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ECE Professor Christopher Batten guides high school girls in exploring computer engineering through CURIE Academy

Monday, July 28, 2014

CURIE Scholars learn about computer engineering from the hardware perspective by incrementally building a simple calculator out of basic logic gates

Dozens of high school girls recently came to Cornell from July 13-19 for the 2014 CURIE Academy, a one-week summer residential program where scholars devoted their mornings to learning about the different disciplines within engineering and spent their afternoons working on a design project specifically in computer engineering. CURIE Academy is organized by Cornell Diversity Programs in Engineering, and Christopher Batten, an Assistant Professor in the School Electrical and Computer Engineering, directed the weeklong design project.

Presenting computer engineering from both the hardware and software perspectives, Batten guided the scholars in exploring the Internet of Things (IoT), an emerging trend where the Internet is used to interconnect everyday physical objects enhanced with inexpensive embedded controllers, sensors, and actuators, allowing these objects to autonomously collect information and interact with the real world.

"IoT has the potential to be a disruptive technology, impacting many diverse aspects of our society including health care, energy, manufacturing, retail, commerce, and transportation," said Batten. "By 2020 there will likely be tens of billions of autonomous IoT devices. Students studying computer engineering over the next five years will have a unique opportunity to shape how this proliferation of connected devices will change our society."

Though many scholars began the week with little knowledge of computer engineering, by the end, eight groups completed unique and interesting IoT systems centered around five themes: smart home, early disaster warning, wearable health monitoring, wildlife tracking, and smart electrical power grids. For example, one group built a wireless activity monitor that used an accelerometer and force sensor to track step-count data, play music when a user reached a step-count goal, and send this data into the cloud. Another group implemented a smart grid system that automatically turned off lights in one part of the system when the power demand was too high in another part of the system and sent a text message to notify the power grid operator. A different group built an early flash-flood detector that sent a warning via text message and a wireless output device when water levels exceed a given threshold.

The scholars made the most of their short time on campus, and for many, this experience helped encourage their interest in engineering. "I am highly confident because I walked into the labs not having a clue about coding and I was able to succeed in the labs and the project!" wrote Wendy Arce, a junior from Los Angeles, in her evaluation. "The programs' qualities really speak for themselves. I love the campus, the facilities, the 'vibe' and the widespread academic passion here," wrote Caroline Schulz, a senior from Mequon, WI.

"I was very impressed with how much the scholars were able to accomplish in such a short period of time," said Batten. "In one week, we discussed transistors, logic gates, computer arithmetic, machine instructions, programming, and applications. By the end of the week, every group had a working IoT system. More importantly, all of the scholars seemed to be having fun working on a challenging engineering design project."

The CURIE Academy is designed for high school girls entering into their junior or senior years who excel in math and science, enjoy solving problems, and want to know more about careers in engineering. Empowering scholars to apply conceptual knowledge to real-world problems, through the CURIE Academy they discover what it is really like to be an engineer, researching and developing innovative solutions to challenging problems and questions. Outside of their design projects, scholars participate in engineering field sessions, exposing them to vast opportunities within engineering. They also join in a variety of community and team building oriented activities facilitated by current undergraduate and graduate students.

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Christopher Batten is an Assistant Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University, where he leads a research group focusing on energy-efficient parallel computer architecture for both high-performance and embedded applications. His work has been recognized with several awards including an Intel Early Career Faculty Honor Program award (2013), an NSF CAREER award (2012), a DARPA Young Faculty Award (2012), and an IEEE Micro Top Picks selection (2004). His teaching has been recognized with a Michael Tien '72 Excellence in Teaching Award (2013) and a James M. and Marsha D. McCormick Award for Outstanding Advising of First-Year Engineering Students (2013). Prior to his appointment at Cornell, Batten received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010.

For more information about the 2014 CURIE Academy Design Project see: http://www.csl.cornell.edu/curie2014

For more information about the CURIE Academy see: http://www.engineering.cornell.edu/diversity/summer/high_school/curie

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