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  • Computer Scientist Participates in Cancer Genomes and Networks Program

    CSE and Pediatrics assistant professor Debashis Sahoo at UC San Diego has been selected as a participating member of the Cancer Genomes and Networks program in the university's Moores Cancer Center. Members of the Cancer Genomes and Networks research program focus upon three thematic areas: genome instability, human cancer genetics and systems biology. Sahoo, who will focus on the latter two, plans to develop computational models for human cancer and predict important biomarkers and therapeutic targets.

    "Working with the members of the Moores Cancer Center enables a computer scientist like me to develop lifesaving strategies for human cancer,” explained Sahoo (at left). “We have shown that Boolean analysis – a sophisticated data analysis method – provides a platform for such predictions. A part of this work is published in the New England Journal of Medicine. We will explore the application of this new method in many different types of human cancer. This appointment will provide me resources and numerous collaborative opportunities with cancer experts."

    Sahoo joined the UC San Diego School of Medicine in 2014 and received an additional appointment in CSE in 2016. His journey into the world of cancer genomics was borne from an initial curiosity not about cancer cells, but computers. He studied computer science as an undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, initially focusing on theoretical computer science and, specifically, formal verification (FV), an area of computer science that has had a notable impact on hardware and software design. The goal of FV is to either prove or disprove, using formal methods of mathematics, whether or not an algorithm does exactly what it is supposed to do and nothing more, which can yield practical data with the hope of more efficiently solving problems in complex systems.

    Almost four years into his Ph.D. program at Stanford, Sahoo started doubting the real-world applicability of his work. "Deep into my Ph.D. program I decided to change my focus,” he said. “I wanted to focus on much more practical aspects. I was thinking, ‘How I can make an impact [on] society?’ If I just develop theories and no one implements them, it won’t work."

    Sahoo hoped to work on cancer biology, but as he knew nothing about cancer he needed to play some serious catch-up. Knowing it would be no small undertaking, he dove right in, enrolling in as many cancer-related courses as he could at Stanford, taking all of the undergraduate pre-medical requirements. He showed great promise in the field, even early on. “After one year, I taught cancer biology to undergrads,” he said. These experiences gave Sahoo the confidence to move forward with his goal of using computer science to more efficiently progress medical discovery. “Having both FV and cancer biology training gave me ideas about how to come up with algorithms.”

  • CSE Students, Alumni Prepare for SD Hacks 2016

    UC San Diego will host over 1,000 students for 36 hours of technological collaboration at SD Hacks 2016. The second annual hackathon in the series will take place Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 in RIMAC Arena on the UC San Diego campus. The student-led hackathon is one of the largest in California, along with those at UC Berkeley and UCLA. Organizers say that applications are already above the total 3,000 applications to participate in SD Hacks 2015. "We expect to get over 4,000 applications," says CSE junior Yacoub Oulad Daoud (at right), one of the organizers of this year's hackathon.

    One of the reasons so many students are drawn to SD Hacks is that companies like Qualcomm, ViaSat, Perkins Coie, SPAWAR and more will be present at the event to look for talent. Students know that San Diego is a dynamic, thriving innovation ecosystem, featuring many of the world’s smartest companies, a talented and loyal workforce, top-tier universities, and easy access to international markets.

    SD Hacks will provide extensive mentorship and resources in order to allow students to learn new skills that they can apply. For instance, the SD Hacks team is collaborating with the campus Virtual Reality Club to plan a workshop and to create a unique space reserved for virtual reality development. The space will feature HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets, high-performance computers, and mentors both from the VR Club and NanoVR, a UC San Diego student-led startup.

    “SD Hacks was a fantastic event for ViaSat," observes CSE alumnus Nik Devereaux, who works for ViaSat and serves on the CSE Alumni Board. "We were able to interact with over a thousand engineering students from all over the state.”

    SD Hacks 2015 finished with nearly 80 completed projects which competed for prizes in categories for complexity, functionality, innovation and design. The grand prize winners—then-computer science seniors Chris Zelazo (B.S. '16), who is now at Pinterest; Kesav Mulakaluri (B.S. '16), now at Apple; and Chet Lemon (B.S. '16)—created SNS Payments, a mobile application and phone accessory for making wireless payments. Current mobile phone payment systems like Apple Pay require the development of new infrastructure, whereas SNS Payments was able to utilize existing retail equipment.

  • CSE Alumnus Gives Back to Student Success Initiative

    The Internet revolution had barely begun to spread when Bhavin Shah (pictured) enrolled in the Computer Science and Engineering program at UC San Diego in 1994. Nevertheless, it was clear to him that computer science was the place to be, and he picked UCSD over his father's alma mater, UC Berkeley, for one major reason: "I had friends that wne through four years of undergraduate at other schools with very little contact with their professors," he recalls. "Once I saw the intimacy between the students and the engineering professors at UC San Diego, I knew that was the place for me."

    The CSE alumnus (B.S. '99) also appreciated the ability to use computer science in activities outside of the classroom. He joined the Sally Ride EarthKAM project, a NASA educational outreach program that empowers middle school students, their teachers, and undergraduate mentors. “EarthKAM was like a real job,” says Shah. “We designed product, wrote code, and had our own customers. Those customers were middle school students. Like a real company, I was also able to see the direct impact of my effort. The deep impact we were having around the country was visceral every time we had a mission. But I also learned how much others depended on my work in a way that I never could have learned in the classroom."

    Shah's hands-on experience with the EarthKAM project made him particularly receptive to the Jacobs School of Engineering's initiatives to provide students with hands-on engineering experiences, mentorship and support. Shah's philanthropy began with support for the Jacobs School's Student Success Initiative, a comprehensive effort by the IDEA Student Center to support the academic success of undergraduate and graduate students to increase retention and diversity. Asked why he chose the Jacobs School, Shah responds: "There's a better signal-to-noise ratio here. If you want to see your contribution make a difference, give here. The leadership here will make sure it goes far. Every gift, no matter how small, makes an impact."

    After UC San Diego, Shah did a master's degree at Stanford combining education, computer science and business. Out of school he worked for Leapfrog developing innovative electronic and educational toys, before setting out on his own to do a startup that would bring "educational gameplay to the mass market... the idea was World of Warcraft meets education." He subsequently shifted gears and launched Refresh.io, a platform to help sales professionals learn about the people they are selling to. The company became a touchstone of the 'relationship management' trend in business, ultimately resulting in the company's acquisition by LinkedIn in April 2015.

    The buyout gave Shah the resources to take some time off and set about building his next big idea -- an enterprise software company that is still under wraps.

  • UC San Diego Names Computer Engineer to Fratamico Endowed Chair

    Tajana Rosing is among the latest faculty in the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department rewarded with endowed chairs at the University of California San Diego. The campus named professor Rosing to the John J. and Susan M. Fratamico Endowed Chair in the Jacobs School of Engineering.

    Established in 2012 with a $750,000 gift from the Fratamicos, the endowed chair supports multidisciplinary research that includes engineering and the life sciences. Rosing is the inaugural holder of the chair.

    "This honor allows me the freedom to focus on new and challenging research questions over the summer with my best and brightest students," said Rosing, who joined the CSE faculty in 2005. "That kind of freedom wouldn’t be possible without the funding from the Fratamico chair." 

    The computer-engineering professor is affiliated with the Qualcomm Institute and Contextual Robotics Institute as well as the Center for Networked Systems. Rosing is also a member of the Centers for Wearable Sensors, Energy Research, Sustainable Power and Energy, as well as Wireless and Population Health Systems and the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

    The department and the campus are planning to honor Rosing at an event scheduled for January. “We are extremely thankful to longtime San Diegans John and Susan Fratamico for making it possible to bestow on Rosing a long-overdue honor in recognition of her ambitious research agenda and its real-world applications,” said CSE department chair Dean Tullsen. “Endowed chairs are often awarded to retain exceptional scholars, and in Professor Rosing’s case, her creativity and approach to research have had a deep impact on innovation in computer engineering.”

    On the research side, Rosing's System Energy Efficiency Lab (SEELab) focuses on energy efficiency in all kinds of systems, from sensor nodes to data centers, transport networks and power grids. In addition to energy-efficient computing, her primary research interests include context-aware computing, human-cyber-physical system design, embedded systems hardware and software design, resource management at the system level, and the design of approximate and highly efficient architectures. Going forward, Rosing will continue investigating efficient, distributed data collection, aggregation and processing of this data in the context of smart cities, wireless healthcare, the distributed Smart Grid for electricity, and Internet of Things applications.

    Rosing is a leading researcher in the area of using information present in wireless systems to achieve more efficient system operation. This information can come from sensors’ observations of human behavior and needs, and also from various other environmental sensing systems, both stationary and mobile.  Rosing’s recent work has focused on efficiently extracting knowledge about context from such sensing sources, and leveraging that knowledge to implement distributed control algorithms for large-scale Internet of Things applications underlying Smart Cities infrastructure.  A recent example includes using drones to detect areas of higher air pollution collaboratively and dynamically, and to provide this feedback in real time in emergencies (e.g., forest fires), and in normal daily life (such as air pollution due to recent fertilization of nearby fields, or due to higher than normal and localized smog conditions). 

    The computer engineer has also leveraged context to optimize the operation and design of embedded systems by maximizing energy efficiency in exchange for controllable and tolerable inaccuracies in computation.  According to Rosing, this research resulted in systems that are up to 1,000 times more energy efficient with less than a 10 percent error in computation.  “These systems are especially applicable to many Internet of Things applications where the data sources themselves are not completely accurate,” said Rosing, noting that sensors can often have around 10 percent inaccuracy. “The large scale of data that is analyzed requires the application of statistical machine learning to provide information needed for feedback to people (e.g., local air-quality problems) or for control of other devices (e.g., where drones need to fly).

  • Understanding and Dealing with Failures in Cloud-Scale Systems

    Ph.D. candidate Peng (Ryan) Huang is getting ready to complete his degree. Next week he'll stage the final defense of his dissertation on "Understanding and Dealing with Failures in Cloud-Scale Systems." Huang is not worried about a future job: He has already accepted a tenure-track offer to join the Johns Hopkins University Department of Computer Science in Fall 2017 as an Assistant Professor. He'll help them further develop a research depth in computer systems (Huang's own research focus). Prior to Johns Hopkins, he decided however to do a postdoctoral year at Microsoft Research in its Systems Group in Redmond, WA.

    Date: Friday, September 23
    Time: 11am
    Location: Room 2217, CSE Building

    Huang's advisor, CSE Prof. YY Zhou, will chair the committee consisting of three other CSE faculty (Ranjit Jhala, George Porter and Stefan Savage) and ECE Prof. Tara Javidi.

    Abstract:  In cloud-scale systems, fault is a fact of life. To tolerate faults and provide highly-available service is arguably the single most important task for cloud builders. Yet, despite the considerable efforts into fault-tolerance and software engineering for reliability, all cloud-scale services continue to experience costly failures. A natural question to ask is: why do cloud-scale services still fail despite the abundant fault-tolerance, and how we can further improve? Ryan Huang's dissertation attempts to shed light on this question.

  • Alumnus Uses Technology to Serve Movie-goers and Target Competitors

    A CSE alumnus is making waves in Hollywood because he may be pointing the way to the future of movie-going. Ameesh Paleja (B.S. '01) finished his undergraduate degree in computer science at UC San Diego. He is now the co-founder and CEO of Atom Tickets, based in Santa Monica, Calif. According to Paleja (below), Atom Tickets is building "amazing products that aim to delight customers," and some Hollywood heavyweights have signed on as investors in the startup, including Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Lionsgate.

    Paleja founded Atom Tickets with Matthew Bakal, a former Lionsgate executive who is Atom’s executive chairman. In 2014, the two set up shop adjacent to the Lionsgate movie studio headquarters in Santa Monica.

    After graduating from CSE, Paleja worked for two years at Microsoft as a software engineer handling the Windows firewall platform and IP security. Then from 2003 to 2014 he cycled through a series of senior engineering jobs at the rapidly-growing Amazon.com. He focused on building software and services like Prime Instant Video,Cloud Drive, and the Kindle product line. Paleja then became the founding employee of Amazon’s digital R&D facility in Southern California (Irvine), where he oversaw more than 550 employees. He had the title of Director, running the product and engineering division for Amazon's Appstore, when he decided to step down and start over.

    In 2014, Paleja co-founded Atom Tickets with Matthew Bakal, a former Lionsgate executive who is Atom’s executive chairman. Atom Tickets is a first-of-its-kind theatrical mobile ticketing platform and app, allowing moviegoers to skip lines by preordering tickets and concessions, and invite their friends without having to pay for their tickets via its social invitation features.

    “Going to movies with a group of friends can be a hassle, between picking a day and show-time, finding a theater, and a lot of times, one person has to buy tickets for the group which can expensive,” said Paleja. “Our product is designed to make that process easier. We are taking a more modern, thoughtful and customer-friendly approach.”

    The Atom Tickets app (left) launched in Southern California (including Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties), and it's rapidly expanding in other parts of the country. The company says it will expand to 1,000 theaters – or 15,000 screens - by the end of the year, thanks to partnerships with Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres, the country’s largest cinema chains. That total is roughly half the number of screens as the market leaders Fandango (27,000 screens) and MovieTickets.com (29,000).

    Paleja doesn't appear worried, because Atom Tickets is using technology that provides a much more dynamic user interface and environment for movie-goers, including personalization, recommendation and advance ticketing for social connections.

    “Those companies are media companies attacking the ticketing problem, we are a tech company attacking the ticket problem, so that is the fundamental difference,” says Paleja, referring to Fandango and MovieTickets.com. “Before we started Atom Tickets, we found that there hadn't been a lot of innovation in digital ticketing in the last 15 years, so we saw a huge opportunity for disruption.”

  • CS Senior and Team Win Top Prize at Target Hackathon

    In late August, retail giant Target  hosted a three-day Diversity Leadership Symposium and invited undergraduate students from around the country to help develop strategies to address diversity and inclusion in the retail industry. The activities included a 'case study hackathon'. By the end of the event, CSE senior Tony Melano-Gonzales and teammates walked away with the $2,000 top prize for placing first in the hackathon.

    Target challenged hackathon participants to develop an application that engages guests both inside and outside the store. Among key guidelines: participants were urged to focus on the millennial market, including styling and baby products, and all teams were required to complete their hack within a three-hour time window.

    Melano-Gonzales, a transfer student majoring in computer science, and his collaborators opted to create a native Facebook chatbot called Wishbone that transforms ordinary situations into consumer products. As he told the Jacobs School of Engineering blog, "Sometimes you go to Target and you know exactly what you want - shoes, Advil, a new backpack - but other times, you just want to stop by on the way to the beach, the movies, etc. With Wishbone, users can ask ‘What do I need for the beach?’ or say ‘I'm throwing a baby shower’ and the application connects them with real relevant products.”

    Users can browse the recommended list, add their desired products to their cart, and check out on Target's website -- all through the Wishbone application.

  • Computing Education Research Gets a Boost

    In late August, the CRA Bulletin published an article arguing, "Why CS Departments Should Embrace Computing Education Research." The piece followed a July CRA Conference at Snowbird, which addresses issues such as how a CS department may benefit from hiring tenure-track faculty in computer education research, and how this type of research can enhance other research in a department. The panelists included CSE Prof. Scott Klemmer as well as faculty from Georgia Tech, University of Washington, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Chicago, and Harvey Mudd College.

    What came out of the session was a growing sense that there are substantial new funding opportunities, including NSF CAREER Awards, NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, and growing support from industry. The panel also agreed that computer science education researchers "often forge productive collaborations with colleagues in machine learning, programming languages, natural language processing, and human-computer interaction as well as with researchers in other departments such as education, cognitive science, and psychology."

    The CRA Bulletin article also points to additional resources in the area, and those resources included a web page set up by CSE's Klemmer with collaborators at Carnegie Mellon. The site focuses on peer learning research, which may hold the key to rapid advances in the use of massive online classrooms -- if researchers can figure out how take peer learning out of the classroom and into the cloud. Klemmer pulled together links to innovations in "pedagogical styles and software systems" that he and colleagues have created over the past three years," and posted them on the web page, "Supporting Peer Interactions Online and Onland".

  • Engineers Receive $1 Million Grant to Improve the Way Robots Interact with People in U.S. Factories

    Laurel Riek, a roboticist at the University of California San Diego, will lead a three-year, $1 million project funded by the National Science Foundation to help change the role of robots in factories and make it easier for machines to work alongside people.

    [Pictured at right is the envisioned intelligent material delivery system. A robot senses when skilled workers need materials, and delivers them in advance. This helps reduce worker frustration, stress, and talent loss, and saves approximately $1.7 million an hour by reducing work stoppage problems.] 

    The goal of the project is to design an intelligent material delivery system, which supports and closely integrates with skilled workers in factories. The researchers will investigate innovative, multi-disciplinary approaches to dramatically advance the state of the art in smart manufacturing and human-centered robotics.

    “Modern industrial robots are poorly integrated into human workflow, which can cause a lot of frustration and stress for workers,” said Riek, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego. “The goal of this project is to enable skilled workers to focus on the tasks they enjoy--their trade--and have robots do the frustrating work, like moving materials around a large factory.”

    In the system the researchers envision, robots would sense when skilled workers need materials and deliver them in advance. This would save companies, and consumers, about $1.7 million per hour—the cost of lost productivity when work stops to procure the needed materials. [Pictured at left is a robot that will deliver materials to workers.]

    The work will be translatable across a wide range of manufacturing sectors, including automotive, construction, healthcare, energy, and goods. This project will help the U.S. manufacturing sector --25% of all domestic employment--dramatically improve their operations by using automation to directly support a talented, skilled workforce. It will help U.S. companies reshore operations, and create new opportunities for U.S. workers to acquire STEM skills.Researchers will team up with Steelcase, a furniture company headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich. to design and test the system.  Each piece of furniture at Steelcase is made to order, so there are millions of variations in material requirements that the system can learn from. The system will be able to estimate material needs on the fly by using machine learning techniques and then instruct robots to fetch items automatically.

    [Pictured at right is a sample task decomposition for a filing cabinet assembly at the Steelcase Grand Rapids, Mich. plant. Every piece of furniture at Steelcase is made-to-order so there are millions of variations in material requirements at any given time. The materials delivery system system will be able to estimate material needs on-the-fly using machine learning techniques, in order to instruct a robot to fetch materials automatically.]

    The project will also allow researchers to study on multiple workers the impact of the transition from traditional material delivery to intelligent material delivery using robotics. Understanding reactions to such change will allow researchers and companies to optimize systems not only for workflow and task efficiency but also for the human experience. Such knowledge is critical to maintaining job satisfaction, safety and health, and long-term well-being of people in the workforce.

  • CSE, CNS Faculty Play Leadership Role at SIGCOMM

    SIGCOMM 2016 – the week-long annual meeting of the ACM Special Interest Group on Data Communication – wrapped up Aug. 26 in Florianopolis, Brazil – the first time the conference has taken place in Latin America. The event moves to Los Angeles for SIGCOMM 2017, and UC San Diego computer scientist Alex Snoeren will co-chair the 2017 conference. CSE Prof. Snoeren (right) is a faculty member of the Center for Networked Systems (CNS), and one of half a dozen CNS members who have played leadership roles in one of the largest professional research communities in systems and networking.

    2017 will not be the first time that CNS’s Snoeren has helped organize the SIGCOMM conference. In 2008, he co-chaired the committee responsible for workshops and tutorials. Other current or former faculty from UC San Diego have co-chaired SIGCOMM’s program committee. Former CNS director Amin Vahdat co-chaired the program committee in Brazil this year with Stanford’s Sachin Katti. (Vahdat remains an adjunct professor in CSE, but his primary employer now is Google.)

    The roster of CNS faculty members co-chairing the SIGCOMM program committee in recent years includes (pictured below, left to right) Amin Vahdat (2016), Stefan Savage (2008), Geoffrey Voelker (2010), and George Varghese (2012). SIGCOMM 2012 took place shortly before Varghese left UC San Diego to become a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. (Varghese also won the ACM SIGCOMM Award in 2014 for his "sustained and diverse contributions to network algorithmics, with far-reaching impact in both research and industry.") 

    In addition to faculty who co-chaired SIGCOMM's program committee through the years, other faculty have contributed to the process as a member of the committee (e.g., CNS co-director George Porter and ECE's George Papen sat on the committee in 2015, and CSE's Hovav Shacham did likewise with CNS research scientist Kirill Levchenko in 2012.

    Indeed, every year since 2000, there has been a minimum of one CNS faculty member helping to chart the direction and agenda of SIGCOMM and its annual meeting. And in each of the past two years, four computer scientists and engineers have represented CNS and UC San Diego on the 2015 (Savage, Voelker, Porter and Papen) and 2016 (Vahdat, Papen, Snoeren and Voelker) program committees.

    It’s not just CNS faculty who have taken on the responsibility of helping to steer SIGCOMM. In late August, CSE alumna Renata Teixeira (Ph.D. ’05) attended SIGCOMM in Brazil in her capacity as Vice Chair of the society – a position she will hold through June 2017.  The Brazilian-born Teixeira did her doctorate under CSE Prof. Geoffrey Voelker, one of CNS’s founding faculty members in 2004. Still a citizen of her native Brazil, Teixeira is also a French citizen, after working for France’s National Institute for Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (INRIA Paris) since she left UC San Diego in 2006 (after receiving CSE’s Best Dissertation Award for her doctoral thesis on network sensitivity to intradomain routing changes).