Once in a Lifetime: Professor Participates in NASA’s Cassini-Huygens Mission

Professor Essam Marouf, an original member of NASA's Radio Science Team for the Cassini-Huygens Mission, meets with the media on Sept. 13 in the Engineering building on the grounds of SJSU. (James Tensuan/San Jose State University)

Professor Essam Marouf in his lab (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Photojournalism).

One of the most remarkable space explorations ever conducted is coming to an end on Sept. 15, and a San Jose State professor has played an important role.

“It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, providing more knowledge than what was known before by orders of magnitude,” Professor of Electrical Engineering Essam Marouf said. “It changed the way we think about giant planets.”

Design work for the Cassini-Huygens Mission began 26 years ago with the goal of providing mankind its first close-up view of Saturn and its rings, atmosphere and moons.

The 22-foot-long spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1997, and spent the next seven years traveling to Saturn.

Marouf is one of the original members of the Cassini Radio Science Team, which used radio waves to learn about the Saturn system. The Huygens probe even landed on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

Professor Essam Marouf, an original member of NASA's Radio Science Team for the Cassini-Huygens Mission, meets with the media on Sept. 13 in the Engineering building on the grounds of SJSU. (James Tensuan/San Jose State University)

Professor Marouf is interviewed by Mercury News reporter Lisa Krieger (James Tensuan, ’15 Photojournalism).

From his lab right here at SJSU, Marouf and his students have been analyzing data collected by Cassini, making important discoveries, along with scientists from 26 nations.

Among the most significant is the discovery of a methane sea on Titan, described by NASA as strikingly similar to Earth in a deep freeze of minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many news reporters came to campus Sept. 13 to interview Marouf before he departed for Pasadena, where he will witness the disintegration of Cassini.

The spacecraft is almost out of fuel, so operators are deliberately plunging Cassini into Saturn to ensure its moons will remain pristine for future exploration.

“I have mixed emotions,” said Marouf, who has celebrated Cassini milestones with his family including his wife, daughter and two granddaughters.

“Part of me is sad because the last 26 years have been an integral part of my daily life, planning experiments and analyzing data.”

Students Compete in Innovation Challenge

Students present their ideas at the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge Showcase Nov. 19 in the Student Union (Robert C. Bain photo).

Students present their ideas at the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge Showcase Nov. 19 in the Student Union (Robert C. Bain photo).

Registering for classes at a university as large and complicated as San Jose State can be like solving a complex puzzle.

That’s where the college scheduling application Saryan comes in. What used to take a few hours now takes a few minutes for the app’s 900 unique users.

Created by student entrepreneurs Sargon Jacob, ’15 Business Administration, and Bryan Miller, ’17 Computer Science, the fledgling business won first place in the Best Overall Innovation category of the 2014 Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge.

Organized annually by the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, SVIC promotes creativity and entrepreneurship by generating and showcasing innovative business ideas.

This year, the ideas ranged from the edible (FarmersAreHere tells you where to find farmers’ markets) to the technical (wireless charging for your electric cars).

The Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge is a great event for students from all across the university, plus our international partners, because it gives them the opportunity to develop ‘ideation’ skills in an area of interest,” said Bill Nance, SVIC director and professor of Management Information Systems.

This is exactly how it what happened for Jacob. He came up with the idea for his app based on a personal experience.

“I typically spent, in totality each semester, at least 10 to 14 hours scheduling my classes over a few days,” Jacob said. “I knew this was an issue.”

After conducting research, he learned many other students struggled to find the right classes at the right times. He reached out to Miller for technical assistance, and to his professors for overall support.

Sargon Jacob (center) received first  first place in the Best Overall Innovation category of the 2014 Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge (Robert C. Bain photo).

Sargon Jacob (center) with Dean David M. Steele and SVIC Director and Professor Bill Nance (Robert C. Bain photo).

“I have been extremely fortunate to be able to get access to professors in the MIS department,” Jacob said. “Richard Sessions was extremely influential early on. He introduced me to Bill Nance, who has been very supportive.

“Both professors literally opened their doors to me. Without them, Bryan and I would not have pursued this project with such intensity. At our peak, we each dedicated around 60 hours a week — with me, a full-time student, and Bryan, a part-time student with a day job.”

SVIC recruits more than twenty judges to evaluate all the ideas, provide feedback and select finalists as well as winners, many of whom drew their ideas from college life.

From Bike Commuters to Entrepreneurs

Four electrical engineering majors refined their plan to provide blinkers to bicyclists based on their commutes.

“Most of us bike from campus to our apartments after school, so we implemented things that we thought would be crucial for our safety,” said Vignesh Ramachandran, ’14 Electrical Engineering.

And so Night Square was born, with assistance from Professor of Electrical Engineering Ping Hsu.

Ramachandran and teammates Aaron Romero, Pratiek Pathak and Travis Johnson designed the flexible 15-by-15-inch LED display for bicyclists to wear on their backs, making the bikers more visible at night.

A student demonstrates Night Square during the Elevator Pitch Competition (Robert C. Bain photo).

Vignesh Ramachandran presents Night Square during the Elevator Pitch Competition (Robert C. Bain photo).

“Buttons on the bike’s handle bar will allow the Night Square to display right and left turn arrows and brake signals,” Ramachandran said. “Also, there are buzzers that will be placed conveniently near each ear so that the rider will know which turn signal is on, similar to the ticking from car turn signals.”

The Night Square prototype was an eye-catcher at the SVIC Showcase Nov. 19 in the Student Union Ballroom, and it received second place in the Best Overall Innovation category. The team has big dreams for Night Square.

Our plans for the future are to take this as far as possible,” Ramachandran said. “Our goal is to incorporate and sell this product to our target market.”

His thinking reflects the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge’s goals.

“Students learn how to present their ideas to experienced innovators and entrepreneurs, who provides feedback they can use to enhance or extend their initial ideas,” Nance said.

“It’s fascinating to watch the students grow through the event, as they learn to refine their explanations and pitch their projects.”

Alumni Connect Students to Employers

Hundreds of job seekers stood in line outside the SJSU Event Center March 5 for a shot at landing an employment opportunity at the Expo ’14 Job and Internship Fair.

Among the hopefuls waiting was Sameera Pappu, ’14 Electrical Engineering, who shared her desire to network with a few companies that match her special telecommunication skill set.

“It’s better you do your own research and target two or three employers, instead of waiting in the long lines” at the fair, Pappu said.

Many students like Pappu prepared by logging into the SJSU Career Center website, researching companies on SpartaJobs, and completing the online Job Success Webinar, which gained them early-bird access.

Alumni connections

Also working hard to prepare for the fair were SJSU alumni volunteers, identifiable by blue spirit ribbons. They showed their Spartan pride by serving as connecting points between students and employers.

Marie Norman, ’93 Journalism, and director of talent acquisition and HR business partner for Financial Engines, has volunteered at the career fair for more than a decade.

She says that SJSU job fairs have gotten more competitive over the years and it takes longer for students to find opportunities that fit their interests and goals.

But her favorite part of her job is playing an instrumental role in people’s lives and matching opportunities with individuals. In the end, Norman says it’s about knowing and understanding what an employee wants and that goes beyond technical and functional skills.

It’s that the company’s philosophy aligns with a person’s core values and allows them to thrive,” she said.

Submitting resumes

Across the Event Center, Mercedes Hernandez, ’11 Business Administration, and a Symantic HR campus representative, resourced contact information for prospective employees via an electronic tablet provided by the SJSU Career Center.

In a week, students such as Trevor Uyeda, ’15 Computer Science, who’s not worried about the competition because of his experience in graphic user interface, will receive an invitation to upload their updated resumes to Symantec’s database and see recruiting deadlines.

This will give us a good feel for what they need and what we have to offer,” said Hernandez.

The SJSU Career Center works with over 20,000 hiring representatives and businesses both locally and globally and connected students with over 33,000 jobs and internship opportunities through SpartaJobs last semester.

New York Times: Colleges Adapt Online Courses to Ease Burden

Posted by the New York Times April 29, 2013.

By Tamar Lewin

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Dazzled by the potential of free online college classes, educators are now turning to the gritty task of harnessing online materials to meet the toughest challenges in American higher education: giving more students access to college, and helping them graduate on time.

Nearly half of all undergraduates in the United States arrive on campus needing remedial work before they can begin regular credit-bearing classes. That early detour can be costly, leading many to drop out, often in heavy debt and with diminished prospects of finding a job.

Meanwhile, shrinking state budgets have taken a heavy toll at public institutions, reducing the number of seats available in classes students must take to graduate. In California alone, higher education cuts have left hundreds of thousands of college students without access to classes they need.

To address both problems and keep students on track to graduation, universities are beginning to experiment with adding the new “massive open online courses,” created to deliver elite college instruction to anyone with an Internet connection, to their offerings.

While the courses, known as MOOCs, have enrolled millions of students around the world, most who enroll never start a single assignment, and very few complete the courses. So to reach students who are not ready for college-level work, or struggling with introductory courses, universities are beginning to add extra supports to the online materials, in hopes of improving success rates.

Here at San Jose State, for example, two pilot programs weave material from the online classes into the instructional mix and allow students to earn credit for them.

“We’re in Silicon Valley, we breathe that entrepreneurial air, so it makes sense that we are the first university to try this,” said Mohammad Qayoumi, the university’s president. “In academia, people are scared to fail, but we know that innovation always comes with the possibility of failure. And if it doesn’t work the first time, we’ll figure out what went wrong and do better.”

In one pilot program, the university is working with Udacity, a company co-founded by a Stanford professor, to see whether round-the-clock online mentors, hired and trained by the company, can help more students make their way through three fully online basic math courses.

The tiny for-credit pilot courses, open to both San Jose State students and local high school and community college students, began in January, so it is too early to draw any conclusions. But early signs are promising, so this summer, Udacity and San Jose State are expanding those classes to 1,000 students, and adding new courses in psychology and computer programming, with tuition of only $150 a course.

San Jose State has already achieved remarkable results with online materials from edX, a nonprofit online provider, in its circuits course, a longstanding hurdle for would-be engineers. Usually, two of every five students earn a grade below C and must retake the course or change career plans. So last spring, Ellen Junn, the provost, visited Anant Agarwal, an M.I.T. professor who taught a free online version of the circuits class, to ask whether San Jose State could become a living lab for his course, the first offering from edX, an online collaboration of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ms. Junn hoped that blending M.I.T.’s online materials with live classroom sessions might help more students succeed. Dr. Agarwal, the president of edX, agreed enthusiastically, and without any formal agreement or exchange of money, he arranged for San Jose State to offer the blended class last fall.

The results were striking: 91 percent of those in the blended section passed, compared with 59 percent in the traditional class.

“We’re engineers, and we check our results, but if this semester is similar, we will not have the traditional version next year,” said Khosrow Ghadiri, who teaches the blended class. “It would be educational malpractice.”

It is hard to say, though, how much the improved results come from the edX online materials, and how much from the shift to classroom sessions focusing on small group projects, rather than lectures.

Finding better ways to move students through the start of college is crucial, said Josh Jarrett, a higher education officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which in the past year has given grants to develop massive open online courses for basic and remedial courses.

“For us, 2012 was all about trying to tilt some of the MOOC attention toward the more novice learner, the low-income and first-generation students,” he said. “And 2013 is about blending MOOCs into college courses where there is additional support, and students can get credit. While some low-income young adults can benefit from what I call the free-range MOOCs, the research suggests that most are going to need more scaffolding, more support.”

Until now, there has been little data on how well the massive online courses work, and for which kinds of students. Blended courses provide valuable research data because outcomes can easily be compared with those from a traditional class. “The results in the San Jose circuits course are probably the most interesting data point in the whole MOOC movement,” Mr. Jarrett said.

Said Dr. Junn, “We want to bring all the hyperbole around MOOCs down to reality, and really see at a granular level that’s never before been available, how well they work for underserved students.”

Online courses are undeniably chipping at the traditional boundaries of higher education. Until now, most of the millions of students who register for them could not earn credit for their work. But that is changing, and not just at San Jose State. The three leading providers, Udacity, EdX and Coursera, are all offering proctored exams, and in some cases, certification for transfer credit through the American Council on Education.

Last month, in a controversial proposal, the president pro tem of the California Senate announced the introduction of legislation allowing students in the state’s public colleges and universities who cannot get a seat in oversubscribed lower-level classes to earn credit for faculty-approved online versions, including those from private vendors like edX and Udacity.

And on Wednesday, San Jose State announced that next fall, it will pay a licensing fee to offer three to five more blended edX courses, probably including Harvard’s “Ancient Greek Heroes” and Berkeley’s”Artificial Intelligence.” And over the summer, it will train 11 other California State campuses to use the blended M.I.T. circuits course.

Dr. Qayoumi favors the blended model for upper-level courses, but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes, which could be expanded to serve many more students at low cost. Traditional teaching will be disappearing in five to seven years, he predicts, as more professors come to realize that lectures are not the best route to student engagement, and cash-strapped universities continue to seek cheaper instruction.

“There may still be face-to-face classes, but they would not be in lecture halls,” he said. “And they will have not only course material developed by the instructor, but MOOC materials and labs, and content from public broadcasting or corporate sources. But just as faculty currently decide what textbook to use, they will still have the autonomy to choose what materials to include.”

While San Jose State professors decided what material should be covered in the three Udacity math courses, it was Udacity employees who determined the course look and flow — and, in most cases, appeared on camera.

“We gave them lecture notes and a textbook, and they ‘Udacified’ things, and wrote the script, which we edited,” said Susan McClory, San Jose State’s developmental math coordinator. “We made sure they used our way of finding a common denominator.”

The online mentors work in shifts at Udacity’s offices in nearby Mountain View, Calif., waiting at their laptops for the “bing” that signals a question, and answering immediately.

“We get to hear the ‘aha’ moments, and these all-caps messages ‘THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU,’ ” said Rachel Meltzer, a former clinical research manager at Stanford and mentor who is starting medical school next fall.

The mentors answer about 30 questions a day, like how to type the infinity symbol or add unlike fractions — or, occasionally, whether Ms. Meltzer is interested in a date. The questions appear in a chat box on-screen, but tutoring can move to a whiteboard, or even a live conversation. When many students share confusion, mentors provide feedback to the instructors.

The San Jose State professors were surprised at the speed with which the project came together.

“The first word was in November, and it started in January,” said Ronald Rogers, one of the statistics professors. “Academics usually form a committee for months before anything happens.”

But Udacity’s approach was appealing.

“What attracted us to Udacity was the pedagogy, that they break things into very small segments, then ask students to figure things out, before you’ve told them the answer,” said Dr. Rogers, who spends an hour a day reading comments on the discussion forum for students in the worldwide version of the class.

Results from the pilot for-credit version with the online mentors will not be clear until after the final exams, which will be proctored by webcam.

But one good sign is that, in the pilot statistics course, every student, including a group of high school students from an Oakland charter school, completed the first, unproctored exam.

“We’re approaching this as an empirical question,” Dr. Rogers said. “If the results are good, then we’ll scale it up, which would be very good, given how much unmet demand we have at California public colleges.”

Any wholesale online expansion raises the specter of professors being laid off, turned into glorified teaching assistants or relegated to second-tier status, with only academic stars giving the lectures. Indeed, the faculty unions at all three California higher education systems oppose the legislation requiring credit for MOOCs for students shut out of on-campus classes. The state, they say, should restore state financing for public universities, rather than turning to unaccredited private vendors.

But with so many students lacking access, others say, new alternatives are necessary.

“I’m involved in this not to destroy brick-and-mortar universities, but to increase access for more students,” Dr. Rogers said.

And if short videos and embedded quizzes with instant feedback can improve student outcomes, why should professors go on writing and delivering their own lectures?

“Our ego always runs ahead of us, making us think we can do it better than anyone else in the world,” Dr. Ghadiri said. “But why should we invent the wheel 10,000 times? This is M.I.T., No. 1 school in the nation — why would we not want to use their material?”

There are, he said, two ways of thinking about what the MOOC revolution portends: “One is me, me, me — me comes first. The other is, we are not in this business for ourselves, we are here to educate students.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 30, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the institution from which Rachel Meltzer, a mentor for the online provider Coursera, graduated. It was Washington University in St. Louis, not Stanford (where Ms. Meltzer worked a clinical research manager).

SJSU Showcases Flipped Class

SAN JOSE, CASan Jose State University invited members of the media Oct. 18 to experience a collaboration with edX, the transformational new online educational initiative founded by MIT and Harvard, resulting in SJSU’s first “flipped class.” View a video of the news conference.

Preliminary results described in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggest this class, which is using an electrical engineering MOOC (the MITx 6.002x Circuits and Electronics Massively Online Open Course), may be an effective way to reinvent and transform the academic experience of electrical engineering students.

“Public higher education needs a new teaching model,” SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi said. “Advances in technology, the expansion of online learning and the needs and expectations of tech-savvy students are changing the role of colleges and universities.”

EdX Collaboration

SJSU’s innovative effort brought together the not-for-profit edX, which offers interactive education wherever there is Internet access, and the only public university serving Silicon Valley.

SJSU serves 30,000 students, including 4,600 engineering students on the threshold of the world’s leading tech companies including Adobe, Apple and Cisco. U.S. News and World Report recently ranked SJSU’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering third in the nation among master’s level public universities excluding service academies.

“Here at San Jose State, in the heart of Silicon Valley, there is so much that is happening in terms of innovation and technology,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Junn. “This is the right time for this institution to really step up and try to utilize some of the new technologies for the purposes of improving student learning.”

This past summer, SJSU faculty members traveled to Cambridge, Mass., to meet and work with the edX team. Their goal was to integrate 6.002x materials into an SJSU course.

SJSU students have been viewing and using online materials as homework, including lectures, quizzes and virtual labs available through the edX platform. Then they go to class to work through problem sets with their instructor, thereby flipping the conventional approach of lectures in class and problem sets at home.

Watching Lectures Anywhere

“The best thing about the class is I can watch the lectures anywhere,” said Jordan Carter, ’14 Mechanical Engineering. “I have watched the videos at my own home. I’ve watched the videos on the light rail train coming to school. It’s really convenient.”

Today, the men and women of SJSU’s first flipped class met their online instructor in person for the first time. The instructor for MITx 6.002x is Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and edX President who is capturing the attention of learners worldwide with his engaging, substantive online lectures.

SJSU faculty members and students shared their experiences, including their midterm exam results. These results represent the first-ever, classroom-based preliminary data assessment of the San Jose State University experiment, designed to see if MOOC material can effectively enhance student learning in a for-credit class at a major university.

“We found that midterm exam scores of students in the flipped class were higher than those in the traditional classes,” SJSU Lecturer of Electrical Engineering Khosrow Ghadiri said. “Although the midterm questions were more difficult for the flipped students, their median score was 10 to 11 points higher than those for two other sections of students who took a traditional version of the course.”

SJSU’s Next Generation Initiative

SJSU recently launched a $28 million initiative to upgrade the campus’ information technology infrastructure while supporting faculty efforts to use and apply these next-generation technologies to better support student learning.

This effort is part of an even larger campaign led by SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi, who argues educational institutions urgently need new approaches to teaching and assessing learning that are personalized, collaborative, engaging and that relate to real-world, 21st-century problems.

Learn more via President Qayoumi’s newly published white paper, “Reinventing Higher Education: A Call to Action.”

San Jose State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,500 students and 3,850 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.

Spartans at Work: At SLAC, “Everything That I’m Doing Here is Completely Brand New”

Spartans at Work: At SLAC, I am Learning to “Quantify the Energy of Terahertz Fields Using Electro-Optical Sampling”

Intern standing in front of the two-mile linear accelerator at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

Tom George, Electrical Engineering’15, is an intern for this year’s SLAC Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship summer program, where he uses lasers to test the terahertz signals on energy (Peter Caravalho photo).

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

(This summer, SJSU Today hits the road, visiting students and recent grads on the job across the country and around the world. Our Spartans at Work series continues with the class of 2015’s Tom George.)

Every day, Tom George, ’15 Electrical Engineering, walks a mile and a half to get to the facility where he works, but he doesn’t mind.

George is spending summer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) just outside of Palo Alto, tucked away on top of a hill and across 426 acres. George is one of 20 interns chosen to participate in this year’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship summer program, which teaches students how to effectively do research, make a presentation and write a paper.

“People here are showing me how much more interesting physics can be than from what we get in the classroom experience,” George said.

SLAC is a research lab operated by Stanford for the U.S. Department of Energy. For over 40 years, the two-mile linear accelerator has been on the forefront of physics research and is famous for looking into the structure of molecules.

George works in the Linac Coherent Light Source facility, using cutting-edge lasers to test the recent progress of terahertz signals on energy.

Learning to Persevere

According to George, everything that he has worked on is brand new. He has had to learn a new lab program in order to take measurements and conduct experiments, not to mention working with lasers that use pump probe techniques. He’s even learning something about himself.

“I’m learning that I get frustrated at times when things don’t work, but that I have to persevere and keep working and even start over if I have to,” George said.

George’s experiences with professors and fellow students in SJSU’s Department of Electrical Engineering have helped him find a passion for teaching.

“SJSU is more like a family and I love that about SJSU,” George said

4 young men hold up metal parts of motorcycle frame.

Students Re-Invent the Wheel for Electric Motorcycle

By Sarah Kyo, Public Affairs Assistant
4 young men hold up metal parts of motorcycle frame.

Spherical Drive System team members Eamonn Clerkin, Henry Li, Max Ratner and Andrew Parmar (left to right) hold up parts of the frame for their motorcycle (Sarah Kyo photo).

Will Smith’s character drives a sleek car with spherical wheels in the sci-fi movie “I, Robot.” While this futuristic film is a fantasy, a team of Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering students is making a very similar vehicle a reality.

From conception to fruition, this group has spent more than a year on this ambitious senior project called Spherical Drive System: a self-balancing, electric motorcycle that uses spheres as wheels.

The team includes team manager Max Ratner, financial officer/mechanical designer Henry Li, and lead mechanical designer Andrew Parmar.

While brainstorming project ideas, the team came across a YouTube video of a robot that balances on a ball. Parmar said they combined other inspirations, such as the Segway Personal Transporter and the “I, Robot” car, for their final concept.

Sphere’s benefits

Riding a motorcycle involves balance and some level of instability. They said a sphere has benefits over a typical wheel.

“It has an inherent safety factor,” Li said. “It’s able to help you balance on the bike.”

Computer rendering of silver, black and green futuristic motorcycle with spherical wheels. (Courtesy of Spherical Drive System)

This computer rendering showcases the final design for Spherical Drive System (Image courtesy of Spherical Drive System).

Ball transfer units, which are small ball bearings, keep the spheres moving. Spheres allow omnidirectional movement, meaning that this motorcycle could move in any direction, including backwards and sideways.

Li said they decided to build a motorcycle because “it captures people’s imagination.”  The team can imagine similar, spherical technology used in other areas, including wheelchairs, forklifts and amusement park rides.

Professor Winncy Du, who is Spherical Drive System’s faculty adviser, said she has never seen a senior project like this one.

“It’s very different,” Du said. “They’re going to change the world of the bicycle.”

The team has assertively gained sponsorships, including monetary donations and parts for their vehicle. They have even attended job fairs, not for finding a job but to gain support for their project. Li said at the moment, they could use help in manufacturing molds for the spheres, which are a composite of carbon fibers, fiberglass and synthetic rubber.

Team building

Ratner said their senior project has been a lesson in communication and team building, in addition to gaining technical experience. He encourages students to take initiative with their project ideas.

Parmar added, “We hope students do more unique projects.”

Last March, Ratner and Parmar represented Spherical Drive System in the American Society of Mechanical Engineering’s regional district student competition. Parmar earned first place in the oral competition, and Ratner earned second place in the poster presentation. Parmar will advance to the national competition in Houston this November.

The team devotes hours to this project. Ratner, Li and Parmar estimate they each put in 20 to 30 hours per week on top of school, work and other commitments. Their project deadline is May 16, but they plan to continue working on the motorcycle this summer to get it ready for test riding.

Follow along with Spherical Drive System’s updates at its Facebook page. For more information, visit the project’s website.

Students Re-Invent the Wheel

By Sarah Kyo, Public Affairs Assistant
4 young men hold up metal parts of motorcycle frame.

Spherical Drive System team members Eamonn Clerkin, Henry Li, Max Ratner and Andrew Parmar (left to right) hold up parts of the frame for their motorcycle (Sarah Kyo photo).

Will Smith’s character drives a sleek car with spherical wheels in the sci-fi movie “I, Robot.” While this futuristic film is a fantasy, a team of Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering students is making a very similar vehicle a reality.

From conception to fruition, this group has spent more than a year on this ambitious senior project called Spherical Drive System: a self-balancing, electric motorcycle that uses spheres as wheels.

The team includes team manager Max Ratner, financial officer/mechanical designer Henry Li, and lead mechanical designer Andrew Parmar.

While brainstorming project ideas, the team came across a YouTube video of a robot that balances on a ball. Parmar said they combined other inspirations, such as the Segway Personal Transporter and the “I, Robot” car, for their final concept.

Sphere’s benefits

Riding a motorcycle involves balance and some level of instability. They said a sphere has benefits over a typical wheel.

“It has an inherent safety factor,” Li said. “It’s able to help you balance on the bike.”

Computer rendering of silver, black and green futuristic motorcycle with spherical wheels. (Courtesy of Spherical Drive System)

This computer rendering showcases the final design for Spherical Drive System (Image courtesy of Spherical Drive System).

Ball transfer units, which are small ball bearings, keep the spheres moving. Spheres allow omnidirectional movement, meaning that this motorcycle could move in any direction, including backwards and sideways.

Li said they decided to build a motorcycle because “it captures people’s imagination.”  The team can imagine similar, spherical technology used in other areas, including wheelchairs, forklifts and amusement park rides.

Professor Winncy Du, who is Spherical Drive System’s faculty adviser, said she has never seen a senior project like this one.

“It’s very different,” Du said. “They’re going to change the world of the bicycle.”

The team has assertively gained sponsorships, including monetary donations and parts for their vehicle. They have even attended job fairs, not for finding a job but to gain support for their project. Li said at the moment, they could use help in manufacturing molds for the spheres, which are a composite of carbon fibers, fiberglass and synthetic rubber.

Team building

Ratner said their senior project has been a lesson in communication and team building, in addition to gaining technical experience. He encourages students to take initiative with their project ideas.

Parmar added, “We hope students do more unique projects.”

Last March, Ratner and Parmar represented Spherical Drive System in the American Society of Mechanical Engineering’s regional district student competition. Parmar earned first place in the oral competition, and Ratner earned second place in the poster presentation. Parmar will advance to the national competition in Houston this November.

The team devotes hours to this project. Ratner, Li and Parmar estimate they each put in 20 to 30 hours per week on top of school, work and other commitments. Their project deadline is May 16, but they plan to continue working on the motorcycle this summer to get it ready for test riding.

Follow along with Spherical Drive System’s updates at its Facebook page. For more information, visit the project’s website.

Grad student working in the lab, with view of wavy line on her monitor.

Center for Analog and Mixed Signal Opens at the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering

Grad student working in the lab, with view of wavy line on her monitor.

Electrical engineering graduate student Shweta Panwalkar studies in the new lab (Charlotte Lawson photo).

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

The Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering cut the ribbon Nov. 30 on its Center for Analog and Mixed Signal, and not a moment too soon.

“There have been few better times for students to go into analog,” Dean Belle Wei recently told San Jose Mercury News business columnist Mike Cassidy.

“Analog chips, or chips combining analog and digital design, are needed to capture images and sound and translate them into digital information for transmission or storage, for instance. Without analog there would be no digital revolution,” Cassidy wrote.

The center’s research projects seek solutions to the some of the most challenging issues faced by semiconductor industry today through developing new circuits and architectures, said its director, Assistant Professor of Engineering Shahab Ardalan.

The lab contains design and test equipment for analog and mixed signal integrated circuits. Six designs stations are equipped with state-of-the-art computer-aided design tools and field-programmable gate array platforms along with 10 mixed signal test stations.

The center is “the result of five years of hard work and fruitful conversation,” Wei told the crowd at the ribbon cutting. “I really applaud our donors for their support and generosity.”

Texas Instruments, Maxim Integrated Products, and Dr. Gust Perlegos contributed to the project, where grad students were already hard at work that afternoon.

“These are the students we’ll be looking for in the future,” Maxim’s Kristoff Richter said. “They’ll be spending a lot of time in this lab.

Saturn

Professor Detects Ripples Created by Comet 700 Years Ago

Saturn

Professor Detects Ripples Created by Comet 700 Years Ago

By Pat Lopes Harris,
Media Relations Director

Seven hundred years ago, a comet nipped Saturn’s rings, creating ripples that can still be detected today, according to a paper recently presented by Professor of Electrical Engineering Essam Marouf. He is a member of NASA’s Cassini science team, 260 scientists from 17 countries who hope to gain a better understanding of Saturn. Marouf discussed his work at a joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences in early October in Nantes, France. “This was a major event that grouped together the two largest planetary sciences conferences in the United States and Europe,” Marouf said. “Nearly 1,500 papers were presented. Happy to report that our team’s paper generated some news.” Science News said the rippling region contains two different waves. “They date back to about the late 1300s, and there is very clear evidence for two events, not one, separated by about 50 years,” Marouf explained. SETI Institute’s Mark Showalter added, “This is such an amazing result. Two events is really a hint that this is a cometary kind of thing. Some object got captured into orbit, made two close passages. Survived the first, not totally damaged — then 50 years later it came back in and that was the end of it.”