WenZhan Song, assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science and director of the Sensorweb Research Laboratory at WSU Vancouver, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award to build networks of sensors that work reliably in harsh environments.
An CAREER award from the Faculty Early Career Development program is the most prestigious award the NSF gives to junior faculty members in recognition of their high potential to become a future leader in their research area.
"This is a very significant award for the WSU Vancouver campus and for the School of Engineering and Computer Science because it's the first NSF CAREER award our faculty has received since the school was established in 2004," says Hakan Gurocak, director of the School of Engineering and Computer Science at WSU Vancouver. "Dr. Song, with his exceptional scholarly achievements, is a perfect example of WSU's commitment to research."
Song draws international attention for the Sensorweb Research Laboratory at WSU Vancouver. Motivated by a passion to transform the way information from harsh, unattended environments is acquired, spread and used, Song and his students see real-world applications for their research.
"In traditional communication designs, we assume the network connection is there. In a harsh environment, this doesn't hold," says Song. "If you have a computer [at home] and your network goes out, you can re-start the computer. But in harsh environments, that's not possible."
With the five-year, $422,955 award, the researchers will be working to develop a new design paradigm for sensor networks, which will include innovative architecture principles, algorithms and protocols, and design and evaluation methodologies for sensor networks in challenging environments. The goal is to develop sensor designs and computer networks that require no maintenance and are extremely robust.
For instance, Song will be working to develop computing capabilities that make individual nodes of a sensor network smarter, so that the nodes can cooperate on data delivery and on storage when conditions are not optimal. That is, when one node stops working, the others will know to pick up the slack.
"The data is more likely to survive and eventually reach a data sink, even as nodes fail," says Song.
The project also has applications for sensors that are in the field for long periods of time and use alternative power sources, such as solar panels, rather than batteries. When using an unreliable energy supply, network communications can become unstable.
The researchers will have several testing sites and will develop a prototype. Song has been working with NASA for the last several years to develop a "spider" network on Mount St. Helens. It's a wireless network of pods that collect data and communicate with each other and with a space-based satellite. The spider network can identify activity—such as volcanic eruptions—and send information early enough to save lives.
Song holds a bachelor's and master's degree from Nanjing University of Science and Technology in Nanjing, China, and a doctorate from Illinois Institute of Technology in computer science. He has been with WSU since 2005.
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