Doing their research: ECE'S Senior Thesis students
The ultimate in undergraduate research at ECE-Illinois is the two-semester course combination of ECE 496 and 499—“senior thesis” for short—which entails an individual research project and a thesis presenting the results. Following is a small sample of senior theses completed in Spring 2016 by some of ECE’s newest alumni.
Shawn Ahn addressed the incorporation of haptic feedback into a touchscreen for the vision-impaired. He demonstrated how dc vibrating motors can convey the surface roughness of images, a step toward enabling users to “see” two-dimensional onscreen images with their fingertips.
“I had to do a lot of reading in the literature,” said Ahn, now pursuing an MD/PhD at Yale. “My project involved some components in biology, software, and hardware, so it was difficult to connect the three together seamlessly.”
Not only did Carl Haken’s senior thesis project launch his career, but he expects it will be launched itself—as part of the U of I CubeSat nanosatellite project scheduled to go into orbit late this year. Haken’s contribution is the switching current regulator for the satellite’s magnetic attitude control system. His custom design fits the project specifications better than any commercially available design.
“This is pretty much my dream job,” said Haken, now a power electronics engineer with SpaceX, “and I definitely have my senior thesis project to thank.”
Andrew Netherton investigated the high-speed modulation of vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs), using theory to derive the device characteristics that influence VCSEL bandwidth, then testing VCSELs produced in the Micro and Nano Technology Lab to verify his conclusions.
Netherton said the experience “familiarized me with tools I expect I’ll use throughout my career … and gave me a deeper appreciation for how difficult it can be sometimes to collect good data.” He is finishing an internship at Infinera this fall and preparing to start PhD work at UC–Santa Barbara.
“While I was interviewing for a position with IBM Research, it definitely helped that I had some involvement with academic research,” recalled Mahika Dubey, now employed at the company’s TJ Watson Research Center. Dubey’s thesis drew on numerical methods as well as listening tests to assess several commonly used signal processing methods of speech enhancement. She concluded by advocating the use of machine learning techniques—especially neural networks—instead.
“Now that I have started working,” said Dubey, “I think the experience gave me a few insights on how to work in a lab environment.”
Hao Jin contributed toward meeting the ever-growing need for computing resources in the sciences by mining and analyzing the performance and job scheduling logs of U of I’s Blue Waters petascale computing system. Jin created tools for parsing, handling, and extracting information from the Blue Waters logs and performed analyses to determine which applications performed best and why.
“Doing research at U of I … you get access to data and facilities that are not available elsewhere,” said Jin, now pursuing a master’s in computer science at Carnegie Mellon.
With outdoor positioning systems proliferating in phones, cars, and more, Jane Wang’s interest was aroused by the lack of indoor positioning systems available despite their potential utility—especially for emergency responders—in places like malls, schools, and hospitals. Her wireless solution rests on using the phase difference between a client’s transmitted and received signals in order to find the distance from client to server.
“My senior thesis experience helps me a lot in the design and testing phases of product development,” said Wang, now an RF engineer with startup Tagore Technology.
Thomas Navidi investigated two possible modes of rural highway electrification to extend the range of electric cars. Using the characteristics of catenary and road-embedded wireless power transfer systems, combined with data about Interstate 5 through California, Navidi ran simulations demonstrating their potential benefits. He also built a small prototype of the wireless system.
“The most satisfying aspect … was learning about independent research and paper writing,” said Navidi, now pursuing a PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford.
Senior theses are archived online at go.illinois.edu/eceSenThesis
This story first appeared in the fall/winter 2016 issue of Resonance, ECE ILLINOIS' semi-annual magazine.