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Cyberattacks can cripple cities, but Knoxville and Knox County say they’re prepared

Stella Sun, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science – UTK, discusses cyber security with the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Before city employees of Atlanta could even turn their computers back on last month, Knoxville’s IT Director Janet Wright sent an email to city staff: Stay vigilant.

Wright was responding to a cyberattack that crippled the region’s largest city and shut down city computers for five days.

The city was attacked with ransomware, a kind of malware that invades computers or computer networks and then locks them down, with the attackers demanding a ransom before they will unlock them.

Wright, and Knox County’s network and cybersecurity manager David Grindstaff, said the city and county are safe and their respective staffs work diligently to prevent what happened in Atlanta.

“We’re very aware, and (after Atlanta) we embarked on an employee education program to educate them on what emails might be unsafe and to look at and see if it was really sent from the person you thought it was from … before you click, think about what you’re clicking on,” Wright said.

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Picture of Spencer Cochran

Big Orange Power: Spencer Cochran Working on Third Engineering Degree

For Knoxville native Spencer Cochran, staying at UT for graduate school was a given.

Cochran began his journey at UT after graduating from Halls High School in 2011. During his undergraduate years, a few things pushed him toward an electrical engineering degree.

“I always thought I wanted to work on robotic prosthetics,” Cochran said. “The longer I was in school, the more I began to feel like electrical engineering was just as appropriate, if not more appropriate, for that dream.”

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Announcing the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Garmin co-founder and UT alumnus Min H. Kao and his wife donated $12.5 million in 2005 towards the construction of the building that now bears his name. Dr. and Mrs. Kao gave an additional $5 million in endowments at that same time to enhance the department.

The UT Board of Trustees gave final approval to that agreement in 2008, which included a provision that the department housed in the building—electrical engineering and computer science—should also be named in his honor.

Kao requested that the naming not take place at the time, but the provision remained in effect until he so chose to make it public.

That time is now, and the department has officially become the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“This is a big moment for our department and for UT,” said Min H. Kao Professor and department head Leon Tolbert. “Dr. Kao is and has been a tremendous supporter of ours, and we are proud to share his name.”

While programs, centers, and even colleges at UT have been named, it marks the first time that a department has undergone a naming.

Tickle College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis thanked Kao for the continued support of his alma mater, and for the transformational changes he has helped to bring about on campus.

EECS Professor Becomes United States Citizen

Congratulations are in order for one of the newest citizens of the United States, who also happens to be a professor here in EECS: Dr. Jayne Wu!  She became a naturalized citizen in February 2018.

Associate Professor Dr. Jayne Wu was born in Hefei, China, and lived in that same city until she went to Shanghai to pursue a Ph.D. in semiconductor devices, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).  In 1999, she received her degree from CAS and left Shanghai for South Bend, Indiana.  She was offered a scholarship to study for a Ph.D. in the area of MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems) at the University of Notre Dame.  Dr. Wu graduated in 2003 and then set her sights on becoming a faculty member at a research university. After doing a one-year postdoc, she joined what, at the time, was the ECE department at the University of Tennessee.

“I became a US citizen this February. This is a natural choice for me.  I feel comfortable here. I have been in the US for 19 years.  The last two steps of naturalization process include an interview in Memphis and an oath ceremony in Chattanooga. The latter took place this past February.  I drove there myself.  Honestly, I don’t feel different before and after the process.  People treat me the same. May I attribute that to very tolerant culture of America?”  Congratulations, Dr. Wu!

UT Electrical Engineering Ph.D. Student Awarded Student Travel Grant

Picture of Samira Shamsir  28 promising graduate-level student engineers from around the world were recently awarded stipends for travel to and from the conference ISSCC 2018.  Among them was UT Electrical Engineering Ph.D. student Samira Shamsir.  She received the IEEE SSCS Student Travel Grants to attend this year’s conference in San Francisco.

Student Travel Grants + Women in Circuits Travel Grants

The IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society Student Travel Grant Award (STGA) program recognizes and promotes early career accomplishments in all solid-state circuits fields by supporting graduate student travel to SSCS-sponsored conferences: ISSCC and A-SSCC.

With the help of the STGA program, up-and-coming young engineers:

  • may network with researchers from industry, academia, and government from all over the world
  • learn about IC design breakthroughs, and about challenges that have not yet been solved or need to be addressed, in-person and in advance.

STGA applicants must be SSCS members, enrolled for at least a year in a PhD program, and be recommended by one professor. (A dissertation topic needs not yet to have been selected.)

Samira Shamsir received her B.Sc. degree (with honors) in electrical and electronic engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2015. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her research focus lies on the implementation of advanced biomedical sensors and systems and semiconductor device modeling. Samira has co-authored in several international journals and conference proceedings including International Journal of High Speed Electronics and Systems (IJHSES), IEEE Reviews in Biomedical Engineering (RBME), and 2017 USNC-URSI National Radio Science Meeting (NRSM) in Boulder, CO. In addition, she presented her works on IEEE 60th Midwest Symposium of Circuit and System in Boston, MA and in IEEE Region-10 Humanitarian Technology Conference (R10HTC) in Bangladesh in 2017. She has achieved the J. Wallace and Katie Dean Fellowship and Department Excellency Fellowship in 2016 and the Min H. Kao Fellowship in 2017. She has been awarded the outstanding teaching assistant award in the year 2016-17 from her department and the chancellor’s citation award for extraordinary professional promise in 2017. In addition, she achieved several travel awards from Graduate Student Senate in UTK, PowerAmerica, and IEEE SSCS.

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Brainy little UT robot may hold key to smart, unmanned drones and vehicles


A team of University of Tennessee students and an Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher have created a robot with a brain. The vehicle — affectionately named Neon — looks like a cross between a Roomba and Disney-Pixar’s “Wall-E.”

It is capable of navigating a space while avoiding obstacles by sensing objects and then changing directions to avoid bumping into them.

The University’s neuromorphic research group created the bot as a step toward new drone technology for the Air Force.

Read more here.

For more information, please also visit the website for TENNLab- Neuromorphic Architectures, Learning, Applications

Min H. Kao Building Tour

Have a look around the Min H. Kao Building, home of the Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Department!

Wang Elected Fellow of National Academy of Inventors

Fred Wang, UT’s Condra Chair of Excellence in Power Electronics, has been selected for induction as a National Academy of Inventors Fellow for 2017.

Being named an NAI Fellow is one of the highest honors a researcher can receive, with the 912 NAI Fellows—including 29 Nobel laureates—accounting for more than 32,000 issued US patents and $140 billion in revenue.

For Wang, who holds a joint appointment with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and serves as technical director of the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), his work has been mainly on high-power, high-efficiency, and high-density power electronics—technology critical to electrified transportation wind and solar energy integration, data centers, and industrial automation.

“I am deeply honored to be chosen by my fellow scientists and engineers for this award,” said Wang. “This recognition of the work that my colleagues and I have been able to do is humbling, and serves as inspiration to continue to improve our ideas.”

Wang and his colleagues are working on microgrids, systems that can operate either with the overall power grid or independently.

Microgrids can be particularly helpful in the wake of natural disasters such as the recent hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, since they allow power to be restored far sooner than it takes to rebuild a traditional power system.

While the cost to deploy them remains prohibitively high for widespread adaptation, the concept holds enough promise that many CURENT industry partners—like TVA, the Chattanooga Electric Power Board, the Electric Power Research Institute, and Southern Company—have all taken interest, among others.

Wang joins three colleagues in the Tickle College of Engineering as an NAI Fellow: Yilu Liu, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Power Electronics and CURENT deputy director; Mark Dean, John Fisher Distinguished Professor; and Doug Birdwell, professor emeritus.

Selections are made based on peer nominations for innovation and discovery that have “significant impact on society” and help enhance further research.

Wang and the other members of this year’s class will be inducted at a ceremony in Washington, DC, on April 5, 2018.


David Goddard (865-974-0683,

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