From the Department Head

John Wen

There is tremendous excitement and optimism in the air. A new strategic plan for RPI has been completed with broad campus input. Chips-related research and education activities are in full swing. RPI will be the first university to host an IBM Quantum One machine. The Mercer XLab is receiving a major upgrade. And we are actively hiring new faculty!

Here is a recap of the recent happenings:

  • We recruited two new Assistant Professors, Esen Yel and Zheyu Zhang, and a Professor of Practice, Muhsin Celik, in 2023 and have embarked on a new search for multiple faculty members to start in 2024. ECSE also welcomes RPI’s new Provost, Rebecca Doerge, who joined RPI in August.
  • President Marty Schmidt engaged the entire campus for the new strategic plan – Rensselaer Forward. The five themes are education, research, translation (to practice), regional engagement, and welcoming and inclusive community. ECSE actively contributes ideas and sets agendas in all these areas. In addition to the very positive campus climate and transparency, there is already multiple tangible progress, including streamlined procurement, expanded Master’s student tuition discount, and the possibility of teaching and research post-tenure. Marty sat down with me for an interview in June, sharing his journey, insight, and vision. If you haven’t read it, I’d strongly recommend that you do!
  • The Mercer Innovation and Exploration Lab (Mercer XLab) has been enthusiastically embraced by students, with usage already increased by an order of magnitude. A major upgrade of the Mercer XLab started in September (see animation video). Before the completion in early spring 2024, students are operating out of the Mercer In Xile Lab. Right before the finals, ECSE community came together to decorate the construction enclosure. Robots were on hand to chat up participants and sketch individual portraits on a tablet.
  • During the Reunion Weekend on October 14, Mercer XLab Director, Shayla Sawyer, conducted a Mercer XChange session (recording here) to explain the vision of “Jazz of Engineering” and how student clubs, including Rensselaer Motorsport, RPI Amateur Radio Club W2SZ, Rensselaer Robotics Club, and the Embedded Hardware Club, are utilizing and contributing to the lab.
  • We are offering RPI students state-of-the-art real-world knowledge in the semiconductor chips area by leveraging our industrial partnership. In spring, James Lu led the partnership with GlobalFoundries to offer a unique industry-focused course on microelectronics manufacturing. In fall, James recruited 23 experts from 9 companies and a partnering university to deliver an overview course on materials, metrology, and equipment in semiconductor manufacturing. These courses attracted students all across RPI and received rave course evaluation feedback.
  • ECSE actively participates in RPI’s microelectronics workforce development effort led by Dean of Engineering Shekhar Garde. RPI is part of the Micron-NSF Northeast University Semiconductor Network on semiconductor workforce development network. RPI is collaborating with IBM to deliver training to their international partners. Drawing on RPI’s overall strength in semiconductors, ECSE will offer a new Master of Semiconductor Technology (MaST) program starting in fall 2024 to expand the talent pool. The newly instituted Master’s student tuition discount policy will help grow this and other similar programs. We are also working with Rensselaer@Work on the effective delivery of our program to working professionals.
  • We are expanding our collaboration with the Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC). Kimberly Oakes helped HVCC to kickstart their robotics program by leading the delivery of the Introduction to Robotics course at HVCC. Muhsin Celik is leading the RPI-HVCC Semiconductor Scholar program to develop a pipeline and build interest in semiconductor engineering.
  • Multiple new research frontiers and opportunities are energizing ECSE.
    • We are active in RPI’s response to the CHIPS and Science Act, in collaboration with IBM, GlobalFoundries, and other industry partners. RPI is playing a prominent role in the first round of CHIPS funding through the Department of Defense Microelectronics Common. We are one of only five main partners in the NordTech Hub, one of the eight hubs around the country.
    • The RPI-IBM AI Research Collaboration (AIRC), now expanded to include AI hardware, continues to support AI-related research of ECSE faculty.
    • We are building critical mass in terms of people, facilities, and funding in AI and machine learning, next-generation computing, advanced manufacturing, robotics, and power electronics.
  • RPI will be the first university to host an IBM quantum computer. The soon arrival of the 127-qubit Quantum System One is energizing the ECSE community. There are already two quantum computing student clubs on campus! Randolph Franklin, now retired, had started an ECSE quantum computer programming course which we plan to continue. Alex Patterson is offering a special topic course on quantum devices and applications. We are incorporating quantum components in ECSE courses, such as networking and information theory. IBM is an engaging and enthusiastic partner in quantum pedagogy by providing online resources, programming tools, and guest lectures.
  • We are keeping up with the rapid development on the AI front. Rich Radke has just completed an amazing special topic Computational Creativity course, introducing the frontier of Generative AI. The creativity the students demonstrated in their final project is impressive. There is a plethora of AI-related research projects, including computer architecture tailored to AI while reducing power consumption, AI with reduced precision requirements, trustworthy and safe AI, AI with reinforcement learning for advanced control systems, and many others.
  • ECSE faculty actively collaborate with industry and contributes translational research, including larger corporations such as IBM, Micron, GE, Boeing, GlobalFoundries, Dominion Energy, research organizations including multiple Manufacturing USA Institutes, Southwest Research Institute, Parallax Advanced Research, NY Independent System Operator, and small enterprises such as Mosaic Microsystems, American GNC, Ross Precision, Servo Robot, and many others.
  • 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 ECSE Graduate Student Council has been organizing orientation, qualifier preparation, and social events and serves as the conduit between graduate students and departmental leadership. The new ECSE Undergraduate Student Council was formed this year and has already organized hikes and ice cream socials. The new Council will work closely and coordinate activities with the IEEE student chapter and ECSE Honor Society Eta-Kappa-Nu (HKN).
  • Several ECSE faculty are transitioning to new phases in life. In March, ECSE celebrated Randolph Franklin’s 45-year career as an ECSE faculty as he transitioned to retirement. In December, ECSE celebrated the 37-year career of Joe Chow as he became a Senior Research Scientist post-tenure.
  • We published our annual ECSE Newsletter in fall and sent a print copy to all alumni that have an address in our record (if you have not received one, please let me know).
  • ECSE students are garnering recognitions, including the Department of Defense SMART Fellowship, European Microwave Conference Young Engineer Award, IEEE Signal Processing Society Scholarship, Analog Devices Outstanding Student Designer Award, and many others.
  • ECSE faculty continue to be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions this year:

The expansion of our faculty, students, and education and research programs is generating excitement but also straining existing lab, office, classroom, and communal spaces.ECSE, and the School of Engineering, will need larger and more modern physical space to accommodate the growth trajectory.The most immediate needs are the renovation of the ‘87 Gym pool area to become a drone and robotics space (Agile Drone and Robotics Innovation Testbed, ADRoIT) and the outfitting of the Mercer XLab on the 6th floor of JEC.We will need all the alumni’s help to support these endeavors – please see the Alumni Engagement page on our website for engagement opportunities. In addition to assisting the department with lab upgrades, alumni donations also help cover student conference travels and support student clubs, such as the hybrid formula competition.  Marty said in his June interview with me that he learned what RPI students value the most: RPI’s rigorous education and supportive environment.  Please help us continue to provide our students with the best, through your engagement and donation

2024 promises to be an exciting year.  It will be RPI’s bicentennial (Reunion weekend will be September 27-29, 2024). The revamped Mercer XLab will be unveiled in spring.  Quantum One computer will come online before summer.  Please use this link to keep us posted about your experience at RPI and life beyond.  I hope to hear from you in the coming year.