UM Engineering Faculty Collaborates on Deep-Space Communications

Team includes researchers at Jackson State University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Caption for photo 1: UM researchers, from left, Kenneth S. Andrews, Ramananarayanan Viswanathan, John N. Daigle, Jon Hamkins, Dariush Divsalar and Lei Cao meet in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in July 2015. Submitted photo

Three University of Mississippi engineering professors are collaborating with colleagues at Jackson State University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to improve communications with deep-space probes and, perhaps even, manned missions.

Lei Cao, Ramanarayanan Viswanathan and John Daigle, all professors of electrical engineering, are working with researchers at Jackson State University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a project funded by NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR.

The project, “A New Paradigm for Efficient Space Communications: Rateless Coding with Unequal Error Control and Data Fusion,” has achieved good results in theory and simulations. The team has proposed a new protocol for deep-space communications that may both improve the reliability and increase the reception rate of images or data received from spacecraft.

The results may provide a basis for improving data transfer rates over wireless systems, such as cellular phones. The project also may help enable the co-existence of different wireless communication systems for sharing the same frequency spectrum.

“Our simulation results demonstrated that the new protocol could improve the telemetry channel throughput by 46 percent over a fixed-rate communication method,” Cao said. “It could also achieve 92 percent of the theoretic upper-bound, while eliminating the need of retransmission.”

The primary challenge in deep-space communications is that as spacecraft travel farther from Earth, the vast distances cause substantial round-trip delays in the signal and high bit error rates in wireless communications.

“For instance, the round-trip time for (a) radio signal is from 8 to 40 minutes between the Earth and Mars,” Cao said. “This feature makes the protocols based on the receiver acknowledgment and transmitter retransmission of lost data packets that are currently deployed in our daily-used, land-based wireless communications networks no longer appropriate for deep-space communications.”

Also, the long distances cause large attenuation (loss in the signal’s strength along the path), various noise and distortion due to the Earth’s atmosphere and the sun’s corona.

“The water vapor, in particular, affects higher-frequency microwave signals, such as 32 gigahertz Ka-band,” said Kenneth Andrews, of the JPL. “If a spacecraft is on the far side of the sun, and the sun-Earth-probe angle is less than about 3 degrees, then the received signal that passes close enough to the sun will also be distorted by the tenuous plasma of the sun’s corona.

“Therefore, the signal-to-noise power ratio at a receiver is often extremely low, which easily raises the bit error rate to higher than 1 percent in many deep-space communication scenarios.”

Solving these difficult problems is critical because the need for higher data-rate communications for various exploration missions continues to grow, said Viswanathan, who also is chair of the UM Department of Electrical Engineering.

“Through this cooperative agreement, the research team at UM has made significant contributions to improve both the quantity and quality of information obtained through deep-space exploration,” he said.

Participants at the NSF I/UCRC Broadband Wireless Access & Application Center workshop, held at UM in 2015. Photo by Kevin Bain Ole Miss Communications

Data in communications are in the form of binary bit sequences. One bit sequence is often segmented into a number of packets, or basic data units. For example, a few thousand bits could be grouped into one packet. Bits in the packet can be coded together to increase their resilience to signal distortion.

To deal with the effects of long round-trip time, instead of transmitting the original data packets, the researchers encode the packets into a large number of new packets for transmission. At the receiver, the original packets are recovered by using sophisticated algorithms to decode a number of new packets.

“The success of recovery will not depend on which new packets are received but on the number of packets received, which is slightly more than the number of original packets,” Daigle said. “As a result, the new protocol eliminates the need of requesting the transmitter to resend any unsuccessfully delivered packets.”

Together with this new protocol, a number of advancements, including effective coding and decoding algorithms, dynamic selection of the code rate of error control codes and channel prediction algorithms, have been made so that substantial improvements in data transmission over space-to-earth channels can be achieved.

In addition, efficient methods of fusing data to improve the quality of information derived from the collected data have also been developed. New strategies have been proposed to determine what kind of information should be sent to the fusion center from different observers and what optimal fusion rule should be used to maximize the detection probability while minimizing the false-alarm probability.

“The theoretic advancements and practical implementation methods made through this project have been documented in more than 20 peer-referred publications and invited talks and conference presentations,” Viswanathan said.

Besides the technical achievement, a research team, which includes three professors and several graduate students in the Department of Electrical Engineering, has been formed to focus on areas of fountain codes, signal detection and wireless communications. This team, working with other faculty within School of Engineering, has been pursuing collaboration and research opportunities with other agencies and companies.

A stand-alone mobile communication network, built by UM undergraduate students using OpenBTS and USRP, was tested in the field last March 2017. Submitted photo

One prominent success is the establishment of the UM site of the Broadband Wireless Access and Applications Center in 2016. BWAC is a multi-university National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, led by the University of Arizona in partnership with UM, Virginia Tech, University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America.

With NSF support, the center works to advance wireless technologies and provide cost-effective and practical solutions for next-generation – 5G and beyond – wireless systems, millimeter-wave communications, wireless cybersecurity, shared-spectrum access systems, full-duplex transmissions, massive multiple input, multiple output techniques, and more.

“The mission of BWAC is to collaborate with industry research partners to create flexible, efficient and secure wireless networks that satisfy broadband communication needs in businesses, in the home and in the lives of individuals,” Daigle said.

“Through this UM site, the research team has been collaborating with companies including Intel, Qualcomm, Raytheon and C Spire in various projects in wireless communications, particularly in antenna design, 3-D printing and cognitive radio in 5G wireless systems.”

Some of the work directly links to the technologies and expertise developed through this NASA project.

“To contribute to the higher education in the state of Mississippi, the research team has also actively involved undergraduate U.S. citizen students into the project to gain them hands-on research experience,” Cao said. “Using Universal Software Radio Peripheral and GNU radio, the undergraduate students at UM have built up some interesting projects in wireless communications.”

For example, they have built a small network that can perform the same basic functions as a commercial Global System for Mobile network, including voice, Short Message Service, Multimedia Messaging Service and General Packet Radio Service.

“The advantage of this implementation is that a self-contained cellular network can be created with a single computer,” Viswanathan said. “This simple network can be extended with multiple nodes to ideally use for situations where mobile communications infrastructure is absent or compromised, such as in disaster-struck areas.”

The students presented their work at the 31st National Conference on Undergraduate Research and published a paper in the UM Undergraduate Research Journal.

This project is funded by NASA cooperative agreement No. NNX14AN38A. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

University Community Mourns Paul Tobin Maginnis

Retired professor, chair helped build Department of Computer and Information Science

P. Tobin Maginnis

OXFORD, Miss. – Paul Tobin Maginnis, a professor emeritus who served as interim chair and helped build the Department of Computer and Information Science at the University of Mississippi, died June 14 at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford. He was 70.

A private graveside service was held June 16 at Oxford Memorial Cemetery.

Former colleagues and students reflected upon their relationships with Maginnis.

“Tobin will be missed by all of us, including the thousands of students he taught during his 36 years as an Ole Miss faculty member,” said Conrad Cunningham, former chair and professor of computer and information science and longtime friend of Maginnis. “Tobin’s dedication to the students and to computer science education and research – and his pro-student attitude – helped attract me to the faculty.”

Harley Garrett Jr. of Oxford, a retired Air Force officer with a second career in industry and a third with Global Technical Systems, recalled meeting Maginnis through work between 2003 and 2004. Though Garrett was 65 at the time, he credited Maginnis with having taught him “a lot – about a lot.”

“I have been blessed with three careers and have known many people in my life,” he said. “Out of that population, there are a few whose personality, professionalism and enjoyment of helping others can match Tobin’s.

“We shared moments of discussion on a myriad of topics, even though our professional focus was on the application of computer science in the hands of skilled students.”

Garrett said Maginnis’ love of life, passion for understanding things he was interested in, and kindness and generosity toward others are what he remembers most.

“He was also a gifted teacher whose gift transcended all of his endeavors, not just computer science,” he said.

Yi Liu, another former student of Maginnis’ and associate professor of computer science at South Dakota State University, remembered him as “a nice person.”

“I took two classes from him and he was my mentor in teaching the computer organization class,” she said. “I learned from him and I respected him.

“The last time I saw him was at the ACMSE conference at Ole Miss back in 2010. He gave me a hug. I wish I had spent more time talking to him.”

Bill Taylor, vice president of information technology at FNB Oxford, credited Maginnis with jump-starting his professional career.

“During my first meeting with him, he encouraged me to ask Dr. Cook for a job in the CS department,” Taylor said. “He said, ‘We have never hired a freshman before, but I think you are going to be the first.’ He was right.

“Then, right before Christmas break, he told me that when I came back in January, he wanted to talk to me about an opportunity to help get the first Linux certification program going. My professional career started when Dr. Maginnis recommended me for a local IT position.”

Born in Baltimore to the late Paul Tobin “PT” Maginnis and Emily Maginnis Robishaw, Maginnis began working at the university in 1979. He created and taught an extensive array of undergraduate and graduate courses on operating systems, networks and computer architecture. His hard work, long hours and innovative ideas helped shape the identity of computer science education at Ole Miss.

“He taught, advised and supervised many graduate and undergraduate students,” Cunningham said. “The students recognized and appreciated the passion that he brought to his position.”

Maginnis believed in academic integrity and would go to great lengths to preserve it, said Pam Lawhead, professor emeritus of computer and information science.

“He was fair to a flaw but would not stand for or support any breach of academic integrity,” Lawhead said. “His ability to create assignments that absolutely taught the student the concept in question were unparalleled in our department.

“His respect for the individuality of the many and different employees and students created an interesting environment in which to work.”

Maginnis’ roles evolved over the years, said Jimmy Palmer, information technology coordinator at UM’s Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

“Early on, I thought of him as a mentor and teacher,” Palmer said. “A little later, I thought of him as an employer and leader. In more recent years, I thought of him as a colleague and friend.”

Palmer said Maginnis saw something in him that he did not see in himself.

“He trusted me and gave me responsibilities that made me grow as a person and an engineer,” Palmer said. “He asked me to work for him and gave me my first real job in my IT career. I will always be grateful for my relationship with Tobin.”

Maginnis took on the additional responsibility to maintain and support the department’s computer systems for many years. He and his students installed the department’s first network and connected it to the fledgling campus and national networks.

He advocated the use and development of open-source software, computer software that is freely available for anyone to use and modify without the proprietary restrictions imposed by companies. Maginnis used open-source operating systems such as MINIX, Free BSD and Linux in his teaching and research.

Sair Technologies, the company he founded in the 1990s, was at the forefront of open-source technology training and accreditation.

His interest in the “systems” aspect of computing continued until his retirement in 2015, but he adapted to the changing technologies and needs of Ole Miss students.

In the 1990s, Maginnis taught computer graphics and developed interactive “electronic brochures” using the personal computing technologies of that era. In recent years, he expanded his teaching to include web development, microcontroller programming and 3-D printing.

“The building of our 3-D printer lab in 2013 illustrates Tobin’s approach to being a faculty member,” Cunningham said. “He wanted to introduce 3-D printing into one of his courses. As chair at the time, I authorized department funds for that purpose.

“When the kit arrived, Tobin spent a couple of unpaid summer days assembling the kit. I still have the image of Tobin, with all the parts spread out across the conference room table, tools in hand, assembling the printer. I remember the pleasure he had at getting the first 3-D prints off the device. Students have made the resulting Digital Design and 3-D Printing course one of our more popular electives in recent years.”

A member of the Catholic Church in Menominee, Michigan, Maginnis was a sailing enthusiast and enjoyed riding motorcycles. An avid fan of all movies, he particularly loved action flicks and cartoons, and was a devotee of musical theater.

Besides Sair Technologies, he was the founder Gunsmanship Inc., owner of Tobix, an associate member at Wave Technologies and an associate staff member at Global Technology Systems. He also was a member of the Oxford Amateur Radio Club, National Rifle Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a certified home inspector.

Maginnis worked briefly at the university’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences before moving to the Department of Computer Science, where he was employed for 36 years.

Along with his parents, he was preceded in death by a daughter, Erin Elizabeth Dillon-Maginnis.

Survivors include his wife, Elizabeth Anneal Dillon of Oxford; daughters Lindsay Dillon-Maginnis of Oxford and Meredith Dillon-Maginnis of Augusta, Georgia; a son, Jordan Dillon-Maginnis of Oxford; sisters Michael Leonard of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Moira Dean of Milwaukee and Katie Winlinski of Green Bay, Wisconsin; and brothers Jack Maginnis of Washington, D.C., and Kevin Maginnis of Chicago.

Memorial designations in Maginnis’ memory can be made to the American Cancer Society, 1380 Livingston Lane, Jackson, MS 39213.

‘Dr. Vish’ Named Outstanding Engineering Faculty of the Year

Electrical engineering chair and professor admired by students and colleagues

Ramanarayanan “Dr. Vish” Visanathan (left), chair and professor of Electrical Engineering, received the 2017 Outstanding Engineering Faculty of the Year Award from Dean Alex Cheng. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Every year, the University of Mississippi School of Engineering and the UM Alumni Association select an “Outstanding Engineering Faculty” member, based on his or her teaching, research and service. The highest honor the engineering school presents to its faculty, the award includes a $2,000 cash prize.

And the award this year goes to Ramanarayanan Viswanathan, otherwise known as “Dr. Vish.”

Viswanathan joined Ole Miss in 2012 as chair and professor of electrical engineering. Since that time, he has accomplished much in teaching, research and service.

“It was a surprise, although the dean had mentioned earlier that he will include department chairs in the pool for considerations of this award,” Viswanathan said. “I had received a similar outstanding faculty award from my previous institution, which, however, was given to me after my many years of service. I have received this award from Ole Miss in a relatively short time period. This is special because whatever I could achieve would not have been possible without the strong support I have received from EE faculty.”

Since 2014, Viswanathan published two academic articles in prestigious research journals, including IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Transactions on Signal Processing. He also authored three book chapters, wrote five conference proceedings papers and has been the principal investigator or co-PI of five contracts and grants. Of these, the most important one is the Broadband Wireless Access and Applications Center, which is a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center.

“He recognized and organized the strength of (the) department and gathered industry support to form this center that receives $325,000 over five years from NSF plus $160,000 per year from industry members,” said School of Engineering Dean Alex Cheng. The industry members include Intel, Raytheon and C Spire. “Dr. Vish’s service to the profession includes serving (on) the NSF reviewer panel, as technical program committee member for conferences and reviewer for several IEEE journals and conferences. He is an IEEE fellow, which is conferred by IEEE upon a person with an extraordinary record of accomplishments.”

Viswanathan suggested that the engineering school should start a biomedical engineering program. He led the initial organizational effort, which resulted in the B.S. in biomedical engineering degree program that starts this fall.

Considered an excellent professor, students commented about his performance on their teacher evaluations:

“Dr. Vish is very accommodating to students. He will make time to meet if you have questions, and he rewards your hard work.”

“His lectures were helpful and his office hours are even more helpful. He can answer your questions quickly and efficiently, and even on test day he will always be in his office available to answer questions, and even though he must be busy as head of the electrical engineering department he always makes time for us. You can tell he really cares about his students.”

Though Viswanathan said he hasn’t thought of a specific plan for his stipend, he will “use it for a good cause.”

A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Viswanathan was professor of electrical and computer engineering at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He also served as interim dean of SIU’s College of Engineering.

A fellow in the IEEE, his research areas include signal detection, wireless sensor networks and wireless communication. Viswanathan received an Outstanding Teacher Award from the electrical and computer engineering department in 2007 and the College of Engineering Outstanding Faculty Award in 2008, both at SIU.

Viswanathan’s wife, Rama, is a registered cardiac sonographer who enjoys working part time. The couple’s older daughter, Priya, works for a bioengineering company in Chicago. Their younger daughter, Jaya, studied chemical engineering at the University of Illinois before completing her degree at Ole Miss. She now works for a medical devices company in Atlanta.

 

 

Alumnus William H. Baker Jr. Presented McCulloch Lifetime Achievement Award

Honor recognizes contributions to Association for Manufacturing Excellence

William H. ‘Bill’ Baker Jr. is the 2016 Mac McCulloch Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Submitted photo

Adding to many accolades during his career, William H. “Bill” Baker Jr. (ME 63) received the 2016 Mac McCulloch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence.

Established in 2004, the McCulloch Award not only recognizes service to the association but also honors an individual’s character, integrity and leadership. Recipients are nominated and selected by the AME Awards Council and presented the prize at the annual AME International Conference, which took place in Dallas, Texas, last year.

“After being a volunteer for 27 years, I am humbled to be given this recognition for my service,” said Baker, a Jackson native. “I’ve had many career highs over the years, but this one definitely tops the list.”

Baker retired in 2004 from Raytheon Co. and Texas Instruments Defense Systems (which Raytheon acquired in 1997). He is president and CEO of Speed to Excellence, a consulting company based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is also a prolific writer who has contributed articles to the National Productivity Review, Quality Progress and AME’s Target Magazine (of which he is now chairman of its editorial board).

He has co-authored best-sellers that include “Winning the Knowledge Transfer Race” with Michael English (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and “Lean for the Long Term” with Ken Rolfes (Productivity Press, 2015).

“Never dreamed I would be a writer and editor,” he said.

Baker’s other AME volunteer activities include serving as chairman of the 2005 international conference in Boston, where he had the opportunity to introduce the keynote speaker, Gov. Mitt Romney.

George Saiz, AME president and CEO, described Baker as “a tireless continuous improvement practitioner in his professional career (who) has brought that same spirit of improvement to his work at the organization.

“By adding his expertise to everything from AME publications all the way up to the most prestigious level of recognition through the AME Excellence Award, Bill has enabled thousands of continuous improvement practitioners to come together to share, learn and grow,” Saiz said.

Baker entered the University of Mississippi as a student-athlete and was on the freshman tennis team. He recalls Mechanics and Thermodynamics as a favorite engineering course.

“I liked the theories that I could visualize and enjoy,” Baker said.

As a mechanical engineering student, Baker also went through Air Force ROTC, where he was wing operations manager. He was also president of the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and was selected for the Arnold Air Society and Scabbard and Blade honorary ROTC groups.

“This helped me be one of the first USAF rocket-propulsion engineers, who helped launch satellites from 1963 to 1967 and evaluating contractors’ performance,” Baker said.

Following graduation, Baker began a career in manufacturing engineering at Texas Instruments Defense Systems with responsibility for delivering missiles, night vision equipment and geophysical exploration equipment. He later spent two years as manufacturing manager at the University of Texas at Dallas, building mass spectrometers for Apollo 15, 16 and 17.

“The last one of moon exploration, Apollo 17, I physically helped build,” he said. “It is still on the moon.”

A frequent speaker on benchmarking, performance measurement, knowledge management, Raytheon Six Sigma and the Lean Enterprise, Baker has been instrumental in assisting several companies and organizations in pursuit of their strategic objectives. A senior Shingo Prize examiner and AME Excellence Award examiner, he was a key design contributor to the Lean Certification process developed by AME-Shingo-SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) and launched in 2006.

Baker, who also earned an MBA from Southern Methodist University in 1973, was responsible for knowledge management and benchmarking at both Texas Instruments and Raytheon from 1990 to 2004. Earlier in his career, he was the manufacturing manager on several high-profile missile/electronic systems, including Shrike, Paveway, Harpoon seeker, TOW Night Sight, HARM and Tacit Rainbow. Baker was the U.S. Air Force engineering chief, responsible for evaluating satellite launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Baker and his wife, Martha Rea, who attended Ole Miss for three years, have three sons: William, Mark and David.

“I assist Martha, who is an accomplished artist,” Baker said. “And I love to spend time with our four grandchildren: Cas, Ruby, Bodhi and Charan.”

Baker also enjoys playing competitive tennis in Santa Fe.

For more about Speed to Excellence, visit https://billbakerste.com/ For more about the UM Department of Mechanical Engineering, go to https://engineering.olemiss.edu/mechanical/. For additional information about the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, see www.ame.org.

 

 

UM School of Engineering Honors Alumni, Faculty and Students

Annual awards recognize recipients' achievements, service

UM Engineering Dean Alex Cheng presents 2017 Engineer of Service Awards to brothers Chuck (center) and Steve Smith during the annual awards banquet. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Successful University of Mississippi School of Engineering alumni, faculty and students received their due Thursday (April 20) during the school’s 2017 Honors Banquet.

The annual awards were presented by Dean Alex Cheng and others at the Inn at Ole Miss. Alumni recipients are Karen Comer Matthews (BSCE 85), president and CEO of Delta Health Alliance, and Charles E. Smith Jr. (BSEE 83) and Steven A. Smith (BSEE 93), co-founders of Guardian Manufacturing Inc. Matthews received the Engineer of Distinction Award, while the Smith brothers were given Engineer of Service Awards.

“We’re enjoying a warm and wonderful evening celebrating the accomplishments and service of our students, faculty and alumni,” Cheng said. “We are proud of them and are honored to join them to celebrate together.”

Each honoree expressed gratitude for the recognitions.

“You have honored me today with this recognition, one in which I accept with both humility and gratitude,” Matthews said. “I truly hope that I have been true to my quest, that I have created some positive forward motion in Mississippi – however slight it may be in the grand scheme of life – and, most importantly, lived a life that validates the love and respect of my family, my divine guidance and the desire to return the respect that we all have for this institution.”

A nonprofit organization that funds and operates more than 20 health care and education initiatives throughout the Mississippi Delta, the alliance works to overcome health and education disparities in rural communities. It has been a leader in using information technologies to improve delivery of services, nurturing collaborations among professional disciplines and community organizations, and applying quantitative assessment and evaluation to guide development and improvement of programs.

“Engineers, regardless of discipline, are people who contrive and derive from cleverness, and we are this little secret group of problem solvers that the rest of the world sees as nerds, but we know better,” said Matthews, a Fulton native who also earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Memphis and her doctorate in health science administration from the University of Tennessee.

Before joining Delta Health Alliance, she served as vice chancellor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where she was responsible for promoting, establishing and supporting interdisciplinary and inter-organizational collaborations in research, education and patient care.

Karen Comer Matthews accepts the 2017 Distinguished Engineer of the Year Award during the annual UM School of Engineering awards banquet. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Under her direction, Tennessee Health Science Center was an early leader in establishing telemedicine networks as a way of bringing health care specialists to underserved communities. The Tennessee system ultimately grew to more than 110 sites throughout the Mid-South and was named the third largest network in the country in 2005.

Matthews has served as principal investigator on numerous state and federal contracts, authored more than 50 articles for academic journals and written successful grant applications for more than $250 million in research support.

Chuck and Steve Smith are the oldest and middle of three sons of the late Charles E. Smith Sr., who from 1975 to 2004 devoted his life to the advancement of the UM electrical engineering program as chair and professor. Years later, his legacy is being maintained by the benevolence of his two sons.

The Smith brothers have served as members of the Engineering Advisory Board since 2007. Steve served as an executive committee member since 2010 and as chair for 2014 and 2015.

“Receiving an award that was previously given to our father many years ago is very special,” Chuck Smith said. “His dedication and service to Ole Miss and the School of Engineering meant everything to him and to be honored in a similar way is a humbling experience.”

Both served in the Engineering School’s Vision Council in 2010-12 for strategic planning. They have spoken to students on multiple occasions and generously donated to rename the former Engineering Science Building to Charles E. Smith Sr. Hall in 2004.

“Ole Miss and Oxford represent a very special place for our family,” Chuck Smith said. “We have so many friends and fond memories of family and growing up here. Although we live in Florida, our roots are and will always be in Oxford.”

Steve Smith echoed his brother’s sentiment.

“Being recognized from my Ole Miss home is humbling, yet brings a deeper purpose to strive even harder,” he said. “Raised in the halls of engineering, I was fortunate to have many mentors, many who grace the walls today.

“I always remember walking by plaques that adorn the walls, many whom I knew, thinking one day I would join them. Little did I know, I would join with my father and brother – a family affair.”

Both are both involved in Shema Ministry of Merit Island, Florida, serving as board members. This is a group of business leaders committed to helping meet financial needs of individuals in the community.

Steve Smith and his wife, Karen, have served as ministry leaders to other couples through Calvary Chapel Viera. He is also a board member of My Community Cares Inc., served as a Lafayette County volunteer firefighter during the years he lived in Oxford and Yocona communities and donated airline miles a year ago for UM’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders travel to the West African nation of Togo.

Chuck and Steve support the Veteran’s Airlift Command and other charitable causes, where they donate time on their corporate aircraft to provide transportation to veterans and others in tough situations at no charge. Chuck also serves on the Luis Palau President’s Council.

Employees who received awards included Ramanarayanan (“Dr. Vish”) Vishwanathan, chair and professor of electrical engineering, Outstanding Engineering Faculty of the Year Award; Wei-Yin Chen, professor of chemical engineering, Senior Faculty Research Award; Matt Morrison, assistant professor of electrical engineering, Junior Faculty Research Award; Alexander Yakovlev, professor of electrical engineering, Faculty Teaching Award; Dwight Waddell, associate professor of electrical engineering, Faculty Service Award; and Paul Matthew Lowe, machine shop supervisor, Outstanding Staff Award.

Students recognized as Outstanding Senior Leaders during the ceremonies included Dustin Dykes, a mechanical engineering major from Madison, Alabama; Holly Pitts, a civil engineering major from Indianola; and Adam Schildhammer, a geological engineering major from Alpharetta, Georgia. Frances Miramon, a civil engineering major from Shreveport, Louisiana, received the David Arnold Engineering Award. Graduate students Bradley Goodwiller, a civil engineering major, and Matthew Nelms, a mechanical engineering major, both from Oxford, received Graduate Achievement Awards.

For more about the UM School of Engineering, visit https://engineering.olemiss.edu/.

 

Mustafa Altinakar Multiplies UM Assets

NCCHE director generates abundance of research and funding

Mustafa Altinakar is the second director of the National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The University of Mississippi’s National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering already was renowned for its expertise in modeling water flow, sediment transport and erosion when Mustafa Altinakar became its director in 2010. But instead of being content with that reputation, Altinakar has pushed the center’s scientists and programs to even greater heights each year.

Altinakar joined the NCCHE in 2002 as a research professor and was promoted to director after Sam Shu-Yi Wang, the center’s founder-director and F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, retired.

“Our center has a wide range of research interests, which encompasses free surface flows and hydrodynamics in rivers and coastal areas, soil erosion, sediment transport and morphodynamics changes, contaminant transport and fate, and water quality,” he said.

“A couple of years ago, we also constructed two experimental facilities at the laboratories of NSL (National Sedimentation Laboratory). One is a general-purpose dam-break and flood-simulation facility, which is currently being used for research in dam-break flows of granular materials.

“The other is a wave flume in which we have been studying wave attenuation by vegetation and bank erosion in agricultural ponds due to waves. The physical data collected have been invaluable for improving and validating our situational models. During the last two years, our researchers also designed field studies of boat-wave erosion in rivers.”

Altinakar also works to strengthen the center’s ties with federal and state agencies and private engineering companies to provide technology transfer and expertise. In addition, he oversees UM’s graduate program (M.S. and Ph.D.) in computational hydroscience and engineering, which is unique among SEC universities, and teaches various graduate courses.

“In recent years, the numerical modeling has gained wider acceptance and use in water resources management, conservation of water and land resources, environmental protection, prediction and prevention of water-related disasters due to its cost effectiveness in funds and time,” he said.

“We are very proud to be educating the next generation workforce that will carry on the future developments in computational hydroscience and engineering. An important part of my job is also to make sure that our research team, staff and students enjoy a stable, harmonious and friendly environment conducive to creative research and development work.”

Altinakar said he has found Ole Miss to be a tight-knit, encouraging community.

Mustafa Altinakar (second from left) discusses disaster and emergency management data with Nezih Altay, Haibo Wang and Dave Benway. Photo by Robert Jordan/University Communications

“NCCHE researchers, staff and students enjoy the small family atmosphere that stimulates open discussion and close collaboration,” he said. “I also enjoy the close collaboration we have with the School of Engineering and the UM Office of Research, who have been very supportive and attentive to our problems, which encourages us to work harder for achieving higher level of success.

“I particularly enjoy the close relationship and multidisciplinary collaborative research we have with several faculty and researchers in other departments in the School of Engineering and in the University of Mississippi as a whole.”

Before December 2002, Altinakar worked in Switzerland as the acting director of the Environmental Hydraulics Laboratory (formerly Hydraulic Research Laboratory) at the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne). His decision to leave that post and become a research professor at NCCHE was motivated by his belief that he could help raise the center’s success to a higher level.

“I had first met Dr. Wang at the International Association for Hydro-Environment (Engineering and Research) conference in Tokyo, Japan, in 1993,” Altinakar said. “In 2000, he invited professor Walter Graf, my Ph.D. thesis supervisor, and myself to teach a short course in fluvial hydraulics here at NCCHE. At the end of the short course, he asked me to join NCCHE as a research professor and a potential candidate for the directorship at his retirement.”

Altinakar’s proven track record and visionary leadership are what prompted the offer, Wang said.

“Dr. Altinakar has tremendous ability to handle all kinds of things required to effectively hold his position,” Wang said. “Not only that, he is very personable, a great conversationalist who is able to make friends at almost first meeting.

“He is the perfect person for persuading people to adopt the computational modeling technology. The university was very fortunate he decided to accept the position here.”

Upon his return to Lausanne, Altinakar kept in touch with Wang, and they discussed how the former might contribute to the future of NCCHE. During his visit at Ole Miss, Altinakar had met his future colleagues and established a strong affinity due to their common research interests.

“What finally attracted me to NCCHE was not only the opportunity to work with a strong team of researchers at the forefront (of) numerical modeling technology, but also the fact that the modeling technologies were being transferred to federal and state agencies to solve real-life scientific and engineering problems,” he said.

“Organic research ties with the National Sedimentation Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the interaction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg were also important factors in making the decision to come to NCCHE. I felt that the research triangle formed by NCCHE, NSL and ERDC could be a good basis for pushing the frontiers of the state-of-the-art numerical modeling and making it available in scientific and engineering practice.”

After eight years as a research professor, Altinakar became NCCHE director in July 2010, following Wang’s retirement. In this role, he is responsible for bringing in funded research projects to sustain NCCHE as a leading research center in computational hydroscience and engineering. Since its establishment in 1983, NCCHE has succeeded in remaining a self-sustaining unit through funded research projects.

Altinakar is particularly proud of NCCHE’s research, which led to the development of dam and levee-break flood modeling and mapping software DSS-WISE™. This ongoing research was funded originally by the Science and Technology Division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the Southeast Region Research program.

In 2012, NCCHE developed a web-based version of this software, called DSS-WISE™ Lite, which was provided free to all dam-safety stakeholders through a portal at Argonne National Laboratory. Until the end of 2014, this system handled more than 3,000 simulations of about 900 dams launched by more than 100 users from 41 states.

“In 2015, following the closing of the portal at ANL, many states expressed strongly the need for the continuation of DSS-WISE™ Lite service,” Altinakar said. “The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency signed a five-year ‘sole-source’ contract with NCCHE to develop a stand-alone web portal with DSS-WISE™ Lite capability. This was the first contract FEMA signed with the University of Mississippi. The fact that it is sole source goes to show that FEMA recognizes NCCHE as the only research group that can provide this capability.

“Our small team developed the stand-alone portal for the DSS-WISE™ Lite capability from scratch in less than a year, and FEMA has evaluated our work as ‘exceptional.’ In doing so, our team used primarily open-source technologies to create the web portal and trained several graduate students who are now employed by our center. Our team has now working expertise in this area, which is unique in our university and quite rare even across the other academic institutions in the U.S.”

In the second year of the five-year project, the DSS-WISE™ Lite server at NCCHE is providing web-based, automated dam-break capability to FEMA’s main office, 10 FEMA regional offices, the National Weather Service of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and all state dam safety offices, Altinakar said.

“I dare say that this is a unique capability in the world, which offers automated input data preparation, in addition to an extremely powerful and fast computational engine,” he said. “I am also proud to have introduced the development of GIS and numerical modeling-based decision support tools in inundation mapping and consequence analysis for flood risk analysis, general purpose Graphics Processing Unit, faster than real-time flood modeling.

“We have been closely working with the researchers at NSL to develop a web-based platform called AIMS (Agricultural Integrated Management System) that allows users to simulate any watershed in the conterminous U.S. This system is currently being tested and will soon be available free of charge to conservation engineers, watershed managers and scientists.”

Altinakar and his spouse, Ayse, have lived in Oxford for the past 15 years. She holds a degree in French philology from University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She is also a graduate of UM’s Patterson School of Accountancy. The couple has a son who earned a doctorate in mathematics from the Polytechnique Montréal, and lives and works in Montreal.

“I and Ayse are both book lovers,” Altinakar said. “We have a large library at home containing books in Turkish, French and English. I am an avid reader. I read novels, mystery books, history books, scientific books, etc. One of my favorite leisure activities is playing guitar (mostly classical and flamenco). I also draw and paint.

“I used to be a good tennis and table tennis player, but I cannot find time anymore.”

Esteban Urena-Benavides Joins Chemical Engineering Department

Assistant professor brings exceptional scholarship, teaching excellence

Esteban Urena-Benevides

Esteban Urena-Benevides

Esteban Urena-Benavides joined the Department of Chemical Engineering faculty at the University of Mississippi 12 months ago, a move that he says has proven to be one the best choices of his professional career.

“In my view, the University of Mississippi is one of the few academic institutions that gives the opportunity to have a truly balanced academic and personal life,” the assistant professor said. “The School of Engineering and I share the same sincere passion for teaching and research.”

Urena-Benavides earned his doctorate from Clemson University and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Costa Rica. Courses he has taught at UM include Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics and Chemical Reactors Analysis and Design. He is teaching Thermodynamics over the summer and will develop a course on intermolecular and interfacial forces in the future.

Urena-Benevides’ definitely brings significant contributions to the chemical engineering program, said John O’Haver, department chair and professor.

“Dr. Esteban has brought many things to the department,” O’Haver said. “An infectious, positive attitude, great interactions with students, an excellent start to a new research area, a willingness to help, someone who understands who we are and who wants to make us even better.”

Urena-Benevides said his previous professional achievements have helped him be where he is today.

“Life has taken me to complete three postdoctoral appointments at Auburn University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin,” he said. “This has given me the opportunity to publish high-impact research in a wide variety of fields and learn directly from some of the most brilliant researchers in the world.”

His research interests are related to sustainable nanotechnology.

“Mostly, I will use fundamental colloids and interfacial science principles to develop carbon monoxide foams for greenhouse gas underground sequestration, oil-and-water emulsions for oil spill cleanup and novel sustainable nano-composite materials,” he said. “Mainly, I will take advantage of the properties of bio-based carbohydrate nanoparticles.”

His short-term goals are to become an exceptional teacher and researcher.

“I am committed to high-quality education at undergraduate and graduate levels,” Urena-Benevides said. “Charles Eckert, who is one of my postdoctoral advisers, once told me, ‘the main product of a university is its students, and research is a highly valuable tool we use to make an excellent product.’ I truly share that view and I will develop my career with that in mind.”

His long-term goals are to contribute to improving the image of Ole Miss nationally and internationally by graduating better-prepared students at all levels, publishing groundbreaking research and giving service to the state.

“I seek to develop economically and environmentally viable technologies to improve the sustainability of the U.S. materials and energy industries,” he said. “For this purpose, I hope to lower the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, support the implementation of alternative energies and facilitate underground sequestration of carbon monoxide to mitigate global warming. I will also contribute introducing sustainability topics to middle schools across the state of Mississippi.”

Urena-Benevides said his wife, Linda, and son, Damian, are the most important parts of his life.

The family enjoys taking short road trips to experience the natural beauty of Mississippi and surrounding areas, as well as the different urban regions within moderate proximity to Oxford. When possible, they also like watching and playing soccer.

Farhad Farzbod Joins Mechanical Engineering Faculty

Newest professor brings creativity, energy to students and colleagues

Farhad Farzbad (far right) enjoys some time with his wife, Rosita, and friends at YellowStone National Park.

Farhad Farzbad (far right) enjoys some time with his wife, Rosita, and friends at YellowStone National Park.

As technological advances continue, the imaginary line between fiction and reality is being erased. And that’s one of the reasons Farhad Farzbod is an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi.

“I looked for academic opportunities in the South and I found Ole Miss,” said Farzbod, who joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering faculty last August. “When I visited the campus, I was attracted to the level of collegiality in the department and how helpful everyone was. Not to mention that the campus was much more beautiful than what I had in mind.”

Farzbod, whose research area is mainly actuator design and novel acoustic devices, has taught Dynamics and Mechatronics. He will teach Engineering Systems Analysis and Design and Linear Control next semester.

“My background is in different areas, from laser ultrasound and bio acoustics to mechatronics and sensor design,” Farzbod said. “Currently, I am pursuing a subset of these.”

Farzbod is a welcome addition to the ME department, said Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering.

“Dr. Farzbod brings incredible multidisciplinary characteristics and capability through his work experience with the Google Inc. and research work at the Idaho National Laboratory,” he said. “The use of micro-electro mechanical systems in mechanical/electronics components and all types of sensors necessitates a need for teaching mechatronics to our students.

“With faculty like Dr. Farzbod, the mechanical engineering department has now positioned itself to further modernize its curriculum so that our students could find better opportunity in the global market.”

After earning his Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology, Farzbod took a postdoc at Idaho National Laboratory. He was a research engineer at Google [x] Lab before coming to UM.

Farzbod’s most fulfilling professional achievement thus far is his second patent, which he filed while employed at Google.

“It is about using nose vibration to pick up speech signal,” Farzbod said. “I think it is really useful for wearable computers and it helps to personalize communication with wearable devices without much sacrifice for the power and the price.”

Although Farzbod enjoyed his time at Google, he found himself drawn to life in a college town more than the big city. “Those years of living in the South, with its green nature, warm weather and nice people made my best memories,” he said.

The new faculty member has already set short- and long-term goals for himself.

“My short-term goal is to bring outside research money to the department to provide for graduate student stipend, experimental setups and possibly some summer hours for undergrads,” he said.

“One of my long term goal is to reach out beyond Ole Miss and serve the state of Mississippi. Another long-term goal is to be somewhat well known in my area of research, to have a lab with state-of-the-art facilities to serve both my research and teaching activities.”

The most gratifying part of the job for Farzbod is working with students.

“I am still on a learning curve about the level of students here,” he said. “Some of them definitely beat my expectations. But I have to find the average, to adjust my gears.”

Farzbod and his wife, Rozita, enjoy hiking and playing cards with friends. He looks forward to serving the campus community and beyond.

“I remember that when I was working at Google, we were encouraged to go out couple of days a year and tutor high school students in underprivileged schools in the Bay Area,” Farzbod said. “I think Mississippi, among all places, needs our help. The late Jim Chambers – God bless his soul – was active in this.”

For more info, visit http://mechanical.olemiss.edu/~farzbod.

Adam Jones Joins Computer Science Faculty

Newest professor brings energy, creativity to department and students

Adam Jones uses a piece of VR equipment

Adam Jones uses a piece of VR equipment

As technological advances continue, the imaginary line between fiction and reality is being erased. And that’s one of the reasons Adam Jones is an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi.

“Why I came here is an interesting story,” said Jones, who joined the Department of Computer and Information Sciences faculty in August. “When I interviewed, I found that the faculty in CIS are great, super-sharp folks, the students are eager and bright, and the city of Oxford is warm and inviting. This was the perfect opportunity to give back to my home state and work with a stellar group of people.”

Jones, whose research area is virtual reality and augmented reality, has taught Computer Graphics, Special Topics in Virtual Reality and Computer Programming. He’ll teach Introduction to Data Science next semester.

“I am also starting a virtual reality lab that I’m currently calling the High Fidelity Virtual Environments Lab, or Hi5 Lab for short,” Jones said.

Jones is a welcome addition to the CIS department, said Dawn Wilkins, the department’s chair.

“Our students are very interested in his virtual reality research, and it meshes well with the new digital media studies minor that was recently approved,” she said. “Adam has quickly established a reputation as a caring and enthusiastic teacher. He definitely boosts the ‘cool’ factor in our department.”

After earning his doctorate from Mississippi State University, Jones took a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Southern California, working for Mark Bolas, founder of Fakespace, and former CBS vice president Kim LeMasters.

“We were doing experiments in VR and designing low-cost VR displays, including precursors to the Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift,” he said. “One of the guys in our lab was Palmer Luckey, who went on to found Oculus VR and spurred the recent resurgence of VR in video gaming. We were all super excited when his company was bought by Facebook for $2 billion.”

Although Jones enjoyed his time at USC, he found himself drawn to life in a college town more than the big city.

“I grew up in Mississippi, and knew I wanted to come back to teach and share my experiences with students,” he said. “In the meantime, I took another postdoc at Clemson University working with one of the first VR researchers, Larry Hodges. While there I met my wife, Caitlin. Not long afterward, I got the offer to join the faculty of the University of Mississippi.”

The most gratifying part of the job for Jones is working with students.

“It’s great to see them learn, but what is even more awesome is seeing them take the things they learned in class and using it in their own projects and hobbies just for fun,” he said. “Students will come to my office and show me the computer graphics or VR projects they’ve done on their own, and I’m just blown away. It’s really rewarding to see students be excited, especially when the subject matter is really challenging.”

He and his wife, who has a doctorate in genetics and works with students at the FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Support Center, are newly married. His family also includes his parents in Calhoun, Miss. and in-laws in Clemson, South Carolina.

“In my down time, I like to build miscellaneous gadgets – robots, VR displays, motion trackers and such – experiment with 3-D printing, cook, read and watch sci-fi,” Jones said. “Both Caitlin and I are big sci-fi fans. We are constantly amazed at how much of yesterday’s science fiction is today’s science fact.”

For more info, visit http://cs.olemiss.edu/~jones.

UM Civil Engineers Assist MDOT with Bridges and Highways

Researchers provide expertise, technology for inspections

Civil engineering graduate students take vibration measurements on Ford Center Bridge.

UM civil engineering graduate students take vibration measurements on University Avenue bridge over Gertrude Ford Boulevard.

OXFORD, Miss. – As Mississippi lawmakers continue to examine means to fund a $375 million proposal for state highways and bridges, University of Mississippi civil engineers are developing new ways to assist with inspections and maintenance.

The Mississippi Economic Council and state Chamber of Commerce released a report in December advising that Mississippi needs to invest funds to replace 562 deficient bridges and repave many roads. Though financial sources remain uncertain, the report suggests lawmakers consider higher fuel taxes, license plate fees, rental car taxes and/or general sales taxes.

“For several years now, the University of Mississippi has been a leading contributor in helping MDOT with these infrastructure challenges,” said Waheed Uddin, professor of civil engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology at UM. “Through our collaborative efforts with them and researchers at other universities, we have developed programs that have repeatedly proven successful in achieving transportation objectives.”

The university’s researchers have developed ways to use such high-tech tools as computational modeling, laser-assisted measuring devices and more to help MDOT monitor bridges and roads throughout the state.

For example, Uddin’s CAIT lab has conducted two MDOT Research Division studies since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, using ground-penetrating radar to assess the structural integrity of state highways and to check bridges.

UM civil engineering professor Elizabeth Ervin (right) inspects the University Avenue bridge for weaknesses.

UM civil engineering professor Elizabeth Ervin (right) inspects the University Avenue bridge for weaknesses.

Working with the university’s National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering, Uddin and his students also have used extreme flood simulation results and created three-dimensional computational models of bridges to show how catastrophic failures happen. This work is helping improve the resilience of bridges built over streams and rivers.

“When funding is extremely limited, asset management becomes all the more important,” said Uddin, who serves as a member of the Mississippi Transportation Institute board of directors. “By using a Highway Asset Management System, MDOT has been able to monitor existing roads and bridges for maintenance, safety and stability.”

Another project, a partnership with MDOT’s Construction Division and NASA, has yielded a laser technology to conduct aerial surveys for highway and bridge design alignment.

“Most states’ Department of Transportation agencies now use this technology, which was evaluated for accuracy and cost right here at the University of Mississippi,” Uddin said.

The MDOT Traffic Engineering Division worked with Ole Miss professors when deciding to conduct a field performance study of roundabouts on South Lamar Avenue in Oxford.

Following the construction of roundabouts on both ends of the Highway 6 bridge on South Lamar – which have proven highly successful in promoting safety and traffic flow – the roundabout project was selected as one of the Sweet 16 projects for national recognition by American Association of State Highways and Transportation officials.

Roundabouts were later built on Old Taylor Road, easing traffic flow on the Highway 6 bridge on this major link between the Ole Miss campus and new housing developments in Oxford and Lafayette County.

Another important new tool is a software package called Structural Health Evaluation, developed by Elizabeth Ervin, associate professor of civil engineering.

The system measures vibrations on a bridge to locate its weakest points. The measurements can usually be taken in less than a day and do not require roads to be closed. Data collected has the potential to help inspectors better determine which bridges are most likely to fail and how to best address the issues.

“Visual observation alone of bridges is no longer the best way to select and prioritize them for repairs,” Ervin said. “While the vibration sensors can’t make predictions, it can help inspectors know which bridges are weakest and most likely to fail first.”

Chris Mullen, another Ole Miss civil engineering professor, is using computational modeling to help determine which structural parts are most likely to cause critical failure (such as in the case of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2015). Combining Mullen’s modeling technology and Ervin’s vibration sensors could greatly enhance the effectiveness of bridge inspection practices, Ervin said.

UM civil engineering professor Waheed Uddin checks data using his ground penetrating radar system.

UM civil engineering professor Waheed Uddin checks data using terrain laser mapping sensor equipment aboard an aircraft.

“Of course, no one can accurately predict exactly when a structure will fail,” she said. “We can only give our best guesses about when it might occur and, based on that data, determine a plan of action. Lowering truck weight limits alone is not a guarantee. Research and technology offer better alternatives.”

Uddin and Ervin both said they’re hopeful that funding for infrastructure improvements can be found.

“We’re certainly very hopeful that the Mississippi Legislature will pass the MDOT funding proposal,” Uddin said. “We want to continue offering our expertise in partnership with other institutions and agencies for the good of all transportation users.”

“This proposal, if it passes, is a good start,” Ervin said. “Still, the maintenance of existing bridges and highways, not to mention the possible construction of new ones, is a mind-boggling problem. We still have a long, long way to go.”