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  • Computer Software Accurately Predicts Student Test Performance

    Results of a new study led by CSE alumnus Jacob Whitehill (Ph.D., '12) demonstrates that a real-time, automatic method for identifying and analyzing facial expressions can perform with an accuracy comparable to that of human observers when tracking how engaged students are in the classroom. (Pictured at left: Student engagement levels are tracked in real time by the automatic system for recognizing facial expressions; photo copyright 2014 IEEE.) The study also revealed that engagement levels were a better predictor of students' post-test performance that the students' pre-test scores.

    Whitehill is the first author on the paper "The Faces of Engagement: Automatic Recognition of Student Engagement," which was published April 15 in the early online edition of the journal IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing. Whitehill -- who now works at Emotient, Inc., a startup he co-founded with the paper's senior author, Javier Movellan -- did much of his work on the study while part of the Machine Perception Laboratory in Calit2's Qualcomm Institute (co-directed by Movellan). The project was funded, in part, by the UCSD-based Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC), led by CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell. TDLC also enabled the key partnership between Movellan and another co-author on the paper, Virginia Commonwealth professor of developmental psychology Zewelanji Serpell, because both are PIs on TDLC's Social Interaction Network. In addition to Movellan, Whitehill and Serpell, the study’s co-authors include  Yi-Ching Lin and Aysha Foster from the department of psychology at Virginia State.

    “Automatic recognition of student engagement could revolutionize education by increasing understanding of when and why students get disengaged,” said Whitehill (pictured below right). “Automatic engagement detection provides an opportunity for educators to adjust their curriculum for higher impact, either in real time or in subsequent lessons. Automatic engagement detection could be a valuable asset for developing adaptive educational games, improving intelligent tutoring systems and tailoring massive open online courses, or MOOCs.” 

    The study consisted of training an automatic detector, which measures how engaged a student appears in a webcam video while undergoing cognitive skills training on an iPad®. The study used automatic expression recognition technology to analyze students’ facial expressions on a frame-by-frame basis and estimate their engagement level. “This study is one of the most thorough to date in the application of computer vision and machine learning technologies for automatic student engagement detection,” said Javier Movellan. “The possibilities for its application in education and beyond are tremendous. By understanding what parts of a lecture, conversation, game, advertisement or promotion produced different levels of engagement, an individual or business can obtain valuable feedback to fine-tune the material to something more impactful.”

    Read the full news release.
    Read  "The Faces of Engagement" article on the Machine Perception Laboratory website.
    Visit the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center website.

  • Computer Scientist Has Underwater (3D) Vision

    In its April 14 edition, the UTSanDiego featured an article about "Scientists set to roam the world" this summer. "If you toss a dart at a map of the world, there's a good chance it'll land in a region where scientists from San Diego County will do research this summer," wrote science editor Gary Robbins, adding that "summer field research is a cherished part of science." Case in point: the first researcher featured in the article was CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner, who is photographed (at right) displaying an underwater stereo camera system that he developed for producing 3D reconstructions of underwater objects. Kastner "will use high-resolution imaging tools in June to help archaeologists map Mayan ruins in Guatemala and a sunken ship in Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay Underwater Park," according to the article. Kastner will be joined on the Lake Tahoe expedition by undergraduate participants in the Engineers for Exploration program, which is co-directed by Kastner.
  • Professor Zhou: "Inventor and Mentor"

    CSE Prof. Yuanyuan (YY) Zhou (at left) took time out to attend the first-ever Celebration of Women in Computing in Southern California April 5-6 in Carlsbad. And according to a profile in the UCSD Guardian by Raquel Calderon, Zhou spent Saturday afternoon "standing before an audience full of young, aspiring female engineers to share her experiences."
    "With a doctorate in computer science from Princeton, three startups and volumes of research to her name, Zhou is intimidating in description but humble and talkative in person," wrote Calderon. "Her relentless energy serves her research, her company, her students and her desire to increse the pesence of women in computing."
    Explaining why she likes to teach and coach students in computer science, Zhou is quoted as saying, "I like how in a 30-minute conversation, you can really help them: you can change their career."
    “A really interesting observation I made is that many of the event organizers are women,” added Zhou, whose latest venture, Whova, a mobile app for attendees at professional conferences. “Especially in a startup [where] the most important thing is for you to understand your customer... you truly need to listen to the user.”
    According to the Guardian, "Zhou’s participation in CWIC-SoCal shows her belief in the power of community. She, like many well-established women in her field, believes technology and science need more women."
  • Designing a New Design Education

    An article co-written by Cognitive Scientist and CSE Prof. Scott Klemmer (at right) has been read by nearly 30,000 people since it was first posted in late March on LinkedIn. The article, titled "State of Design: How Design Education Must Change," was written with Don Norman of the Nielsen Norman Group (and emeritus professor in Cognitive Science at UC San Diego). They argue that "if design is to live up to its promise it must create new, enduring curricula for design education that merge science and technology, art and business, and indeed, all the knowledge of the university." A major focus of their article is on the university. "To meet the challenges of the 21st century, design and design education must change," they write. "So too must universities." They add that "it would not be difficult for universities to change their evaluation process to encourage both specialists and generalists, in part by valuing broad synthesis, integration, and real-world impact when appropriate. This shift can enable world-class programs that celebrate both craft and theory, and trains students to augment depth with breadth to tackle the multifarious challenges we face."

    Read the full article at LinkedIn.

  • CSE Alumni Advisory Board Launches Quarterly Magazine

    Serial entrepreneur Munjal Shah (BS ’95) and Brina Lee (MS ’13) are among the CSE alumni profiled in the inaugural issue of the UC San Diego CSE Alumni Quarterly (at right), a publication of the department’s Alumni Advisory Board. “Long nights in the lab, challenging classes, group projects and memorable professors left many (alumni) with a desire to connect with what’s going on right now in the department,” writes Alumni Board president Lindsey Fowler. In addition to alumni profiles, the quarterly magazine includes faculty updates (including Sanjoy Dasgupta, Christine Alvarado, Larry Smarr, Ranjit Jhala and Pavel Pevzner), exciting student news, and ways to stay connected with the alumni community.

    The Spring 2014 cover story features Munjal Shah, who worked at IBM and other companies before co-founding his first company in 1999. Andale provided tools to help small businesses manage auctions on eBay, and Shah sold the company to Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. He promptly set up another company that became (with advice from CSE professors David Kriegman and Mohan Paturi), and six years later Shah sold it to Google. Now he’s in an early phase of his latest startup, HealthEquity Labs, which has not yet announced its first product. Shah promises “a very unique approach: we don’t need another health app to nag us. Instead, we need to celebrate the healthy.” Meanwhile, Shah has advised, invested in or sat on the boards of nearly 20 startup companies. He is also regularly in touch with CSE faculty, including Prof. Mohan Paturi; indeed, as of 2013, Shah now sits on the advisory board of Parity Computing, a San Diego-based provider of unstructured data management and knowledge discovery solutions that was co-founded and chaired by... CSE’s Paturi.

    Read about CSE alumnus Munjal Shah and more in the inaugural Spring 2014 issue of the UC San Diego CSE Alumni Quarterly.

  • CSE Posters at Research Expo 2014 Highlight Energy Efficiency in Data Centers and Smartphones

    Coming up on April 17 is the Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo 2014, when CSE graduate students will present 25 of the nearly 200 research posters on display. The majority of department posters come from the labs of just two faculty members: Ryan Kastner with eight posters (see article below about Kastner’s students who are NSF Graduate Research Fellows), and Tajana Rosing (at right) with seven from her System Energy Efficiency Lab.

    One of the major threads running through Research Expo this year is energy and power efficiency, and ten of the CSE posters on display will explore energy from a variety of different angles. They range from very practical systems such as a fault analysis engine for HVAC systems in commercial buildings (#21) to power management for general-purpose graphics processing units (GPGPU) memory (#45).

    The energy theme divides into two sub-areas: smartphone and mobile systems; and energy use in data centers.

    Data Center Energy Efficiency

    Ph.D. student Muhammad Abdullah Adnan (left) has a paper on “Workload shaping to Mitigate Variability in Renewable Power Use for Data Centers” (#28). (Adnan’s advisor is CSE chair Rajesh Gupta.)  Henrique Da Silva Rodrigues has a poster based on a Center for Networked Systems project about “Using Optical Networks in the Data Center for Energy Efficiency” (#42). Da Silva’s poster proposes “some simple changes to the scheduling strategy of state-of-the-art optical circuit switches that can improve application performance significantly.”

    Power Efficiency in Android and Other Smartphones

    Da Silva’s advisor, Prof. Rosing, also has six other posters scheduled for display at Research Expo. One offers a cross-layer approach to manage power adaptation of application processors for smartphones (#38) and another explores thermal and power management of the entire smartphone system (#41). Rosing’s student Jinseok Yang (right) will present a poster on “Managing Energy and Data Quality in Large Sensor Swarms” (#40), which argues that by unifying the transmission, sampling and power managers, the researchers were able to nearly triple the energy efficiency.  Another student advised by Rosing, Pietro Mercati, looks at workload and user experience-aware dynamic reliability management in mobile Android devices (#43), and Rosing’s student Kunal Kishore Korgaonkar takes “a deeper look at real mobile applications as they are used by real users on state-of-the-art smart phones” (#39).

    Nima Nikzad (left), a Ph.D. student advised by Prof. William Griswold, outlines an annotation language and middleware service, called APE, that eases the development of energy-efficient Android applications (#25). 

    To read the abstracts for these and other CSE posters at Research Expo 2014, be sure to register on the expo website.
    Visit Prof. Rosing's System Energy Efficiency Lab.

  • Four NSF Graduate Research Fellows in Kastner Group

    The computer engineering group of CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner is going from strength to strength, as two of his Ph.D. students have joined two existing group members as NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. The newcomers are Perry Naughton and Alric Althoff, and they joined Jason Oberg and Dustin Richmond. “Four fellows in the group at once,” observed Kastner proudly. “Not too shabby.” And three of the four will showcase their respective research projects during the Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo 2014 on April 17. The Kastner Group will have a total of eight posters on display.

    Alric Althoff's research aims to both decrease cost and increase performance of sensors relevant to industry and science. In particular, he studies algorithms and hardware for compressive sensing and tensor analysis. The CSE grad student (right) joined Kastner’s group in 2013 after earning undergraduate degrees in cognitive science and math from UC San Diego.

    Perry Naughton's background was in electrical engineering, and the avid surfer’s research has focused on the development of remote imaging technology that enables answers to questions concerning ecology and archaeology. With support from other members of Calit2’s CISA3 and NSF IGERT program in engineering for cultural heritage diagnostics and the Engineers for Exploration program, Naughton (left) is involved in engineering innovation that spans robotics, signal processing and computer vision. His recent work was applied in the dense jungles of Guatemala, and he has a joint poster (#36) on “Remote Imaging Methodologies in Maya Archaeology" to be presented at Research Expo. While his advisor (Kastner) is in CSE, Naughton's Ph.D. will come from the Electrical and Computer Engineering department.

    Dustin Richmond (right) will present a poster (#37) at Research Expo about “Trellis: A Framework for Desktop Supercomputers.” Trellis is a new project about creating packages for application engineers to facilitate development between CPU, GPU and FPGA devices. These packages will integrate with emerging industry tools to facilitate turnaround times and to reduce the need for domain specialists. Richmond is a second-year Ph.D. student in computer engineering, and he is working on methods to make it easier for experienced hardware engineers and novice users alike to program hardware devices.  

    Jason Oberg’s research is in the space of hardware security, and he will have a poster at Research Expo (#30) on “A Hardware Approach to Information Flow Security.” Oberg’s focus is on developing tools and methods for building and designing next-generation hardware with high security. Oberg and Kastner recently were co-authors with researchers from UC Santa Barbara, UT Austin, AMD and Facebook on a paper titled, “Sapper: A Language for Hardware-Level Security Policy Enforcement.” It was presented at the 19th International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems in March (in a session chaired by fellow CSE Prof. YY Zhou).

  • A 'Street Tacos' Approach to Mobile Programming

    In CSE instructor Ganz Chockalingam’s CSE 190 course, instruction over the winter was, as he puts it, more like “making street tacos.” Instead of asking students to follow a specific recipe, Chockalingam urged them to come up with their own app ideas and use the tools and programming environments they prefer. 
    Chockalingam (at right) says his goal for the 50 students in his CSE 190 “Mobile Programming” course was to “get down and dirty with the code and arm them with real-world, practical skills” for building mobile apps. (Some 70 more students were on the waiting list for the popular course.) To achieve this, he spent the first month of the course providing instruction – leaving the rest of the quarter to lab time, when teams of six students concocted ideas for apps and then built their apps with a server component (hosting them in the cloud on the Amazon EC2 platform.) “That, by itself, is a valuable skill,” says the principal development engineer in Calit2’s Qualcomm Institute (his ‘day job’). 
    In the quarter just ended, the students designed and implemented a number of compelling apps, including an augmented-reality app that allows the user to stand in any location on the UC San Diego campus, point his or her phone at a building, and bring up the name of the building as a text overlay. Another app, Roast, functions as a sort of Yelp for coffee connoisseurs (Roast team member Alex Kissinger, at left, presents the app during final presentations). Another team developed Triton Unlink as a twist on TritonLink that offers a “more useful way” for finding class information. A fourth team built a mobile app that allows the user to monitor, in real time, the pH levels and watering schedule for hydroponic plants -- they even set up a hydroponic lab in the Jacobs School of Engineering Moxie Center for Student Entrepreneurship to test out the app.  
    Although Chockalingam teaches programming for Android devices in class, he says many students want to learn iOS programming for Apple devices, “but IOS requires that you own a Mac, and departments don’t always want to enforce that as a requirement for students,” he explains. But Chockalingam meets Apple fans halfway by allowing them to work with tutors in the CSE computer lab to learn iOS programming. 
    Students appreciate the course. “Mobile app development is exploding in growth,” says Daryl Stimm, a former student who TA’d the winter course. “This course offers a way for groups of students to make useful, fun and interesting apps. In 10 weeks you design, storyboard and develop an idea into a fully working application. The course really allows you to use your creativity and make an interesting, fun app that solves real problems.  I believe this course gives students real-world skills that will benefit them when they are looking for a career in industry.”
    “I love teaching these kids,” observed Chockalingam. “I just have to point them in the right direction and they figure out the rest. My job is really easy.” He is teaching the same course in Spring 2014 to 48 undergrads.
  • CSE Professor to Moderate Cyber Security Symposium with Industry Representatives

    Organized by the UC San Diego Office of Research Affairs (ORA), the Innovation Trends (iTrends) Cyber Security symposium is scheduled for 5-7pm on Tuesday, April 8. The goal: to introduce graduate and especially undergraduate students to industry trends and job opportunities in the emerging field of cyber security. The symposium is organized by ORA's Sandra Ponting and moderated by CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner (right).

    The Cyber Security symposium will expose students to industry leaders in the fast-growing field. Executives from Sempra Energy, ESET North America, iBoss Network Security and SPAWAR will discuss market trends and needs, innovative technologies, entrepreneurship, sustainability of businesses, workforce needs, and more. Students who are interested in technology or business are urged to attend the free symposium to explore careers in the fast-growing industry, and students from all majors are welcome to attend.

    Cyber Security is the second iTrends symposium. The series gives students an awareness of innovative industries and corporate leaders so that students are informed about career opportunities. Professor and moderator Ryan Kastner is co-director of the Wireless Embedded Systems Master of Advanced Studies program and he also co-directs the Engineers for Exploration program. His current research interests in CSE are in areas of hardware acceleration, hardware security, and remote sensing. Kastner will moderate a one-hour panel including: SPAWAR CTO Stephen D. Russell, who is Head of the Science and Technology Department at the SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) in San Diego; UC San Diego alumnus Paul Martini, CEO of iBoss Network Security; ESET North America VP of Operations Chad Nelly, who has been involved in the 'Securing our eCity' effort since its inception, working to develop the foundational curriculum on which the outreach program is built; and Jeff Nichols of Sempra Energy. Nichols is the Director of Information Technology and Information Management for Sempra's utilities (including SDG&E). His organization provides key IT services, including cyber security, for 12,000 employees in the utilities, covering enterprise architecture, cyber security, compliance management, data management, and predictive analytics.

    The panel discussion will be followed by a networking reception. Food and registration are free, but seating is limited, so attendees are invited to register online at For further information, visit the symposium website at or contact Sandra Ponting, Ph.D., at

  • PayScale Estimates Return on Investment of an Undergraduate CS Degree at UC San Diego

    UC San Diego undergraduates majoring in computer science can look forward to a solid return on their investment, especially if they are from inside California. The 2014 PayScale College Return on Investment Report tracks the estimated return on investment (ROI) at public and private U.S. universities. The survey found that the average cost of a four-year, in-state education at UCSD for computer science majors was $122,100 in 2013. But the survey also estimates that the 20-year net ROI is estimated at $1,090,000 – an annual ROI of 12.3%. Among all public universities in California, UCSD ranked #3 for in-state computer science majors, after UC Berkeley and UCLA. UCSD also ranked third for out-of-state CS majors, but the higher cost of out-of-state tuition means that their net ROI is only 9% on an annualized basis. Looking at all universities in California, public and private, UCSD ranked #6.

    The PayScale survey ranks San Diego overall as the 15th best public university for its return on investment (ROI) for alumni who are California residents. A caveat: the PayScale numbers reflect responses from individuals with undergraduate degrees only. Anyone who went on to earn a graduate degree at UC San Diego is not covered by the PayScale report, so the real average earning potential of CSE grads is therefore much higher than what this particular survey indicates.

    Learn more about the 2014 PayScale College ROI Report.

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