Virtual ECExpo Celebrates UC Davis Electrical and Computer Engineering Community's Resilience and Innovation
On Friday, April 8, UC Davis' electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department's alumni, students, and professors presented groundbreaking research, creative projects, and inspirational stories at the annual UC Davis ECExpo.
Dean Richard Corsi and ECE department chair André Knoesen kicked off the event with opening remarks. Corsi sees obtaining an engineering degree as a pathway to solid employment and a force for social mobility. He acknowledged that a high number of UC Davis ECE faculty are recipients of National Science Foundation Early Career Development (CAREER) awards, and reminisced about how personal computing seemed science fiction during his childhood, but in graduate school, he and his wife were early computer users. Knoesen announced that two undergraduate teaching electronic labs in ECE will be named the Keysight Technologies Undergraduate Electrical and Computer Engineering Labs in acknowledgment of the support of Keysight Technologies to renovate the labs that support more than 1,000 students per academic year.
Keynote: ECE Distinguished Alumnus Frank Mong on Passion, Perseverance, and the People's Internet
Alumnus Frank Mong (B.S.' 97), COO at San Francisco blockchain tech firm Helium Inc., then offered advice to students who struggled with engineering courses, "Persevere and ask for help. People want you to succeed and want to help you." Mong advised students that finding employment that fosters your passion is even more important than pursuing a higher salary.
Mong's talents and passions blossomed at Helium. Helium created an open-source platform to launch a wireless network that has become known as "The People's Network." To participate in building the Network, a user owns a Helium Hotspot that provides connectivity for devices. Using cryptocurrency as an incentive to expand the network over the globe, in the last three years there are now more than 700,000 Hotspots across the U.S., Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia. To learn more, visit helium.com and check out the Helium Community on Discord.
ECE professor Zhi Ding then, on behalf of the ECE department presented Frank Mong with the ECE Distinguished Alumni award that recognizes an outstanding alumnus whose professional and personal achievements bring special honor to the department. This award is the highest recognition presented by the ECE department to alumni.
Machine Learning, Hardware Security, and Edge Computing
After Mong's keynote, UC Davis ECE professors shared their research. Junshan Zhang explained how technology has moved from cloud computing to edge computing, processing data on devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), and how to achieve edge AI. He acknowledged that our cars are becoming a "fifth screen" in our lives in addition to movies, TV, laptops, and phones. Zhang advocates for policy-guided, safe AI and machine learning for smart cars and self-driving vehicles.
Avesta Sasan discussed how machine learning could enhance the security of devices connected to the IoT by detecting hardware vulnerabilities. To Sasan, a machine might perform even better than a human at tasks such as noticing nonlinear disruptions of timing paths. He also acknowledges that we must prepare for malicious entities attacking the machine learning processes.
Industry Panel on Pandemic-Accelerated Innovation
Bevan Baas then moderated a panel on positive developments in the engineering field that have come about alongside the pandemic. The panelists were:
- Jin Bains, director of Avionics/EE and Solutions Engineering at Amazon Kuiper,
- Hope Bovenzi, staff product manager of AC charging at Tesla,
- Ken Dyer, Principal Analog Design Engineer at Microsoft; and
- Cathy Liu, director of Broadcom's SerDes architecture and modeling group.
Bains, Bovenzi and Liu serve on ECE's advisory board.
Breakthroughs included the accelerated development of communications technology, improved work-life balance, and a more sustainable, scaled-back amount of business travel.
Quantum Computing, THz/IR Light from Radiation, Millimeter-Wave Imaging, AI Security, Integrated Circuit Research
Marina Radulaski illustrated how silicon carbide is the backbone of quantum computing technology, with its stable optical properties, intriguing triangular geometry, and color centers. During the pandemic, her lab collaborated with international researchers to simulate quantum systems on quantum computers. "This was a lossy simulation of a lossy system, where photons get lost in space and time, which is more realistic," Radulaski said. They figured out how to represent a process in linear time on a quantum computer that used to require a complex exponential execution function on a classical computer.
Sebastian Diaz described his lab's work to generate THz/infrared light from radiation through a process where excited electrons emit photons as they relax. This is a portable and easier way to generate light from a solid-state source and will be harnessed to improve the functioning of scanners and plasmonic data transceivers. He also mentioned the creation of a scattering near-field optical microscope.
Neville Luhmann highlighted his lab's high-speed cameras for the millimeter-wave imaging needed to detect and control dangerous turbulence within fusion reactors. They are also creating nanometer-scale cameras for medical applications through nano-CNC manufacturing and lithographic approaches.
Houman Houmayoun works closely with the federal government and technology firms to enhance privacy and trust in artificial intelligence. He serves as the director of the National Science Foundation's Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust (CHEST), which has over 100 participants. His research uncovered a potential security vulnerability in the IoT that could affect medical devices.
Anh-Vu Pham talked about his millimeter-wave and terahertz integrated circuit research, in part funded by Keysight Technologies. Also, Pham is developing a full software-defined ultrawideband radar system for ground penetration radar application using developed wide bandwidth circuits and antennas from his group. His group integrates all hardware components and develops data collection and imaging algorithms for demonstrating the ground penetration radar system.
Students Take the Floor
Graduate and undergraduate students presented their work in a virtual poster session. Graduate presentations covered topics ranging from computer engineering to integrated circuits and systems, sensing, imaging, signal processing, photonic and electronic devices, and RF-to-THz electronics and waves. Undergraduates demonstrated their senior design projects and work from the Texas Instruments-sponsored EE-Emerge course sequence.
In the virtual poster presentation and discussion, the students presented lively and informative demonstrations. These included presentations on a process to track wine fermentation through chemistry, a medical device to alert patients who lack nerve sensation in the area that they have a full bladder, a fetal pulse oximetry detection system for use during labor and delivery, tools to test newborns for potential heart problems, a touchless organ that plays notes based on the distance of a user’s hand from the instrument, and a robot that can identify and retrieve candies of particular colors.
Overall, the day was inspiring and enlivening, and organizers are excited for the ECExpo to return next year.