From the Department Head

John Wen

It is wonderful to see our campus bustling with life once again. There is a palpable sense of renewed energy and optimism. The department is embarking on an exciting multi-year faculty rebuilding initiative after a decade of contraction. This year, we have successfully recruited three outstanding new faculty: Assistant Professors Zheyu Zhang and Esen Yel, and Professor of Practice Muhsin Celik. We plan to continue expanding our faculty in the months ahead. Our new president, Marty Schmidt, is spearheading the launch of the ambitious strategic planning process, the Rensselaer Forward, with input from the entire campus. This initiative focuses on five key themes: education, research, translation, regional engagement, and welcoming and inclusive community. ECSE is actively engaged in contributing ideas and shaping the agenda within each of these areas.

A special mention goes to Doug Mercer '77, whose longstanding dedication to RPI and ECSE has led to the establishment of the Mercer Innovation and Exploration Laboratory, fondly referred to as Mercer XLab. Under the leadership of Shayla Sawyer, the inaugural director, Mercer XLab is now becoming more accessible to students, introducing new resources, and expanding its physical footprint to enhance the student learning experience.

In our pursuit of providing students with cutting-edge real-world knowledge, especially in the field of semiconductor chip technology, we are leveraging our strong industrial partnerships. Under the leadership of James Lu, we joined forces with GlobalFoundries to offer a unique industry-focused course on microelectronics manufacturing. Additionally, a follow-on course on materials, metrology, and equipment in semiconductor manufacturing brings together 23 experts from 9 companies and a partnering university. Capitalizing on RPI's strength in semiconductors, ECSE is introducing a new Master of Semiconductor Technology (MaST) program to broaden the talent pool. Furthermore, we are working with Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) to establish a Microelectronics Scholar program and a joint first-year robotics course to ignite interest in STEM at an early stage.

ECSE is energized by multiple new research frontiers and opportunities. We are actively participating in RPI's response to the CHIPS and Science Act, collaborating closely with industry partners like IBM, GlobalFoundries, and others. We are building a critical mass of people, facilities, and funding so we can be competitive in vital areas such as AI and machine learning, next-generation computing, advanced manufacturing, robotics, and power electronics.

The imminent deployment of the IBM Quantum System One at the Voorhees Computing Center promises to further invigorate the ECSE community. The IBM quantum programming tools are already accessible to the RPI community. Randolph Franklin has leveraged these tools in his pioneering quantum computer programming course for several years. There are now more quantum courses on the horizon.

We are staying at the forefront of AI research, with a large team of faculty supported by the RPI-IBM AI Research Collaboration (AIRC), National Science Foundation (NSF), and other companies and funding agencies. ECSE has a strong AI/ML curriculum, including courses on machine learning, deep learning, distributed learning, and trustworthy AI. With generative AI such as chatGPT and midjourney becoming all the rage, Rich Radke is offering a special topic Computational Creativity course, exposing our students to the underlying algorithms. There is increasing awareness of AI sometimes confidently asserting false information. This has spurred our faculty research and courses on trustworthy, explainable, and safe AI (Ali Tajer, Meng Wang). Agung Julius uses AI mistakes as a teaching moment -- asking students in his class to identify fallacies in chatGPT’s attempt at mathematical proofs.

Our ECSE faculty actively collaborates with industry, contributing to translational research endeavors spanning from large corporations such as IBM, GE, Boeing, and GlobalFoundries to smaller enterprises like Mosaic Microsystems, American GNC, Ross Precision, and Servo Robot, among many others.

At ECSE, we take pride in fostering a supportive and inclusive community. The ECSE WebEx space serves as a vibrant hub for community interaction and information sharing, boasting over a thousand members and numerous subgroups. Whenever a question is posed, multiple responses are almost immediately posted. Beyond the virtual space, the Mercer XLab provides physical resources and a collaborative space for the ECSE community to test ideas, seek assistance, work in teams, and build camaraderie.

The expansion of our faculty, students, and education and research programs is generating excitement but also straining existing lab, office, classroom, and communal spaces. Re-optimization of the ECSE footprint addresses the immediate needs. However, ECSE, and the School of Engineering, will need larger and more modern physical space to accommodate the growth trajectory. We will need all the alumni’s help when that time comes!

I am truly excited about the direction our department is heading. With the RPI bicentennial celebration kicking off in the upcoming Reunion Weekend, I extend a warm invitation to all our alumni to come back to visit and share in our enthusiasm for the future. Together, we will continue to propel Rensselaer Forward!