Message from the Chair

Scott Acton circle portrait

Dear Colleagues: 

It is great to be back in Charlottesville after spending the past three years with NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. I am grateful and humbled by the confidence placed in me as UVA ECE’s chair.
The timing could not be better as our ECE department is perfectly aligned with three of the nation’s greatest priorities:  semiconductor production, leadership in artificial intelligence research and enhancing human health. I look forward to continuing UVA ECE’s pioneering work in terahertz electronics and optical devices as well as building on our world-class facility called IFab – Innovations in Fabrication.
UVA ECE boasts a strong tradition in computer engineering, particularly in embedded systems. Our Link Lab for cyber-physical systems offers a unique interdisciplinary environment for our research and teaching. Our ECE researchers are making significant strides in related hardware within areas such as low-power devices and in software for responsible, robust machine learning.
When I arrived at UVA as an early career faculty member, some 20 years ago, I saw untapped potential to use engineering and computing in medicine. Recent advances in biology, visual perception, signal processing, machine learning and AI, have spurred this nexus between engineering and medicine. As chair, I intend to prioritize engineering for health by leveraging our department’s proximity and close relationship with UVA’s world-class School of Medicine. This activity will boost our high-impact research in medical imaging, robotic surgery and medical devices.
President Jim Ryan’s 2030 strategic plan states that it will “be impossible for a university to be truly great if it is not also good.” UVA ECE is aligned with this “great and good” vision. Our five 2022 NSF CAREER award recipients all demonstrate this notion of academic excellence and humanitarian stewardship. Homa Alemzadeh’s work in robotics and safety is “great,” and her application of using the robots to train surgeons is an example of “good.”

Greatness is evident in Jundong Li’s knowledge-guided machine learning research, and goodness is seen in the application to personal health and financial decision making. Farzad Farnoud is making great advances in information theory, and his power-saving approaches to massive data storage are good for the planet. The decentralized learning of Cong Shen yields great ML capability with good privacy for our data. Finally, Brad Campbell makes good use of repurposed devices that lead to a great and green Internet of things.
It’s clear to me that ECE students themselves are naturally in line with this great and good concept, as their vision of success lies far beyond the promise of high salaries and the challenging coursework. They join ECE because they want to treat diabetes, develop the next solar cell, program the next Tesla and make social networks more resilient.

To make the salient value of ECE education clear, we are revising our undergraduate curriculum and forming a set of attractive concentrations. We will frame our undergraduate curriculum around courses and research experiences that are relevant to the needs of our students, our industry and our country. And we will double-down on our investments in studio teaching, design-based thinking and mathematical rigor. Overall, we seek to uphold UVA Engineering’s core values—to prepare students to solve global challenges, be leaders in a diverse and globally connected world and promote social and economic mobility.
As I said in my Q&A with UVA Engineering’s communications team, this is a golden era of ECE. I look forward to reconnecting with you and forging new collaborations to seize this moment.

Scott T. Acton
Professor and Chair,
Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Professor, Biomedical Engineering (By Courtesy)