As part of National Engineers Week 2011, today is reserved to recognize women in engineering, to tell their stories, and to inspire more young women to pursue careers in engineering. While in many of the sciences women and men share equal representation, a very wide gap persists in engineering. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, women account for only around 10% of engineers across all fields.
Growing up, Dr. Cristina Comaniciu, Associate Professor ofElectrical and Computer Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, was curious about how her television worked and how telephone signals traveled from one phone to another. Today, she contributes important research to an area seeing explosive growth as ubiquitous computing and high-speed wireless communications have become the norm.
One of Dr. Comaniciu's ongoing projects is to improve the energy efficiency of communication systems. Emerging interest in "green radio" intends to reduce power consumption of communications, which collectively command 2% of global energy consumption from industry. "That doesn't seem like much," says Dr. Comaniciu. "But for comparison, that is the same amount of energy used by the entire aviation industry."
The traditional approach to energy efficiency in communications used to be focused on the mobile terminals: adjusting the power requirements of the multitude of small, independent devices. On the horizon are more efforts to optimize the central base stations coordinating communications between all of these devices. For Dr. Comaniciu, that means optimizing the algorithms and processing controls to make data flow more efficiently, which should not only require less energy, but also improve communication transfer speeds.
Dr. Comaniciu feels that there are a lot of possibilities for women in engineering today. "It is only a matter of perception that women will not find engineering interesting," she says. "The next generation should look to the many examples of women in engineering careers."
She has seen this perception play out worldwide. In her home country of Romania, "Chemistry was almost all women, but in my Electrical Engineering courses there were only two or three women out of every twenty students." Things are changing. Today, the majority of her Electrical and Computer Engineering graduate student applications come from women.
The next generation of electrical and computer engineers may share her excitement about a very new research theme: using lessons from social networks to model connections in delay-tolerant networking (DTN). DTN exploits situations where constant connection is not necessary, such as mobile data communications. By studying social networking, computer engineers are discovering previously unseen patterns in DTN user activity, providing new knowledge about how to route information and connect users together.
After earning an M.S. in Electronics in Romania, Dr. Comaniciu came to the United States and pursued a Ph.D. at Rutgers University. "I wanted to know more, to achieve more," she says. Besides her scientific interest in the subject matter, she was also intrigued by academic life. Knowing that she would enjoy teaching, she took her current position at Stevens in 2003 after completing post-doctoral research at Princeton University.
Dr. Comaniciu's research has been funded by the National Science foundation, a Marie Curie Research Fellowship, and several U.S. government agencies. She is a member of the IEEE Green Multimedia Interest Group, which organizes activities focused around research on energy-efficient communications. In 2007, she won the IEEE Marconi Best Paper Award for an article she co-authored that appeared in IEEE Transactions in Wireless Communications.
So does she know how her television works? To this question she laughs and says, "I figured that out a long time ago."
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