Engaged Learning Faculty Faculty Research

Interview With Dr. Jennifer L. Dworak (SMU Lyle School of Engineering)

Dr. Dworak

Dr. Jennifer L. Dworak is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at SMU. Her research in hardware security, manufacturing test, and digital circuit/system reliability is funded by the National Science Foundation and Semiconductor Research Corporation.

As an undergraduate student at Texas A&M, Dr. Dworak began composing research and enjoyed it so much that she decided to get her Master’s degree. She aspired to become a professor someday, so she stayed and also received her PhD. After completing her studies, she interviewed at different companies and universities, but ultimately accepted the job offer from Brown University. She taught there for a few years and enjoyed the experience, but missed Texas and her family. After two years of working at Brown, a friend informed her of an SMU job opening in the Computer Science and Engineering Department. She was interested in hardware security so the department seemed like a good fit. She applied and was hired for that position starting July 2010.

What inspired your current research?

Dr. Dworak once believed she’d become an astronomer, but she learned in high school that there were such few job openings in the field of astronomy, that one would have to wait for someone to die in order to get an interview.

Because her father was an engineer, she saw that as a direct route to helping people, so she decided to give it a chance. Initially, she was not sure what kind of engineering to pursue, but she was curious about computers. She took a digital logic class, which allowed her to make anything from her imagination out of ANDs, Ors, and inversions. During her undergraduate research, she worked with her professor on logic minimization and how to detect abnormalities during the manufacturing process. For example, if someone needs a pacemaker, the manufacturers need to make sure it works. Because she enjoyed the experience so much, she decided to commit to the field.

What research are you working on now?

When one tests a chip, they should not only test it immediately after it has been manufactured, but several times over. Dr. Dworak’s current essential question is, “How do I efficiently run tests that detect defects faster and more effectively—especially in the field?” Before, people spent a lot of time setting up a test by shifting logic values (either a 1 or a 0) into a logic circuit one at a time (similar to shifting marbles of two different colors into a tube). Once all the logic values for the test have been shifted in, the response of the circuit to those values is captured.  The response captured could then be compared to the expected response of a good circuit to see if the circuit passed or failed the test. The amount of time it took to set up the test was much longer than actually executing it. Therefore, Dr. Dworak’s research group decided to capture the circuit’s responses at the same time the logic values were shifted in (i.e. while putting marbles in). They were better able to detect several defects as they set up each test pattern. Thus,  fewer test patterns were needed to detect all of the modeled defects.

 What resources have you needed to further your work? Have those resources been accessible?

Some of Dr. Dworak’s work involves emulating circuits in an FPGA.  One of the companies they are working with is loaning supplies (such as an FPGA board).

Additionally, for the test project using simulation, there are several computers (named Genuse) at SMU that students use to work with Mentor Tessent software, which runs on Linux. Students could use any computer, log into the Genuse machine, and run it from there.

What is a challenge you had to overcome?

Debugging code has always been a struggle because finding the issue is not easy. One approach that makes it easier to find the source of the problem is to look for “impossible” outcomes.  For example, think about data referring to birthdays.  If one part of the data says that a person’s birthday is March 25, and another part of it says that the same individual’s birthday is May 13, clearly something went wrong.  In a digital circuit, every wire should be equal to either a logic 1 (high voltage) or a logic 0 (low voltage).  If the data states that it is at both a logic 1 and a logic 0, then there is an obvious error.  Debugging often entails finding the error that causes the contradiction.

 What is the long-term goal?

Long-term, Dr. Dworak hopes to create ways to detect as many defects as possible, in as little time as possible, using the least amount of power. She also wants to see  whether “stall” cycles that occur when a processor is not doing useful work can be re-purposed to perform tests. Similarly, Dr. Dworak and her team are still looking at how to use shift cycles that set up tests to detect even more defects.

 What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is interested in conducting research?

Always check your research/experiment because it is very easy to make a small mistake that will be very difficult to recover from. If you are interested in research, never think you are too young or do not know enough to partake. Think about classes you have taken and surf different websites to see what type of research each professor is conducting. It is okay to experiment to see if a project is for you. Go after knowledge and experience, do not be intimidated by research, and try out different topics!

Thank you, Dr. Dworak!


Engaged Learning Undergraduate Research

Interview With Abigail Hays (SMU Lyle School of Engineering)

Abigail Hays

Abigail Hays is a senior in the Four-Plus-One program working toward a master’s in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on fluid and thermal sciences.


The project in which Hays partakes had already been set up by a master’s student and built upon when she became involved. Hays’ interest in adding her own twist to the project was sparked by her passion in the various scientific fields, and the associated concepts. She was eager to begin applying what she was learning in her classes!


One of Hays’ professors,  Dr. Paul Krueger, oversees the lab and the several experimental and confrontational-based projects it is composed of. Hays is involved in the fluid sciences project. Dr. Krueger’s experience in vortex formation allows him to help Hays review all of her data and steer her in the right direction.

Hays has also been working with post-doctoral researcher and adjunct professor, Dr. Matt Saari, who taught her how to code and run various equipment, two concepts she had not yet learned in school. In addition, Dr. Saari also taught Hays how to present her work in a group setting.


 The Summer 2021 Research Institute allowed Hays to narrow her focus to her specific project. By immersing herself in the intensive workshops, she acquired skills she is not typically taught in school. For example, she learned how to present and write a research thesis, put together a research paper, and conduct research on previous research and then create a literature review over it.

Hays found the program to be insightful for her master’s degree because she could turn the acquired information into her master’s thesis.  Though it was more research-specific and not so much engineering-based, Hays was able to apply what she learned throughout the institute to her research project.


Hays’ project consists of two parts:

Part 1

This past summer (2021), the team worked to get thrust in the small-scale proportion system in a lower Reynold’s number range, which is difficult to achieve because it has primarily been higher. They successfully obtained thrust and are now transitioning into the second part of the project.

Part 2

The team is currently working to narrow the ranges to two conditions and compare it to a fin with different surface boundary conditions. The varied conditions on the fin serve to decrease the friction with the water. The less friction there is, the less drag there is, and the less drag there is, the more thrust there will be.


In part one of their research, the team successfully obtained thrust in their data.  What this basically means is that they were able to see the artificial fin flap like that of a fish, while submerged under water.  In attempt to replicate how a fish moves, they observed some thrust. The challenge was that the team was operating at a lower range than Reynold’s number, which is the successful range for thrust to occur, as demonstrated by numerous previous research. Because water acts differently, it was difficult to figure out how to get thrust in a non-thrust condition.

Additionally, because of how time-demanding the experiment has been, equipment has worn down. For example, the team’s tunnel collapsed, thus spilling water everywhere and extending the damage to other equipment. The team also struggled to find glue that worked for the fin underwater because water’s properties do not favor those of glue. Furthermore, water’s characteristics, including its evaporative properties, made it difficult to maintain repetition.


Hays is currently collecting and analyzing data of two different systems: One fin with a lower friction boundary condition, and one without. The team is currently setting up the system and collecting data over vertices that were formed by the movement of the fin.


If you are interested in research, do not be afraid to pursue it. People who are considering research often feel overwhelmed by the technical terms, but there are mentors and various resources available to guide you through it. If you complete a course and find that you loved it, pursue something in that area! Do not let that ambition go to waste.

Thank you, Abigail Hays!

Engaged Learning Undergraduate Research

Interview With Regina Nguyen (SMU Lyle School of Engineering)

Regina Nguyen

Regina Nguyen is a second year student majoring in Civil Engineering. She is involved in Asian Council, Gamma Phi Beta, and research!

During her first year of college, Nguyen was on the brink of leaving the engineering department and changing majors because she could not see herself doing the work she was learning about. After some discussion with her Intro to Civil Environmental Engineering professor, Dr. Smith-Colin, she proposed an incoming summer research opportunity. To Nguyen, this sounded much more different and interdisciplinary, so she decided to give it a try. During one of her class periods, Dr. Zarazaga gave a speech which further sparked Nguyen’s interest. She later reached out to Dr. Zarazaga and realized she works closely with Dr. Smith-Colin. In the end, both Dr. Smith-Colin and Dr. Zarazaga worked with Nguyen as her mentors throughout the research project.


Dr. Zarazaga and Dr. Smith-Colin provided Nguyen with the ideal independent structure that allowed her the freedom to work on her own but still feel supported. Because of their guidance, she knows the direction she is working toward and what deadlines she needs to meet. Nguyen finds the project to be fun and relaxed because her mentors give her the room to do what she needs to do when and wherever she needs to do it, but when she needs a helping hand, they are there for her.

Nguyen is also grateful to be working with graduate student Collin Yarbrough because he provided her with the necessary literature to review before beginning the project, and continues to give Nguyen oversight and assistance throughout her think sessions. She is grateful for the tools Yarbrough has given her throughout the research process.

Additionally, Nguyen collaborates with undergraduate student, Odran Fitzgerald, to share the project responsibilities. Both students have different fields of study but work on the same deliverables. After finding literature online and forming drafts, Fitzgerald and Nguyen provide each other feedback before handing it over to the mentors.


Nguyen partook in the 2021 Summer Research Intensive where she claims to have learned very valuable lessons. She enjoyed listening to weekly insightful workshops and learning about the various resources available on campus that she did not previously know of. She enjoyed having some structure in her research project and creating a three-minute thesis presentation which enabled her to lecture others about what she is passionate about. Nguyen got the opportunity to meet people and learn how to complete a literature review, which expanded her network and knowledge. Learning about other students’ work was an inspiring, educational experience for Nguyen. For example, learning about the various unique ways in which other students formatted their work allowed to her better format hers. Technical communication was another learning curve for her because analyzing how others explained and described things taught her how to rephrase things to make them easier to understand. Nguyen became confident in her presentation skills by the end of the research-intensive program.


Nguyen worked closely with a group in Garland, Texas to advocate for proper community cleanup. The team used CBPAR (Community-Based Participatory Action Research) to collaborate with all stakeholders and community members throughout their research. Any deliverable or product Nguyen makes (not physical deliverables, just outcome) is completely based on what the community wants fixed. Nguyen has been asking the community about their needs and applies it to her deliverable work.  She claims it is like consulting work, or a feedback loop. Nguyen first asks the community members about the situation and contamination. After the members’ responses, her role as a researcher is to then figure out how to help the citizens advocate for their specific community needs. She specifically utilizes CBPAR and Cleanup Garland to help communities communicate their concerns and risk. Her sub focus is to understand how community groups interact with these greater entities (the city for example) to see what gaps exist between them and determine how outside researchers confess interacting with these groups and make sure their needs are met. Nguyen stresses that infrastructure causes long-term and serious effects on daily life, so it is crucial that issues are resolved equitably and thoroughly.


Nguyen initially had an idea for a deliverable that would be the final product, but over the summer she realized it would not be a feasible solution because Cleanup Garland does not have the access to the necessary tools. Despite the unexpected outcome, it ended up pathing a path for a better route for Cleanup Garland. Nguyen would not have come to this conclusion if not for the trial and error, and her consistent communication with Cleanup Garland.


Ms. Lydia Allen, the Writing Center Director, and Dr. Adam Neal, the Assistant Director of Research, served as spectacular resources for Nguyen. Ms. Allen provided her with an organized template to better format her research report and helped her put together a successful paper. Dr. Neal helped Nguyen put together a quality three-minute presentation.


Short-term, Nguyen hopes to continue helping Cleanup Garland resolve their challenges and barriers. She would also like to stay involved with research throughout school. Long term, she hopes her experiences will properly prepare her for the field of academia (post phD). She also wishes to do more community-based work in the future.


Nguyen is currently in the prototyping stage of the project. One of their deliverables is a series of infographics for the community to distribute around each other so that everyone is more informed of the risks and how they can keep themselves safe. They are currently working on more of those infographics which they will then send out for feedback. They also have some mapping activities that they will be doing to consolidate all the community information and some of the sampling data from the past.

The team’s main goal is to help Cleanup Garland access resources that will enable them to continue advocating for themselves and making sure the citizens remain well-informed about the situation and how they can communicate to the rest of their community.


Ask questions! Nguyen would not have gotten into research if she had not asked questions. It also enables you to be confident you are doing things correctly and are heading down the right path!

Thank you, Regina Nguyen!