levenhagen-janice-still2
Janice Levenhagen-Seeley, founder and executive director of ChickTech, is a graduate of OSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Oregon State University alumni Janice Levenhagen-Seeley and Jennifer Davidson returned to Corvallis last weekend to host a 2-day event to encourage high school girls to enter technology fields. Both graduates of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Levenhagen-Seeley is the founder and executive director for ChickTech, a Portland-based non-profit, and Jennifer Davidson is the program manager.

Participants of the ChickTech event built robots, video games, smartphone applications, websites, light-up textiles, and 3-D printable projects like figurines or pendants. It was an eye-opening experience for many who said they had no idea what went on behind the technology they use every day.

That revelation is just what Levenhagen-Seeley was hoping for. She created the Portland-based non-profit organization in 2012 to foster a more inviting culture for women in technology, and in particular for opening the door of technology fields as a career option for high school girls.

“In high school I really enjoyed math but no teachers or career counselors ever thought to mention to me, ‘You should try this programing class,’ or ‘You should check out engineering as career,’” said Levenhagen-Seeley who majored in computer engineering.

ChickTech involves high school teachers by asking them to nominate female students in their classes who have the aptitude for careers in technology but have not sought out opportunities to learn more.

Phoenix Brooks from Veneta said she was nominated by her teacher at Triangle Lake Charter School and her principal encouraged her to take the opportunity. She chose the workshop on website development because she felt like no matter what career she went into, it would be useful.

brooks-phoenix
Phoenix Brooks, from Veneta, Ore., learned to create her own website.

“I had never really considered a career in web development, but I’ve always been interested in it and this workshop has given me a lot more insight. I’ve learned a lot,” Brooks said. “I’d definitely do it again.”

Haley Payne of West Albany High School and Audrey Hysell of Lebanon High School teamed up to create an underwater version of the Flappy Bird mobile app in which fish navigate hazards such as fish hooks, anemone and sharks.

“We haven’t yet got the fish to die when they hit something, but we’ll get there,” said Payne with confidence. By the end of the day, they were able to show off their finished app to visitors at who attended the Tech Show.

It is that kind of “win” that Levenhagen-Seeley wanted the high school girls to be able to experience and what motivated her to organize a longer event for the Corvallis chapter. ChickTech’s first event for Corvallis last year was a day-long workshop which was not enough time to create a finished project. Since many of the girls travel from as far away as Newport, the addition of an overnight stay in the dorms made the event possible but also added a new dimension.

“The overnight stay was a really exciting component because the girls were able to bond a lot more,” Levenhagen-Seeley said.

The event was made possible by volunteers from Oregon State, Garmin, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel. Funding was provided by OSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, OSU’s Women & Minorities in Engineering, Garmin, Tektronix, HP, Phase2, Kattare, and Korvis.

ChickTech has three chapters in Corvallis, Portland, and San Francisco, but is expanding nationwide to add 5 chapters next year, and 8 in 2016.

–by Rachel Robertson

 

Mike Rosulek
Mike Rosulek enjoys sharing his passion for cryptography with Oregon State students.

Mike Rosulek, assistant professor of computer science, brings the area of cryptography to the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Computer science grabbed Rosulek’s imagination early on, and at the age of 7 years he was already writing a UFO adventure game. He had the advantage of growing up in a technical household. In fact, his family home was connected to the internet before there was a World Wide Web.

It is perhaps surprising considering he lived in the small town of Fredericksburg, Iowa (population 925) “the dairy capital of Iowa, according to the sign,” Rosulek said.

But computers were a hobby for his father who, although he worked as a minister, was the de facto tech support for the whole town and eventually became a network administrator for the local community college.

Before starting a computer science degree at Iowa State University, Rosulek was essentially self-taught and remembers one of his big Christmas presents in 8th grade was the newest version of Visual Basic.

After graduation, Rosulek continued on to graduate school in computer science at University of Illinois, but by his second year he hadn’t yet found a line of research that interested him. Indeed, he had filled out the paperwork to leave graduate school when he was convinced to stay by a professor who thought he might be interested in the work of a newly hired faculty member who studied cryptography.

“It worked out really well,” Rosulek said. “Cryptography is full of amazing things … it was mind blowing to me. I wanted to know how it worked.”

He describes cryptography as taking problems that are really hard for computers to solve and using them to create robust security systems.

“It’s like making lemonade from lemons,” he said. “The lemons are that we don’t have efficient ways to solve these problems, and the lemonade is that we can turn it around so that if the bad guy wants to break our system he has to solve one of these really hard problems.”

Currently, he is working on secure computation which is the idea that you can make calculations on sensitive data without actually looking at the data. One application could be a research study across several  hospitals that cannot share patient data but can submit encrypted data to a secure common location where it is analyzed. Although he has been working mostly at the theory level, Rosulek said he is moving toward applied uses for his work.

“This research has to get out into the real world, because it’s so important and we know that people out there are will have amazing uses for secure computation. It’s just that right now it is computationally expensive. It takes a long time to perform these operations securely, so it’s not yet practical,” he said.

A photo by Mike Rosulek.
A photo by Mike Rosulek.

Rosulek started his career at University of Montana and arrived at Oregon State in 2013. As the first member of the security group in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Rosulek discovered the students were “chomping at the bit” to have opportunities in the area of security. Before even arriving on campus he received emails from students about security courses and clubs.

“I’ve found the students here to be really sharp. They were able to take any hard problem I could throw at them and eat it up, so I was very pleased. I get to teach right in my sweet spot, so I find it easy to get excited about the material and students get excited too, so everyone has fun,” he said.

Although Rosulek’s two young girls keep him busy enough to not have much time for hobbies, he enjoys creative outlets like playing guitar, singing and photography. And although he likes being able to ride his bike to work year round in Corvallis, he misses snow which was the main subject of his minimalist landscape photography — stark snow scenes with dark trees set against them.

“The work that I do is often proving that something is impossible, but I also like creating something more tangible and I think that’s why I like the artistic outlets of music and photography,” Rosulek said.

–by Rachel Robertson

 

Photo from a 2013 ChickTech workshop at Oregon State University

ChickTech is hosting a workshop on Aug. 23-24 at Oregon State University to encourage high school girls to enter computing and technical fields.

The event culminates with a show on Sunday, Aug. 24, that’s free and open to the public. It will be from 4:30-5:45 p.m. at the Kelley Engineering Center on the OSU campus, and participants will display the projects they built.

The students may help create a robot, build a video game, or make a smartphone application, and are mentored by industry and academic professionals from high-tech fields. The event is free for participants, and includes an overnight stay in an OSU residence hall. It’s sponsored or supported by the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the Women and Minorities program, the OSU Library, Tektronix, HP, Kattare, and Korvis.

The event is designed as a fun, positive learning experience to build participants’ confidence in their technical abilities, provide positive role models, and create connections with other young women from the area.

ChickTech is a non-profit organization, founded in Portland in 2013 by OSU alumna, Janice Levenhagen-Seeley, who was motivated by her own experiences to foster a more inviting culture for women.

“It was hard to feel like I belonged as a woman in computer engineering,” Levenhagen-Seeley said. “So I started ChickTech to give other girls and women the support that I didn’t have. I want them to feel like they are welcome and have unique things that they are bringing to the industry.”

–by Rachel Robertson

The first peer-reviewed paper Christopher Scaffidi wrote 10 years ago has just been named the Most Influential Paper at the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing, (VL/HCC) in Melbourne, Australia, July 28-Aug 1.

Chris Scaffidi and Brad Meyers accept award.
Chris Scaffidi (center) and Brad Meyers (left) accept the Most Influential Paper award.

“It’s surprising because my first attempt at something usually isn’t my best …but this paper won the award because it helps to establish the scope of impact for a research area,” said Scaffidi, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Oregon State University.

The research area the paper impacts is end-user programming — a type of programming such as website or spreadsheet authoring that is performed by people who are not trained programmers. The 2005 paper, “Estimating the Number of End-Users and End-User Programmers,” predicted that 90 million end users would be in American workplaces by 2012, and that 55 million of those would potentially be programming spreadsheets and databases. They also predicted that 13 million end users would describe themselves as programmers, which far exceeds an estimated 3 million professional programmers.

“Those were astonishing numbers, which, along with the detailed analyses presented in the paper, has resulted in this paper being highly cited, and highly influential in getting more researchers to focus on this class of programmers, which generally has received little attention,” said Brad Meyers, Scaffidi’s co-author and professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Scaffidi started the research as a first-year graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University with his other co-author and advisor, Mary Shaw, when he became intrigued by an often cited, but unsupported estimate of the number of end-user programmers.

Beyond estimating the number of end-user programmers, Scaffidi made predictions based on his method and validated the results with real data from 2001 and 2003.

Scaffidi said the importance of the paper is that is highlights an area of research that is becoming more critical in our society. The research aims to make end-user programming easier and more accessible to a broader range of people.

“I really think end-user programming is absolutely essential for the health of a middle class workforce. There are lots of jobs which are being automated away and being given to intelligent software or robots, and end-user programming gives people a way to be more secure in their jobs — they are the automators, not the automated,” Scaffidi said.

–by Rachel Robertson

Kevin Hess demonstrates the mobile biomarker detection app at the OSU Engineering Expo.
Kevin Hess demonstrates the mobile biomarker detection app at the OSU Engineering Expo.

Three Oregon State University computer science students worked with the Remcho Research Group at Oregon State to develop an iPhone application to automate the testing of enzyme slides.

The biomarker detection app was developed by Kyle Cesare, Kevin Hess and Joe Runde for their senior design project. The application speeds up the process of analysis, and will allow medical personnel and researchers to perform the tests without expensive equipment, such as remote locations in developing countries.

The mobile app complements a new type of chemical test the Remcho lab developed to detect whether or not an antimalarial drug is genuine. Many lives are lost to the use of counterfeit antimalarial drugs — an estimated 200,000 a year according to the World Health Organization.

The students are releasing the app under an open source license so others can build on the technology they developed.

“I think we could start to see a huge impact on global healthcare, especially in the developing countries, as people begin to see the power and convenience of mobile devices. I hope that our app helps that realization happen quicker,” Kyle Cesare said.

–by Rachel Robertson

Photo of Sami Al-AbdRabbuh
Sami Al-AbdRabbuh, one of Oregon State’s Solar Vehicle Team drivers, holds up the check-off sheet that shows they passed the scrutineering phase of the American Solar Challenge.

Sweating it out in Austin, Texas this week, Oregon State University’s solar vehicle team was the first team to finish the “scrutineering” portion of the American Solar Challenge. This qualifies them to compete in the Formula Grand Sun Prix, which they won last year. The track race is a qualifier for the main event — an eight day road race through seven states from Austin, Texas to Minneapolis, Minn.

During scrutineering the teams go through a series of tests to make sure the vehicles are safe and follow regulations.

“It went really well. Our team leaders did a great job of preparing us, and I think that’s what made the difference for finishing first,” said Abhishek Raol, one of the drivers for the team.

Next up is the three-day track race. Starting Thursday, July 17, for eight hours each day the teams complete as many laps as they can on the Circuit of The Americas — a 3.4 mile track that includes an elevation gain of 133 feet. Last year the team completed 193 laps (661 miles) which was just a lap ahead of their nearest competitor. This year the competition looks to be stiffer.

“When we won last year, 12 teams competed. This year there are 23 teams including some tough competitors like MIT and University of Michigan,” said Dave O’Gorman, advisor for the team and marine technician for Oregon State’s College of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. Teams from all over the U.S. and Canada and teams as far away as India and Iran are competing this year.

Oregon State’s solar vehicle is named Phoenix, in reference to a car fire that in 2011 burned a previous version to the ground. Around 30 students have been working with the team all year to make improvements to Phoenix, and 11 students traveled to compete in the race — four are drivers and the rest work to keep the car operational through the grueling 11 days of racing.

O’Gorman said that the team has had students from every branch of engineering including nuclear and chemical, and even some non-engineering students from time to time.

Abhishek Raol, a student in electrical and computer engineering, joined the team as a sophomore last year because of his interest in renewable energy. “I also really wanted to apply what I learned in school to a real life experience,” Raol said.

Although his focus was on the electrical systems he has also worked on mechanical projects and the integration of electrical and mechanical. “That’s been really interesting for me, to see how electrical engineering works in a whole system,” he said.

Raol is one of the drivers for the team and is excited to start competing. “Not everyone gets to drive a solar car so I took the opportunity. It’s neat to be able to drive what you have been working on for so long,” he said.

OSU's solar vehicle, Phoenix.
Oregon State’s solar vehicle, Phoenix, on a test drive.

Raol said the 8-day road race will be the most nerve-racking part of the event in which the solar vehicles travel on highways and freeways for eight hours a day following a detailed route. Although the car can reach up to 60 miles per hour, under certain road and weather conditions they might be traveling as slow as 15 to 20 miles per hour. For safety, the solar vehicle is flanked by a lead and chase car with the other team members that are at the ready to make repairs along the way.

Although the race is a competition there is a cooperative spirit among the teams that help each other out by loaning parts and offering assistance for repairs. Last year Oregon State’s team also won the sportsmanship award.

“I’m looking forward to working with the other teams and learning about how all the different systems work,” said Gray Johnson, sophomore in electrical and computer engineering.

O’Gorman has been extremely impressed with the team which he has been helping out for the last couple of years.

“The thing that really blew me away is that the students do everything from the initial design, the machining, the welding and the troubleshooting. It’s amazing to be part of because the students really do it all,” he said.

The team is posting to Facebook and Twitter and have a live webcam of the event. Team member, Bonnie Wood, was featured in a story by the Ashland Daily Tidings about the race.

–by Rachel Robertson

Flanked by conference officials, Danny Dig and students accept their award
Flanked by conference organizers, Danny Dig (in black) and collaborators (left to right) Semih Okur, David Hartveld, and Arie van Deursen, accept the ACM SIGSOFT Distignguisted Paper Award.

Danny Dig and his Ph.D. student Semih Okur, along with international collaborators David Hartveld and Arie van Deursen, presented a paper at the prestigious International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE’14) in Hyderabad, India last week, which won the ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award. The companion website to the paper “A Study and Toolkit for Asynchronous Programming in C#” is an educational resource with examples from real code on how to use async constructs. The winning paper was one of three that Dig’s Ph.D. students presented at the conference which he said is more selective than the top journals in the field of software engineering. Oregon State students Caius Brindescu, Mihai Codoban, and Sergey Shmarkatiuk collaborated with him on the other projects presented at the conference.

Oregon State was also represented at the conference by Rahul Gopinath, Carlos Jensen, and Alex Groce who presented a paper, and by Margaret Burnett who gave an invited presentation.

“I am happy that OSU is so well represented at the top event in the field of software engineering,” Dig said.

Abstract of winning paper: A Study and Toolkit for Asynchronous Programming in C#

Semih Okur, David L. Hartveld, Danny Dig, and Arie van Deursen
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA; Delft University of Technology, Netherlands; Oregon State University, USA

Asynchronous programming is in demand today, because responsiveness is increasingly important on all modern devices. Yet, we know little about how developers use asynchronous programming in practice. Without such knowledge, developers, researchers, language and library designers, and tool vendors can make wrong assumptions. We present the first study that analyzes the usage of asynchronous programming in a large experiment. We analyzed 1378 open source Windows Phone (WP) apps, comprising 12M SLOC, produced by 3376 developers. Using this data, we answer 2 research questions about use and misuse of asynchronous constructs. Inspired by these findings, we developed (i) Asyncifier, an automated refactoring tool that converts callback-based asynchronous code to the new async/await; (ii) Corrector, a tool that finds and corrects common misuses of async/await. Our empirical evaluation shows that these tools are (i) applicable and (ii) efficient. Developers accepted 313 patches generated by our tools.

 

Corwin Perren and Billy Edwards of the Oregon State Mars Rover team
Corwin Perren, electrical team lead, and Billy Edwards, team leader for the Mars Rover, traveled with three other teammates to the 2014 Sample Return Robot Challenge in Worcester, Mass..

Five members of Oregon State’s Robotics club on the Mars Rover team took their finals early so they could travel this week to Worcester, Mass. for the 2014 Sample Return Robot Challenge. The event on June 9 to 14, is hosted by NASA and Worcester Polytechnic Institute and has nearly $1.5 million available for prize money.

Before leaving, the team disassembled the robot and each packed part of it into their luggage to avoid the costly shipping charges. For a team that is concerned about expenses, the prize money is a big incentive.

“Building a robot from scratch is a pretty expensive venture. So if we can win some money at the competition, then we can concentrate more on the engineering and the project itself,” said Billy Edwards, Mars Rover team leader and junior in mechanical engineering. The money would go towards scholarships, projects, and supplies for the lab.

During the challenge, the robot must work on its own to find a specific object in a park and return it to a designated point. The autonomous robot is guided by a computer program, and the team members are not allowed to control it during the task. The idea is to simulate conditions on Mars where GPS is not available, so the robot navigates by using cameras and other sensors.

“It’s really cool,” Edwards said. “It’s almost like seeing AI — to see something work on its own.”

The competition has two challenges. For the first challenge there is only one object to retrieve. Those robots that are successful compete in the second phase which has multiple objects. The week-long event also includes demonstrating the robot to the public.

Mars Rover by the Oregon State Robotics club.
The Mars Rover built by the Oregon State Robotics club.

Joining Edwards on the trip is Corwin Perren, electrical team lead, Lane Breneman, software team lead, Richard Cook, software senior design team member, and Erich Merrill, software senior design team member, all from the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Beyond the prize money the team is excited about representing Oregon State.

“We want to show that OSU has successful teams and very good engineers. We want to show what we can do,” Edwards said.

–by Rachel Robertson

 

Oregon State Student at HWeekend
Caleb Schmidt (mechanical engineering) works on modifying a TekBot to retrieve and deliver a coffee cup.

The inaugural hardware weekend (HWeekend) at Oregon State gave 19 engineering students a taste of creating a prototype under time pressure. Six teams developed their ideas as far as they could in 30 hours, starting in the morning of May 31 and finishing June 1. Hosted by the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science the free event was sponsored by Eaton Corporation that provided hardware and food. Mentors from Eaton Corporation and Hewlett-Packard were on hand to help guide the projects.

“There are start-up weekends and app development weekends, but there wasn’t a program for something that covered the whole gamut of engineering, and included user experience. And I thought, ‘We can do that,’” said Don Heer, organizer of the event and instructor for the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The theme for the weekend event was automation and non-obtrusive technology. Projects were as diverse as a moving trash can, and a cane for people who are visually impaired that would vibrate the handle when nearby objects were detected.

Oregon State students at a hardware weekend
HWeekend participants had a “speed dating” session to get to know each other before forming teams.

The teams formed after having a chance to interact with each other one on one. Students with ideas for a project wrote them up on a white board and other students shopped around for a group. Cross-disciplinary groups formed with students from electrical and computer engineering, mechanical and industrial engineering, computer science and chemical and biological engineering.

Cory Rea, a power systems engineer for Eaton Corporation who served as a mentor, said the weekend was a great way for students to get some real-world experience.

“Every day in my job I work with a team across multiple disciplines — mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, sales, project managers. So, it’s important to be able to collaborate effectively,” he said.

Hannah Marvin, a freshman in electrical in computer engineering, said she came because she wanted to make connections with students outside her major. Marvin was a winner of one of the “Ironman Awards” given to 17 students who stuck it out the whole 30 hours.

“It went a lot faster than I perceived it would. It’s really cool looking at everybody else’s projects, so that makes it go by faster,” she said. And even after several hours with no sleep, she was still positive.

Oregon State students Ryan Skeele and Soo-Hyun Yoo at HWeekend
Ryan Skeele (mechanical engineering) and Soo-Hyn Yoo (computer science) show off their winning project.

“It’s really fun! Everyone should have a chance to do this,” she said.

It was a collaborative atmosphere where students helped out other teams when they could. One team stood out to win the “Helper Award.” Elliott Highfill, Travis Hodgin, Austin Hodgin, Max Schmidt, and Bradly Thissen worked on a project to play a game of tag with the TekBot robots, but were also a great help to the other teams by loaning tools, offering ideas, and help with coding.

The top award for execution went to a team that built a device to augment the function of a human arm as an aid for people with limited strength or other disabilities. Kyle Cesare, John Fritter, Ryan Skeele and Soo-Hyun Yoo intend to continue to work on the project which they hope to eventually be an exoskeleton suit including both arms and legs that can be easily reproduced by others without highly specialized equipment.

Heer hopes that events like these will show people how cool engineering is. “Engineers should be rock stars…they are the ones that make the world run,” he said.

–by Rachel Robertson

Intellicycle-team
Brian Benavidez, Arron Bellini, and Kamil Agrawala win the People’s Choice Award at Oregon State’s Engineering Expo.

The whirring sound of bike tires spinning on stationary stand could be heard throughout the Kelley Engineering Center as one after another Engineering Expo visitors tested out the Intellicycle. Based on the number of people flocking to get on the bike it was not surprising the senior design project won the People’s Choice Award. But it was more than senior Arron Bellini had anticipated.

“I wasn’t expecting more than passing glances, but then the interest in it blew up. It was pretty crazy,” Bellini said.

The Intellicycle is a device that can be added to any bike to measure speed, distance, cadence and temperature. The information is sent to a smartphone where it is displayed on a mobile application which can also bring up a map of your location. There are no worries about the phone running out of battery life, because the system harvests energy from the front wheel. In addition to recharging a phone, the power system runs the lights on the bike. But they are not just ordinary lights — these “smart” lights automatically turn on when it gets dark, and can also be controlled manually.

Brian Benavidez said he thought their project did well at Expo because it was very hands-on, it was easy for people to understand and useful to many types of bike riders. Having a bike situated in the atrium of Kelley was an amazing hook to get people interested. “We had a five-year-old riding it and an 82-year-old riding it, and they both had huge smiles on their faces,” he said.

Beyond seeing how fast they could get the bike to go, the visitors also had questions.

Benny-on-bike
Benny Beaver tries out the Intellicycle.

“We had genuine questions from people who are not engineers wanting to know how it works. It was cool that we could take some complicated engineering and convert it into something that a 5-year-old kid wants to know about. It turned the competition into education,” Kamil Agrawala said.

The project, which was first hatched by the friends at a football game, split nicely into three parts they each had independent control over: the power system, the sensors, and the mobile application. The hard part, they all admitted, was getting the three separate parts to work together. And although they sometimes butted heads on how to get it to work, they left business behind them when they would hang out together as friends.

“The one thing I would tell other students doing their senior project, is pick a team that you have a good group chemistry with, because you’ll be working with these people for a year,” Agrawala said.

The many hours of work paid off in a project that captured the imaginations of those who visited, some who wondered if the group would turn it into a marketable product. For now, the success of finishing is enough.

“To come up with a plan and execute it the way we wanted to, and then to cap off with the award was a pretty monumental achievement. Right now I’m just feeling sincere gratification,” Bellini said.

–by Rachel Robertson