News Release

A Sampler of Exciting Stories from 2014 from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

San Diego, Calif., Dec. 8, 2014 -- From robots to rockets and crowdfunding to cybersecurity, 2014 has been a busy year here at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. Below is a sample of the highlights of the past 12 months. (Be sure to check the Jacobs School press release archive for 2014, Jacobs School blog, and archive of press clips highlighting Jacobs School projects for a more comprehensive list.)

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Matt Grob, Executive Vice President, Qualcomm Technologies and CTO flies a small quadcopter during the Contextual Robotics Technologies International Forum in October at UC San Diego.

Robots and robotics

The year started off with a flurry of excitement around MiP, the first self-balancing consumer robot, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. MiP is the product of a collaboration between the UCSD Coordinated Robotics Lab and toymaker WowWee. MiP has garnered steady media attention through the year. Most recently, MiP was named one of Popular Science’s Top 100 Innovations for 2014 and made a guest appearance on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. “This is the biggest consumer product we’ve dealt with by far,” said Dave Gibbons, the UC San Diego licensing officer who connected researchers here on campus with the creative team at WowWee, and launched the collaboration that brought MiP to life.

Robotics is indeed increasingly becoming a focus here at the Jacobs School, where Dean Albert P. Pisano convened the first Contextual Robotics Technologies International Forum in October. The forum is part of a campus-wide move to focus more on robotics and leverage existing expertise in a variety of related fields and technologies. “UC San Diego needs to take a leading role in this area,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Kholsa at the event. “We want to educate our students for the future of engineering.” And this future most certainly includes robotics. Pisano announced the school is committed to hiring five faculty members in the robotics field in the next two hiring cycles. Michael Tolley, a Cornell Ph.D. who most recently worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard and an expert on soft robotics and self-folding robots, is the first in this group. He joined the mechanical and aerospace engineering department this fall.

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Members of the Triton Rocket Club work the rocket they plan to launch in spring 2015 to make UC San Diego the first university to send a rocket to space.

Rockets and space

Our website saw a huge spike in traffic when we posted this story about a new type of cool burning flames that could lead to cleaner, more efficient engines for cars. The discovery was made during a series of experiments on the International Space Station by a team led by Forman Williams, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, San Diego.

“We observed something that we didn’t think could exist,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, the Triton Rocket Club is working hard to make UC San Diego the first university campus to send a rocket into space. They are in an unofficial race against Boston University and the University of Southern California. Both campuses are pursuing the same goal and have launches planned this coming spring or summer. The Triton Rocket Club at UC San Diego is hoping to beat them to the finish line by launching in March.  

Last year, thanks to another organization, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, UC San Diego became the first university where students successfully designed, built and tested a 3D-printed rocket engine.

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Biosensor tattoos developed in the Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics led by Professor Joe Wang, Department of NanoEngineering, integrate complex electrochemical sensors with simple, fairground tattoos, to create a highly sensitive, wearable biosensor that monitors electrolyte and metabolite levels in sweat to assess the metabolic health of a patient. UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Wearable sensors

Wearable sensors and related technologies also have been an ongoing story this year.  To cite just one example, Joseph Wang, the chair of the Department of NanoEngineering, created tiny temporary tattoos that include sensors capable of turning the sweat of the person who wears them into a power source. The technology has been featured in many media outlets, from Newsweek, to Discovery News, to the Washington Post. Wang was named one of the most influential scientists in the world by Thomson Reuters this year.

He is the director of the Center for Wearable Sensors, launched this year at the Jacobs School. The center brings together top faculty in the field, as well as students and researchers specializing in sensors, low-power circuits, materials, electrochemistry, bioengineering, wireless network technologies, preventive medicine, the life sciences—and more. The Center for Wearable Sensors had a strong presence at the Trillion Sensors Summit and produced the first iteration of its one-sheet brochure (PDF) with a great photo of miniaturized energy-processing chips from the lab of electrical engineering professor Patrick Mercier, Associate Director of the Center.

Electrozyme, a startup company that grew out of Joseph Wang’s lab just won a Most Innovative New Product award from CONNECT. Electrozyme co-founder Jared Tangney (BS ’09, MS ’12, PhD ’14) graces the cover of the summer 2014 issue of Pulse magazine (PDF).

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Ph.D. student Keaton Mowery and computer science Hovav Shacham found security flaws in a full-body backscatter X-ray scanner deployed in U.S. airports between 2009 and 2013.


As is the case every year, cybersecurity researchers at the Jacobs School were on the frontlines, exploring potential vulnerabilities in everything from airport scanners to email systems. With colleagues at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, they discovered several security vulnerabilities in full-body backscatter X-ray scanners deployed to U.S. airports between 2009 and 2013. The story was featured in Gizmodo and Business Week, among many other media outlets. Another team found that a class of apps and wireless devices used by private pilots during flights for everything from GPS information to data about nearby aircraft is vulnerable to a wide range of security attacks, which in some scenarios could lead to catastrophic outcomes. Computer scientists were also instrumental in helping Google find out how hackers intercepted personal email accounts manually and what kind of information they looked for.

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Alumnus Daniel Lee holds up a prototype of the smart earplugs he and two Jacobs School students have developed. Their company, Hush Technology, has been wildly successful in their crowdfunding campaign.

Crowdfunding, start-ups and venture funds

This year, several start-ups founded by Jacobs School students and alumni took to the Internet and more specifically crowdfunding, to raise awareness and money for their products. The most successful crowdfunder thus far has been Hush Technology, co-founded by two undergraduate students and one alum. The company has raised more than $450,000 so far for smart earplugs. The devices block out outside noise but are connected to a smart phone to broadcast an alarm clock and soothing sounds or let through pre-selected important calls. Daniel Lee, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, came up with the idea during an entrepreneurship class taught by Professor Nate Delson and sponsored by the Moxie Foundation. Lee and his two co-founders also joined the Moxie Center for Undergraduate Entrepreneurship and participated in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the von Liebig NSF I-Corps program here at the Jacobs School. Hush was featured in the Huffington Post and CNET, among others.

This fall, computer science Ph.D. students Stephen Foster and Sarah Esper (who has since graduated) raised $150,000 for CodeSpells, a video game that teaches students have to program. Esper and Foster have co-founded ThoughtSTEM, along with UC San Diego biochemistry Ph.D. student Lindsey Handley, to teach children ages 8 to 18 how to code, via onsite classes and video games, including CodeSpells and Minecraft.

Genomatica, a bioengineering startup turned biotechnology partner to the chemicals industry, continued to make waves in 2014.

This spring, a group of alumni of the University of California, San Diego have created a venture capital fund—the Triton Technology Fund—that is specifically focused on commercializing innovations by UC San Diego faculty, students and alumni.

Also this year, Benefunder, a San Diego-based philanthropic research funding platform for higher education institutions, and UC San Diego signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to embark on a two-year pilot program. Jacobs School electrical engineering professor Gert Lanckriet is a Benefunder co-founder.

Faculty Hiring at the Jacobs School

2014 was a record-breaking year for faculty hiring at the Jacobs School of Engineering, with 19 faculty hires. Among this group of hires is structural engineering professor Jiun-Shyan (JS) Chen. He serves as Director of the Center for Extreme Events Research at UC San Diego, which launched this year.

With demand for our education and research programs at record levels, the coming year will be another big year for faculty hiring at the Jacobs School.

Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering