News

ECE’s Prof. Dan Blumenthal represents UCSB in Microsoft’s Optics for the Cloud Research Alliance

August 27th, 2019

illustration of MS cloud
UCSB selected as charter member of Microsoft’s Optics for the Cloud Research Alliance

The world is moving to the cloud at an ever-increasing rate. The cloud allows people to store, access and process data on a worldwide distributed computer that is connected by the internet, rather than be limited to local computers and hard drives. The process known as cloud computing has evolved, delivering information at fast speeds and high-performance levels, and simpler than ever for users to setup, maintain and access. It also is enabling new applications.

The cloud today is built with a sophisticated infrastructure of data centers connected by fiber optic networks. Due to the exploding demand for cloud computing, technology companies like Microsoft are researching ways to scale data centers and the networks that connect them to deliver increased capacity and faster communication speeds, while at the same time being cost effective and energy efficient. To address the continued growth of the cloud, Microsoft Research has assembled a cross-disciplinary team of scientists to explore how optics can revolutionize the next generation of the cloud. Optical technologies are used to encode data onto light and transmit this data over sophisticated fiber optic data communications networks at extremely high speeds.

UC Santa Barbara is one of six universities in the world — and the only institution from the United States — selected as inaugural members of Microsoft’s Optics for the Cloud Research Alliance. ECE Professor Daniel Blumenthal represents the university in the alliance.

The UCSB Current – "Next-Gen Cloud Computing" (full article)

Blumenthal's COE Profile

Blumenthal's Optical Communications and Photonic Integration Group (OCPI)

ECE postdocs Chunfeng Cui and Hongwei Zhao invited to participate in 2019 Rising Stars in EECS Workshop

August 13th, 2019

photos of Zhao and Cui
ECE postdoctoral researchers are identified among the most promising women in their field

UC Santa Barbara’s Chunfeng Cui and Hongwei Zhao are among roughly 70 women nationwide invited to participate in the 2019 Rising Stars in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Workshop hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Previously held at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, the Rising Stars of EECS seeks the brightest and most promising women in the field during the early stages of their academic careers.

“It will be a great opportunity to learn from the best in academia and connect with other up-and-coming women,” said Zhao, who defended her PhD in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at UCSB in June 2019.

Zhao will soon begin a postdoctoral research position at UCSB for her PhD advisor, Jonathan Klamkin, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Prior to UCSB, Zhao received her master’s degree from the Institute of Semiconductors, Chinese Academy of Sciences and completed her undergraduate studies in electronics at Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

The annual workshop unites women who are interested in pursuing academic careers in computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering. Participants will present their research, interact with faculty from top-tier universities, and receive advice for advancing their careers.

“I could not be more grateful or happy to be invited,” said Cui, who is a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB for Zheng Zhang, a professor in the ECE Department. “I look forward to meeting my academic peers and sharing our experiences as female researchers.”

Cui received her PhD in computational mathematics with a specialization in numerical optimization for tensor data analysis from the Chinese Academy of the Sciences. Cui’s research spans two main areas: uncertainty quantification for electronic and photonic design automation; and tensor methods for machine learning. A tensor is a mathematical object that generalizes multi-dimensional data in the context of machine learning.

Rising Stars 2019 in EECS Workshop

The UCSB Current – "Rising Stars" (full article)

Cui's Uncertainty- and Data-Driven Computing Laboratory Bio

Zhao's Integrated Photonics Laboratory (iPL) Bio

ECE Professor Dan Blumenthal’s research in COE Convergence article “Moving Precision Lasers from Bench Scale to Chip Scale

August 7th, 2019

Artist concept of a Brillouin laser,
In the cover article of the January 2019 issue of Nature Photonics, UCSB researchers and their collaborators at Honeywell, Yale, and Northern Arizona University describe a significant milestone in this pursuit

Spectrally pure lasers lie at the heart of precision high-end scientific and commercial applications, thanks to their ability to produce near-perfect single color light. A laser’s capacity to produce such light is measured in terms of its linewidth, or coherence, which is the ability to emit a constant frequency over a certain period of time before the frequency changes.

Researchers go to great lengths to build highly coherent, near-single-frequency lasers for high-end systems, such as atomic clocks. Today, however, because these lasers are large and occupy racks full of equipment, they are relegated to bench tops in the laboratory, limiting their application.

The challenge is to move the performance of high-end lasers onto photonic micro-chips, dramatically reducing cost and size while making the technology available to a wide range of applications including spectroscopy, navigation, quantum computation, and optical communications. Achieving such performance at the chip scale would also go a long way toward addressing the challenge posed by the Internet’s exploding data-capacity requirements and the resulting increase in world-wide energy consumption of data centers and their fiber-optic interconnects.

In the Nature article the researchers describe the milestone of a chip scale laser capable of emitting light with a fundamental linewidth of less than 1 Hz — quiet enough to move demanding scientific applications to the chip scale.

To be impactful, these low-linewidth lasers must be incorporated into photonic integrated circuits (PICs) — the equivalents of computer micro-chips for light — that can be fabricated at wafer-scale in commercial micro-chip foundries. “To date, there hasn’t been a method for making a quiet laser with this level of coherence and narrow linewidth at the photonic-chip scale,” says co-author and team lead Dan Blumenthal , professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC Santa Barbara. The current generation of chip-scale lasers are inherently noisy and have relatively large linewidth. New innovations have been needed that function within the fundamental physics associated with miniaturizing these high-quality lasers.

The project was funded under the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) OwlG initiative.

COE Convergence – "Moving Precision Lasers from Bench Scale to Chip Scale" (full article on pg. 25)

Blumenthal's COE Profile

Blumenthal's Optical Communications and Photonic Integration Group (OCPI)

ECE Professor Kaustav Banerjee’s work in COE Convergence article “Paving the Way for Graphene”

August 3rd, 2019

illustration of a graphene hwy
Electrical & Computer Engineering Prof. Banerjee’s Nanoelectronics Research Lab (NRL) develops an innovative synthesis process, overcoming a stubborn obstacle to wide-scale deployment of graphene in the semiconductor industry

Ever since graphene, the flexible, two-dimensional form of graphite (think of a 1-atom-thick sheet of pencil lead),was discovered in 2004, researchers around the world have been working to develop commercially scalable applications for this incredibly high-performance material.

Graphene is 100 to 300 times stronger than steel and has a maximum electrical current density orders of magnitude greater than that of copper, making it the strongest, thinnest, and, by far, the most reliable electrically conductive material in the world. This is why it is an extremely promising material for interconnects, the fundamental components that connect billions of transistors on microchips in computers and other electronic devices in the modern world.

For over two decades, interconnects have been made of copper, but that metal encounters fundamental physical limitations as electrical components that incorporate it shrink to the nanoscale. “As you reduce the dimensions of copper wires, their resistivity shoots up,” says Kaustav Banerjee, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering. “Resistivity is a material property that is not supposed to change, but at the nanoscale, all properties change.”

As the resistivity increases, copper wires generate more heat, reducing their current carrying capacity. It’s a problem that poses a fundamental threat to the $500 billion semiconductor industry. Graphene has the potential to solve that and other issues, but a major obstacle is designing graphene micro-components that can be manufactured on-chip on a large scale in a commercial foundry.

“Whatever the component, be it inductors, interconnects, antennas, or anything else you want to do with graphene, industry will move forward with it only if you find a way to synthesize graphene directly onto silicon wafers,” Banerjee says. He explains that all the manufacturing processes related to the transistors, which are made first, are referred to as the ‘front end.’ To synthesize something at the back-end, that is, after the transistors are fabricated, you face a tight thermal budget, such that you cannot exceed a temperature of about 500 degrees Celsius. If the silicon wafer gets too hot during the back-end processes employed to fabricate the interconnects, the other elements that are already on the chip may get damaged, or some impurities may start diffusing, changing the characteristics of the transistors.”

Now, after a decade-long quest to achieve graphene interconnects, Banerjee’s lab has developed a method to implement high-conductivity nanometer-scale doped multilayer graphene (DMG) interconnects that are compatible with high-volume manufacturing of integrated circuits. A paper describing the novel process was selected as one of the top papers from more than 230 accepted for oral presentations at the 2018 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM), and was one of only two papers included in the first annual “IEDM Highlights” section of the December 2018 issue of the journal Nature Electronics.

COE Convergence – "Paving the Way for Graphene" (full article on pg. 31)

Banerjee's COE Profile

Banerjee's Nanoelectronics Research Lab (NRL)

ECE Associate Professor Spencer Smith receives a 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)

July 16th, 2019

photo of spencer smith
The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.

“The future of the College of Engineering depends to a great extent on our young faculty members, so every time they receive prestigious awards, we are delighted, knowing that the future is bright,” said Rod Alferness, dean of UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering. “We therefore heartily congratulate both Spencer Smith, Phillip Christopher and Andrea Young for receiving these important PECASE awards.”

Smith, whose research lies at the intersection of engineering and neuroscience, was nominated for the award by the National Institutes of Health. He will use the award to continue his lab and colleagues’ effort to develop new imaging tools for neuroscience, aiming to gain insights into how neural circuitry works. “I always hope what I’m doing is useful to other people, and recognition like this makes me think that it is,” he said.

Smith, Christopher (ChemE) and Young (Physics) join more than 300 others across the country receiving the PECASE. Winners of the PECASE award will be honored in a ceremony to be held Thursday, July 25, in Washington, D.C.

The UCSB Current – "Early Career High Achievers" (full article)

Smith's COE Profle

Smith's SLAB lab

ECE 189 senior project teams recognized at the COE Engineering Design Expo (EDx)

June 28th, 2019

crowd at COE EDx 2019
Fourth-year undergrad engineers use their powers for good at the 2019 CE Capstone and the Engineering Design Expo

There was no shortage of good ideas at the College of Engineering’s 2019 CE Capstone event and Engineering Design Expo (EDx). The annual undergrad engineering showcase — which took place Friday, June 7 — was the culmination of year-long special projects undertaken by senior year students, often in collaboration with industry partners or campus research labs.

Drone technology was big at the 2019 Capstone and EDx events, with several student teams working on technology to enable drones for a variety of applications, some of which include ocean habitat monitoring and forest canopy sampling. Another strong theme this year was the therapeutic devices meant to help those with cerebral palsy and diabetes, tech to assist surgeons with their jobs, or to help provide a little customized self-care.

In addition to the valuable engineering and industry interface chops the Capstone projects were meant to hone, several teams gained cash prizes and recognition for their efforts.

Electrical and Computer Engineering senior project awards went to:

  • Altair Zen Pad: creators of a wireless, smartphone- or tablet-controlled massage pads received the $3,000 Excellence in Electrical Engineering prize
  • LegTrek: an assistive walking device took the $5,000 multidisciplinary Excellence in Engineering award

The UCSB Current – "Beneficial Tech" (full article)

LegTrek (COE Capstone webpage)

Altair ZenPad (COE Capstone webpage)

College of Engineering honors ECE’s Outstanding award recipients Douglas (Senior), Rodwell (Instructor) and Goebel (TA)

June 26th, 2019

photo of kyle douglas
More than 360 UC Santa Barbara undergraduate students complete the requirements to earn bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering or mechanical engineering during the 2018-19 academic year

They convened on Saturday, June 15 for the College of Engineering’s 2019 graduation ceremony, where a handful received special commendations for outstanding academic performance and service to the university.

Outstanding Seniors

Each year, the college recognizes the graduating senior with the highest cumulative grade point average from each degree program. This year’s Outstanding Seniors were Kyle Douglas (electrical engineering), Sayali Kakade (computer engineering), Dorian Bruch (chemical engineering), Hyun-Bum Cho (computer science),and Thomas Fork (mechanical engineering).

Accordingly, Douglas, Bruch and Fork serves as student marshals, carrying the banners and leading the academic procession into the ceremony. All three students earned 4.0 GPAs, the first three-way tie for the honor in College of Engineering history.

Douglas and Kakade were participants in the Capstone project Eternal Flight, which addresses the short-term battery life in unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. Douglas, a native of San Diego, will continue on at UC Santa Barbara as a graduate student focusing on control theory. Following graduation, Kakade, who completed two summer internships with Google, will begin working for the company as a software engineer.

Outstanding Faculty and Teaching Assistant Awards

The senior class in each engineering degree program selected an outstanding faculty member and teaching assistant (TA).

The class of 2019’s Outstanding Faculty were Mark Rodwell (electrical engineering), Yoga Isukapalli (computer engineering), Michael Gordon (chemical engineering), Diba Mirza (computer science), and Elliot Hawkes (mechanical engineering).

The 2019 recipients of the outstanding TA awards were Michael Goebel (electrical engineering), Steve Bako (computer engineering), Koty McAllister (chemical engineering), William Eiers (computer science), and Jamie Booth (mechanical engineering).

The UCSB Current – "Engineering Excellence " (full article)

COE News – "College of Engineering Salutes Class of 2019" (full article)

ECE student Evan Blasband member of first place team that wins Technology Management Program “New Venture Competition”

May 31st, 2019

photo of the team with their checks
Secure-by-design authentication software developer Allthenticate takes the big prize at 2019 TMP New Venture Competition Finals

Are you ready to ditch your password? The one you’re using for too many of your online accounts? The one you keep forgetting? The one for the email you can’t access even after the provider sent you the clue to prompt your memory?

If so, your lucky day might be right around the corner thanks to UC Santa Barbara students Chad Spensky, Evan Blasband, Rita Mounir and Jake Tear. Their tech startup, Allthenticate, took the $10,000 First Place and $2,500 People’s Choice awards at the 2019 Technology Management Program (TMP) New Venture Competition (NVC) finals Wednesday, May 29. Impressing both the judges and the audience with their smartphone-based single device authentication software, Allthenticate bested five other teams to gain the top spot in the months-long tech business plan competition.

“You were all magnificent today in your presentations,” Dave Adornetto, TMP entrepreneurship director, told the students during the final competition. Indeed, the participating teams turned out polished pitches in front of judges, mentors and a couple hundred of their closest friends at Corwin Pavilion.

Now in its 20th year, the New Venture Competition is the culmination of a rigorous eight-month process open to students from all disciplines at UC Santa Barbara. All that’s required is a good tech-based idea and the energy to to bring it to reality. Mentored by individuals experienced in the fast-paced world of tech entrepreneurship, students are given first-hand knowledge and the opportunity to hone their entrepreneurship skills and refine their business plans.

Several winners of the NVC have gone on to establish successful ventures in the wider world, including Inogen (1999), NextEnergy (2010), Apeel Sciences (2012), Salty Girl Seafood (2014) and EV Match (2016), among others.

The UCSB Current – "A One-Stop Sign-In Shop" (full article)

Allthenticate

Technology Management Program (TMP) New Venture Competition (NVC)

ECE Assistant Professor Loai Salem receives a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Award

May 8th, 2019

photo of loai salem To combat radio interference more efficiently and effectively, Salem intends to create the first fully integrated, self-adaptive radio receiver to facilitate high-quality communication

We’ve all felt the negative effects of radio interference, which has been with us since the days of the telegraph. It can show up as a minor annoyance such as radio static or as a major problem that renders wireless systems completely unusable. Society’s growing reliance on electronics has only amplified the issue because the number of potential sources of interference grows by the day.

Loai Salem, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at UC Santa Barbara, has proposed an innovative solution to silence the interference. His project, centered around his own invention, has so much potential that it piqued the interest of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). As a result, the DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has presented Salem with its prestigious Young Faculty Award.

“I am very grateful to receive the award,” said Salem, who joined UC Santa Barbara in September 2018. “This will allow me to contribute to future generations with technologies I believe will greatly improve society and our quality of life.”

The DARPA Young Faculty Award program seeks to identify and engage rising research stars in junior faculty positions in an effort to develop the next generation of scientists who will address national security challenges. Award winners receive up to three years of grant funding and mentorship opportunities with DoD contacts.

“We are extremely proud of Professor Salem, and we congratulate him on this recognition of his outstanding research that could benefit anyone with a handheld device,” said Rod Alferness, dean of UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering. “He reflects the college’s strong tradition of hiring the best junior faculty, who go on to be recognized for their innovative research that addresses society’s biggest challenges.”

Salem’s research focuses on power management, radio frequency circuits and their applications. Power management integrated circuits (ICs) are responsible for regulating the direction and flow rate of electrical power taken from the platform battery in portable and wireless devices.

The UCSB Current – "Strong Signals" (full article)

Salem's COE Profile

ECE Assistant Professors Mahnoosh Alizadeh and Zheng Zhang receive NSF Early CAREER Awards

April 29th, 2019

photo of zheng zhang and mahnoosh alizadeh
The awards received by Alizadeh and Zhang include funding to pursue cutting-edge research and advance excellence in education through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program

Zheng Zhang wants to make the manufacturing of semiconductor chips more reliable. Mahnoosh Alizadeh hopes to increase the levels of wind and solar energy in the power grid. In order to be successful, the two assistant professors in UC Santa Barbara’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department are designing innovative methods to quantify and account for the unknown. Their research projects received a significant boost when each received an Early CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.

Through uncertainty-aware design automation, Zhang and his students hope to make semiconductor manufacturing more efficient and the products more consistent. Uncertainty awareness means Zhang wants to expect the unexpected and adjust ahead of time.

“I’m very excited,” said Zhang, whose research lies at the intersection of computational mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science. “With this award, I will be able to investigate some long-standing problems with a relatively long-term plan to discover solutions.”

Alizadeh’s research project centers on the uncertainties involved with humans and their use of electricity.

“Renewable energy is produced randomly. It depends on when the wind blows or the sun shines,” explained Alizadeh. “Our goal is to design mechanisms that incentivize users to shift their electricity demand to times when there is more renewable energy being produced so that we can integrate higher levels of solar and wind energy into the power grid.”

Zhang and Alizadeh are the latest junior faculty in UCSB’s College of Engineering to receive NSF CAREER awards. Bolin Liao in the Mechanical Engineering Department received one last month. According to UCSB’s Office of Research, the College of Engineering ranks first among public universities and third overall in the highest percentage of eligible assistant professors who received NSF CAREER awards. Between 2007-17, 38 eligible junior faculty in UCSB’s College of Engineering received a total of 44 awards.

“The NSF CAREER Award recognizes researchers based on their potential for future contributions to education and research,” said Rod Alferness, dean of UCSB’s College of Engineering. “Professors Zhang and Alizadeh are shining examples of the high-quality junior faculty we have in the College of Engineering, who possess tremendous potential to create new knowledge and innovations that address complex societal challenges and opportunities.”

COE News – "Two ECE Professors receive NSF Early CAREER Awards" (full article)

Alizadeh's COE Profile

Zhang's COE Profile