Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Center for Visual Computing Faculty and Students to Present 8 papers at the European Conference on Computer Vision

Faculty and students from the Center for Visual Computing will present eight papers at ECCV, the European Conference on Computer Vision, Oct. 8-16, 2016 the premier international forum for computer vision research this year, held in Amsterdam. 

Center for Visual Computing papers at ECCV 2016:

1. Top-down Learning for Structured Labeling with Convolutional Pseudoprior 
Saining Xie, Xun Huang, Zhuowen Tu

2. A Unified Multi-scale Deep Convolutional Neural Network for Fast Object Detection
Zhaowei Cai, Quanfu Fan, Rogerio Feris, Nuno Vasconcelos

3. Semantic Clustering for Robust Fine-Grained Scene Recognition 
MarianGeorge, Dixit Mandar, Gábor Zogg, Nuno Vasconcelos

4. Peak-Piloted Deep Network for Facial Expression Recognition
Xiangyun Zhao, Xiaodan Liang, Luoqi Liu, Teng Li, Yugang Han, Nuno Vasconcelos, Shuicheng Yan

5. HFS: Hierarchical Feature Selection for Efficient Image Segmentation
Ming-Ming Cheng, Yun Liu, Qibin Hou, Jiawang Bian, Philip Torr, Shimin Hu, Zhuowen Tu

6. Linear depth estimation from an uncalibrated, monocular polarisation image
William Smith, Ravi Ramamoorthi, Silvia Tozza

7. A 4D Light-Field Dataset and CNN Architectures for Material Recognition
Ting-Chun Wang, Jun-Yan Zhu, Hiroaki Ebi, Manmohan Chandraker, Alexei Efros, Ravi Ramamoorthi

8. Deep Deformation Network for Object Landmark Localization
Xiang Yu, Feng Zhou, Manmohan Chandraker

Visual Computing Center Faculty and students will also present three papers at the SIGGRAPH Asia 2016 computer graphics conference, held in Macao in early December.

Center for Visual Computing papers at SIGGRAPH Asia 2016:

1. Minimal BRDF Sampling for Two-Shot Near-Field Reflectance
Acquisition, Zexiang Xu, Jannik Boll Nielsen, Jiyang Yu, Henrik Wann Jensen, Ravi Ramamoorthi

2. Downsampling Scattering Parameters for Rendering Anisotropic Media
Shuang Zhao, Lifan Wu, Fredo Durand, Ravi Ramamoorthi

3. Learning-Based View Synthesis for Light Field Cameras
Nima Khademi Kalantari, Ting-Chun Wang, Ravi Ramamoorthi

Engineers on the Green Sep 26, 2016

Did you miss the student org showcase, Engineers on the Green on Monday, Sep 26? From video game development to making rockets, there's a student org at the Jacobs School for everyone. Many of them gathered to showcase their projects and recruit new members at the event! For a full list of student orgs, visit this page.

Check out these pictures:

Friday, September 23, 2016

First Day of School Instagram Takeover

Yesterday was the first day of the new school year. Bioengineering junior Julie Yip took over the Jacobs School of Engineering Instagram. Check out her day going around campus to classes, browsing Library Walk, and meeting with her friends!

Visited the ECE Open House and had some free coffee and pastries. Yum! #ucsdece #instagramtakeover #firstdayofschool

A photo posted by UC San Diego Engineering (@ucsandiegoengineering) on

Medical, Educational Missions and Outreach (MEMO) had the cutest bear! Love them! @memo_ucsd #instagramtakeover #firstdayofschool

A photo posted by UC San Diego Engineering (@ucsandiegoengineering) on

Grabbing lunch with friends! #instagramtakeover #firstdayofschool

A photo posted by UC San Diego Engineering (@ucsandiegoengineering) on

Pikachu says to go to First Friday. Save the date! #instagramtakeover #firstdayofschool

A photo posted by UC San Diego Engineering (@ucsandiegoengineering) on

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Academic Connections Leads High School Students to Success

Omid Hedayatnia, high school participant of the Academic Connections Program. 

UC San Diego always has plenty of opportunities for young minds to thrive and grow year-round. One very important program that helps youth explore their academic potential is the UC San Diego Academic Connections (AC) pre-college program.

Gifted high school students from around the world choose UCSD’s pre-college programs, like Academic Connections, to prepare for success, and experience college-level academics. During this year’s AC graduation ceremony, Dr. Ebonee Williams, Executive Director of the Gordon Center, gave a passionate speech about the potential of the students at AC, and how they will have a challenging but successful future ahead.

AC connects high achieving high school students with college-level subjects of their choices. Courses are led and designed by exceptional graduate students as well as world-renowned UCSD faculty researchers from a wide array of academic disciplines, all of whom are experts in their respective fields.

Academic Connections is unique for providing high-school students a thorough glimpse of the academically rigorous college experience at UCSD. Students choose one of approximately 25 courses offered, and accumulate vast knowledge during the three-week class of their choice. Classes meet five hours a day, capping off at about 22 students per class. The small enrollment was specifically chosen to drive quality interaction with instructors.

“Academic Connections was an extraordinary experience for me,” said Omid Hedayatnia, one of the students from AC’s Summer 2016 program. “I want to continue pursuing computer science and artificial intelligence, so I chose the Cognitive Science program.” Omid, who is now the president of his high school’s computer club, enjoyed learning about the different facets of cognitive science, considering that it is a highly multidisciplinary field involving psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy, with a central focus on the mind’s processes.

Students also were able to experience residential life at UCSD, giving them an eye-opening glance about what college living will be like. AC students had the opportunity to participate in recreational activities all day, as well as on the weekends. “There were all kinds of programs, like sports, art, and dancing,” said Omid.

Robin Wittman, program manager of Academic Connections, fully believes in the impact the program makes in preparing bright young minds for college. “We stressed that by working hard and pursuing their passions through education, students could do anything they wanted to do in life,” she said. “There’s nothing more fulfilling to me than helping spread the word about Academic Connections. We have the opportunity to help these bright and promising students chart a positive life course by giving them the skills to thrive.”

Life Science Startups in Chile Get Commercialization Training and Mentoring

Members of winning team X'Plant and judges from the Life Science Challenge, from left to right: Anil Sadarangani, Bernardita Araya, Astrid Borgna, Constanza Jimenez, Ziyad Haidar, Elmer Torres, Patricia Dauelsberg, and Steve Kanzer
UC San Diego knows that start-ups and collaborations pave the way towards the future, so the UANDES Life Tech Challenge reflects a thriving partnership between UANDES, a private nonprofit university in Chile, and the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center.  

Through the efforts of Anil Sandarangani, MBA graduate from UC San Diego, a thriving partnership between our university and the University de los Andes (UANDES) now exists.  UANDES is a private, non-profit university in Santiago, Chile renowned for research and innovation. Its business and engineering courses are taught completely in English.

The partnership, achieved through the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center, was created to bridge the gap between idea formation and the start-up launch process through training and mentoring. Personalized tactics and mentorship create more successful technology companies and attract additional talent and resources to the life sciences industries in Chile.

Partnerships like these help to foster new inventions and creations, while encouraging cross-cultural learning and understanding from different cultures. von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center looks forward to continuing programs like these and expanding with other projects in the future, to promote global entrepreneurialism and cultivate the startup environment in the STEM field.

Winning team X'Plant from the Life Tech challenge, from left to right: Cesar Trigo, PhD; Constanza Jimenez, DDS; Ziyad Haidar, DDS; Paula Ibarra, PhD; Javier Campos .
von Liebig Mentor, Michael Krupp, PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Rochester, tied together his knowledge of life science and business to conduct a two-day seminar at UANDES on innovation and entrepreneurism in the life science industry. Dr. Krupp’s experience from serving as an executive at Pfizer and Chugai Pharma, as well as an advisor to several biotech startups, helped him captivate and educate the students. He watched as 12 teams made presentations on their startup companies in a wide range of life science technologies, such as biotech, healthcare, food technologies and medical therapies.  Dr. Krupp selected the top 6 teams that have the best chance for commercialization into the market.

The top six teams received mentorship from August through September from four von Liebig business and technology advisors with expertise in life sciences. The mentoring was essential in helping these teams stay on track through the commercialization process. On September 13 at the final pitch presentation, X’Plant was selected as the winner of the Life Tech Challenge. 

About the Teams

The X’PLANT team is led by a team of dentists.  The presentation was made by Constanza Jimenez, DDS.  As a practicing dentist, Dr. Jimenez and her colleagues have developed a set of tools for the non-invasive removal of failed dental implants. The team’s mentor is Garrett Smith, who holds a PhD in Bioengineering at UC San Diego, and is also a co-founder of three life-tech startups.

Maria Eliana Manquez, MD led the MD EyeCare team. As a practicing physician, Dr. Manquez has developed an online application for the early detection of eye disorders in children. John York, who holds a Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of Michigan and has his own biotech consulting company, is the mentor to this team.

Mentoring two teams in the medical diagnostics space, Richard Garber, PhD, has a degree in Biology from Yale and is currently a drug development consultant. One of the teams he mentors is Neurogos, led by CEO Alejandro Bisquertt. The team has developed a diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia using blood biomarkers.  The test provides key information for more effective treatment.

Dr. Garber also mentored Pregnostica, led by Alejandra Chapparro DDS.  As a dental surgeon and UANDES faculty member, Dr. Chapparro uses saliva biomarkers to predict gestational diabetes and preeclampsia early in pregnancy.
Green Biofactory, led by Daniela Fuentes PhD, develops proteins using algae to serve as a food supplement for pork. The team’s mentor is Karl Francis, PhD, holding a PhD in Bioengineering from UC San Diego and serving as Principal Scientist at Accriva Diagnostics.

Dr. Francis also mentored the Blood Vessels team led by Camila Wilkens, PhD. This team uses mesenchymal stem cells and biomaterials to create small blood vessels with the mechanical and biological properties of real blood vessels.    

Hacking 4 Defense Solves National Security Issues

 On August 18, the Hacking 4 Defense (H4D) program held its very first information session in the basement classroom of the Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall, bringing together students and faculty alike.

Hacking 4 Defense is a class that was originally established at Stanford, but is now expanding to universities like UC San Diego, per Dean Albert Pisano’s desire to establish a strong relationship between UC San Diego and the military. Hacking 4 Defense will prepare  graduate students, post-docs, as well as select undergraduates to become fast-paced thinkers with unique entrepreneurial mindsets. Student teams will work to find a solution out of a myriad of real national security problems pointed out by the Department of Defense (DoD) as well as the Intelligence Community. Real professionals in a variety of fields will serve as mentors to student teams in the program.

Michael Krupp, Ph.D, program director of H4D, believes the class is perfect for students who want to participate in public service and get the realistic environment of a startup business, while also having the privilege to not need to rearrange their whole lives for it, unlike many of professionals who do change their careers later on. “Entrepreneurship and the processes involved can actually help tackle our nation’s national security issues efficiently,” he said. “The Lean Startup Method, which is what we will be using in this course, can help groups get to feasible and efficient solutions. Taking this to the real world, we see that diplomacy can be improved through innovation.”

The Lean Startup Theory is a method that favors experimentation over strategic and excessive planning, emphasizing the importance of jumping in, making the guesses, and filling in the blanks of factual information later. Harvard Business Review claims this method will change “everything” for start-ups. H4D will combine this theory with a plethora of hands-on experience, requiring groups to get their “hands dirty” by constantly communicating with not only each other, but resources outside the classroom to find a solution to their projects.

Instructors Ellen Chang and Travis DeMeester both have extensive experience in innovation and business. Chang was in the Navy for eight years and remains active, worked at Northrop Grunman for 12 years, and is an Angel investor. DeMeester was a former Marine captain with a colorful background in Aerospace, and is currently a principal at BMNT Partners.

Both spoke on the opportunities available to students through this unique class, and DeMeester believes that it’s great training for learning to present in front of a board. “Because the groups will have to present once a week, it’s literally like you are practicing to present to a board of Directors on a regular basis,” said DeMeester. He also added how the experience will help transition a student’s abilities from the classroom to a real-life startup. “The gap between going straight from school towards entrepreneurship is a difficult one. This class helps to close that gap.”


H4D will have a second informational session on October 7, once the school year begins. To stay updated on the event, visit the program’s website for more information and announcements:

For the rest of this article about the instructors of the class, see our blog.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

These fish weren't just made for swimming

There's something fishy going on in the Department of NanoEngineering at UC San Diego. Last summer, 3D-printed microfish made a big splash in the news. Now, researchers have created "nanofish" -- tiny metallic fish 100 times smaller than a grain of sand -- that could be used to deliver drugs to particular places in the body.

The nanofish are made of gold and magnetic nickel segments, which enable the fish to move and be guided by an external magnet.

"We believe they could be useful for medicine delivery, non-invasive surgery and single cell manipulation," said Jinxing Li, a PhD student in the lab of nanoengineering professor Joseph Wang who led the research.

See a video of the nanofish featured in New Scientist:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Shared Autonomy

A blog post by Henrik Christensen, Director, UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute. (The post originally appeared on Christensen's blog. Follow Christensen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hiskov)

We are at present seeing a lot of interest in autonomous systems. A lot of automotive companies are talking about autonomous cars or driver-less cars. GM and Google demonstrated early systems. Google started out with automation of regular cars and has also presented a concept system for a car without a steering wheel [URL]. Tesla has a model where the driver is expected to take over [URL] when the autopilot cannot provide a robust solution. The sharing of autonomy between well understood contexts – that are handled automatically and human intervention for challenge situation is a version of shared autonomy, where humans and robots collaborate to achieve a mission objective.
Tele-operation of robots has existed for a long-time. Much of the early work was carried out in the  handling of radioactive material, where direct contact by people is not an option. These systems were all purely tele-operated. This is the same type of model we see applied to medical robots such as minimally invasive systems. The Intuitive Surgical System – Da Vinci [URL] is a great example of such a system. The objective is here minimization of trauma to the body.
For Aerospace Systems we have long known the auto-pilot which is a shared autonomy system. The pilots will typically handle take-off and landing, whereas cruise flight is handled by the auto-pilot. For Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) the pilots / operators are sitting on the ground and operating vehicles that may be airborne for as long as 36 hours. We are seeing similar applications for smaller UAVs for commercial and entertainment tasks. New commercial applications include building inspection and mapping of construction sites [URL]. For entertainment companies such as DJI [URL] build robots that are radio controlled. We are slowly seeing small functions such as level keeping or automation tracking of skiers which are examples of shared autonomy. The systems are launched and an objective is specified (tracker me, or maintain level) which is performed autonomously.
One of the biggest challenges in design systems with shared autonomy is to provide the operator with adequate context to allow them to take over as appropriate. A great example of a system that does this in an industrial context is the company Aethon [URL] out of Pittsburgh. They provide delivery robots for hospitals and other institutions. The objective is an autonomous system, but when a robot gets caught in an unusual situation such as a trashcan in the middle of a hallway, the robot requests assistance from a call center. The operator uses the on-board sensors to understand the problem and drive the robot out of the situation. If you are in a car taking over control is more of a challenge when you are driving 55 mph down the highway. It takes time to understand the challenge and to take over, which challenges the design of such systems with automatic takeover. How do we provide the driver with adequate information to take over control of the car? Or is this an appropriate model for shared control?
As we explore the shared control of systems with some functions performed autonomously and others carried out by an operator it is essential to consider the fluency of human-robot interaction, to consider the cognitive aspects of systems and to ensure that engineers use these models as an integral part of their systems design. On October 28, 2016, the University of California San Diego will host the annual Contextual Robotics Forum with the theme of “Shared Autonomy: New Directions in Human-Machine Interaction”. Join us for a day focused on the future of robotics and shared autonomy. You'll meet world-leaders in robotics and connect with the robotics ecosystem at UC San Diego and in the region at the technology showcase.

Over the next few years we will see tremendous progress on design of systems that off-load the operator but we will be challenged in doing this in a way that still allows the operator to intervene for challenge cases. So far few systems have managed to do this with a high degree of fluency. We need more research at the intersection of cognitive science, system engineering and robotics to fully leverage next generation systems with shared autonomy.

UC San Diego nanoengineer makes Popular Science’s ‘Brilliant 10’ list

Popular Science magazine has named Liangfang Zhang, a nanoengineering professor at the University of California San Diego, in its 15th annual “Brilliant 10” list, a lineup of “the 10 most innovative young minds in science and engineering.” Zhang was recognized for his revolutionary work in the field of nanomedicine, which focuses on nanomaterials for medical applications.

Zhang invented a way to make nanoparticles perform therapeutic tasks in the body, like treat injuries and deliver drugs to specific sites, without being rejected by the immune system. By coating nanoparticles with natural cell membranes from the body, like red blood cell membranes and platelet cell membranes, researchers can disguise nanoparticles as the body’s own cells.

“We’re essentially camouflaging nanoparticles to look and act like they belong in the body. We want to mimic the natural interaction of the body’s cells with the immune system in order to make new biomimetic nanoparticles that can safely function and survive in the body for long periods of time,” Zhang said.

Zhang’s cell membrane coating technology made its debut in a 2011 study, in which his team showed a new way to disguise nanoparticles as red blood cells. The method involved collecting the membranes from red blood cells and wrapping them around polymeric nanoparticles. This work was an important first step toward a nanodevice—for applications like drug delivery—that could circulate in the body for extended periods without being attacked by the immune system. Since red blood cells live in the body for up to 120 days, Zhang figured they would be good models and resources for making long-circulation drug delivery nanodevices.

In the 2011 study, Zhang’s team showed that nanoparticles coated with red blood cell membranes circulated in the bodies of mice for up to two days. This was an improvement over other nanoparticle systems developed for drug delivery—these are coated with a synthetic material made to temporarily suppress immune recognition and circulate in the body for just a few hours. Zhang explained that a major concern of the synthetic coating is that, after repeated use, it will eventually trigger an immune response and in the long run, these types of drug delivery systems could be drastically less effective.

Using the body’s own red blood cells marked a major breakthrough in the field of drug delivery research. Trying to mimic the most important properties of a red blood cell in a synthetic coating requires an in-depth biological understanding of how all the proteins and lipids function on the surface of a cell. It also poses what many researchers consider an insurmountable technical challenge—recreating that same cell surface precisely in the lab. But Zhang’s approach was to just take the whole surface membrane from an actual red blood cell.

“We approached this problem using an engineering shortcut and bypassed all of this fundamental biology and these technical challenges,” Zhang said. “We don’t need to fully understand exactly what is going on at the protein level. We can just take the entire cell membrane, coat it onto a nanoparticle surface, and make the nanoparticle look like a red blood cell.”

And this red blood cell disguise offers more than just extended circulation time in the body. Because red blood cells are one of the primary targets of pore-forming toxins, such as those produced by MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Zhang reasoned that his faux red blood cells could also serve as decoys to lure these toxins away.

Indeed, his team showed that nanoparticles coated with red blood cell membranes were capable of removing MRSA toxins from the bloodstream and as a result, also helped clear up infections caused by MRSA bacteria. This is essentially a new way to combat hard to treat bacterial infections—without the use of antibiotics, Zhang said.

Zhang describes himself as a chemical engineer with biomedical interests. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering at Tsinghua University in China, then earned his PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where his research focused on the fundamental science of cell membrane proteins and lipids. Afterwards, he pursued his postdoc at MIT, where his research on lipid-polymer nanoparticles for drug delivery was more applications focused.

“It felt like a natural fit to integrate my training in fundamental chemical engineering principles with biomedical applications,” Zhang said. “I see many parallels between the two fields. I think that studying the flow of nanoparticles through a blood vessel is similar, albeit more complex, to studying the flow of materials through a pipeline. They both involve knowledge of fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and diffusion laws. Once you know all these fundamental principles, the work makes more sense.”

In 2008, Zhang became an assistant professor at UC San Diego. He was one of the first faculty recruited for the university’s newly formed Department of NanoEngineering. Shortly after, his idea to combine natural cell membranes with synthetic nanoparticles for drug delivery and other biomedical applications was born.

Over the past five years, Zhang and his lab have taken their cell membrane coating technology to new heights. They’ve disguised nanoparticles as human platelets, which have a natural affinity for binding to damaged blood vessels and certain pathogens in the body, like MRSA bacteria. Because of this affinity, platelet-mimicking nanoparticles could be used for targeted drug delivery.

Zhang’s team conducted several experiments. In one, they packed platelet membrane coated nanoparticles with a drug used to heal damaged arteries and administered them to wounded rats; in another experiment, they packed the nanoparticles with antibiotics and administered them to mice infected with MRSA bacteria. In both cases, the drugs were delivered primarily to the affected areas. “That shows the power and the promise of targeted delivery,” Zhang said.

Zhang’s team has also made disguises out of the membranes of beta cells, which are insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. They coated a nanofiber with beta cell membranes to create a pancreas-like microenvironment that encouraged beta cells to congregate, grow and produce more insulin. This work could lead to new treatments for patients with diabetes. “This is another example of mimicking natural interactions in the body to create more effective therapies,” Zhang said.

But researchers are not stopping there. Next on their list is using cell membrane coating technology to develop new systems for combating cancer tumors. Zhang is also working with several biopharmaceutical companies in San Diego to manufacture the red blood cell coated nanoparticles at large scales and get them into clinical trials.

Zhang and the rest of the “Brilliant 10” are featured in the September/October issues of Popular Science magazine and online at http://www.popsci.com/brilliant-10-2016.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Second-life battery electric charging station on campus selected as a finalist for ESNA award

Did you know that next week is National Drive Electric week? Help us celebrate by voting for the University of California San Diego and EVgo’s “Second-life Energy Storage + Level 3 EV Charging” project for the Energy Storage North America 2016 Mobility Innovation Award!

The UC San Diego Center for Energy Research began a partnership with EVgo, a leading provider of electric charging solutions, two years ago to develop this project and others as part of EVgo’s technology and demonstration program. The goal? Create a microgrid of technologies on the existing microgrid at UC San Diego.

“This is a shared vision for the future that combines the fastest electric vehicle charging technology, second-life battery energy storage, and integration of solar to mitigate the impact on the UC San Diego microgrid during peak hours,” said Byron Washom, Director of Strategic Energy Initiatives at UC San Diego.

The project is the first of its kind and consists of four charging stations, a solar panel roof, and two second-life batteries. The stations have been open to the public for the last year.

“The project started with two units and expanded to four,” said Washom. “UC San Diego’s population of 200 electric vehicle commuters now has access to 30-minute charging while contributing to the research and demonstration of these units.”

Second-life batteries are batteries that use to be in a car and are still useful. They help to reduce the cost of a charging station and therefore the cost of owning and operating electric vehicles.

“Using second-life batteries also defers the period of time in which we as a society will have to recycle them,” said Washom.