Brian Benavidez did not expect to have a chance to go to college since he had enlisted in the U.S. Air Force immediately after graduating from high school. But it was the experience in the military that gave him focus and direction that he credits for his success in school. And the scholarship support he received from the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science inspired his desire to give back.
Benavidez spent four years in the Air Force including a deployment to Iraq. Most of his enlistment time was in Arizona where he was maintainer for F16s which included working on avionics systems like navigation, fire control, and flight control computers.
“I’ve always been a tinkerer, but that experience really opened up that horizon of electronics and engineering,” he said.
Meanwhile many of his buddies from his high school in Portland went to Oregon State University, and he started to realize he was missing out on the college experience. Through the Enlisted Commissioning Program he was able to come to Oregon State as an Air Force ROTC cadet.
“When I first got here I was in shock and intimidated, but as time went on I got into my groove,” he said. His “groove” included three projects with the CreateIT Collaboratory, a program where student teams work with clients on developing a prototype device. He worked with Tektronix on a modernized user interface for oscilloscopes, The Utah Ballroom Company on light up dance suits, and Texas Instruments on a device for sensing nearby objects.
Culminating his undergraduate experience, his senior design project won the People’s Choice Award at the Engineering Expo. Benavidez with two friends created the “Intellicycle,” which could be added to any bike to measure speed, distance, cadence and temperature and send the data to a smartphone. The system also harvested energy from the front wheel to charge the phone and bike lights.
Having faced the challenges of being an older non-traditional student, Benavidez wanted to do more to help other veterans at Oregon State succeed. He served as the president and vice president of the Veterans & Family Student Association (VFSA) on campus, to help veteran students create a sense of community. Inspired by his experience of receiving scholarships, Benavidez initiated the Allworth-Holcomb Memorial Scholarship Fund for outstanding veterans at Oregon State.
“Getting a scholarship is very, very humbling. It’s hard to take money from someone just because you’re doing your job,” he said. “I didn’t really feel comfortable just accepting the scholarships without finding a way to give back. So, this was my way of saying thanks for all these resources given to me.”
Benavidez graduated June of 2014 and is working on a master’s degree in cyber intelligence studies through American Military University. Currently he is commissioned as a second lieutenant, and will be attending the Intelligence Officers Course with the U.S. Air Force.
Matthew Johnston’s interest in multidisciplinary science and entrepreneurship is reflected in his career as an electrical engineer who specializes in developing electronic platforms that have applications in fields like chemistry, biology and medicine.
“I’ve always been interested in non-standard applications of electrical engineering … especially biology and medicine, maybe because there are a lot of physicians in my family,” Johnston said.
Early lessons in approaching open-ended problems included projects for Science Olympiad competitions in middle school and high school, where Johnston competed for many years building elaborate Rube Goldberg-type contraptions. While the final goal was simple, such as lighting a candle or raising a flag, points were won by linking electrical, mechanical, and chemical actions together in novel combinations.
As an undergraduate at Caltech he got involved in research on a microfluidics project for chemistry and biology labs that involved piping chemicals on a microscale. The complex networks of fluid routing could mix and separate tiny amounts of fluid. The project sparked his interest in miniaturizing lab technologies (lab-on-chip).
Johnston followed his interest to Columbia University to work on his Ph.D. with Ken Shepherd who is one of the early pioneers of using integrated circuit technology for biological applications. After finishing his master’s degree, he took a pause in his graduate studies to co-found a start-up company, Helixis, in Carlsbad, California, that was related to research he did as an undergraduate at Caltech. The successful venture was acquired by Illumina in 2010, and Johnston returned to Columbia to finish his Ph.D.
He stayed in New York as a postdoc to further develop a label-free sensor platform he developed at Columbia, which garnered a National Science Foundation grant to aid in commercializing the platform. Johnston also worked for a life science venture capital firm that funded new technology for medical applications and devices, where his role was to assess the feasibility of novel products like orthopedic implants or diagnostic technologies. It was a job that gave him a different perspective. “It was intensely interesting,” he said. “I learned a lot about practical applications, whereas in the lab we are too often focused on the technology and only later try to find real-world applications for it.”
Johnston’s interdisciplinary research in biosensor and bioelectronic platforms, massively-parallel sensing, and lab-on-chip technologies for medical monitoring and point-of-care diagnostics, fits well with the collaborative research at Oregon State which was important for his choice to move here.
“I feel that interdisciplinary work is the one of the most effective ways to creatively solve problems,” he said. “We’re dealing with very complex problems now on a global scale that require collaborative solutions and systems approaches.”
The move to Corvallis is a major lifestyle change for Johnston, who said he will miss the museums and dining opportunities in New York City, but is gaining a world of outdoor activities that were not possible there. He hopes to spend more time on hobbies like hiking, skiing, and fly-fishing that were mostly put aside while he lived in New York.
As an avid traveler, however, Johnston has hiked in several countries he has visited, with especially memorable treks in China and South Africa. He also travels to a different country each year with friends from college on a New Year’s trip. Their trips have ranged from Europe to South and Central America with highlights including Portugal, Scotland, Brazil, Costa Rica and Panama.
Just as he enjoys crossing the boundaries of disciplines in his work, he also enjoys learning about different cultures and seeing their influences on each other expressed in art and food. He even finds the challenge of not understanding the language a boon.
“When we were in places like Japan or Italy where there was really limited ability to communicate verbally, that was even more fun and heartwarming because people try to help you, and it’s exciting when you can come up with solutions to get your messages across,” he said.
Projects like a prosthetic hand and a spinning LED display were completed in just 30 hours at Oregon State University’s second hardware weekend (HWeekend) on October 18-19. It was a feat that amazed everyone involved including representatives from the sponsoring company, Rockwell Collins.
“I’m really impressed with the energy level and enthusiasm and the challenges that they took on. They were pretty big scope projects, and it was amazing what they got done in 30 hours,” said Bob Woods, director of engineering at Rockwell Collins, Heads-up Guidance System.
Instructor, Don Heer, came up with the idea of a hardware weekend based on start-up weekends that focus on software projects. Heer wanted something that would incorporate all branches of engineering to give students an opportunity to have the experience of developing a prototype device under time pressure while working in diverse teams.
That appealed to computer science student, Vedanth Narayanan, who was used to working on software development projects with other like-minded computer science students, but wanted to see what it was like to try and communicate across the different engineering disciplines. After 30 hours of work with no sleep, he was still gushing about the experience.
“It’s awesome to see it all come together knowing that it wasn’t just one group that did it. It was multiple different disciplines that came together,” he said.
Narayanan was part of the largest team of eight students who are majors in electrical, mechanical, manufacturing and industrial engineering in addition to computer science. Sean McGlothlin, a senior in computer science, came up with the idea for the project — an R/C car controlled by an Android app. It could have been an unwieldy number of students to work successfully, but they split into two main groups — mechanical and software — and had a designated leader for each. The team included Aaron Sprunger, a fifth year senior from industrial engineering with vast leadership experience who led the mechanical side. McGlothlin led the software team and the project design for the entire project.
“It was a great privilege to have my idea — something that was just a concept in my head — worked on by a team of very intelligent people, and in less than two days I was able to hold that concept in my hands. I’m really proud of our team,” McGlothlin said.
McGlothlin said the real value of the weekend was the chance to develop skills in project management and embedded programming. “I feel like I learned more in two days than I’ve learned in an entire term for some classes,” he said.
The two awards (Executioners and Helping Hands) both went to the team who built a force feedback prosthetic hand. The team hit all their goals including a sensor suite to give the user both tactile and visual feedback. For example, an LED would turn from green to red in the presence of heat. Team leader, Karl Payne overcame a major glitch when the 3D printer quit printing before the hand was complete. So, with 4 hours to go in the competition he laser cut the rest of the hand, pinning and gluing it into place. The team was also renowned for helping out the other teams, in particular Simon McFarlane was named as a stand-out contributor across the teams.
If there had been an award for humor it would have gone to the Q-bot team whose presentation of their ambitious project of a spy robot had everyone laughing. “It is very proficient in sneaking around corners and going completely astray in its direction and delivering a .2 frames per second video feed which is utterly out of color sync,” quipped Aravind Parasurama.
Throughout the competition representatives from Rockwell Collins were on hand to provide mentorship. Evan Marshall, an Oregon State alumnus and software engineer at Rockwell Collins admits to at first feeling obligated to come help out his alma matter, and was surprised at how much he enjoyed the experience, even sticking it out through the whole night.
“Seeing the impossible happen — that was fun. The people who were here brought all their own energy and that was contagious,” he said. He was impressed with the expertise of the students who knew more about their specialized area than he did, so he mostly helped facilitate discussions and motivate the students by letting them know from an outside perspective they were doing great things.
The sponsorship of Rockwell Collins made the entire weekend, including meals, free to the students. Heer was pleased with the success of weekend, which he plans to hold twice a year, the next one in January of 2015.
“I’m always amazed at the quality of our students and how, given the slightest opportunity, they will go the extra mile to do something innovative,” Heer said.
Bit Car: An R/C car controlled by an Android app that was connected via Bluetooth. Kathleen Gladson, Joshua Grosserhode, Emmanuel Lopez-Aparicio, Sean McGlothlin, Vedanth Narayanan, Aaron Sprunger, Zachary Stark and Kyler Stole.
The Great Light Hype: A prototype for spinning volumetric display that could eventually render virtual objects mapped via localization to physical coordinates in a room. Kyle Cesare, Ryan Skeele, Jake Yazici and Soo-Hyun Yoo.
The Thing, Prosthetic Hand: A prosthetic hand that incorporated sensors and feedback, such as a pressure sensor that would trigger a vibration to indicate gripping force. Brenden Hatton, Judy Jiang, Scott Merrill, Simon McFarlane, Karl Payne and Fangyi Zhu.
Q-Bot: A voice controlled robot with an omnidirectional camera that streamed video to a smartphone or a tablet. Tyler Gilbert, James Harris, Keaton Scheible, Alwin Sudhana, Sorawis Nilparuk and Aravind Parasurama.
Dig’s research focus for the last 8 years has been on techniques for transforming sequential code into parallel code. He is acutely aware of the need for software developers to learn these techniques now that all new devices from smartphones to desktops use parallel processors. In response, he has organized workshops at Boeing and the Illinois-Intel Parallelism Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to help professional programmers improve the performance of their applications by using parallelism in software.
Dig will instruct the class along with other software experts including Tim Matsson from Intel Corporation who is co-author of the influential book, “Patterns for Parallel Programming,” and Doug Lea, professor at State University of New York at Oswego and the lead architect of Java concurrency libraries.
“I teach it as a unique blend of lectures and labs that are deeply integrated. It’s not theoretical, it’s very hands-on,” Dig said. After 30 minutes of lecture, students work on planned exercises on their own laptops with help from teaching assistants.
Dig said that the very pragmatic approach has been well received by past participants. For example, a Boeing engineer commented: “Excellent course: relevant, well done, timely. Well worth the time and effort. I would recommend this course to all our developers.”
This is the first time he will offer the class in a compressed format over a weekend instead of a full week, to make it easier for software developers to attend without missing work. The shortened course cannot cover all the same content, so he will offer additional resources for the material not covered, and there is a possibility he would offer a follow-up course based on interest.
Dig is excited to be hosting the class in Portland, a hub of software development, so he can start building relationships with local software practitioners.
“A constant dialogue with practitioners keeps my research centered and very focused on current software development problems,” he said.
But these classes fulfill another need for him as well.
“Fundamentally, I’m a teacher and I love seeing the lights go on — it’s my mission in life to help people develop their full potential,” Dig said.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.