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Year of the Light

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College of Engineering & Computing Board of Advisors

Message from the Dean

Paul Johnston, Chair Vice President WATSCO Adalberto Alfonso Vice President Florida Turbine Technologies Humberto P. Alonso Jr. Vice President & District Director South Florida Atkins Global Allan Arch President Southern Gear and Machine, Inc. Robert Carballo Vice President, Transportation U.S. South Stantec Alfred T. de Cardenas President Global Sales & Customer Service Chief Sales Officer Syniverse Technologies

The College of Engineering & Computing generates a broad spectrum of research and serves as a recognized source of

Gus Pego District #6 Secretary Florida Department of Transportation

highly qualified professionals for the local community and beyond. The twin missions of impactful research and real-world teaching came together in the spring of this year when we hosted a photonics symposium that examined the promise of light science through a variety of health, medical and energy applications. The gathering of experts, both from within and outside of FIU, coincided with 2015’s designation by the United Nations as the “The Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies.” How apropos, then, that the college has partnered with utility company FPL to harvest the power of light. The pilot project involves building a solar power plant at our Engineering Center and represents a major research study within the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The work will help determine the viability of adding such power to the state’s electric grid. In another first, we presented the Construction Americas expo, a collaboration with local, national and international construction firms. The conference highlighted the dynamic innovations currently taking place within the industry. These activities underscore the value of the college’s continued strong relations with leading organizations. Such cooperative efforts—coupled with rigorous curricula, opportunities to participate in research and the availability of relevant outside experiences—help prepare our students to graduate with the skills to assume responsibilities and make contributions within their chosen fields. I hope you will enjoy reading briefly about what our faculty and students have been doing during the last year. Sincerely,

Kelly Romano President Intelligent Building Technologies UTC Building & Industrial Systems Americas

Ranu Jung, Ph.D.

Carlos Duart President CDR Maguire, Inc. Danny Katz CEO DBK Concepts Robert Lepore Regional Vice President Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. Pastor Lopez CEO Pemco World Air Services Carlos Mallol Director of Strategy MWH Global Bryan J. Olnick Vice President Distribution Operations Florida Power & Light Company

Adalio Sanchez Board of Directors ACI Worldwide


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Interim Dean, College of Engineering & Computing Wallace H. Coulter Eminent Scholars Chair in Biomedical Engineering Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering


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in bri f AP Computer Science Outreach FIU is doing its part to increase the pass rate of Florida students who take the Advanced Placement computer science exam. The College of Engineering & Computing’s FIU STARS program (Students and Technology in Academics, Research and Service) targets African-American high schoolers and is intended to help them reach their full potential. Youngsters in a three-county area receive support in the form of twice-weekly webinars and monthly in-person meetings with FIU undergraduates who serve as role models.

Haiti Energy Partnership The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering recently partnered with Haiti Energie on an agreement to provide engineering design and plans for future projects. Since the earthquake disaster in 2010, only about 20 percent of the population has access to power. Led by Professor Osama Mohammed, the Energy Systems Research Lab at FIU will play a major role in providing batteries, wiring, racking and other materials essential to a solar power energy system.

Medical and Biological Engineering Fellow Biomedical Engineering Professor Anthony McGoron was recently elected a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). Fellows represent the top 2 percent of medical and biological engineers in the field and are elected through a rigorous process. McGoron joins Ranu Jung as the second AIMBE fellow in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. McGoron’s primary research focus is targeted drug delivery for the treatment of cancerous tumors.


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Civil and Environmental Engineering

Encouraging the next generation of engineers Operating the most powerful hurricane research facility at any U.S. university, the College of Engineering & Computing understands the far-reaching impact of its use for research and commercial testing. Added to those important activities: training tomorrow’s engineers. Local Miami-Dade high school students put their design and problem-solving skills on the line in the annual Wall of Wind Mitigation Challenge. Capable of generating 150-mph winds and category-five hurricane conditions, the Wall of Wind went up against models created by the students. In 2015 they were tasked with developing wind barriers that could be used to protect Miami Beach from approaching storms. “We live in the hurricane capital of the United States, so this is relevant where we live, having our students learn about how can we build better, build stronger,” said Erik Salna, associate director of FIU’s International Hurricane Research Center. The student competition complements the Wall of Wind’s ongoing work with private companies and public agencies looking to develop new and improve existing products, strengthen building codes and generally investigate ways to mitigate storm damage.


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Mechanical & Materials Engineering Innovation fellow excels

Optical transparency gets a boost from sound waves

Mechanical engineering major Sami El Awad Azrak has earned standing as a University Innovation Fellow from the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation. The fellowship program is funded by the National Science Foundation and offers undergraduates the training and support to become leaders in promoting creativity and entrepreneurship on their campuses. Azrak was one of 123 fellows selected in the fall of 2014 and the first at FIU. Working with his faculty sponsor, Professor Bilal El-Zahab, Azrak has since identified ways to help FIU merge students’ engineering educations with opportunities to pursue real-world application of their ideas.

A research team in the Energy Materials Group is using sound waves to alter the transparency of glass. Under the direction of Bilal El-Zahab, an assistant professor of Mechanical & Materials Engineering, researchers were able to transform glass from 100 percent opaque to approximately 80 percent transparent in approximately one second using mere milliwatts of power. The transformation is made possible by placing liquid suspension of carbon particles similar to the ink used in a pen between two thin panes of glass. When the carbon particles are “excited” by ultrasonic waves, they move, literally aligning themselves in a way that changes the opacity of the liquid. The frequency of the sound waves determines whether the glass will become more transparent or less transparent. Potential uses of the low-cost technology are farreaching and encompass everything from eyeglasses to car windows and home windows. El-Zahab and recent Ph.D. graduate Kamran Moradi have applied for a patent on the technology. COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING & COMPUTING

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Electrical and Computer Engineering

Solar Power Connecting to the grid FIU is getting a renewable power plant at its Engineering Center, the only one of its kind at a university in Florida. Professor Arif Sarwat worked with Florida Power & Light to establish the model site as part of a research project. The goal: to understand the potential impact of incorporating the clean energy source into the existing power grid. At the core of Sarwat’s work lies the issue of intermittent supply, a research problem he easily defines: “Just imagine that a cloud comes over the sun.” That variability poses questions of reliability and stability for the entire electric grid. FPL will install the equivalent of a high-tech carport over the parking lot at the Engineering Center, just a mile and a half north of the university’s main Miami campus. The structure will be fitted with solar panels to generate useable energy. When the sun is shining, the approximately 342,000-square-foot solar array will provide electricity for FPL customers via the electric grid. The canopy structures will also create about 600 shaded parking spaces. FIU students have already begun gathering information to be used in their research, including historical weather data and energy production and usage patterns. The research will take Florida’s unique weather conditions into consideration and help determine the types of technology that may be needed to ensure the grid’s reliability is not negatively affected by fluctuations in solar power production due to clouds, thunderstorms and other variables.


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OHL School of Construction Infrastructure System-of-Systems Research Group takes a holistic approach Predicting the future is never easy, but the Infrastructure System-of-Systems Research Group within the OHL School of Construction aims to introduce a degree of clarity in a climate of uncertainty. Under the direction of Professor Ali Mostafavi, the team of undergraduate and graduate students is pulling together a variety of data to use in developing models that will demonstrate how physical infrastructure could perform under different conditions. This information can be used to better understand existing challenges caused by stressors such as climate change and urban population growth, among others, and how to improve design, construction and long-term management. Mostafavi explains that his holistic approach looks at infrastructure as a complex, interdependent “systems-of-systems.” To underscore the value of a wide view, he gives the example of frequent inland flooding, which can lead to pumping station failure, sewage-system backups and contamination of the water supply. “From one event,” he says, “you can see the cascading impacts.” While the lab has partnered with local, regional and national agencies on numerous funded projects, the overarching goal remains to give policymakers the tools to see how decisions made today can change the course ahead. Such frameworks should encourage solutions that value sustainability and resilience over the long run.


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Biomedical Engineering



he medical photonics

In another major project, the lab

laboratory harnesses the

is working on an imaging system

power of light to illuminate

to monitor scar tissue after severe

potential medical problems.

burns or traumatic injury. Currently,

Under the direction of Jessica C. Ramella-Roman in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, researchers

physicians do much of their evaluation of wounds through visual examination of the affected area. Ramella-Roman’s

have focused on developing techniques

team would eliminate doctors’

and devices for the early detection

educated guesswork by providing

of eye disease. In one case, the

instrumentation to accurately measure

technology has made it possible to

characteristics such as height of the

measure the amount of light visible

scar (which is often raised), its softness

within the capillaries of the eye. Lower levels of light correlate with lower levels of oxygen and slower blood flow, an indicator of diabetic retinopathy. By catching the disease early, Ramella-

(a measure of how much collagen has developed) and its color (a measure of how much pigment is present). With this information, a doctor could

Roman explains, physicians have a

prescribe treatment based on clear,

greater chance of using drugs and

objective data, a widely recognized

other therapies to prevent blindness.

need among specialists.


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School of Computing and Information Sciences

Building a virtual reality environment The College of Engineering & Computing is part of an exciting, interdisciplinary project to design and develop a virtual reality system on campus. Professors from the School of Computing and Information Sciences and the Department of Electrical Engineering are working with the College of Architecture + The Arts to create an I-CAVE, or Integrated – Computer Augmented Virtual Environment. The fancy name refers to a 15’-by-11’ room that will be lined with image-projecting light panels and equipped with a surround-sound system. The technology creates conditions that give the user the sensation of being in another place. Unlike with some other virtual reality technology, there will be no need for a user to don headgear or gloves. Instead the room will rely on a special camera to track a person’s movements within the room. With that information, the images on the LED screens automatically adjust to simulate the user’s walk through such potential scenarios as a forest full of dinosaurs or the human body under attack by a virus. I-CAVE is expected to enhance instruction across the disciplines by allowing professors to incorporate animations and large-scale images into the curriculum in addition to the virtual reality experience. And a user-friendly interaction system will allow students to propose and develop their own projects. The FIU I-CAVE will be only the second virtual reality environment built within the Florida University System and is being sponsored by a $500,000 university grant. Assisting on the project is FIU’s Division of Information Technology. COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING & COMPUTING

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Competition Roundup College of Engineering & Computing undergraduates have stacked up well in national and international competitions during the current academic year. Groups have collaborated on several project entries with great success. Most recently, FIU students have taken awards in three very different contests.

Odebrecht International Sustainability Competition An FIU team finished in second place at the Odebrecht International Sustainability Competition for its “sprayable solar panel.” The novel idea relies on applying layers of various liquids to build a film on an existing transparent surface—such as a window, for example­—to create a viable energy source in underdeveloped countries and wherever natural disasters have impacted existing power supplies. The option is much less expensive to manufacture and much more easily and cheaply transported than traditional solar panels. The group of three students was awarded $15,000.

Lockheed Martin’s SAE Aero Design Second in the nation and sixth worldwide: That’s how FIU placed at Lockheed Martin’s Society of Aerospace Engineering Aero Design competition, which included 74 other schools from around the world. The challenge was to design and build a plane that could take off and land within 200 feet while carrying a payload—something remote-controlled aircraft generally aren’t made for. FIU’s plane weighed just 15 pounds but could carry 19 pounds. (Compare that to the four-seat Cessna Skyhawk, which weighs about 1,640 pounds and can only carry about 900 pounds.) “It was amazing for the first time out at competition that they ranked so highly, especially against a lot bigger, better-established schools,” said the club’s faculty advisor, Brian Reding, a coordinator in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

Associated Builders and Contractors Student Competition FIU’s team took the top honor in November when its entry in the Associated Builders and Contractors annual student competition beat out challengers from 18 other construction programs around the country. Over the course of two months, the five seniors planned every detail of a hypothetical $15 million medical center for the city of Boca Raton, which included cost and time estimates, a project management plan and safety and qualitycontrol programs. 10

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The year in pictures In just one academic year, the College of Engineering & Computing brought together the community in many different ways through a variety of events and outreach. Here are just a few.

30th Anniversary Celebration

Senior Design Day 2015

Engineering Expo 2014


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Florida International University College of Engineering and Computing 10555 West Flagler Street Miami, FL 33174

The FIU College of Engineering and Computing is South Florida’s leading engineering education resource. The college offers a complete range of fully accredited engineering baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degree programs in biomedical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, mechanical and materials engineering; construction management; and computing and information sciences. The college is committed to diversity and is the country’s largest producer of Hispanic engineers as well as one of the top producers of African-American and women engineers. As the research engine of Florida at the local, national and global levels. Learn more at

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International University, the college is committed to innovative problem solving

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