The IEEE recently elevated ECE alumnus Matthew Valenti (BSEE '92, Ph.D. '99) to Fellow for his contributions to cooperative diversity and the development of distributed turbo codes. The status of Fellow is one of the most prestigious honors of the institute, bestowed upon less than one-tenth of one percent of the annual voting membership of IEEE.
Valenti's work with distributed turbo codes—which enable mobile handsets to cooperatively communicate with a base station—evolved out his Virginia Tech dissertation.
Turbo codes are error correction codes used to clean up signals in 3G and 4G mobile communications. They made their debut in the early '90s, around the time that Valenti was returning to Virginia Tech to begin a doctoral program as a Bradley Fellow.
"It was a very exciting time to be interested in communications," says Valenti. "Wireless communications was ramping up, students were working on some really interesting projects, and there was a buzz going around."
During his graduate years, Valenti joined the Mobile and Portable Radio Group, now part of Wireless @ Virginia Tech. He focused on the application of information theory to wireless communication networks and error control coding.
Valenti continued this line research as a professor at West Virginia University (WVU). Between 2003 and 2008, he developed protocols and signal coding techniques for distributed turbo code, or cooperative communications.
"In this scenario, the coding operation extends across multiple radios," explains Valenti. "Many mobile handsets work together to relay the signals of others who might be in locations with poor coverage."
More recently, Valenti has been thinking ahead to the future of cellular communications—specifically investigating technologies that are being considered for 5G, such as using higher frequency (millimeter) waves for communications and developing frequency-hopping radios.
He has been collaborating with the Army Research Laboratory and researchers from the University of Texas to build out these ideas.
Center for Identification and Technology Research
In 2000, the FBI relocated its fingerprint processing operations to West Virginia, and the Department of Defense soon followed suit.
"West Virginia University has established a reputation in the area of biometrics to support this new ecosystem of government agencies and supporting industry," says Valenti.
In 2001, WVU established the Center for Identification and Technology Research (CITeR), which is a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center in the area of biometrics. CITeR has since grown into a multi-university center, and in 2014, Valenti was appointed director of WVU's site.
"It has been an interesting detour on the way," says Valenti, who has spent the past four years managing relations with the center's industrial members and representing the research accomplishments of participating faculty.
"But these fields have principles in common—specifically signal processing and some of the mathematics," says Valenti. "It's been fun to see the connections between them."
In 2013, Valenti received the WVU Outstanding Teaching Award, which is the university's most prestigious teaching award.
"I try to bring the research into the classroom, and connect students with the latest developments in the industry," says Valenti.
For instance, in his 400-level wireless networking class, student teams design a wireless network for Morgantown, WV.
Each student group is a virtual company, and the class mimics the wireless industry, starting with a mock wireless frequency spectrum auction similar to the FCC's.
Students bid on a frequency spectrum and decide where to put base stations, what frequencies to allocate to each base station, how much power each base station should transmit, and how to do antennae sectorization. At the end of the semester, they showcase their designs.
One year, in a fun twist, a dark horse team presented at the showcase. The "team" turned out to be a former student who had taken the class and gone on to join AT&T in Morgantown. "He presented the real network the company uses in the town," Valenti explains.
"What I find most exciting about this field is how tight the connection is between theory and practice," says Valenti. "If you get the theory, then practice follows easily."
As an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, he caught the communications bug.
"The passion for communications was infectious," says Valenti.
His communications classes, in concert with a digital signal processing class taught by Louis Beex, the freedom of research offered by the Bradley Fellowship, and the buzz associated with being a part of the Virginia Tech ECE Department cemented his dedication to the field.
"It's a buzz I try to mimic here—that sense of excitement and collegiality has always been my model," says Valenti. "Communication, after all, is what connects people It has the real potential to improve lives."