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Purdue University Engineering Frontiers

Data Science in Engineering

In This Issue

Mung Chiang | John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering | Purdue University

There is little debate about the importance of data science to engineering. What is often less appreciated is the strength of Purdue Engineering faculty in specific areas of this field.

This inaugural issue of the revamped Frontiers magazine celebrates their research: from the foundations of high-performance computing, visualization and signal processing to the applications of data science in biomedical, digital agriculture, imaging, infrastructure, online learning, manufacturing and more.

As part of Purdue University’s Integrative Data Science Initiative, the College of Engineering started in 2018 IDEA: Initiative on Data and Engineering Applications, a coordinated effort to advance education and research along this direction. The centerpieces of the effort include key centers of research excellence in targeted areas, a Data Mind learning requirement for all Purdue Engineering students, and substantial investment in faculty recruiting, with nine openings in 2018-19.

Growing selected areas of data science with unique strength is an essential part of our overall strategies to become the best at the interface between virtual and physical sides of engineering, as Purdue Engineering propels to the pinnacle of research excellence at scale.

The Center for Brain-Inspired Computing will lead research in future applications of artificial intelligence in autonomous systems.

Amazon’s Alexa. Google’s Nest. Facebook feeds. Smartphones. The principles of artificial intelligence are seamlessly woven into our daily lives, but we have only scratched the tip of the iceberg.

What if the game-changing technology could be leveraged in a much broader range of applications that could vary from personal assistants to swarms of drones? This is the essential premise that forms the foundation for the Center for Brain-Inspired Computing (C-BRIC), a five-year project supported by $31 million in funding from the Semiconductor Research Corporation’s JUMP program. This program is supported by both industry powerhouses, such as IBM and Intel, as well as U.S. federal funding through DARPA.

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Arif Ghafoor has developed a sophisticated authentication scheme designed to enable closer collaboration between organizations while protecting against the insider threat.

With the rise of elaborate supply chains and the growing need for collaboration among companies, organizations that have invested heavily in their security infrastructures are now being asked to open them up. Yet, they also need to keep sensitive operations secure from competitors and malicious hackers.

Arif Ghafoor, professor of electrical and computer engineering, has an answer for this dilemma in the form of new security models for federated cyber-based systems. His research enables more flexible multi-domain, federated collaboration policies for supporting large-scale business processes that do not expose critical data to unauthorized individuals.

Ghafoor has been a pioneer in multimedia databases and multimedia networking, and he continues as the director of Purdue’s Distributed Multimedia Systems Laboratory. Yet over the last decade, his research has focused on information authorization and security.

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NEMO’s research team has partnered with industrial sponsors that have begun to use the NEMO5 toolset internally for device designs and exploration.

As semiconductor device sizes shrink, chip design software is increasingly flying blind. With nanoscale-sized components, performance often hinges on the precise arrangement of atoms and the predictable behavior of electrons or phonons (vibrations) passing through their atomic structures. Yet, today’s commercial device design software treats matter as a continuum and views electrons only as classical particles.

“The number of atoms in today’s transistors are so small they have become countable,” says Gerhard Klimeck, director of the Network for Computational Nanotechnology, Reilly Director of the Center for Predictive Materials and Devices, and professor of electrical and computer engineering. The 22nm-nanometer fabricated Intel transistors that fuel entry-level desktop computers, for example, have silicon feature sizes that are only 8nm thick and 64 atoms wide. With the latest 14nm and 10nm transistors, some critical layer thicknesses are as small as 10 atoms.

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While a plethora of data are available from numerous sources, making visual sense of these data is a field unto itself.

“My career for the past 25 years has been getting useful information from data through interactive visual representation. So, I’ve been handling big data for a very long time,” says David Ebert, Silicon Valley Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of Visual Analytics for Command, Control and Interoperability Environments, or VACCINE, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security center based at Purdue.

The work dovetails with a College of Engineering initiative called Data Mind, which focuses on enhancing existing efforts in research and education, as well as launching new programs in data science and its interface with engineering. The initiative is linked to the university-wide goal of establishing Purdue as a leader in the broadly construed field of data science.

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Tagged as Analytics

Recent breakthroughs have catapulted deep learning and convolutional neural networks into the mainstream, particularly in voice recognition systems that were not possible only a decade ago.

Emerging advances stem from the realization that deep neural networks, a type of deep-learning architecture, could be much more powerful by using many layers of processing.

“I have never seen anything so disruptive and transformational as deep learning,” says Charles Bouman, Purdue’s Showalter Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering.

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Tagged as Imaging

Other researchers are developing data-driven techniques to assess, monitor and enhance the resilience of power grids, better protect communities from tsunamis, and more accurately predict urban reservoir levels for more effective water management strategies

More than half of the nation’s major power failures from 2000–2016 were caused by severe weather, affecting millions of people and costing billions of dollars, says Roshanak Nateghi, assistant professor of industrial engineering and environmental and ecological engineering.

“The number of billion-dollar climate disasters is expanding rapidly and so is the cost associated with them,” she says.

At the same time, vast quantities of data are available from numerous sources, and advances in machine learning are providing new modeling tools to improve resilience.

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Biomedical researchers and healthcare engineers are no strangers to big data. Data science is crucial for efforts to mimic and decode the human brain and engineer a better healthcare system.

“The brain itself is the ultimate intelligent machine,” says Zhongming Liu, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering. “It constantly processes information, makes decisions and guides actions. Although it is not fully understood how the brain works, decades of neuroscience research have already fueled inspiration for engineers to design algorithms that have enabled machines to understand images, translate language, play games, and drive vehicles, to name a few examples. Brain-inspired algorithms have also begun to help neuroscientists understand the brain itself and eventually decode the human mind.”

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The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation is addressing the shortage of skilled workers.

At the heart of Purdue’s research and education efforts is the role the University plays in equipping the future leaders and skilled workforce in advanced manufacturing.

“If you want to have a significant impact as a land-grant university, you need a vision to translate the discoveries in the research laboratory to the marketplace, particularly in manufacturing,” says R. Byron Pipes, the John L. Bray Distinguished Professor of Engineering and executive director of the Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center (CMSC). The center is based within the $50 million Indiana Manufacturing Institute in Purdue Research Park, opened in 2016, where it shares space with the Indiana Next-Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center, as well as other public and private organizations with related missions.

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Purdue research is harnessing data science, artificial intelligence and remote sensing to improve sorghum varieties for biofuels by linking specific plant phenotypes, or characteristics, to their corresponding genetic information (genotypes).

The immediate goal of the project is to use advanced sensing coupled with machine-learning techniques and biophysical modeling for high throughput phenotyping, with the longer-term goal of actually connecting the phenotypes to specific genes.

The project is a partnership led by researchers in Purdue’s Colleges of Agriculture and Engineering, the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, IBM Research, and The University of Queensland. It is funded with a three-year, $6.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for projects focused on accelerating energy crop development for the production of renewable transportation fuels.

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The building blocks of a quantum computer. Urban sewage treatment. Introduction to aeronautical engineering. These are but a few of the thousands of free engineering courses available online.

Labeled MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), this education format has revolutionized not just how courses are taught but also who can access them.

Purdue’s own investment in nanoHUB, a global resource for nanotechnology simulation, collaboration, and education, is based on such a promise.

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45 Purdue Engineering Centers and Institutes

  • Advanced Lyophilization Technology Hub (LyoHub)
  • Birck Nanotechnology Center (BNC) *
  • Center for Aging Infrastructure (CAI)
  • Center for Brain-Inspired Computing (C-BRIC)
  • Center for Electronic Defense Systems (CEDS)
  • Center for High Performance Building (CHPB)
  • Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources (CISTAR) ~
  • Center for Integrated Systems in Aerospace (ISA)
  • Center for Materials Processing and Tribology (CMPT)
  • Center for Materials Under Extreme Environments (CMUXE)
  • Center for Offshore and Energy Engineering (COFFEE)
  • Center for Predictive Materials and Devices (c-PRIMED)
  • Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering and Disaster Data Management (CREEDD)
  • Center for Road Safety (CRS)
  • Center for Structural Engineering and Emerging Technologies for Nuclear Power Plants
  • Center of Excellence for Laser Based Manufacturing (CLBM)
  • Center for Resilient Infrastructure, Systems and Processes (CRISP)
  • Civil Engineering Center for Applications of UAS for a Sustainable Environment (CE-CAUSE)
  • Composite Design and Manufacturing Hub (cdmHub)
  • Composite Manufacturing and Simulation Center (CMSC)
  • Cooling Technologies Research Center (CTRC)
  • Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation (i-GSDI) *
  • Institute for Thermal Hydraulics (ITH)
  • INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering
  • Indiana Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP)
  • Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC) ^
  • Initiative on Data and Engineering Applications
  • Joint Transportation Research Program (JTRP)
  • Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering (LORRE)
  • Mechanical Engineering Education Research Center at Purdue University (MEERCAT)
  • NEXTRANS Center: USDOT Region V University Technology Center
  • North Central Superpave Center (NCSC)
  • NSF Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NanoHub) ~
  • Open Ag Technologies and Systems (OATS) Center
  • Partnership to Enhance General Aviation Safety, Accessibility and Sustainability (PEGASAS)
  • Perception-based Engineering (PbE)
  • Production, Robotics and Integration Software for Manufacturing and Management (PRISM)
  • Purdue Center for Metal Casting Research (PCMC)
  • Purdue Systems Collaboratory (PSC) ^
  • Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering (RCHE) *
  • Rolls-Royce University Technology Center for Advanced Thermal Management
  • Space Grant Consortium
  • Steel Bridge Research, Inspection, Training and Education Engineering Center (S-BRITE)
  • U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Long Term Services for Research (LASER)
  • Partners for University-Led Solutions Engine (PULSE)
  • Visual Analytics for Command, Control and Interoperability Environments (VACCINE)


* Discovery Park Centers lead by Engineering faculty

^ Joint with other Colleges

10 Purdue Engineering Preeminent Teams

  • Center for Implantable Devices (CID)
  • Center for Particulate Processing and Products (CP3)
  • Purdue Energetics Research Center (PERC)
  • Quantum Photonics
  • Efficient Spectrum Usage
  • Cold Plasmas
  • Advanced Composite Manufacturing
  • Engineering Healthier Brains
  • Nanomanufacturing
  • Spintronics

4 Purdue Engineering Research Laboratories

  • Robert L. and Terry L. Bowen Laboratory for Large-Scale Civil Engineering Research
  • Ray W. Herrick Laboratories
  • Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories
  • FlexLab


College Administration

  • Mung Chiang, John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering
  • Melba Crawford, Associate Dean for Research
  • Jason Dietz, Director of Financial Affairs
  • Robert Frosch, Senior Associate Dean of Facilities and Operations
  • Eckhard Groll, Associate Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Education
  • Dimitrios Peroulis, Associate Dean for External Affairs
  • Arvind Raman, Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty
  • Alyssa Wilcox, Senior Associate Vice President for Advancement
  • Kelly Busch, Chief-of-Staff


  • Christine Babick, Director of Communications
  • Della Pacheco, Project Manager
  • Kate Walker, Marketing Strategist
  • Natalie Powell, Designer
  • Contributing Writers: Poornima Apte, Eric Bender, Eric Brown, Phillip Fiorini, Emil Venere, Kayla Wiles
  • Photographers: Erin Easterling, Susan Fleck, Andrew Hancock, Ed Lausch, Mark Simons, Curt Slyder, Vincent Walter, Rebecca Wilcox

School and Division Heads

  • Tom Shih, Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Bernard Engel, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  • George Wodicka, Biomedical Engineering
  • Sangtae Kim, Chemical Engineering
  • Rao Govindaraju, Civil Engineering
  • Makarand Hastak, Construction Engineering and Management
  • Pedro Irazoqui, Electrical and Computer Engineering (interim)
  • Donna Riley, Engineering Education
  • John Sutherland, Environmental and Ecological Engineering
  • Steve Landry, Industrial Engineering (interim)
  • David Bahr, Materials Engineering
  • Anil Bajaj, Mechanical Engineering
  • Seungjin Kim, Nuclear Engineering


Alumni should send change-of-address notices to:

Dick and Sandy Dauch Alumni Center
403 W. Wood Street
West Lafayette, IN 47906