Preeminent Teams determine Engineering's hiring priority

Four winning research teams have forged the College of Engineering's priority for faculty hiring during the coming year.

The teams, chosen from among 32 that competed this fall, were selected because their work has the potential for dramatic impact and international preeminence. New faculty will be hired to strengthen the teams as part of the strategic growth plan, which will add as many as 107 faculty members over five years. In addition to the team hiring, other hires will be related to strengthening disciplines and taking advantage of opportunities to enhance quality and diversity.

The strategic growth plan is part of Big Moves, a range of university-wide initiatives designed to broaden Purdue's global impact and enhance educational opportunities for its students.

"The Preeminent Teams are a research-centric approach to faculty hiring," said Leah Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. "We asked the candidates to tell us how they would form a team to catapult their research to the level of international prominence. That was the starting point for choosing the first-year teams."

The teams already are part of the college. To become Preeminent Teams, they went through a process similar to a pitch that entrepreneurs would give to venture capitalists. In the first round, 32 team leaders competed before a panel of distinguished engineering faculty. In the second round, 12 remaining contenders made pitches to a panel, half of whom were from outside the university. From the university, panelists were from both inside and outside of the College of Engineering.

"The successful teams showed agility, creativity, a willingness to take risks and an ability to move outside their comfort zones," Jamieson said.

The Preeminent Teams chosen will pursue research to develop:

  • Implantable networks of wireless nanoelectronic devices to enable medical treatment through sensors and actuators. The team is led by Pedro P. Irazoqui, director of Purdue's Center for Implantable Devices, associate head for research, associate professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Wireless implantable devices are being developed for various potential applications including monitoring and suppression of epileptic seizures; prosthesis control for injured military personnel; modulation of cardiac arrhythmias; treatment of depression, and gastroparesis, a partial paralysis of the stomach; and monitoring of intraocular pressure and therapeutic intervention for glaucoma. The research calls for a partnership among the Center for Implantable Devices with the National Science Foundation NEEDS (Nano-Engineered Electronic Device Simulation) initiative led by Mark Lundstrom, the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; the Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine neurosurgical practice; and the Indiana University School of Medicine. "The key enabling technologies come from nanotechnology," Irazoqui said. "Access to them comes from our partnership with NEEDS, and the clinical impact, which is the overarching goal, happens as a result of our partnership with the hospitals in Indianapolis."

 

  • Quantum photonics, which could make possible future quantum information systems far more powerful than today's computers. The research team is led by Vladimir M. Shalaev, scientific director of nanophotonics at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center and the Robert and Anne Burnett Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The technology hinges on using single photons – the tiny particles that make up light – for switching and routing in future computers that might harness the exotic principles of quantum mechanics. The quantum information processing technology would use structures called metamaterials, artificial nanostructured media. The metamaterials, when combined with tiny optical emitters, could make possible a new hybrid technology that uses quantum light in future computers. Computers based on quantum physics would have quantum bits, or qubits, that exist in both the on and off states simultaneously, dramatically increasing the computer's power and memory. Quantum computers would take advantage of a strange phenomenon described by quantum theory called entanglement. Instead of only the states of one and zero, there are many possible entangled quantum states in between one and zero. "Other important quantum information applications include, for example, a quantum internet, secure information, quantum simulators, atomic clocks, ultra-powerful sensors, quantum cryptography and teleportation," Shalaev said.

 

  • New methods to study energetic materials, including explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics, for applications largely focused on national defense and security. The research team is led by Stephen Beaudoin, a professor of chemical engineering. Researchers are working to characterize, detect and defeat existing and emerging energetic materials and to develop new and improved materials for military applications. The primary driver is in homeland security environments, work that aims to transform the way that explosives screening is performed, allowing the implementation of arrays of complementary sensors designed to detect and track explosives when they are at large distances from intended targets. Some technologies being developed will analyze the spectrum of light shining through vaporized samples. Others will analyze solid residues. The research includes work focusing on detecting traces of explosives, characterizing homemade explosives so that their threat can be better assessed, and using CT and other scanners to detect and identify bulk explosives in containers such as luggage and cargo cases. "The work we do aims to improve screening for explosives at airports, sea ports and other public venues like football arenas and the civilian infrastructure," Beaudoin said.

 

  • Techniques to more efficiently use of the increasingly congested radio spectrum for communications in commercial, military and emergency services applications. The growing number of mobile devices in operation threatens a coming spectrum crisis. Advances are needed to ensure reliable communications to reduce dropped calls and slow downloads and to ease congestion over the airwaves. The research team is led by David Love, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and University Faculty Scholar. The effort dovetails with a recent national focus on the problem. Congress approved a national broadband plan in March 2010. The White House announced a $100 million investment in spectrum initiatives earlier this year, and efforts also involve multiple government agencies including the National Science Foundation and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.


“The research aims to help reduce interference in radio communications and allow high-priority radios for the military and disaster-relief to operate with minimal disruption and loss of life,” Love said. Researchers are developing advanced models and mathematical theory to better analyze and understand radio transmissions.

"These teams have the potential to dramatically build on their current strengths with strategic hires," Jamieson said. "Their research will have far-reaching impact."

More information on the teams can be found at http://engineering.purdue.edu/preeminentteams.