Record-Setting Number of CAREER Awards in CSE Department

Four faculty members in the Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) Department have garnered coveted National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards for the period 2007-2011, bringing the departmental total to eight – and the School-wide total to 15 – NSF CAREER Award recipients. In securing four CAREER Awards in one year, the department surpasses any previous record set within the School of Engineering.

The new CAREER Award recipients are assistant professors Jun-Hong Cui, Swapna Gokhale, Laurent Michel and Zhijie “Jerry” Shi. The NSF CAREER program recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of academics who are judged likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.

The challenge to solve networking problems in underwater acoustic sensor networks lies at the heart of Dr. Jun-Hong Cui’s $400,000 CAREER award. To date, underwater sensor networks have been used in only limited applications. However, their potential promise in seismic monitoring, surveillance, environmental analyses, and commercial applications makes them increasingly attractive – provided certain limitations can be overcome. Dr. Cui is interested in improving the performance of these underwater sensor networks (UWSNs), which rely upon acoustic channels. Their limitations include long propagation delays, low communication bandwidth and a high channel error rate.

“Due to the complex aquatic environmental factors and the unique characteristics of acoustic channels,” she said, new protocols must be developed that will ensure optimal performance through every phase of the data sensing, collection and transmission processes. Her CAREER research will focus on the investigation and solution of three key networking problems: multiple access, multi-hop routing, and reliable data transfer. Dr. Cui will develop a real UWSN test bed for use as a research infrastructure for the underwater networking and communication community. She expects her studies will result in more widespread use and/or performance improvements of underwater acoustic sensing in scientific research and national security. Dr. Cui and her team have created a dedicated website that will detail the project’s challenges and progress.

Dr. Cui earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in 2003 and joined the CSE faculty the same year.

Dr. Swapna Gokhale’s $400,000 award will involve development of an architecture-based approach for assessment of software reliability.  The challenge to ensure reliable software is hampered by a number of factors, from the increasingly complex nature of software applications to the decreasing resources available to construct and maintain software. For this reason, Dr. Gokhale asserts, any evaluation must provide systematic, quantitative guidance for cost-effective reliability improvement. Importantly, such an assessment must also consider the relationship between reliability and other attributes, such as performance and cost, and cost/benefit optimization.

Dr. Gokhale’s CAREER research will employ an architecture-based approach to software reliability analysis, and will involve both controlled experiments and case studies.  She will develop modeling techniques to incorporate concurrency, deterministic execution times of components, interface failures, failure severities, and architecture styles – to consider the characteristics of real-life software applications. Dr. Gokhale also will devise analytical techniques to prioritize components and quantify confidence intervals, and estimation techniques to determine model parameters from different software artifacts. Finally, she will develop optimization techniques to allow two-way and three-way tradeoffs between performance, reliability, cost, and effort.

Dr. Gokhale earned her Ph.D. in 1998 from Duke University and carried out post-doctoral studies in the area of wireless and multimedia networking at the University of California, Riverside. Prior to joining UConn, she was a research scientist with Telcordia Technologies Inc. (formerly Bellcore) of Morristown, NJ.

Dr. Laurent Michel’s $525,000 award will support his research into the “synthesis of search procedures for constraint programs.” The research will involve combinatorial optimization, an area that unites mathematics, artificial intelligence and software engineering to resolve problems relating to the efficient allocation of limited resources to meet specific objectives. For example, constraints on basic resources such as labor, supplies, or money may restrict the number and style of cars that can be manufactured. Thus, Dr. Michel explained, constraint problems are “ubiquitous in our society, critical to many industries and affect almost every aspect of our daily lives.” Optimization of such problems requires a high level of expertise, in contrast with modeling languages for mathematical programming, which are highly automated.

Dr. Michel will seek to bridge these two approaches to develop a new generation of modeling languages and systems based on recent advances in programming languages, compilers and artificial intelligence to serve the wider audience of optimization modelers. Dr. Michel also will develop educational material targeting high school math and science teachers.

After earning his Ph.D. from Brown University in 1999, Dr. Michel worked briefly in industry and at Brown as a visiting assistant professor. He joined the University of Connecticut in 2002.

Dr. Zhijie “Jerry” Shi’s $400,000 CAREER award, to commence in September 2007, will focus on the design and implementation of superior-performing cryptographic algorithms to enhance computer security against the ravages of security attacks. As consumers, corporations, federal agencies and the military face increasing security threats – such as records theft, data forging and communication eavesdropping – security measures, including secure communication and storage systems, grow ever more critical. Cryptographic algorithms afford computers basic security functions such as confidentiality, data integrity and authentication.

Dr. Shi is interested in utilizing hardware features to support pervasive secure computing. In his CAREER award, he will focus on novel operations, supported by hardware, to enhance cipher and cryptographic hash function designs and lead to ultra-efficient cryptographic algorithms for computing environments where resources are constrained. Secure hash functions, generating a small, fixed digest for a large amount of data, are needed in many communication protocols and data storage systems to ensure data are not tampered with. As side-channel attacks have emerged as new and powerful security threats to computer systems, he will also examine implementation practices and focus on development of defense mechanisms that can be incorporated into the design processes of cryptographic algorithms and computer systems to thwart side-channel attacks. In side-channel attacks, adversaries exploit side channel information to reveal secrets stored in computing devices. Side channel data includes pieces of information produced by computing devices, such as the time an operation takes, or power consumption statistics. Incorporating his findings into computer design tools, Dr. Shi will make the security mechanisms readily available to designers so the results can be quickly applied in real-world systems.

He was awarded his Ph.D. at Princeton University in 2004 before joining the CSE department.

Categories: Computer Science & Engineering, Doctorate, Early Career Development, eFrontier News, Headline, Ph.D