Detail of the comic strip Andrew Zonenberg etched onto a human hair

(Rensselaer doctoral candidate Andrew Zonenberg explains how his research led him to create the “world’s smallest comic strip” by using focused a ion beam to carve the drawings onto a strand of his girlfriend’s hair in this great guest post.)

As a doctoral candidate — working in with Professor Bülent Yener, director of the Data Science Research Center — my research focuses on how to make software harder to exploit by changing the way computer hardware is designed. This sort of work tends to blur the line with hardware security, tamper resistance, etc.


Student game designers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and other schools including Champlain College and Rochester Institute of Technology gathered at EMPAC Saturday to showcase a vast array of video games they had designed at the 10th annual GameFest.

This was my first GameFest and I was so impressed by the sheer number of games on display and the quick pitches I heard from students. Read a little more about students participating in GameFest in this Times Union article.

The GameFest competition was judged by professional video game developers from Vicarious Visions, a firm co-founded by RPI grad Karthik Bala ’97 and based in Menands. Here’s the full list of winners:


How many zebras?

How many individual zebras are represented in this collage of 10 photos? If we were looking at human faces, most of us would have little trouble differentiating between multiple photos of the same person, and photos of different people. But when it comes to wildlife, people are easily stumped.

Not so for computers. If the differences between zebras, or other animals with distinctive markings, can be expressed in mathematical terms, computers can analyze those differences — and identify which animals appear in each photograph —at speeds and levels of accuracy that leave humans in the dust. And that is the idea behind the experimental Image-Based Ecological Information System, or IBEIS.


Rick Mastracchio, a 1987 graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a NASA astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station, took questions from Rensselaer students Friday. The event was coordinated with Mastracchio’s three alma maters – Rensselaer, UConn, and University of Houston-Clear Lake. Six students from each institution were selected to ask Mastracchio questions and the entire event was streamed live on NASA TV.

Dean of Science Laurie Leshin emceed the event for Rensselaer and, as a former NASA executive, was able to offer a unique perspective on Mastracchio’s experiences and details about the ISS (including that it is about the size of a six-bedroom home).

The students from UConn went first; Mastracchio graduated from UConn in 1982 with dual bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.


(Rensselaer civil engineering students shared some thoughts about their experience at the 2014 Geo-Wall competition, held this February in Atlanta by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Rensselaer team placed third!)

Every year, Rensselaer Professor Tarek Abdoun encourages his students to form a team and participate in the GeoWall competition, which is held annually at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) GeoCongress conference.

The first step is for teams to submit a report describing their design of an earth retaining wall that is built using specific materials, is mechanically stable, and can sustain multiple loading phases. The competition parameters change from year to year, and this year required a rubber-sand mixture for backfill instead of regular sand. The Rensselaer team developed their model, made from the backfill, paper strips, and other materials, and tested it in the Institute’s soil mechanics lab. Following rough geotechnical calculations and engineering judgment, a simplified numerical model was developed to verify the design.

After submitting the report, the Rensselaer team was informed it ranked 4th and was invited to compete in Atlanta on February 24. Based on the quality of their report, the team also received a $2,000 grant for their traveling expenses.

The team members, all civil engineering students, reflected on their experience.


Rensselaer medical bridagers learn to take patient vitals

(Rensselaer senior Lynnette Lacek and junior Colleen Lamberson, co-presidents of university’s chapter of the Global Medical Brigades, wrote this guest post about their recent work in Panama.)

In January, Rensselaer’s chapter of Global Medical Brigades traveled to the Darien Province in Panama to provide medical care to the indigenous Embera and Wounaan tribes. It was an amazing opportunity – for three days our small group of 21 students functioned as a mobile medical unit.  We set up a small clinic in the local community center, and with the help of two doctors, one dentist, and one pharmacist, we were able to diagnose and treat 373 patients.


Rensselaer professor Eddie Ade Knowles will be featured in a documentary about renowned jazz and soul artist Gil Scott-Heron airing Wednesday night.

Knowles, an accomplished drummer, was a member of Gil Scott-Heron and the Midnight Band in the 1970s. He played the conga drums that were the beat behind one of Scott-Heron’s most notable works, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

“(Scott-Heron) had never done poetry with drums and so we spent some time in terms of how to do this with conga drums being played,” Knowles says in a preview of the documentary.

The documentary “Unsung: Gil Scott-Heron” airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, on TV One, channel 184 on Time Warner Cable locally.

UPDATE 2/12:


On Lake George, from the deck of the survey ship Mintaka, the threat to boats cruising past Shelving Rock near The Narrows is apparent in high resolution detail. Lurking beneath the water, where charts indicate consistent (if shallow) water, are intermittent formations of jagged hull-ripping rock ledge. Although the educated boater would be warned from these shores by well-placed channel markers, the moral of the story stands: there’s a lot we still don’t know about Lake George.

In the coming years we are going to learn a great deal more, thanks to the Jefferson Project at Lake George, a multi-million dollar collaboration between RPI, IBM, and the FUND for Lake George that will develop a suite of new technologies and techniques to revolutionize environmental monitoring.


(Rensselaer civil engineering doctoral student Jingjing Tian iwrote this post about her experience at a huge shake-table experiment she and her adviser, Professor Michael Symans, attended last year. They are part of a multi-university research project dedicated to making buildings more resilient to earthquakes.)

A full-scale, multi-story wood-framed building with soft ground story was constructed and tested during this past summer at the NEES (Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation) Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), as part of the NSF-sponsored NEES-Soft project. The project focuses on seismic performance of multi-story buildings with weak (soft) ground stories. The test specimen was designed and constructed to resemble the architectural and structural characteristics of soft-story residential buildings located in high-seismicity regions of the western United States (see a comparison below).


Nuclear engineering expert Emily Liu is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer. We ask Emily about her work:

Q: Your research is fascinating! It spans from nanomaterials, to radiation damage, to nuclear threat detection. What is the overall problem you are trying to solve?

A: My research targets a fundamental problem: How do we link nanoscale observations with macroscale phenomena? In our lab, we utilize laws from physics combined with experiments and simulations to explore this question. The answers we find will be very beneficial for designing and modifying new nano- or macroscale materials, as well as biological or chemical functions.

Outside of the lab and the classroom, what do you like to do for fun?

Many things. I especially like reading books and exercising. When it’s warm, I am fascinated by taking my kids swimming, rafting, and horseback riding.

What kind of music do you like?

Half of the time, I like romantic and soothing pop music such as the song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. However, when I am excited or very happy, I enjoy rock music a lot.