UA electrical and computer engineering

ECE-Led Team Forging the Future of Wireless

BWAC advisory board meeting

ECE’s Tamal Bose Directs New Center's Pursuit of 5G Technologies - See more at:

Tamal Bose Directs New Center's Pursuit of 5G Technologies

Imagine a future beyond 4G; a future beyond smart phones, exciting new apps, and high-speed wireless internet connectivity at home, work, school and in transit. Imagine a world  in which the heating and cooling of our homes is controlled from cell phones, where medical devices are wirelessly networked and surgeries performed remotely, where rural communities communicate just as quickly and reliably as urban centers, and where computing efficiently and securely in the cloud is second nature.

Realizing that vision of effortless connectivity anytime, anywhere is dependent on the creative collaboration of many highly skilled and knowledgeable people, all focused on developing the next generation of reliable and sustainable broadband wireless technologies. Backed by National Science Foundation funding of nearly $1.6 million over the next five years and industry support of about $4 million, such is the mission and work of BWAC, the new multi-university Broadband Wireless Access & Applications Center, led by the University of Arizona.

"The NSF support is a great boost and gives us a green light to many 5G-level projects under consideration within this multi-university, multi-industry consortium," said Tamal Bose, head of the UA Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and the project’s principal investigator.

As an NSF Industry & University Cooperative Research Center, BWAC is dedicated to partnering with industry and government in development of long-term solutions to far-reaching technological problems. In addition to the University of Arizona, BWAC’s founding members include Auburn University, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Notre Dame, and about 20 industry partners.
"With several billion mobile users around the world expected to tap into unprecedented broadband speeds and increasingly massive bandwidth by the end of 2013, managing the ensuing data onslaught and securing the airwaves will be chief among the challenges BWAC tackles," said Bose, who successfully headed up BWAC’s predecessor, the Wireless Internet Center for Advanced Technology, or WICAT, at Virginia Tech.

The search also is on for new broadband spectra at millimeter-wave frequencies, spectrum access and exchange mechanisms, machine-to-machine communication, fully integrated wireless hospitals, rapidly reconfigurable networks, refined management strategies for massive networks, radar that thinks, and the design of circuitry that operates on minimal power.

Bose is joined at the UA by Marwan Krunz, world-renowned researcher in computer networking, and Haris Volos, whose expertise includes artificial intelligence applications for cognitive radios, wireless distributed computing, and the co-existence of communications and radar systems.

"As the hub of BWAC, the UA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is well positioned to guide collaborative research and the development of new wireless technologies emerging from member universities," said Bose.

"ECE affords BWAC an extensive computing infrastructure, essential to the investigation of proposed research. And the department has the capability of performing all electromagnetic design and simulation as well as fulfilling the fabrication and integration requirements of projects in development."

Two Faculty Members on Team for Multimillion-Dollar Quantum Key Encryption System for Navy

$1.86 Million Award to Help Overcome Low Data Rates, Atmospheric Interference

quantum photon entanglement for QKD

Six researchers at four universities, including the UA College of Engineering’s Mark Neifeld and Ivan Djordjevic, have won a multimillion-dollar Department of Defense award to explore quantum key encryption methods far more advanced than cryptography technology in use today.

The five-year project, "Fundamental Research on Wavelength-Agile, High-Rate Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) in a Marine Environment," is a combined effort between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the project lead; Duke University; Boston University; and the UA.

Quantum key distribution uses quantum mechanics to guarantee secure communication. It enables two parties to automatically produce a shared random secret key known only to them, which can then be used to encrypt and decrypt messages sent over a standard communication channel.

"One of the simplest approaches to QKD," Neifeld explained, "involves two parties sharing entangled photon pairs via optical fiber."

Traditional key distribution security methods leave communications networks vulnerable to cyberattack because those doing the attacking can figure out how to crack the complex mathematics underpinning these methods. Quantum key distribution, however, uses light particles. According to the laws of quantum physics, such encryption keys are inherently secure.

"QKD relies on the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics to ensure that the encryption is impossible to break," said Neifeld, who along with Djordjevic holds joint appointments in electrical and computer engineering and Optical Sciences.

In the realm of quantum physics, the mere act of observing an ultra-small particle influences the physical processes taking place. So an eavesdropper trying to intercept a quantum communication inevitably would leave detectable traces. Any attempt to steal the key would reveal the hacker's presence and prompt the QKD to abort generation of the key.

QKD has been proven in laboratory and controlled environments, and there are a few efforts under way to commercialize QKD technology. However, it is not without its challenges in the real world, especially when it comes to sharing the key. Some of the issues are associated with photon detection, transmission distance, and rate of key generation. This project will take a number of approaches to overcoming the challenges.

"To date, QKD has only been effectively implemented using optical fibers with low secure key rates," said Neifeld. "When we succeed at this project, we will have a secure method of communication through the air between ships and air vehicles at data rates sufficient to support real-time exchange of secret information."

Using adaptive optics and signal processing approaches, the UA portion of the project, awarded at $1.86 million, involves simulating, assessing, and finding ways to overcome the low data rates and security levels caused by light-distorting atmospheric conditions, such as turbulence, scattering and absorption.

The award was made through the DOD’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program. MURI supports research by teams of investigators that intersect several traditional science and engineering disciplines to accelerate research progress. The UA is one of 43 academic institutions chosen in 2013 from among 193 to participate in 15 MURI projects, which totaled $105 million. Over the last 25 years, MURI has produced significant capabilities for the U.S. military and opened up entirely new lines of research.

Because of its unbreakable nature, QKD has the potential to become the gold standard in encryption, not just in matters of national security but also for businesses and in health care.

Related Links

2013 DOD MURI Projects

Mark Neifeld Bio

Ivan Djordjevic Bio

Robotic Car Gives Undergraduates Chance of a Lifetime

Undergraduate students from across the United States take a break from participating in this summer's REU CAT vehicle research program.Nevada, California and Florida recently passed laws allowing limited testing of self-driving vehicles on their state’s roadways. Google’s experimental driverless cars already are zipping around California’s Silicon Valley. Automakers like Audi, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and BMW are debuting prototypes of self-driving cars. And, undergraduates from across the country are at the University of Arizona this summer doing their part to make autonomous vehicles safe and reliable.

Ten students from Alabama, Ohio, Utah, New York, Arizona, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Virginia and even as far away as Puerto Rico are participating in a 10-week College of Engineering summer program focused on advancing the UA’s Cognitive and Autonomous Test vehicle, or CAT vehicle.

The program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, is funded by the National Science Foundation and provides opportunities for undergraduates to work with faculty mentors and graduate students at universities throughout the United States. REU programs, which are geared largely toward students who otherwise might not have opportunities to do research, are among the most prestigious summer programs for undergraduates.

"The goal of the REU program is to broaden the participation and research much further than it traditionally has been," said electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Jonathan Sprinkle, a recent NSF Career Award winner who is leading the 2013 UA REU program. "When the students leave here, they’ll know what research is, and they’ll know how interested they are in doing research. It’s an exploration."

While students are weighing whether research is right for them, they also are gaining invaluable experience in wireless networks, cognitive radio technologies, embedded control systems and algorithms, sensory data processes and sensor fusion.

"Who doesn’t want to work on a robotic car?" said Nicole Chan, a UA electrical and computer engineering junior, who is helping with an interface that will make it easier to design and implement controllers for the CAT vehicle.

Chan is one of two University of Arizona students participating in the CAT vehicle REU. She didn’t have to travel far to move into Coronado Residence Hall, where all the REU participants are staying. But Miguel Angel De Jesus, who in the fall will be starting his fourth year in a five-year electrical engineering program at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, flew more than 2,000 miles to take part in a program he considers the chance of a lifetime.

Learning all the new programming and software for the CAT vehicle in just a few short weeks was challenging even for someone who loves computers and programming. "But it’s something that I like," said De Jesus, who never thought that at this point in his life he’d be contributing to such a significant research project. "I could be in all day working on it, and I would not mind."

De Jesus is working with light detection and ranging, or LIDAR, a remote-sensing technology that uses data gathered from bounced light to create detailed 3-D maps, and in this case enables the CAT vehicle to detect obstacles.

"We’re trying to avoid collisions," he said. "We’re trying to get a better, safer driving experience down the road."

In partnership with the University’s UROC, or Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium, the REU students -- along with about 130 other students from schools in the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Latin America -- are participating in various other UA summer programs, including study sessions, workshops and tutorials designed to help students prepare for graduate school entry exams.

"One day I want to become a professor and help other people learn," said De Jesus. "If I could, I would study all my life. It’s like a challenge; the more you study, the more you learn, and the more you realize that there’s more you need to learn."

But studying all the time may just have to wait, at least a few more weeks. During their time at the UA, REU and other UROC students are having a bit of fun as well, touring the UA Steward Observatory Mirror Casting Laboratory and Biosphere 2, visiting the Sonora Arizona Desert Museum, and enjoying pool parties, barbecues, hikes, movie nights and river floats.

De Jesus and his summertime classmates will return to their hometowns in August not only more knowledgeable about the inner workings of robotic vehicles and better acquainted with America’s Southwest, but also with letters of recommendation from UA faculty mentors and personally created videos featuring their research experiences.

"I hope this experience will make me a better person," said De Jesus. "I just want to become someone who my future children will be proud of."

Related Links

UA Professor Linda Powers Developing Rapid, Disposable Tests for Life-Threatening Blood-Borne Disease

UA Professor Linda Powers, shown here in the Arctic with one of her instruments, is taking her portable technology to a new level: diagnosing blood-borne disease.Building on research that sent her biking across Tanzania a couple of summers ago to test remote water sources on the spot for bacteria, University of Arizona Professor Linda Powers is moving into the diagnostic realm. The Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering is developing fast, disposable blood tests for pathogens that cause diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

The novel technology for rapid pathogen detection in blood relies on the capture of the pathogens with specially designed binding mechanisms and the intrinsic fluorescent signatures of the live captured   pathogens. 

"This will save time, work and expense when detection of blood-borne disease organisms is needed and other facilities are not available," said Powers, who holds appointments in biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at the UA. "It quickly tells you the information you must know."

Powers’ company, MicroBioSystems of Arizona, recently was awarded two Department of Defense contracts. One contract is for developing a disposable blood test to detect any pathogens present. The other will distinguish the specific pathogens, including viruses that causes HIV and some forms of hepatitis, prions that can lead to mad cow disease, and malaria-inducing parasites.

The military has plans to use the technology in the field, for example in remote locations to test for infectious agents in blood to be used for transfusions. However, disposable blood tests for diseases such as HIV and hepatitis also could save countless lives in developing nations and even in remote areas of the United States. Now blood samples must be sent off to labs, where microbe specimens are grown and analyzed, before it can be used in medical procedures. This is a time-consuming process, especially in life-or-death scenarios.

With this new technology -- which combines molecular, electrical and optical engineering -- blood drawn or acquired with a finger stick will go directly into a small, disposable unit for analysis in real time.

Among Powers' University collaborators are Janet Wang, principal investigator and professor in the electrical and computer engineering department; Walter Ellis Jr., a research professor in biomedical engineering; and a number of dedicated and talented graduate students.

Powers had the technology to build on, but she credits College of Engineering Dean Jeff Goldberg with making the DOD subcontracts with the University a reality and enabling her team to expand on their work.

"He really made this happen," said Powers. "What an incredible extension of a hand of friendship to small businesses in the Valley. He is very supportive of entrepreneurships and farsighted enough to realize the opportunity with a new, small company in southern Arizona."

Whether she is using a hand-held sensor to find microbial communities six feet under arctic ice, backpack-size instrumentation to identify cholera- and diarrhea-causing bacteria in Tanzanian well water, tiny equipment atop drones to discover what microbes are kept aloft in Atacama Desert volcanic plumes, or a new disposable instrument to detect blood-borne pathogens, there is no doubt that somewhere in the world Professor Linda Powers will be making a difference.

Professor Hao Xin's DARPA Contract to Advance Bomb Detection and Breast Cancer Screening

A UA research team made up of (from left to right) Tao Qin; Xiong Wang; Yexian Qin; Hao Xin, principal investigator; Russell Witte, co-principal investigator; and Pier Ingram will apply their new breast cancer imaging technology to bomb detection.The kind of mayhem caused by homemade explosives, both domestically and overseas, likely will involve high-tech systems that can identify concealed bombs from a distance. With a recent $1.5 million U.S. Department of Defense award, University of Arizona researchers will adapt their breast cancer imaging research for detection of embedded explosives.

Electrical and computer engineering professor Hao Xin, principal investigator on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, award, says the same advanced technology he and his colleagues have been creating for early breast cancer detection is now being developed to rapidly detect explosives in opaque, or nontransparent, materials.

"We started our research in 2009 with no funding but kept working because we knew it would make a huge difference," said Xin, director of the UA Millimeter Wave Circuits and Antennas Laboratory. "Eventually we had some internal funding, and here we are today."

The types of materials often used to conceal explosive devices -- mud and meat, for example -- share a trait with breast tissue: high water content, which makes it difficult to identify objects or abnormalities using existing ultrasound or microwave imaging techniques. Ultrasound images show a clear shape, but the properties cannot be delineated. Microwave images have contrast, but shapes are not clear.

The new hybrid technology will combine the advantages of high-contrast microwave imaging with high-resolution ultrasound imaging to detect improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The technology also mitigates the harmful radiation effects of traditional X-ray imaging and works without making contact with the material in which the explosive is concealed.

"We take advantage of both technologies and avoid the disadvantages to increase detection specificity," said Xin.

The 18-month renewable contract, titled Thermoacoustic Imaging and Spectroscopy Method for Explosive Detection at Standoff, sends microwaves into a target, which locally heats up distinct objects or tissues differently, then the quick thermal expansion generates an ultrasound image that is identified using a novel spectroscopic process.

Joining forces with Xin are his co-investigator, Russell Witte, assistant professor of radiology, biomedical engineering and optical sciences, and a member of the University of Arizona Cancer Center; Raytheon Company; the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST; and a handful of exemplary graduate students and graduate research assistants. One of those graduate students, Xiong Wang, recently was awarded the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society PhD award for work in this imaging area. Raytheon Company is lending its expertise in IEDs as well as contributing a critical piece of equipment, a portable microwave power amplifier.

"A large research university like the UA allows people across disciplines to collaborate with industry on projects like this that have the potential to save lives on many fronts," said Xin.

Like bomb detection, breast cancer detection has seen myriad advancements in recent years, with a number of competing technologies emerging, but none has overcome the challenges associated with identifying the specific properties of abnormal tissue.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and second only to lung cancer in leading causes of cancer death among women. With better screening and improved treatment, survival rates have improved steadily over the last 23 years, according to the National Institutes of Health. Nevertheless, the track record for breast cancer detection remains inadequate. Mammography, today’s gold standard for breast cancer imaging, fails to detect breast cancer in as much as 25 percent of cases where it is later confirmed. And, breast cancer is indicated in about one in eight tissue biopsies following abnormal mammograms, according to various scholarly and medical sources.

"The new research and imaging technique will help us better identify abnormalities in tissue and could significantly reduce the need for diagnostic biopsies, increase the rates of early breast cancer detection, and improve treatment outcome," said Xin.

Jonathan Sprinkle Discusses the Advantages and Challenges of Mobile Health Applications

Jonathan Sprinkle speaking on mhealth applications

Below is what was published on the Arizona Public Media website in a story by Georgia Davis:

mHealth, short for mobile health, is the new buzzword in health care and research. It refers to the practice of medicine and health with the assistance of mobile devices.

Jonathan Sprinkle, a professor in the the University of Arizona Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a member of the UA Mobile Health Special Interest Group, said the work is a "chance to make impact, to help someone or to make a new application that will help someone to transform their health.

In addition to connecting doctors and patients in new ways, mHealth is assisting researchers, who can collect data from individuals through their phones, computer tablets and other mobile technologies.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is bringing computer and electrical engineers into conversation with medical researchers. This is focus of the UA special interest group which now holds annual conferences to discuss mHealth.

Team Headed to Market with Cost-Limiting Thermostat

picture of team AcomniJonathan Sprinkle, Susan Lysecky and their research team have developed a heating and cooling thermostat that enables homeowners to decide temperatures based on their budgets. The cost-limited thermostat means no surprises when the electric bill lands in the mailbox, at least not for energy used to cool and heat a home, which typically accounts for more than half of a homeowner’s utility bill, according to the U.S Department of Energy.

“Most people just set their thermostat temperature in the desired range then get a bill at the end of the month with no understanding of how they correlate,” said Sprinkle, adding that here in Tucson, where summertime sees most days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not uncommon for homeowners to pay $250 to $300 or more a month for electricity. Sprinkle, an assistant professor, was a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt University and postdoctoral researcher at the University of California-Berkeley before joining the UA department of electrical and computer engineering in 2007.

The team is focusing for now on heating and cooling because they use the largest portion of electric power in U.S. homes. Home energy accounted for 35 percent of all energy consumed in the United States last year, and 31 percent of that was estimated to come from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. However, they are looking toward eventually applying the cost-limiting technology to smart energy management of the whole home.Cost-limiting thermostat

How the Cost-Limiting Thermostat Works

The new cost-limited thermostat provides real-time feedback on temperature-cost correlation and puts consumers in control of balancing their comfort and budget. When the temperature schedule or monthly budget is changed, the thermostat immediately displays how one affects the other.

“They can trade off the costs of keeping a home cool or warm depending on how comfortable they want to be,” said Lysecky, an expert in design automation and interface design who joined the department as an assistant professor in 2006 after earning her PhD in computer science from the University of California-Riverside.

The technology behind the cost-limiting thermostat involves establishing customized home model and prediction algorithms based on continually updated environmental data inside and outside the home, explained Lysecky. For example, programmed into the thermostat is information on what temperatures residents prefer to keep the home during different times of the day, week, month, and year. The technology monitors the weather outside and learns temperature-related characteristics of the home itself, and over time it determines how long the heating or air-conditioning unit would have to run to keep the house at a particular temperature on a given afternoon or evening.

“Then, it advises the user: To get the best temperature for your dollar, this would be the daily schedule,” said Sprinkle.

Out of the Lab and Into the World

NSF Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, was instrumental in helping the team fine-tune their idea and assess market viability of the cost-limited thermostat. I-Corps is an intensive, six-month, online and onsite entrepreneurial training program that helps move select, NSF-supported, basic academic research projects toward commercialization.

Out of more than 300 applicants, 56 teams were chosen to participate in last summer’s course and split into two groups. In their I-Corps group of 27, Sprinkle and Lysecky’s research team won “Best Team” honors during an awards ceremony in July at NSF host site University of Michigan- Ann Arbor.

Born of the NSF experience was Sprinkle and Lysecky’s startup company Acomni, with partners Xiao Qin and Manny Teran. Xiao Qin is a UA electrical and computer engineering graduate student who specializes in embedded hardware and sensor networked systems, and Manny Teran is a UA aerospace and mechanical engineering alumnus and successful Tucson entrepreneur.

As part of the I-Corps program, the four conducted more than 100 interviews of potential customers. The interviews helped shape the thermostat prototype. While some survey participants said comfort, at any cost, was the most important factor, a majority felt that they were paying too much for electricity and wanted to be able to balance cost and temperature. Perhaps most importantly, they all wanted to be able to see how changing either the temperature or the budget affected the other. They wanted to be in control.

“Originally, the idea was to have a thermostat that showed dollars instead of degrees Fahrenheit,” said Sprinkle, an expert in industrial control technology and embedded and autonomous systems. “Once we started talking to people, we realized we needed to show temperature and dollars and how they correlate.”

Beyond the Homeowner

The cost-limited thermostat technology has the potential to reach beyond the homeowner’s pocketbook. As Sprinkle points out, becoming aware of energy consumption is the first step toward using energy more efficiently. In the grand scheme, more efficient electric power usage translates into lower emissions from fossil fuels being burned to generate electricity and heat, and that brings society one step closer to environmental sustainability.

The company’s ultimate goal is getting people to be more energy efficient, Sprinkle said. However, his and Lysecky’s most important work is educating future engineers who will solve the world’s problems—in this case, the environmental and climatic effects of growing energy consumption.

Related Information

Grad Student Xiao Qin Gets Entrepreneurial Workout

Acomni, Comfort in Control

NSF I-Corps: Strengthening the Innovation Ecosystem

ECE Professor Among Top 50 Authors in Applied Optics

Mark Neifeld is one of the most prolific contributing authors for Applied Optics, a publication focused on applications-centered research in optics. On its 50th anniversary website, Neifeld is ranked at 37, with 45 articles published in the highly regarded journal.
Mark Neifeld

“Professor Neifeld is doing important work in the areas of optical processing systems and high-speed communications, with potential applications especially in aerospace and defense,” said Tamal Bose, head of the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department.

Neifeld directs the ECE Optical Computing and Processing Lab. Optical computing uses light (photons) instead of electricity (electrons) to process information. His research is focused on nontraditional imaging, pattern recognition and neural networks, parallel coding and signal processing, volume optical storage, and multiple-quantum-well photonics.

He has co-authored more than 100 refereed journal publications on topics such as optical data storage, free-space and fiber-optic communication, computational imaging, cognitive radar, optical signal processing, VLSI design, slow and fast light, pattern recognition and neural networks, space radiation effects, and optoelectronic design and simulation.

Complete List of Mark Neifeld’s Applied Optics Articles

University of Arizona College of Engineering