Resilient Rebound: Bouncing Back Better

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RESILIENT REBOUND Bouncing Back Better


Bouncing Back Better

THE PAST YEAR had its ups and downs but things are on the way up again and we are optimistic about the future. All indicators point in the direction of renewed research activity, increased numbers of students and faculty, and continued success.

Research As part of Virginia’s largest public R1 Research University, the college engages students in cross-disciplinary research directed by faculty with excellence across a broad range of disciplines. Among public universities, we are in the top 70 National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey rankings in engineering and the top 10 National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey rankings in computing. RESEARCH FUNDING (in millions of dollars) 80



70 60





54.5 53.7

40 30 20

30 21





FY 17

FY 18

FY 19

FY 20

FY 21

(AS OF JULY 31, 2021)

Given the turmoil of fiscal year 2021 (FY21), we did well. Opportunities this year should significantly exceed last year, especially given the scale of research investments the federal government anticipates. Our expanding faculty, staff, and student populations, together with our growing laboratory resources, will give us even more leverage. We expect a great year in 2022 for our research enterprise. i  COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND COMPUTING ANNUAL REPORT 2021

Student Enrollment 5,400 55




6,100 50









8,800 (est.)






6,358 50




6,700 48









FALL ’17 FALL ’18 FALL ’19 FALL ’20 FALL ’21

Enrollment has continued its upward trajectory, with increased students in all majors and at all levels. We provide opportunities for an outstanding education and constantly look for ways to increase access. This will be our largest class ever. The numbers include students around the globe who will take classes remotely until the pandemic loosens its grip and they can join us in person.


Faculty Successful faculty recruitments continue to keep pace with our growing student population. We are excited to welcome 30 additional faculty members for the 2021-22 academic year. Our diverse faculty have expertise in traditional engineering and computing disciplines as well as new and emerging ones. They come from all corners of the world and provide a comprehensive outlook, from which our students benefit.


35 33


24 55


39 73

41 77












FALL ’17

FALL ’18

FALL ’19

FALL ’20

FALL ’21

40 100







Gifts That Helped Us Bounce Back Better

Abile Group Inc., gift to establish the Abile Group Inc. Scholarship Fund AFCEA - Northern Virginia Chapter, gift to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) award Kenneth S. Ball and Sandy Ball, MSN ’17, gift to establish the Oscar Barton, Jr., PhD, PE Scholarship Endowment W. Murray Black and Virginia Black, gift to the W. Murray Black Scholarship Endowment Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, gift to the Oscar Barton, PhD, PE Scholarship Endowment Alan Harbitter, PhD ’02, and Kelly Harbitter, gift to the Harbitter Family Scholarship Endowment

WE ARE GRATEFUL to our alumni and friends for their

Deepak and Hansa Hathiramani, gift to the Hathi Endowment

generous support this year. When the COVID-19 pandemic

Scott Hine, BS ’85, and Helen Hine, MEd ’99, gift to establish the Peter J. Farrell Scholarship Endowment

hit, many of our students felt its financial impact. Our donors rallied and provided additional support for students. The following leadership gifts made a significant impact for the College of Engineering and Computing in 2020.


DigiCert Inc.

Abile Group Inc.

Lockheed Martin Corporation

CACI International Inc. Claude Moore Charitable Foundation Dewberry

Hexagon US Federal Leidos Inc.

Northrop Grumman Foundation Viasystems Technologies Corp., LLC Vision Point Systems, Inc.

Micron Technology Foundation Inc.

Vulcan Materials Company

Navy Federal Credit Union

Weinberg Medical Physics, Inc.


Joy Hughes and Kenneth Lee, gift to the E. Bernard White Memorial Scholarship Endowment Leigh McCue-Weil, gift to establish the Oscar Barton Jr., PhD, PE, Scholarship Endowment Brian McKeon, gift to establish the Peter J. Farrell Scholarship Endowment Jeet Nayak, gift to the IMC Suneeth Nayak Scholarship Endowment Steven Schorling, PhD ’00, gift to the Steven M. Schorling, PhD, Scholarship Endowment The SSPI Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter, gift to the SSPI Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter Scholarship


Buddy and Charlotte Beck, gifts to establish the Beck Faculty Fellowship in Bioengineering and the Beck Faculty Fellowship in Mechanical Engineering

GIFTS FOR STUDENT CAPSTONE SUPPORT Valerie Gibson, DPT, gift to the Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design and Project Fund Hexagon US Federal, gift to the Cyber Security Engineering Dean’s Program Capstone Navy Federal Credit Union, gift to the Cyber Security Engineering Dean’s Program Capstone Robotics for Recovery LLC, gift to the Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design and Project Fund Viasystems Technologies Corp. LLC, gift to the Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design and Project Fund


Kenneth S. Ball and Sandy Ball, MSN ’17, gift to the CEC Student Emergency Assistance Fund Joy Hughes and Kenneth Lee, gift to the CEC Student Emergency Assistance Fund Margaret Myers, PhD ’88, gift to the CEC Student Emergency Assistance Fund


Vision Point Systems Inc., gift to the Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design and Project Fund Vulcan Materials Company, gift to the Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design and Project Fund

“ I want to do anything we can to raise awareness about how great the university is—to help build the brand, to help raise money. I’ve written letters to Richmond for all the programs that we’ve started since I’ve been on the advisory board. ” — JACK HARRINGTON, BS COMPUTER SCIENCE, ’89

Lloyd A. Fry Foundation William Karlson, MS ’94, and Theresa Karlson Mary and Felipe Rodriguez Educational Fund


Jack Harrington, BS ’89, and Mara Harrington, gift to establish the College of Engineering and Computing Dean’s Fund Endowment

IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS, the College of Engineering and Computing has raised

more than $8 million from individuals and corporations.


Weinberg Medical Physics Inc.


Janice and Norman Fujisaki Li Xu CEC.GMU.EDU  iv

From the Dean Dear alumni and friends, I was very happy to welcome students and faculty back to our campus this fall for in-person learning. It is good to be here and great to see everyone! The college is back, bigger, and better. We enrolled a record number of undergraduate and graduate students for the 2021–22 academic year. We may not have had a fully open campus during the pandemic, but we have been as busy as ever. In the past year, we changed our name to the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) while retaining the Volgenau School of Engineering in the college and gaining approval to add the first School of Computing in Virginia to CEC. We climbed into the top 100 engineering colleges in the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey rankings. Our research awards topped out at $53.7 million and research expenditures reached $64.5 million. Considering the challenges of the pandemic, we did well. The coming year looks better all around as the number of grant proposals rose by more than 10 percent to $161 million. We expect to reap the rewards of federal investments in research and development that are on the horizon. In this year’s annual report, you will meet the people who are doing the amazing work that keeps us growing our enrollment, rising in the rankings, expanding our research, and shaping the tech ecosystem in Northern Virginia. Our students and faculty are working together to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges with tremendous creativity and ingenuity. I invite you to visit our new website at to learn more about our college and see why we are a force for innovation in the heart of Northern Virginia. Ken Ball, PhD, PE Dean, College of Engineering and Computing


Sidney Boakye was the College of Engineering and Computing graduation speaker for the college's Degree Celebration in May 2021. He is a mechanical engineering alumnus and the first Mason student to receive the prestigious Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship for commercial spaceflight. He spent his summer interning at Rocket Lab in Los Angeles, California, and this fall, he began work on a PhD in aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Photo by Ron Aira


Contents REIMAGINING THE TECH ECOSYSTEM . . . . . . . 2 Forecasting the Future of Cloud Computing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

SUPPORTING A SUSTAINABLE WORLD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Diversifying the D.C. Region’s Tech Ecosystem. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

Secure Manufacturing Saves Energy and Protects Businesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

Data Analytics Credential Prepares Students for Careers in Big Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

Reinforcing Stormwater Infrastructure in Northern Virginia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Helping Maryland Counties Curb Climate Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

IMPROVING HEALTH AND WELL-BEING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 Bioengineering Chair Instrumental in Building a Better Vaccine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

CELEBRATING STUDENT SUCCESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Student Soars Closer to His Dream. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40

Strategic Partnership Surveys COVID-19 in Children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

Helicopter Drops In . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42

Microswimmers Deliver Targeted Cancer Solutions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

Student Experience Launches More Than a ThinSat. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

Life-Changing Experience Shapes Student’s Studies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

SECURING DATA AND PROTECTING SYSTEMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Taking It to the Street. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

STRENGTHENING DIVERSITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 Improving Equality in Language Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 Inspiring and Mentoring Women in STEM. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 TTIP Thematic Hires Create Opportunities for Diversity, and Social Justice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

Optimizing Security and Energy Trade-Off in the Internet of Things. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Penetration Testing to Protect Pipelines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Combating the Spread of Counterfeit PPE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28

COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND COMPUTING 2021 ANNUAL REPORT Designed and produced by Mason Creative Services

Martha Bushong Editor

Ron Aira, Evan Cantwell Photographers

Priyanka Champaneri, Rebecca Kobayashi, Corey Jenkins Schaut Copy Editors

Claire Brandt Designer Raissa Macasieb-Ludwig Illustrator



Reimagining the Tech Ecosystem The combination of new investments from the commonwealth and workforce initiatives from industry create significant opportunities for us to educate a diverse workforce with sophisticated computing competencies for the future.

Demolition of the Kahn Department Store makes way for a new 400,000-square-foot building on the Arlington Campus. The building is part of the growth that will position Mason as an anchor for the Ballston-Rosslyn Corridor. Photo by Ron Aira


Forecasting the Future of Cloud Computing


n the summer of 2020, student leader Maya Chatterjee realized someone needed to fill in the gaps for students on how cloud computing empowers nearly every aspect of engineering and technology.

As president of Mason’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a senior information technology major, and an accelerated master’s student, Chatterjee decided to tap into her network and partner with the Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA) to create Mason’s first-ever one-day Patriot Cloud Conference. “I was first exposed to cloud computing from the client perspective at my BAE Systems internship a few semesters back,” says Chatterjee. “And in another internship at Amazon Web Services, I got to see to how the cloud can speed up so many business processes.” Her internship experiences set her on a mission to ensure every engineering and computing student can learn cloud computing’s foundational concepts. With this idea in mind, she established the first freeto-students virtual cloud computing conference at Mason to demonstrate the cloud’s capabilities. “I contacted Kammy [Kamaljeet] Sanghera, associate professor and the interim director of IDIA, over the summer to see what she thought we could do, and she said we have to do a cloud conference,” says Chatterjee. Then they got to work. Chatterjee contacted everyone in her network and worked with her SWE board members to get the word out. “I wanted to make sure to include a variety of different backgrounds in cloud computing,” she says. “But what I loved was that most of our speakers were women.” Chatterjee first encountered SWE and the technology space in high school. Her mother, a SWE member herself and a Mason graduate of the


master’s in information technology program, told her about an SWE event for high school students. “It opened my eyes, and I just stayed involved when I got to college.” Since then, she has always looked for ways to get other women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the Patriot Cloud Conference was a massive leap toward accomplishing her goal. “Women sometimes get typecast in the technology space. People limit us to the less technical roles or project manager positions, and that isn’t right. We can do anything we set our mind to,” she says. And the women in the Patriot Cloud Conference exemplified this sentiment. The feedback they received was remarkable, says Chatterjee. “We had around 350 participants total. Participants were all super ecstatic to find a free platform to learn about cloud computing fundamentals.” Chatterjee graduated with her bachelor’s degree in information technology in May 2021, and she started her accelerated master’s program in applied information technology full time this fall. And while she will not be the SWE leader as a graduate student, she hopes that the Patriot Cloud Conference will continue. “The conference was designed to be for everyone, not just women and not just people specifically interested in cloud computing,” she says, attributing the accessibility of the conference to its success. “People want to learn.” —Ryley McGinnis

Maya Chatterjee is an accelerated applied information technology master's student. She combined her knowledge from internships and the classroom to create the first Patriot Cloud Conference at Mason. Photo by Ron Aira


The Arlington Campus is growing to accommodate new research and teaching with the School of Computing. Photo by Ron Aira 6  COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND COMPUTING ANNUAL REPORT 2021

Diversifying the D.C. Region’s Tech Ecosystem


eorge Mason University received a grant from Break Through Tech to propel more students who identify as women, transgender, and nonbinary into tech education—and ultimately tech careers—through curriculum innovation, career access, and community building. The goal of the grant is to increase the number of these students graduating with a Mason tech degree 12.5 percent by 2026.

“Computer science is a growing and lucrative field, yet less than 20 percent of computer science degrees in this country are awarded to women,” Mason president Gregory Washington says. “George Mason is the largest producer of tech talent in Virginia, and this partnership with Break Through Tech will provide additional opportunities for women to excel in computer science, broadening the capabilities of the digital workforce.” George Mason University and the University of Maryland, College Park, will be joining Break Through Tech as it expands from its hubs in New York City and Chicago to Washington, D.C. This expansion was made possible through the Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities initiative. Mason’s Break Through Tech program will be administered by the College of Engineering and Computing, the School of Computing, and the departments of Computer Science and Information Sciences and Technology.

Mason’s Break Through Tech program includes A summer program for rising freshmen designed to ignite interest in tech by teaching them how to code real-world applications that are mission-driven; A new, innovative introductory sequence of computing courses; A paid, three-week mini-internship program called a Sprinternship® that gives freshmen and sophomores a resume credential and real-world experience to make them more competitive when applying for a paid summer tech internship; and The development of a networked cohort of individuals who identify as women and nonbinary—both peer-to-peer and student-to-professional—in the Washington, D.C., area to support, engage, and motivate one another. Huzefa Rangwala, professor in the Department of Computer Science and principal investigator for the grant, says, “Using data analytics to ensure college student success has been the cornerstone of my research for the past six years. I am thrilled to collaborate on this grant with several colleagues at Mason to narrow the gender gap in computing by innovating across the curriculum, establishing career pathways, and building an inclusive environment.” —Martha Bushong

George Mason is the largest producer of tech talent in Virginia, and this partnership with Break Through Tech will provide additional opportunities for women to excel in computer science, broadening the capabilities of the digital workforce. —Gregory Washington, president, George Mason University


Data Analytics Credential Prepares Students for Careers in Big Data Liza Wilson Durant, associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement, promotes workforce development in the region through a collaboration with the Greater Washington Partnership. Photo by Lathan Goumas



eorge Mason University is offering a new data analytics credential to help undergraduates hone their skills in handling big data.

The credential is the second one offered in partnership with the Greater Washington Partnership’s Capital Collaborative of Leaders in Academia and Business (CoLAB). Mason launched the digital technology credential in 2019 to support additional skills in data analysis, visualization, and cybersecurity for non-engineers. More than 150 students are currently enrolled in that program. “The new data analytics credential will enable hundreds of Mason students to offer their specialized data analytics skills to employers who are seeking to meet the talent shortfall in data science and analytics,” says Liza Wilson Durant, associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement for the College of Engineering and Computing. The credential focuses on data storage and management and makes students more marketable, including for jobs as data analysts and data scientists, says Brett Hunter, associate chair of the Department of Statistics. It is designed for undergraduates in statistics, computing, information technology, and data science who want to acquire the data analytics skills needed by high-­ profile employers in the metropolitan areas of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Richmond. The credential equips students across disciplines with the specialized data analytics skills that the Greater Washington Partnership employers have specified to be most important to their operations. The Capital CoLAB is an action-oriented

partnership of employers and academic institutions that executes initiatives to develop the talent needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow. By enrolling in either the digital technology credential or data analytics credential programs, students will have direct access to opportunities and engagement with some of the largest employers in the region, including Amazon, Capital One, and Northrop Grumman. “It is exciting to see our industry partners directly engaged with our students and reinforcing the demand for the skills they are acquiring by offering them internships and other experiential learning opportunities,” says Wilson Durant. Many students in statistics, computational data science, computer science, and information sciences and technology will only need to take one to three additional undergraduate courses to earn the credential, Hunter says. They can use some of their elective courses to do that. “The credential is not another degree, but essentially a badge you can put on your LinkedIn profile or electronic resume,” he says. “I think most statistics undergraduates will take advantage of the opportunity to communicate their skills in this new way.” More than 60 students have enrolled in the new data analytics credential. —Nanci Hellmich

It is exciting to see our industry partners directly engaged with our students and reinforcing the demand for the skills they are acquiring by offering them internships and other experiential learning opportunities. —Liza Wilson Durant, professor and associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement, College of Engineering and Computing


Improving Health and Well-Being Our researchers develop new medical treatments and technologies that could revolutionize health care while providing valuable clinical and laboratory training to our students. Professor Caroline Hoeman and Divjot Bedi pipette solutions. As an Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program student, Bedi worked on two different projects, one studying the effect of biomaterials on inflammatory reactions in blood samples, and another developing new ways to quantify articular cartilage repair in a rabbit model using scanning acoustic microscopy (SAM). Photo by Ron Aira



From left to right, mRNA technology researchers Aarthi Narayanan, Mike Buschmann, Mikell Paige, and Caroline Hoemann pose in a lab on the Science and Technology Campus. Photo by Evan Cantwell


Bioengineering Chair Instrumental in Building a Better Vaccine


eorge Mason University bioengineering professor Michael Buschmann and a team of scientific collaborators have devised improved lipid nanoparticle technologies to deliver mRNA that could make mRNA vaccines such as the COVID-19 vaccines less costly, with fewer side-effects and larger quantities available worldwide.

Vaccines with mRNA use lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) to protect the mRNA and facilitate the immune system’s response to protect people against infection by viruses. This technology has flattened the COVID-19 curve in Western industrialized nations, but the vaccine will need to evolve to reduce side effects and permit worldwide vaccination to eradicate the disease. Working with George Mason University’s Office of Tech Transfer (OTT) to form the start-up AexeRNA Therapeutics Inc., Buschmann and his team have licensed the commercial rights of four patent applications to the company. The patents address two major LNP technology issues related to novel lipid molecules and novel methods of LNP manufacturing. “Our solutions seek to make the vaccine more efficient, less costly, and decrease its adverse effects,” says Buschmann, chair of the Bioengineering Department. By modifying the structure and composition of the LNPs, the researchers were able to make the vaccine more efficient, less toxic, and easier to make, handle, and distribute. They look forward to now sharing their discovery and helping in the fight against a global pandemic that has killed more than four million people around the world, including more than 600,000 Americans. The current success of mRNA vaccines also paves the way for their use against many other infectious diseases. “OTT ensures the protection of the intellectual property and works with start-ups like AexeRNA to bring the scientific discoveries to the marketplace,” says Hina Mehta, director of the Office of Technology Transfer. Buschmann and his partners see tremendous potential for mRNA and vaccines, as they may hold the keys to unlocking the technology to fight variants of COVID-19, influenza, HIV, and many other viral pathogens. Buschmann; Mikell Page from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry within Mason’s College of Science; and Drew Weissman, professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, are the scientific founders of the Mason/University of Pennsylvania spin-off. The group also includes Mason postdoctoral research associate Suman Alishetty and PhD student Manuel Carrasco, University of Pennsylvania postdoctoral research associate Mohamad Alameh, and venture capitalist and intellectual property lawyer Thomas Axel Haag. “We’re excited to move this technology into further preclinical development and scale up so that mRNA vaccines can be more widely and effectively used in pandemic and non-pandemic settings,” Buschmann says. —Martha Bushong


The Department of Statistics worked with Inova Children's Hospital to gain a better understanding of the prevalence of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia's children. Photo by Getty Images


Strategic Partnership Surveys COVID-19 in Children


nova Children’s Hospital, the Virginia Department of Health, and Mason Computing joined forces last summer to conduct a COVID-19 antibody study to analyze the prevalence of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia’s children.

The overall antibody positive rate in children was 8.5 percent. Experts in Mason’s Department of Statistics collaborated in the design of the testing protocol. They also helped analyze the data to determine how many children have had COVID-19. This was a public service project, says Jiayang Sun, chair of the Department of Statistics and the Bernard J. Dunn Eminent Scholar. “It is an excellent, comprehensive study that considered multiple factors to systematically assess the seroprevalence in the diverse population of the area’s children. I am pleased with the quality of data and that our statisticians were involved early, starting in the design stage of the study versus only after the data had been collected.”

Scott Bruce, an assistant professor of statistics, says, “The timely and valuable findings from this project are due to the outstanding partnership among the health care professionals, government agencies, and statistics researchers involved in this project.” “We considered multiple factors, including age, living conditions, types of antibody tests, the CDC’s recommendation on orthogonal testing, and the data collection sites, which are correlated with population characteristics,” says Brett Hunter, Mason’s principal investigator for this project and associate chair of the Department of Statistics. The analysis of blood samples from more than 1,000 children, ages 0 to 19, showed that COVID-19 antibodies were found in 8.2 percent of white children, 5.2 percent of Black children, 5.7 percent of Asian children, and 16.2 percent of children with multiple racial origins.

Photo by Getty Images

Children identified as being of Hispanic ethnicity had a 26.6 percent rate of antibody positivity. The majority (66 percent) of children who had antibodies had no history of symptoms of COVID-19 infection, which highlights the sometimes silent or asymptomatic nature of the infection in children, and the subsequent risk of transmission of infection to others. Researchers in the Statistics Department also worked on several other COVID-related studies, Sun says. —Nanci Hellmich



Microswimmers Deliver Targeted Cancer Solutions


Mason Engineering researcher has discovered that artificial microswimmers accumulate where their speed is minimized, an idea that could have implications for improving the efficacy of targeted cancer therapy.

Jeff Moran, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and Computing, and colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle studied self-propelled half-platinum/half-gold rods that “swim” in water using hydrogen peroxide as a fuel. The more peroxide there is, the faster the swimming; without peroxide in pure water, the rods don’t swim. In this work, the researchers set out to understand what happens when these artificial microswimmers are placed in a fluid reservoir containing a gradient of hydrogen peroxide— lots of peroxide on one side, not much on the other side.


They found that, predictably, the microswimmers swam faster and in random directions in regions with a high peroxide concentration, says Moran, whose research was published in Scientific Reports. In contrast, in low-concentration regions, the rods slowed down and accumulated in these regions over the course of a few minutes. The results suggest a simple strategy to make microswimmers passively accumulate in specific regions, an idea that might have useful, practical applications, he says. Living cells can autonomously swim toward regions of high chemical concentration, a process called chemotaxis. “For example, your immune cells use chemotaxis to detect and swim toward sites of injury, so they can initiate tissue repair,” Moran says.

Moran and his colleagues, like others in the field, have long been curious whether artificial microswimmers could perform chemotaxis. Some have claimed that the platinum and gold rods could swim autonomously toward peroxide-­ rich regions. “Instead, we found the opposite: The rods built up in the lower concentration regions. This is the opposite of what one would expect from chemotaxis,” Moran says. “Instead, they accumulate in the regions where their fuel concentration is minimized, because their speed is minimized there and, therefore, they have trouble escaping from that region.” Moran says this research is promising because it suggests a new strategy to make chemicals accumulate in a highly acidic area. Due to their abnormal metabolic processes, cancer cells cause their immediate surroundings to become acidic. The acidic environment is known to promote metastasis and

confer resistance to drugs. Thus, the cells in these regions are a major target of many cancer therapies. Moran and colleagues are now designing microswimmers that move slowly in acidic regions and fast everywhere else. Through the mechanism they discovered, the researchers hypothesize that acid-dependent swimmers will accumulate and release their cargo preferentially where their speeds are minimized, namely the most acidic and hypoxic regions of the tumor, where the most problematic cells reside. “This strategy could be a novel way to deliver chemotherapy drugs to the cancer cells that need them the most,” Moran says. “We’ve identified an elegantly simple method of causing microswimmers to accumulate and deliver drugs to the most problematic cancer cells, which could have implications for the treatment of many cancers, as well as other diseases like fibrosis. We’re excited to see where this goes.” —Nanci Hellmich

This strategy could be a novel way to deliver chemotherapy drugs to the cancer cells that need them the most. —Jeff Moran, assistant professor, Mechanical Engineering CEC.GMU.EDU  17

Life-Changing Experience Shapes Student’s Studies


llison Dockum majored in bioengineering to change lives for the better. She has first-hand experience in the impact of this expertise. Surgeons and bioengineers “gave me the ability to live a semi-normal life, and I want to do the same for others,” she says. Dockum was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, meaning her left leg was about half the length of her right leg. She underwent multiple limb-lengthening surgeries in which a surgeon cuts the bone, then uses a device called an external fixator to slowly stretch the limb as new bone forms. Her legs are now about the same length. “Growing up, I was fascinated by how the fixator worked,” she says, and her surgeon took the time to explain his work with the surgical tool developed by a Russian physician. Dockum knew bioengineers also often develop such devices, and her interest in bioengineering was born. “What I like about bioengineering is the understanding of the body through an engineering lens. It expands your perspective on solutions to physiological problems,” she says.


“I would like to work either in industry or research and focus on assistive technology—prosthetics and biomechanical devices,” says Dockum, who earned a BS in bioengineering in combination with an accelerated master’s degree in data analytics engineering. Dockum worked two years as a research assistant in the Biomedical Imaging Lab under the direction of Professor Siddhartha Sikdar, whose team is investigating a new way to operate prostheses using ultrasound waves to sense muscle activity. Sikdar says, “Allison is an unusually motivated and perseverant student. Since her sophomore year, she has been working in my lab collaboratively with graduate students and postdocs developing data collection and analysis methods for a federally funded study involving upper extremity prosthesis control. I have been impressed with her passion and intellectual curiosity, and I think she has a bright career ahead.” “Dr. Sikdar encouraged me to pursue what I’m passionate about,” she says. “He has provided help and resources and mentorship.” —Nanci Hellmich

Allison Dockum channels her personal experience into her education. Photo by Ron Aira


Marissa Costa and her cyber security engineering senior design team spent their senior year penetration testing a system that protects our critical infrastructure. Photo by Evan Cantwell


Securing Data and Protecting Systems Known for decades as a leader in cybersecurity, we continue to grow and expand, partnering with additional local, state, and federal entities and extending our reach.


Graduate student Yongxin Wang (on the left) and research assistant professor Bo Yu working together on an autonomous vehicle on the Arlington Campus. Photo by Evan Cantwell


Taking It to the Street


utonomous vehicles that promise to decrease traffic and make driving safer won’t get far without sophisticated sensors to detect hazards. That’s why researchers from George Mason University, Virginia Tech, and Old Dominion University are collaborating on a $1 million program funded by the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI). Driving three decked-out Toyota Corollas, researchers are taking to the busy streets of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., to test sensors and cameras they’ve installed to simulate a self-driving car. “My number-one goal is to take on Dupont Circle, but we’ll see if we can overcome that crazy obstacle,” says computer science professor and team lead Duminda Wijesekera.

Traditionally, autonomous vehicles create obstacle-free driving paths using image recognition software. Sometimes, the software can fail to recognize obstacles in the road in low-light conditions, such as at dusk or dawn, when it is raining, or in construction zones. This can result in the software mistakenly creating driving paths with dangerous obstacles in the way. Wijesekera and his team are using AI to prevent such a scenario. “To combat this issue, first, I use two cameras—a color camera and an infrared camera,” Wijesekera explains. “Then I take data from both cameras and ‘fuse them’ using a deep-learning process.” Distracted driving claimed the lives of 1,730 drivers, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians,

My number-one goal is to take on Dupont Circle, but we’ll see if we can overcome that crazy obstacle. — Duminda Wijesekera, team lead and professor, Computer Science

Wijesekera is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help create smarter car sensors. His research seeks to improve an autonomous car’s ability to recognize potential hazards at night, in severe weather, and in construction zones, making the roads safer for everyone. CCI’s funding allowed Wijesekera to purchase three Toyota Corollas as testbeds. Prior to receiving the grant and vehicles from CCI, Wijesekera was volunteering his own car to test the AI technology on the streets of Washington, D.C.

and 77 bicyclists in 2018 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Just like automated trains, an entirely automated-car world would be cleaner, safer, and greener in the long run,” says Wijesekera. “I’m hoping this is the first step of many toward making driving totally handled by machines.” —Aubrey Medina


Optimizing Security and Energy Trade-Off in the Internet of Things


he capabilities and reach of 5G are expanding, but with new capabilities come new security challenges.

Four Mason engineering and computing researchers received a $1.6 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to tackle one of the many security issues that 5G poses as part of a larger DARPA initiative called Open, Programmable, Secure 5G (OPS-5G).

The grant, titled EPIC SWaPD: EnergyPreserving Internet of Things (IoT) Cryptography for Small Weight and Power Devices, aims to optimize the security and energy efficiency trade-off by creating a low-energy security architecture for various types of IoT devices. “In a network, there are different devices of different sizes and capabilities. Many of these devices don’t have much computing power or battery life, and a common cybersecurity attack on these devices is to drain their battery life,” says Brian Mark, co-principal investigator on the grant. Mark, Khaled Khasawneh, Kai Zeng, and Sai Manoj Pudukotai Dinakarrao in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are collaborating with the company Kryptowire and Matthew Hicks from Virginia Tech for the project. These small IoT devices could be as simple as a thermometer or humidity sensor in a larger smart home system. “They have limited computation and communication capabilities. The first step for each of these sensors would be to bootstrap, or link, a secure connection to the network, which requires authentication without pre-shared secrets. This is where the vulnerabilities lie,” says Zeng.


When sensors or other types of small IoT devices automatically authenticate themselves, attackers have many paths of attack. They can drain the device’s battery, rendering it useless, or steal sensitive information. Because of the many vulnerabilities, the team is combining cryptography, network protocol design, and machine learning to assure the success and scalability of their efforts. “Something really important for this effort is that the security architecture operates on the principles of zero trust and least privilege,” says Mark. “Zero trust means that when a device comes in and wants to join the network, the assumption is that there is no prior information shared between the devices, while least privilege implies the minimum permissions are granted to the entity to perform its task. So, we needed to grant an entity just enough authority to access the devices or data that it needs, but no more than that.” One way they are looking at securing the connection is through gait-inspired authentication, which leverages the kinetic energy generated by a human user. “Every device harvests energy in a different way, and we use the harvesting pattern for authentication of the device, which preserves energy and accomplishes a security task at the same time,” says Dinakarrao. Long term, the team aspires for their security architecture to easily be applied to other devices. “Right now, this work is with smaller devices, but the hope is that our overall security architecture can apply to a variety of devices with different capabilities,” says Mark. —Ryley McGinnis



Kyle Simmons (pictured) and five other cyber security engineering students spent their senior year penetration testing an industrial control system provided by Dragos Inc. to protect critical infrastructure. Photo by Evan Cantwell


Penetration Testing to Protect Pipelines


ndustrial control systems (ICS) manage our nation’s water, electricity, and gas resources. But the same interconnectedness and automation that makes these systems efficient also increases their vulnerability to dangerous attacks that could leave cities without essential resources.

A cyber security engineering senior design team is testing a scaled-down ICS system provided by Dragos Inc. to help the company shore up its cybersecurity infrastructure. Seniors Marissa Costa, Natalie Sebastian, Kyle Simmons, Andrew Smith, Santiago Taboada Patino, and Zaine Wilson are working together to address the problem. “Our job is to complete a security assessment on the ICS. We are attacking it and pinpointing vulnerabilities that need to be addressed," says Patino. The team is doing penetration testing and simulating cyberattacks on numerous components of the ICS. “The penetration testing we are doing is the best way possible to gain an understanding of how a cyberattack could be carried out. Pen testing is like actually building a test bridge and driving progressively heavier trucks over it until it collapses,” says Wilson. Ensuring ICS security safeguards the world’s critical infrastructure. Power plants, water distributors, and gas companies all use ICS to protect the delivery of their customers’

essential resources. “Power, water, gas— they all start at one point and end at another, typically people’s homes or businesses. ICS provides the security to safeguard those processes, and without security measures, entire power plants could be shut down by malicious cyberattackers,” says Simmons. Dragos delivered the system to the Fairfax Campus last fall. The team spent their senior year testing and using the vulnerabilities they found to create detection rules that can be included in future updates to help better secure the system. Near the end of their senior year, the team saw the importance of their work in real time when the East Coast Colonial Pipeline was hacked in early May, causing gas shortages and panic up and down the East Coast. “While this is the biggest energy sector cyberattack we’ve suffered so far, it probably won’t be soon enough, and it definitely won’t be the last. It highlights the importance of this project and the work Dragos is doing,” says Simmons. “The Colonial Pipeline attack is a great, and terrifying, example of why ICS security is so important. It’s not just about companies being affected by ransomware attacks and information hacks, it’s about you. Your family. Your town is being affected,” says Costa. —Ryley McGinnis



Combating the Spread of Counterfeit PPE


ike COVID-19 itself, counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE) has spread throughout the country. Since the pandemic began, state officials have seized counterfeit N95 masks as they entered the country, while some masks were seized as they were on the brink of being distributed to hospital workers and others were recalled right out of the hands of nurses. But it isn’t enough to know how to spot the counterfeit masks once they arrive at the doorsteps of hospitals, and a multidisciplinary team has formed at Mason to disrupt the illicit supply chain of counterfeit PPE by identifying the source of counterfeiting respirators and how they enter legitimate supply chains. Edward Huang from the College of Engineering and Computing and Louise Shelley from the Schar School of Policy and Government received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to combine their expertise and analyze the supply chain for counterfeit goods coming into the United States.

The researchers will also examine the transportation of the counterfeit goods. “We are looking at the transportation systems where counterfeit goods enter legitimate supply chains, like airports or seaports,” says Huang. Fully understanding the path illicit goods take to get into the country allows the researchers to move onto the next step, constructing descriptions of the supply chain that can help find ways to disrupt counterfeit goods from entering it. “[With] this kind of criminal activity, if we analyze the people behind it and their overall supply chain, we can find patterns,” says Huang. Huang and Shelley’s work combines artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data mining, sociological analysis, policy, and more to find patterns that can be disrupted in the supply chain. “As engineers, we have the ability to use these tools, like data mining, to do great work, but we have to know which questions to ask,” says Huang.

Already, the team has noticed that some counterfeiters are involved in two or three types of illicit activity. “We noticed some of these criminals switched to counterfeit PPE last year because of the pandemic,” says Huang. As engineers, we have the ability to use these tools, And it is knowledge like this that helps like data mining, to do great work, but we have to them understand illicit supply chains long term.

know which questions to ask.

—Edward Huang, associate professor, Systems Engineering and Operations Research The first piece of their three-part project is understanding how the illicit supply chains work. The research team will use data and cybersecurity measures to learn how payments are processed, how the counterfeiters are hosting their websites, and how they communicate. “They need to find customers, and the internet is their best way to do that,” says Huang.

Along with their analysis, the research team will eventually study strategies that government and corporate stakeholders can take to disrupt the chain before it reaches our shores.

“Counterfeit masks are nearly everywhere during the pandemic. 3M reported more than 38 million counterfeit respirators since March 2020,” says Huang. The hope is that Mason’s multidisciplinary team will help halt the spread of counterfeit PPE altogether. —Ryley McGinnis


Supporting a Sustainable World We seek ways to mitigate damage from natural disasters, experiment with innovative building materials, and look to computing and data to improve efficiency and save energy.


3 During a weeklong stay at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, students explored the flora and fauna of the Shenandoah River watershed. Photo by Evan Cantwell


Secure Manufacturing Saves Energy and Protects Businesses


s ransomware and other hacks of automated American systems grow, cybersecurity experts from Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing are playing an important role in protecting American manufacturing automation and supply chains from cyber threats. Through its membership in the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CyManII), researchers will help design better security into advanced manufacturing plants by developing an integrated cybersecurity architecture and achieving significant energy efficiencies in manufacturing.


As a managing member, Mason is overseeing and operating CyManII’s East Coast headquarters on the Arlington Campus. The headquarters will house the institute’s primary offices, meeting space, and training facilities for the National Capital Region. “The Arlington facility will house lab space and equipment to demonstrate, test, and validate CyManII’s emerging cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing technologies and products,” says Mason associate professor Paulo Costa, who is also vice president for securing automation and supply chain for CyManII. “Our proximity to the Department of Energy and Washington, D.C., will be useful to visitors when we return to in-person meetings and events.”

The newly renovated space in Vernon Smith Hall on the Arlington Campus is home to cybersecurity researchers and students. Photo by Ron Aira

The 13,000-square-foot facility supports robotic platforms that evaluate security vulnerabilities and the impact of 5G on autonomous vehicles, the power grid, smart buildings and cities, and smart manufacturing. The space will also host a robotic smart manufacturing testbed and provide meeting and temporary office space for visiting researchers and staff.

manufacturing architecture provides the backbone for modeling that will speed up the adoption of these technologies and processes and help companies to create new, secure, integrated systems,” says Jablonski. “We know that the sooner we can identify risks, the better we can help manufacturers mitigate the risks.”

Mason researchers from the College of Engineering and Computing, who are setting up the lab, are playing key roles in CyManII’s first-year projects, finding ways to protect manufacturing automation and supply chains from cyber threats, and designing better security into advanced manufacturing plants.

As CyManII’s work becomes more established, the research enterprise will expand and grow into additional areas, such as other cyber-physical systems that directly control physical processes such as machinery, vehicles, cranes, and other movable infrastructure.

In one of the projects, Professor Duminda Wijesekera, CyManII’s coordinated vulnerability awareness lead, is working with Bo Yu, research assistant professor, and Matt Jablonski, a PhD candidate and research assistant, to study smart manufacturing architecture (SMA). SMA has the potential to make American manufacturing more productive, more energy efficient, more competitive, and verifiably correct. “We hope our research in smart

“Formal guarantees are needed in secure manufacturing automation because, in their absence, there is no acceptable way to guarantee against failures that occur due to malice and natural faults,” says Wijesekera. “These failures can affect the operational safety of machinery, operators, and the equipment that uses manufactured parts, resulting in wasted material and energy.” —Martha Bushong


Reinforcing Stormwater Infrastructure in Northern Virginia


ason College of Engineering and Computing researchers are studying ways to shore up the stormwater infrastructure in Northern Virginia to protect the region against flooding in the future.

For their part of the project, Maggioni and her PhD student Ishrat Jahan Dollan are analyzing precipitation data. They are looking at precipitation patterns to determine if the intensity and frequency of storms in the region have been changing over time.

The area is growing fast in terms of urbanization and population, and it’s near the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, which makes it vulnerable to flooding, says civil engineering associate professor Viviana Maggioni.

“Precipitation is the driving force and the main cause of floods, and by correctly characterizing rainfall, we can predict such extreme events,” Maggioni says.

“We are looking at how the precipitation is going to change in the next 30 to 50 years and what parts of the area are vulnerable to flooding,” she says. Stormwater infrastructure is critical for carrying water through an urban area during extreme precipitation events. It includes curbs, gutters, drains, piping, and collection systems such as basins and reservoirs. “The designs for those systems are usually based on historical climate conditions, but we can’t just rely on the past to design stormwater infrastructure anymore because climate variability may be affecting the desired performance of this infrastructure in the future,” says associate professor Celso Ferreira. “We are developing insights to help decision-makers build resilient stormwater infrastructure that is still safe under future conditions,” he says. Maggioni, Ferreira, and two of their PhD students, as well as several other Mason researchers and regional experts, got involved in the American Geophysical Union Thriving Earth Exchange project, initiated by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, which wanted to collaborate with local scientists to better understand regional vulnerability scenarios for flooding.

Dollan says, “My contribution to this project is to provide reliable, detailed precipitation estimates at a one-kilometer resolution that will be used as input to generate flooding scenarios.” Then, Ferreira and PhD student Gustavo Coelho will use their hydrologic models to evaluate the stormwater infrastructure and create flood maps and compare them with the flood maps they currently have. “We will take the precipitation data to determine how the stormwater infrastructure needs to be adapted so the region can become more resilient to flooding,” Coelho says. “We will think about multiple solutions—stormwater systems, basins, and channels—and advise the planners and engineers on how they can make the region more prepared to mitigate flooding impacts,” he says. Researchers and local planners are collaborating to advance scientific knowledge into decision-making tools, Dollan says. The next generation of engineers will need to design stormwater infrastructure that is resilient under future and unknown conditions but is still cost effective with current resources, Ferreira says. “This interdisciplinary project is exploring how to do just that.” —Nanci Hellmich


Associate professors Viviana Maggioni (pictured) and Celso Ferreira are developing insights into the future of flooding in Northern Virginia to advise decision makers on stormwater infrastructure improvements. Photo by Ron Aira


Helping Maryland Counties Curb Climate Change


Systems engineering senior design students analyzed numerous aspects of two Maryland counties' infrastructure, budget, and resources to help them reduce their carbon emissions. Photo by Getty Images


ver two years, two systems engineering senior design teams developed a tool to help two Maryland counties make complex financial decisions to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. During the 2019–20 academic year, one student team and their faculty advisor, professor emeritus George Donohue, completed an analysis to evaluate the benefits of Anne Arundel County (AAC) switching their county’s fleet of vehicles from gasoline-only to fully electric vehicles.

“County executives wanted to make an effort to reduce their carbon output, and looking at their fleet was a good way to accomplish that,” says Donohue.

During the 2020–21 academic year, Baltimore County sponsored a new student team to analyze their fleets and operations. To assist county staff, the team developed a decision support tool to help county personnel see the total life-cycle costs of fuel-efficient vehicles and make the complex trade-offs. “The difference between acquisition costs and total life-cycle costs is very important,” says team member Khiem Duong. “Electric vehicles are more expensive to purchase but have lower operating costs than fossil fuel-burning vehicles. Internal combustion engine vehicles are less expensive to purchase but, over time, have higher operating costs.”

Duong, Evan Anderson, Rebecca Quintero, and Hein Naing’s tool has proven successful for Baltimore County. Seth Blumen, The next generation of engineers will need to design Baltimore County energy and sustainability coordinator, says, “The systems to adapt to a changing climate and to thorough assessment and detailed analytics provided in a user-friendly take the CO2 out of the atmosphere. Our amazing tool have helped the county tremensystems engineering students are uniquely qualified dously. We can now explore options for which vehicles to consider [for] to make the world a better place. meeting sustainability goals. It was a privilege to work with such a sophisti— Lance Sherry, associate professor, Systems Engineering cated and dedicated team.” and Operations Research

The four original team members—Emily Chen, Mukand Bihari, Norman Au, and O’Ryan Lattin—had to balance the county’s budget and infrastructure concerns to reach their goal. Eventually, they pivoted to look at hybrid vehicles, as opposed to a fully electric fleet. The team’s pivot paid off. In late July 2020, Steuart Pittman, county executive for AAC, sent a memorandum to the county’s director of central services to detail the county’s plans to transition to all hybrid and electric vehicles by 2037. “Matt Johnson, the county executive’s special staff person for the environment, came to me and said, ‘George, you will be happy to know that we have adopted your recommendation,’” says Donohue.

Using the tool, Baltimore County has identified the departments and fleets to transition to electric vehicles. “Addressing climate change is a massive challenge facing [the] next generation, “ says associate professor Lance Sherry. “The previous generation of engineers designed systems that allowed CO2 into the atmosphere. The next generation of engineers will need to design systems to adapt to a changing climate and to take the CO2 out of the atmosphere. Our amazing systems engineering students are uniquely qualified to make the world a better place.” —Ryley McGinnis


Celebrating Student Success Through robust support programs, one-on-one guidance from individual faculty members, and a school-wide commitment to the mission of teaching, we are determined to help our students achieve success.


In May 2021, CEC congratulated graduates with an outdoor degree celebration. Photo by Creative Services


Sidney Boakye, mechanical engineering alumnus, received the prestigious Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship and interned at Rocket Lab in Los Angeles after graduating from Mason in May 2021. Photo by Ron Aira

Student Soars Closer to His Dream


any people dream of being an astronaut and rocketing into outer space, but senior Sidney Boakye has landed an opportunity that launches him closer to that long-standing dream. Boakye, a mechanical engineering alumnus, is the first George Mason University student to be awarded the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship, a highly selective internship, mentorship, and networking program for students interested in spaceflight. “I am incredibly honored to be the first Mason student in the Matthew Isakowitz program,” says Boakye. “I have dreamed of becoming a rocket engineer since I was 10.”


Former recipients of the fellowship have hailed from Columbia University, MIT, Princeton University, Georgia Tech, and more. “The list of former fellows is impressive, and I’m excited to be a part of the 2021 group,” says Boakye. Once selected, fellows receive a paid summer internship at one of the program’s host companies. They are also paired with a notable commercial space industry leader who provides mentorship. Boakye was paired with Rocket Lab in Los Angeles, and his mentor was former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman. Boakye was drawn to the fellowship because of how the program embeds recipients within the commercial space industry by providing mentors, internships, and networking

I am incredibly honored to be the first Mason student in the Matthew Isakowitz program. I have dreamed of becoming a rocket engineer since I was 10. —Sidney Boakye, BS Mechanical Engineering ’21 opportunities. “I know I will learn a lot from this experience,” he says. “This is a unique opportunity to learn and apply your knowledge. I will also get to meet like-minded people.”

collegiate chapters of the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, Engineers for International Development, and SatCom GMU.

Boakye has dreamed of being an astronaut since he was 3 years old, and when he came to Mason, he knew he wanted to pursue mechanical engineering. Since his freshman year, he has immersed himself in Mason Nation through student organizations and community involvement.

Boakye urges all students to seek out opportunities on and off campus. “I hope that I’m not the only Mason student to receive this amazing fellowship, but there are plenty of opportunities like this out there to go for,” he says. “And if you dig a little at Mason, you can find clubs and opportunities that can also give you experience in what you enjoy and expose you to new things.”

“I am graduating in three years instead of the traditional four years, but it was important for me to plan in time to get involved in clubs,” he says. In addition to being a community assistant for Mason Housing, he has served on five different executive boards across organizations like Mason’s

—Ryley McGinnis


Fairfax County Police landed a helicopter on Mason's Fairfax Campus to aid mechanical engineering students studying aeronautics. Photo by Ron Aira


Helicopter Drops In


tudents studying aeronautics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering got an up-close look at how a helicopter works when the Fairfax County Police landed one on campus and explained its functionality.

The College of Engineering and Computing’s second-semester senior aeronautics class focuses on rotary-wing flight vehicle performance, stability and control, and unmanned aircraft systems. To bring some of the ideas of the class to life, adjunct professor Robert Gallo asked Captain Michael Shamblin, helicopter division commander of the Fairfax County Police Department, to provide a practical demonstration of vertical lift with their Bell 429 helicopter. The helicopter landed on the lawn outside Merten Hall one afternoon in late February, and the police flight crew demonstrated how the cyclic and collective flight systems affect motion and control of the rotor blades. Among those attending the class with the aeronautics students were Mason president Gregory Washington, provost and executive vice president Mark Ginsberg, College of Engineering and Computing dean Ken Ball, and Mechanical Engineering Department chair Leigh McCue.

We were able to look inside at the controls that they use to pilot a helicopter, and we learned about some of the effects the helicopter encounters during its flight. —Mason Chee, mechanical engineering student “YouTube videos and PowerPoints only go so far in explaining the complexities of vertical lift,” Gallo says. “So, having the Fairfax Police here helped our students understand how the helicopter rotor generates lift and allows it to fly in all directions.” Mechanical engineering senior Mason Chee agrees. “We were able to look inside at the controls that they use to pilot a helicopter, and we learned about some of the effects the helicopter encounters during its flight. You can read about the theories and watch videos about them, but nothing comes as close as seeing it live.” Vanessa Barth, a mechanical engineering senior, adds, “They were teaching us about the mechanical components and systems that control a helicopter. It was all information we talked about in class, but to see it in person was helpful.” Gallo says the Fairfax Police were highly engaging and did an outstanding job answering questions, not only from Mason students but also from the faculty and staff in attendance. —Nanci Hellmich


Student Experience Launches More Than a ThinSat


hen Northrup Grumman’s mission NG-15 launched into space from Wallops Island, Virginia, on February 20, the event symbolized both an end and a beginning for Jay Deorukhkar, a master’s student at George Mason University majoring in computer engineering.

of Electrical and Computer Engineering, started in the fall of 2018 when Pachowicz asked for students who might be interested in the program as a senior design project. One of those students, Hina Fatima, BS Computer Engineering ’19, went to watch the launch of the rocket from a location near Wallops Island.

The Antares rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station also carried a secondary payload of 30 ThinSats from U.S. schools and colleges. A team of students from Mason built one of these ThinSats.

The group found a location less than five miles away from the launch pad and saw the rocket ignite, lift off, and disappear into space. “It’s so much different to see it in person than on television,” Fatima says. “For one thing you can watch it much longer, and the sound is eerie. When the rocket lifts off you don’t hear it—sound comes later.”

“It didn’t really sink in until I saw it happen,” says Deorukhkar. “You never know if the rocket is going to lift off until it does, but when the engines start, you get that feeling in your chest. Then it’s real.” Like many space projects, the ThinSat had its share of delays before it was ready for launch, and Deorukhkar was there for all of them. “In our case, the delays turned out to be helpful. If we hadn’t had them, things might have been different.” Even before the COVID pandemic caused a delay, another glitch allowed him to clean up data that wasn’t coming through correctly. Deorukhkar grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs and knew that when he graduated from Oakton High School, he was headed to either Mason or Northern Virginia Community College. Now six years later, he plans to pursue a PhD in electrical and computer engineering at Mason and sees a career in space systems and satellites in his future. “Working on this project solidified my career choice,” says Deorukhkar. “Until this experience, I wasn’t sure what field I wanted to go into.” The ThinSat program, spearheaded by Piotr Pachowicz, associate professor in the Department


After the launch, the ThinSat orbited the Earth for six days completing two experiments. The first experiment compared two methods for shielding batteries against freezing temperatures in space, and the second one compared the efficiency of two power architectures when influenced by satel-

Deorukhkar plans to pursue a PhD in electrical and computer engineering at Mason and sees a career in space systems and satellites in his future. lite spin. Deorukhkar sees tremendous value in the ThinSat program. “Different universities have different missions in space, and it’s the first line of testing different technologies,” he says. “I see two end states: One, the educational experience of building a satellite, which is priceless. The second is the publication and sharing of the findings so that the community can learn.” —Martha Bushong

Jay Deorukhkar, a member of the senior design team that built the ThinSat, says the experience helped him define his professional goals. Photo by Evan Cantwell


Strengthening Diversity Our students encounter the whole world at one university—people representing virtually every background imaginable. They prepare for life and work in a 21st century multicultural world in an educational setting just as vibrant and diverse. We have proved this by

Increasing ethnic diversity for underrepresented groups by 180 percent in the past 5 years Increasing gender diversity by 42 percent in the past 5 years


Students celebrate diversity during International Week. Mason is proud of its status as Virginia's most diverse university. Photo by Creative Services





Hmm… I don’t have an answer for that. Is there something else I can help with?




Improving Equality in Language Technologies


omputer science researcher Antonios Anastasopoulos uses his love for computer science, language, and linguistics to improve equality in language technologies. When people ask Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant a question, they expect the programs to understand them, but that is not always the case, he says. A person’s language, accent, dialect, and even gender can have an impact, preventing the system from interpreting them correctly, says Anastasopoulos, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and an expert in natural language processing, which is how computers attempt to process and understand human languages. “The systems don’t work equally well for everyone,” says Anastasopoulos, who speaks Greek (his native language), English, German, Swedish, Italian, and some Spanish. He is one of several principal investigators who received a new National Science Foundation (NSF) and Amazon grant for their research, “Quantifying and Mitigating Disparities in Language Technologies.” Last year, Anastasopoulos also won a Google 2020 Award for Inclusion Research for a project on how accent and dialect impact language technologies. For the NSF-Amazon grant, he and experts from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington are studying areas where there is bias in language technologies and measuring the

discrepancies. Then they will attempt to mitigate the inequalities. “We want to measure the extent to which the diversity of language affects the utility that speakers get from language technologies,” Anastasopoulos says. “We will focus on automatic translation and speech recognition since they are perhaps the most commonly used language technologies throughout the world.” His research will apply to all languages. It’s important to look deeply into languages for differences because languages are flexible and diverse, he says. “There are many regional variations that are different from the standard.” He also recently received a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to build optical character recognition tools to convert scanned images of text to a machine-readable format for endangered languages. “We are working on training machine-­ learning models to process images and texts in the books and documents of Indigenous languages from Central and South America so that these works can be made accessible to everyone,” he says. “We are building technologies to study those languages computationally.” —Nanci Hellmich

We want to measure the extent to which the diversity of language affects the utility that speakers get from language technologies. —Antonios Anastasopoulos, assistant professor, Computer Science


Inspiring and Mentoring Women in STEM


hen Nathalia Peixoto was growing up in Brazil, she told people she wanted to be a teacher and an engineer when she grew up.

“My brother and sister made fun of me, saying that those don’t go together,” says Peixoto, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and an affiliate faculty member with the Department of Bioengineering. “My mom never finished her first year of college, so it was not clear that anyone in our family would go to college.”

As supervisor for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, she meets with minority students, sharing stories of her journey, providing guidance on job searches and applying to graduate school, and tips on finding a lab to conduct research while an undergraduate. Peixoto estimates she has mentored hundreds of students over the years, often supervising their research projects. Currently, she is overseeing nine independent research projects led by high school and undergraduate students, three ECE senior design team projects, as well as three research projects in her Neural Engineering Lab.

Peixoto estimates she has mentored hundreds of students over the years, often supervising their research projects. But Peixoto was determined. She went to a vocational-­ technical school instead of a traditional high school and became a technician in electronics and robotics, working with five engineers. “When I disagreed with them, or they asked me to do things that I thought were wrong, they said, ‘Unless you have a bachelor’s degree, you can’t call any shots.’” So Peixoto went on to get an undergraduate degree and PhD, and then to conduct research at the University of Bonn in Germany as well as at Stanford University before coming to Mason in 2004 as a postdoc in the Physics and Astronomy Department. She joined the College of Engineering and Computing in 2006 as an assistant professor in ECE. Now Peixoto is living her childhood dream, combining her love for teaching and engineering while mentoring young women, like herself, who had to overcome obstacles to become engineers. “I prefer to help people who have difficulties navigating the academic world,” says Peixoto, who won Mason’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2015.

For one of Peixoto's funded research projects, a graduate student is creating a device that uses wireless signals to detect people’s heart rate and breath behind walls of rubble. “It could be used to detect a person who [is] buried because of an earthquake or in a war zone,” Peixoto says. The U.S. Air Force is funding the project. “There’s a lot of math behind it and hardware/software development to be done to make it work, but I am hopeful it will be really useful.” For another project, she’s working with an epidemiologist to develop a portable robot that can collect ticks, which will help for research on tick-borne diseases. In another, she’s working with a social work professor at Mason on virtual-reality tools to help people who are recovering from addiction. Her expertise here is used to help analyze brain signals and the physiological state of the user during exposure to triggers. “After students leave Mason, they often keep in touch and let me know how their professional and personal lives are going,” she says. “Their stories become part of mine, they always have their experiences at Mason [to] impact them, and it is gratifying for me to see and be part of that.” —Nanci Hellmich


Nathalia Peixoto (on the left) with an Aspiring Student Summer Internship Program student in the Neural Engineering Lab. The lab's research programs involve the development and use of in vitro and in vivo neural interface technologies. Photo by Evan Cantwell


TTIP thematic hires create opportunities to hire diverse faculty and address social justice issues in engineering and computing. Pictured from left: Juan Cebral, Siddhartha Sikdar, Sanmay Das, and Christopher Carr. Photo by Ron Aira


TTIP Thematic Hires Create Opportunities for Diversity, and Social Justice


ast fall, faculty teams were invited to submit proposals describing thematic faculty hiring opportunities as part of the Tech Talent Investment Pipeline (TTIP). The decision committee evaluated 14 proposals for innovation, timeliness, and alignment with Mason’s strengths, recruiting plans, and hiring strategies. Three proposals emerged as the top selections— the Computational Systems Biomedicine theme, led by Bioengineering’s Siddhartha Sikdar and Juan Cebral; CEC chief diversity officer Christopher Carr’s Social Justice, Engineering, and Computing proposal; and Computer

The Computational Systems Biomedicine thematic hire focuses on the opportunities of data integration. “Our health care system is very fragmented,” says Sikdar, the team lead. “We have specialists who care for patients, and there is a lot of data and knowledge that is available, not only about these individual patients and their underlying conditions, but also the environment where they live, their communities, and their socioeconomic status.” For Sikdar, diverse perspectives will be a critical part of the new team’s approach.

Recruiting faculty with lived experiences related to these topics is critical not only for the perspectives they bring to their research, but for increasing the diversity of our faculty to better match our student body. —Sanjeev Setia, interim divisional dean, School of Computing Science professor Sanmay Das’s Artificial Intelligence (AI), Society, and Public Policy proposal. The three proposals eventually formed two teams: AI, Social Justice, and Public Policy, and Computational Systems Biomedicine. Each team will recruit up to four tenure-line faculty over the next three years, and the allocated funds will be dedicated to faculty salaries, start-up packages, and other infrastructure needs. Faculty recruited under this program may start their appointments at Mason in spring 2022 or fall 2023. For the AI, Social Justice, and Public Policy thematic hire, led by Carr and Das, the multidisciplinary focus will give Mason an entrée into the national discussions about AI and technology. The proposal reflects a growing concern that unconscious bias may be creeping into systems that affect areas such as mortgage approval, credit scores, and hiring practices, often with destructive outcomes for affected communities.

“We want many different ways to think about the problems. Disciplinary diversity is critical, and it is equally important to recruit from underrepresented groups,” says Sikdar. “We know there are significant disparities in health that need to be factored in.” “Recruiting faculty with lived experiences related to these topics is critical not only for the perspectives they bring to their research, but for increasing the diversity of our faculty to better match our student body,” says Sanjeev Setia, interim divisional dean for the new School of Computing. “The new school has an opportunity to integrate diversity and computing and challenge stereotypes with these thematic hires.” —Martha Bushong


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