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Triton 5K 2015

Over 140 CSE alumni, students, staff and faculty registered to run as part of Team Race Condition. As a result, the department took home the prize for the largest turnout and donation at the 2015 Chancellor’s 5K run in early June. Read more…  


2015 Student Awards

CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta and Profs. Christine Alvarado and Sorin Lerner with graduate and undergraduate student recipients of the inaugural awards given by the department for graduating students.. Read more…


Dissertation Medal

CSE alumna Sarah Meiklejohn (PhD '14) was singled out for her dissertation, "Flexible Models for Secure Systems", as the recipient of the 2015 Chancellor's Dissertation Medal. Meiklejohn is now a professor at University College London. Read more…


Research Expo 2015

At the Jacobs School of Engineering’s Research Expo 2015, more than 25 CSE graduate students showcased their research during the poster session visited by hundreds of campus, industry and community members. Read more…


Best Poster

Graduating M.S. student Narendran Thangarajan won the award for best Computer Science and Engineering poster at Research Expo 2015. He analyzed social media to characterize HIV at-risk populations in San Diego. Read more…  


Computer Graphics on EdX

After announcing the launch of the Center for Visual Computing, the Center's director, CSE Prof. Ravi Ramamoorthi, announced that in August 2015 he will launch an online course on computer graphics over the edX online platform. Read more…


$2 Million Alumni Gift

CSE alumnus Taner Halicioglu, an early employee at Facebook, is donating $2 million to the CSE department to recruit, retain and support the professors and lecturers whose primary mission is to teach and mentor students. Read more…


Big Pixel Hackathon

Seventeen CSE students, most of them graduate students, participated in the first Bix Pixel Hackathon organized by the Qualcomm Institute to demonstrate how data science can be harnessed to tackle public policy issues. Read more...


Paul Kube Tribute

CSE honored retiring lecturer Paul Kube with a tribute and the subsequent announcement that CSE is creating the Paul R. Kube Chair of Computer Science to be awarded to a teaching professor, the first chair of its kind in the department. Read more...


Integrated Digital Infrastructure

CSE Prof. Larry Smarr leads a two-year initiative to deploy an Integrated Digital Infrastructure for the UC San Diego campus, including grants to apply advanced IT services to support disciplines that increasingly depend on digital data. Read more...


Query Language for Big Data

CSE Prof. Yannis Papakonstantinou and Couchbase Inc., are collaborating on a next-generation query language for big data based on the UCSD-developed SQL++, which brings together the full power of SQL with the flexibility of JSON. Read more...


Honoring Academic Integrity

At 5th annual Academic Integrity Awards, CSE lecturer Gary Gillespie (center, with Leo Porter and Rick Ord) accepted the faculty award in Apri. Then in May, he received the Outstanding Professor Award from the Panhellenic Association. Read more...


Non-Volatile Memories

In March 2015, CSE Prof. Steven Swanson talks to 220 attendees at the 6th annual Non-Volatile Memories Workshop which he co-organized, and which he said was "moving onto deeper, more Interesting and more challenging problems." Read more...


Frontiers of Innovation

At least five CSE graduate students and a similar number of undergraduates were selected to receive inaugural Frontiers of Innovation Scholarship Program (FISP) awards initiated for 2015-'16 by UC San Diego. Read more...


Not-So-Safe Scanners

A team including CSE Prof. Hovav Shacham (right) and Ph.D. student Keaton Mowery released findings of a study pointing to serious flaws in the security of backscatter X-ray scanners used at many airports. Read more...


Stereo Vision for Underwater Archaeology

As co-director of Engineers for Exploration, Prof. Ryan Kastner led expeditions to test an underwater stereo camera system for producing 3D reconstructions of underwater objects. Here Kastner is shown with the camera system in a UCSD pool. Read more…  

Kastner Underwater

Girls Day Out

The UCSD chapter of Women in Computing (WiC) held its second annual Girls Day Out in May, bringing roughly 100 girls from San Diego high schools to tour the campus and do hands-on experiments in electronics. Here, girls visit the Qualcomm Institute’s StarCAVE virtual reality room. Read more…  

Girls Day Out

Coding for a Cause

Then-sophomore Sneha Jayaprakash's mobile app, Bystanders to Upstanders (B2U), matches students with opportunities to volunteer for social causes. Together with fellow CSE undergrads, she won a series of grants and awards, and is now doing a startup. Read more...

Sneha Jayaprakash

Internet of Things

Computer scientists at UCSD developed a tool that allows hardware designers and system builders to test security. The tool tags then tracks critical pieces in a hardware’s security system. Pictured (l-r): Ph.D. student Jason Oberg, Prof. Ryan Kastner, postdoc Jonathan Valamehr. Read more…

Internet of Things

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

CSE capped the 2012-'13 academic year with the announcement of an anonymous $18.5 million gift from an alumnus – making it the largest-ever alumni gift to UC San Diego. Read more...

  • CSE Closes Out Successful Hiring Season for 2016-2017

    With a final flurry of announcements, CSE Chair Dean Tullsen marked the end of the current faculty hiring season. He did so in confirming that the last two outstanding offers were accepted. That brings CSE's total new appointments to seven faculty members, as well as two announced in 2015 who are starting this fall.  "The last two appointments officially close the recruiting cycle, and there is no question that it was a great year for recruiting," said Tullsen. "These new faculty members will bolster some of our core strengths and enable us to establish some significant new directions.”

    He added: “This will expand our research focus and enable us to better address the tremendous demand for a computer science education." The CSE chair went on to list many of the people involved in the recruiting effort (see final paragraph at bottom).

    Among the new faculty hires for 2016-2017, CSE previously announced the appointment of Henrik Christensen (right), who is leaving Georgia Tech to be the faculty Director of UC San Diego's new Contextual Robotics Institute (part of which is located initially in the Qualcomm Institute). Christensen earned his Ph.D. from Aalborg University in 1990 in his native Denmark. He does research on robotics, computer vision and artificial intelligence, and is considered one of the leading roboticists in the world. For more on Christensen, see UC San Diego's July announcement (

    In addition to Christiensen, CSE is also beefing up its expertise in robotics with the appointment of Laurel Riek (left) as an Associate Professor in the department. Riek is currently the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame.  She received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge, and B.S. in Logic and Computation from Carnegie Mellon University. She designs autonomous robots capable of sensing, responding and adapting to human behavior. Riek's research enables robots to robustly solve problems in real-world, safety-critical human environments, such as hospitals, homes, and factories. Her work tackles fundamental and applied problems that make complex, real-world perception and interaction in these spaces so difficult for machines, and her work has applications in manufacturing, neurorehabilitation, and emergency medicine. In addition to robotics, Riek's research interests include human activity understanding, and healthcare engineering. She has received the NSF CAREER Award, AFOSR Young Investigator Award, a Qualcomm Research Scholar Award, and several best-paper awards. In 2014, she was named one of the American Society for Engineering Education's 20 Faculty under 40.

    Ndapa Nakashole (right) has been appointed an Assistant Professor in CSE, with an official start date of January 2017. She joins UC San Diego from a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in machine learning at Carnegie Mellon. Nakashole's research interests include machine reading, natural language processing, machine learning and data mining. She uses machine learning to build computer systems that intelligently process and understand human language. She received her Ph.D. from Germany's Saarland University, and her M.S. and B.S. degrees are from the University of Cape Town (South Africa).

    Melissa Gymrek (left), has joint appointments in CSE and the Department of Medicine, and she will split her time between an office in the CSE building and her lab in the School of Medicine. Gymrek is known for her work connecting the dots between genetic variations in humans, traits and human health, and she is CSE's first recruit under the Precision Medicine Initiative launched by the campus in 2015. Gymrek completed her Ph.D. in Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. She is joining UC San Diego from a postdoc in the Analytical and Translational Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

    CSE's Database group is getting a new member with the pending arrival of Arun Kumar (right), who joins the department this fall as an Assistant Professor. He works at the intersection of databases and machine learning with a focus on problems related to usability, developability, performance and scalability. Kumar recently completed his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he won the annual Wisconsin CS Graduate Student Research Award for his dissertation research. Other awards include an ACM SIGMOD Best Paper, and an invited paper at ACM TODS. Kumar builds systems and tools, among them: the Hamlet project, which grew out of a machine-learning paper titled "To Join or Not to Join"; as well as project Santoku and Orion which optimize various machine-learning models over normalized data. Some of his tools are also available through the open-source library, MADlib, and there has been substantial tech-company interest in industrial adoption of ideas from his thesis work. Facebook, LogicBlox and Microsoft had adopted some of the ideas from his thesis work, while Cloudera, EMC and Oracle have adopted some components of his other research. Kumar is now on campus, but he will begin teaching (with a graduate-level research seminar) in the winter quarter.

    Assistant Professor Aaron Schulman (left) will also begin teaching in the winter quarter. He officially started July 1, and is transitioning to be full-time in San Diego this November after moving from his current postdoctoral research job at Stanford. Schulman becomes a member of the Systems and Networking group in CSE, but his wide-ranging interests go beyond computer systems and networking to include operating systems, security and even embedded systems. He has improved the efficiency of wireless networks, cellular network flexibility, and the energy efficiency of mobile applications. Schulman also quantifies residential Internet network reliability, made progress in securing the web’s public key infrastructure, and identified privacy leaks in mobile devices. Schulman earned his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Maryland in 2013 (and he subsequently received the SIGCOMM Doctoral Dissertation Award for his doctoral thesis on "Observing and Improving the Reliability of Internet Last-Mile Links"). Schulman also founded Mellow Research, LLC, a startup that markets BattOr, a power monitor for app developers he invented.

    Joe Gibbs Politz (right) joined the UC San Diego faculty in 2016. He worked previously as a visiting instructor at Swarthmore College. Politz studies computer science education, programming languages, compiler design, web programming, and web security.  He has recently had two complementary areas of focus: using peer code review in undergraduate courses, and developing the programming language Pyret for use in computer science curricula from middle school to the undergraduate level (as part of the Bootstrap curricular outreach effort to bring programming ideas to courses such as math and physics at middle and high school level -- targeting a broader base of students with computer science topics.) Politz teaches students to test, document, and explain both their own code and the code of others. Politz received his Ph.D. in computer science from Brown University in May 2016, and his B.S. in computer science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2009.  He has also worked on web security at Google through software engineering internships.

    Other New Arrivals

    Although their appointments were announced a year ago by the department, Assistant Professors Deian Stefan and Manmohan Chandraker requested delays before starting this fall. 

    Professor Manmohan Chandraker (left) worked at NEC Labs America in Cupertino in computer vision before returning to UC San Diego, where he previously completed his Ph.D. in Computer Science in 2009. He did his dissertation under CSE Prof. David Kriegman, and received the 2009 CSE Best Dissertation Award. Subsequently he was a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley in the lab of Prof. Ravi Ramamoorthi, who later moved to CSE at UC San Diego, where he now directs its Center for Visual Computing. Chandraker is now affiliated with Ramamoorthi's center as well as the Contextual Robotics Institute, where his research focuses on self-driving cars and helping robots navigate the real world. The computer vision expert converts 2D images to 3D maps of the world that allow self-driving cars to pinpoint the location of traffic participants such as pedestrians and vehicles. The data are combined with information about the car's surroundings such as lanes, roads and traffic signs. The ultimate goal is to understand the scene, especially in crowded environments. His work on shape recovery from motion cues for complex material and illumination received the Best Paper award at Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in 2014.

    Deian Stefan (right) accepted his appointment as Assistant Professor last year and deferred his arrival to make time to work on his web security startup company, Intrinsic (formerly GitStar), which provides developers with tools for deploying web applications with minimal trust. The company builds on Stefan's prior research on confinement and information-flow control. His research spans systems, security and programming languages, but he is also interested in building principled and practical secure systems (the subject of Stefan's dissertation for his Ph.D. from Stanford University completed in 2015). (See CSE news release about Deian Stefan:

  • Computer Science at UC San Diego Ranks #14 Worldwide

    In its 2016 university rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) for the fourth year in a row ranked UC San Diego the #14 university in the world. At the same time, ARWU used its methology to analyze and rank many of the most important disciplines, including computer science, and CS at UC San Diego came away with an identical ranking, making it the #14 computer science program globally.

    It would have jumped higher if not for CSE receiving no points in two categories that favor older and wealthier departments. Points in the two categories were awarded to campuses with alumni or faculty who have won a Turing Award since 1971. (In other disciplines, Nobel Prizes are required, e.g., in economics, chemistry or physics, while mathematicians must have received a Fields Medal.) As a result, those Turing-dependent categories carry 25 percent of the weight in assessing the strength of computer science, and UC San Diego started with zero.

    On the other hand, CSE did much better on another weighted category, involving highly-cited researchers in computer science. Indeed, its score in this category pegs the UC San Diego program at #3 in the world (after Stanford and MIT) if you look only at highly-cited researchers. The two final categories involve the overall number of computer science research articles, and the percentage of papers published in the top-20% of journals in computer science. On both counts, UC San Diego fared better than many of the high-ranked universities. UC San Diego faculty published more than UCLA, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell or Caltech. For the percentage of papers in top-20% CS journals, CSE did better than UIUC, UT Austin, University of Toronto, USC and Carnegie Mellon -- even though all of those universities placed higher than UC San Diego in the overall computer science rankings. Indeed, UC San Diego has the highest-ranked computer science program of all universities with zero Turing Award winners among faculty and alumni.

  • Barngrover, Hoover Hope to Take Robotics Sequence to Next Level

    CSE lecturers Christopher Barngrover (near right) and Greg Hoover are looking for more M.S. students to take their CSE 291 three-course sequence, which kicks off this fall with Barngrover's Introduction to Robotics Software course. (It's a graduate-level course, but Barngrover says they have allowed upper-class undergraduates in under special circumstances.) It was launched last fall as part of the UC San Diego Master's Program in CSE. Students who wanted to go on to take the final Robotics Project course were required to have taken either the systems course taught by Hoover or the software course with Barngrover. The first project course was taught in Winter 2016 by both Hoover and Barngrover jointly, and the project teams were formed to reflect the students' relative experience in either hardware and systems or software skills.

    "The three courses were designed to teach fundamental hardware and software design skills necessary for building robotic systems," said Barngrover, who is also a research scientist at the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Pacific working on robotic control and perception in its Unmanned Systems Group. The lecturer is also a CSE alumnus (M.S., Ph.D. '10, '14). "The project course challenged teams of students to complete targeted goals. At each challenge, students had to apply their hardware and software skills as well as their ingenuity to create robotic systems performing specific tasks."

    Hoover's systems course teaches hardware/software interface via integration with sensors, peripheral devices, and the iRobot platform. Students can expect to gain hands-on experience with microcontroller architecture, I/O, communication protocols, task management, bare-metal programming in C, embedded Linux, and more. Barngrover's software course provides a foundation in robotic software frameworks with a focus on the Robot Operating System (ROS) on both laptop and embedded environments. Students learned about modeling, simulation, perception, controls, path planning, route execution, and more, and they gained hands-on experience with the framework in an embedded system with active peripherals. (To view student team presentations at end of Fall 2015 quarter, click here.)

    Over last winter, the Robotics Project course involved the development, construction and testing of autonomous vehicles (pictured) that would be able to compete in a final competition. Each  team was given the same hardware and guidance. The goal: to find, collect and return balls of different colors.

    Each team's robot had to pick up and carry each ball back and drop the ball into the team's bucket in order to gain points. To make the task more interesting, the number of points varied according to the color of the retrieved ball (orange balls were worth twice the points of green ones).  At the end of the winter course, five teams competed for points, and all of each robot's movements had to be done autonomously (see CSE 291 final competition on YouTube). The only exception to the autonomy rule: each team was allowed a set number of times when a team member could 'reset' the robot back on the course (a flexibility that most of the teams took advantage of during the early part of the final competition). All resets, however, came with a minimum 3-minute penalty to make any repairs and return the robot to the starting line.

    All of the teams participating in the winter course came with intriguing titles: Coconuts; SpeedyDug, Double-O-One, Popsicles, and Hand of ROS. "Each team also maintained a wiki on a private bitbucket account where we could see their code and status," noted Barngrover.

    Now that the inaugural series of courses is behind them, the lecturers hope to expand the number of graduate students taking the sequence. They also anticipate that expanded enrollment could make it easier to get approval for a new 'concentration' in Robotics and Vision in connection with CSE's M.S. program.

  • Researchers Devise Proactive Method for Detecting Hardware Trojans at the Gate-Level

    Modern computer chips are made up of hundreds of millions – often billions – of transistors. Such complexity enables the smartphone in your back pocket to perform all manner of powerful computations, but it also provides lots of places for tiny malicious circuits, known as hardware Trojans, to hide. Magnifying this security risk is the increasingly distributed and globalized nature of the hardware supply chain, which makes it possible for a Trojan to be introduced at any point along the way.

    To prevent, detect and combat these hardware Trojans, computer scientists from UC San Diego, together with their collaborators, have devised a new technique that tracks information flow through a circuit’s logic gates, much the way one would track traffic as it flows through an intersection while obeying a series of traffic signals. If information unexpectedly moves to a part of the chip where it shouldn’t be, the method will determine that a security violation occurred, and whether or not a Trojan was the root cause.

    The technique is described in a paper titled “Detecting Hardware Trojans with Gate-Level Information-Flow Tracking,” which is part of the cover story on supply-chain security in cyberinfrastructure in the August 2016 edition of IEEE Computer. The paper’s authors are CSE postdoctoral researcher Wei Hu; his advisor CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner; CSE alumnus Jason Oberg (M.S., Ph.D. '12, '14), who is now CEO of Tortuga Logic, a company he co-founded with Prof. Kastner; and Ph.D. candidate Baolei Mao of Northwestern Polytechnical University. (Pictured l-r: CSE-affiliated co-authors Wei Hu, Ryan Kastner and Jason Oberg. Missing: Baolei Mao, a visiting grad student in Kastner's group from 2013-2015.)

    “Trojans are designed specifically to avoid activation during testing,” explains Kastner, who is head of the Kastner Research Group at UC San Diego and an affiliate of the university’s Qualcomm Institute. “Hardware designs are complex and often consist of millions of lines of code. The standard rule is to expect one ‘bug’ per five lines of code. People with bad intentions – say, a disgruntled employee – can insert these special ‘bugs’ into sequence patterns that are very unlikely to be tested, where they lie dormant and wait for a rare input to happen and then they trigger something malicious, like draining your phone’s battery or stealing your cryptographic key,” (i.e., the key that encrypts sensitive information to keep it secure).

    “The concern these days is that chips are designed and manufactured all over the world, and sometimes in countries that might have a reason to steal intellectual property or other information,” Kastner adds. This concern is so great in the United States, in fact, that government-sensitive technologies are fabricated in trusted foundries (semiconductor fabrication plants) that require security clearance.

    But, notes Kastner, “typically these foundries are not as advanced and not as cheap as those in other countries. Sometimes they’re using technologies that are three- or four-generations old. The hope is that we can continue to send hardware to be manufactured at any foundry, and that this method will make the process more secure.”

    The method uses a technique called GLIFT (gate-level information flow tracking), which works by assigning a label to important data in a hardware design.  If the goal, for instance, is to understand where information about a cryptographic key is flowing, a “confidential” label would be assigned to bits of the key. The test engineer would then write a formal property that asserts that that any confidential information (in this case the key) will be constrained to stay in secure part of the chip. If the key flows outside of that secure area, then the hardware is capable of being compromised.

    Kastner says the previous methods for finding Trojans were mostly statistical and tried to pinpoint inconsistencies and variations in measurable properties in the circuit that would indicate a Trojan, such as how much time it should take to complete a function or how much power it should consume. Because these methods are statistical, they are also susceptible to noise. Smaller Trojan circuits, therefore, are easier to hide in large designs. “It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” says Kastner.

    “The state of the art right now is teams at Qualcomm or Intel, for example, manually inspecting hardware code and the physical characteristics of the chip to determine what they think could happen,” he adds. “It’s a terribly imprecise process, and you could easily overlook a small error which could have large consequences.”