ECE Newsletter

Dear UMass Amherst ECE alumni and friends:

HackUMass!?!  In the right context, “hacking” can be a good thing, such as in HackUMass, a 24-hour embedded systems hackathon organized and conducted by our IEEE student branch over the weekend of April 5 and 6 in M5. It was a huge success with over 80 students (~20 teams) from around the region, including Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Western New England University, MIT, and Brown. Each team started with the same parts kit (including an Arduino) and 24 hours later demoed their projects before judges. In addition to the fantastic efforts of our IEEE student branch, several alums, friends, and the IEEE Springfield Section contributed as both mentors and event sponsors. Thanks to all, and stay tuned for a possible repeat event next spring.

Michael Zink of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has come up with a brilliant solution for a very expensive problem: The various applications for networks of electronic sensing devices such as radars or cameras cannot be shared. For example, radar networks are applied for either weather forecasting or tracking aircraft. Camera systems might be applied for border security or Coast Guard life-saving activities.

Imagine being blindfolded and then turned loose to navigate the complex Boston subway system. Your plight might recall The Man Who Never Returned, that classic Kingston Trio song about a guy named Charlie whose fate on the subway was to “ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston.” Now imagine you can never take off that blindfold. That’s the real-life predicament of any visually impaired person who enters a busy subway station, and University of Massachusetts Amherst Professor Aura Ganz has a brilliant solution.

On April 7, when the ninth annual University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge final business plan competition was held, mDiagnostics, the  team from the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department, garnered $15,000 in prize money to support development and marketing of its reliable, portable, single-use, low-cost, Hepatitis C screening device. The team was led by ECE doctoral student Akshaya Shanmugam and guided by her ECE faculty advisor Christopher Salthouse. The Innovation Challenge success only adds to an impressive list of honors earned by Shanmugam over the past two years. During that time, she has been chosen for a 2014 Eugene M. Isenberg Scholarship, was selected as one of the two 2012-2013 Hluchyj Fellows, and won first place in the 2013 ECE Ph.D. Poster Session, held last October.

The January 31, 2012, edition of the Wall Street Journal included an article with an intriguing title: “Move over MBAs, Here Come the Engineers!” Not only is the demand for engineers “voracious,” the article reported, but engineers increasingly are the go-to leaders chosen to head companies. The Journal recounted that in a recently published study 3,337 company founders and CEOs across all industries held advanced degrees in engineering. By comparison, only 1,016 company founders and CEOs had advanced business degrees. This vital information provides a brilliant opportunity and also a pressing issue for engineers. How do they add the required business skills and management acumen to become company leaders? One perfect answer is the UMass Amherst Master of Science in Engineering Management Program.

Walter Everett Brown, a computer systems engineering and computer science major in the class of 2016, has been chosen by Research Next as one of the four 2014 “Rising Researchers” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Brown’s faculty advisor is Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor Maciej Ciesielski. Research Next is a UMass website and netzine which reports on “the research, scholarship, and creative activity that distinguishes UMass Amherst as a top research university.” Jessica Boakye of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department was one of the 2013 Rising Researchers. For the most part, Brown is focusing on building software that industry can use to verify hardware designs before sending them out to production.

The Boston Business Journal reports that Newlans, an Acton (Massachusetts)-based maker of broadband analog signal processing devices, has raised $15 million in Series B funding, led by California-based Intel Capital. The founder and CEO of Newlans is alumnus Dr. Dev Gupta '77 Ph.D., an adjunct professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. The money will be used to accelerate the company's development and commercialization of a device that targets front-end radio frequency modules for 4G LTE mobile phones. Existing investors Paladin Capital Group and Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Washington DC and Maryland respectively, also participated in the round.

David Irwin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department is one of the researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who are conducting a pilot project with the Holyoke Gas & Electric Co. (HG&E) that will show the utility and its customers how smart electric meters can save money and power. The project is funded by a $200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. Prashant Shenoy of the Computer Science Department and Irwin are heading up a team of UMass Amherst researchers who will be using information from several dozen volunteers in HG&E’s customer base to demonstrate how to improve electricity use based on their metered use. See Article in the Springfield Republican.

The all-freshman team of Justin Marple, Aaron Lucia, Rohan Kapoor, and Dylan Pare of our Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department won the Micromouse contest at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Region 1 Student Conference, held at New Jersey’s Science and Technology University (NJIT) on the weekend of March 29 and 30. The winning team, named IEEE Micromouse Venus, also won $800. Micromouse is an event in which small robot mice solve a 16 foot by 16 foot maze. See videos of the winning micromouse in action: official search run; 1st place run. Here is a link to the IEEE region 1 conference site:

On Saturday, April 5, the UMass Amherst chapter of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) held its inaugural, 24-hour “HackUMass, the IEEE Embedded Systems Hackathon” in the M5 maker space on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest, or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects, often with hardware components. “We’re holding this hackathon because we want to give students the opportunity to learn something new,” explains Andrew Sousa, an undergraduate in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and the vice chair of the UMass IEEE chapter.

Professor Ramakrishna Janaswamy of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department has been named the 2013-2014 College of Engineering Outstanding Teacher. “Rama's effectiveness as a classroom instructor and dedication to the overall teaching mission of the college are truly appreciated by our students,” said Dean Tim Anderson and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Dave Ford in making the announcement. Among other accomplishments, Janaswamy was nominated for the UMass Distinguished Teaching Award in 2011, served as the ECE graduate program director for three years, developed four new graduate courses that were highly rated by students from 2003 to 2012, and has received a very high average of 4.44 out of a maximum 5 for his Student Response to Instruction rating from student evaluations over the last 10 years.

Aura Ganz of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department has been selected to receive the 2014 Outstanding Senior Faculty Award, and Shelly Peyton of the Chemical Engineering Department will receive the 2014 Barbara H. and Joseph I. Goldstein Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. “Their excellent contributions to scholarship and the profession bring distinction to our college,” said Dean Tim Anderson while announcing the annual awards. “Aura and Shelly, along with the CoE Outstanding Teaching Award winner Rama Janaswamy, will be recognized during the CoE Senior Recognition Celebration to be held on Saturday, May 10, 2014. Congratulations, Aura and Shelly!”

Alumnus Bob Cramer, a CEO coach and advisor, board member, and private investor with 29 years experience in high-growth, venture-backed businesses, gave an informal talk in M5 (Marcus Hall, room 5) on Tuesday, April 15, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Mr. Cramer is a 1980 graduate of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. His topic was “Lessons Learned from 30 Years of Tech Start-up Companies.” Among other companies, Cramer has served as CEO of: LiveVault, one of the first SaaS businesses targeting the SMB market (acquired by IRM in 2005); FirstSense, one of the first application performance management companies (acquired by CCRD in 1999); and Nimbit, one of the first direct-to-fan online sales and marketing platforms (acquired by PreSonus in 2012). The talk was free and open to the public, and refreshments were served.