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Spring 2001



Alumnus Mines Data for Dollar in Global Operation



Daniel Zhu (Ph.D. '93) and the view from the office of Zaptron's Shanghai Research Laboratory.



An affinity for the Silicon Valley venture culture has drawn Dongping Daniel Zhu (Ph.D. '93) into projective geometry and multidimensional analysis, and industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals and electronics. It has also taken him back to his native China in a variety of roles.

Zhu is the founder of Zaptron Systems, a three-year-old start-up firm that develops and markets data mining software and services.

"Data mining is the development of new knowledge by analyzing existing information," Zhu explained. The knowledge of how to improve productivity, quality, and yield, can often be developed through data that organizations already have, he said. Firms have answers to questions involving new products, efficiency, even customer support buried in their databases, he said.
However, human beings can't analyze such large amounts of data mentally, but find it difficult to program computers to do so, since very often, even the questions are not known, he said. With data mining technology, however, "We turn data into dollars. In data mining, source data can be anything from operating data, customer support data, even historical patent data. Often, however, valuable information is difficult to develop because the data are non-Gaussian, non-linear, noisy, and non-uniformly sampled," he added.

The company's flagship product, MasterMiner™, is based on proprietary technology in projective geometry. Unlike Euclidean geometry, projective geometry is concerned with incidences, that is, where elements such as lines, planes, and points either coincide or not. Zaptron software and services also use pattern separability, pattern topology and sub-space modeling. "Much of our work is in hyperspace," Zhu said. "For each data set, we have to extract a set of features. Then we do all the analysis in multidimensional space."

Zaptron customers and partners represent many industries, including computers, electronics, semiconductor manufacturing, materials engineering, petrochemicals, automotive, and finance. The company's many success stories include increasing jet fuel yield by 7 percent, cutting electricity consumption of an aluminum plant by 3 million Kwatt per year, and optimizing penicillin production and increasing the yield by 8 percent.Another developing area he mentioned is in mining patent data for potential discoveries of new materials.

Zhu's interest in data mining and software developed after he completed his formal education. While a graduate student at Tech, he gained a signal processing background, and then did his Ph.D. research in image processing, with Richard Conners as his advisor.

He was one of 50,000 Chinese students studying in the United States who were granted permanent residency after Tiananmen Square in 1998, and took his first job with InVision Technologies 18 months before finishing his Ph.D. degree. At InVision, he worked in the area of computer vision, image processing and algorithms for airport security systems He then joined Loral GlobalStar as a senior research scientist working on satellite communications system design and simulation.

The Silicon Valley start-up culture appealed to him, and he left GlobalStar to work at Aptronix as a product director. While at Aptronix, Zhu was involved in fuzzy logic product development and software issues. During this time, he co-founded International Society of Information Fusion, and chaired the 1st and 2nd international conferences on information fusion. When Aptronix spun off Zaptron, he was ready to start his own firm, and took the position as founder and president. "Electrical engineering gave me the background to start my career," he explained, "but in more recent years, I have grown more interested in marketing and business development."

He has taken his interest in marketing back to China, where he has helped develop research projects at four Chinese universities. "We are trying to find a larger market in China," he said. "With the Internet, we can expand worldwide."

Zhu has become actively involved in China's high-tech business development. He currently serves as president of SCOBA, a professional organization of the Silicon Valley high-tech Chinese community. He has led U.S. executives on visits to China, for technical exchanges, business planning, leadership training, investment, and other ventures.

He served four years as vice dean of the Information Technology College at Dalian University of Technology. He is currently an adjunct professor of controls at Northeastern University and a senior research fellow at Beijing University's School of Business Management. He advises China's Ministry of Science and Technology and Minitry of Information Industry, and serves on the editorial board of China Venture Capital magazine.

"There is much potential in the interaction of the Silicon Valley and Chinese markets," he said. And he hopes to realize some of that potential.

The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech

Last Updated, July 25, 2001
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