Recognized Research

Every day, our researchers tirelessly work to engineer solutions to the problems facing the world. From improving our health to making cyberspace safer, members of the Tandon community are doing their part. Read on to learn more about some of our most noteworthy work of the year.

Syntactic foams — strong, exceptionally light materials made of plastic perfused with hollow microspheres — are used in everything from buoys and boat hulls to soccer balls and solid rocket boosters. They are now making their way into new industries, including the automotive sector, but producing the foams at such a large scale is a daunting challenge. Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Nikhil Gupta is helping meet that challenge by developing a manufacturing method that saves money and energy and lowers the carbon footprint of suppliers, automakers, and drivers alike, leading to benefits not just for industry, but for society as a whole.

Gupta has also made significant contributions to the field of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, as it is commonly known, discovering ways for manufacturers to turn the tables on thieves by deliberately embedding hidden flaws in CAD files to thwart intellectual property theft.

Gaining a better understanding of immune cells allows physicians to more effectively diagnose, monitor, and treat a wide range of diseases. Their complexity and sheer number make studying immune cells a difficult challenge, however. Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Weiqiang Chen has embarked on the development of a new platform that combines an efficient microfluidic immune cell isolation technique and an ultra-sensitive nano-scale biosensor that will provide biologists and clinicians with a new approach to analyzing the proteins secreted from individual human immune cells.

One of the major challenges in regenerative medicine — replacing diseased tissues and coaxing those that are damaged to regrow — is designing targeted therapies that deliver the equivalent of molecular scaffolding and cellular construction crews to affected tissues, while allowing doctors to “see” and monitor where and how well these molecular care packages are being delivered. By adding an imaging component to a self-assembling macromolecule, Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Jin Kim Montclare is leading a team that is well on its way to building these biosynthetic materials that can deliver drug therapy or tissue engineering to a damaged area and non-invasively visualize the biomaterial amidst cells and tissue.

Additionally, new hybrid materials recently developed in Montclare’s lab combine a lipid “container” for transfection — the transportation of cargo past a cell membrane — and an easy-to-make protein capsule that can bind both small chemotherapeutic molecules and nucleic acids, thereby delivering a powerful chemical one-two punch to cancer cells.

Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Nasir Memon is proving that fingerprint-based authentication systems used in cell phones and other devices are extremely vulnerable to hacking, and his work is expected to inform the design of more secure system.

Memon has also spearheaded development of a first- of-its-kind application to combat “shoulder-surfing,” in which a criminal stands close enough to observe a financial transaction and note a PIN or account number. The technology, called “IllusionPIN,” deploys a hybrid-image keyboard that appears one way to the close-up user and differently to an observer at a distance of three feet or greater. IllusionPIN reconfigures the keypad for each authentication or login attempt, adding a new level of security to using an ATM or store card reader.

When clinical researchers wondered if it would be possible to detect autism before they could spot behavioral clues, they added to their team one of the world’s foremost authorities on medical image analysis: Guido Gerig, chair and professor in Tandon’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Gerig, who conducts research in Tandon’s Visualization and Data Analytics (ViDA) Laboratory, contributed to a recent landmark study that predicted autism by looking not at how children act but how their brains grew. Current work, which builds on earlier studies, suggests that neurological signs of autism might be detectable in infants as young as six months old.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Damon McCoy has helped devise the first automated techniques to identify ads potentially tied to human trafficking rings and link them to public information from Bitcoin — the primary payment method for online sex ads. This is the important first step toward developing a suite of freely available tools to help police departments and nonprofit institutions identify victims of sexual exploitation.

In another arena, McCoy has also conducted what is believed to be the first comprehensive security analysis of its kind, finding vulnerabilities in MirrorLink, an industry standard for connecting smartphones to in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems. McCoy and his colleagues found that when unlocked, MirrorLink can allow hackers to use a linked smartphone as a stepping stone to control safety-critical components such as the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system. The research is expected to inform the development of more secure protocols.

Modern cars contain dozens of computers — called ECUs (Electronic Control Units) — that control everything from safety equipment to entertainment systems. The increasing complexity of modern cars accompanies an increasing likelihood of flaws in the software. To combat this, vehicle makers are equipping ECUs with update capability, allowing the software to be changed without visiting a service depot. However, hackers can target these software update mechanisms to install malicious software, viruses, or even ransomware, the results of which could be catastrophic. Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Justin Cappos was one of the developers of the award-winning Uptane, a universal, free, and open-source framework to protect those wireless software updates in vehicles. Uptane allows automakers to completely control critical software but to share control when appropriate. It also helps automakers to quickly deploy secure fixes for a vulnerability exploited in an attack or to remotely (and inexpensively) update a car’s electronics.