College of Engineering and Computing Annual Report 2023

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Being All Together Different


Annual Report 2023

Powerful Projections

Faculty Numbers



Academic year 23-24 promises to be another high-water mark for enrollment across many programs. The college is now the largest producer of tech talent in Virginia and 27 percent of all students at Mason are enrolled at the CEC.

Overall, FY23 was an outstanding year for the college, with improvements across many of our departments and centers. Among public universities the college's National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development Survey ranking is in the top 50 for engineering and the top 20 for computer and information sciences.





Looking ahead, FY23’s strong growth in awards and proposals should turn into robust expenditure growth in FY24 and several large opportunities now being pursued have the potential to strongly aid FY24 performance.

120 100 80 60 40 20 0 54.5 77.5 61.4 75 62.4 46.9 70.1 61.6 66.1 116.8
8000 0 10000 12000 2019 FALL 2020 FALL 2021 FALL 2022 FALL 2023 2023 FALL 4000 6000 2000 7,817 2,475 518 ■ UNDERGRADUATE ■ MASTER’S ■ PHD ■ OTHER TOTAL ENROLLMENT PROJECTIONS AS OF AUGUST 2023 8000 0 10000 12000 2019 FALL 2020 FALL 2021 FALL 2022 FALL 2023 2023 FALL 4000 6000 2000 10,884 BEGINNING OF TERM 10,098 8,800 8,550 8,156 74

From the Dean

REGARDLESS OF THE EVENTS IN THE WORLD AROUND US, and sometimes because of them, our work continues to move people to a cleaner, safer, more just, and prosperous society with solutions that are inclusive, innovative, and collaborative.

The fields of engineering and computing complement one another and allow our faculty and students to see the world in an all together different way. From the smallest molecules in tissue engineering, to bits and bytes of code that protect internet security, we are using tools and technology such as AI, machine learning models, and simulations to find solutions that change lives.

Our solutions include everyone. Our solutions help our most vulnerable populations communicate effectively, find fairness in the criminal justice system, and address substance abuse disorders. We use AI and deep learning to delve into questions of social disparities and protect marginalized populations.

Our solutions fight disease. Engineering and computing collaborate to build novel vaccine platforms, find ways to relieve chronic pain, and identify cancerous tissue for early detection. Our researchers teach students about the endless possibilities and the thrill of discovering new applications to create a healthier world.

Our solutions drive our funding success to record levels. That success gains recognition outside the boundaries of our university. Our rankings continue to rise. We are now ranked #82 by U.S. News & World Report and our NSF research funding stands at #56 among public universities. Our students make positive connections to industry and government and become the workforce that drives our economy. Our faculty win large research grants that spur innovation, while preparing our students for rewarding careers enriched by the discovery of knowledge.

Through the application of AI, machine learning, assistive technology, systems integration, and cybersecurity, we support individuals and communities, while helping to solve some of societies’ grand challenges. This edition of our Annual Report highlights the important and ground-breaking work that we do that is, like Mason, all together different.

EMBRACING EVERYONE 3 “Alexa, do you know ASL?” 4 Seeking Empathy-Infused Technology to Protect Marginalized Populations 7 Curiosity Inspires Great Things 8 Assistive Technologies Are Improving Quality of Life 11 Inclusion Leads to Collaboration 12 A Bright Future: Statistically Speaking 13 FIGHTING DISEASE 15 Designing a Novel Vaccine Platform 16 Illuminating Discovery Leads to Clearer Cancer Diagnoses 18 Offering Joint Pain Relief 20 A New Look at Chronic Pain 21 DELIVERING SOLUTIONS 23 Boom Crash: Steering AI Safely 25 Tackling Challenges in Artificial Intelligence 27 ASPIRE: Showcasing Innovative Projects 28 Addressing Energy Justice 32 Firming Up Future G 34 Assisting Firefighters with 5G Drones 35 SHINING OUTSIDE 37 Mason Students Land Jobs 38 Connecting with Tech Industry Employers 39 Mastering Multiple Major Hackatons 40 $116M Research Awards in 2023 43 Safeguarding Vital Infrastructure: Time for Action 44 Boom Splash: Researching Underwater Explosions 45 DoD Awards $33M Contract to Mason 45 Power the Possible—Our Power is Proven 47 Pipe Dreams Become Reality 49 Power What’s Next—Capital Projects 50 Contents College of Engineering and Computing 2023 Annual Report Designed and produced by College of Engineering and Computing Office of Communications and External Relations Martha Bushong Editor in Chief Nathan Kahl Managing Editor Teresa Donnellan Editor Rena Malai Project Manager Ron Aira Evan Cantwell Photographers Raissa Macasieb-Ludwig Production On the cover: First-generation graduate Rosy Sultana (BS Computer Science ‘23) will continue her studies at Mason while working full time. Photo by Ron Aira.

Embracing Everyone

At Mason, inclusion is a gateway for our researchers to delve deeply into creativity and innovation. CEC students and faculty use cutting-edge technological advancements to enhance quality of life—from improving accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing, imaging analysis for skin injuries, empowering users of prosthetics, to leveraging premiere app usability experiences. Through meaningful collaborations across departments, disciplines, and borders our students and faculty harness the latest technologies and apply it to the world around them.


“Alexa, do you know ASL?” AI to Improve Accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing


like Amazon’s Alexa aren’t currently useful for the hard of hearing and deaf community. George Mason University researchers led by Professor Jana Košecká are making the Internet of Things more inclusive and accessible to those for whom it has not been designed. For the next year, her work to improve “seeing” computer systems that translate continuous American Sign Language (ASL) into English will be funded by Amazon’s Fairness in AI Research Program.

To accomplish this goal, Košecká is using weakly supervised machine learning methods that provide mechanisms to teach the system without excessive human labeling effort.

Košecká describes her current work as a continuation of earlier work, but now, especially with the help of AI, she’s tackling more complex ASL content, such as sentence-level communication, facial expressions, and specific hand gestures.

“The challenge of extending some of these ideas [of computer translation] to ASL translation is that the input is video as opposed to text; it’s continuous, and you have a lot of challenges, because you have a lot of variations about how people sign,” said Košecká.

The project is accordingly multifaceted. “We are focusing on better hand modeling, focusing on incorporating the facial features and extending to continuous sign language, so you can have short phrases that the model can translate to English,” Košecká said. “We are basically trying to capture continuous sign language and not just individual words.”

“Weakly supervised learning techniques don’t need perfect alignment of video sequences that contain multiple words,” she said. “In the word-level recognition, the model is presented with examples of a video snippet of a signed word and the word text, so it has perfect supervision. Given many examples of the sign ‘apple’ as a video snippet, the system will learn to recognize the word ‘apple.’”

“There are some techniques which can discover patterns without this need of direct supervision. If you just give the model a lot of examples, the model will figure out repeating patterns of certain words occurring in certain contexts,” she said. “So we are applying these machine learning techniques to the setting of American Sign Language.”

Relating her work to AI-powered chatbots like chatGPT, Košecká said, “There has been a lot of headway made in this space for written and spoken languages, and we would like to make a little bit of headway for American Sign Language, using some of these insights and ideas.”

Košecká envisions her research helping improve the interface between hard of hearing people and their environment, whether that be when they’re communicating with Amazon’s Alexa or ordering at a restaurant counter. No doubt her work will help improve inclusivity and accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing both at Mason and beyond.

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There are some techniques which can discover patterns without this need of direct supervision. If you just give the model a lot of examples, the model will figure out repeating patterns of certain words occurring in certain contexts.

Seeking Empathy-Infused Technology to Protect Marginalized Populations

BLENDING EMPATHY with technology has increasingly become a part of tech conversations, particularly when it comes to AI.

Information Sciences and Technology (IST) Assistant Professor Nora McDonald wholeheartedly embraces the concept. She makes it a priority to help her students learn how to ask the right empathetic questions while teaching Human Computer Interaction, one of IST’s newest concentrations.

“I see it as my primary role to help students acquire the skills they need to think about how people use technology and apply an empathic approach to their work,” McDonald said.

Through McDonald’s undergraduate training as an English major, she has always liked exploring insights into humanity and what makes people tick. She has grown concerned over the years about how AI-driven technology is used, particularly when it comes to the privacy and well-being of vulnerable or marginalized populations, including youth.

“Research suggests that the more people use AI-driven social media, the more they will be pushed into the rabbit hole of scrolling. This can trigger depression, body dysmorphia, and isolation,” McDonald said. “One of the areas I am focused on is the impact of AI and social media use on youth well-being, sense of self, sense of agency, and overall health in general.”

A Philadelphia native, McDonald has been at Mason for about a year. She sees it as an exciting place for IST research and learning, with plenty of opportunities.

“Mason’s location is at the doorstep of so many industry partners,” McDonald said. “From government offices to nonprofits, IST is rapidly growing. There is so much opportunity here, and there is such enthusiasm from a diverse faculty for collaboration.”

McDonald’s current research projects focus on intersectional privacy and information, seeking strategies of vulnerable and marginalized individuals in various contexts, including public technology resources like libraries, and reproductive health. She also focuses on teens and AI and looks at ways to support healthier engagement with technology.

“An unexpected theme of my work is how marginalized and vulnerable groups turn to low or no technology strategies that are, for example, more practical and privacy protective,” she said.

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Research suggests that the more people use AI-driven social media, the more they will be pushed into the rabbit hole of scrolling This can trigger depression, body dysmorphia, and isolation
NORA MCDONALD, Assistant Professor, Information Sciences and Technology

Curiosity Inspires Great Things —and a Nearly $1M Grant

THROUGH CREATIVE FREEDOM and curiosity, Achyuthan Jootoo Ramesh Bapu had an idea during his time as a PhD civil engineering student.

That idea eventually led to George Mason University’s College of Public Health and College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) receiving a $988,599 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for a three-year study on bruise analysis. The study is led by College of Public Health Associate Professor Kat Scafide and CEC Associate Professor David Lattanzi. Janusz Wojtusiak, professor of Health Informatics in the College of Public Health, also serves as co-principal investigator on the study.

“By being able to determine the age of bruises regardless of skin tone, through image processing and AI, it’s a step towards helping domestic violence victims as they go through the medical and legal processes,” Jootoo said. Now working at LinkedIn, Jootoo connected a few dots while studying at Mason. He saw that the work of Lattanzi and Scafide had many parallels.

“Achyuthan is the only reason this project happened,” Lattanzi said. “He exemplifies how doctoral students make research happen at the university because they see the bigger picture.”

Jootoo began participating as a volunteer in Scafide’s work in injury analysis. Through sheer curiosity he asked questions, did some research on his own, and thought about Lattanzi’s work in image analysis and machine learning. He suggested Lattanzi and Scafide talk, and a collaboration was born.

“The goal of the project is to identify how bruises age over time,” Jootoo said. He participated as a volunteer at the beginning of the bruise imaging study, where small, non-harmful bruises were inflicted on participants and then analyzed in the following weeks to look at color, skin pigments, and how bruises appear and change on darker skin tones. He says applying sophisticated image analysis to bruising could help curb any bias or subjectivity from medical practitioners and law enforcement examining a potential domestic violence victim, particularly if the person has darker skin. Having concrete data of bruising could help victims get the treatment and support they need.

“During my time at Mason, I felt encouraged to think creatively and explore anything that caught my interest, even if it wasn’t within my specific degree concentration,” Jootoo said.

According to Lattanzi, it’s important for professors to give students the freedom to explore, because great things can happen: “When you advise graduate students, it’s the easy thing to tell them to focus on one project,” he said.

“But it’s good to support students like Achyuthan, who demonstrate curiosity and interest, to let them explore. It can come back tenfold.”

By being able to determine the age of bruises regardless of skin tone, through image processing and AI, it’s a step towards helping domestic violence victims as they go through the medical and legal processes.
ACHYUTHAN JOOTOO RAMESH BAPU A bruise is analyzed on the skin.

Assistive Technologies Are Improving Quality of Life

HEALTHY INDIVIDUALS can often take simple movements for granted, but after a neurological event such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury, simple motions like grasping an object or flexing an ankle can become difficult and even frustrating.

Assistant Professor Quentin Sanders and his team of researchers at the ImPoWer Lab are finding ways to make these activities easier by inventing and improving rehabilitative and assistive technologies.

The lab’s research team develops innovative and globally relevant rehabilitation, robotic, and prosthetic devices to enhance the quality of life of individuals who have experienced a neurological injury or amputation. But more than that, Sanders hopes to empower researchers and students to see themselves as scientists and scholars.

Two new members of the team have promising ideas. The first is post-doctoral researcher Nelson Glover, who earned his PhD from Ohio State University in 2022. He seeks to develop wearable, portable, and economical solutions for gait retraining for people who have experienced neurological injuries.

According to Sanders, most current solutions require bulky and expensive equipment, but Glover has a different idea. Glover’s device uses small, inexpensive sensors to measure the muscle movements and forces of the ankle.

Sanders said, “This type of training is called biofeedback. Usually, you’re giving a person feedback based on some type of biological signal that you’re measuring to induce some type of behavioral change. In our approach, we are providing people feedback based on forces that we’re measuring with these sensors and seeing if they can alter ankle propulsion forces.”

What’s nice about this large data set is that we can start to get a sense of how they’re adapting different parameters when they’re in the wild when they’re not in the clinic (and) when the therapist isn’t there.

Sanders’ second new team member is PhD student Mohammad Shams, who is developing a standardized framework for evaluating rehabilitative devices outside the clinical setting.

The study begins with a sizable data set from a thousand users who use a device that Sanders’ previous PhD advisor created. The device, a wearable sensor, is one that people use for hand therapy.

Sanders said, “What’s nice about this large data set is that we can start to get a sense of how they’re adapting different parameters when they’re in the wild, when they’re not in the clinic, when the therapist isn’t there. We can find out why they aren’t using this device, or what they like about the device.”

Sanders compares it to the kind of user reports that makers of smartphones use to improve features and functions and make them more appealing to consumers. “We don’t have that for a lot of devices. So, a lot of times you’ll try a device on in this very controlled setting, but it often isn’t very realistic,” he said.

The researchers aim to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop algorithms in this project as well. For example, if you see someone trending towards abandoning the use of the technology, the researchers could program an algorithm that sends a reminder and tells the user to try something different.

QUENTIN SANDERS, Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering and Mechanical Engineering
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Inclusion Leads to Collaboration

Faculty Create New-and-Improved Ranking of Global Software Vulnerabilities

CEC RECENTLY LAUNCHED the Mason Vulnerability Scoring Framework, a continuously updated ranking of the most common software weaknesses. The work, in conjunction with the Palo Alto Research Center, relies on the National Institute of Standards and Technology data and other sources for an up-to-date database used to identify and mitigate risks. Research based on this work, led by Max Albanese, associate director of the Center for Secure Information Systems, has multiple pending patents and won a Best Paper Award at the International Conference on Security and Cryptography. The list improves upon the existing industry standard in many ways, including ranking the top 150 worldwide vulnerabilities. The Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) supports Mason undergraduate students’ work on the project.

Crowdsources Neuron Models

GIORGIO ASCOLI created in 2006 to store the large amounts of data needed to make computational models of neurons. It has grown from 932 reconstructions to more than 240,000. These reconstructions have been used to investigate the pathways of Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and memory capacity. In the long term, he seeks to create large-scale, anatomically plausible neural networks to model entire portions of a mammalian brain, such as the hippocampus. Ascoli was recognized this spring with the Beck Family Medal.

CEC Houses Essential Internet Security Service

GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY is the new home of one of the Internet’s venerable monitoring services: the Domain Name System Security Extensions Deployment Maps. This service chronicles the evolution of a critical part of Internet security. It’s been under the stewardship of the Internet Society since 2014. The maps were originally developed by Shinkuro, Inc. with sponsorship by the Department of Homeland Security. The transition to Mason is being facilitated with sponsorship from the Internet Society, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and Verisign, Inc. Eric Osterweil, assistant professor of Computer Science, said, “People all over the world access the deployment maps and will now associate them with Mason.”

Researchers Connect with Community to Develop an App for Opioid Use Disorder

GRADUATE STUDENT REBECCA LEUNG recently teamed with Dylan Scarton, a third-year PhD student in neuroscience, and Jonathan Mbuya, a PhD student in computer science. The trio is exploring ways to use smart technology to help people struggling with or recovering from substance use disorder.

“The three of us have been personally affected by the opioid epidemic in different ways, and we’re motivated to try to address that crisis in some form or fashion,” said Scarton. “We’re designing an app with accessible user interface considerations, to minimize the number of clicks and present information very clearly, for anyone not familiar with this domain like a caregiver, family member, or concerned friend.”

The group calls themselves the Good Troublers and are mentored by Mason researcher Holly Matto, who is a core faculty member for the Center for Adaptive Systems of Brain-Body Interactions (CASBBI) led by bioengineering professor Siddhartha Sikdar. The team hopes that app will have immediate local impact on the ways in which peer support specialists, individuals in recovery from substance use, and their families are able to connect with the specific resources needed to sustain recovery.

A Bright Future: Statistically Speaking

A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES begins with a single step.

Even though the Department of Statistics at George Mason University isn’t thousands of years old, its thirty-year milestone is a huge accomplishment with unlimited possibilities. At the Conference on Evolving Statistical Data Science in March 2023, the department celebrated 30 years of teaching, research, and collaboration. Mason Statistics professors, students, and professionals, as well as national and international leaders in statistics and data science from academia, government, and industry came together for two days of panel talks and networking. Attendees heard about the progress of statistics over the last three decades, and what to expect moving forward when it comes to future Graduate programs and jobs.

Research funding surpasses department’s records since 2020

Fighting Disease CEC

researchers are dedicated to healing and repairing the world. From novel vaccine development platforms that could help prevent the next pandemic and technology to aid in early cancer diagnosis to treating chronic pain naturally while tackling the opioid crisis in the U.S., their tireless pursuit of a better tomorrow has led to real-world impact. Our faculty actively garners top-tier funding for their research, with several grants exceeding the million-dollar mark and gaining national recognition.

15 EZRA OKTAY, Mason PhD student studying bioengineering

Designing a Novel Vaccine Platform

FOUR RESEARCHERS are advancing a novel method to develop vaccines rapidly. Their new process takes advantage of DNA molecules’ self-assembly properties by folding them onto nanoparticles that mimic viruses, eliciting a robust protective immunity to COVID in mice. The journal Communications Biology published the findings in March.

Remi Veneziano, an assistant professor, and Esra Oktay, a PhD student, both in the College of Engineering and Computing’s Department of Bioengineering, published the paper along with Farhang Alem and Aarthi Narayanan in the College of Science, and collaborators from both the U.S. Naval Research Lab and Case Western Reserve University.

“The beauty of this technique is that the design flexibility and the ease of assembly allow users to create nanoparticles with prescribed geometry and size,” Veneziano said. “They are assembled by mixing multiple DNA strands in a tube and by slowly [heating and cooling] them.”

The team took advantage of having a DNA “barcode” of sorts on the surface of the particles to attach antigens precisely at prescribed locations. “All the positions in the structure have a different sequence. Here at position A, you have sequence ‘ATCG,’ for example,” he said, referencing DNA base-letter abbreviations. “At position B you might have ‘CGAT,’ which allows you to modify only specific regions of the nanostructure.”

Having control and predictability of the DNA structure, the team organized multiple antigens—small viral proteins that trigger an immune response—to be a virus copycat with specific application onto the DNA strand. This allowed for an efficient triggering of the immune system, compared to results seen when randomly organizing an antigen. Their results suggest that “we don’t need to pack a lot of antigen on the surface of a particle,” Veneziano said. “We just need to organize the antigen in a specific pattern so that it’s recognized more efficiently by the immune cell.”

Their approach was successfully tested in a mouse model at the Regional Biocontainment Lab within George Mason University’s Biomedical Research Laboratory.

Oktay, who is working on a doctoral degree in bioengineering, said. “During the pandemic we wanted to establish a strategy against COVID-19. We created an innovative and controllable platform using a tour de force of DNA origami technology, which has achieved a significant outcome in the way of protection against viruses.” She said the future goal is “to adapt this platform for other types of viruses for which currently there is no vaccine, and to create a protective system.”

Remi Veneziano, Assistant, Professor, Department of Bioengineering
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The beauty of this technique is that the design flexibility and the ease of assembly allow users to create nanoparticles with prescribed geometry and size.

Illuminating Discovery Leads to Clearer Cancer Diagnoses

SHRISHTI SINGH MAY HAVE FACED SETBACKS, including a pandemic, during her time in the bioengineering PhD program, but she didn’t let it get in the way of her dreams. With the support of her George Mason University mentors, she has achieved her goal of developing a promising new technology that would allow cancer to be visualized in deep tissue and perhaps diagnosed earlier.

Using a combination of FDA-approved dyes and photoacoustic imaging, Singh has created an injectable dye that attaches to tumor cells and increases the contrast of those cells against the background tissue. Photoacoustic imaging, a new biomedical imaging technique, then illuminates the cancer cells, even in early stages and deep tissue areas of the body.

“This technology gives patients better diagnostics for colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and more, and can improve their prognosis,” said Singh. She credits her advisors, bioengineering professor Remi Veneziano and mechanical engineering professor Jeffrey Moran, for her success and perseverance.

“After the first year of my PhD, I had almost given up on my degree,” said Singh. “When Professor Veneziano became my advisor, he lifted me up. He has given me the confidence to be where I am today.”

She added, “And Professor Moran has helped me with a lot of the logistics of my degree and directing me on how to achieve my goals.” When Singh first started working with Veneziano, she told him her main goal was to work on translational technologies that “make it from the research bench to the bedside of the patient,” she said.

Veneziano supported her vision, and Singh has spent her PhD not only developing the technology, but ensuring that it is simple and reproducible. When Singh encountered roadblocks in her research, she said Moran and Veneziano offered two different research perspectives to help her find the best solution. And what was most important to Singh, when things got hard, they supported her.

“In my PhD, I’ve struggled so much with who I am,” she said. “I’ve had people tell me that my kindness and empathy will not get me where I want to be in science, and that was really hard for me.”

Both Veneziano and Moran have since taught her that those people were wrong.

“Working with a new professor takes courage and trust, and I am honored that she put her trust in me,” said Moran. “Shrishti is one of the most resilient, self-motivated, and caring people I have ever met. She is an inspiration to us all.”

“Professor Moran’s greatest advice has been that no matter what is happening around you or what people say, take the opportunity for growth, but don’t change who you are inherently as a person,” said Singh. When rejection got overwhelming, Veneziano advised Singh to take it one day at a time and ask herself, “What did I achieve today?”

“Shrishti has an extremely high work ethic,” said Veneziano. “She is dedicated and has a passion for science, and she wants to work on projects that have a positive impact on our society.”

The technology Singh has created also has many other uses that she hopes to explore in the future. For example, it could also be used for surgeons to better visualize the margins of a tumor during surgery.

Singh hopes to turn her technology into a successful company. With support from her advisors and Amy Adams, executive director of the Institute for Biohealth Innovation, Singh received funding for a post-doctoral program and is applying for grants to fund more research on her project.

“This experience has shown me the true power of Mason,” said Singh. “I look forward to building more confidence in my work to inspire others on what I do and why I do it.”

SHRISHTI SINGH post-doctoral researcher, Department of Bioengineering
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This technology gives patients better diagnostics for colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and more, and can improve their prognosis.

Offering Joint Pain Relief


SANCE for many Americans and is especially prevalent among the aging.

Bioengineering Professor Caroline Hoemann is leading an effort to discover how our bodies can manage that problem. Some of her team’s findings were published in the interdisciplinary science journal PLOS ONE in September.

Healthy joints move with a smooth and nearly frictionless glide thanks to the presence of a sugar polymer called hyaluronic acid (HA). Scientists think high HA production is beneficial because it helps reduce friction between cartilage surfaces. They also believe that an enzyme called UDP-glucose 6-dehydrogenase (UGDH) controls how much HA the synovium (a soft tissue in our joints) makes. Until recently, however, it was impossible to know if the enzyme activity was dialed up or down by the factors that our bodies release after a joint injury.

Hoemann and her team developed a new technique to accurately observe UGDH activity under a microscope and made several discoveries. After exposing synovial cells to cytokines—small proteins important for cell signaling, ones known to be released after joint injury—they froze the thin sheet of cells to—80 degrees Celsius.

When they stained the thawed cells, the researchers discovered active enzymes turn cells purple, but low ac-

A New Look at Chronic Pain

tivity produced only a faint color. They also learned that platelet-derived growth factor, a substance that can stimulate cell production and healing, released from blood cells after joint injury, could stimulate UGDH activity and HA release. They further observed that when they exposed cells to oxidizing inflammatory factors, HA production rose even higher, but without the typical corresponding increase in UGDH activity.

These findings suggest that UGDH activity levels don’t necessarily match the amount of HA released into the joint fluid and that platelet-derived growth factors could be used to stimulate the body’s cells to make more HA. In the same study, College of Science Associate Professor, Mikell Paige, and Research Assistant Professor, Suman Alishetty, helped identify that the purple stain involved a second antioxidant enzyme activity that could help sustain UGDH activity. Both UGDH and this second enzyme became activated in the synovium one week after cartilage repair surgery.

These findings indicate that in the first few weeks after joint surgery, mild synovial inflammation and higher UGDH activity could be considered a positive sign that the synovium is working to help joint tissues heal. Results from the study could also influence future cancer research. Hoemann and her team observed that lung cancer cells had very high UGDH activity, which is linked in other studies to cancer cell migration, worsening the disease. They also observed that peroxide, an oxidant, inhibits UGDH, which could suggest that anti-oxidants can promote certain cancers to metastasize by keeping the UGDH enzyme active.

BIOENGINEERING PROFESSOR Siddhartha Sikdar saw his mother-in-law struggle with chronic pain, as well as several students, friends, and colleagues.

“When patients are not able to get an appropriate diagnosis and effective treatment for pain, the reliance on using opioids may be greater,” said Sikdar. “The Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) initiative is seeking ways to address pain without opioid intervention.”

Sikdar and colleagues from the Center for Adaptive Systems of Brain-Body Interactions received funding from the National Institutes of Health HEAL initiative to study chronic myofascial pain. This type of pain originates from muscles and/or associated soft tissues and is an important yet poorly understood area. In a two-part study, the team will first develop biomarkers to study the association between muscle tissue abnormality and pain, and then conduct clinical trials to test two different interventions.

Currently, the mechanisms of pain related to injury, the skeletal system, or the nervous system are well understood, but the role of muscle tissue in pain remains enigmatic. According to Sikdar, one theory is that inflammation builds up over time in muscles and associated connective tissue and manifests as pain. The first part of the initiative will involve the use of cutting-edge ultrasound imaging techniques as one of the primary methods to try to find out what happens in the muscles of chronic pain sufferers.

One of the treatments Sikdar and his team will evaluate during the clinical trial phase is dry needling, where a very thin needle is inserted into the skin to treat muscle tissue. Another treatment will inject an enzyme into muscle tissue to improve the gliding between layers of connective tissue. The goal is to identify what kinds of treatments work best.

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When patients are not able to get an appropriate diagnosis and effective treatment for pain, the reliance on using opioids may be greater.
CAROLINE HOEMANN Professor, Department of Bioengineering
SIDDHARTHA SIKDAR Professor, Department of Bioengineering

Delivering Solutions

As torchbearers for Mason’s values and vision, CEC’s faculty and staff embrace leading their students in engineering principles for the greater good. Our newly created Mason Autonomy and Robotics Center is just one example of our commitment to examining best practices for AI technology. Our faculty study the ethics of AI, uncovering ways to use it for positive social change, and a more just and equitable society.

BENDAN PAGANO, BS Mechanical Engineering ‘23

Boom Crash: Steering AI Safely

AI FUNCTIONS IN ALL ASPECTS OF DAILY LIFE, from parking cars to vending machines. AI must meet all safety and precautionary measures through constant monitoring.

ThanhVu H. Nguyen, one of the newest professors in the Department of Computer Science, arrived at George Mason University in 2021 and chose Mason because of its diversity and proximity to one of the largest tech hubs in the nation.

Nguyen recently won the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for his project “NeuralSAT: A Constraint-Solving Framework for Verifying Deep Neural Networks.” Nguyen will initially work with his PhD student Hai Duong to develop technology that ensures machine learning is robust, safe, and unbiased.

“In certain scenarios, where AI is used for things like controlling airplanes or autonomous vehicles, any mistake could prove fatal,” said Nguyen. “This grant work will look at the deep neural networks (DNN) embedded in AI/machine learning technology and develop technology to prevent errors and ensure safety.”

According to the project’s abstract, the use of DNNs—a layered network that processes complex data—has emerged as an effective approach to tackling real-world problems. However, just like traditional software, DNNs can have “bugs” and be attacked.

This can be especially concerning when it comes to the use of AI in driving cars. Although it could eliminate some human error, Nguyen says any faulty DNNs could throw an AI program—and the car—off the road when it comes to something unexpected, such as bad weather and icy conditions.

“We all depend on AI, whether we realize it or not,” said Nguyen. “It’s a part of our lives. Whatever I can do to make it safer is a benefit to my family and society.”

The project runs for five years with a total of $510,509 in anticipated funding. Nguyen sees the project as helping society as a whole by improving the reliability of systems embedding DNNs. The research conducted throughout the project will allow AI and machine learning researchers and users to improve their DNNs and deploy them with confidence.

THANHVU H. NGUYEN, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science
Since coming to Mason, Nguyen has brought in approximately $1.73 million in external funding.

Tackling Challenges in Artificial Intelligence

AS ONE OF THE U.S. NAVY’S first female fighter pilots and an engineer, Mary “Missy” Cummings is accustomed to breaking barriers and solving problems. So, when the opportunity to develop a new interdisciplinary program in AI at Mason emerged, she didn’t hesitate.

Cummings wants to increase the public and workforce’s understanding of AI and its limits. For example, self-driving cars have proven to be much more difficult to launch safely than originally believed. Before coming to George Mason University, Cummings served as the senior safety advisor to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. She said that experience sparked her interest in a new program in the design and deployment of AI.

“I believe we have a national security crisis across the Department of Transportation, the Department of Defense, and many other government agencies,” Cummings said. “We have a genuine technical illiteracy problem. It’s not that people can’t understand AI. It’s that people are just not being educated in how AI is constructed or in its limitations.”

Cummings encountered tech illiteracy problems earlier in her career while serving on the Defense Innovation Board. “I saw the problem then, and now that I’ve been in the Department of Transportation, it’s doubly reinforced my concern about people’s limited understanding of AI,” she said.

Cummings wants industry and government employees to know how to ask the right questions about performance weaknesses and understand where to invest tax dollars. She said she’s concerned the U.S. doesn’t have an effective workforce when it comes to understanding, managing, acquiring, evaluating, and testing AI. She wants people to learn about the right way for humans and AI to work together as well as to learn what is truly attainable and what is merely hype.

“I think traditional academia has a hard time accepting new areas, like a degree program in the design and deployment of AI. Older schools with more ingrained traditions struggle to embrace newer thinking,” she said.

“I don’t think Mason is like that. Dean Ken Ball and others at the College of Engineering and Computing as well as Mason’s president Gregory Washington have embraced these ideas.”

“Missy’s knowledge and experience surrounding AI are going to be a phenomenal asset to Mason,” Ball said. “Her ability to make connections between computer science, electrical, and mechanical engineering fields and to leverage the strengths of each to improve our understanding of AI will be a game changer. We are thrilled she has decided to work with us.”

Cummings is proposing a new degree program in AI that will target engineering students as well as those in policy, law, and public health. “To navigate the world of AI, students also need softer skills in policy, and maybe even ethics,” Cummings said.

“I find that Mason is far more flexible and more open to new ideas than older more entrenched schools. At Mason, people are willing to come together from the different colleges and schools to solve real complex sociotechnical problems,” she said. “There’s not one societal problem we have today that belongs to a sole discipline.” Her faculty appointment spans three departments— Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering. She will also be the First American Bank Endowed Chair and Director of the Center for Robotics, Autonomous Systems, and Translational AI.

MARY “MISSY” CUMMINGS, Mason Professor and Director of Mason’s Autonomy and Robotics Center (MARC)
At Mason, people are willing to come together from the different colleges and schools to solve real complex socio-technical problems .
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ASPIRE: Showcasing Innovative Projects

THREE ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT TEAMS , supervised by Professors Qiliang Li, Brian Mark, and Cameron Nowzari, completed projects sponsored by the Army Strategic Program for Innovation, Research, and Employment (ASPIRE). As part of the program, in addition to several Zoom meetings, the seniors attended a spring meeting at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where they presented their work.

Aspiring to Smoother Traffic

There are few better feelings than hitting all green lights on your drive home. Brian Mark’s research aims to bring you that feeling more often. Ideally, technology can help you hit a “green wave” by keeping your car within an optimal speed bracket, said Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Brian Mark. The increasing likelihood of autonomous vehicles on the road offers a prospect even more promising.

To this end, Mark’s ASPIRE team constructed a model of a connected and automated vehicle. Sara Sulaiman

Alaraini, Colin Graves, Corey Jones, Nitin Mandadi, Andrew Mokhtare, and Adham Obeid modified a remote-control vehicle to operate autonomously on a tarp designed like a road system, complete with centralized traffic light–controlled intersections. The team outfitted the car with sensors, a camera, and arUco tags to help it stay oriented in its environment. Mark hopes a future senior design team can further extend the project by incorporating multiple cars to simulate traffic scenarios.

Engineering for Good: ECE Seniors Design System to Detect Landmines

For the second year in a row, the ASPIRE senior design team working under Qiliang Li’s guidance won the best senior design award in the department. This year, his team tackled a compelling question: “How can we clear landmines so that people can go back to their own land and are able to live in their place, their homeland?”

Li saw this year’s ASPIRE senior design project as an opportunity for students in his electromagnetic theory class to apply the information, learn how to build a system independently, and consider the potential positive societal impact of engineering. The team—Elise Treat, Grace Louise Gaudin, Isaac Lunsford, Mazeyar

Amiri, Adrian Lange, and Sami Zahreddine— developed a synthetic aperture radar system with a low size, weight, and power system (Low SWaP SAR) to use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to detect buried landmines.

“We want the students to take care of and to care more about humanity, to consider how we can apply engineering and technology in more constructive ways [such as] saving lives,” said Li.

Li hopes future teams will build off the work done this year by using radar to study soil quality to assist farmers.

Students presented projects at Fort Belvoir, Virginia in the spring of 2023.
Photo Credit: Jenna Mozeyko,
C5ISR Center Public Affair
DEVCOM C5ISR Center hosted students and faculty from local universities to showcase their innovative technology ideas as part in the Army Strategic Program For Innovation, Research, and Employment (ASPIRE) program.

CEC Team Wins “Defend the Republic”

THE LIGHTER THAN AIR (LTA) Defend the Republic competition, took place at George Mason University in April. The winning team, led by principal investigators Cameron Nowzari, Ningshi Yao, and Daigo Shishika, competed against six universities and about 50 LTA robotic agents, also known as blimps.

Nowzari, who has led the competition for the past three years, will be moving on from the annual competition and leaving things in the hands of Yao and Shishika. “My hope is that this com-

petition will continue, and more schools will get involved,” Nowzari said.

“The strength of our winning team was in the ability to be unique and think creatively through building and design,” said Yao. Unlike other types of flying agents, blimps are a lighter, gentler kind of airborne machine that appeals to many people.

The team will schedule a kickoff meeting during the summer, to plan for the November 2023 competition.

The winning team, led by principal investigators Cameron Nowzari, Ningshi Yao, and Daigo Shishika.

Addressing Energy Justice

PLUG-IN HYBRID AND ALL-ELECTRIC VEHICLES (EVs) are the future of automobiles, with car companies from Bentley to Volvo pledging to be all-electric within the next several years.

While the EV charging infrastructure ramps up to keep up with this growing demand, Jie Xu, associate professor with the Systems Engineering and Operations Research department, is looking at an angle that not many have considered—the energy justice implications. His transdisciplinary team also includes Mason faculty members and collaborators from Syracuse University and Argonne National Laboratory.

Energy justice refers to an energy system that fairly distributes both benefits and costs of energy services and that has “impartial” energy decision-making.

Funded by a grant received from the National Science Foundation’s Strengthening American Infrastructure program, Xu’s team is working with local utilities, governments, and communities to develop and apply an energy justice approach from both techno-engineering and social perspectives to assessing and reducing potential injustice emanating from the transition to an EV future.

Xu noted that once people make the initial investment in buying an EV, the purchase will yield financial benefits in their overall energy consumption. But underprivileged people—many of whom do not own or cannot afford EVs—will likely see their home electricity rates go up because of the overall increase in electricity loads thanks to the increasing number of EVs on the road.

The electricity is generated far from where it is consumed. We would expect urban centers to use most electricity related to EVs, but that’s being produced by offshore windfarms or nuclear plants in the countryside.

Studies may take multiple angles to understand how EVs interact with the electric grid, according to Xu. He said, “You have even heard people say that EVs will help improve the performance of the grid because you can use all these battery packs in the EVs as energy storage systems.” But he added, “It’s far from easy to expand the

capacity of the grid, especially the transmission network. They will start by increasing electricity prices as demand increases.”

Ramping up the electricity distribution network is a big challenge that must be tackled, Xu said. “The electricity is generated far from where it is consumed. We would expect urban centers to use most electricity related to EVs, but that’s being produced by offshore wind farms or nuclear plants in the countryside.” The hope is the infrastructure will be built in a way to mitigate economic disparities.

The $750k grant runs through August 2025, with a goal of developing new computational optimization and analytics tools to study the future electric grid and the implications of increased EVs on the road, as well as a policy guide providing socially and technically feasible solutions to reduce energy injustice in the transition to EVs.

JIE XU, Associate Professor, Department of Systems Engineering and Operations Research

Firming Up Future G

THE RESILIENCE OF 5G communications in the face of interference and intentional jamming is critical in certain situations, such as when malicious actors try to disrupt communication between U.S. military entities.

Kai Zeng, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is developing “Next G” or “Future G” with funding from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Research, and Engineering to ensure those communication channels work seamlessly in the face of adversity.

5G millimeter wave (mmWave) technology uses particular frequencies for wireless communications, allowing for more capacity and speed. Like any other communication capability, however, mmWave signals can be interfered with. Zeng’s research uses various techniques to ensure seamless communications.

Imagine an aircraft carrier sending a message to an airborne drone but that signal being disrupted by an enemy aircraft in the vicinity “jamming” that message. If the signal can be pointed in a different direction, where it can bounce off a reconfigurable intelligent surface (RIS), the signal can be re-routed around the jamming attempt. The 3D-printed, egg box structure of the RIS—a fancy way of saying it is “an origami antenna”—allows it to generate multiple beams at wide angles, avoiding jamming. The antenna can adjust its frequency dynamically as needed.

Assisting Firefighers with 5G Drones

A TEAM OF FIREFIGHTERS ascend the stairs in a highrise engulfed in flames, dispersing to put out the fire and search for survivors. Drones hover nearby and identify with pinpoint accuracy the location of each firefighter, sending information to a commander with an “eye in the sky” vantage point.

The commander communicates with the firefighters, directing movements, keeping them safe, and helping them extinguish the flames. If one member of the team hasn’t moved in several minutes, the system sends an alert to check on that person’s status.

Vijay Shah, an assistant professor in Cyber Security Engineering, is working to make this dramatic scenario a reality, focusing on 5G, funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Compared to other legacy wireless communications, 5G provides greater

accuracy and does not rely on equipment within a building, which may be damaged during a fire. A key development Shah and colleagues are exploiting is called “network slicing,” sending certain pieces of information over portions of the 5G network.

He is collaborating with Virginia Tech and the Arlington, Virginia, County Fire Department on the tools that he hopes will be used by fire departments nationwide. Firefighters will be testing the technology in a facility starting in 2025.

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Like any other communication capability, however, mmWave signals can be interfered with. Zeng’s research uses various techniques to ensure seamless communications.
KAI ZENG Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering VIJAY SHAH, Assistant Professor, Department of Cyber Security Engineering ILLUSTRATED BY RAISSA MACASIEB-LUDWIG

Shining Outside

The richly diverse origins, identities, and ideologies within the CEC community shine when our students and faculty step outside of Mason. Local representatives from top industries like Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon actively recruit CEC students at events throughout the year, and students from various disciplines have won acclaim at prestigious hackathons, establishing Mason as a top contender in the state of Virginia and beyond.

LINDSEY DAVIS, BS Civil Engineering ‘22

Mason Students Land Jobs

THERE WERE MANY OUTSTANDING PERFORMERS at George Mason University this past academic year, from musicians to actors to athletes. Less celebrated but no less impressive was the virtuoso performance of a determined IT major at a job fair, a star turn that commanded the attention of University Career Services representatives.

Christina Tran arrived two hours early to the Spring Career Fair on February 22 in Dewberry Hall on the Fairfax Campus to study the list of employers who would be sending recruiters. She Googled companies to find ones that best matched her career goals, then circled the locations of the booths on an event map to prioritize those encounters.

Connecting with Tech Industry Employers

IN COLLABORATION with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, the Northern Virginia Technology Council, and Break Through Tech DC, CEC and IDIA hosted a Computing Career Reception following the university-wide career fair in February.

Over the course of five hours, she visited 65 of the 120 booths. And then, after the last hand was shaken and the last business card tucked away, she attended a three-hour reception that extended the fair at the Center for the Arts and visited 20 more employers there. Then she returned the second day and visited at least 30 more.

“First in line both days,” Tran said.

Her strategy paid off. Tran, who plans to graduate in May 2024, landed a position as a Microsoft Solutions consultant with FSi Strategies, one of six offers she said she received from employers she met that day.

“The career fair got me this job,” said Tran, 27, who wrote personalized follow-up emails to each employer she spoke with, drawing from notes she took during each conversation.

“You need to come ready—[business] clothes on, resume printed, know your elevator pitch,” added Tran, who previously worked at Deloitte and had several years of management experience at spas. “I’m career-ready. I wanted to prove that. I wanted a job, and I was focused and had a plan and did it.”

Juniors and seniors majoring in computer science and information sciences and technology were invited to network with tech industry representatives from companies such as Appian, Brillient, and Verisign. Students and professionals networked throughout the evening, discussing areas of interest and possible fields to explore further.

This reception was the first computing-specific career event at Mason, and it has encouraged event organizers to plan future topic-oriented career receptions.



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I’m career-ready. I wanted to prove that. I wanted a job, and I was focused and had a plan and did it.

Mastering Multiple Major Hackathons

FROM THE FIRST PATRIOTHACKS sponsored by the college five years ago, interest in hackathons has withstood the test of time and grown. The Mason nation’s strength was undeniable at several hackathons in spring 2023. This year computer science, cyber security engineering, information technology, and mechanical engineering students won challenges on March 25 at the University of Virginia, on April 7-9 at the University of Maryland, and on April 29-30 at Drexel University.

Mason students have been participating in and hosting our PatriotHacks on the Fairfax Campus since 2019. Engaging in these events on our own campus builds student confidence and develops their leadership abilities. We think that makes them successful in other venues.

HooHacks 2023: University of Virginia

HOOHACKS , put on by a student group at the University of Virginia of the same name, comprises six levels of challenges. The event took place over 24 hours, starting at noon on March 25. Two Mason teams, one comprising upperclassmen and one comprising freshmen, brought home wins including at least $500, respectively.

Seniors Jhonn Cardozo and Ronald Santos Garcia and junior Maya Crosby took home $500 and the pride of winning the primary challenge in one of the 50 biggest hackathons in the country. After being announced as winners, the team was approached by Fannie Mae staffers, who told them they were extremely impressed with their performance.

DragonHacks: Drexel University

TWO MEMBERS of the victorious freshmen team from HooHacks 2023, Daniel Horvath and Anthony Perry, joined a member of the successful upperclassmen team from the same event, Jhonn Dalton Cardozo, to participate in DragonHacks 2023 at Drexel University. The hybrid team won Best Environmental Hack for their project PAPA, or Perfect Application for Plant Assistance. The project “aimed to help solve food insecurities through encouraging sustainable botany practices,” said Horvath and Perry. George Mason University’s Patriot Pantry inspired the team to use competition as a means of incentivizing efforts to end food insecurity, the team wrote in the project description.

Bitcamp: University of Maryland

AN UNDERGRADUATE AND A GRADUATE TEAM garnered acclaim at the University of Maryland’s Bitcamp hackathon, the largest collegiate hackathon on the East Coast. The event had five primary tracks, varying from machine learning to quantum computing, and included over 1,000 students, packed into the Xfinity Center on the College Park campus.

With the addition of Katherine Horvath, a recent information technology graduate and freshman Daniel Horvath's sister, the upperclassmen team from HooHacks was one of two teams to win awards in two different challenges, including first in the Bloomberg Industry Group challenge. The Bloomberg project involved using any public/government data to showcase a specific application highlighting data insights and intelligence. The team’s solution elicited praise from Bloomberg representatives, with the sponsors noting how impressed they were with the product.

A team of international graduate students studying computer science also won two tracks with their project BitTales, a natural language processing—based web application that turns meaningful conversations into personalized bedtime stories. Master’s students Janit Bidhan and Aabha Bothera and doctoral candidate Saurabh Srivastava won both the Best Use of CockroachDB Serverless and the Best Machine Learning Hack awards at the event, bringing home over $400 in prize money.

Snagging Best Overall prize at HooHacks was a team of Mason freshmen. Anthony Perry, Daniel Horvath, and Marco Zamora brought home over $500 in prizes as well as an invitation to compete at Pinnacle, perhaps the most competitive collegiate hackathon worldwide. The team had been encouraged to participate in the event by their fellow Mason participants. Although only freshmen, the teammates had an existing relationship, as they had all been on the same robotics team in high school. The team’s project, Dangerous Audio Detection (DAD), is an Alarm System Network that uses machine learning algorithms to accurately identify the sound of gunshots and alerts community members.

“The idea for our project, DAD, stemmed from our desire to answer Gregory Washington’s call to solve the grand challenges in our world,” the team said.

“We are especially excited about participating in Pinnacle, often referred to as the Olympics of collegiate level hackathons, as we have received a prestigious invitation. This experience has solidified our commitment to continuous learning and participation in hackathons as a means to push our boundaries and contribute to our community’s grand challenges,” the team said.

But beyond the prizes, our team was fueled by a genuine commitment to make a difference and create a solution that would contribute to the wellbeing of the environment.

“Our decision to pursue the best environmental hack track at DragonHacks stemmed from a desire to explore new territories, engage in a hardwaresoftware integration project, and the enticing prospect of winning some TVs,” Cardozo recalled. “But beyond the prizes, our team was fueled by a genuine commitment to make a difference and create a solution that would contribute to the wellbeing of the environment.”


October 6-8, 2023

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Students and judges at PatriotHacks on the Fairfax Campus.
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$116M Research Awards in 2023

$3M Award will Support Troop Readiness by Building Technology for Personalized Musculoskeletal Injury Rehabilitation

PARAG CHITNIS , an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering and a member of the Institute for Biohealth Innovation (IBI), and his team are developing quantitative assessments that can both prevent and monitor musculoskeletal injury (MSKI) in service members.

In partnership with Cephasonics Ultrasound and Infinite Biomedical Technologies, the team was selected by the United States Army Medical Research and Development Command to receive nearly $3 million from the United States Department of Defense, awarded through the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC). The award will support the team’s development of wearable, compact, and hands-free ultrasound systems to assess rehabilitation and recovery from MSKIs through measurements of muscle structure and function during physical activity, with a specific focus on knee injuries.

$3.75M Grant Creates Nano-IMAGINE Program

GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY received a $3.75 million grant from GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

The grant is the largest award for GO Virginia funding in Region 7, allowing Mason to establish Nano-IMAGINE, a new program that is a response to the exploding nanofabrication industry. By offering high-tech workforce readiness training and accelerating the launch and advancement of nanotech startups, the program is designed to position Virginia as a global leader in the nanotechnology sector.

“This proposal represents one of the most exciting new opportunities for Northern Virginia’s innovation economy,” said Susan Baker, managing director of GO Virginia. “GO Virginia is delighted to partner with George Mason University to create high-paying careers and new talent pathways in nanotechnology for the region.”

The new program is in partnership with Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing, College of Science, and Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Impact.

PARAG CHITNIS, Professor, Department of Bioengineering
We are excited to issue this award to the team at George Mason University and believe it has the potential to make great strides in military health and ultrasound research.
—LAUREN PALESTRINI MTEC’s Chief Science Officer

Safeguarding Vital Infrastructure: Time for Action

CENTER (RPRC) is leveraging its research and engineering talent by developing a nationwide capability to help move the country from over-reliance on the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system to a fully redundant resilient positioning, navigation and timing capability that enables unimpeded operations with and without GPS. The initial focus is on time because all computing devices require accurate time to work. The capability provides resilient time to critical infrastructures to prevent disruptions to public services Americans depend upon. The RPRC is currently focusing on completing the operational prototype.

The government lead for the effort, known as the Nationwide Integration of Time Resiliency for Operations (NITRO), is the National Guard in coordination with Homeland Security Advisors and emergency managers across the states and territories. NITRO addresses 11 domestic timing infrastructure gaps and includes a common operating picture to provide National Guard and civil authorities with real-time visibility of the domestic timing infrastructure to inform decision-making. NITRO does not require new signals or waveforms, nor does NITRO require any changes to end-user equipment. NITRO is already in use by seven states supporting 256 state, local,

tribal, and territory agencies providing services to 30.2M Americans.

NITRO automatically provides accurate data from GPS and other approved government and commercial space and terrestrial-based systems, and maintains synchronized of accurate time across supported states, territories, and U.S. critical infrastructure. NITRO resilient timing will be deployed to assure states and territories and critical infrastructures in the event of catastrophic loss of Global Navigation Satellite System services, to enable their state and territory military and disaster operations responsibilities.

NITRO helps execute long standing presidential policy and orders, as well as the recently released National Cybersecurity Implementation Plan. It also meets congressional mandates for backups and alternatives to GPS timing. States’ National Guard adjutants general, homeland security advisors, and emergency managers coordinate across the federal government, especially with the Departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Commerce, and Energy.

Dean Ken Ball said, “George Mason’s and the College of Engineering and Computing’s involvement in NITRO highlights our dedication to cutting-edge research and addressing significant national security challenges.”

Boom Splash: Researching Underwater Explosions

AN INTERDISCIPLINARY TEAM is studying underwater explosions and their effects on civil engineering infrastructure with the support of a $1.5 million grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Lingquan Li, a postdoctoral research fellow, is working alongside Girum Urgessa of the College of Engineering and Computing, Rainald Löhner of the College of Science, and PhD student Facundo Airaudo. Urgessa and Löhner are the co-principal investigators on the project.

“The sophisticated phenomenon in underwater explosions is important for government agencies interested in protective design,” said Li, who specializes in computational fluid dynamics and mathematics. The team has run more than 100 test cases to study the structural response and the damage due to explosions, Li explained. The resulting pressures and flow fields for different explosive yields and stand-off distances are provided to the Department of Defense.

Department of Defense Awards $33M Contract to Mason

IN FEBRUARY 2022, the Office of the Secretary of Defense combined several agencies to establish the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO). Seven months later, it awarded George Mason University a unique $33 million contract referred to as an Other Transactional Agreement (OTA). The OTA was designed to accelerate AI throughout the DoD.

WIJESEKERA, is a professor in the Departments of Cyber Security Engineering and Computer Science. Wijesekera has led or participated in research projects with dozens of faculty and numerous industry and government partners, secured or filed multiple patents, and attracted millions of dollars of new investment in Virginia’s cybersecurity research enterprise.

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At Mason, we continue to mentor exceptional post-doctoral research scholars and graduate students needed to address these complex physics and engineering problems.
Clockwise: RAINALD LÖHNER, Director of Mason’s Center for Computational Fluid Dynamics, GIRUM URGESSA, Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering, LINGQUAN LI, Mason Postdoctoral Research Fellow, FACUNDO AIRAUDO Predoctoral Fellow in Mason’s Institute for Digital Innovation DUMINDA

We believe that present progress matters more than past pedigree. That talent needs opportunity, not permission. That the future is something we create, not something that happens to us. And when all voices are invited to shape what’s next, the future is closer than you think.

Power the Possible— Our Power is Proven.


The College of Engineering and Computing is gearing up to support George Mason University’s billion-dollar fundraising campaign

Power Student Success

66 Donor-Funded Scholarships

The following endowed scholarships were established this year and will be awarded to students on an annual basis in perpetuity. We thank all the donors for their generous contributions.

Deltek Scholars Endowed Scholarship

Durant Family Endowed Scholarship

Scott C. Huber Endowed Scholarship

Andrew G. Loerch Endowed Scholarship

Brian K. Ngac and Family Endowed Scholarship

Rezazad Family Endowed Scholarship

Eric E. Smith Endowed Scholarship

Zavin R. Smith Endowed Scholarship

Dr. Jacob and Elizabeth Vargis

Endowed Scholarship to Enable the Digital Elder

For more information on how to support CEC students, please contact:

Bonnie Crews senior director of advancement, College of Engineering and Computing at

AT MASON we believe that while talent and passion are distributed equally, opportunity is not We look for the talent other institutions miss, and proudly welcome those who are prepared to take on the rigor of pursuing a degree at Virginia’s largest public research university

We take pride in our role as an institution serving a student body that represents diversity of all kinds, and expanding opportunities for students in financial need is a fundamental part of this mission Many of our students are the first in their families to pursue a college degree, and Mason supports them in many ways to be successful

I have had to balance being a full-time student and three part-time jobs to ensure that I can support my family and continue to attend college. As you can imagine, finding out that I was a recipient of this scholarship was a wonderful shock and surprise. This truly felt like an answer to my prayers and will help me continue my education.

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DR. GREGORY WASHINGTON, President of George Mason University

Pipe Dreams Become Reality

ROSY SULTANA grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, so George Mason University was a big presence in her childhood. But getting there was not without challenges.

“As a first-generation student, going to college was a pipe dream. But I used to come to Mason on field trips. I got to know more about the programs, opportunities, innovation, and diversity and community, and I fell in love with Mason,” she said. Engineering appealed to this computer science student from an early age, especially the notion that engineering is a helping profession. “I was born with an underdeveloped clubbed left hand. As a result, there have been many instances where people doubted my ability to accomplish things. That doubt became a motivating factor for me— from learning to ride a bike one-handed, to getting a driver’s license to going to college, I wanted to prove that a disability is not a lack of an ‘ability’ but a ‘unique ability’ in-and-of itself.

“One day, I came to Mason. We toured the engineering department, seeing the innovations that engineering students were making and deploying for use in everyday life. That inspired my love of engineering—I realized it’s a field where I can apply my creativity and innovation to help others, using my unique perspective. In short, engineering is like doing magic and Mason is like Hogwarts teaching me to harness that power.”

Sultana’s experiences outside the classroom have been essential. “I have loved and learned a lot of things from my internships, including serving as a software engineer, in DevOps engineering, and as an ML/AI engineering intern. I have experienced hands-on activities, learned to make mistakes, and learned to learn from those mistakes because there is no answer key in the real world. Learning to fall and get back up and adapt—while also building unique innovations and working together—has been an amazing growth opportunity. I have been fortunate to work on projects that help our service men and women as well, through implementing new tech,” she said.

Sultana said Mason has been an incredibly supportive environment. “Mason has been an immersive, interactive, diverse, and respectful experience for me. I felt accepted regardless of my physical or mental status, and I was given every opportunity to succeed without discrimination.”

After graduating in May, Sultana landed a job as a software engineer for Peraton, providing national security solutions and technologies. The company serves space, intelligence, cyber, defense, homeland and citizen security, and health markets. She is also continuing with graduate school in CEC.

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In short, engineering is like doing magic and Mason is like Hogwarts teaching me to harness that power.”
ROSY SULTANA, BS Computer Science ‘23

Power What’s Next—Capital Projects

WE ARE BUILDING SPACES for the students and researchers of tomorrow in Fairfax, Arlington, and Prince William County New labs, classrooms, and collaborative spaces will serve as incubators for ideas and power future exploration and innovation .

MARC: Targeting Efficiency, Accuracy, and Safety of Autonomous Systems and Robots

Visitors to and sponsors of the MARC can expect high-quality research that targets the efficiency, accuracy, and safety of autonomous systems and robots. Our faculty partners with students and external agencies on projects ranging from responsible robotics to real-world systems. The space, led by Professor Missy Cummings, includes a high-bay space for testing drones and other robots, faculty offices, as well as meeting and collaboration areas for maximum interaction between students and faculty.

Life Sciences and Engineering at SciTech

The Life Sciences and Engineering Building will be located at our SciTech Campus (Prince William), focusing on our growth and need for highly specialized instructional labs, classrooms, and support spaces. The 133,000, four-story building will be located immediately north of the Institute for Advanced Biomedical Research with an additional total 5,000 of backfill at Katherine G. Johnson Hall and Discovery Hall. It will include eight mechanical engineering labs, robotics labs, and soft tissue engineering labs.

For more information on how to support these projects, please contact: Bonnie Crews, senior director of advancement, College of Engineering and Computing at

Fuse : Igniting Innovation in Arlington

Slated to open in 2025, Fuse at Mason Square will house a mix of university research and development and related education programs, corporate innovation labs, incubators, accelerators, and co-working facilities, as well as retail, attached parking garage, and enhanced public spaces. Within nine stories, the building will incorporate state-of-the-art smart and green building technologies as well as advanced cyber infrastructure essential for the digital innovation goals of thousands of university, industry, and community innovators who will use Fuse facilities.

Nonprofit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Fairfax, Virginia Permit No.1532 College of Engineering and Computing 4400 University Drive, MS 4A3 Fairfax, VA 22030 Connect with us: @Mason_CEC @mason_cec /masoncec
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