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National Science Foundation

Anil Yazici, center, with Eren Ozguven, right, and Ayberk Kocatepe, left, who worked in Ozguven’s lab as a doctoral student, at a conference in Florida last year.Photo from Anil Yazici

By Daniel Dunaief

Anil Yazici wants to help the elderly population with transportation, public safety and emergency services and housing.

An assistant professor in civil engineering at Stony Brook University, Yazici is organizing a series of meetings to address the needs of the elderly. He is recruiting a host of speakers from around the world and is inviting the public to listen and participate in roundtable discussions for a two-day event at the Hilton Garden Inn at Stony Brook as a part of a Research Coordination Network.

The workshop schedule with a list of speakers will be available around mid-March. Those interested in attending can visit the website https://you.stonybrook/edu/agingpopulationrcn/events/rcn-workshops/.

Yazici received a $499,999 four-year grant from the National Science Foundation last fall to develop a way to study the connection between smart and connected communities and areas with varying resources and population densities. The group will host workshops at the University of Michigan and at Florida State University.

Anil Yazici, right, with Harold Walker, left, a professor and chair in the Department of Civil Engineering and Laura Coronel, center, a member of the class of 2017.Photo by Erin Giuliano

The goal is to maintain mobility and access to services for the aging population. “Our focus is to involve aging populations within smart and connected communities … which generally employ technology to address mobility and access,” he explained in an email.

Yazici would like to get the government, communities and researchers to work together to address these issues. Groups involved in the effort will produce white papers, which can provide a proposal to help governments and community organizations plan various services.

Jacqueline Mondros, the dean of SBU’s School of Social Welfare and assistant vice president for Social Determinants of Health, described housing and transportation as “two of the most problematic issues of older adults, particularly in suburbia and rural areas.”

Mondros, who will be giving one of the talks in April, hopes the tech sector and engineering dedicate more attention to this area. She believes this effort will provide a greater understanding of the kind of connectedness that will help seniors and their caregivers. She also hopes the initiative helps people learn “about the intersection between connectivity and technology and social intervention.”

The funding for this effort is designed to create networks and develop ideas. Further work to develop projects, however, would require additional financial support.

Developing a broad plan in an area such as transportation will require flexible and location-specific solutions. Indeed, Long Island reflects such varying dynamics. Areas in or closer to the city have higher population density and a deeper transportation infrastructure, with subways, buses and trains offering transportation throughout the area. Further out east, however, the population density drops considerably, limiting such options.

“Once you don’t drive” when you’re in suburbia “it’s almost impossible to get around and go where you need to go,” Mondros said. People end up in “social isolation [which] clearly creates poor health outcomes and depression.”

Presenters will include people with expertise from Europe and Australia who can bring the solutions they have developed through smart and connected communities. Some locations have developed a system to help the aging population with routine transportation.

Anil Yazici after he went spearfishing for Mediterranean parrotfish in Turkey.Photo by Meliha Yazici

In one community, Yazici learned about a personal network in which people call each other to provide rides for regular travel, like weekly doctor or hospital visits. The network, which was organized through a church, involved calls to find rides through church members.

Eren Ozguven, who met Yazici in high school in Turkey and is a collaborator on the project, plans to do a presentation at Stony Brook on the challenges the aging population faces during hurricanes.

That includes a look at “how the technology usage is shaping this and how [to] provide better accessibility and safety during evacuations and sheltering,” Ozguven, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in Tallahasse, Florida, explained in an email. “We are hoping to have very fruitful brainstorming sessions with practitioners, researchers, students and the public.”

More broadly, Yazici’s work is focused on the resilience of various civil engineering systems, such as transportation.

Organizational networks require contact among all the various infrastructure agencies, he said. They need to keep in contact and make decisions through context. He is working on a way to measure resiliency, so that when storms break communication links and disrupt power grids, the agencies in charge of those systems can restore them to previous levels.

He would like to see how to make an agency’s response to a disruption more efficient. Resilience can be improved through developing sound models for a physical infrastructure response.

A resident of Harlem where he lived during his postdoctoral training, Yazici has had to create his own system to ensure a successful commute. He leaves early, before much of the reverse commuting traffic builds, and returns home late. Yazici, who has been at Stony Brook since the fall of 2014, said he appreciates the opportunity to contribute to a new and growing department.

Yazici moved eight times when he was younger, as the family followed his father Mesut, who was also a civil engineer, from projects including water treatment plants to industrial waste processing. His father tried to dissuade him from following in his footsteps. His academic position, however, doesn’t require Yazici to follow projects from one place to another.

Starting in his first year in college, Yazici played bass in a band. He performed mostly ’70s Turkish progressive rock. He enjoys making music and plans to start an ensemble with his students to have a live music event after graduation.

As for his work, Yazici appreciates the opportunity to study areas that cross disciplines and that help people. “What drives me and most of the academics I know is to make a difference in people’s lives,” he explained in an email. “This could be through teaching and seeing students evolve personally and professionally or researching a topic to solve a problem and improve someone’s life.”

Fan Ye. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Fan Ye has a vision for the future filled with high service and efficiency that doesn’t involve butlers or personal attendants. The assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University is focused on creating smart environments in which window blinds open as people pull into their driveways, lights turn off in unoccupied rooms and the building guides a new student turn by turn through complex floors and hallways from entrance to the registrar’s office.

“The physical environment would be like a caring mother,” said Ye. It would sense and figure out people’s needs and “take care of the occupants inside the building.”

In Ye’s vision, which he estimates is about one year to decades away from a reality, objects that rely on people to turn them on or off, reposition them or alter their settings would have chips embedded in them, working together to create an environment that anticipates and learns in response to the need around it.

“With sensors, [a smart environment] can sense both physical conditions and human activities and adjust the environment in manners that create/improve comfort, safety, convenience” and the productivity of the occupant, he explained in an email.

Ye recently received a $450,000 award over the next five years from the National Science Foundation for early-career faculty for his study of smart environments. The prestigious award is the highest honor given by the government to scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.

Initially, Ye is developing and testing a security system with the Stony Brook University Police Department and the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology that grants specific access to buildings or facilities depending on the specifications of an administrator.

Many of the buildings on campus have electric locks, which someone can open with a badge where there’s a badge reader. A badge, however “isn’t that flexible,” Ye said. If an administrator would like to grant someone one-time access to open a door that doesn’t provide ongoing access, that is difficult to do with a badge system.

“What’s lacking in this closed proprietary system is flexible access control, which can determine who has what access based on context factors,” he said. Ye, his team, the police department and the CEWIT are building a system that can enable greater flexibility that allows someone to open an office door for five minutes during a specific hour. “If any of these context factors is not satisfied, they don’t have access,” he said.

Ultimately, he would like to construct a system using modern mobile technology, like smartphones, instead of physical badges. The system would include embedded security that employs modern cryptography so a hacker or attacker can’t trick the system.

By using software and hardware security, Ye is hoping to develop a system that prevents the most common attacks at a reasonable cost, which he hopes would prevent someone from gaining access.

Ye is building real systems and testing them. The cost-benefit of these systems depends on the object. A motor to open and close a window would cost money to manufacture, install and operate. As with any technological innovation, he said, “the question comes down to, How do you invest versus how much do you get in return?”

Looking at the historical trend for computation resources, Ye said computing and storage costs are falling at an exponential rate, while the price for radio and sensing is also falling rapidly, although not at the same pace.

“I believe this trend will continue, especially for a lot of these objects that need small embedded systems” that can be manufactured at a scale with low cost, he continued. The process of turning the environment into an efficient, high-service system isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Consumers might decide to focus on the air-conditioning or heat use in their homes.

Other researchers are developing ways to harness the vibrational energy of movement or sound, which, conceivably, could power some of these electronics without requiring the delivery and consumption of more energy.

Ye recognizes that these parts can and will break down and require repair, just as dishwashers sometimes stop working and iPhones can lose a list of contacts. So many small electronic parts in a smart environment could seem like an invitation to malfunctions.

He likens the repair process to cloud computing, which allows small to medium-sized companies to rent computing resources from larger companies. “A smart environment, especially for public buildings like a university or office, could potentially run in a similar model,” he said. Individuals might rely on IT support from dedicated personnel who, like a superintendent in a building, could be responsible for a host of smart products.

A native of Hubei Province in China, Ye, who now lives in Setauket, loves to hike in national parks. His favorite is Canyonlands in Utah. Ye had worked at IBM for about 10 years before joining Stony Brook almost three years ago. While he was there, Ye worked on numerous projects, including distributed stream processing, cloud-based queueing and wide-area dependable messaging. “I learned tremendously at IBM,” he said.

Ye is “”well known and respected in the mobile and wireless computing research community,” Hui Lei, an IBM distinguished engineer, wrote in an email. “He conducted pioneering work on scalable message delivery, robust coverage and security in wireless sensor networks, which are well received and highly cited and closely related to the smart environment work he is doing now.”

Lei suggested that Ye’s experience and accomplishments provide him with a solid track record and he is “confident that [Ye] will be able to come up with innovative solutions in this area.”

Christopher Fetsch (far left) and Anne Churchland (second from right) with a group of neuroscientists at a conference last month. Photo from Anne Churchland

When she’s having trouble understanding something she’s reading, Anne Churchland will sometimes read the text out loud. Seeing and hearing the words often helps.

An associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Churchland recently published research in the Journal of Neurophysiology in which she explored how people use different senses when thinking about numbers.

She asked nine participants in her study to determine whether something they saw had a larger or smaller number of flashes of light, sequences of sounds or both compared to another number.

To see whether her subjects were using just the visual or auditory stimuli, she varied the  clarity of the signal, making it harder to decide whether a flash of light or a sound counted.

The people in her study used a combination of the two signals to determine a number compared to a fixed value, rather than relying only on one type of signal. The subjects didn’t just calculate the average of sight and sound clues but took the reliability of that number into account. That suggests they thought of the numbers with each stimuli within a range of numbers, which could be higher or lower depending on other evidence.

Churchland describes this process as the probabilistic method. It would be the equivalent of finding two sources of information online about Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim across the English Channel. In the first one, someone might have posted a brief entry on his personal Web page, offering some potentially interesting information. In the second, a prize-winning biographer might have shared an extensive view of her long life. In a probabilistic strategy, people would weigh the second source more heavily.

Funded by an educational branch of the National Science Foundation, Churchland said this is the kind of study that might help teachers better understand how people’s brains represent numbers.

Young children and people with no formal math training have some ability to estimate numbers, she said. This kind of study might help educators understand how people go from an “innate to the more formalized math.”

This study might have implications for disorders in which people have unusual sensory processing. “By understanding the underlying neural circuitry” doctors can “hopefully develop more effective treatments,” Churchland said.

Churchland is generally interested in neural circuits and in putting together a combination of reliable and unreliable signals. Working with rodents, she is hoping to see a signature of those signals in neural responses.

Churchland runs a blog in which she shares developments at her lab. Last month, she attended a conference in which she and other neuroscientists had a panel discussion of correlation versus causation in experiments.

She cautioned that a correlation — the Knicks lose every time a dog tracks mud in the house — doesn’t imply causation.

The group studied a lighthearted example, viewing the relationship between chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel Prizes in various countries, with Switzerland coming out on top of both categories. “In the chocolate case, correlation does imply causation because I like to eat chocolate and was looking for excuses,” she joked.

Christopher Fetsch, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University, worked with Churchland for several months in 2010. In addition to teaching him how to do electrical microstimulation and serving as a “terrific role model,” Fetsch described Churchland as “an innovator with a high degree of technical skill and boundless energy.” Fetsch, who attended the same conference last month, lauded Churchland’s ability to bring together experts with a range of strengths.

Churchland created a website, www.Anneslist.net, which is a compilation of women in neuroscience. She said it began for her own purposes, as part of an effort to find speakers for a computational and systems neuroscience meeting. The majority of professors in computational neuroscience are men, she said. “It is important to have a field that is open to all,” she said. “That way, the best scientists [can] come in and do the best work.” The list has since gone viral and people from all over the world send her emails.

A resident of the housing at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Churchland lives with her husband, Michael Brodesky, and their two children.

Churchland has collaborated with her brother Mark, an assistant professor at the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Her parents, Patricia and Paul, are well-known philosophers. Her mother has appeared on “The Colbert Report.” She said her family members can all be contentious when discussing matters of the mind.

“The dinner table is lively,” she said.