Letter from the Department Head | ECE | Virginia Tech


Letter from the Department Head

Photograph of Jim ThorpFrom the vantage point of my sophomore year as department head, the breadth of the department continues to be impressive. In this issue, for example, you will see how our faculty and students are involved in such wide-ranging activities as exploring the universe, developing communications systems that will work in disaster zones, and developing biomedical applications

Since last year, we have added nine faculty members and are recruiting for six more this year in computer engineering, power electronics, atmospheric sciences, and bioinformatics and bioimaging. There is currently a record high of 70 tenured and tenure track faculty in the department. In January 2005, three faculty members who had been recruited the previous year joined ECE: Paul Plassmann, professor in computer engineering, Fred Wang, associate professor in power electronics, and Yong Xu, assistant professor in electronics. Last summer, six more were added: Masoud Agah, assistant professor in microelectronics; Claudio DaSilva, assistant professor in communications; Mohamed Eltoweissy, associate professor in computer engineering, Chao Huang, assistant professor in computer engineering; JoAnn Paul, associate professor in computer engineering; and Patrick Schaumont, assistant professor in computer engineering. The nine have Ph.D.s from Caltech, Cornell, Michigan, Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Princeton, UCLA, UCSD, and USC.

While maintaining our areas of strength, we are attempting to grow in several areas, including nano-bio and space sciences. We are renovating the Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Nanotechnology (MicrON) cleanroom and associated support laboratories in Whittemore Hall, and expect completion by early summer. The MicrON group consists of a core team of ECE faculty, as well as faculty from MSE, ME, ESM, and physics. The renovations focus on installing a new set of plasma processing tools, including a state-of-the-art deep silicon reactive ion etcher (DRIE), an inductively coupled RIE, a plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition system, as well as new wet chemical and lithography processing stations. These new and upgraded capabilities will enable MicrON faculty and their collaborators across the university to conduct cutting-edge research in areas such as nanostructured biological and chemical sensors, organic and molecular nanoelectronics, solid-state lighting devices, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) for sensing and communications, microfluidics for on-chip biological assays and cooling of high-power electronic circuits, and advanced chip-level packaging strategies.

The NSF grant to Wayne Scales and colleagues mentioned last year, coupled with our proximity to thee NASA centers, several aerospace firms, aerospace subcontractors and enthusiastic support from our Industrial Advisory Board, has resulted in cluster hiring in the area. Ultimately, a Space Science Center will encompass ground-based analysis of GPS signals, development of scientific instruments for sounding rockets and satellites, and leadership of major satellite programs.

Notable faculty awards include: Dushan Boroyevich's election to IEEE Fellow for advancement of control, modeling and design of switching power converters, and Sandeep Shukla's invitation to serve as secretary of the IEEE Computer Society Task Force on Nanotechnology, Nanocomputing and Nanoarchitectures. Sandeep was also selected to attend National Frontiers of Engineering, the yearly conference of the National Academy of Engineering. Bill Stephenson has been awarded a DSc by the University of Newcastle in England.

My many thanks to Wayne Snodgrass, who has served as ECE Advisory Board chair for two years. The board has been extremely helpful in supporting the initiative in space sciences and in making connections between ECE at Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland in the nano area.

Adding faculty in these numbers and starting new programs is particularly difficult with our serious lack of space. The ICTAS A building now under construction will be home to the Advanced Materials Characterization Lab. ICTAS I construction is scheduled to begin soon and, with construction of ICTAS II, 200,000 square feet of research space will ultimately be available for the college.

Jim S. Thorp
Department Head

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