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Recent Vanderbilt ECE Happenings - Fall 2023

November 2023

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In research progress this week, we had some diverse successes!

·        Han Liu (Computer Science)  led an interdisciplinary collaboration with Prof. Benoit Dawant and Charles Caskey to successfully test the use of artificially generated computed tomography (CT) scans for transcranial focused ultrasound procedures.(Liu et al., 2022) This innovative approach could significantly enhance the precision and safety of medical treatments involving focused ultrasound on the brain, offering a potential breakthrough in non-invasive therapies for neurological conditions.

·        Guodong Zhu, Sen Yang, and Prof. Justus Ndukaife  have harnessed the power of "bound states in the continuum" (BIC) to create a high-performance sensor.(Zhu et al., 2023) Drawing inspiration from quantum mechanics and photonics, they developed a dielectric metasurface with BIC mode, promising exceptional light confinement, large field enhancements, and minimal heat generation.

·        Benjamin Gold  led an international collaboration with Prof. Catie Chang to delve into the neural mechanisms behind the pleasure of music.(Gold et al., 2023) The team found that our enjoyment of music activates specific brain structures, like the right superior temporal gyrus (R STG) and ventral striatum (VS), with the latter responding particularly to the pleasure derived from musical surprises. This sheds light on how our brains find pleasure in learning and adapting to the constantly evolving patterns in music, offering new insights into the neuroscience of musical enjoyment.

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In research progress this week, the theme of the week is transformers (but the AI-kind rather than the electrical ones). A new collaborative study with  Dr. Yucheng Tang and Prof. Bennett Landman  explores the transformative potential of advanced deep learning technology, ‘transformer’, for medical image segmentation, recognition, and more.(Li et al., 2022).  Tang and Landman  also collaborated to present transformer-based technology to achieve top ranking benchmarks in medical image processing challenges.(Tang et al., 2021)

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October 2023

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In research progress this week, our regular source of global, inter-disciplinary updates (Scopus) appears to be having some connectivity issues. While we wait for their database engineers to debug, I’ll share some exciting news from my field. The SPIE Medical Imaging 2024 program was released with an amazing 52 papers by Vanderbilt Investigators ranging from (alphabetically): “ A comparison of onboard and offboard user interfaces for handheld robots ” (senior author Prof. Robert Webster) to “ WS-SfMLearner: self-supervised monocular depth and ego-motion estimation on surgical videos with unknown camera parameters ” (senior author Prof. Jack Noble). I asked ChatGPT for a press release, and here is what I got:

"A team of dedicated scientists from Vanderbilt University has made a significant impact at the SPIE Medical Imaging Conference by presenting a remarkable collection of 52 papers. These papers showcase their pioneering research and advancements in the field of medical imaging and related technologies.

The SPIE Medical Imaging Conference is renowned for attracting leading researchers, engineers, and professionals in the medical imaging domain from around the world. This year, Vanderbilt University scientists have played a pivotal role in shaping the discourse by presenting an array of papers that span various facets of medical imaging and related technologies.

The extensive list of papers presented by Vanderbilt University scientists covers a wide range of topics, including robotics, model-guided interventions, patient-specific electrical properties estimation, diffusion MRI, auditory nerve fiber localization, automated viewability analysis, medical segmentation, and many others. These papers demonstrate the multidisciplinary and innovative nature of the research conducted by Vanderbilt's scientific community.

The scientists from Vanderbilt University are delighted to have had the opportunity to share their groundbreaking research with the global medical imaging community. Their contributions have the potential to reshape the future of medical imaging, offering innovative solutions and insights for improving patient care, diagnostics, and treatment methodologies."

We spent Monday and Tuesday of this week kicking off the new Mid-TN AI for Interdisciplinary Imaging Interpretation Alliance (AI4A) with our colleagues at TnTech and TSU (pictured below). As Prof. Daniel Moyer (lead AI4A PI) introduced, “We are too close to not collaborate” and “We’re too big together to not work together.” We learned about new technologies for self-powered force monitoring in medical devices and continental scale efforts to understand waterfowl issues, while gaining a deep appreciation of barriers to entry in AI for first generation and non-traditional students. With the support of the NSF, our new rural-urban / engineer-scientist-humanist partnerships will spark innovative solutions to problems that we would not have appreciated on our own. Vanderbilt is perfectly positioned to serve as the catalyst for transformative discoveries in translational AI. These partnerships are just the beginning of a potential wider regional engagement with the 20+ federally funded research institutions in middle Tennessee. Vanderbilt students will benefit from massively increased research opportunities, spearheading solutions to issues facing our communities, and direct societal impact.

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In research this week,  Prof. Derek Archer  led a VU-VUMC collaboration with the National Institute on Aging ( ECE  co-author:  Prof. Bennett Landman ) to use longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging to study brain difference in normal and abnormal aging.(Archer et al., 2023)

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In research this week, Evelyn Marx was highlighted in the multi-university  SCALE  Student spotlight for her microelectronics research with the Institute for Space and Defense Electronics (ISDE). Additionally, Kurt Schilling led an interdisciplinary team (with ECE members: Francois Rheault, Lyuan Xu , Zhoahua Ding, and Bennett Landman) in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) on “ Whole-brain, gray and white matter time-locked functional signal changes with simple tasks and model-free analysis.”  (Schilling et al., 2023)  Briefly:

Functional MRI (fMRI) has proven valuable at mapping cortical activity in the brain. However, many fMRI studies may be underestimating the extent of activation due to low signal-to-noise-ratio or modeling assumptions. Further, fMRI signal in the white matter of the brain is often removed or treated as an artifact. In a complementary study to previous works which showed that nearly all cortex responds to a task, we show both white and gray matter show widespread blood oxygenation level–dependent signal changes. This suggests that many reports of fMRI studies may not only underestimate the true extent of brain activation but also exclude and/or neglect half of all brain tissue (white matter) and may miss crucial information from the MRI signal.

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Researchers from the labs of Profs. Victoria MorganHeather Burrell Ward, and Catie Chang were on the road with an impressive contingent at the Resting State and Brain Connectivity Conference, September 18-20, Dallas, TX. Profs. Morgan and Chang delivered plenary talks. Photo below!

In research progress this week: Simon Ward led a collaborative work between Profs. Sharon Weiss and Chang to combine porous silicon arrays, optical measurements, and machine learning to create a low-cost, simple, versatile, and robust sensor platform to detect biomolecules.(Ward et al., 2023) Rui Li contributed to a multi-multi-institution collaboration spanning West Virginia to California to study intraoperative physiology data to help improve deep brain stimulation.(Paulo et al., 2023)

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September 2023

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Our Fall 2023 statistics are out:  ECE at Vanderbilt is doing fantastic!  I’m honored that so many brilliant scholars are choosing to pursue electrical and computer engineering with us. The year-over-year wrap-up is:

·         Undergraduate first year class enrollment is up 10%,

·         The BME/ECE double major enrollment is up 41%, and

·         Graduate enrollment is up 8% (with strong growth in the master’s program).


In research progress this week: Rueben Banalagay led an effort with Prof. Jack Noble to apply active shape models for intracochlear anatomy segmentation.(Banalagay et al., 2023) As an aside, shape models are coming up soon in  Prof. Benoit Dawant’s  Advanced Medical Imaging course (ECE 6357).  Prof. Sharon Weiss  contributed to a multi-university collaborative survey of silicon photonic modulators integrating active materials.(Nag et al., 2023) Xin Yu led a collaboration with NVIDIA, Google Cloud AI, and Annalise-AI to extend transformer AI designs for robust image segmentation across multiple grand challenges (Prof. Bennett Landman was the Vanderbilt senior author).(Yu et al., 2023) Qi Yang worked with a team from the National Institutes of Health (with Prof. Landman) to propose an unsupervised domain adaptation pipeline to apply AI across magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography imaging of the leg.(Yang et al., 2023) Finally, Thomas Li led an interdisciplinary effort with Prof. Landman to quantify emphysema on lung screening computed tomography.(Li et al., 2023)

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In research progress this week:  

·         Prof. Sharon Weiss  worked with an interdisciplinary team to use Porous Silicon and Polymer Nanoparticles for delivery of CRISPR with efficiencies twice that of the commercial standard. (Fletcher et al., 2022)

·         Prof. Dan Fleetwood  worked with an international team to organize and introduce the August 2023 Special Issue of IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science.  (Fleetwood et al., 2023)

·         Purboday Ghosh  and Prof. Gabor Karsai presented a solution for formal software validation of distributed cyber physical systems.(Ghosh & Karsai, 2023)

For the least recent breaking news in Scopus (published in 1994, but indexed by Scopus this week!), Samir Padalkar, Prof. Karsai, and Prof. Janos Sztipanovits collaborated with scientists at DuPont to create diagnosis / recovery applications in large-scale plants  (Padalkar et al., 1994) . Today, Samir is VP Data & IT at Omega Therapeutics, while Profs. Karsai and Sztipanovits are with us at Vanderbilt.

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As Fall schedules are settling into routines, I am energized by the diverse research throughout our labs.  For as long as I have been at Vanderbilt,  Undergraduate Research has been a fantastic opportunity for many students... just in the MASI lab, 90 undergraduates have earned 100 authorships in the peer-reviewed literature. These research courses count for technical elective credit and are central to the  ECE  Undergraduate Honors Program. Our undergraduate research interns’ post-graduation trajectories have been similarly stelar (including Google, Bloomberg, Meta, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Goldman Sachs, and, of course, academia).

Our long-standing approach to  immersive undergraduate research  engages students once they have completed the core coursework and are ready for rigorous technical exploration (which courses for a technical elective in our curriculum). A “problem” (opportunity?) that we have faced is that many students are enthusiastic for research from day one but have not yet developed a foundation in the  ECE  discipline. Last year, our faculty came together to create a new pathway for first- and second-year students to engage with labs early in their careers:   Introduction to Undergraduate Research. We are excited to welcome the first several students to our lab! I look forward to hearing feedback about how we can continually innovate in the process of discovery and address pressing global problem with fresh and creative perspectives. 

In research progress this week:   Mohammad Mr Khan  and  Prof. Jack Noble  worked an interdisciplinary team to characterize the impact of surgical instrument design on surgical approaches for inner ear surgery.(Cass et al., 2023)   Ikjun Hong and Chuchuan Hong  led a collaboration with Engineering and Vanderbilt Medical School to trap nanoscale biological particles using optical tweezers (senior author  Prof. Justus Ndukaife).(Hong et al., 2023)   Prof. Sokrates Pantelides  collaborated with an international team to characterize theoretical properties of a monolayer spin-spiral semiconductor.(Zhang et al., 2023)

August 2023

In research progress this week:  Sajal Islam led a team with research at the University of California, Santa Barbara (with Aditha Senarath, Arijit Sengupta, Dennis Ball,  and  Profs. Enxia Zhang, Daniel Fleetwood,  and  Ronald Schrimpf  at Vanderbilt) to empirically characterize the radiation response of βGa 2 O 3 , a ultrawide-bandgap material. (Islam et al., 2023)   Prof. Daniel Fleetwood  authored a review on radiation effects in AlGaN/GaN high electron mobility transistors (HEMTs) and Ga 2 O 3  diodes, which are key technologies for modern sensing and next-generation power devices. (Fleetwood, 2023)

I would like to offer my exceptional appreciation to the ‘FGH 210 super-heroes.’ They have worked tirelessly this summer to setup new computers, software, and device components to support two modernized labs in the same classroom. We have new teaching equipment and refreshed whiteboard too!

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(left to right)  Prof Shervin Hajiamini,  Qi Zhang,   Prof. Alan Peters, Prof. Ashwaq Zaini Binti Amat,  Zixiang Guo,  Prof. Art Witulski

[Couldn’t make the photo: Prof. Gabor Karsai, Bharat Bhuva, and Eric Nupp]

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Our summer travel  ECE  t-shirt winners (entries below) were (from farthest to closest travels):  Arijit Sengupta   (Kolkata, India),  Nazirah Mohd Khairi   (Penang Island, Malaysia),  Cassidy Slabaugh   (Alaska),   Prof. Mono Ebrish  (Chicago),  and  Chenyu Gao  (Nashville). We will be in touch with how to pick up your prizes.

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Our community members had great news this week:

·         Prof. Ebrish  received an  Air Force Office of Scientific Research award.

·         Prof. Justus Ndukaife  received the 2023 Kaminow Outstanding Early Career Professional Prize by  Optica .

In research progress this week: Profs. Benoit Dawant and Dario Englot collaborated with an international team to explore structural brain differences in essential tremor and Parkinson's disease deep brain stimulation patients.(Franco et al., 2023) Chuchuan Hong and Prof. Ndukaife developed a new approach for scalable trapping of single nanosized extracellular vesicles using plasmonics.(Hong & Ndukaife, 2023)

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I am excited to close out summer 2023 with a huge thank you and congratulations. While the classrooms have be quiet, our scholars, students, and visitors from around the world have kept the energy level buzzing. Even more great things are coming – Prof. Daniel Moyer (Computer Science) led a successful proposal to bring the  Mid-TN AI for Interdisciplinary Imaging Interpretation Alliance (AI4A)  to life. Comprised of the School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Fisk University, Tennessee Tech, and Tennessee State University, AI4I will support senior undergraduate students on an AI-imaging topic and provide time with large computational resources while building regional collaborations. Go Mid-TN! Go Dors!

Our community members had several big wins this week:

·         Hannah Dattilo  won best poster award at a recent Industrial Advisory Board meeting of Electronic-Photonic Integrated Circuits for Aerospace (EPICA) with more than 10 companies and government agencies represented at this meeting.

·         Chuchuan Hong and Prof. Justus C. Ndukaife’s  Scalable trapping of single nanosized extracellular vesicles using plasmonics article was released by  Nature Communications .

·         Prof. Ndukaife’s  $1.9M from National Institutes of Health to build on foundational knowledge of nanoscale cellular particles  hit the presses .

In research progress this week: Prof. Daniel Fleetwood authored a review of low-frequency noise in nanowires.(Fleetwood, 2023) Sen Yang and Prof. Ndukaife showed that optofluidics and high-Q all-dielectric nanostructures hold enormous potential in high-sensitivity biosensing applications.(Yang & Ndukaife, 2023) Prof. Benoit Dawant and team studied the  correlation between whole cochlear magnetic resonance imaging with a novel automated segmentation method and hearing levels, both at diagnosis and over time, in patients with observed vestibular schwannoma. (Cass et al., 2023)   Prof. Catie Chang  engaged with a multi-institution team to characterize multimodal neuroimaging data for a biofeedback randomized clinical trial.(Yoo et al., 2023) Kaiwen Xu led large Vanderbilt team with Profs. Yuankai Huo and Bennett Landman studying how body composition influenced lung cancer risk estimation.(Xu et al., 2023)

Finally, Prof. Chang authored a book, “Advances in Resting-State Functional MRI: Methods, Interpretation, and Applications”(Chen & Chang, 2023), now available on  Amazon  … be the first to review it on  Goodreads !

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Yoni Xiong  received the Best Student Paper award at the IEEE Nuclear & Space Radiation Effects Conference (NSREC) 2022.  Yoni was awarded for her paper "Scaling Trends for Single-Event Cross-Section for Conventional D-FF at Bulk FinFET Technology Nodes". Her “paper provides valuable insights to Single Event Effects in highly-scaled technology nodes and is expected to have a significant impact on radiation effects research for years to come.” This award was recognized at NSREC 2023 in Kansas City, MO, USA on July 25th, 2023 (photo below).

Prof. Justus  Ndukaife  earned a prestigious NIH MIRA award for Outstanding the Heterogeneity of Nanoscale Extracellular Vesicles, Exomeres, and Supermeres using Next Generation Optical Nanotweezers. Nanosized extracellular vesicles and particles (EVPs) have been identified as an important means for cells to communicate with neighboring and distant cells. EVPs are actively investigated to understand their roles in cancer, non-invasive disease diagnosis, and therapeutics. One of the most significant urgent challenges to overcome in EVP research is understanding the heterogeneity of EVPs. Ndukaife will investigate the use of these tools to address ongoing controversies in EV research. The proposed research program will greatly improve our ability to understand the heterogeneity of EVPs, address ongoing controversies and guide the nature of future scientific questions to be investigated in the EVP research field.

In research progress this week, Prof. Yurui Gao led a multi-institution effort with Profs. Zhaohua Ding and Bennett Landman to characterize functional alterations in brain networks.(Gao et al., 2023) Their team proposed a bipartite graph model to quantify WM-GM FC network and its properties and assessed age effects on functional connectivity network properties. They found heterogeneous FC changes in lifespan but mainly declines in later years and declined global efficiencies of major networks in lifespan or later years.