ECE research thrust areas


June 1, 2015

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering ranks among the best in the country. Our research programs are at the forefront of the technologies that have changed the world we live in. Our interdisciplinary approach to education and research allows faculty and students across the university and wider to collaborate on problems that have significant impact on the world around us.

We consider our work to be closely intertwined pieces of a puzzle: the pieces in the three layers below interact within and across layers. The layer of Theoretical and technological foundations serve as a bedrock for our work in Systems and technologies, where each puzzle piece represents a systems level, vertical line from the physical to the cyber, and Application domains, where each puzzle piece represents a domain where our fundamental and systems level work makes significant impact. Learn more about our research thrust areas here.

research thrusts areas

Theoretical and technological foundations

To innovate at the systems level and have impact in the real world, the discipline of electrical and computer engineering sits on strong technological and theoretical foundations. Our faculty work on fundamental problems in: analog and digital circuits, devices and systems, analysis, modeling, and design, concurrency, computer architecture, communications, energy-efficient computing, game theory, graph theory, hardware, information theory, integrated circuits, machine learning, MEMS/NEMS, nanofabrication, network theory, optimization, photonics and optics, programming languages and models, security and privacy, signal processing, software, stochastic optimization, systems and control theory, verification, and many others.

Systems and technologies

Secure systems
Security and privacy are not just components of a system, but a consideration that can permeate every aspect of a system design, and at every level from hardware to software to networks. ECE has world-recognized expert faculty spanning core areas such as programming languages and compilers, computer aided verification, cryptography, networks, computer architecture, and digital circuits, as well as newer areas such as human-computer interaction and biometrics. What makes ECE special, however, is the emphasis on collaboration. ECE is home to CyLab, a single open-plan office space that includes over 50 cybersecurity and privacy researchers and 100 graduate students. Through collaboration, we work to imbue security and privacy principles into systems such as commodity systems, SCADA systems, energy systems, mobile, networks, and the Internet of Things.

Beyond CMOS
For decades, scaling of classical semiconductor technologies based on complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) devices has largely driven the electronics industry, and in turn, these electronics have had dramatic effects on our society. Although Moore’s Law and traditional CMOS scaling is likely to continue in the near term, scaling limits are approaching that are based on both fundamental physical effects and increasing cost. These scaling limits have motivated the need for new, beyond CMOS technologies which can serve to continue the exponential performance improvements. Realization of beyond CMOS technologies, which complement existing CMOS technology, requires an approach that balances system-level needs with device-level capabilities. This holistic approach requires a deep understanding of the interwoven relationships between the device fabrication and function, and higher-level circuit or system function. The research in beyond CMOS devices in ECE aims to cross these traditional boundaries to enable future, high-performance, heterogeneous systems. Our research spans a range of ideas including magnetic devices, MEMS, oxide-based electronics and devices based on 2-dimensional materials.

Cyber-physical systems
Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) are engineered systems with an emphasis on the interaction between computation and the physical world. Design of these systems require research at the intersection of multiple disciplines, including; embedded systems, low-power computing, signal processing, modeling, optimization, control theory, sensors, perception, computer networks and machine learning. ECE faculty are currently working on projects with ambitious goals; designing safer cars, disaster rescuing robots, buildings that consume zero-net energy, technology to improve the lives of the disabled, and sensors to monitor the health of everything from bridges to our aging population. Solutions in this space will help lead industries towards an unprecedented level of automation and improved efficiency as cyber-physical systems evolve in complexity and scale. Our challenge is in providing the design paradigms, abstractions and methodologies that enable predictable, analyzable and enforceable operation across a wide variety of applications.

Compute/storage systems
This thrust area vertically integrates novel storage and computing technologies. The storage aspect of this thrust spans from cloud storage, storage systems, and storage for mobile computing to novel storage devices for computing systems, both persistent and dynamic. Our work in 3D integrated memory and computing bridges storage and computing, and enables the high aggregate bandwidth needed by our computing technologies. In the computing area of the thrust, we are developing novel computing techniques like hardware accelerators, non Von-Neumann computing, application- specific computing, and stochastic computing to help overcome the power wall and low arithmetic intensity. Storage and computing cuts across multiple centers and research thrusts: DSSC, the emerging Memory Center, PDL, and beyond CMOS efforts. It integrates with device development and nanofabrication. This thrust has a strong focus on system synthesis using innovative devices and strong collaborations with the data/network science thrust, and is home to a large computer architecture group.

Data/network science systems
The last few years have witnessed a data explosion in volume, rate, and diversity; this data deluge has been facilitated by computing, communication, electronics integration and miniaturization, and storage technologies. Data arises in practically every application domain. Data is diverse in nature and is distributed: it is acquired, measured, stored, and consumed in many ways. Data is relevant: it serves a purpose, illuminates with new insights a meaningful application, leads to timely action, or helps prevent undesirable outcomes before the fact. Big Data is a game changer – the confluence of a perfect storm of enabling technologies of the last five years. The 40 ZB of data to be generated yearly by the end of the decade is an inflection point. Our challenge is to maximize its transparent, efficient, and easy use and utility to the end users.

Application domains

Energy is a key necessity to sustain and grow the prosperity of a nation. Applications range from small circuits in electric devices to the bulk power grid which constitutes the largest man-made system. While devices have become more energy efficient, our dependency on electric energy has also become more prevalent with more and more devices which require electric power. To reliably supply the demand in this large scale dynamic system, new technologies that have evolved from computer science, communications and information technology are being deployed in the electric power grid. This provides the opportunity for enhanced monitoring and control of the system which is increasingly important as variable and intermittent renewable energy sources increase the uncertainty and change the dynamical behavior of the system. The expertise in ECE is leveraged to enable a flexible, secure and robust power grid but also improve the sustainability of the end user devices. Research includes the emerging modular multi-layered interactive modeling, simulation and control of cyber-physical systems and the development of sustainable computing and computing for sustainability.

Healthcare & QoL
Scientific and medical advances are rapidly accelerating by the development of new technologies. We develop technologies for furthering basic biological knowledge, as well as for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. This includes novel engineered interfaces with biological systems, algorithms and analytics for biological big data, and personalized healthcare systems. Current areas of focus include neural interface systems for recording and stimulation, wearable systems for personalized healthcare that respects security and privacy, brain-computer interfaces, and network modeling of biological processes. We collaborate closely with biologists and clinicians to apply our developed technologies in scientific studies and clinical practice.

Mobile systems
Mobile computing is transforming societies and economies, and the Internet of Things may well become the single largest system the world has ever known. Hundreds of billions of devices will be connected in ways that will encourage creativity and inspire decades of innovation. While it may seem that the mobile revolution is well underway, we are only just beginning to explore deep integration of connected computing into our lives. For the IoT, we have barely started thinking about large-scale systems, how they will be composed, and what we will be able to do with them. With this in mind, we are actively exploring core technologies and systems-level issues, including cellular networks as a platform for wide-area cyber-physical systems, survivable and resilient mobile systems, antenna system synthesis, mobile network and device security and privacy, power- and energy-optimized devices, federation of IoT systems, context and situational awareness, cloud-connected embedded computing, mobile and sensor systems in the third dimension, or IoT-in-the-sky.

Smart infrastructure
Infrastructure in our cities, transportation, power grid, and many other environments is rapidly changing. Solutions for physical infrastructure (buildings, transit networks, manufacturing, civil infrastructure, etc.) and cyber infrastructure (sensors, computers, internet) will come together to create a smarter world. In ECE, we work on a number of problems in both physical and cyber domains as well as at the intersection of the two, for example, new sensors and signal processing techniques for infrastructure applications.