Photo at the 30th Annual Small Satellite Conference in Utah.
Helena Bales poses with her lab group at in front of the NASA booth at the 30th Annual Small Satellite Conference. From left to right, Hollis Neel, Graham Grable, Megan Le Corre, Roger Hunter, David Cotten, Khoa Ngo, Paige Copenhaver, Nirav Ilango, Helena Bales, Caleb Adams. Paige and Caleb hold an engineering model of a cubesat launched by NASA.

Guest post by Helena Bales

I had an amazing experience this summer at the University of Georgia working in the Small Satellite Research Lab. The lab was founded by undergraduate students, myself included, partnering with professors, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. Space seems impossibly far away and hard to get to, but with the increased popularity and strength of the small satellite community, it is now easier than ever to reach, even for self-funded, undergraduate engineering students.

We started as a small group of students and created a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of launching a small satellite into orbit. Most of the students on the project were at the University of Georgia (UGA). We had reached out to faculty members in the UGA geography department to see if they wanted a science payload to fly on our CubeSat. CubeSats are small satellites of a specific size. For example, a “1U” CubeSat is 10 cm wide, 10 cm deep, and 11 cm tall. The standard size has aided the commercialization of space.

SPOC mission patch
The mission patch for the Small Satellite that will perform multi-spectral analyses of the Georgia coast.

Currently, we have two CubeSat projects and about 20 members. The CubeSats launch off the International Space Station. One will look at Earth in order to track sediment plumes, algal blooms, and chemical runoff around Georgia. The other will create 3D maps of large geographic features such as mountains. We couldn’t have dreamed that this project would end up where it is now — a lab run by undergraduate students with two fully funded satellite projects.

My role in the lab is to develop the algorithms that we need to accomplish our mission objectives. That mostly involves adapting existing algorithms for use on orbit. Running software on orbit has different limitations than on the ground, so the software needs to be adjusted accordingly. For example, when dealing with space, engineers must take account of power shortages, overheating, and time limitations that might compromise transmission of data. Fortunately, we know these constraints ahead of time. With careful planning and testing, we can insure that our code will run on orbit.

The process of developing cube satellites posed both unique opportunities and struggles. As undergrads, trying to figure out how to build two satellites, we are all learning together. And the experience of working at the Small Satellite Research Lab is incomparable to most undergraduate experiences, because of the nature of the project and the close relationships developed through solving problems in space. Balancing the demands of the project takes a close-knit group of scientists and engineers and communication between group members. Through the experience we have built a productive lab and became close friends.

MOCI patch
The mission patch for the Small Satellite that will create 3D point clouds of large geographic features.

Eight of our members (myself included) received scholarships to attend the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah. At that conference we had the opportunity to attend six days of talks about every aspect of small satellite missions. We all learned more than we could have imagined. We were also able to network with industry professionals from organizations like NASA and SpaceX. That week opened our eyes to issues that we hadn’t thought about yet, and introduced us to new satellite hardware vendors. When we returned from the conference, we were equipped to onboard new lab members, finalize our payloads, design our ground station, and plan outreach events.

Despite ongoing encouragement and success, we continue to struggle with getting the funding that we need to make a lab that can support multiple space missions. For example, using space-grade hardware requires a cleanroom in order to assemble our satellite to meet the standards set by NASA and the U.S. Air Force, who have each funded our missions. The funding we’ve received for the projects assumes that there is already a lab that is outfitted with all the supplies necessary to build and test a CubeSat, so we face the additional hurdle of establishing our lab.

I’m proud to be part of a group that welcomes challenges instead taking the easy route — an important characteristic for the next generation of scientists and engineers solving problem in the limitless reaches of space. With creativity and persistence, the University of Georgia Small Satellite Research Lab is pushing itself and reaching new heights.

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Author biography:

Helena Bales grew up in Portland and is a senior in computer science. In addition to her ongoing work at the UGA Small Satellite Research Lab, she works on campus as a software developer at the Valley Library. She spent last summer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center developing applications for the daily operation of the International Space Station. Her internships have fueled her interest in space and she plans to pursue a career in the aerospace industry after graduation.

photo of Vedanth Narayanan
Vedanth Narayanan, a graduate student in computer science, did a summer internship with Tripwire.

Guest post by Vedanth Narayanan

This summer I had a great experience as in intern at Tripwire, a software company based in Portland that develops security solutions. What impressed me the most about Tripwire was how everyone there made me feel comfortable and part of the company. I remember getting coffee in the break room the first week, and multiple people stopped by to introduce themselves and ask about me. I got the sense of belonging fairly quickly. It empowered me. Although we only made small talk, I knew I could ask them for help without hesitation.

The fact that people are social at Tripwire really goes hand-in-hand with the work environment. There are multiple teams that develop and test the products. Cross-team collaboration at Tripwire is highly valued, because it’s crucial that different pieces of the puzzle are properly linked. For that reason, having the right social dynamics is really helpful.

My team gave me a small list of potential projects that I could choose to work on. I got a week to look over the projects I was interested in and choose something I found to be valuable. I really appreciated this because it didn’t box me in.

The first month was the hardest because I was trying to understand the work, the company and the culture. My team gave me the freedom to spend time on intricate problems, and when I ran into anything unusual they were always there to help me through it. They would also point me to who would be able to help me from another team.

One other thing I noticed about Tripwire (that I had not come across working at other companies) was how flat the organizational structure was. Not only was I in touch with my manager on a daily basis, but also my product owner, and even other engineering managers. I was absolutely delighted and surprised to see our CEO socializing and having a beer at a company event.

Portland’s tech culture is said to be unique, and I got a firsthand experience in it. Like you’d expect, going out to lunch was always a thrill. There were many food carts nearby, and the choices seemed unlimited. There was also a nearby Farmer’s market that set up shop every Thursday. These turned out to be a good place to socialize and it gave me a chance to meet people from other tech companies.

I loved my experience at Tripwire. Like I’d expect from any internship, not only did I learn about the company, but I also learned about myself. I was naïve when I thought the most important thing when accepting a job was the work and the people. I’ve come to learn that the work environment is just as important. I want find a job where the environment is conducive to learning, and positively supports new ideas. I am grateful to have had the chance to work there and get to know the people at Tripwire. When it’s time for me to find a job, I can confidently say Tripwire is on my list.

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Author bio: Vedanth Narayanan (who goes by Vee) graduated from Oregon State in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He is currently working to get his master’s in computer science with an option in security. He previously worked for McAfee (now Intel Security), Intel, and OSU’s Center for Applied Systems and Software (CASS). He is very intrigued by the security landscape and software engineering. While he loves being in front of his computer, he is also grateful for the time away from it. During these times you will find him running, hiking, playing ultimate Frisbee or volleyball, at the Oregon coast, or cooking dinner with jazz playing in the background. An avid photographer, his camera is almost always less than ten feet from him. Although his comfort lies in landscape photography, he has recently taken an interest in portraits and lifestyle.

Lizbeth Marquez and Nick Malos
Lizbeth Marquez and Nick Malos, advisors for the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science pose with Benny the Beaver.

In their role as advisors, Lizbeth Marquez and Nick Malos help hundreds of students in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science navigate their way through college. Their goal is to help students succeed and ultimately earn their Oregon State degrees. According to a recent report from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, only 60 percent of college freshmen get a bachelor’s degree within six years. While there are many reasons students don’t complete their degrees, Lizbeth and Nick have some advice to offer to help you succeed.

Lizbeth’s Advice

  1. Get Organized
    College can be different from high school in that high school teachers tend to lead you through all the homework and due dates. In college, the professors post the assignments — often for the entire semester — and expect you to be prepared. Get a planner, use a smart phone app, or get a wall calendar — whatever it takes for you to know when assignments are due.
  2. Find the right place to study
    It may be your dorm room or a cozy corner of the library, but find a place that works best for you to get your work done — while avoiding as many distractions as possible. There are many places to go such as the MU, the Valley Library, your residence hall, or most buildings on campus!
  3. Seek a balance
    College life can be chaotic with various academic and social events. Make sure you stay balanced and don’t overload yourself. One way you can do this is by visiting OSU’s Mind Spa.
  4. Get involved
    You may feel overwhelmed with being homesick or feeling like you don’t belong. We encourage you to consider joining a student group (and be careful not to go overboard), whether it’s academic, religious, athletic, cultural, or social. You’ll make new friends, learn new skills, and feel more connected to OSU.
  5. Take advantage of the academic resources
    Most schools and colleges offer study tables or have tutors available. If you’re having difficulty, these resources are another tool available to you. Another idea: Talk to your classmates about getting a group together to study.

 

Nick’s Advice

  1. Explore your major and career options
    It is important to remember there is no one “right” or “best” major. You should select a major that aligns with your skills, interests, and goals. Talking with a career counselor in the Career Development Center can help you explore the options. Don’t be afraid to change your major. It is estimated that about 80% of undergraduate students across the United States change their major at least once (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.).
  2. Get to know your fellow students
    It can feel intimidating at first, but it is important to get to know your fellow students because they can be a great resource. What better way to find others who share your same interests?
  3. Get to know your professors
    Talk to your professors and attend their office hours. I promise they are not as scary as you might think. Professors are here to help you learn the material, challenge you to think outside the box, and further your understanding of the subject. They are also a great resource when you need letters of recommendation for scholarships, internships, or graduate school. Just remember, the better they know you, the easier it is for them to write a quality letter.
  4. Put in the time & effort
    Some of the easiest ways to succeed include:

  5. Meet with your advisor
    It is important to speak with your advisor early and often. They are the ones who will provide you with your registration pin number. But more than that, they can assist with course selection and planning; registration; understanding major and degree requirements; and navigating the processes to find extracurricular opportunities, internships, jobs, and more.
Photo of Bret Lorimore, Chris Vlessis and George Harder.
Bret Lorimore, Chris Vlessis and George Harder won the Best Use of Outside Data at DataFest, a nationwide event.

Computer science students Bret Lorimore, Chris Vlessis and George Harder took a big plunge into big data when they participated in DataFest, a nationwide hackathon-style event, in April.

The group won the Best Use of Outside Data award in the American Statistical Association competition hosted at over 20 universities, including Oregon State University. DataFest is a competition that challenges students to analyze a complex data set over a single weekend.

“We had nine teams with a total of 38 students from Oregon State, University of Oregon and Reed College, representing statistics, computer science, neuroscience, biophysics and biochemistry, business, math, and economics,” said Charlotte Wickham, an assistant professor of statistics at Oregon State and organizer of the event.

Competitors didn’t have any access to the data ahead of time, nor did they know where the data would come from. This year, Ticketmaster provided data that included information about the company’s Google analytics, ad words, website user “click” data and ticket sales.

Though participants were given millions of data points, the tasks they were given to accomplish were not highly defined. Students needed to decide for themselves what research question they wanted to answer and then worked to extract valuable information out of the data.

“They wanted people to come up with information that Ticketmaster could use as an actionable item to improve their business,” said team member, Lorimore.

Ultimately, the team chose to tackle the effectiveness of Ticketmaster’s advertisements.

“We found Ticketmaster was wasting a lot of money on Google keywords,” Vlessis said.

The trio discovered that people were clicking on the ads but not following through to purchase tickets and as a result, the company lost more than $1.4 million over the course of a year on ineffective advertising.

Vlessis’s startup company, SteadyBudget, happens to solve the same types of problems presented at this year’s DataFest, so the team had access to additional data from advertising analysts.

They looked at general trends of how SteadyBudget analysts interact with their advertisements and the decisions they make about placing or pulling ads. The group then used that information to help make advertising decisions for Ticketmaster.

“It was a way to automate the task of identifying poor-performing keywords and good-performing keywords and make the decision to stop paying for the ones that aren’t working and continue paying for the ones that are,” Harder said. “So we would save them money and automate the process at the same time.”

Although DataFest was about solving a data problem, it was not all about the numbers. “We spent a lot more time brainstorming and talking about what we wanted to do than sitting down and writing code,” Harder said.

“When you get that much data, it’s hard to make any sense of it,” Lorimore said. “Identifying the questions to ask is a challenge in and of itself.”

The group also gained an appreciation for the different ways people approached the data. “Seeing some of the techniques others used, and the way they went about approaching the problems and finding solutions, was stuff I never would have thought of,” Vlessis said.

Story by Gale Sumida

Jen-Hsun Huang photoJen-Hsun Huang, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of NVIDIA, is honored this week by the Oregon State University Alumni Association at the 35th Annual Spring Awards. Huang is receiving the E.B. Lemon Distinguished Alumni Award for his significant contributions and accomplishments within the society and the university.

Since graduating in 1984, Huang has kept close ties with Oregon State as he has progressed through his career. He came to Oregon State when he was 16 to start his degree in electrical engineering. One of the best things that came out of his experience here, he said, was meeting his wife, Lori Mills. The two were assigned to be lab partners in an electrical engineering fundamentals class, and they married five years later. Together they are benefactors of the Kelley Engineering Center, contributing $2.5 million.

Huang, who was also a nationally ranked junior table tennis champion in high school in Beaverton, spoke to Oregon State students about how to succeed on a visit to campus in 2013.

“The most important thing is to do important work — to do relevant work. Then you have to do it with the best of your might,” he said.  “If you do that…you’ll be surrounded by the world’s best at what they do, and then almost anything is possible.”

The success of NVIDIA was built on innovations for graphics processing units for computer gaming. The reach of NVIDIA is beyond video games, however, now entering the realm of artificial-intelligence projects such as self-driving cars. This month NVIDIA announced a new chip that is specifically designed for a technique called deep learning.

The Spring Awards Celebration will be held Friday, April 22, 2016 in the CH2M HILL Alumni Center, on the OSU campus in Corvallis. Registration is requested by April 20.

Carl Beery photo
Carl Beery shows the project that earned him four achievements in the Mastery Challenge.

Carl Beery, a junior in electrical and computer engineering, took first place and a cash prize of $150 in the Mastery Challenge for winter term.

The Mastery Challenge is a new extracurricular program hosted by the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Oregon State University to provide more hands-on learning opportunities for all students, regardless of major. The program is based on a concept called gamification which uses elements of game playing, such as leader boards and badges, to motivate participants to gain new abilities such as 3D modeling and Python programming.

Beery had already been working on projects on his own, but he realized the Mastery Challenge would give him a better framework for learning new abilities and more motivation for completing tasks.

“The Mastery Challenge is a good starting point to learn about topics you wouldn’t have thought about trying on your own,” Beery says. “Without it, I wouldn’t have learned how to laser cut, and laser cutting is pretty cool.”

To participate, students login to the Mastery Challenge website with their university account to see the list of challenges for which they can earn achievements. In winter term two cash prizes were awarded — one for the highest number of achievements, and a second was awarded randomly to anyone earning at least one achievement.

Beery had completed eight achievements and was tied for first place when he realized a project he had been working on for class — an audio amplifier — would qualify him for four more achievements. He simply videotaped his class presentation and uploaded it to the Mastery Challenge website as proof of completion.

“The experience Carl had was what I was hoping for — a fun way to gain new skills that will benefit him in the future as he enters the job market,” says Don Heer, creator of the Mastery Challenge program and instructor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering.

Mike Rosulek

Mike Rosulek, assistant professor of computer science, was selected for a Google Research Award for a grant to advance methods of customer privacy. The award will allow Rosulek to hire a graduate student to work on the project, and give them the opportunity to collaborate with Google researchers and engineers.

“I have lots of ideas in this space, and it will allow me and a student to dive in head first exploring them,” Rosulek says.

Companies are looking for inexpensive ways to share information with each other without violating the privacy of their customers. For example, two companies may want to find out which customers they have in common. A tool from cryptology called private set intersection allows two parties to find items in common on two separate lists without revealing anything else from those lists.

One part of Rosulek’s research seeks to strengthen the security of private set intersection tools while keeping the costs reasonable so that companies are more likely to adopt good practices for keeping their customer’s information secure.

Another part of the project will work on flexible (or “fuzzy”) matching of items on lists such as addresses. Names and street addresses may have differences in spelling, so looking for exact matches between two sets can be too restrictive. Rosulek’s research will seek to modify current techniques to allow for “close enough” matches.

“I’m excited to see that Google is interested in these advanced cryptographic tools. I’m excited that the techniques can be used to protect sensitive user information. And I’m excited about the new technical and mathematical challenges on the roadmap,” Rosulek says.

Margaret BurnettMargaret Burnett, a professor of computer science at Oregon State University, is one of eight researchers worldwide to be inducted into the CHI Academy in 2016 for pioneering contributions to the field of human-computer interaction. It is one of the highest awards given by the Association for Computing Machinery, SIGCHI.

When Burnett began her career in 1971, there were few female computer scientists, indeed, she was the first woman software developer hired at Procter & Gamble Ivorydale. A few degrees and start-ups later, she joined academia with a research focus on people who are engaged in some form of software development. She was the principal architect of the Forms/3 visual programming language, and pioneered the use of information foraging theory in the domain of software debugging.

Burnett co-founded the area of end-user software engineering, which aims to improve software for computer users that are not trained in programming. She established the EUSES Consortium, a multi-university collaboration which through her leadership has garnered international recognition.

Her current research investigates “gender-neutral” software, uncovering gender inclusiveness issues in software from spreadsheets to programming environments. She has published more than 200 papers, with several receiving best paper awards and honorable mentions, and has presented invited talks and keynotes on her research in 14 countries.

Burnett is also an award winning mentor, and recently received the Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award from the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

photo of Danny Dig

Danny Dig and his colleagues discovered widespread problems in mobile app development that can cause applications to be unresponsive and “freeze.” After looking at over 1,000 open-source mobile apps, they found two main problems — underuse and misuse of asynchronous programming.

“It’s very easy, if you are not careful, to write a mobile app that is unresponsive,” Dig says. “The number one culprit for a frozen app is that a programmer has written a blocking call, such as accessing the cloud, on the main thread that processes other user-interface events and actions.”

The solution is to move the blocking calls into the background with asynchronous programming. Dig’s team has sent out hundreds of patches to developers to fix the problems in their code, and they have created tools that developers can use to find and fix asynchrony errors. Their webpages LearnAsync.NET and refactoring.info/tools give many examples of asynchronous programming and access to the tools.

“Now what I want to do is help people avoid making those mistakes in the first place,” Dig said.

As part of his educational efforts, Dig will be presenting in Portland, Oregon for the Technology Association of Oregon in June. The cost is $25 for members and $45 for non-members.

The presentation will be a technical overview of why asynchrony is important, it will include descriptions of the common pitfalls and best practices, and he will also demonstrate the tools he has developed.

“I see this as a way of transferring knowledge from research into practice, but it’s also important for me to have a dialog with programmers. I bring back their feedback to the research,” Dig said. “So, this is a fabulous event for me to establish those connections.”

Story by Rachel Robertson

Photo of Brett Case, Logan Phipps, Taegan Warren.
Computer science freshmen, Brett Case, Logan Phipps, and Taegan Warren (left to right), won honorable mention at QuackHack.

Computer science freshmen, Brett Case, Logan Phipps and Taegan Warren had completed just one computer science class at Oregon State University, but their lack of expertise didn’t stop them from participating in QuackHack. The 40-hour gaming hackathon, held at the University of Oregon, challenged students to take an idea for a game and create a working prototype in a single weekend.

The trio entered the event for the learning experience and to see if they could create something with the basic programming skills they acquired in their introductory computer science class.

To their surprise, the virtual card game they created — in which players build hamburgers and feed them to the opponent — won an honorable mention for Best Scope, awarded to a team that had a reasonable goal and excellent execution of that goal.

“The judges were impressed not only by their execution, but how well the students knew their own skill in going after a project that was equal parts ambitious and reasonable,” said Jeff Bayes, QuackHack organizer.

More than 100 college students from 6 states, 14 universities and 16 different majors participated in the hackathon.

“We didn’t really expect to compete against more experienced people, but we decided we might as well go for it for our own benefit,” Phipps said.

“We just wanted to go and have fun and try to make something,” Case agreed.

To create their game within the short time frame, the team divvied up the programming components of the project. In the end, their separate functions had to come together to make the game work.

coding“It really makes you appreciate thorough design and pseudocode and flowcharts,” said Phipps. Jennifer [Parham-Mocello], our CS 160 professor, always talks about design, design, design. You
really need to have a large-scale design in advance; otherwise you can end up way over your head or you end up spending the entire time trying to debug.”

The teamwork is also crucial. “We helped each other with our weaknesses and built upon our strengths,” Warren said.

Parham-Mocello, who teaches the introductory computer science class, was thrilled with the students’ success. “This drives home what we teach: design, how to think and how to work in teams. They’re utilizing the principles that industry wants to see,” she said. “It’s not just about banging out code. We’re teaching students the proper way to do things from the very beginning.”

Story and photos by Gale Sumida