provides its recipients with access to a network of individuals and groups across the country working toward furthering diversity, access, equity and inclusion in higher education. Riskin stated that she hopes receiving the award and becoming part of this new community will help her bring more recognition to and support for diversity and access efforts across the University. She is also continuing to encourage her UW colleagues to use their positions of privilege and power to assist those who may be underrepresented or outside of the educational system. “People on the inside can help warm the system for people on the outside by pointing out some of the flaws of the system,” Riskin said. “That helps people recognize that their challenges are likely not their fault, it’s the system’s fault. That’s the role of a mentor.” Although the challenges ahead remain daunting, Riskin noted that treating others with empathy and consideration, a skill that can be learned and is often taught to children, is foundational to good mentorship. She is also heartened and motivated by what she believes is the intrinsic goodness of people. “I came from a family where my mom taught us that if you want to feel good, do something nice for somebody else. It was just part of how I was raised,” Riskin said. “Most people out there want to help people. Think about how popular the “pay it forward” concept is. There are people all the time making a difference, and I think that’s the majority of people.” Learn more about Eve Riskin’s work in diversity, access, equity and inclusion on the UW STARS and ADVANCE websites. [post_title] => Professor Eve Riskin receives Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => everiskin-paesmem [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-02 19:00:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-03 02:00:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19859 [menu_order] => 3 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19846 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2020-09-01 11:34:24 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-09-01 18:34:24 [post_content] => Story by Jackson Holtz | UW News [caption id="attachment_19851" align="alignright" width="600"]Female professor writing on whiteboard with students surrounding her The UW will host the Institute for Foundations of Data Science to develop the theoretical foundations of a fast-growing field: data science. UW ECE professor and Associate Chair for Research Maryam Fazel, shown here in a 2015 photo, will lead the institute. Photo credit: Patrick Bennett[/caption] The University of Washington (UW) will lead a team of institutions in establishing an interdisciplinary research institute that brings together mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists and engineers to develop the theoretical foundations of a fast-growing field: data science. The Institute for Foundations of Data Science (IFDS) is a collaboration between the UW and the Universities of Wisconsin-Madison, California Santa Cruz, and Chicago, with a mission to develop a principled approach to the analysis of ever-larger, more complex and potentially biased data sets that play an increasingly important role in industry, government and academia. Support for the IFDS comes from a $12.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation and its Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science, or TRIPODS, program. Today, the NSF named IFDS as one of two institutes nationwide receiving the first TRIPODS Phase II awards. TRIPODS is tied to the NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) program, which aims to accelerate discovery and innovation in data science algorithms, data cyberinfrastructure and education and workforce development. “With NSF’s $25 million investment, these interdisciplinary teams will be able to tackle some of the most important theoretical and technical questions in data science,” said NSF Division Director for the Division of Mathematical Sciences Juan Meza. IFDS research will lead to algorithmic decision-making processes that tackle incomplete or ambiguous datasets and are better able to respond and act in changing environments. The team will also study some of the ethical implications of data-driven algorithms. IFDS logo“As data science is increasingly incorporated in all facets of our lives, its success is uncovering pressing challenges that call for new theories,” said Maryam Fazel, a UW electrical and computer engineering professor and the lead principal investigator for the IFDS. “We need the expertise of all core disciplines to understand the mysteries and to address the pitfalls of data science and artificial intelligence algorithms.” "The success of the UW team in establishing the IFDS stems from having fantastic faculty from four departments, representing both arts and sciences and engineering, working collaboratively on the most important foundational questions of data science,” said Nancy Allbritton, dean of the College of Engineering. Dan Pollack, dean for the Nature Sciences, added, “We are confident that this multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary effort will shape the future of the field." The UW team of investigators has been laying the groundwork for IFDS during the past three years. UW’s Phase I TRIPODS Institute was established in 2017 with a $1.5 million award from the NSF. Since then, the team has collaborated across disciplinary boundaries to address reliability and scalability of data science algorithms, and has also forged new partnerships. “The strategic partnership between Washington and Wisconsin was crucial to the success of IFDS in the Phase II competition, and we are excited to build on this relationship over the next five years, ” said Stephen Wright, a professor of computer science who headed the TRIPODS Phase I effort at the University of Wisconsin. In 2018, the UW team received three additional awards from the NSF’s new TRIPODS+X program, through which members of the team partnered with other researchers to address data science challenges in fields such as robotics and epidemiology. “IFDS is an exciting culmination of these Phase I efforts,” said Fazel, who is also the Moorthy Family Professor in the electrical and computer engineering department. “It opens the door to further collaborations across our partner institutions and with practitioners in academia and industry, and helps place the UW and Seattle prominently in the national data science research effort.” IFDS research addresses new fundamental problems that echo classical results in mathematical optimization, robust statistics, statistical inference and decision theory. [caption id="attachment_19857" align="alignright" width="500"]Headshots of IFDS leaders The UW IFDS team, clockwise from top left: Maryam Fazel, Zaid Harchaoui, Kevin Jamieson, Dmitriy Drusvyatskiy, Abel Rodriguez and Yin Tat Lee[/caption] “The team adopts a neoclassical viewpoint in order to define notions of optimality, robustness and calibration, that is relevant for modern day data science. These new notions will shape the research in order to develop new theories, methods and algorithms to be used by scientists and engineers,” said co-principal investigator Zaid Harchaoui, an associate professor of statistics. The five-year funding plan for the IFDS Phase II includes support for new research projects, workshops, a partnership across the four research sites and students and postdoctoral scholars co-advised by faculty from different fields. Plans for education and outreach will draw on previous experience of IFDS members and leverage institutional resources at all four sites. “A central goal of IFDS is to develop algorithms with best-in-class performance for data scientific tasks. Recent breakthroughs in this area (in part by UW investigators) have benefitted from combining techniques across computer science, mathematics and statistics. An interdisciplinary approach to data science will be a key ingredient of the future work at IFDS.” said co-principal investigator Dmitriy Drusvyatskiy, an associate professor of mathematics. IFDS will cultivate existing ties with the UW eScience Institute, as well as work with the newly-announced NSF AI Institute, in which UW also participates. In addition to Fazel, Harchaoui and Drusvyatskiy, the UW IFDS team includes Kevin Jamieson and Yin Tat Lee, assistant professors in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. The original UW team was recently joined by Abel Rodriguez, professor and chair of the statistics department, who comes to the UW from University of California, Santa Cruz and serves as the diversity liaison for the Institute. For more information, contact Maryam Fazel. [post_title] => UW launches Institute for Foundations of Data Science [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ifdslaunch [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-01 11:34:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-01 18:34:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19846 [menu_order] => 4 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19781 [post_author] => 25 [post_date] => 2020-08-25 16:32:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-08-25 23:32:25 [post_content] => The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the University of Washington (UW) and Oregon State University (OSU) a five-year, $5 million grant to advance nanoscale science, engineering, and technology research in the Pacific Northwest. Known as the Northwest Nanotechnology Infrastructure (NNI), the UW and OSU partnership is one of 16 sites in the NSF’s National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) program. NNCI sites provide researchers from academia and industry access to leading-edge fabrication and characterization tools at university facilities. This award will support UW and OSU nanotechnology facilities, enabling innovations in materials and devices, including quantum photonic devices, perovskite solar cells, and flexible electronics for displays and biomedical sensors.  
[caption id="attachment_19783" align="alignright" width="160"] UW ECE professor and NNI site director Karl Böhringer[/caption]   “We are proud to be part of this national network as the Pacific Northwest’s nanotechnology hub,” said UW Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE) professor, NNI site director and UW Institute of Nano-engineered Systems director Karl Böhringer. “NSF’s continued support of our region’s nanotechnology infrastructure will enable us to lower barriers to access for biomedical users, offer additional training opportunities to facility staff, and expand nanotechnology education in tribal schools and community colleges in the region.” “NNCI helps scientists and engineers in diverse fields solve challenging convergent research problems” said Dawn Tilbury, NSF assistant director for Engineering. “Research and education through NNCI will continue to yield nanotechnology innovations – from interconnects for quantum systems to high-resolution imaging to brain-implanted sensors – that bring economic and societal benefits to us all.” [caption id="attachment_19784" align="alignleft" width="264"] Washington Nanofabrication Facility[/caption] Headquartered at the UW, the NNI was established with NSF funding in 2015 to strengthen connections between centers of nanotechnology research in the region, and to expand the breadth of equipment and expertise available to scientists with diverse research interests and needs. Over the past five years under NNCI, NNI facilities have seen significant growth, with a 20% increase in users and a near doubling of the hours of equipment use. In recent years, the UW has also made significant investments in nanotechnology infrastructure, including building new spaces dedicated to nanoscience research and equipment, as well as a $37 million renovation and expansion of the Washington Nanofabrication Facility (WNF). At the UW, NNCI funds support the WNF and the Molecular Analysis Facility (MAF). The WNF is the largest publicly-accessible fabrication facility in the region, providing researchers from academia and industry with access to conventional semiconductor tools and leading-edge fabrication capabilities to make nanoscale structures and devices. [caption id="attachment_19785" align="alignright" width="393"] Molecular Analysis Facility[/caption] Housed in a custom-designed space with minimal vibration and electromagnetic interference, the MAF offers a range of microscopy, spectroscopy and surface science tools for the characterization and development of novel materials and devices, including those made at the WNF. Both facilities employ a team of full-time staff scientists to help users design, perform, or troubleshoot experiments. In addition to serving as critical resources for scientists and engineers in academia and industry, NNCI sites, including NNI, offer education and training opportunities for K-12 students and adults. “We aim to support the development of future engineers and innovators through mentored research training opportunities, course offerings that leverage NNI facilities for hands-on instruction, classroom visits, and participation in larger community events,” said NNI education lead and UW associate dean of academic affairs Daniel Ratner. “Ultimately, our goal is to expand access to nanotechnology so that it can become a more diverse and inclusive discipline.” In addition to Böhringer, co-principal investigators on NNI include MAF director and bioengineering associate research professor Lara Gamble, chemistry professor David Ginger, UW ECE professor Mo Li, and bioengineering professor Daniel Ratner.
For more information, contact NNI site director Karl Böhringer at karlb@uw.edu. To learn more about the WNF or MAF, contact Maria Huffman at wnfinfo@uw.edu or Lara Gamble at uwmaf@uw.edu. [post_title] => UW nanotechnology infrastructure gets a boost from National Science Foundation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => nanotech_nsf [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-08-25 16:32:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-08-25 23:32:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19781 [menu_order] => 5 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19723 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2020-08-12 15:24:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-08-12 22:24:00 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_19724" align="alignright" width="550"]Maryam Fazel writing equations on a glass wall UW ECE Professor and Associate Chair for Research Maryam Fazel was recently named the inaugural recipient of the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship. Fazel’s research interests are in mathematical optimization, machine learning, data science and control theory. In addition to co-directing the Algorithmic Foundations of Data Science Institute, she holds adjunct appointments in the mathematics and statistics departments at the UW, as well as the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Photo by Patrick Bennett.[/caption] Maryam Fazel has built a solid reputation throughout her career for dissolving barriers between electrical engineering, computer science, statistics and math. She is known for the high caliber of her research work and for finding innovative ways to apply mathematical methods from one field to solve problems in another. “So often, you find people in different areas of engineering and the sciences who are working on the same foundational mathematical problems but using different terminology and techniques,” Fazel said. “Making connections through shared mathematical formulations and building bridges between disparate areas has been a strong theme in my research.” As a professor and Associate Chair for Research in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE), Fazel has earned the respect and admiration of her peers. Her current research focuses on addressing pressing computational and statistical challenges in data science algorithms. “Professor Fazel is one of the world’s experts on the theory of mathematical optimization and its applications to machine learning, signal processing and control systems,” said UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “She is a dedicated teacher, advisor, mentor and leader. In her role as the Associate Chair for Research in our department, her guidance and collegiality is indispensable.” In recognition of her outstanding, innovative work as a researcher and educator, Fazel was recently named the inaugural recipient of the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship. This generous endowment was established in 2019 by Ganesh and Hema Moorthy for the purposes of recruiting, rewarding and retaining UW ECE faculty members who have demonstrated a significant amount of promise early on in their careers. “I am grateful to the Moorthy family for their vision and generosity in establishing this professorship. I feel truly honored to be chosen as the first recipient,” Fazel said. “I am especially excited that my group’s current research focus on foundations of data science and machine learning will directly benefit from this support.” For the past several years, Fazel has focused on producing algorithms capable of reaching accurate conclusions despite limited or corrupted data. For example, her work on the problem of estimating low-rank matrices or “matrix completion” connected an approach from the field of signal processing to solving mathematical problems in recommender systems and dynamical system identification. These research findings significantly impacted the fields of machine learning and control systems, and the paper has been cited by other scholarly publications over 3,000 times. In another project, Fazel’s team observed that recent technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence were enabled by machine-learning methods that were commonly used but not well understood. Her team has been filling this knowledge gap by combining the viewpoints of machine learning and control theory (examining the behavior of dynamical systems) to better understand these methods and be able to improve them in a principled manner. Through this new understanding, they are finding ways to make machine-learning methods more robust and resilient in uncertain, ever-changing environments. In addition to her UW ECE roles, Fazel is co-director of the Algorithmic Foundations of Data Science Institute (ADSI), which is supported by the National Science Foundation. ADSI focuses on developing theoretical and algorithmic tools that bridge mathematics, computer science and statistics for addressing contemporary data science challenges. Fazel also has plans for using the professorship award to assist the UW ECE department, including improving remote-work setups, hosting visiting research collaborators, helping to sponsor special lectures and tutorials, and filling-in funding gaps for graduate students engaged in research. “As the UW ECE Associate Chair for Research, I appreciate that this gift will impact the scholarship and innovation of its faculty recipient for many years to come. It’s a gift to the future of our whole department,” Fazel said. [caption id="attachment_19726" align="alignleft" width="500"]The Moorthy family in front of the Taj Mahal, India Ganesh and Hema Moorthy in India, December 2018, with their twin sons Mohan and Ashwin, daughter Anjali and son-in-law Jonathan[/caption] Like Fazel, the Moorthy family is focused on the future and preparing the next generation of engineers. The family has always placed a high value on education and believes in what it can do for an individual and society. Ganesh Moorthy earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the UW in 1981. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Bombay in India and an MBA in marketing from the National University in Sacramento. He has served on the UW ECE advisory board and was guest speaker at the 2019 UW ECE graduation ceremony. Moorthy currently serves as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Microchip Technology, one of the world’s leading providers of semiconductor solutions that enable smart, connected and secure devices. His wife, Hema, was also trained as an electrical engineer, worked at Hewlett-Packard for a number of years and started a Kumon math and reading center in 2010. She holds an MBA from California State University in Sacramento. “Hema and I are very happy to learn that Maryam Fazel will be the inaugural recipient of the professorship,” Moorthy said. “Her fields of interest in data science and machine learning are exciting areas of contemporary innovation, and we are very pleased that our endowment may support further advances in her areas of focus.” The Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship recognizes the encouragement and support that Ganesh and Hema Moorthy found in their parents, their family members and many others, as well as the same inspiration they continually strive to offer their own children. This multi-generational professorship in perpetuity reflects the spirit of their generous endowment. “As UW ECE Chair, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Moorthy family for supporting this professorship,” Klavins said. “This funding and the flexibility that comes with it will allow Professor Fazel to amplify her efforts in many ways, increasing the impact of her research and the stature of our department. I am overjoyed that her excellence is being recognized by this award.” To learn more about the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship, see UW ECE’s newsletter, The Integrator (2019 issue, pages 42–45). A professorship investiture event for Professor Fazel is tentatively scheduled for Fall 2021. [post_title] => Professor Maryam Fazel becomes first recipient of the Moorthy Family Inspiration Career Development Professorship [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => 2020moorthyprofessorship [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-08-20 09:05:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-08-20 16:05:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=19723 [menu_order] => 6 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 6 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19923 [post_author] => 25 [post_date] => 2020-09-04 15:24:58 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-09-04 22:24:58 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_19924" align="alignright" width="582"] The Electrical & Computer Engineering Building on the University of Washington campus. (photo: Katherine Turner)[/caption] The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $3 million to establish a NSF Research Traineeship at the University of Washington for graduate students in quantum information science and technology, or QIST. Research in QIST includes the development of quantum computers, which hold the promise of performing computations far faster than today’s computers, as well as of fundamentally secure communication systems and simulations of new materials with novel and potentially revolutionary properties. All QIST pursuits exploit the complex, probability-based principles of quantum mechanics, which underlie the behavior and properties of matter. QIST ventures bring together scientists with diverse areas of expertise — including physics, chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering and materials science. And while diversity is a strength of this dynamic field, it is also a reason to develop a formal training program for budding QIST researchers. [caption id="attachment_19925" align="alignleft" width="243"] UW ECE associate professor Kai-Mei Fu, University of Washington[/caption] “Some fields, like physics, have been dealing with quantum mechanics for a long time; for others, it’s a relatively new concept to bring into lecture halls and research laboratories,” said Kai-Mei Fu, the principal investigator and director of the new traineeship, a UW associate professor of physics and of electrical and computer engineering, and a researcher with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We are creating this core educational and training framework so graduate students in these diverse fields can gain the knowledge and skills they need for futures in QIST, while also remaining grounded in their respective fields.” The new traineeship — known as Accelerating Quantum-Enabled Technologies, or AQET — will make the UW one of just “a handful” of universities with a formal, interdisciplinary QIST curriculum, added Fu, who also co-chairs the UW QuantumX steering committee for QIST research on campus and is a faculty member with the UW Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute, the Clean Energy Institute and the Institute for Nano-engineered Systems. Initial NSF funds will support the traineeship through one year of development and student recruitment, as well as its first four years of operation. Main features of the AQET traineeship will be:
  • Student cohorts recruited each year among doctoral programs in the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Physics, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering
  • Fellowships for some AQET trainees from the NSF or other sources during the program’s approximately 18-month duration
  • Developing and launching a set of foundational QIST courses for AQET students, which will also be open to other UW graduate and undergraduate students
  • A six- to nine-month capstone project
  • Outreach efforts to recruit female students
The core courses include several already taught at the UW, such as in physics, as well as new ones to introduce additional QIST topics to students from diverse disciplines. “QIST involves many different contributions from science and engineering departments on university campuses, and we’ve all come together speaking different ‘languages’ from our home disciplines,” said Fu. “So we want this foundational coursework to ground students in a common framework for approaching and talking about QIST concepts and principles.” One course, for example, is a project-based introduction to quantum computing. Using IBM and Microsoft cloud quantum computing platforms, students will explore what is currently possible in information storage and retrieval in quantum computing and apply that knowledge to their own background in science and engineering. “Someone with a computer science background can see and understand the current limitations in nascent quantum computing, while a student in materials science can see and understand how important material properties are to the performance of these devices,” said Fu. The AQET capstone project will allow students to pursue their own research interests in QIST after the foundational coursework. It can be conducted at the UW or at a collaborating research institution, university or company. Some potential collaborators already partner with the UW in QIST endeavors, such as the Northwest Quantum Nexus founded by the UW, Microsoft and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We are open to lots of options for these partnerships, because ultimately our goal is to be flexible in response to student interests,” said Fu. “The AQET traineeship will complement the students’ education and research in their respective doctoral programs, and ultimately prepare them for jobs in industries that increasingly demand QIST knowledge and experience.” Co-principal investigators on AQET are Brandi Cossairt, UW associate professor of chemistry; James Lee, UW professor of computer science and engineering; Arka Majumdar, UW assistant professor of physics and of electrical and computer engineering; and Nathan Wiebe, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a UW affiliate assistant professor of physics. Cossairt and Majumdar are also faculty researchers with the Clean Energy Institute, and Majumdar is a faculty researcher with the Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute and the Institute for Nano-engineered Systems. For more information, contact Fu at kaimeifu@uw.edu.
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