ASU alum sets her mind to research brain-inspired computing

July 9, 2018

After completing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a long list of research projects by age 19, Alisha Menon will head off to the University of California, Berkeley this fall as one of 2,000 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows.

Menon said she feels “so honored” to receive the fellowship because it recognizes the work she did while earning her bachelor’s degree in the Arizona State University Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and it has made her excited about starting her doctoral studies. Portrait of Alisha Menon Alisha Menon was selected as one of six ASU engineering National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows. The program supports outstanding students considered to be potential leaders in science, technology, engineering and math. These students are contributing to the high-impact research, teaching and innovation needed to maintain the nation’s technological strength, security and economic vitality. Download Full Image

Menon is one of six NSF fellowship awardees from the Fulton Schools; a total of 16 fellowships were awarded to ASU students.

“I can really just focus on the research that I want to do and that I’m passionate about,” said Menon, who was chosen out of 12,000 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship applicants. “I’m truly honored by the award — and encouraged.”

As an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, she will receive three years of support, including a stipend of $34,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 per year granted to UC Berkeley.

Menon was prolific in her undergraduate research, including work on neuromorphic, or brain-inspired, computing she did with Fulton Schools electrical engineering Assistant Professor Hugh Barnaby; contributions to an implanted electromyography, or EMG, sensor with University of Washington Professor Joshua Smith; and research on an implanted neuromodulation system that interacts with the brain for prosthetics and brain biosignal processing research with UC Berkeley Donald O. Pederson Distinguished Professor Jan Rabaey.

“I had some really wonderful research experiences and was honored to have had the opportunity to work with and meet people who are conducting truly incredible research in neural engineering,” Menon said.

She credits Barnaby for getting her interested in neuromorphic computing when she took his analog-digital circuits class at ASU, and Rabaey’s lab for showing her the inclusive, collaborative research team she could be a part of for her graduate studies.

As she prepares to embark on her graduate school journey, Menon's interests include three areas of neural engineering. The first is neuromodulation systems, which sit inside and interact with the brain through stimulation and recording. The second is machine learning and neural networks, the algorithms that process the signals recorded from the brain. The last is neuromorphic computing, involving hardware designed to function like the human brain. Whether she explores one of these areas or a combination of all three, it’s an exciting field to be involved in.

“There’s a lot of room for innovation in these areas. I am really looking forward to exploring, learning, discovering and contributing over the coming years,” she said.

Before Menon starts her fellowship at UC Berkeley, she’s across the country in New York City working at a startup called CTRLLabs, which is developing an EMG-based neural interface.

“Given that neural engineering technology is at a point where it can complete a task with a brain-computer interface, I’m really excited about where it could go — prosthetics, deep brain stimulation, virtual reality, as an interface technology in general,” Menon said. “It’s really cool, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

More about the 2018 NSF Graduate Fellow from the Fulton Schools of Engineering:

Logan Mathesen engineering solutions to big data challenges

Brendon Colbert combats cancer with math

Lexi Bounds aims to improve lives with synthetic biology

Scott Freitas wants to use computer science to solve society's toughest problems

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


New book by ASU professor looks to create resiliency for future water usage

July 9, 2018

As large swaths of the country grapple with drought, a new book looks to how to build resiliency in unsure times.

"Building Resilience for Uncertain Water Futures" is the most recent work by Patricia Gober, research professor at Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley School of Sustainability. Recognized nationally for her work in water resource management, her new book continues her legacy at a critical moment in time. Gober provided some insights into her latest work and the need to balance the idea of climate change with human adaptation. Building Resilience for Uncertain Water Futures book cover Download Full Image

Question: What is the premise of your new book? 

Answer: That business-as-usual water science, management and policy pose existential threats for the global economy, environment, society and health. The root cause of today’s water problems is not climate change, but the human capacity to manage it.

Q: What inspired you to write this book? Why now? 

A: I taught a water policy class in the U.S. and Canada from 2007-2017. Students accepted my shift in focus from climate change to human adaptation. They were able to see water problems as the result of human actions and therefore within their control. After 10 years, I had enough case studies and local narratives to say that global water management is a human policy problem, not just a matter of changing climate and hydrology.

Q: As parts of the country struggle with droughts, how does this impact water resource management techniques, and what do you hope to see implemented for water management?  

A: Press coverage emphasizes extreme events (e.g. floods and drought) and their immediate human consequences. When we look more carefully at events like California’s recent drought or Houston’s floods, we find lack of preparedness, failure to plan, and concentration of losses among the most vulnerable populations. What we can learn from these events is the need to expect the unexpected, prepare for surprise and learn to manage uncertainty rather than be paralyzed by it.

Q: Are you worried or hopeful in terms of the future of water resource management?

A: I see positive energy in many parts of the global water sector, but worry that it will be too late. We need to make decisions now to avert crisis 25 years from now. These decisions include building infrastructure, technological advances, conserving water, managing growth and participating in cooperative agreements.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book? 

A: Careless management of water threatens our economy and society. This is a global issue. De-emphasize the role of a changing climate and focus on lowering the risks in existing water systems.

Gober is a research professor in the School of Geographic Sciences and Urban Planning and senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. She is also emeritus professor in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2008) and of the Association of American Geographers. In 2008, she received the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water in the Water Resources Management and Protection division.

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