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Contact Info

Brad Petersen
Director of
Communications
1066 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 244-6376
bradp@illinois.edu

Contact Info

Meg Dickinson
Communications Specialist
1068 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 300-6664
megd@illinois.edu

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Recent News

Alumnus Bob Johnson: brigadier general, electrical engineer and polo player at 89

Alumnus Bob Johnson: brigadier general, electrical engineer and polo player at 89

Alumnus Bob Johnson (BSEE '38) served in the pacific theatre of the Second World War, reached the rank of brigadier general, worked as an electrical engineer, and played competitive polo until the age of 87.

Air Force taps Coleman to study new communications techniques

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By Kim Gudeman, Coordinated Science Lab
March 31, 2008

  • Coleman received a $357,500 grant to study communication between networks based on his neuroscience findings.
  • He will develop practical codes to enhance current computer networking technology.
  • For the same number of bits per second, computers would, on average, move bits from one place to another in a more efficient manner.

When ECE Assistant Professor Todd Prentice Coleman searched for a way to enhance communication between computer networks, he turned to the world’s most efficient communications model: the human brain.

Todd Prentice Coleman
Todd Prentice Coleman

"During my post-doctorate work in neuroscience, I studied the probabilistic structure of how neurons in the brain communicate based on spikes," said Coleman, a resident researcher in the Coordinated Science Laboratory. "I discovered that you could use the same theory and apply it to manmade systems."

Coleman recently received a $357,500 grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to study enhancing communication between networks based on his neuroscience findings. The project will examine how networks can convey information not only through packets, which carry information between computers, but through the timing of their arrivals.

Through his research, Coleman will develop practical codes to enhance current computer networking technology. The project will also use sophisticated statistical analysis tools, including point process theory, nonparametric statistical estimation, and convex optimization to perform network anomaly detection and other network inference methods.

"It will potentially provide another degree of freedom for people to manage communication networks and for protocols to efficiently control networks," Coleman said. "If you’re trying to go from point A to point B on the freeway, for example, you’d have two lanes instead of one."

Coleman’s research builds on findings outlined in "Bits through Queues" published by ECE alumnus Sergio Verdu and Venkat Anantharam. While those results were theoretical, Coleman’s research will move the concept into the practical realm.

The concept will apply to both wired and wireless networks. Nodes on land and sky will be able to communicate with each other. The technology would improve throughput delay trade-offs that engineers currently have to consider. For the same number of bits per second, computers would, on average, move bits from one place to another in a more efficient manner.

The research will have applications in defense and security.

"This has been an untapped area, mostly because people didn’t know how to do it," Coleman said. "By understanding the probabilistic dynamics of router queues in networks, one can develop simple, structured graphical interpretations of those dynamics that lead to low-complexity iterative inference algorithms."

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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