Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Understanding climate change from the ground up

Electrical engineers install sensors at Matthaei Botanical Gardens to measure soil moisture



Planted at the U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens right now are seeds to some answers to a major quandary in climate change prediction: How is moisture distributed throughout the Earth’s soils?

“Root zone soil moisture is one of the most important pieces of information for understanding how ecosystems function, and how the water, energy, and carbon cycles are regulated around the globe,” says Mahta Moghaddam, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

A NASA satellite called the Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP) is scheduled to launch in 2014. Its mission will be to gather soil moisture data from above, eventually leading to global maps. In support of this project, Moghaddam and her colleagues are installing networks of wireless sensors on the ground in several test spots. The data from the sensors will be used to validate the satellite data—to help ensure that the orbiting instrument is giving accurate readings.

Friday, August 12, 2011

First a computer lab. Then an intercontinental collaboration.

That’s the hope of two computer science and engineering professors who chanced upon a technology need in Ethiopia and set about filling the void.

Addis Ababa Institute of Technology professors
Fitsum Assamenew, Michael Anbessei and
Daniel Dilbin in the new computer lab.
A state-of-the-art computer lab is open for learning at Addis Ababa Institute of Technology in Ethiopia, thanks to a pair of computer science and engineering professors who work to attract bright graduate students to Michigan even while they’re on vacation.

During a trip to Africa in 2009, Valeria Bertacco and Todd Austin visited what was then known as Addis Ababa University to give a talk about Michigan Engineering.

“Wherever we go, I try to recruit students,” said Bertacco, who is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

On this trip, not only did she find Biruk Mammo, who is working in her lab now as a doctoral student, they uncovered a pipeline of enthusiastic computer scientists and engineers. New government incentives to educate more engineers in Ethiopia have led to a leap in the number of young people there going into the field, Mammo said.