2015 SURE/SROP Research Projects: Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)

Directions: Below are listed the most recent descriptions of 2015 SURE and SROP projects available in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). Please consider this list carefully before applying to the SURE or SROP program ( You are welcome to contact faculty if you have additional, specific questions regarding these projects. 

*IMPORTANT*: In addition to their online application, all applicants for ECE projects must also submit a resume and statement explaining their interest in and qualifications for the project that most interests them, including why they want to work on the project, the relevant skills they bring, and what they expect from their experience. The statement should be no longer than one page (12 point font and 1” margins) and must be uploaded in “other” at the bottom of the online application. Applications without this information may not be considered. Please include your name and UMID on all documents submitted.

ECE Project 1: Ultra-low Power Circuit Design for Millimeter Sized Sensor Nodes

Faculty Mentor: David Blaauw (

Prerequisites: Introductory circuits course (EECS 312) and VLSI design course (EECS 427) is strongly preferred.

Description: We are developing sensor nodes that have a size of 1 millimeter or less.  The sensor nodes contain a small microprocessor, a transducer, such as pressure sensor or imager, a power source such as a battery and radio circuits. Reducing a sensor processor node to this minute size allows the sensor node to be used in a host of new and interesting applications, including implanted biomedical applications and monitoring of the environment.  The work will depend on the background of the candidate and can include testing and diagnosis of fabricated chips, help with circuit design for processor, power management, and sensors, or software development for sensor applications.

ECE Project 2: Robot Vision for Small-Object Manipulation

Faculty Mentor: Jason Corso (

Prerequisites: Proficient programming skills and familiarity with Linux

Description: Consider a robot that can manipulate small building-blocks in a tabletop workspace and understand spoken commands, such as "place the orange cube on top of the blue cube," and following them.  To achieve success in such a setting, the robot would need to be able to interpret the spoken language, visually parse the scene in front of it, reason about what must be accomplished in the task, then execute the fine-grained motor-control to execute the task. Clearly, such capability is beyond the state of the art.  But, not far beyond.  Realizing this capability will have broad ramifications in science and society including but not limited to, automation and manufacturing, health-care robotics, and educative robotics.  In this project, we will build on a current robot-vision-manipulation system, which has been designed for these and similar experimental settings, to enhance the computer vision system for understanding the tabletop workspace.  We will use both a camera that sense both color and depth and process in 3D.  Our current system relies on color-based segmentation, which is not robust to lighting.   We will seek alternative feature spaces in which the workspace can be better segmented.  Since the project is active in our lab, the student will be able to use our momentum and get started quickly to see immediate impact.

For more information about the context of the project, the interested student should read Kumar, Dhiman and Corso, "Learning Compositional Sparse Models of Bimodal Percepts," Proceedings of AAAI 2014.

ECE Project 3: Developing a Space Experiment to Investigate the Use of Miniature Electrodynamic Tethers to Enhance Capabilities of Ultra-small Spacecraft

Faculty Mentor: Brian Gilchrist

Prerequisites: Calculus III, Physics I and II (mechanics and electromagnetics), basic circuits. Advanced courses in such areas as circuits, physics, embedded controls, or electromagnetics are desired. A demonstrated interest in cross-disciplinary projects is also a plus.

Description: The growing success of nanospacecraft (1–10 kg) over the past decade has generated interest in exploring the potential for even smaller spacecraft, both as stand-alone satellites or as a distributed swarm.  Because of advances in integrated circuit and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology, the feasibility of miniaturized spacecraft at the levels of fully monolithic semiconductor integrated circuits (10–100 mg) or hybrid integrated circuits (10–100?g) is being seriously investigated.  To provide a sense of scale, the new "ultra-small" spacecraft concept is lighter than many modern cellular phones.

We are investigating an approach for ultra-small spacecraft propulsion that appears to scale to the small size needed, is propellantless, and could enable substantially improved communications.  The approach uses a short, semi-rigid electrodynamic tether (EDT) for propulsion, which keeps the overall ChipSat mass low and provides enough thrust to overcome drag in low Earth orbit (LEO).  The EDT uses the Lorentz force, utilizing a current in a conducting tether in the presence of the Earth's magnetic field to produce a force.

SURE students involved in this project will have an opportunity to build and test the EDT and other satellite subsystems. Students working on this project will also be able to conduct laboratory experiments that will tell us more about how the satellite operates in LEO.

ECE Project 4: Flat, Ultra-Thin Optics

Faculty Mentor: Anthony Grbic

Prerequisites: EECS 230 required. EECS 330 or EECS 334 preferred. Student should have knowledge of time-harmonic electromagnetic fields (plane waves).

Description: In the project, the student researcher will use metasurfaces to develop flat ultrathin quasi-optical devices. Metasurfaces are surfaces finely patterned to exhibit tailored electromagnetic/optical properties. Metasurfaces can impart abrupt changes in phase, amplitude and polarization onto a wavefront. Unlike curved lenses which shape waves through propagation delay over multiple wavelengths, metasurfaces shape waves across a surface, thus enabling ultrathin flat optics.

The student researcher will investigate metasurfaces that can steer, focus and shape electromagnetic waves in unprecedented ways. They will characterize various flat, quasi-optical devices such single-surface lenses, polarization controlling devices, collimators and beam deflectors at millimeter-wave frequencies (70 - 90 GHz). In addition, they will use industry-standard solvers to simulate and design metasurfaces, which will then be fabricated and tested.

ECE Project 5: Wearable Heart Rate Monitor Comparisons

Faculty Mentor: Mohammed N. Islam (

Prerequisites: Entering third or fourth year undergraduate

Description: One of the hot areas in technology right now is so-called “wearable devices.”  For example, there are a number of devices that have activity trackers (based on accelerometers) and heart rate monitors.  Many of the heart rate monitors are based on using one or more light-emitting diodes in the green and optical sensors.  These heart rate monitors work based on a principle known as Photoplethysmography, which is usually abbreviated PPG.  Some of these sensors are worn on the arm (e.g., smart watches or bands), while others are built into headsets.  The big question is do these PPG sensors actually work?  Even if they work when you are sitting, do they work when you are running or moving your body rapidly?  In this project various wearable devices with heart rate monitors will be compared against an electro-cardiogram to see their accuracy.  Also, the comparisons will be done in a still position, as well as with rapid motion, such as when on a treadmill.  The arm based and ear based sensors will be compared, and an assessment will be done of what might be the best location for a PPG sensor on the body.

ECE Project 6: Texture Classification with Texture Similarity Metric

Faculty Mentor: David Neuhoff (

Prerequisites: EECS 216, 301, familiarity with Matlab (EECS 451 would also be useful)

Description: This is an image processing project in which the student will use newly  invented texture similarity metrics to develop systems that can identify different types of objects.  For example, one goal could be to develop a system that identifies the species of a tree from a picture of its bark, along with pictures of the bark of previously identified trees.  Tuning and modifying the metric may be needed.

ECE Project 7: Aircraft Electric Power System Testbed for Validating Distributed Controllers

Faculty Mentor: Necmiye Ozay (

Prerequisites: Basic knowledge of electric circuits and hardware. Familiarity with Linux. Some programming experience in C/C++ or Python. Familiarity with Arduino is not required but might be useful.

Description: The electric power system (EPS) of an aircraft provides electric power to all of its subsystems and typically consists of a combination of generators, switches, and loads. Electric power is distributed via one or more buses, and connection of generators to loads is routed by way of a series of electronic control switches (contactors). In current practice, the (discrete) control logic that opens and closes these contactors is designed by hand and its correctness is assured by exhaustive testing. As an alternative, we are exploring correct-by-construction automatic embedded controller synthesis methods. This project aims at developing a university scale hardware testbed for validating such controllers. The testbed will consist of a set of transformers (to model generators), rectifier units (for AC to DC conversion), a relay board (for contactors), several sensors to monitor the health status of components, switches to manually inject faults, small LEDs and motors to model loads, and Intel Galileo boards for implementing distributed controllers. Mostly off-the-shelf components will be used.

For a similar testbed design, please see section 3 of the following technical report:

ECE Project 8: Learning Kinematic Relations Between Objects for Manipulation Tasks

Faculty Mentor: Necmiye Ozay (

Prerequisites: Strong analytical skills. Some programming experience in Matlab or Python. Linear Algebra. Familiarity with mathematical optimization and basic kinematics would be useful.

Description: Robot learning by demonstration has received considerable attention in recent years. Learning kinematic relations between articulated objects is an important step in making robots understand manipulation tasks. This project aims at developing system identification and change detection algorithms that can be used to learn kinematic relations between objects from tracking data.

ECE Project 9: Model Reduction for Non-Deterministic Transition Systems

Faculty Mentor: Necmiye Ozay (

Prerequisites: Strong analytical skills. Experience with Python, or otherwise enough software engineering knowledge that suggests learning other languages, environments, etc. will not be difficult. At least elementary experience of working in Unix-like environments. Knowledge of basic graph theory. Familiarity with git is not required but considered useful.

Description: Temporal logic planning combines ideas from control theory (reachability analysis, receding horizon control) and computer science (finite transition systems, linear temporal logic) to automatically synthesize a planner-controller hierarchy that guarantees to satisfy given high-level specifications. Such controllers can be used in a wide range of applications such as robotics, autonomous driving, vehicle management systems and smart camera networks. The main workflow for combining logic-based specifications and continuous system dynamics consists of the following steps: (i) creating a finite transition system representation of the dynamical system (aka, abstraction); (ii) solving a discrete-game between system and its environment to find a control strategy, (iii) implementing the strategy at the continuous level. The complexity of solving some common discrete-games (e.g., for GR(1) games) are cubic in the size of the abstraction. Therefore, these methods can be highly inefficient when the abstraction constructed in the first step is large. This project aims at task-driven simplifications of abstractions based on alternating bisimulation relations.

ECE Project 10: Development of Multi-layer Film Coater

Faculty Mentor: Becky Peterson (

Prerequisites: Computer-based hardware control

Description: The Petersonlab uses liquid inks to make semiconductor and dielectric films. We are in the process of developing an automated system to coat and anneal multiple layers to obtain thicker films. The student will be responsible for additional hardware selection, design and installation, and for writing and editing LabView or similar programs to control and synchronize the equipment during use.

ECE Project 11: SPICE Transistor Model Development and Simulations

Faculty Mentor: Becky Peterson (

Prerequisites: Knowledge of SPICE transistor models and circuit simulations

Description: Our lab makes electronic devices using amorphous oxide alloy semiconductors. In this project, the student will electrically characterize devices we have made, and use the test results to extract and build SPICE models. The student will also build 2-D numerical models of the materials and devices using commercial software (e.g. Synopsys Sentaurus), and will verify these models by comparing simulation results to measured I-V test data. The work will require the student to be familiar with the semiconductor physics underlying transistor operation.

ECE Project 12: Test Bed Fabrication

Faculty Mentor: Becky Peterson (

Prerequisites: Interest in micro/nano-fabrication. Knowledge of ac and dc electrical measurements.

Description: The Petersonlab uses liquid inks to make semiconductor and dielectric films. The characterization of the films’ electrical, optical and thermal properties can require special, customized test structures. In this project, the student will be responsible for designing and fabricating test structures in the Lurie Nanofabrication Facility and Petersonlab, as well as developing new test techniques. The project will involve a lot of hands-on work in the cleanroom and lab; it requires a student with good attention to detail.

ECE Project 13: Spectrum Market Analyzer Tool

Faculty Mentor: Vijay G. Subramanian (

Prerequisites: Python or Java programming, Basic optimization theory and algorithms (especially linear programming, and maybe convex and combinatorial optimization)

Description: With the advent and wide-scale deployment of broadband wireless, spectrum is a public resource that is extremely valuable. The Federal Communications Commission periodically auctions different pieces of the spectrum in different areas to the wireless service providers. In this process it is important that the spectrum gets allocated in an efficient manner, i.e., different parts to the different providers who value it the highest. This is typically a hard combinatorial optimization problem as the spectrum as resource exhibits strategic complementarities (i.e., value of obtaining two blocks is typically higher than the sum of the values of the two blocks separately). With some relaxations it is possible to approximate the optimal solution: using linear and convex programming algorithms it possible to find out the (approximately) optimal allocations and the required (Walrasian) prices to sell all the available spectrum (i.e. to clear the market). The project entails implementing the approximating mechanisms by taking as input available spectrum blocks from Spectrum Dashboard database hosted by the FCC and producing as output the optimal allocations and the prices with a user-friendly graphical display of the results being an important component of the output.

ECE Project 14: Statistical Investigation of Cancer Stem Cell Development Using Single Cell Microfluidics

Faculty Mentor: Euisik Yoon

Prerequisites: Patience and carefulness in doing experiments, good hand skill for doing experiments, basic skills in using Excel for data analysis and basic understanding in statistics. Ideally the selected student would have the capability to use MATLAB and write simple scripts for automatic data analysis.

Description: Cell heterogeneity is a new challenge in cancer therapy. Each cell in the heterogeneous population has its own unique property, and thus responds differently to the same drug, making cancer treatment difficult and complicated. Therefore, it is important to understand the heterogeneity characteristics of cells in drug assays. Still most assays measure the average behavior over large numbers of cells with an underline assumption that all cells are identical, which can lead to incorrect, imprecise results. To understand the behavior of each cell in heterogeneous groups, we should be able to provide high-throughput assays at single cell resolution, enlightening individual properties of each cell rather than the average behavior of the bulk tumor. In this work, we focus on studying the self-renewal and differentiation of cancer stem cells. Using microfluidic technologies, we can isolate and culture an array of 1,024 single cancer stem cells for several days, and observe their developments on-chip. The proliferation rate and  self-renewal/differentiation can be measured using fluorescent imaging.

ECE Project 15: Two Dimensional Nanomaterials and Devices

Faculty Mentor: Zhaohui Zhong (

Prerequisites: EECS 320

Description: Two dimensional nanomaterials such as graphene and monolayer MoS2 have attracted great attention for their excellent electrical, optical, and mechanical properties. This research project will explore different techniques to synthesize these nanomaterials, and test their device applications. The student will work closely with a graduate student mentor and participate in all phases of the project.

ECE Project 16: Broadband Wireless Power Scavenging Systems for Battery-Lens Sensors

Faculty Mentor: Amir Mortazawi (

Prerequisites: Basic circuit theory (EECS 312 or equivalent) and electromagnetics theory (PHYSICS 240 or EECS 230 or equivalent)

Description: Wireless power scavenging refers to technologies where electromagnetics (EM) energy is captured from ambient EM radiation to charge various electronics devices. EM energy harvesters provide the potential for enabling battery-less operation of autonomous sensors, hence dramatically extending their operating lifetime. Our objective is to design wireless power scavenging systems to harness EM energy over a wide range of frequency spectrum without sacrificing efficiency and sensitivity. The student researcher is expected to help in basic circuit simulations as well as testing and measurement of such systems through both laboratory and field experiments.

ECE Project 17: Development of Plasmonic Imaging Probes for Single-Molecule Imaging

Faculty Mentor: Somin Eunice Lee (

Prerequisites: Basic understanding of physics and chemistry; comfortable working with chemicals in a laboratory setting.

Description: We are developing imaging probes, based on surface plasmon coupling, to enable nanometer-scale interactions below the diffraction limit to be observed. This project will entail designing and synthesizing plasmonic probes, and imaging single molecules by darkfield microscopy.