ECpE at Iowa State: 2020 Impact Report out now

The 2020 Impact Report from the Iowa State University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is out now! Take a look back at all that we’ve accomplished in the past year, and join us as we look ahead. Here in ECpE, The Future Is What We Do!




ECpE Senior Design teams win big

1st Place: Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) based Sensing System for Soil Conditions Monitoring

David Severson, Kyle Kehoe, Nathan Coonrod, Sok Yan Poon, Jacob Verheyen

Advisor: Shuo Yang & Dr. Yang Zhang

Currently, measuring changes and gathering data on soil moisture and temperature is not only expensive, but also occasionally unreliable. But this senior design team has formulated a device and plan to allow data-retrieval for soil moisture and temperature to be both affordable and trustworthy. The team has designed a sensor to observe the soil’s moisture levels and temperature throughout the course of a month. This sensor analyzes soil by measuring capacitance between the two plates on the PCB, and measures temperature by using a thermistor on the PCB, both read as a voltage.


2nd Place: High-Resolution ADC Using Delta-Sigma Architectures

Caroline Alva, Tyler Archer, Caleb Davidson, Mahmoud Gshash, Josh Rolles

Advisor: Randall Geiger

According to the team’s abstract, “Analog to digital converters (ADCs) are widely used to convert analog signals to the digital domain. There are dominantly two major classes of data converters. One is termed Nyquist Rate converters, and the other is termed Over-Sampled Data Converters or Delta-Sigma Data Converters. With Nyquist rate converters, samples of the input are converted to a Boolean signal when each sample is taken. In Over-sampled Data Converters, a large number of low resolutions are made with each sample, and the large number of low resolution outputs are then combined (decimated) into a higher-resolution output. Over-sampled data converters invariably have a low effective conversion rate but can achieve very high resolution. For example, over-sampled converters can readily achieve an effective resolution of 20-bits or more with a low sample rate and with relatively simple circuits. This project will involve the design of a slow-speed over-sampled data converter and the use of this data converter to provide a high-resolution digital output of an on-chip temperature sensor.”


3rd Place: 360 Web Cams for Zoos and Aquariums

Nathan Cool, Ian Jamieson, Zach Newton, TJ Yacoub, Alan Negrete, Sam Abdetlawab

Advisor: Henry Duwe

According to the team’s final report, “True 360 hopes to provide solutions to three major problems/needs. First, zoos and aquariums do not have access to an easy-to-use 360-degree webcam solution for their exhibits. No solution currently exists to act as a centralized (remote) connection and control hub for all of their webcams. Second, zoos and aquariums are always looking for ways to boost their social media presence and improve their marketing techniques. Finally, zookeepers, animal health professionals and other staff members are currently required to visit each exhibit on a regular basis in order to monitor the animals. This process is time-consuming, which means staff members have less time to focus on other important responsibilities.

By developing a system that allows zoo and aquarium staff members to connect to and remotely control multiple 360-degree webcams, the necessity of physically interacting with each webcam on a regular basis will be removed. The system will allow for webcams to be installed in both above-ground (indoor and outdoor) and underwater exhibits and controlled via a central web application. Conveniently, this application will help us solve the aforementioned marketing need and animal monitoring problem. With our system, zoos and aquariums will be able to constantly capture 360-degrees of animals, which can be extracted for use in educational live streams, promotional content, monitoring animal activity and even archival purposes.”


Honorable Mention: IoT Remote Monitoring Mobile App for Commercial Appliances

Hongyi Bian, John Fleiner, casey Gehling, Thomas Stackhouse, Ben Young, Yuanbo Zheng

Advisor: Goce Trajcevski

According to the team, “The purpose of our project is to find a method that mitigates scheduling conflicts between customers who want to access washing machines and dryers in a shared environment. To do so, our team will be utilizing the concept of IoT – Internet of Things. The internet of things consists of a network of physical hardware devices that can be controlled remotely.

Our proposed solution consists of two components: An IoT cloud service and a mobile application. An IoT cloud service will be used to register a set of washing machine and dryer control boards that can be controlled remotely. A multi-platform mobile application will be developed to connect to an IoT cloud service so that users may monitor, reserve, and control devices remotely. A reservation system on the mobile application will allow users to reserve a device for a set period of time. Once reserved, a time-stamped code will be generated for the user. During the reservation time, the reserved machine will be locked until the time-stamped code has been entered by the user, essentially gives users the opportunity to use a machine without it being taken. This will help prevent customers from traveling to a shared-appliance room only to find all of the machines in use.”


ECpE Department receives major external research awards

During the months of July through September 2016, Iowa State University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering received many external research awards from the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other groups.

Coover in the FallMajor grants from the DOE include an award of $1,162,477 for a project entitled “Autonomous Tools for Attack Surface Reduction,” with Manimaran Govindarasu as Principal Investigator (PI) and Venkataramana Ajjarap and Doug Jacobson as Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PI). The total anticipated amount of the award is $2,981,103. The DOE also awarded $1,318,903 for a project called “Novel Light Extraction and Utilization, Organic LED (OLED) Core Technology Research: Enhanced Light Extraction from Low Cost White OLEDs (WOLEDs) Fabricated on Novel Patterned Substrates,” with Ruth Shinar as PI and Rana Biswas and Joseph Shinar as Co-PIs.

A variety of projects received grants from the NSF, with one highlight being $4,054,476 for the project “WI-ECSEL Scholarship Program (Women in Electrical, Computer, and Software Engineering as Leaders,” with Joseph Zambreno as PI and Doug Jacobson, Phillip Harrison Jones, Lisa Larson, Mani Mina, Sarah Rajala, Sarah Rodriguez, Diane Rover and Mack Shelley as Co-PIs.

For more information on grants received during the months of July through September, visit this link:

New faculty member garners millions in grants


In August of 2015, Iowa State Electrical and Computer Engineering added Zhaoyu Wang as an assistant professor. In the short time Wang has called Iowa State home, he has acquired over $3 million in research grants from groups like the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and industry leaders.

I really enjoy working with Zhaoyu,” noted Executive Director of the Electrical Power Research Center Anne Kimber. “He is so enthusiastic about working with the utility members of the Electric Power Research Center. This is great for our utilities because they can work with a top-notch research engineer genuinely interested in helping them solve problems.”

Wang’s research interests include power distribution systems, networked microgrids and data-driven analytics in smart grid. These technologies allow for better power infrastructure in case of natural disasters or other emergencies.

While it is very common for faculty within ECpE to receive large-sum grants, it is not as common to receive large-sum grants so early in one’s career. Iowa State is Wang’s first full-time position following graduation from Georgia Institute of Technology. Prior to applying for grants totaling $3 million, Wang had never even written a proposal.

He attributes much of his recent success to his colleagues, especially Distinguished Professor Jim McCalley, Sandbulte Professor Ian Dobson,  Nicholas Professor Venkataramana Ajjarapu and Kimber. McCalley and Kimber taught Wang how to write proposals from their past experiences. In addition to the support of his colleagues, Wang mentions how the Iowa State College of Engineering and the department have urged him to pursue research areas.

Looking forward, these grants are a stepping stone for future research areas for Wang.

“Our future research will build upon the existing topics and grants,” Wang said. “I think we will focus on data-driven analytics and its application to power grids, design and operation of resilient power systems, networked microgrids, power distribution system operation and control with a high penetration level of renewable energy.”

By building on his research in power systems, Wang can contribute to America’s energy future.  

Presentations inspire students to follow STEM careers

3D Virtual Reality
3D Virtual Reality

On April 12th, the ISU Magnetics Research Group (MRG) collaborated with the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) to give a series of presentations designed to inspire grade school students to follow a path into the STEM fields. The outreach program was funded by a grant from the American Physical Society (APS). The event hosted 52 students from Boone Middle School at Howe Hall Auditorium.

Human-Human Interface
Human-Human Interface


The presentations included 3D visualization methods using virtual reality with a virtual 3D tour of the VRAC, magnetic fields and how they are used for treating neurological diseases through Transcranial magnetic Stimulation (TMS), and a live demonstration of the Human-Human Interface that shows how electrical signals from one person’s arm can be used to trigger muscle movement in another person’s arm. The MRG plans on continuing the outreach program next year.

Joe Boldrey, a research graduate assistant, thought the presentations were not only valuable to the students, but to the field as a whole.

“The program gave me an opportunity to show that the academic rigors of engineering are not an end unto themselves,” Boldrey said. “There is a human connection between the math, physics and computers with real-world applications that help people live better, longer and happier lives. I believe it is important to show younger students that connection in the hopes that it will give purpose and motivation at difficult times during undergraduate engineering coursework.”

Overall, there was a positive response from the young students who participated in the presentations. One student said, “It was an interesting trip and I would love to learn more about virtual reality.” Another said, “I think it would be a cool job [engineer] to have, especially because I know more about it.”

PI: Dr. Ravi L. Hadimani, Adj. Asst. Prof., ECpE

Co-PI: Dr. David C. Jiles, Chair, ECpE

Co-PI: Dr. Vijay Kalivarapu, Staff Scientist, VRAC

Co-PI: Dr. Eliot H. Winer, Associate Director, VRAC

Ph.D. student receives IBM Fellowship award

ECpE PhD student, Neelam Prabhu Gaunkar recently received the IBM Ph.D. Fellowship award in the fundamental science and technology category.

The IBM Fellowship award is an internationally competitive award given to excellent Ph.D. students who have an interest in solving problems that are important to IBM and fundamental to innovation in various areas of study. Candidates can vary from computer science, physical sciences, mathematics, public sector and business services, service science and more.

Prabhu Gaunkar’s research investigates the applicability of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) by improving and building novel sensor systems that will acquire reliable datasets non-invasively. What makes her work different is perhaps the fact that unlike conventional NMR systems, she wants to use a single-sided NMR system for imaging purposes. The single-sided system has a limited field of vision but is very portable. Thus, the main challenge lies in improving acquired image resolution and for this Prabhu Gaunkar plans to combine signals from an array of transmit/receive coils and control the magnetic field gradients.

In order to receive the IBM Fellowship award, candidates must be nominated by both the department chair and their advisor. In Prabhu Gaunkar’s case, that person was Dr. Jiles.

“I am delighted to hear that Neelam has been awarded an IBM Fellowship,” said Jiles. “The IBM Fellowships are prestigious and highly sought-after. Winning this fellowship is testimony to the achievements that she has already made in both research and education.”

Prabhu Gaunkar’s work will still be a proof on concept, but she hopes to continue her research in order to adapt a single-sided NMR circuit to acquire rapid, noise free images from organic tissues.  This would greatly contribute to diagnostic capabilities in medical application in the future.

“It’s very prestigious, I’m very surprised,” Prabhu Gaunkar said. “I’m excited and encouraged that people value my work and know it’s important.”

VEISHEA project could be first answering machine

Mitchell currently holds 40 patents with another 12 pending.
Mitchell currently holds 40 patents with another 12 pending.

ECpE alum, James Mitchell (EE ‘82), may have created the world’s first digital outgoing telephone message machine during his time at Iowa State University.

Mitchell displayed a working prototype of the digital outgoing message with a taped incoming system at the Iowa State University VEISHEA Engineering Open House in April 1982. Using 35 integrated circuits (16 memory chips) and the digital and analog experience from his courses, Mitchell created his project in just three weeks.

“I saw the open house as an opportunity,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to do something as profound as I could possibly do.”  He added that he had to develop his own a Analog to Digital converter and encoding process, as these were not readily available commodities during that time.

Mitchell displayed a working prototype of the digital outgoing message with a taped incoming system at the Iowa State University VEISHA Engineering Open House in April 1982.
Mitchell displayed a working prototype of the digital outgoing message with a taped incoming system at the Iowa State University VEISHA Engineering Open House in April 1982.

The project won a Gold award, the highest of the three levels, from David T. Stephenson faculty advisor and J.O. Kopplin the department chair of the time.

In Mitchell’s award letter, Stephenson and Kopplin state that his phone-answering system was “a particularly interesting exhibit for the many visitors who have some knowledge of digital techniques and who have ever found themselves ‘talking to a machine.’”

Mitchell credits the VEISHEA Open House with helping him receive his position at Rockwell Collins after graduation. He was offered the job after his VEISHEA demonstration and continued to stay with Rockwell Collins for the next 33 years until retiring last December.

Although Kazou Hashimoto holds the patent for a digital answering machine, he did not invent the machine until 1983, a year after Mitchell’s presentation of his digital answering machine.

Mitchell may also hold the title for the first created LED television display in 1977. His monochromatic model was displayed at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) expo in Anaheim Ca. 1978 and won awards from NASA, General Motors Corporation and Westinghouse.

Currently, Mitchell holds 40 patents with another 12 pending, the majority related to aircraft and satellite communication. He lives in Cedar Rapids with his wife.    

Former department chair wins award

S.S. (Mani) Venkata, a former ECpE Department Chair at Iowa State University, was awarded the prestigious Robert M. Janowiak Outstanding Leadership and Service Award at the 2016 Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA)  Annual Conference and ECExpo in La Jolla, California this past March.
S.S. (Mani) Venkata, a former ECpE Department Chair at Iowa State University, was awarded the prestigious Robert M. Janowiak Outstanding Leadership and Service Award at the 2016 Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) Annual Conference and ECExpo in La Jolla, California this past March.

S.S. (Mani) Venkata, a former ECpE Department Chair at Iowa State University, was awarded the prestigious Robert M. Janowiak Outstanding Leadership and Service Award at the 2016 Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA)  Annual Conference and ECExpo in La Jolla, California this past March.

The Robert M. Janowiak Outstanding Leadership and Service Award is given to an individual with a continued record of leadership and service to ECEDHA, and to the field of electrical and computer engineering.

“I am pleased to hear that Mani Venkata, our former department chair, has won the Robert M. Janowiak Outstanding Leadership and Service Award,” said Dr. David Jiles, Anson Marston Distinguished Professor and Palmer Endowed Departmental Chair, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He is an exceptional technical leader who keeps very active in the field of electrical and computer engineering and is well deserving of this prestigious award.”

Mani Venkata has an immense and distinguished past with various institution within the electrical and computer engineering community.  In the past 45 years, he has conducted research, education, design, and development work that have had impacts in scholarly research and industrial practice.

Venkata is an IEEE Fellow and recipient of IEEE’s Third Millennium Medal (2000). He has published and/or presented more than 375 publications in refereed journals and conference proceedings. He also co-authored the book, Introduction to Electric Energy Systems. In 2015, Venkata won the IEEE PES Douglas M. Staszesky Distribution Automation Award for contributions to the design and implementation of smart distribution automation systems.

Dr. Manimaran Govindarasu, ECpE’s Associate Department Chair and Mehl Professor, said he was thrilled to learn of Venkata’s award.

“He was a great mentor for many junior faculty, like me, at Iowa State University and to so many young professionals at the IEEE Power &  Energy Society,” Govindarasu said. “This prestigious ECEDHA award is a well deserving recognition for his decades-long contributions  to the R&D and  workforce needs in the energy sector, and for his contributions, as an academic leader, to the broad electrical and computer engineering community.”

Currently, Venkata is the Principal Scientist and Director of DER R&D at Alstom Grid, Inc. He also was a professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, Washington and dean of Clarkson University’s Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering. He remains an Emeritus professor of Iowa State after his time served as ECpE Department Chair from 1996-2003.

Research discovery helps cancer prevention

This type of chip offers 50-100 fold more sensitivity compared with the traditional ELISA for detecting biomarkers for prostate cancer.
This type of chip offers 50-100 fold more sensitivity compared with the traditional ELISA for detecting biomarkers for prostate cancer.

Prostate Cancer (PC) is the second most common cancer and the sixth leading cause of cancer death among men worldwide. The worldwide PC burden is expected to grow to 1.7 million new cases and 499 000 new deaths by 2030. ECpE’s Dr. Long Que and his laboratory have created a chip that may help combat against this prominent illness.

Que’s laboratory recently developed an optofluidic chip-based diagnostic system. This type of chip offers 50-100 fold more sensitivity compared with the traditional ELISA for detecting biomarkers such as prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and neuroendocrine marker (NEM) for prostate cancer (PC).

By testing clinic samples using this type of chip along with the assistance of Que’s collaborator Dr. Girsh Shah, it appears that combined NEM+PSA test can significantly improve reliability of PC detection and significantly reduce the number of diagnostic biopsies.  

This type of chip not only can be made disposable thereby avoiding any possible cross-contamination during the test, but also can offer many advantages such as elimination of the labeled antigen, the need of the sophisticated equipment and the highly trained individuals. These advantages make the technology suitable for point-of-care application to screen elderly male populations for PC and to monitor the progress of patients undergoing PC treatment. As early detection is essential for good PC prognosis and treatment options, this chip will assist in proactive PC prevention.

Que’s biomedical technology has been featured in publications such as World Biomedical Frontiers and Uro Today. For more information, visit the feature on Uro Today.

Best Student Paper Award at Photonics West 2016

SEM image of the PDMS patterns. The nano-cones are formed from the negative of replication of nano-pits on the PC master pattern.
SEM image of the PDMS patterns. The nano-cones are formed from the negative of replication of nano-pits on the PC master pattern.

This year’s Best Student Paper Award in the Microfluidics, BioMEMS, and Medical Microsystems section of  SPIE Photonics West (BIOS) was presented to Iowa State graduate students and faculty for their presentation, “Transfer molding processes for nanoscale patterning of poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA) films.”

This is a collaborative project being performed in ECpE and the Microelectronics Research Center (MRC) by Rabin Dhakal, Akshit Peer, Rana Biswas and Jaeyoun Kim. The team’s presentation was selected out of 48 total oral and poster presentations in the conference held Feb. 13-18 in San Francisco.

The goal of the team’s project is to find novel bio-medical applications of periodically patterned polymeric nano-structures. The group investigated how the surfaces of cardiac stents made of bio-degradable poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA) can be engineered to control and slow down the release of certain drugs, such as anti-coagulant, coated on them.  They developed a soft lithographic method for imprinting intricate periodic nano-patterns onto these stents and demonstrated that large area arrays of nano-cones or nano-cups with pitch of ~700 nm could be effectively nano-imprinted onto the bio-degradable polymer films. The team is currently studying the release dynamics of drugs coated on these patterned surfaces of PLLA- an area that has much promise for applications to treatment of cardiac disease.

Faculty members, Biswas and Kim said they were grateful for the opportunity and glad to have been recognized for their work. 
For more information about the SPIE conference and awards, click here.