Endowed Faculty Chairs Engage Students, Advance Research

Friday, February 26, 2021
Image shows a laboratory beaker filled with blue fluid and images of all three featured professors.

Rose-Hulman’s endowed faculty chairs use their positions to advance research in their fields while engaging students in cutting-edge, hands-on learning.

Current endowed chair-holders, Professor Alan Chiu, Professor Azad Siahmakoun, and Professor Robert Throne are breaking new ground in the fields of neural engineering, silicon photonics, and breast cancer research, respectively, with the help of talented Rose-Hulman undergraduate and graduate students.

“What’s so wonderful about the work of our endowed chairs is that they provide deep learning and engagement opportunities to students who wouldn’t otherwise have received it,” says Ella Ingram, associate dean for professional development. “Our endowed chair-holders are nationally known in their fields and demonstrate how to integrate research and teaching.”

As the Samuel F. Hulbert Endowed Chair in Biomedical Engineering, Chiu is working with undergraduate student assistants to develop strategies to improve the user experience of existing brain-computer interface (BCI) communication devices.

Chiu is currently working with students to evaluate the different EEG biomarkers that are related to fatigue, cognitive loads, and syntactic incongruency. Future plans include the implementation of a machine-learning algorithm to perform real-time detection of user errors in the BCI applications.

“The most rewarding aspect of this endowed position is the opportunity to work with undergraduate students on real biological data,” Chiu said. “Trying to look for meaningful and useful information from these messy signals is like treasure hunting.”

The Samuel F. Hulbert Endowed Chair honors the legacy of Rose-Hulman’s 11th and longest-serving president.

As the Endowed Chair for Innovation in Science, Engineering and Mathematics Education, also known as the Innovation Chair, the award-winning Siahmakoun is engaging students in the emerging, multidisciplinary field of silicon photonics.

“The ultimate goal of my work as Innovation Chair is to establish silicon photonics capabilities to be used for project work or research-based photonics courses by RHIT’s faculty and students,” Siahmakoun said. “Engaging students in this multidisciplinary emerging field will help us to achieve educational goals that are essential to students’ success and life-long learning.”

Siahmakoun developed two new courses in silicon photonics, and since beginning his work as endowed chair, has worked with 15 students on silicon photonics research. An undergraduate student in China and a graduate student in Korea are currently working on modeling and design from afar given the global travel constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his role as the Lawrence J. Giacoletto Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Throne continues to advance research on early breast cancer detection. He is working closely with undergraduate students and fellow Rose-Hulman professor Dr. Lorraine Olson, to develop a system that exploits the difference in tissue stiffness – an identifying characteristic of breast tumors – to automate, quantify and enhance the resolution of the manual breast exam.

Currently, Throne is working with three students to combine force-only and displacement-only stiffness mapping thereby improving the ability to detect abnormally stiff breast tissue. A new force sensor has been added to the existing testing system and future plans include constructing a new robotic system for the stiffness mapping.

“My favorite part about serving as the Giacoletto Endowed Chair is being able to provide funding for the excellent students we have working on the project,” Throne said.

The Lawrence J. Giacoletto endowed chair honors the legacy of Giacoletto, a 1938 Rose-Hulman graduate who was a distinguished engineer and educator, as well as Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.