What made you want to get involved in FURI?
I wanted to participate in FURI for the unique opportunity it offers students to explore cutting-edge engineering research under the guidance of distinguished faculty members. Prior to being part of this program, my idea of research was mostly informed by the wet lab chemistry experiments I had performed in my life science classes. As a third-year electrical engineering student, I thought it was high time to understand what research might be in the context of engineering.
Why did you choose the project you are working on with assistant professor Ivan Sanchez Esqueda?
I chose to work with Dr. Ivan Sanchez Esqueda because the project he proposed was truly avant-garde. The field of neuromorphic computing is of increasing interest as it promises to support artificial intelligence, cloud computing and Internet of Things applications in an energy-efficient way, even if the amount of data produced exceeds the computing power of conventional circuits.
Memristor devices are crucial in realizing this possibility as they act as synaptic devices to enable a neuromorphic computational scheme. Dr. Sanchez Esqueda’s research explores 2D memristors to dramatically increase device performance and efficiency while making them scalable for use in next-generation embedded electronic systems. By working with him, especially as an undergraduate student, I felt I could get a head start in acquiring the technical know-how and experience necessary to contribute meaningfully to any engineering research in my career.
How was it to start in FURI?
After contacting Dr. Sanchez Esqueda, he explained his current projects very clearly and answered all my questions with great patience. After our first meeting, he sent me useful research journals to read and answered even more of my questions via email. He worked with me to write my FURI application and come up with milestones that I felt confident to achieve. During the visit to the laboratory, he set up with [Graduate Research Associate] Sahra Afshari, a bright and hardworking PhD student, and my graduate research mentor, I realized how inclusive and empowering her lab environment was. I am beyond grateful to have started my career as an engineering researcher with his group.
How will your engineering research project impact the world?
This project will make a difference in the field by providing more substantial evidence of the capabilities of 2D memristor networks and the potential of neuromorphic computing systems.
Everyone in the field aims to advance neuromorphic computing to the point that any device using von Neumann’s current computing architecture can be replaced with a neuromorphic device. To achieve such a goal, it is essential to show that the neuromorphic computer scheme is competitive with that of von Neumann by demonstrating that neuromorphic circuits can perform complex operations faster and with greater efficiency.
My FURI project will show how an array of 2D hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) memristor devices can perform the dot product operation, a function common to all machine learning algorithms. To further the demonstration, the project will show that the h-BN memristor array can perform linear and logistic regression.
Did you get an “aha!” time of your project?
My “ah!” moment happened recently. I was reading an article about new advances in neuromorphic computing and was surprised that I was following along without having to go back and read the text twice. I noticed that the graphs of the device’s features made sense at first sight and I had some good follow-up questions as I read. I have to say that all the time spent in the lab working with Sahra and Dr. Sanchez Esqueda really paid off! Without their constant support and involvement in my professional growth, I would not be where I am.
How do you see this experience helping you in your career goals?
This experience opened my mind to pursue higher education in engineering. Industry and academic research are great places to practice intelligent thinking in the face of complex challenges. But I think the latter suits me better because of the space I’ll need to understand how all the electrical engineering tools I’ve learned so far can help me become a better problem solver. . I learn best by trial and error. As there is flexibility and room for error in academic research, I look forward to this freedom!
Having a great professor mentor like Dr. Sanchez Esqueda and a graduate research mentor like Sahra also proved to me that academia will always go the extra mile to prioritize your learning.
The knowledge I gained working with h-BN memristors as a resistive random access memory device helped me land a memory validation internship at Intel and a research assistant position working with memristor technology developed by Sandia National Laboratories with Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Matthew Marinella.
What is the best advice you have received from your mentor?
Even when faced with a device physics problem that we couldn’t do much to change, Dr. Sanchez Esqueda made the best of the situation by explaining the underlying reason and thinking about ways to create demonstrations with what we had so that we could highlight important trends in memristor devices.
The lesson I took away was that while the majority of research is about things that don’t go as planned, it’s important to find value in the outcome anyway. Seeing how Dr. Sanchez Esqueda handles the unexpected in his lab, I see that having a long history of “failures” can lead to inventing equally illuminating alternative paths to answering a research question.
Why should other students get involved in FURI?
I think all engineering students should attend FURI because it’s a great way to attend and participate in the high-level research happening across the university. Being in the program is another way to expand your network within Fulton Schools. FURI students can develop critical technical skills to use in their next course or job while building lasting relationships with faculty and graduate students.