CSE-Led Team Wins Most Innovative Award at Better Buildings Competition
A team of environmental engineering students and a Ph.D. student in the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department at the University of California, San Diego has won an award in a high-profile government competition to showcase fresh approaches to making better, more energy-efficient buildings. Representing UC San Diego in the contest for the first time, the team won the Most Innovative award for their proposal "Picking up the PACE" at the 2014 Better Building Case Competition.
Since its launch in 2012, the competition has supported the Obama Administration's Better Buildings goal of reducing energy consumption by at least 20 percent by 2020 in commercial and industrial buildings across the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division stages the annual competition to engage "the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers to develop creative solutions to real-world energy efficiency problems for businesses and other organizations across the marketplace." Overall, this third annual competition included 27 university teams made up of more than 230 students who developed solutions to six contemporary problems to increase the scalability of clean energy implementations. The DOE invited teams from U.S. universities to formulate solutions no more than 10 pages in length. On March 14, they presented to a panel of industry experts at DOE headquarters in Washington, DC.
For the 2014 competition, the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering team - dubbed Team Green Dinosaurs - was assigned two cases where students grappled with (a) Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, and (b) greening the grant for research labs. CSE third-year Ph.D. student Bharathan Balaji (above) acted as the 'senior statesman' of Team Green Dinosaurs, consisting primarily of environmental engineering undergraduate students from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The team members, including Dung (Yung) Nguyen, Wan Yin (Wendy) Cheung, Sandeep Dey, Michelle Tang and Sze Wun (Edwin) Wong, were pulled together through an on-campus organization, Association of Energy Engineers (AEE).
Team Green Dinosaurs' winning proposal discusses the increase in utilization of the PACE program for commercial buildings, a program designed to help property owners obtain low-interest, long-term financing for high-cost energy efficiency and renewable energy measures (particularly for long-term capital improvements). The primary challenge of this real-life scenario was how to scale up a local city PACE commercial program to a statewide program serving at least seven cities. To support growth of the program, the UC San Diego team proposed an innovative financial structure, intensive technical support system, and a streamlined application process to be included in the business plan while addressing the barriers faced by key stakeholders.
"We proposed to utilize innovative tools such as automated online application forms and a database management system, allowing replicability at a larger scale," said Balaji, a student in the Synergy Laboratory of Prof. Yuvraj Agarwal and CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta. Balaji has worked primarily on solutions for sensing and actuation for energy efficiency in commercial buildings.
In addition to the streamlined application process, innovative financial structure and resourceful technical support, the UC San Diego proposal outlined strategic marketing techniques targeting specific classes of buildings for phased expansion.
According to Team Green Dinosaurs, their "Picking up the PACE" proposal for the state-wide program would allow it to "reach the critical loan volume to ensure the program's sustainability and growth." Specifically, the proposal estimates that the plan could push loan volume in the state PACE program to beyond $50 million - sufficient to make the program both self-sustaining and strong enough to be replicated in other states.
In its budget request for fiscal 2015 presented to Congress on March 10, the National Science Foundation (NSF) notes that its funding is particularly critical to basic academic research in computer science - a field in which NSF accounts for 87 percent of total federal support (whereas the same agency accounts for only 40 percent of federal support for engineering). Indeed, computer scientists rely more on the NSF than any other group of scientists or engineers doing basic research. Against that background, NSF's budget request for FY15 calls attention to just three ongoing projects funded by the agency as "Research and Education Highlights," including the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC) led by CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell (at left), who is currently on sabbatical at a research university in Dijon, France. TDLC's "interdisciplinary team of scientists and educators includes more than 40 individuals at 17 partner research institutions in three countries and several San Diego schools," according to NSF. "The center's projects are diverse and cutting-edge." The center explores how humans learn and how the element of time is critical for learning. For its part, NSF says that TDLC is tackling questions whose answers "could have far-reaching consequences."
Two CSE researchers from the department's Systems and Networking group are quoted in a March 16 article from the Thomson Reuters news agency. Posted from Singapore, the piece explores "why the underworld loves bitcoin" and may have made off with up to half a billion dollars' worth of the cryptocurrency since its creation in 2009. Bitcoins are created through a 'mining' process using a computer's resources to perform millions of calculations. For a while, CSE research scientist Kirill Levchenko (at right) is quoted as saying, "criminals added malware to their botnets to turn infected computers into bitcoin miners. This triggered predictions of doom for bitcoin - that the criminals would take over the mining of bitcoin through botnets and bring the whole currency crashing down." However, says Levchenko, it became harder to mine (because an algorithm slows down their production the more people try to create them), so going the botnet route has proven less profitable.
In the same article, CSE third-year Ph.D. student Danny Huang (at left) is quoted as saying that "few botnets are mining bitcoins now," adding that they have turned to stealing bitcoins from digital wallets and, more lucratively, from exchanges. The Thomson Reuters article mentions that this may be a major factor behind the closing of nearly half of the known bitcoin exchanges, including Mt. Gox. Huang and Levchenko are two of the co-authors behind a February paper on "Botcoin: Monetizing Stolen Cycles," presented at the Network and Distributed System Security (NDSS) Symposium in San Diego.
Computer Engineering Now #11 in Latest U.S. News Rankings
The 2015 U.S. News rankings of graduate engineering programs in the U.S. are out, including some of the 'specialty' rankings of how well the schools are doing in specific fields. While the overall trend for the Jacobs School of Engineering and computer science at UC San Diego was flat, one specialty area clearly bucked that trend. In the past three years,computer engineering in the Jacobs School rose from #17 in the 2013 ranking to #12 last year and to #11 in the just-published 2015 rankings. "Computer engineering is one of our areas that has seen the most growth, with faculty hires including Michael Taylor, Steve Swanson, Ryan Kastner and Tajana Rosing," said CSE Chair and (and fellow computer engineering professor) Rajesh Gupta. "We created a very hands-on learning program, launched the Embedded Systems Lab in 2010 that supports many Computer Engineering courses, and rolled out the MAS course in Wireless Embedded Systems. This highlights the success of our strategy to increase experiential learning." (Pictured above: Prof. Tajana Rosing at right, with former CSE computer-engineering grad student ZhongYi Jin [Ph.D. '10], now a Principal Researcher at Nokia in Berkeley, CA.)
Overall, the assessment score for computer science at UC San Diego was essentially unchanged: its 4.0 average is the same as last year's. However, the program dipped from #14 to #15, where CSE is now tied with both Columbia University and the University of Maryland, College Park (with identical overall scores). U.S. News also did specialty rankings for "Computer Science: Theory" and "Computer Science: Systems" for the first time since the 2011 rankings. For Theory, CSE ranked #14, one notch better than four years ago. In the same period, the Systems group was unchanged at #11.
In the 2015 U.S. News ranking, the school is again ranked #14. The Jacobs School overall shares that place with the graduate engineering program at Columbia University (coming in ahead of UCLA by a whisker). Prof. Stefan Savage (at left) believes the key to improving CSE's position in the rankings probably depends on the peer assessment scores. "I think that getting our perception score up to the 4.2 level would put us in the top 10, or in striking distance of it," said Savage. "This is going to require both growth and having several groups that are out there grabbing the broad attention of the computer-science community."
CSE faculty leaders note a substantial lag in surveying, especially for the specialty areas. "Programming Languages is one of the most successful groups in our department of late in terms of student placement and faculty visibility, yet it did not rank in the top ten in that category," noted Prof. Alex Snoeren. "U.S. News also published the top programs for Artificial Intelligence, which has grown in CSE, but it didn't make the cut. Our recent strides in these areas are not yet reflected in U.S. News' [survey]."
For his part, Savage also points to other indicators of how well CSE's graduate program is doing. "We are now routinely placing our Ph.D. students in choice academic jobs," he said. "That's particularly true in Security and Programming Languages." Among the universities hiring recent CSE students for faculty positions fresh from receiving their Ph.D.'s: the University of Washington, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Wisconsin, Columbia and Cornell University. "Driven by the success of our Inspiring Imaginations Initiative in the past years, we are only getting started. The changes we are implementing now are designed to improve learning outcomes and expanded research initiatives. These are bound to be reflected in these and other rankings in future," according to Chair Gupta.
As part of the Design at Large lecture series organized by CSE Prof. Scott Klemmer, UC Berkeley professor Ted Selker will talk about "Activities in Considerate Systems." He will introduce notions of "how we can introduce social awareness in our design practices and artifacts."
In a CSE faculty candidate talk, Stanford's Mohammad Alizadeh will talk about "Packet Transport Mechanisms for Data Center Networks." Alizadeh currently is a researcher at Insieme Networks (recently acquired by Cisco Systems).
"Fast and Accurate Visual Recognition" is the subject of this talk by Piotr Dollar of Microsoft Research. Prior to Microsoft, Dollar was a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech and co-founder of Anchovi Labs (acquired by Dropbox in 2012). According to Dollar, "visual recognition is undergroing a paradigm shift in the past decade."
March 31, 2014 - 11am-Noon - Room 1202, CSE Building
Mark your calendars! Center for Networked Systems associate director and assistant research scientist George Porter (and CSE affiliate) will deliver a faculty candidate seminar. Topic to be announced.
Want to catch up on recent talks in the CSE Colloquium and Distinguished Lecture Series? Dafna Shahaf's seminar on "The Aha! Moment: From Data to Insight" is the latest video lecture from the 2013-14 series. To watch this or other lectures in the series, click here.
Have a notice about upcoming travel to conferences, etc., for the Faculty GPS column in our weekly CSE Newsletter? Be sure to let us know! Email Doug Ramsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.