June 2021

Letter from the Guest Editor

By Badri Roysam, University of Houston​

 

 

Dear ECEDHA Members, Industry Partners, and Colleagues,

The Federal R&D budget is set for a major increase and this bodes well for ECE departments. Importantly, many topics that we scientists and engineers are passionate about, like energy and the environment, are back in favor. Below is a partial list of the highlights.​​

 

  • The Department of Energy is expected to receive $46.2B for Financial Year 2022), and includes $2.2B for clean energy projects and workforce, $8B for clean energy and climate innovation, and $642M in cybersecurity research.

  • The National Science Foundation appears set for a 20% budget increase, emphasizing advanced manufacturing, wireless, AI, biotechnology, and quantum information science. It includes $1.2B for climate and clean energy research, and impressively, a $100M (50% increase) for increasing participation in science and engineering, and investments in research infrastructure.

  • The Department of Defense includes $112B RDT&E, $2.3B for microelectronics, $14.7B for science and technology, $500M for pandemic preparedness, $617M for mitigation of climate change, $874M for AI research, and $398M for 5G communications.

  • The National Institutes of Health, a growing source of ECE funding is set to create a $6.5B ARPA-like agency for accelerated health research, $100M for research on human health impacts of climate change, and importantly, a $330M for addressing healthcare disparities.

 

As Chairs, we have the urgent responsibility of alerting our faculty to these many new cornucopias of funding opportunities, and initiate some of the radical re-thinks that will be required to make the best of these opportunities.

The Fall semester will be upon us in the blink of an eye. 

We are faced with the task of making tricky decisions relating to the task of returning our departments to full operations on campus from the COVID-19 related lockdowns and partial in-person operations. These decisions are fraught with multiple uncertainties, many of which are frankly unnecessary from a scientific standpoint. 

The greatest uncertainty is associated with the fact that our faculty will find themselves in a (potentially large) classroom not knowing how many of the students are vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy still runs rampant, and this is a major cause for concern. Many faculty members are either immunologically vulnerable themselves, or live with family members who may be vulnerable. What makes this problem worse is that we are not allowed to ask individuals whether or not they are vaccinated, due to privacy concerns. Finally, it is not uncommon for even a simple/harmless/well-meaning comment to be misinterpreted by some individuals leading to a heated conversation.

So, how can we keep ourselves, our faculty and staff members, and our students safe?

Here are some of the steps that we can take in the face of these challenges:

  • We can help combat the prevalent misinformation. A simple step is to post the authoritative informational flyers on all our office and classroom walls, and hallways where students congregate. The flyer created by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology is a good one.  (https://apic.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Factsheet_COVIDvaccine3.pdf)

  • We can definitely encourage vaccination and masking for everyone entering our buildings. This is different from requiring people to comply, and these requirements vary by state and university.

  • We can help the vulnerable faculty and staff with accommodations until the US population reaches a measure of herd immunity. A kinder, gentler approach builds trust and morale.

  • This is the best time to request faculty members to evaluate their classroom equipment needs, including safety-related needs, and provide proactive departmental support for their needs. I fully expect lavalier microphones to get sold out soon, since many faculty members may wish to wear a mask while teaching. A rather extreme gadget that some faculty are considering is the $299 Air Microclimate full-faced super mask (https://microclimate.com) – it looks like a spacesuit, but allows the wearer’s face to be seen.

  • We can expect most universities to require student vaccinations as soon as the FDA approves the vaccines fully, not just for emergency usage. Our campuses will become a lot safer then.

 

Remembering Kishan Baheti

I remember meeting Dr. Baheti in the early 1990’s. I was a young assistant professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, then. My (late) mentor Howard Kaufman and I visited Kishan at his NSF office, and we described our ideas for multi-dimensional signal processing algorithms for temporal image sequences. Dr. Kauman knew Kishan well while he worked at the nearby General Electric Corporate R&D Center in Schenectady, NY.

Kishan listened to our ideas intently, and offered insightful advice on funding mechanisms that we can consider applying to, and described the NSF’s expectations. As a junior faculty member, his words of wisdom were invaluable. Howard and I ent on to receive NSf funding for our ideas and the rest is history. Unfortunately, Howard passed away a few years later suffering a heart attack during a cross-country run. 

We have lost so many great colleagues and mentors this past year, and many of us have lost friends/family members as well. I hope and pray that we, as scientific and engineering leaders, can help steer humanity to a better place, where science provides us with the tools to keep us safe and move us forward, and where the signal-to-noise ratio is high, where true scientific knowledge dominates over the mis- and dis-information noise.

 

Stay Safe, and Keep in Touch,

 

Badri Roysam, D.Sc., Fellow IEEE, Fellow AIMBE

Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen University Professor

Chair, Electrical & Computer Engineering Department

University of Houston

Houston, Texas 77204-4005

Phone: 713-743-1773

Email: broysam@uh.edu