Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Since its founding in 1893 by two legends, George Westinghouse and Reginald Fessenden, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt has excelled in education, research, and service.  Today, the department features innovative undergraduate and graduate programs and world-class research centers and labs, combining theory with practice at the nexus of computer and electrical engineering, for our students to learn, develop, and lead lives of impact.


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Feb
12
2020

Researchers Celebrate Pioneer’s Work on World Radio Day

Electrical & Computer

Originally published in Pittwire. Reposted with permission. Every day, people use wireless technologies that may be taken for granted, like music streaming, FaceTime and podcasts listened to on smartphones. All of this and more can be traced back to the work of Reginald Fessenden, described by the United States National Park Service as the “Father of Voice Radio.” Fessenden served as chairman of the electrical engineering department at Pitt when it was called the Western University of Pennsylvania. The department has since evolved into today’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Fessenden was one of the greatest engineers and inventors in history, truly a genius,” said Alan George, the department’s current chair. “Much of the research and education in my field, electrical and computer engineering, including my research on space systems, sensors and missions, wouldn’t exist without his pioneering work in radio communications. Our department is most proud to have been founded by the father of radio.” Fessenden was recruited to Pitt in 1893 by George Westinghouse, who developed the alternating current electrical system and the Westinghouse light bulb among other innovations. Fessenden previously helped Westinghouse with electrical infrastructure and lighting for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and, prior to that, worked with another inventor he admired, Thomas Edison. It was at Pitt where Fessenden began experimenting with the foundations of what would become radio technology, at a time when wireless communication was very limited and people could only send messages via Morse code’s dashes and dots. By 1899, he was able to send wireless telegraphs between Pittsburgh and the former Allegheny City, now Pittsburgh’s North Side. He would leave Pitt in 1900 to dedicate his time to inventing, eventually being employed by the National Electric Signaling Company. His next achievements included the first wireless transmission of speech by radio in 1900, and the first two-way transcontinental radiotelegraphic transmission in 1906. Fessenden developed concepts and technologies for transmission and reception of continuous-wave signals, in the form of amplitude-modulated (AM) radio signals carrying audio information such as speech and music, which was a leap beyond the spark-gap transmitters of the day used for Morse code. AM signaling would later lead to frequency-modulated (FM) signaling, the two keystones of radio technology, and many more radio-frequency technologies that followed. “Fessenden laid the foundation for all modern communications,” George said. “Throughout our modern society, from TV to cell phones to GPS satellites, you can trace back to the work of Fessenden on radio technology. He deserves far more credit than he ever received.” Fessenden’s legacy at Pitt has been carried through the decades, with the late Marlin Mickle advancing research in the application of radio frequency energy. Mickle was the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor in the Swanson School of Engineering, holding a primary appointment as professor of electrical and computer engineering and secondary appointments in computer engineering, biomedical engineering, industrial engineering and telecommunications. He worked as a Pitt faculty member from 1962 until his retirement in 2013. Mickle had over 40 patents licensed, including a method to passively power image capturing and a method to control radio frequency transmissions to mitigate interference with critical care equipment. Pitt’s licensing of his patents led to seven spinoff companies forming. Mickle also directed Pitt’s Radio Frequency Identification Center of Excellence, which focused on research pertaining to advancements in wireless medical and engineering technologies. “He (Mickle) would make sure to dedicate part of his time to telling students in his networking classes about Fessenden and his work so they knew the connection between Fessenden and the department,” said Sam Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “He would tell students ‘Nothing is new,’ and that all technology we have is simply repackaged ideas implemented with better devices.” In medicine, communication is important for faster accurate diagnoses and treatments. "A lot of work in my field wouldn’t be possible without Fessenden’s work,” said Christopher Brown, an associate professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “Wireless communication has solved many problems in medicine. You can try using wires to transmit information from an external device to an implant in a patient’s body, but then you have the problems of infection, device failures and inconvenience.” Brown studies psychoacoustics, speech understanding in the presence of background noise, hearing impairment and cochlear implant processing. “Hearing devices have a direct link to Fessenden’s work,” he said. “For example, when someone has hearing aids in both ears, the aids will ‘communicate’ with each other to adjust volume levels so the listener is more comfortable. A cochlear implant is another surgically implanted device that takes radio information from external components through the skin into audio.” Pitt’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering reflects every year on the importance of Fessenden’s work at its graduation ceremony. “It’s important for every engineer to understand history in their field, because we can foresee much about the future by understanding the past,” George said. “The inventors of that era were amazing, and much of their new science was based upon faith in their ideas and that they can be successful, even when others didn’t believe in them.”
Author: Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications
Feb
12
2020

Dr. Steven Jacobs on the History of Radio

Electrical & Computer

As part of World Radio Day and the Centennial of KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh, Dr. Steven Jacobs spoke with Robert Mangino about the legacy of Reginald Fessenden, the "Father of Radio" and first Department Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt.

Feb
7
2020

Brandon Grainger Receives the ESWP 2019 Engineer of the Year Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 7, 2020) … Brandon Grainger, assistant professor and Eaton Faculty Fellow of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2019 Engineer of the Year Award from the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP). The award recognizes individuals who have significant technical and professional accomplishments which contribute to the engineering profession, and it was presented at the ESWP Annual Engineering Awards Banquet on Thursday, February 6, 2020 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel. Grainger is associate director of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Electric Power Engineering Program and associate director of the Energy GRID Institute. He received his PhD in electrical engineering with a specialization in power conversion from Pitt in 2014, where he also received his master’s degree in electrical engineering and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.  He was one of the first R.K. Mellon graduate student fellows as the Center for Energy was being established at Pitt. Grainger’s research interests are primarily focused upon power electronic converter design with power ranges that accommodate aerospace to grid scale applications. He and his advised students investigate circuit topology design, controllers, magnetics, and power semiconductor devices to ensure practical, high power dense solutions primarily for DC/DC and DC/AC converters. “The success of my research endeavors is a result of being strategic, aggressive and observant with a critical eye for detail,” he said. “In the past, there were two classes of engineers in power engineering: the system engineers and power conversion engineers. Although I focus in power conversion engineering, my strength is bridging both domains while proposing unique, novel solutions that industry will find valuable. I feel I bridge academia and industry well - in how I teach, train students, and interact with a wide range of manufacturers.” Grainger, a Pittsburgh native, worked for a variety of companies before joining Pitt full-time including ABB, ANSYS, Mitsubishi Electric and Siemens as either a co-op student, graduate student intern or full-time engineer. The Pittsburgh region is the birthplace of electric power engineering and Grainger gives credit to his academic and industry partners, foundations in the region and graduate students who have invested in him professionally, monetarily, or partnered with him in solving tough, electrical engineering problems that resulted in him receiving this award. “The challenges we are facing today cannot be solved by one individual but requires a community of champions within various organizations who have diverse skill sets to drive change,” he said. “My job is to ensure that students graduating with advanced degrees are equipped to meet these challenges and, yet, being a part of the community of professionals early on. I want to ensure that they feel confident as they transition to the workforce, thus, they are a part of influencing solutions being developed now, in practice, with our program at Pitt.” Grainger has contributed to more than 60 electric power engineering articles and is an annual reviewer of various power electronic conferences and transaction articles. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) where he participates in the Power Electronics Society (PELS) and Industrial Electronics Society (IES) at national levels. He served as the IEEE Pittsburgh PELS chapter chair for three years at which time the section won numerous awards under his leadership. “We are very proud to have Brandon as part of our faculty,” said Alan George, Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the R&H Mickle Endowed Chair Professor.  “Through his teaching and mentoring, he effectively prepares nascent engineers for a successful career in an increasingly diverse and global workforce. His innovative research and collaborations have been an asset to our department from his time as a student to his subsequent transition to faculty in 2014. Brandon is most deserving of this recognition.” ###

Jan
21
2020

Pitt Researchers Propose Solutions for Networking Lag in Massive IoT Devices

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Jan 21, 2020) — The internet of things (IoT) widely spans from the smart speakers and Wi-Fi-connected home appliances to manufacturing machines that use connected sensors to time tasks on an assembly line, warehouses that rely on automation to manage inventory, and surgeons who can perform extremely precise surgeries with robots. But for these applications, timing is everything: a lagging connection could have disastrous consequences. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering are taking on that task, proposing a system that would use currently underutilized resources in an existing wireless channel to create extra opportunities for lag-free connections. The process, which wouldn’t require any additional hardware or wireless spectrum resources, could alleviate traffic backups on networks with many wireless connections, such as those found in smart warehouses and automated factories. The researchers announced their findings at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2019 International Conference on Emerging Networking Experiments and Technologies, one of the best research conferences in networking techniques.The paper, titled“EasyPass: Combating IoT Delay with Multiple Access Wireless Side Channels,” (DOI: 10.1145/3359989.3365421), was named Best Paper at the Conference. It was authored by Haoyang Lu, PhD, Ruirong Chen, and Wei Gao, PhD. “The network’s automatic response to channel quality, or the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), is almost always a step or two behind,” explains Gao, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “When there is heavy traffic on a channel, the network changes to accommodate it. Similarly, when there is lighter traffic, the network meets it, but these adaptations don’t happen instantaneously. We used that lag - the space between the channel condition change and the network adjustment - to build a side channel solely for IoT devices where there is no competition and no delay.” This method, which the authors call “EasyPass,” would exploit the existing SNR margin, using it as a dedicated side channel for IoT devices. Lab tests have demonstrated a 90 percent reduction in data transmission delay in congested IoT networks, with a throughput up to 2.5 Mbps over a narrowband wireless link that can be accessed by more than 100 IoT devices at once. “The IoT has an important future in smart buildings, transportation systems, smart manufacturing, cyber-physical health systems, and beyond,” says Gao. “Our research could remove a very important barrier holding it back.”
Maggie Pavlick
Dec
12
2019

Pitt Research Featured on December Cover of Environmental Science: Nano

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Dec. 12, 2019) — Research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering will be featured on the cover of the journal Environmental Science: Nano. The research, titled “Leveraging Electrochemistry to Uncover the Role of Nitrogen in the Biological Reactivity of Nitrogen-Doped Graphene,” (DOI: 10.1039/C9EN00802K) was led by Yan Wang and co-authored by Nathalia Aquino de Carvalho, graduate students in the Gilbertson Group, managed by Leanne M. Gilbertson, PhD, assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department with a secondary appointment in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The research will appear on the cover of the December 2019 issue with graphics developed by Gilbertson and Kutay Sezginel, doctoral candidate working in the Wilmer Lab.
Maggie Pavlick

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