ECE Professor Joao Hespanha’s research featured in The UCSB Current article “Toward a Secure Electrical Grid”

July 20th, 2018

illustration of locked electrical grid
UCSB professor João Hespanha suggests a way to protect autonomous grids from potentially crippling GPS spoofing attacks

Not long ago, getting a virus was about the worst thing computer users could expect in terms of system vulnerability. But in our current age of hyper-connectedness and the emerging Internet of Things, that’s no longer the case. With connectivity, a new principle has emerged, one of universal concern to those who work in the area of systems control, like João Hespanha, a professor in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering at UC Santa Barbara. That law says, essentially, that the more complex and connected a system is, the more susceptible it is to disruptive cyber-attacks.

“It is about something much different than your regular computer virus,” Hespanha said. “It is more about cyber physical systems — systems in which computers are connected to physical elements. That could be robots, drones, smart appliances, or infrastructure systems such as those used to distribute energy and water.”

In a paper titled “Distributed Estimation of Power System Oscillation Modes under Attacks on GPS Clocks,” published this month in the journal IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement, Hespanha and co-author Yongqiang Wang (a former UCSB postdoctoral research and now a faculty member at Clemson University) suggest a new method for protecting the increasingly complex and connected power grid from attack.

The UCSB Current – "Toward a Secure Electrical Grid" (full article)

Hespanha's research page

Hespanha's COE Profile

ECE Prof. Manjunath and director of the UCSB Center for Multimodal Big Data Science & Healthcare research featured in the COE’s Convergence magazine

June 26th, 2018

illustration of big data
UCSB researchers awarded a $3.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure to fund a broadly interdisciplinary Large-scale IMage Processing Development (LIMPID) project

Increasingly, big data and its partner, machine learning, are driving and enabling collaboration. Advances in sensors, cameras, scientific instrumentation, software platforms, deep neural networks, and computing power have made the promise of artificial intelligence real. The results show up in platforms that can identify patterns and scour meaning from millions or even billions of data points to better understand and manage a vast range of dynamical systems, from smart buildings and new materials to human biology and social systems.

Big data can take the form of simple data points that record, say, click-throughs on websites or entries on a spreadsheet, or it can be digital imagery, such as video, photographs, remotely sensed lidar images, or microscopy images. UCSB researchers are on the front lines of this data-fueled revolution, developing systems that make such multimodal big data a powerful tool for engineering.

According to B. S. Manjunath, professor in the Department of UCSB Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the campus’s Center for Multimodal Big Data Science and Healthcare, big-data approaches require three main elements: experts in the field under study who can frame the research questions and form hypotheses; computational-science experts to design algorithms and data structures; and information-processing experts to address the signaling and information-theory components. 

Because so much science-related data takes the form of digital images, the center was awarded the NSF grant to fund the LIMPID project with the work based on a platform called BisQue (Bio-Image Semantic Query User Environment), developed by Manjunath’s group. BisQue had its roots in microscopy imaging and was developed to support a wide range of image informatics research for the life sciences. With its ability to process databases and perform image analysis, BisQue makes it easy to share, distribute, and collaborate around large image datasets.

“You can think of BisQue as Google Docs for scientific images,” Manjunath notes. “Imaging data has become ubiquitous, and much of big-data science is image-centric. Working with such data should be as simple as working with text files in Google Docs, so that people can collaborate and share information in real time. Not too many places have that kind of infrastructure for data science. It has taken us twelve years to build, and it’s something that sets us apart.”

COE Convergence – "The Long Reach of Big Data" (full article)

Manjunath's COE Profile

Center for Multimodal Big Data Science and Healthcare

2018 College of Engineering, ECE Department and Computer Engineering Program honors

June 20th, 2018

graduation at the commencement green

Seniors, graduate students and faculty recognized by ECE, CE and COE


UCSB Winifred and Louis Lancaster Dissertation Award for Mathematics, Physical Sciences & Engineering
A Lancaster dissertation award in Mathematics, Physical Sciences & Engineering is given every other year and entered into a national competition sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools – award recipients are members of the Graduate Division Commencement Ceremony’s Platform Party

  • Jiahao Kang (EE)


College of Engineering Academic Honor
Awarded to the student with the highest grade point average of the College of Engineering graduating class as of the winter quarter, who was enrolled as a full-time, matriculated UCSB student through the spring quarter, and is expected to complete all degree requirements as of the spring quarter

  • Sean McCotter (EE)

Outstanding Seniors

  • Electrical Engineering – Sean McCotter
  • Computer Engineering – Karthik Kribakaran

College of Engineering Honors Program for Academic Excellence

  • Electrical Engineering
    Bryce Ferguson, Rachel Reyes, Phanitta Chomsinsap, Jingwen Sun, Huishan Chen, Xiaowen Guo, Jenny Zeng
  • Computer Engineering
    Nathan Vandervoort


  • Outstanding Teaching Assistant: Vince Radzicki
  • Outstanding Faculty: Professor Hua Lee


  • Outstanding Teaching Assistant: Caio Motta
  • Outstanding Faculty: Professor Forrest Brewer

EE, CE and ME senior undergraduates present projects at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Engineering Design Expo (EDx)

June 19th, 2018

hyperloop team with poster
Senior students from all disciplines in the College of Engineering (COE) complete a year-long project-based capstone course and presentation event where they show engineering solutions to real-world problems and often with input from industry partners

This year, 24 projects were presented by electrical, computer and mechanical engineering students on Friday, June 8 at EDx in Corwin Pavilion where they shared results that impressed hundreds of faculty, sponsors, fellow students, parents, and guests from beyond UCSB.

Judges walked the outdoor fair, talked with the students, and then awarded top honors to the following EE and CE representatives:


  • * Hyperloop – Engineering Innovation in Electrical Engineering: the third year of the UCSB Hyperloop project and this year’s team redesigned the magnetically levitated vehicle, complete with a carbon skin. The team hopes to earn the right to “test-fly” their pod at Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop track.
  • * SONOS MOVE – Excellence in EE: the first fully portable wireless speaker in the SONOS line, which features a six-hour battery pack and onboard LTE connection that allows for WiFi connectivity

* Multidisciplinary teams consisting of mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering students with Hyperloop consisting of 25-plus students and SONOS Move with ten.


  • Wall-E – Engineering Innovation in Computer Engineering: a Waterborne Autonomous Low Light Electrostereovideography (WALL-E). The submersible low-light camera cameras, which can be deployed in pairs, and use computer-vision techniques to analyze the courtship patterns of ostracods, which are tiny crustaceans that are found in the Caribbean Sea and produce luminous courtship displays
  • Hover Hand – Excellence in EE: a glove that acts as the transmitter to a drone’s receiver, enabling the pilot to fly a quadcopter drone in a way that is more intuitive and precise

The UCSB Current – “Capstone 2018” (full article)

COE News – “Proving Ground for Engineering Seniors” (full article & ME awardees)

COE Capstone website

ECE Capstone Course webpage (ECE 188)

CE Capstone Course webpage (ECE 189)

ECE Professor and ComSenTer Director, Mark Rodwell interviewed in IEEE Spectrum article “It’s Never Too Early To Think About 6G”

June 1st, 2018

ieee spectrum logo with 6g image
UCSB is lead institution of the Center for Converged TeraHertz Communications and Sensing (ComSenTer) – a multi-university research effort into the fundamentals of what 6G might look like

5G will utilize higher frequency spectrum than previous generations in order to improve data rates and insomuch as anyone has an idea of what 6G might look like, it’s a good bet that it will take that same tack.

“It’s not clear what 6G will be,” says Sundeep Rangan, the director of NYU Wireless, one of the institutions participating in ComSenTer. “If it is the case that 6G or other communications systems can benefit from very, very high frequency transmissions, we need to start looking at that now.”

Rangan adds that, “It’s premature to say that what we’re looking at will definitely be part of 6G,” stressing that what’s being investigated now is still fundamental research.

Even so, Mark Rodwell, ComSenTer’s director and a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, says there are a few key demonstration projects ComSenTer is looking into. The first involves building a base station that can handle the frequency ranges expected to be part of future generations of wireless. ComSenTer, which is being funded by the Semiconductor Research Corporation, a consortium of heavy-hitters like DARPA, IBM, and Intel, is focusing its efforts on the 140-gigahertz, 220-GHz, and 340-GHz frequencies—all significantly higher than the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz band being leveraged for 5G.

Rodwell envisions a base station that could emit up to a thousand beams simultaneously. “What you’re looking at is four surfaces, each capable of 250 simultaneous beams,” he says. If each beam provided 10 gigabits per second, a single base station could transfer 10 terabits every second.

The higher frequencies also present challenges for handsets. The higher-frequency receiver components must be packed more closely together, introducing a risk of overheating. Signal loss must also be addressed. “Packet loss is phenomenally extensive at these frequencies,” says Rodwell.

The third major challenge is a question of math. “When a signal comes in [from a particular] direction, it’s hitting all the antennas,” says Rodwell. “Massive numbers of beams mean a lot of number crunching. You’ve got to sort all that out.”

ComSenTer is part of the new $200 million, five-year JUMP (Joint University Microelectronics Program), a consortium of industry research participants and DARPA, administered by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC). The partnership will fund research centers at six top research universities: UCSB, CMU, Purdue, UVA, U. of Michigan and Notre Dame.

IEEE Spectrum – "It’s Never Too Early To Think About 6G" (full article)

Center for Converged TeraHertz Communications and Sensing (ComSenTer)

Rodwell's COE Profile

ECE Professor Yon Visell and UCSB researchers develop a fast, low-voltage actuator for soft and wearable robotics

May 23rd, 2018

image from the cover of AFM
Visell, chemistry & biochemistry professor Thuc-Quyen Nguyen and postdocs Thanh Nho Do and Hung Phan author paper that appears on the cover of the journal Advanced Functional Materials

In the world of robotics, soft robots are the new kids on the block. The unique capabilities of these automata are to bend, deform, stretch, twist or squeeze in all the ways that conventional rigid robots cannot.

Today, it is easy to envision a world in which humans and robots collaborate — in close proximity — in many realms. Emerging soft robots may help to ensure that this can be done safely, and in a way that syncs to human environments or even interfaces with humans themselves.

“Some of the advantages of soft robotic systems are that they can easily adapt to unstructured environments, or to irregular or soft surfaces, such as the human body,” said UC Santa Barbara electrical and computer engineering professor Yon Visell.

Despite their promise, to date, most soft robots move slowly and clumsily when compared with many conventional robots. However, the gap is narrowing thanks to new developments in the fundamental unit of robotic motion: the actuator. Responsible for the mechanical movement of a mechanism or a machine, actuators do their work in various ways, relying on electromagnetic, piezoelectric, pneumatic or other forces.

Now, Visell and his UCSB collaborators have married the electromagnetic drives used in most conventional robotic systems with soft materials, in order to achieve both speed and softness. “An interesting biological analog to the actuator described in our new work might be a fast twitch muscle,” said Visell who along with Professor Thuc-Quyen Nguyen and the postdocs, authored the paper “Soft Electromagnetic Actuators for Robotic Applications.”

The main challenge for Visell and colleagues was to build an actuator that could achieve speeds greater than what has typically been possible with soft robotic actuators, many of which depend on slow processes, such as air flow or thermal effects.

“In this project, we wanted to see how far we could push the idea of having very fast, low-voltage actuation within a fully soft robotic paradigm,” he said. They based their work on the electromagnetic motor, a common type of fast and low-voltage actuator that is used in everything from electric cars to appliances, but has seen little effective application in soft robotic systems.

The team’s work has resulted in a type of actuator that is fast, low voltage and soft — and also remarkably small, just a few millimeters in size. Using unique, liquid-metal alloy conductors encased in hollow polymer fibers and magnetized polymer composites, the researchers created patterned, three-dimensional components that form the basis of soft analogs of standard electrical motors. The fibers themselves are polymer composites that the team engineered to have high thermal conductivity, greatly improving their performance.

The UCSB Current – "Soft Machines" (full article)

Visell's COE Profile

Visell's RE Touch Lab

ECE Ph.D. alum Jiahao Kang receives the 2018 UCSB Winifred and Louis Lancaster Dissertation Award for Mathematics, Physical Sciences & Engineering

May 22nd, 2018

photo of jiahao kang
As the Lancaster recipient, Kang is the only College of Engineering graduate student awardee invited to be a member of the Graduate Division Commencement Ceremony’s Platform Party

In his dissertation titled, “Two-Dimensional Electronic Materials and Devices – Opportunities and Challenges,” Kang focuses on understanding the fundamental issues in 2D materials, such as contacts, interfaces and doping, and in identifying device applications uniquely enabled by these materials. His contributions to the physics of metal contacts to 2D semiconductors, dielectric interfaces and doping have transformed 2D semiconductors from solely scientifically-interesting materials into high-performance electronic devices and also paved the way for a number of radical innovations for his research lab. This includes a novel graphene-based on-chip inductor technology exploiting the kinetic inductance with both small form-factors and high-inductance density, that were once thought unachievable in tandem.

According to Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti, the Lancaster Award Committee selected Kang’s dissertation due to its sophistication, originality, and exceptional scholarship. His dissertation will serve as UCSB’s Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering entrant in the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award competition. The Winifred and Louis Lancaster Dissertation Awards are named after two community leaders who contributed time, talent, and financial resources to UCSB for more than half a century.

Kang was a member of ECE Professor Kaustav Banerjee’s Nanoelectronics Research Lab (NRL) and is the second member in a row from NRL to receive the Lancaster Award. Upon graduation, he joined Royole Corporation, a Silicon Valley startup developing flexible electronics. During his doctoral research, he contributed to around 50 papers including five Nature, 11 IEDM, Nano Letters, ACS Nano, Physical Review X, IEEE Electron Device Letters, IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, and Applied Physics Letters. According to Google Scholar, Kang’s total number of citations exceeds 2100 with an h-index of 17. In 2016 Kang was awarded the Peter J. Frenkel Foundation Fellowship from UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency and the IEEE Electron Devices Society PhD Fellowship. His research interests are at the intersection of nanotechnology, materials physics and electronics.

Dr. Kang will be recognized at the 2018 Graduate Division Commencement Ceremony held on Sunday, June 17 on the UCSB Commencement Green.

UCSB Winifred and Louis Lancaster Dissertation Awards

Kang’s Google Scholar Page

Nanoelectronics Research Lab

ECE Professor Kaustav Banerjee’s research article among the Top 100 read materials science papers for Scientific Reports in 2017

May 8th, 2018

scientific reports top 100 badge Research from Banerjee’s lab demonstrating the first two-dimensional (2D) quantum dot superlattice included as a Top 100 highly accessed article published by the Nature group journal

The research article “Designing artificial 2D crystals with site and size controlled quantum dots” is co-authored by ECE Ph.D. candidate Xuejun Xie, recent ECE Ph.D. alum Jiahao Kang, post-doctoral scholars Wei Cao and Jae Hwan Chu, as well as collaborators from Rice University.

In early Fall 2017, Banerjee’s lab made waves by developing a technique to fabricate large-scale quantum dot superlattices in which each quantum dot’s size and location could be precisely controlled on an atomically thin sheet of two-dimensional (2D) layered semiconductor molybdenum disulphide (MoS2). The technique allowed the quantum dots to be placed close enough to interact with one other, thereby forming an artificial crystal — essentially a new 2D semiconductor material where the band gap can be specified to order, a radical technology that could usher a new generation of light-emitting devices for photonics applications.

According to the congratulatory note received from the journal’s Chief Editor, a position in the top 100 most highly read articles is an extraordinary achievement, since the journal published more than 4500 materials science papers in 2017.

Scientific Reports – "Top 100 in Materials Science"

Banerjee's Nanoelectronics Research Lab

Banerjee's 2D Superlattice in News Media

ECE Professors John Bowers & Luke Theogarajan and UCSB graduate student researchers (GSRs) work together in “Shrinking the Synthesizer”

May 4th, 2018

illustration of a comb generators
Bowers, Theogarajan and four UCSB GSRs produce significant advances in chip-based integrated photonics and nonlinear optics that enable miniature, energy-efficient components for an optical synthesizer – with their findings appearing in the journal Nature

Only a few decades ago, finding a particular channel on the radio or television meant dialing a knob by hand and then making small adjustments to home in on the right signal. That’s no longer the case, thanks to something called a radio-frequency synthesizer, which generates accurate signal frequencies.

While radio frequency control has long since been mastered, optical frequency control still exists in the bygone “tuner knob” era. This is because optical frequencies are so much higher (200 million megahertz) than radio frequencies (100 megahertz). Setting the absolute frequency, or color, of light emitted from a laser with precision is difficult because laser frequencies tend to drift as radio stations once did.

Optical frequency synthesizers provide unprecedented performance but until now have been large, expensive and power hungry. To address these limitations, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2014 launched the Direct On-Chip Digital Optical Synthesizer (DODOS) program.

“We took something that occupied a whole optical bench, weighed 50 pounds and used a kilowatt of power and made it orders of magnitude more efficient by integrating the key elements onto silicon photonic integrated circuits,” said Bowers, UCSB’s Fred Kavli Chair in Nanotechnology and director of the campus’s Institute for Energy Efficiency.

The UCSB Current – “Shrinking the Synthesizer” (full article)

Nature (557, pp. 81–85, 2018) – "An optical-frequency synthesizer using integrated photonics"

Bowers' COE Profile

Theogarajan's COE Profile

ECE Prof. Dmitri Strukov and team’s research on integrated memristors and cybersecurity applications featured on the cover of Nature Electronics

April 25th, 2018

illustration of a memristor as a cybersecurity device

UCSB reseachers use emerging memory devices to develop electronic circuits for cybersecurity applications

While we embrace the way the Internet of Things already is making our lives more streamlined and convenient, the cybersecurity risk posed by millions of wirelessly connected gadgets, devices and appliances remains a huge concern. Even single, targeted attacks can result in major damage; when cybercriminals control and manipulate several nodes in a network, the potential for destruction increases.

UC Santa Barbara computer science professor Dmitri Strukov is working to address the latter. He and his team are looking to put an extra layer of security on the growing number of internet- and Bluetooth-enabled devices with technology that aims to prevent cloning, the practice by which nodes in a network are replicated and then used to launch attacks from within the network. A chip that deploys ionic memristor technology, it is an analog memory hardware solution to a digital problem.

“You can think of it as a black box,” said Strukov, whose new paper, “Hardware-intrinsic security primitives enabled by analogue state and nonlinear conductance variations in integrated memristors,” appears on the cover of Nature Electronics. Due to its nature, the chip is physically unclonable and can thus render the device invulnerable to hijacking, counterfeiting or replication by cyber criminals.

Key to this technology is the memristor, or memory resistor — an electrical resistance switch that can “remember” its state of resistance based on its history of applied voltage and current. Not only can memristors can change their outputs in response to their histories, but each memristor, due to the physical structure of its material, also is unique in its response to applied voltage and current. Therefore, a circuit made of memristors results in a black box of sorts, as Strukov called it, with outputs extremely difficult to predict based on the inputs.

“The idea is that it’s hard to predict, and because it’s hard to predict, it’s hard to reproduce,” Strukov said. The multitude of possible inputs can result in at least as many outputs — the more memristors, the more possibilities. Running each would take more time than an attacker may reasonably have to clone one device, let alone a network of them.

The UCSB Current – "The Ionic Black Box" (full article)

Nature Electronics (vol. 1 issue 3, March 2018) – "Memristor Circuits are Tuned for Security"

Strukov's COE Profile