Research Snapshots – Fall 2017

Improving Software Updates

Iulian Neamtiu is working to reduce both the occurrence and financial costs of software bugs and incorrect software updates. Commonly, software continues to evolve long after the first version is released. Problems arise when changes made to source code to fix bugs and add features, for example, end up producing unintended results. This hurts both software developers and consumers. Dr. Neamtiu’s goal is to make the semantics of software changes more explicit and reveal certain kinds of errors before software is deployed. His effort, funded by a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), will benefit both the research and software development communities.

Paving the Way for 5G

Joerg Kliewer is studying ways to reduce the amount of data transmitted over communications networks. His new and innovative architectural paradigms and error-correcting codes may hold the key to enabling the existing infrastructure to support the vast data increase projected for 5G mobile communications: 10,000 times more traffic and as many as 100 times more devices than today’s 4G network.

Exploring the Role of Axons in Neural Signaling

Dirk Bucher is researching the propagation of electrical signals generated by nerve cells for transmitting and processing information. With funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), he hopes to better understand how properties of the membranes surrounding axons — the primary transmission lines of nerve cells — can shape and alter patterns of neural activity. His work could provide valuable insights into the causes and progression of a range of diseases that change the electrical properties of nerve cell membranes.

Keeping Online Learners Engaged

Michael Lee created Gidget, an online educational game designed to teach introductory computer programming concepts through debugging puzzles. With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), he now wants to develop ways to identify struggling and disengaged learners and provide them with the right kind of help. For some, this help may be more practice with certain difficult concepts; for others, it may be just-in-time feedback to stimulate and re-engage their interest. Dr. Lee’s research will show the effectiveness of these techniques on engagement and outcomes. It also has broad implications for teaching computer programming in an age when more people are going online to learn these skills.

Making Strength-Building Fun

Digital designer Taro Narahara has joined forces with biomedical engineer Richard Foulds to help teenagers with muscular dystrophy slow muscle deterioration through fun strength-building exercises. They link an NJIT robotic arm with a virtual reality gaming platform to enable the teens to experience the weight of the objects they’re handling, as well as movement and direction. The design team’s programs include an egg-throwing game that can bend the rules of physics.

Changing an Environmental Threat into a Resource

Xianqin Wang is exploring how to convert carbon dioxide, a damaging greenhouse gas, into high-value, useful chemicals. If successful, her work would transform an environmental threat into an economic resource and help fuel the growth of a low-fossil-fuel economy. Dr. Wang’s study of advanced nanomaterials as catalysts is relevant for air purification, water treatment, clean energy production, and biological and pharmaceutical engineering.

Searching for the Culprit Behind Jet Lag

Yong-Ick Kim is working to better understand our 24-hour circadian clock on the molecular level. He’s doing this by probing the primitive biological timekeeping system in cyanobacteria, a microorganism. His work on the biochemical building blocks of circadian rhythm may reveal clues — and possibly effective treatments — for sleep disorders, digestive problems and the cognitive impairment that jet-lagged travelers experience. His research also has possible implications for other medical problems such as cancer, obesity and diabetes that may be correlated with disruptions to the circadian clock.

Strengthening Teamwork

Haisu Zhang aims to strengthen product development teams by understanding more clearly how the sharing and use of information among team members affects team decision-making. He also is looking closely at how functionally diverse teams affect information sharing. Dr. Zhang’s research has value for managers who need to assemble decision-making teams, lead team communication efforts and encourage divergent thinking.

Predicting Solar Flares

Images captured by NJIT’s recently renamed Goode Solar Telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory, complemented by novel microwave data from the university’s new Expanded Owens Valley Solar Array, provide some of the first detailed views of the mechanisms that may trigger solar flares, the releases of magnetic energy in the Sun’s corona that are capable of penetrating Earth’s atmosphere and disrupting orbiting satellites and electronic communications on the ground. Scientists from NJIT’s Center for Solar- Terrestrial Research are studying small-scale pre-flare brightenings as a possible precursor of a solar flare. The research, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF), is critical to accurate forecasting of space weather.

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