Bucknell World: New faculty, new digital approaches
(Editor's Note: Bucknell's Web site is featuring some of the University's newest teacher-scholars. They are among the new faculty members highlighted in the Fall 2007 edition of Bucknell World.)
Four assistant professors in the College of Engineering are taking bold new approaches to computer hardware design, networking and communications, and graphic imaging.
Kundan Nepal is conducting research that is focused on the design and reliability of computer chips. “Today, computer chips are getting smaller and faster,” he explains. “When the building blocks of the chip become small, it is hard to make sure that each small device behaves exactly the way you want it to. There is a lot of variation from one chip to another. This makes these devices unreliable.”
Nepal’s research focuses on taking these unreliable components and making circuits that work reliably with them, because, ultimately, what is important is getting a predictable outcome.
“If there is an error in the circuit, we need to find out about it and fix it, or build a circuit that forces the circuit not to make an error. This is a hot topic of research in Silicon Valley,” he notes. “I’ve been working on this for the past four years.”
Robert Nickel is working on new methods to remove/suppress background noise from speech signals.
“Technical means for the automatic transmission, storage, understanding, and translation of speech signals have fascinated me since my early college time in Germany,” he says. Application examples for his work include noise suppression mechanisms in cell phones, automatic speech recognition/ understanding systems, and artificial speech synthesis systems.
Networking is the current research interest of Michael Thompson.
“I’m looking at wireless peer-to-peer networks,” he says. “We’re going to create an experimental ad hoc network of 20 to 30 computers, where some subset of intermediate neighbors must participate in moving information around. The questions we intend to address pertain to the performance of the network and what happens when some nodes decide to not participate in the forwarding of their neighbors’ traffic.”
Theory comes after experimentation for Thompson. “It’s not until I take things apart and see how things work that I really understand,” he says. “That helps me see the whole picture.”
Joshua Steinhurst’s research on the simulation of light investigates the intersection of computer science, physics, and the entertainment industry. He notes that video games return more revenue than movies, yet studios spend much more time — hours compared to seconds — on generating images for movies.
By designing faster algorithms and hardware, Steinhurst believes, interactive applications can afford more accurate images with effects such as shadows and reflections. The same tools can used to understand how light interacts with water or ice to form rainbows and halos.
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