Unplugged: NYU-Poly Professors Continue Wireless Breakthroughs With New NSF Grant

Wireless technology is a staple of modern life. From laptops to cell phones, satellite radio, and the GPS unit in your rented car, it’s woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. That’s why it’s so frustrating when the thread unravels — you drop a call, it takes forever to download a file, or the radio and GPS cut out, leaving you lost in Nowheresville.

NYU-Poly professors Elza Erkip, Shivendra Panwar, and Yao Wang, along with UC-Davis professor Anna Scaglione, want to alleviate that frustration, and for their efforts the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded them a multiyear grant worth $700,000. Funding for the grant is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the 2009 Stimulus Bill.

Beginning this fall and running through the summer of 2012, the team will use the funding to continue its research on cooperative networking, an enabling technology that increases the reliability and speed of wireless networks.

In laymen’s terms, that means fewer dropped calls, faster downloads, and, hopefully, expanded coverage. Or, as Erkip, lead researcher, puts it, “More users served at the same or better quality.”

Believe what you don’t see

Improvements like the faster transmission of wireless data are, by their very nature, invisible to users, but industry professionals recognize such landmark achievements. That’s the case for Erkip, who has co-authored academic papers lauded for their contributions to the field of wireless communications. For instance, she co-wrote papers that won awards from the IEEE International Conference on Communications and the IEEE International Symposium on Information Theory in 2007 and from the IEEE Transactions on Communications in 2004.

But those are recent accomplishments. Erkip has been a pioneer in the field since the late1990s, and the early peer recognition helped fuel her drive to succeed in the area of wireless communications, which itself has been a motivating factor. “Because it’s a new and exciting area, I’m still excited to continue,” she says.

Co-pilots in the ride

Erkip find equal inspiration among her NYU-Poly colleagues. Chats between Erkip, Panwar, and Wang helped the three realize ways their disciplines might enrich the topic of cooperative networking. “We have a good collaborative effort,” Erkip says, when asked why NYU-Poly has been a leader in the field of wireless communications. “It’s one of the strengths at NYU-Poly.”

It’s not the only one. Erkip cites her team’s methodological approach and their application of those theories to practice as another advantage. “We’re working with paper and pencil, proving theorems, proving results, all the way to more experimental research,” she explains before proudly pointing to NYU-Poly’s testbeds. They are partly funded by NSF through other grants and the testbeds give NYU-Poly students a chance to try out the theories, a rare opportunity to meld theory and practice.

The student connection

In fact, that very experience elevates NYU-Poly students above other graduates seeking placement in the wireless job market, especially master’s students who conduct research alongside Erkip and her colleagues. Because they’ve worked with professors at the leading edge of the technology and have had the chance to apply theory to practice, students discover employers impressed by their experience. For example, NYU-Poly graduates who studied with the team have gone on to work with companies such as Telecordia and Motorola.