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Researcher honored for advancing wireless communications in military, civilian networks

Kaushik Chowdhury, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Kaushik Chowdhury, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was named a winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, or PECASE, this year. It is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Chowdhury was nominated for the honor by the Department of Defense, whose Office for Naval Research is funding his research on the use of intelligent, autonomous radios in wireless communications with a $1 million Director of Research Early Career Grant over the next five years. The technology could significantly advance communications in military operations, natural disasters, and next-generation consumer networks.

“I was excited to receive this recognition and at the same time humbled to be counted among some very accomplished colleagues,” says Chowdhury, noting the other PECASE winners from around the country. “Receiving the PECASE for my research serves as a reminder that the Department of Defense and the nation rely on wireless communications and networking in advancing our country’s technological edge and underscores the responsibility inherent in pursuing this work.”

Radios that think

Chowdhury’s radios are wireless bidirectional transmitter-receivers that not only detect congestion and interference along the information highway but also autonomously respond, switching pathways, or “spectrums,” for instance, or changing transmission parameters to ferry data quickly and accurately to the appropriate destination.

“All of our connected devices, from the smallest sensor to our daily laptops and Wi-Fi routers  to the farthest satellites, communicate via radio transmitters and receivers,” says Chowdhury. “Our goal is to make radios not just intelligent but ‘cognitive,’ that is, to go beyond recognizing interference to acting on it.” For example, spectrum-sharing algorithms developed by Chowdhury’s team enable the radios to detect, classify, and understand the traffic on various spectrums and decide how to share those spectrums with other users.

Northeastern gives you the tremendous intellectual freedom to forge relationships and pursue research agendas that you truly feel make a difference.

Kaushik Chowdhury associate professor

Integral to Chowdhury’s research is ensuring that each radio can connect to many other radios, establishing what’s called a “distributed network.” Consider: Your laptop connecting to your home Wi-Fi router represents a single link, as does your phone connecting to a cellular base station. Chowdhury’s technology will enable connections among multiple radios. “The radios will be able to discover one another and configure themselves, forming multi-hop forwarding paths,” he says.

The applications of such networks range from defense operations, in which military forces need to communicate efficiently with one another, to emergency services, where personnel from fire departments, hospitals, and law enforcement must converge.

“I am truly proud that a member of our faculty was selected for this highly prestigious award,” says Nadine Aubry, dean of the College of Engineering and University Distinguished Professor at Northeastern. “Kaushik Chowdhury is an internationally recognized researcher in wireless networking. His work developing the next generation of technology to connect and form an intelligent network of cognitive radios fills a critical need in current and emerging commercial, public service, and military applications. His commitment to building the STEM pipeline is also remarkable.”

Northeastern’s ‘tremendous support’

Chowdhury is one of 102 scholars to receive the PECASE this year. Representatives from 13 federal departments and agencies made nominations, and the Obama administration made the final selections. Established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the awards are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Northeastern associate professor Purnima Ratilal-Makris received the award in 2008 for her research on acoustic, seismic, and ultrasound remote sensing in the ocean for military, ecological, and commercial applications.

Chowdhury, who joined the Northeastern faculty in 2009 as assistant professor, credits the university’s elimination of boundaries between disciplines as well as the continuous support of his colleagues as critical to his nomination.

“Northeastern gives you the tremendous intellectual freedom to forge relationships and pursue research agendas that you truly feel make a difference,” he says. “And this freedom opens up new opportunities. Mentoring faculty and senior colleagues are more than willing to share their experience and guidance, which is essential for junior faculty like me to progress and be competitive in our respective fields.”