2019

image of professor emeritus Hellman. Photo Credit: Michael Steven Walker
July 2019

Martin E. Hellman was the Heidelberg Lecturer at the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (#LINO19). The annual, week-long event occurs each summer on Germany's Lindau Island. Nobel Laureates are invited to the meeting, along with select young scientists. The Heidelberg Lecture is given by one of the Heidelberg Laureates, the winners of the top prizes in mathematics and computer science. Professor Hellman became a Heidelberg Laureate when he received the ACM Turing Award in 2015 for joint work with Whitfield Diffie, for making critical contributions to modern cryptography.

Martin's lecture, "The Technological Imperative for Ethical Evolution" called for scientists and laureates to accelerate the trend toward more ethical behavior. Hellman drew parallels between global and personal relationships as a foundation to build trust and security – regardless of past adversarial history. He shared 8 lessons from his own personal and professional evolution.

Martin encouraged #LINO19 attendees to revisit the Mainau Declaration of 1955 and the Mainau Declaration of 2015, thereby underscoring the efforts of prior attendees – and the responsibilities of today's attendees – to consider global and future consequences when making decisions and to appeal to decision-makers to do the same.

Hellman's Heidelberg Lecture is available online.

The 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting hosted 39 laureates and 600 young scientists from 89 countries–the highest number to date. This year's meeting was dedicated to physics. The key topics were dark matter and cosmology, laser physics and gravitational waves.


Martin E. Hellman is Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University and is affiliated with the university's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). His recent technical work has focused on rethinking national security, including bringing a risk informed framework to a potential failure of nuclear deterrence and then using that approach to find surprising ways to reduce the risk. His earlier work included co-inventing public key cryptography, the technology that underlies the secure portion of the Internet. His many honors include election to the National Academy of Engineering and receiving (jointly with his colleague Whit Diffie) the million dollar ACM Turing Award, the top prize in computer science. One of his recent projects is a book, jointly written with his wife of fifty years, "A New Map for Relationships: Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet," that one reviewer said provides a "unified field theory" of peace by illuminating the connections between nuclear war, conventional war, interpersonal war, and war within our own psyches.

image of Martin Hellman, Heidelberg Lecture, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting 2019

Martin Hellman speaking at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. Photo credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

image of outstanding EE staff, July 2019
July 2019

Congratulations to Doug Chaffee, Meo Kittiwanich, Helen Lin, Dan Moreau, and Lisa Sickorez. They are truly outstanding staff! Each were nominated by peers, faculty and/or students for professionalism that went above and beyond their everyday roles. Staff gift card recipients make profound and positive impact in our department's everyday work and academic environment. Please join us in congratulating Doug, Meo, Helen, Dan & Lisa.

Nominations may be submitted at any time. There are no restrictions on the quantity, persons or groups that you can nominate. Submitters are asked to include a citation of how the group or person went above and beyond. The submitter can choose to remain anonymous. Nominate a deserving colleague today.

 

Please join us in congratulating Doug, Meo, Helen, Dan and Lisa. Excerpts from their nominations follow.

Doug Chaffee, Administrative Associate, Electrical Engineering

  • "Doug is really helpful. I appreciate his patient guidance through required processes."
  • "He is always quick to respond, and handles a number of issues."

Meo Kittiwanich, Director of Student and Academic Affairs, Electrical Engineering

  • "She is one of EE's greats."
  • "Meo genuinely cares for students and is an authority on degree requirements."

Helen Lin, Administrative Associate, Electrical Engineering

  • "Few people are as dependable as Helen."
  • "ROCK STAR!"

Dan Moreau, Program Manager, Electrical Engineering

  • "Dan is like a bridge – he always keeps things moving and makes connections."
  • "I appreciate his effort to support colleagues in a variety of ways."

Lisa Sickorez, Financial Officer, Electrical Engineering

  • "Lisa is always 'going above and beyond'– she is very appreciated!"
  • "She teaches staff and faculty best practices with the intention of smoothing their necessary work."

Through generosity of the School of Engineering (SoE), we are ale to continue the Staff Gift Card Bonus Program. Each year, SoE provides several gift cards to distribute to staff members who are recognized for going above and beyond their role. Staff are chosen from nominations received from faculty, students, and staff. Past nominations are also eligible for future months.

Please nominate a deserving staff person or group today! Each recipient receives a $50 Visa card. Nominations can be made at any time.

image of professor Gordon Wetzstein
July 2019

Gordon Wetzstein was awarded the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). This is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Gordon is an assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and, by courtesy, of Computer Science. He is the leader of the Stanford Computational Imaging Lab, an interdisciplinary research group focused on advancing imaging, microscopy, and display systems.

Eleven other Stanford faculty also received the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Link to article below.

 

Please join us in congratulating Gordon for this recognition.


 

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image of Professor Subhasish Mitra
July 2019

In a recent QandA discussion with Stanford Engineering, EE professor Subhasish Mitra and Computer Science professor Clark Barrett, describe their recent work to secure chips before they are manufactured.

What's new when it comes to finding bugs in chips?

Designers have always tried to find logic flaws, or bugs as they are called, before chips went into manufacturing. Otherwise, hackers might exploit these flaws to hijack computers or cause malfunctions. This has been called debugging and it has never been easy. Yet we are now starting to discover a new type of chip vulnerability that is different from so-called bugs. These new weaknesses do not arise from logic flaws. Instead, hackers can figure out how to misuse a feature that has been purposely designed into a chip. There is not a flaw in the logic. But hackers might be able to pervert the logic to steal sensitive data or take over the chip.

How do your algorithms deal with traditional bugs and these new unintended weaknesses?

Let's start with the traditional bugs. We developed a technique called Symbolic Quick Error Detection — or Symbolic QED. Essentially, we use new algorithms to examine chip designs for potential logic flaws or bugs. We recently tested our algorithms on 16 processors that were already being used to help control critical automotive systems like braking and steering. Before these chips went into cars, the designers had already spent five years debugging their own processors using state-of-the-art techniques and fixing all the bugs they found. After using Symbolic QED for one month, we found every bug they'd found in 60 months — and then we found some bugs that were still in the chips. This was a validation of our approach. We think that by using Symbolic QED before a chip goes into manufacturing we'll be able to find and fix more logic flaws in less time.

Does Symbolic QED find all vulnerabilities?

Not in its current incarnation. Through collaboration with other research groups, we have modified Symbolic QED to detect new types of attacks that can come from potential misuse of seemingly innocuous features.

This is just the beginning. The processors we tested were relatively simple. Yet, as we saw, they could be perverted. Over time we will develop more sophisticated algorithms to detect and fix the most sophisticated chips, like the ones responsible for controlling navigation systems on autonomous cars. Our message is simple: As we develop more chips for more critical tasks, we'll need automated systems to find and fix all potential vulnerabilities — traditional bugs and unintended consequences — before chips go into manufacturing. Otherwise we'll always be playing catch up, trying to patch chips after hackers find the vulnerabilities.

Excerpted from "Q&A: What's new in the effort to prevent hackers from hijacking chips?"


 

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professor Krishna Shenoy
July 2019

 

Professor Krishna Shenoy's research team has found that using statistical theory to analyze neural activity provides a faster and equally accurate process.

Krishna's team has circumvented today's painstaking process of tracking the activity of individual neurons in favor of decoding neural activity in the aggregate. Each time a neuron fires it sends an electrical signal — known as a "spike" — to the next neuron down the line. It's the sort of intercellular communication that turns a notion in the mind into muscle contraction elsewhere in the body. "Each neuron has its own electrical fingerprint and no two are identical," says Eric Trautmann, a postdoctoral researcher in Krishna's lab and first author of the paper. "We spend a lot of time isolating and studying the activity of individual neurons."

The team believes their work will ultimately lead to neural implants that use simpler electronics to track more neurons than ever before, and also do so more accurately. The key is to combine their sophisticated new sampling algorithms with small electrodes. So far, such small electrodes have only been employed to control simple devices like a computer mouse. But combining this hardware for recording brain signals with the sampling algorithms creates new possibilities. Researchers might be able to deploy a network of small electrodes through larger sections of the brain, and use the algorithms to sample a great many neurons. This could deliver enough accurate brain signal information to control a prosthetic hand capable of fast and precise motions like pitching a baseball or playing the violin.

Better yet, Trautmann said, the new electrodes, coupled with the sampling algorithms, should eventually be able to record brain activity without the many wires needed today to carry signals from the brain to whatever computer controls the prosthesis. Wireless functionality would completely untether users from bulky computers needed to decode neuronal activity today.

Krishna reports, "This study has a bit of a hopeful message in that observing activity in the brain turns out to be easier than we initially expected."

The paper, "Accurate Estimation of Neural Population Dynamics without Spike Sorting" was published in June's issue of Neuron.

Excerpted from Stanford Engineering news

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July 2019

Professor Gordon Wetzstein and team recently published their findings in Science Advances.

The researchers have created a pair of smart glasses that can automatically focus on what you're looking at. Using eye-trackers and autofocus lenses, the prototype works much like the lens of the eye, with fluid-filled lenses that bulge and thin as the field of vision changes. It also includes eye-tracking sensors that triangulate where a person is looking and determine the precise distance to the object of interest. The team did not invent these lenses or eye-trackers, but they did develop the software system that harnesses this eye-tracking data to keep the fluid-filled lenses in constant and perfect focus.

EE PhD candidate Nitish Padmanaban, said other teams had previously tried to apply autofocus lenses to presbyopia. But without guidance from the eye-tracking hardware and system software, those earlier efforts were no better than wearing traditional progressive lenses.

Gordon's team tested the prototype on 56 people with presbyopia. Test subjects said the autofocus lenses performed better and faster at reading and other tasks. Wearers also tended to prefer the autofocal glasses to the experience of progressive lenses – bulk and weight aside.

Gordon's Computational Imaging Lab is at the forefront of vision systems for VR and AR (virtual and augmented reality). It was in the course of such work that the researchers became aware of the new autofocus lenses and eye-trackers and had the insight to combine these elements to create a potentially transformative product.

Excerpted from Stanford News.

 

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image of EE and CS professor Dorsa Sadigh
July 2019

Professor Dorsa Sadigh and her lab have combined two different ways of setting goals for robots into a single process, which performed better than either of its parts alone in both simulations and real-world experiments. The researchers presented their findings at the 2019 Robotics: Science & Systems (RSS) Conference.

The team has coined their approach, "DemPref" – DemPref uses both demonstrations and preference queries to learn a reward function. Specifically, "(1) using the demonstrations to learn a coarse prior over the space of reward functions, to reduce the effective size of the space from which queries are generated; and (2) use the demonstrations to ground the (active) query generation process, to improve the quality of the generated queries. Our method alleviates the efficiency issues faced by standard preference-based learning methods and does not exclusively depend on (possibly low-quality) demonstrations," as described in the team's abstract.

The new combination system begins with a person demonstrating a behavior to the robot. That can give autonomous robots a lot of information, but the robot often struggles to determine what parts of the demonstration are important. People also don't always want a robot to behave just like the human that trained it.

"We can't always give demonstrations, and even when we can, we often can't rely on the information people give," said Erdem Biyik, EE PhD candidate, who led the work developing the multiple-question surveys. "For example, previous studies have shown people want autonomous cars to drive less aggressively than they do themselves."

That's where the surveys come in, giving the robot a way of asking, for example, whether the user prefers it move its arm low to the ground or up toward the ceiling. For this study, the group used the slower single question method, but they plan to integrate multiple-question surveys in later work.

In tests, the team found that combining demonstrations and surveys was faster than just specifying preferences and, when compared with demonstrations alone, about 80 percent of people preferred how the robot behaved when trained with the combined system.

 

"This is a step in better understanding what people want or expect from a robot," reports Dorsa. "Our work is making it easier and more efficient for humans to interact and teach robots, and I am excited about taking this work further, particularly in studying how robots and humans might learn from each other."

Excerpted from Stanford News article (link below).

 

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Dr. Irena Fischer-Hwang, EE PhD 2019
June 2019

Excerpted from "Stanford grad trades STEM for storytelling," June 2019.

 

EE graduate, Irena Fisher-Hwang,PhD '19 said she realized early in her graduate studies that it was important to communicate science to wider audiences.

"There's an unexpected side to science that is really fun to communicate to people," she said. "I think if we can make science more approachable, it could really help people understand why scientists do what they do."

Little did she realize that her earlier interest in science communication would lead her to a new career path.

Irena's first foray into storytelling was through Goggles Optional, a humorous science podcast written, produced and hosted by Stanford graduate students. For the past two years, she has written and hosted dozens of episodes of the show, including one about lucid dreaming and another about how sound can hack smartphones.

"In academic science, not a lot of people will be able to understand what you are working on," she said. "But the whole goal of journalism is to take difficult concepts and explain them to the public in interesting ways."

Irena's doctoral adviser, Professor Tsachy Weissman, was so impressed by her journalistic leanings that he asked her to help him launch a podcast about his own field of expertise, information theory. Irena produced the pilot episode of the series and then trained 14 students in the new freshman seminar EE25N: The Science of Information to write scripts and edit audio so they can continue producing the series.

Turning Data analysis into storytelling

In communication Professor James Hamilton's class, Irena discovered how journalists and computer scientists are overlapping, as many reporters are now turning to big data analysis to help them with their reporting.

Irena found that the skills she honed during her graduate studies – sorting and evaluating data, managing large amounts of information and running statistical analysis, for example – are as relevant in the newsroom as they are in the lab.

"Now, finally, I feel like I've found a great way to combine my love of human stories with my rigorous training in STEM through journalism. I've had this creative streak for as long as I can remember, but until recently I didn't know what to do with it."

 

Please join us in congratulating Irena, and we look forward to seeing her on campus in the fall quarter!

 

Related News and Links:

image of Professor Jelena Vuckovic
June 2019

Professor Jelena Vuckovic has been appointed the inaugural Jensen Huang Professor in Global Leadership.

Jelena joined the Stanford faculty in 2003. Since then, she has established herself as one of the most distinguished theoretical researchers and innovative experimentalists in nanoscale and quantum photonics of her generation. Jelena is leading a new initiative to bolster quantum research at Stanford and SLAC, called Q-FARM (Quantum Fundamentals, ARchitecture and Machines).

Jelena has received numerous honors for her work, including, most recently, a Distinguished Scholar award from the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics, where she holds a visiting position and serves on the Scientific Advisory Board. She has also been recognized with the Humboldt Prize (2010) and the Marko V. Jaric Award, awarded to scholars for outstanding achievements in physics (2012). Jelena is a Fellow of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers, the American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America.

Excerpted from Dean Jennifer Widom's announcement.

 

Please join us in congratulating Jelena on this well-deserved honor.

Related News:

image of 2019 student speaker, Meera Radhakrishnan, BS'19; MS'20
June 2019

In 1894, the Electrical Engineering Department awarded its first Bachelor's Degree to Lucien Howard Gilmore, at Stanford's Third Annual Commencement. 

125 years later, Samsung Professor in the School of Engineering and Chair of Electrical Engineering, Stephen P. Boyd introduced the 2019 graduates and faculty, to a large audience of family and friends. The event took place on the Medical School Dean's Lawn. Stephen acknowledged the students, families, staff, and faculty for their tremendous support of this year's graduates.

Throughout the academic year, students, faculty and staff are recognized for their contributions to the well-being of the department. The commencement event provides an opportunity for spotlighting many of these awards and tremendous contributions by individuals.

 

The 2019 Design Award Recipients

Professor John Pauly awarded two undergraduate students with the Student Design Project Awards. The capstone projects coalesce curriculum and allow students to innovate in novel ways.

  • Annie Elizabeth Brantigan (EE 168)
  • Caroline Braviak (EE 168)

2019 Centennial Teaching Assistant Award Recipients - EE News Article
Teaching Assistants who excel in teaching are recognized by students and faculty. The centennial Award recognizes tremendous service and dedication in providing excellent classroom instruction.

  • Mohammad Asif Zaman

2019 James F. Gibbons Award for Outstanding Student Teaching
The James F. Gibbons Award for Outstanding Student Teaching Award highlights students who have been nominated by faculty and peers for their extraordinary service as teaching assistants. We are deeply appreciative of the commitment to learning and sharing that our students display.

  • Mitch Pleus
  • Georgia Murray
  • "Jack" Humphries

Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Scholastic Award - EE News Article, Jonathan & Meera ; EE News Article, Anastasios 
The Terman Award is presented to the top 5% of each senior class in the School of Engineering. We are pleased that 3 of our undergraduates received this recognition for their outstanding work.

  • Anastasios Angelopoulos, BS '19.
  • Jonathan Taylor Lin, BS '19; MS '20
  • Meera Radhakrishnan, BS '19; MS '20 (pictured below)

Nine EE students were elected to Phi Beta Kappa for their academic excellence and breadth of their scholarly accomplishments. Seven are 2019 graduates!

  • Anastasios Angelopoulos
  • Caroline Braviak
  • Sabar Dasgupta
  • Breno de Mello Dal Bianco
  • Vickram Gidwani
  • Joseph Yen
  • Robert Young
  • Namrata Balasingam (future graduate)
  • Milind Jagota (future graduate)

The 2018-19 Tau Beta Pi (TBP) Teaching Honor Roll recognizes engineering instructors for excellent teaching, commitment to students, and great mentoring. Professor Mary Wootters received this award for her excellent instruction and commitment, and EE lecturer David Obershaw was also honored for his outstanding commitment to students and instruction.

Chair's Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education
As in past years, this award is a surprise for the audience and the recipient. Meo Kittiwanich recieved the 2019 Chair's Award. She has mastered a number of student services roles, giving her deep insight into student, faculty and staff perspectives. Most recently, she accepted a promotion to Director of Student and Academic Affairs for EE. Meo has guided, directly or indirectly, each and every one of our graduates.

The 2019 Student Speaker was coterminal student Meera Radhakrishnan (BS '19; MS '20). She spoke of her path to EE – realizing a brain MRI was the closest she would get to doing magic, while taking Professor Dwight Nishimura's introductory seminar on medical imaging, freshman year. Since then she and her EE friends have continued to develop their superpowers in various directions, including overcoming challenging labs, solvong infinite problem sets, attending midnight breakfasts with Stanford's President, and efficiently solving escape room puzzles.

"[...] I hope that in the years to come we will share our hard-won superpowers with the rest of the world and make a positive impact in whatever way is most meaningful to each of us. Thank you all for a wonderful four years, and I'm excited to see where our new adventures will take us. Again, congratulations 2019 Graduates and I wish you all the best for a bright future ahead!"  ~Meera Radhakrishnan


 

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