I have just one research interest: ideas.
Especially, ideas that help solve problems and help
understand the world around us. But also ideas that are fun,
inspiring, foster collaboration,
and lead to looking at things in a new way.
Because interesting ideas are everywhere, I tend to work
in a number of different "areas" or "problems".
These are some current areas of focus:
- Educational technology.
As part of the
Research group, my students and I are interested in
effective ways to enable learning through smartphones.
Currently, we are working on apps that enhance literacy
instruction and math education for adult learners.
- Robotics: human-in-the-loop. Many problems
that formerly bedeviled robots are now "almost solved", including
motion, using location awareness, and machine vision. But
many basic problems remain, such as reliably recognizing
everyday objects and how to use them. So, for the near future,
it appears that humans need to teach robots how to work
with everyday objects. The goal of this project is to
use a simple interface for humans to show robots how
to work with objects: how to grasp them, manipulate them,
- Thermal sensing. Current energy consumption
that goes into heating and cooling (HVAC) buildings represents
30-50% of the energy usage in residential and commercial buildings,
which itself is about 40% of total energy consumption.
At the same time, surveys of indoor quality show that people
are often dissatisfied with indoor temperature regulation.
The goal of this project is to use combination sensors (visual and
thermal) to accurately detect when an individual is feeling
discomfort (too cold, too hot) based on the thermal signature
of various parts of the skin and clothing.
- Complex systems: Biocomplexity.
Consider the complex network of interactions in the average
living cell. What is known today is that some biomolecular
``circuits'' -- such as sensors for
particular external signals -- are relatively simple, whereas others show
astonishing complexity -- such as the collection of molecules
that govern the sequence of events in the birth-to-death
cycle of a cell. A central goal in biology today is to understand
such circuits or networks.
A Boolean network is a popular model for such circuits
and has resulted in a significant literature.
Our work focuses on questions that go to the heart
of why biological systems are complex. We focus
on the space of networks that result in a given behavior
(the biological phenomenon of interest), and
ask: what kinds of networks produce the behavior? what
is the minimal network needed? what components are involved
- Systems security. The broad area of systems
security tries to address the question: how do we build
computing infrastructure that is less vulnerable to
attacks from viruses, hackers and the like?
Because a basic computer is complex, the design
of computing systems involves a number
of sub-specialties from software engineering at
one end, to detailed hardware design at the other.
Within this span, I have focused on languages,
compilers, and architecture by asking: what can
do with languages, compilers and hardware to
make a system more secure? In recent work, we
have developed ideas for how architecture
can support software security (through hardware
monitoring), encrypted execution (in which
programs run fully encrypted but can nonetheless be
attacked), and Trojan circuits (in which an
untrusted manufacturer can insert circuits into a chip).
I am also working with students on related problems
in language design, runtime systems, and
taming software complexity.
- Autonomous and cyberphysical systems.
These two big words are intended to reflect how once-specialized
areas such as robotics and vision are now broadly influencing the
design of languages and systems. I am interested in
new language and systems primitives, especially with
humans-in-the-loop, for autonomous and cyberphysical systems.
- STEM education.
In a general sense, I am interested in "better ways to teach",
especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)
disciplines. Not just my own teaching, but also curricula
and new programs and interdisciplinary curricula that
can help train the next generation of scientists and engineers.
In recent projects, I have worked with physicists and biologists
in integrating computational approaches into science education.
Besides the above, I am continually adding new areas or problems-to-solve,
often based on student interests.
For you, the student, I have one message: stop by and we'll find
something interesting and valuable that you can work on.
In an earlier life, I worked on problems in networks
(starting with my PhD), stochastic modeling and parallel computing.
I might come back to these some day, who knows.
It all depends on where the interesting ideas are.