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Ronald A. Rohrer, Cecil & Ida Green Chair and professor of engineering at SMU Lyle, honored with TAMEST membership

“I’ve stayed close to industry to be a practicing engineer and close to academia to conduct deeper research on hard problems.” — Ronald A. Rohrer.

Legendary inventor and scholar Ronald A. Rohrer, Cecil & Ida Green Chair and Professor of Engineering in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, has been named to The Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas (TAMEST).

The nonprofit organization, founded in 2004, brings together the state’s top scientific, academic and corporate minds to support research in Texas.

The organization builds a stronger identity for Texas as an important destination and hub of achievement in these fields. Members of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the state’s nine Nobel Laureates comprise the 270 members of TAMEST. The group has 18 member institutions, including SMU, across Texas.

Rohrer joins three other distinguished SMU faculty members in TAMEST — Fred Chang, executive director of the Lyle School’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security; Delores Etter, founding director of the Lyle School’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education and electrical engineering professor emeritus; and David Meltzer, Henderson-Morrison Chair and professor of prehistory in anthropology in Dedman College.

Considered one of the preeminent researchers in electronic design automation, Rohrer’s contributions to improving integrated circuit (IC) production have spanned over 50 years. Rohrer realized early on that circuit simulation was crucial to IC design for progress in size reduction and complexity. Among his achievements was introducing a sequence of circuit simulation courses at the University of California, Berkeley, that evolved into the SPICE (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis) tool, now considered the industry standard for IC design simulation. At Carnegie Mellon University, Rohrer introduced the Asymptotic Waveform Evaluation (AWE) algorithm, which enabled highly efficient timing simulations of ICs containing large numbers of parasitic elements.

“The appointment of Ron Rohrer into TAMEST will increase the visibility of Lyle’s outstanding faculty members,” said Marc P. Christensen, dean of the Lyle School of Engineering.

“Through TAMEST, Rohrer will share his vast knowledge and inspire additional collaborative research relationships with other outstanding Texas professors and universities. This will elevate SMU and the state as a leading center of scholarship and innovation,” Christensen said.

Once an SMU electrical engineering professor back in the late 70’s, Rohrer rejoined the Lyle School as a faculty member in 2017. He is professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon and Rohrer’s career has included roles in academia, industrial management, venture capital, and start-up companies.

“I’ve stayed close to industry to be a practicing engineer and close to academia to conduct deeper research on hard problems,” said Rohrer.

According to Rohrer, one pressing problem is analog integrated circuit design automation, also the name of the project-based research course he’s currently teaching.

“In the analog domain, it’s hard to design a 20-transistor circuit. My goal is to make analog integrated circuit design more accessible to students and industry, especially for our local corporate partners,” he said. “I want to get the ball rolling so younger engineers can keep it moving toward a complete solution.”

Along with his membership in TAMEST and the National Academy of Engineering, Rohrer is an IEEE Life Fellow. His professional service includes several other prominent positions with IEEE, AIEE and U.S. government committees. He is the author and co-author of five textbooks and more than 100 technical papers as well as the holder of six patents. Rohrer has received 11 major awards, including the IEEE Education Medal and the NEC C&C Prize.

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SMU Lyle School’s Delores Etter named to prestigious ‘100 Inspiring Women in STEM’ list

INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine cites Etter for work to increase number and diversity of young people who pursue STEM careers

biometrics, engineering, Delores Etter, SMU, Lyle

Delores Etter, founding director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, has been named to receive INSIGHT Into Diversity’s “100 Inspiring Women In STEM” award.

The award is presented by the magazine as a tribute to 100 women whose work and achievements not only encourage others in their individual STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, but also inspire a new generation of young women to consider STEM careers. Read the full article, ‘100 Inspiring Women in STEM Awards,’ in the September issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity.

“Our sincerest congratulations go to Dr. Etter and Southern Methodist University on receiving this prestigious national honor,” said INSIGHT Into Diversity Publisher Lenore Pearlstein. “She is truly an inspiration to all of us who are working so diligently to make a difference in the lives of all women and other underrepresented individuals.”

Etter’s career has included teaching at the US. Naval Academy, leading large projects at the Pentagon, and now teaching and mentoring students at SMU, where she was founding director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education from June 2008 to May 2015. In that position, she and her team have created websites and related activities and mounted successful summer programs such as Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) camps – many targeted specifically to girls – to teach youngsters that engineering is both fun and within their grasp.

Etter a mentor to students, promoting number and diversity of students pursuing STEM
Etter remains at SMU as Caruth Professor of Engineering Education, a distinguished fellow in the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, and professor of electrical engineering in the Lyle School.

“Prof. Etter is extremely deserving of this prestigious award,” said Lyle School dean Marc Christensen. “During her seven years leading the Caruth Institute, she continually focused on ways to increase the number and diversity of students who graduate from U.S. high schools with both the enthusiasm and knowledge to pursue careers in STEM education.

“Here at the Lyle School, we know that a diverse mix of engineers — men, women, and people representing a variety of different cultures – are best positioned to work together in teams to solve tough problems,” Christensen said. “You can see that at work in our current student population, many of whom caught the spark for learning math and science as youngsters through programs like those Dr. Etter and her team have organized.”

SMU-Lyle is celebrating its 10th year as an engineering school where women make up more than 30 percent of incoming undergraduate students. Nationally, enrollment of women in engineering schools averages just under 20 percent.

Etter part of SMU-Lyle’s success that women make up more than 30 percent of incoming undergraduate students
“The work Dr. Etter is passionate about is key to that success story,” Christensen said, “and we are very glad that she continues her relationship with the Caruth Institute as the Caruth Professor of Engineering Education.”

Etter’s research interests include digital signal processing and biometric signal processing, with an emphasis on identification using iris recognition. She also has written a number of textbooks on computer languages and software engineering.

She is an internationally recognized leader in science and technology and engineering education. As one of the few subcabinet appointees for both the Bush and Clinton administrations, she has served as the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition and as the deputy under secretary of defense for science and technology. In addition to her public service Etter has had a distinguished career as an academic and engineering researcher, having held the position of ONR Distinguished Chair in Science and Technology at the United States Naval Academy, and professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the University of New Mexico.

Etter recognized with nearly every major award given to engineering educators and researchers
Etter has been recognized with nearly every major award given to engineering educators and researchers. She was elected into the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, the highest recognition afforded an engineer in this country.

She has been awarded the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Public Service, confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a member of the National Science Board (which governs the National Science Foundation), appointed a member of the Defense Science Board, and served as principal U.S. representative to the NATO Research and Technology Board.

Etter was a recipient of the Federal WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) Lifetime Achievement Award, the IEEE Harriet B. Rigas Award, the Charles Hutchinson Memorial Teaching Award from the University of Colorado, the IEEE Education Society Achievement Award, the IEEE Millennium Medal, and the SPIE Defense Security Lifetime Achievement Award. She also has been elected a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education, the IEEE, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 2009 the Department of the Navy created annual technical awards and named them the Delores M. Etter Top Engineering and Scientist Awards. — Kimberly Cobb

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DOD funds tiny cave camera, iris recognition technology for military, homeland security

Subiimager.jpgResearchers are expanding new miniature camera technology for military and security uses so soldiers can track combatants in dark caves or urban alleys, and security officials can unobtrusively identify a subject from an iris scan.

The two new surveillance applications both build on “Panoptes,” a platform technology developed under a project led by Marc Christensen at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and funded by the Department of Defense.

Panoptes is a compact, lightweight, high-resolution smart camera that is named for the Greek mythological character Argos Panoptes, the giant sentry with a hundred eyes.

DOD is funding development of the technology’s first two extension applications with a $1.6 million grant to SMU.

Wired: DARPA’s Beady-Eyed Camera Spots the ‘Non-Cooperative’

Both the tiny cave camera and the iris recognition application will aid the military, border patrol, intelligence officials and airport security, according to Christensen and Delores Etter, a leading researcher in biometric identification.

Both are electrical engineers in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. The new applications may be ready for fielded demonstrations as soon as late 2011, said Christensen.

The Panoptes imaging system has been field-tested in tactical environment simulations by defense contractor Northrop Grumman and is currently in an independent test with Draper Laboratory.

“The Panoptes technology is sufficiently mature that it can now leave our lab, and we’re finding lots of applications for it,” said Christensen, an expert in computational imaging and optical interconnections. “This new money will allow us to explore Panoptes’ use for non-cooperative iris recognition systems for Homeland Security and other defense applications. And it will allow us to enhance the camera system to make it capable of active illumination so it can travel into dark places — like caves and urban areas.”

The new grant brings total DOD funding of Panoptes — short for “Processing Arrays of Nyquist-limited Observations to Produce a Thin Electro-optic Sensor” — to $5.5 million. The new applications have been dubbed AIM-CAMS, for “Active Illumination with Micro-mirror-arrays for Computational Adaptive Multi-resolution Sensing,” and Smart-Iris, for “SMU’s Multi-resolution Adaptive Roving Task-specific Iris Recognition Imaging System.”

Hi-rez “eyes” in caves, urban alleys

helmetcamera.jpgPanoptes initially was designed for military aerial drones and combat helmet cameras for use in daylight environments. The technology produces sharp, clear images without the size and weight of a conventional camera system because it doesn’t rely on a large, bulky, curved lens for high-resolution images.

Instead, arrays of agile and precisely controlled microelectromechanical system (MEMS) mirrors are integrated with low-resolution sub-imagers on a silicon base for the purpose of sampling a wide field of view. The analog steerable MEMS mirrors adaptively redirect plexiglas sub-imagers to zoom in on regions of interest. The captured images are stored in an onboard computer and restored to high-resolution by an information theory-based super-resolution algorithm.

The sub-imagers are tiny off-axis-shaped paraboloids, fabricated using injection molding. At 8 millimeters by 5.7 millimeters by 4 millimeters, the sub-imagers have an effective focal length of 4 millimeters and are tiny enough to fit on the surface of a small coin.

The honeycomb-shaped micro mirror array comprises 61 hexagonal mirrors, each with three actuators to mechanically move and control the mirrors. The usable circular aperture, the opening through which light travels, is 3.9 millimeters in diameter. The end result — a digitally restored image — while not super-resolution, approaches optical limit, the researchers say.

The flat sub-imagers can be tiled unobtrusively almost anywhere, from the underside of a small drone to the outside of a soldier’s helmet to the walls of a hallway.

The Panoptes architecture is unique in its ability to adapt its field of view to steer to a region of interest, capturing only images of value, Christensen said. That preserves computing power by eliminating uniform allocation of imaging resources, which is wasteful, he said.

Smart-Iris narrows from wide field-of-view to narrow field-of-view

To develop the biometric Smart-Iris, the adaptive resolution of Panoptes will be paired with iris recognition technology.

“It’s very challenging to get the resolution with a wide field-of-view camera, but with a zoom camera, it’s hard to find the iris because it’s like looking through a soda straw,” Christensen said.

Every iris is unique

Iris recognition — currently used worldwide by airports, prisons, laboratories, fitness clubs, hotels and other institutions — is the most accurate biometric available because no two irises are alike, said Etter, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense who leads SMU’s Biometrics Engineering Research Group. The technology is challenged, however, by interference when the iris is being scanned, she said. Problems can include glare, eyelashes, eyelids or dim lighting.

With Panoptes, the camera can start with a wide field-of-view at low resolution, find a face, then narrow to the area of interest — the iris. At the same time, Smart-Iris will extend the range of iris acquisition. Instead of one person cooperatively standing motionless with their eye pressed to a scanner, Smart-Iris will make it possible for people to pass through a standard doorway, each one getting their iris scanned — without so much as even pausing — by equipment mounted on walls or door frames. At the same time, the camera would maintain high resolution and more than 150 pixels across the iris.

Easier Smart-Iris scan is unobtrusive, but accurate

That could benefit the Department of Homeland Security. More than 600 million people pass through security to fly aboard commercial airlines each year, according to the agency. Homeland Security relies on the latest technology to monitor more than 700 security checkpoints and 7,000 baggage screening areas.

“Our goal is to develop an iris recognition system that is unobtrusive and accurate. We want to ensure that the right people have access, and that potential intruders are identified, all without impacting flow in high-traffic areas,” said Etter, who directs the Lyle School’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education.

Into caves and dark alleys

To develop AIM-CAMS, Panoptes is being paired with new off-the-shelf pocket projector technology known as Pico. Pico projectors, often compared in size to a candy bar, make it possible to project digital pictures taken by cell phones and other portable devices onto any wall for large-format viewing.

Combining Pico with Panoptes will allow the low-resolution camera to be used in dark places, such as caves and urban alleys, providing troops with situational awareness, said Christensen, who is chair of the SMU Department of Electrical Engineering and an associate professor.

SMU is collaborating on the research with Santa Clara University in California, Northrop Grumman and Draper Laboratory. Funding came from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Office of Naval Research and Army Research Laboratory.

Watch a news video about the Panoptes research

Related links:
DOD adds $2 million to SMU’s camera research
Marc Christensen
SMU Profile: Marc Christensen
Conference paper on Panoptes
Department of Electrical Engineering
Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering


Lockheed Skunk Works® chief to lead-off SMU lecture series

Innovation is a tough concept to define and even harder to teach. But Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works®, where the fastest military jets are born in secret, is sharing its name and formula for innovation with Southern Methodist University’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.

Frank Cappuccio, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and Skunk Works® director, will deliver the program’s inaugural lecture at 3:30 p.m. March 18 in the Hughes Trigg Student Center Theater on the SMU campus. Cappuccio will be speaking on “Creating an Environment for Innovation” to mark the beginning of this unique partnership.

The SMU/Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® Program is the first university program anywhere to teach the storied approach to problem solving behind aviation marvels like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. SMU students will not design airplanes — but they will learn the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® method of tackling daunting problems in small teams under high-pressure deadlines. The program is part of Lyle School’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education.

Every SMU engineering graduate will experience the Skunk Works® program, starting with the incorporation of philosophy and case studies in undergraduate coursework. Lockheed Martin will rotate Skunk Works® engineers through the SMU program as visiting mentors and lecturers.

The best student opportunities for learning engineering innovation will come from varying degrees of immersion into Skunk Works® lab research. Those projects will last anywhere from a week or two between terms to an intensive, semester-long assignment for senior-level students working on a challenging problem.

As part of its ongoing mission to strengthen American engineering education at every level, the Lyle School will develop curriculum from the Skunk Works® experience that can be applied at other universities.


The Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, under the leadership of former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Delores Etter, already is home to nationally recognized programs to prepare middle school and high school students for engineering education and careers.

“We are committed to improving American engineering education,” Etter said. “You don’t do this with little steps — you do this with big steps.”

Lockheed targets 50 percent of its philanthropic work and outreach to support education, and Cappuccio is bullish on attracting the brightest students back to the industry that was perceived as so glamorous during the early space race. As a group, he says, engineers need to be less wedded to process and structure.


“What we want to do is apply the philosophy of the Skunk Works®, which is imbedded in founder Kelly Johnson’s 14 different principles,” said Geoffrey Orsak, dean of the Lyle School. “The key is doing things quickly. In today’s world doing things quickly is very important. If you take too long, you lose out.”

SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 29 graduate programs, including both master’s and doctoral levels. — Kim Cobb

Related links:
DMN: Lyle changing face of SMU engineering
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works&#174
Kelly Johnson’s 14 different principles
Delores Etter
Caruth Institute for Engineering Education
Geoffrey Orsak
Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering