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COE Lab Fair Opens Up New Opportunities

September 19, 2016

When ECE student Andrew Tu met Associate Professor Stefano Basagni at last year's COE Undergraduate Lab Fair last year, it opened his eyes to all the research opportunities available at Northeastern.


Source: News @ Northeastern

When Andrew Tu, E’20, arrived at North­eastern last fall, he did not expect to be towing a buoy that stood 7.5 feet tall and 12 inches in diam­eter by hand into the ocean come summer. But that world—a watery world—opened up to him when he con­nected with asso­ciate pro­fessor Ste­fano Basagni at the Col­lege of Engi­neering Under­grad­uate Lab Fair.

I came to North­eastern knowing I was inter­ested in elec­trical engi­neering but not sure if I wanted to go in the direc­tion of elec­trical com­puter engi­neering or com­puter sci­ence,” says Tu. “And then, at the fair, I saw these microwave-​​sized hardhat yellow balls wired up to a power supply and laptops.”

Tu hadn’t a clue what they were, but he was intrigued. Chat­ting with Basagni, he learned the yellow balls were sophis­ti­cated under­water acoustic modems and part of an under­water wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work that Basagni’s lab was devel­oping. Called the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Marine Obser­va­tory Net­work, or NU MONET, the net­work will bring real-​​time sci­en­tific data from under the sea to researchers on land at the Marine Sci­ence Center. Its poten­tial appli­ca­tions range from envi­ron­mental mon­i­toring to sur­veil­lance for defense measures.

The fair is a phe­nom­enal way to see what research oppor­tu­ni­ties North­eastern offers to under­grad­u­ates.
—Andrew Tu, E’20

Other under­grad­u­ates can expand their edu­ca­tions through sim­ilar oppor­tu­ni­ties show­cased at this year’s fair on Monday, Sept. 19, in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Stu­dents can explore the work of 32 labs cov­ering fields from nanomed­i­cine to car­dio­vas­cular cell mod­eling, robotics to micro­bial ecology.

The fair is a phe­nom­enal way to see what research oppor­tu­ni­ties North­eastern offers to under­grad­u­ates,” says Tu. “Within those oppor­tu­ni­ties you can find some­thing you already know you enjoy doing or try some­thing really dif­ferent, like I did. I’ve met incred­ibly knowl­edge­able people, acquired not just tech­nical but com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, and gained insight into what real-​​life research is like.”

Learning ‘from the ground up’

Funded by a National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Research Expe­ri­ences for Under­grad­u­ates grant, Tu dove into the research expe­ri­ence with alacrity. He worked eight hours a week on it during the school year and up to 40 hours a week during breaks and over the summer. “I learned every­thing about MONET from the ground up,” he says.

Tu became pro­fi­cient at MATLAB, a pro­gram­ming lan­guage the team uses to con­trol the modems, tested the effi­ciency of var­ious net­working pro­to­cols, and helped design the buoy that he would later tow into the ocean from the Marine Sci­ence Center’s pri­vate beach front. The buoy, loaded with devices including a radio module and WiFi, will pro­vide con­stant power to the net­work as well as reli­able wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion to shore.

The ben­e­fits of under­grad­uate research oppor­tu­ni­ties go both ways, says Basagni. “Under­grad­uate stu­dents bring to the table new and orig­inal ways to tackle research chal­lenges,” he says. “Andrew’s inquis­i­tive char­acter and incred­ible curiosity led us to dis­cover new ways of looking at a problem and, with Andrew, to find a solution.”

09/21/15 - BOSTON, MA. -  Scenes during the COE Undergraduate Lab Fair held in the Curry Student Center indoor quad at Northeastern University on Sept. 21, 2015. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Andrew Tu, E’20, at the 2015 COE Under­grad­uate Lab Fair. “I saw these microwave-​​sized hardhat yellow balls wired up to a power supply and lap­tops,” he says. Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

For their part, he says, “stu­dents have the chance to expe­ri­ence a rad­i­cally dif­ferent way to learn. The learning is not just passed hier­ar­chi­cally from a pro­fessor to the stu­dents, but rather it is a joint endeavor, with both con­tributing to a common goal.”

Tu, who has decided to earn a com­bined bachelor’s degree in com­puter engi­neering and com­puter sci­ence, is con­tin­uing to work on MONET this year. His suc­cess at North­eastern under­scores Basagni’s assess­ment. “I am ahead in my classes,” he says. “The research expe­ri­ence enabled me to learn, before­hand, in a low-​​pressure envi­ron­ment more than I would have by just taking class.”

Out­side the box experiences

That envi­ron­ment extended well beyond the lab. As lead author on an upcoming paper in Embark: North­eastern Under­grad­uate Engi­neering Review, Tu became pro­fi­cient in using LaTex, a sophis­ti­cated type­set­ting system for tech­nical and sci­en­tific doc­u­ments. He was a co-​​author of a peer-​​reviewed paper that will be pre­sented on Wednesday at the Oceans 2016 con­fer­ence in Mon­terey, Cal­i­fornia. And he was selected to present a poster about his research at the annual REU Sym­po­sium, hosted by the Council on Under­grad­uate Research, in Arlington, Vir­ginia, in October.

I’ve learned what it means to be a researcher not just in the lab but in terms of writing papers, designing posters, and giving pre­sen­ta­tions,” says Tu.

At the invi­ta­tion of Basagni, he also trav­eled to Italy to learn how to use a new soft­ware product devel­oped by a team of researchers at Sapienza, Uni­ver­sità di Roma that at once sim­u­lates, emu­lates, and tests novel com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­to­cols for under­water net­working. Funded by a travel grant from the Global Envi­ron­ment for Net­work Inno­va­tions, Tu spent two weeks with the researchers and one week trav­eling solo—another new world for him.

The research opened doors to unex­pected oppor­tu­ni­ties,” says Tu. “I went to Italy. I became scuba cer­ti­fied. An intro­duc­tion to under­water net­working led me down trails I couldn’t have imag­ined before coming to Northeastern.”