ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
ECE News

Perspectives from the
Department Head

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Photograph of Jim Thorp (Photograph by Jim Stroup)

As the country seeks energy independence, a sustainable infrastructure and an environmentally friendly lifestyle, much of the technology needed will be developed by electrical and computer engineers. ECE at Virginia Tech is ready for that challenge. We believe our work and ideas will also generate opportunities and jobs to help build a robust economy.

Much of the work to be done harkens back to the roots of our field – manipulating and transmitting power and energy. We take pride that we have one of the largest and oldest power engineering programs in the country. The first “smart grid” technology was built here, and we continue to be leaders in transmission and power network technology. Our engineers are also involved in developing energy storage technology, alternative energy technology, and technology that reduces energy use.

In this issue, you’ll read how a huge 10-year effort by the Center for Power Electronics Systems changed power processing with modular electronics technology that can help the country save 30 percent of its electricity use. You’ll read about Leyla Nazhandali’s NSF CAREER award that will help her develop technology for mobile embedded systems to operate at less than 10 percent of the power they now require. And don’t miss the article on how Lamine Mili, Sandeep Shukla, and Yilu Liu are working to extend complex systems theory to make our power and communications infrastructures more resilient.

In the communications area, Tamal Bose, co-director of Wireless@VT is involved in several stimulus projects with Virginia firms. Wireless@VT is also building the largest cognitive radio network testbed in the country, installing nodes in a new building on campus.

ECEs are also critical to solutions in biomedical applications. In this issue we describe how Yue (Joseph) Wang is applying bioinformatics and systems theory to unravel the mysteries of cancer and other diseases.

While our efforts and successes continue to grow, the tremendous growth in faculty since January of 2005 slowed this year. This fall, we welcomed Mike Ruohoniemi and Joseph Baker, who completed our hiring for the Center for Space Science and Engineering Research. With their arrival, ECE became the lead on the SuperDARN network, an international collaboration to map space weather phenomena. Mike also obtained a new $2 million grant to build more radar stations in the United States.

Our faculty members continue to be honored for their efforts. Sandeep Shukla has just returned from serving as an invited professor at the French National Institute for Computer Science and Automation. The Homboldt Foundation of Germany honored him with the prestigious Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Fellowship for lifetime achievement within 12 years of completing a Ph.D. and he will spend the summer in Germany as a fellow. In the teaching arena, Jaime de la Ree was awarded the university Wine Award for a history of teaching excellence.

I offer my thanks to Dan Sable, who finished his second term as the chair of the Advisory Board, and to Gino Manzo, who is the new chair. Dan was responsible for the early success of our Space program and Gino hopes to make a similar impact on our microelectronics program.

I will be retiring this summer, but intend to stay in Blacksburg and take advantage of all the nation’s new-found interest in research in energy.

I leave the ECE Department in good hands. We conducted a national search for department head this year and had several strong and exciting candidates. We are delighted that our own Scott Midkiff has accepted the position. Scott is an excellent choice to lead the department to increased stature and future success as we tackle the technological issues the country faces today.

--James S. Thorp
Department Head