Skip to main content

UW alumni Vamsi Talla and Justine Sherry win SIGCOMM Doctoral Dissertation Awards

Vamsi Talla and Justine Sherry

Vamsi Talla (left) and Justine Sherry

ACM SIGCOMM has selected two winners of its 2016 Doctoral Dissertation Award recognizing outstanding Ph.D. theses in the fields of computer networking and data communication from the past year, and both recipients have strong ties to the Allen School: former postdoc Vamsi Talla, and bachelor’s alumna Justine Sherry.

Recent Allen School postdoc and UW Electrical Engineering Ph.D. alumnus Vamsi Talla is recognized for “Power, Communication and Sensing Solutions for Energy Constrained Platforms.” Working under the guidance of professors Joshua Smith of the Sensor Systems Lab and Shyam Gollakota of the Networks & Mobile Systems Lab, Talla and his collaborators developed a way to harvest energy from ambient signals such as television and Wi-Fi to power battery-free devices. This technique, known as ambient backscatter, shows great promise for enabling lower-power sensing and communication to realize the full potential of the Internet of Things.

The SIGCOMM award is the latest in a line of honors Talla has received for his work. Previously, he received the ACM SIGMOBILE Doctoral Dissertation Award and the WAGS/UMI Outstanding Innovation in Technology Award. The research team has also won multiple, recent Best Paper Awards for projects related to backscatter, including SIGCOMM 2016, NSDI 2016 and SIGCOMM 2013. Talla is currently the CTO of Jeeva Wireless, a startup company he and his colleagues launched to commercialize their research.

Undergraduate alumna Justine Sherry (B.S., ‘10) is recognized for her Ph.D. dissertation at UC Berkeley titled “Middleboxes as a Cloud Service.” In her thesis, Sherry describes APLOMB, a system that enables enterprises to outsource middlebox processing, such as firewalls and caches, to a third-party cloud service or ISP — providing benefits in terms of scalability and ease of management while reducing costs.

Sherry is now on the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, where she continues to focus on middleboxes as part of her computer networking research. She previously earned a Best Student Paper Award at SIGCOMM 2015 for presenting a novel design for fault-tolerance in middleboxes. As an undergraduate, she received the Allen School’s Best Senior Thesis Award for her 2015 bachelor’s thesis, “Applications of the IP Timestamp Option to Internet Measurement,” which she completed under the guidance of professors Tom Anderson and Arvind Krishnamurthy. She also co-authored the Best Paper at NSDI 2010 presenting a new internet diagnostic tool, reverse traceroute.

Talla and Sherry will be honored at the SIGCOMM 2017 conference later this month in Los Angeles, California.

Congratulations, Vamsi and Justine!

August 7, 2017

Allen School and Microsoft Research gather leading researchers to envision the future of IoT

Affan Dar

Affan Dar, Principal Group Software Engineering Manager for the Azure IoT Platform at Microsoft, delivers the opening keynote of the 2017 Summer Institute.

A group of leading researchers from academia and industry are gathered in Snoqualmie, Washington this week to explore the future direction of one of the fastest-growing areas of computing innovation: the Internet of Things. Organized by the Allen School and Microsoft Research, the 2017 Summer Institute: Unpacking the Future of IoT aims to foster new ideas, collaborations, and excitement around emerging technologies that will touch every part of our lives.

The Internet of Things is already having a profound impact on how we interact with the physical world around us — and with each other. Recent advances in hardware design, low-power sensing, wireless networking, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing have enabled computers to more easily gather and analyze data and react to changes in the physical world. This, in turn, has given rise to new devices and services that are altering the way we learn, work, and play. The global market research firm IDT estimates that, by the year 2020, the IoT market will reach $1.7 trillion and nearly 24 billion connected devices. That is more than double the current number of internet-connected smartphones, PCs, tablets, cars, and wearable devices combined.

“The Internet of Things is transforming multiple industries as we speak,” said professor Shyam Gollakota, one of the organizers of this year’s institute and director of the Allen School’s Networks & Mobile Systems Lab. “We have brought together some of the best minds in the world who are defining the business and research opportunities and influencing the direction of IoT.”

Rajalakshmi Nandakumar

Allen School Ph.D. student Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, formerly a research assistant at Microsoft Research India, presents her work on interacting with devices using sonar.

The 2017 Institute has brought together these leading minds to discuss a range of topics that will help shape the future of IoT, including battery-free computing, backscatter communication, human-computer interaction, mobile sensing, edge computing, and security and privacy in relation to IoT technologies. By the end of the conference, participants will have a fuller understanding of the state of the art in IoT — and, organizers hope, be inspired to tackle the open research problems that must be addressed to move this exciting field forward. It will take industry and academia working together to realize the full potential of IoT.

“Together, we have worked hard to find a balance between industry and academic research priorities,” said co-organizer Victor Bahl, distinguished scientist and director of mobile and networking research at Microsoft Research in Redmond. “It has been a pleasure partnering with colleagues at UW whose perspective, ideas, and thoughtfulness have helped create an agenda that I am confident will make this an enlightening meeting for all participants.”

In addition to Gollakota and Bahl, the organizing team includes Allen School professors Joshua R. Smith, director of the Sensor Systems Lab; Shwetak Patel, director of the UbiComp Lab; and Tadayoshi Kohno, co-director of the Security and Privacy Research Lab. Participants in this year’s institute, which is by invitation only, include representatives of Amazon, Carnegie Mellon University, Disney Research, Imperial College London, MIT, the National Academy of Sciences, Pioneer Square Labs, Stanford University, and more.

This is the 22nd institute co-sponsored by UW and Microsoft Research. To learn more, visit the 2017 Summer Institute website here and read a related article on the Microsoft Research blog here. Also check out highlights of the conference program on Hamed Haddadi’s blog here.

August 2, 2017

Allen School professor James R. Lee named Simons Investigator

James LeeProfessor James R. Lee, a member of the Allen School’s Theory of Computation group, has been named a Simons Investigator by the Simons Foundation’s Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Lee, whose research interests span algorithms, optimization, computational complexity theory, and related mathematical fields, is one of a small number of mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists recognized by the Simons Foundation this year.

The Simons Investigator program is designed to support outstanding scientists in their most productive years, when they are establishing creative new research directions, providing leadership to the field, and effectively mentoring junior scientists. Investigators receive $100,000 annually from the Foundation for a period of five to 10 years.

Lee has devoted his career to exploring the mathematical phenomena that underlie optimization problems and related computational processes. He was a co-recipient of the STOC 2015 Best Paper Award for work demonstrating the inherent limitations of semi-definite programs for solving NP-hard optimization problems. In selecting Lee for an Investigator Award, the Simons Foundation also cited his work on spectral algorithms for graph clustering problems and his application of novel tools from geometry and probability to the theory of computation.

Learn more about the 2017 Simons Investigators here.

Congratulations, James!

August 1, 2017

Pooja Sethi: The “badass and brilliant” Allen School alumna who is not afraid to fail

Pooja Sethi in cap and gown by Drumheller FountainThe latest installment of our Undergrad Spotlight features Pooja Sethi, a native of Granite Falls, Washington who graduated from the Allen School with honors last month. Sethi received her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and was recognized as one of two winners of our Best Senior Thesis Award, which she earned for “Respeak: A Voice-based, Crowd-powered, and Accessible Speech Transcription System” that she worked on with professor Richard Anderson and Ph.D. student Aditya Vashistha in the Allen School’s Information & Communication Technology for Development Lab.

In addition to building a reputation as an outstanding undergraduate researcher, during the course of her studies Sethi participated in five internships, collaborated on research with the Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence, served as an undergraduate teaching assistant, and served as an officer for the local chapters of ACM and ACM-W.

Sethi plans to spend the summer working with professor Yejin Choi of the Allen School’s Natural Language Processing research group. After that, she will head to Menlo Park for full-time employment with Facebook. The Allen School took an opportunity, before Sethi leaves campus for California, to find out more about what attracted her to computer science, what she looks forward to next, and what advice she would give to students following in her footsteps.

Allen School: Why did you choose to study CSE?

Pooja Sethi: It’s kind of funny, but growing up, I thought the last thing I would ever want to be was a software engineer. The title always conjured up images of people sitting in lonely cubicles staring at blinking lights and yawning. I’ve also always wanted to do something that would help other people, so since I was a kid I thought I would be a doctor.

In high school, I discovered I really loved math and physics and being able to understand the logic behind how the world works. That motivated me to take my first programming class, and I realized how fun it was to be able to “speak” to computers in code. CSE was also really appealing because it has applications to so many facets of life: people here work on everything from finding security vulnerabilities in self-driving cars to using smartphones to detect if a newborn has jaundice. Computers power everything in our lives, and as I was learning to program, it felt empowering to not only understand how computers work but also to be able to create new things with them.

Allen School: What was your favorite CSE course?

PS: That’s so hard — there were so many CSE classes that I loved! I’m going to list a few since I have a hard time updating weights in a priority queue. CSE 332 (Data Structures) was my gateway into fundamental topics and made me feel like a “real” CSE student. My favorite systems courses were CSE 444 (Database Internals) and CSE 452 (Distributed Systems), because let’s be real, it sounds pretty cool to say you’ve implemented a Query Optimizer or a Paxos-based Key Value Service. I also loved CSE 517 (Natural Language Processing) and CSE 573 (Artificial Intelligence), since they introduced me to my current research area of language generation using deep learning. Last but not least, I would highly recommend CSE 599 (Entrepreneurship) with professor Ed Lazowska and Madrona Venture Group’s Greg Gottesman. It was really fun to build a product from the ground-up and hear from amazing entrepreneurs in the Seattle area.

Allen School: What did you like most or what will you miss most about being a CSE undergraduate?

PS: The people in CSE are hands down what I will miss the most. I’ve found that there is something about being trapped in a basement with tea, underflowing snacks, Linux machines, and buggy code that is very conducive to building lifelong friendships. I’m also really thankful to all of the advisers, grad students, and professors I worked with who made CSE feel awe-inspiring but also very welcoming. And of course, the gorgeous view of Lake Washington from the Allen Center balcony will be sorely missed!

Allen School: Are there any people in particular you’d like to mention, who helped shape your experience as a student?

PS: A huge thank you to all of these wonderful people: First, the “Never Stop Dreaming” family of my fellow students: Karishma Mandyam, Aishwarya Mandyam, Naomi Musgrave, Hasanthi Neti, Huong Vo, Grant Timmerman, Dan Radion, Karan Goel, Anna Pendleton, Lilian Liang, Michael Petrochuk, and Bran Hagger. They filled my college experience with so much joy, code, and chocolate milk. To my big sisters in the Bay Area: Vinaya Polamreddi and Arathi Mani, for their constant inspiration, goddess-level AI prowess, and (literal) sunshine in my life.

I also want to thank the amazing grad students and faculty who guided me through research: Aditya Vashistha, Richard Anderson, Gaetano Borriello, Yejin Choi, Ari Holtzman, Max Forbes, Talia Ringer, James Wilcox, and Zach Tatlock. Also, the lovely academic advisers — Raven Alexander, Jenifer Hiigli, and Maggie Ryan — for their kindness and for answering my many questions throughout the years.

And finally, to my mom, dad, and brother Aakash. I would not be anywhere I am today without my family.

Allen School: What is next for you after graduation?

PS: I’m really excited to be joining Facebook full-time as a software engineer in the fall in the Bay Area. During the summer, I’ll be at the Allen School working on conversational question generation in NLP, advised by Yejin. I’ll also be working part-time at a local startup called Cue doing NLP and machine learning consulting. I hope to go back to school for a Ph.D. in the semi-near future. I also plan on sleeping, climbing, and running more post-graduation; we shall see if I succeed.

Allen School: What advice do you have for younger CSE students coming after you?

PS: There is a stigma associated with talking about failures, especially in CSE where many students come in having gotten used to being top of their class and always getting things right. The truth is, there are many times where I did not get things right — I’ve been rejected from internships, received mediocre scores on exams, and questioned my ability to do this subject at three o’clock in the morning.

I’ve learned that what ends up mattering is not the failures themselves, but how you react to them and the perseverance you build by standing back up. So, to those students I say stand strong, remember that you are badass and brilliant (as a few of my friends like to say), and last but not least, stay humble and kind. There is always more to learn.

Allen School: Any final thoughts you’d like to share, as you get ready to start your next chapter?

PS: Thank you for an incredible four years. To new students coming in: you’re in for quite the adventure!


Good luck, Pooja, and thank you for being an exemplary member of the Allen School community — we look forward to seeing you at a future alumni event!

July 28, 2017

Domino effect: UW and Microsoft researchers use spatial organization to build DNA computers

Rendering of nanoscale circuit boardsA team of researchers from the University of Washington and Microsoft Research Cambridge have achieved a breakthrough in the design of computational circuit boards using DNA molecules. The group, which was led by Allen School and Electrical Engineering professor Georg Seelig and Andrew Phillips, head of the Biological Computation Group at Microsoft Research, applied principles of spatial organization to create a new “DNA domino” architecture that reduced computation time from hours to minutes compared to existing approaches. The results of the team’s work, which could lead to important advances in molecular engineering and embedded circuit design, were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Spatial organization is at the heart of many human-engineered systems, including silicon circuitry. Spatial constraints — the proximity of a system’s components to one another — dictate the flow of information between those components, accelerating it among those close to each other and reducing interference from those that are positioned farther apart. In a departure from this organizing principle, synthetic molecular circuits have focused on chemical specificity — a biological interaction determined by the binding properties of proteins — over proximity to guide the interactions of diffusible components.

The team from UW and Microsoft opted for spatial organization over sequence specificity in devising its DNA domino architecture. As the name suggests, the circuits in this new system transmit information in a cascade, from one adjacent component to the next — akin to a line of dominoes. To construct their circuits, the team laid out short strands of DNA, called staples or hairpins, on long strands of DNA folded into a scaffold known as DNA origami. Using this approach researchers were able to construct elementary Boolean logic gates and transmission lines, as well as a two-input, dual-rail XNOR gate that demonstrated the potential for the domino architecture to serve as a building block for a molecular computer.

Georg Seelig

Georg Seelig

The domino effect resulted in significant improvements in speed and efficiency over current approaches. In one experiment, the domino circuits performed in just seven minutes what would take a circuit built with diffusible components four hours to complete. And because proximity, not specificity, controls the interactions in the domino architecture, components can be duplicated and reused across circuits — enabling more efficient, modular design of molecular control circuits.

Seelig is particularly interested in how this work will translate into novel applications in health care, from new biosensing capabilities to tiny, DNA therapy-delivery robots.

“This work brings moves us closer to being able to use molecular computing for novel therapeutics and diagnostics,” said Seelig. “Not only because computation in a localized circuit is over 10 times as fast as earlier, non-localized circuits, but also because co-localizing functional components on a molecular board will make them easier to deliver to cells.”

In addition to Seelig and Phillips, co-authors of the paper include UW Bioengineering Ph.D. alum Gourab Chatterjee, now a postdoc in the Seelig Quantitative Biology and DNA Nanotechnology Lab; scientist Neil Dalchau of the Biological Computation research group at Microsoft Research Cambridge; and Richard Muscat, former postdoc in the Seelig Lab and now Research Funding Manager at Cancer Research UK.

Learn more in the Nature Nanotechnology paper and related articles on the Microsoft Research Blog and in IEEE Spectrum.

July 26, 2017

Seattle PI’s “Famous (and infamous) UW Husky grads”

We have no idea how the Seattle PI chose these 58 UW graduates and near graduates …

The Paul G. Allen School can’t claim credit for Bruce Lee, Anna Faris, or Kenny G. Not Ted Bundy either, thank goodness.

But we’re delighted to claim:

July 24, 2017

Allen School’s Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman is ready for her close-up as GeekWire’s “Geek of the Week”

Ira Kemelmacher-ShlizermanProfessor Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman of the Allen School’s Graphics & Imaging Laboratory (GRAIL) flies her geek flag high in this week’s edition of GeekWire’s “Geek of the Week.” Kemelmacher-Shlizerman is one of the brains behind a series of high-profile research projects that combine facial recognition, modeling and 3-D reconstruction — including a new technique to create photorealistic videos of people from audio files, as demonstrated by a lip-syncing Obama.

The goal of her work, Kemelmacher-Schlizerman explains to GeekWire, is to transform how we interact with one another and the world around us through advancements in computer vision, computer graphics, and augmented and virtual reality technologies.

“Our photos and videos tell a ton of about ourselves, our histories, how people grow, age, learn to walk, and change over time,” she said. “Exploring and learning from that data will enable magical applications in telepresence, health, sports, entertainment and many other unexpected ones.”

Read the full article here, and also check out recent Allen School “Geeks of the Week” Shyam Gollakota, director of the Networks & Mobile Systems Lab, and Ph.D. alumna Irene Zhang.

July 21, 2017

Allen School’s DawgBytes summer camps are in full swing!

DawgBytes is the Allen School’s K-12 outreach program. One component of DawgBytes is a series of girls and co-ed computer science summer day camps for middle school and high school students. Always wildly over-subscribed, they’re in full swing now. This was the second week of a two-week “High School Girls Leadership Camp,” during which the students were joined by (and mentored) students in the Middle School Girls Creative Coding Camp.

More photos here. Info on our summer camps here. Info on DawgBytes here. DawgBytes Facebook page here.

July 19, 2017

CNBC: America’s Top State for Business 2017 … Washington!

“With the nation’s fastest-growing economy and an all-star business roster of household names and up-and-comers, Washington — the Evergreen State — soars above the competition as America’s Top State for Business in 2017.

“The home of Amazon and Costco, Boeing and Expedia, as well as rising stars like Adaptive Biotechnologies, online marketplace OfferUp and space company Blue Origin, Washington has the old and new economies covered — as well as pretty much everything in between.

“But the success story does not end there. At a time when the best workforce rules, Washington boasts the nation’s largest concentration of STEM (science, technology, education and math) workers. Nearly 1 in every 10 Washington workers is in those professions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The University of Washington’s computer science school — recently named for one of the state’s most famous natives, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen — is world class. There is no brain drain here; no state does better at hanging on to its college graduates. And the state is consistently a magnet for investment capital. Washington businesses attracted nearly $1.6 billion in venture capital last year, the sixth-highest total in the nation.”

July 12, 2017

Allen School professor Michael Ernst receives ICSE Most Influential Paper Award

Michael ErnstProfessor Michael Ernst of the Allen School’s Programming Languages & Software Engineering group (PLSE) has been recognized by the International Conference on Software Engineering with its Most Influential Paper Award for 2017. Ernst — along with co-authors Carlos Pacheco of Google, and Shuvendu Lahiri and Thomas Ball of Microsoft Research — earned the award for their ICSE 2007 paper, “Feedback-directed random test generation.”

Each year, ICSE selects a paper from 10 years earlier that it judges to have had “the most influence on the theory or practice of software engineering during the 10 years since its original publication.” In their winning paper, Ernst and his colleagues presented a test generation tool, Randoop, which generates tests for programs written in object-oriented languages such as Java and .NET. The technique put forward by the team generates one test at a time, executes the test, and classifies it as (probably) a normal execution, a failure, or an illegal input. Based on this information, it biases the subsequent generation process to extend good tests and avoid bad tests.

By contrast, a typical test generation technique would generate many tests and then try to determine which ones were of value. For example, an error-revealing test is one that makes legal calls that yield incorrect results. Without a formal specification, it is difficult to know whether a given call is legal and whether its outcome is desired. Furthermore, multiple generated tests might fail for the same reason.

Automated test generation is a practically important research topic. In 2002, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) estimated the annual costs of inadequate infrastructure for software testing in the U.S. to be at least $22.2 billion and as high as $59.5 billion — with more than half of those costs borne by software users on error avoidance and mitigation.

Ernst and Pacheco first introduced feedback-directed test generation in their ECOOP 2005 paper, “Eclat: Automatic generation and classification of test inputs,” when Ernst was a member of the MIT faculty and Pacheco was his student. The ICSE 2007 paper expanded and improved upon the technique with the introduction of Randoop based on more extensive experiments. Randoop continues to be actively maintained 10 years on, and thanks to its scalability and simplicity, it remains the standard benchmark against which other test generation tools are measured.

Ernst and his colleagues were formally recognized at the ICSE 2017 conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in May.

Congratulations, Michael!

July 11, 2017

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »