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Jeff Trinkle: Researching Robotics
Jeff Trinkle

Jeff Trinkle isn’t much of a science fiction fan, although his line of work might make one think otherwise. But Trinkle, a widely recognized robotics expert, has focused his research on developing mechanical human companions that are a bit more practical and a little less socially adept than author Isaac Asimov’s humanoid characters.

“My long-term research goals have been to increase the intelligence and practical skill of robots to the point where they can automatically perform helpful tasks such as repair a broken vase, fold your laundry, and even more dangerous tasks such as aiding in the rescue efforts after a building collapse,” says Trinkle, chair of Rensselaer’s Department of Computer Science.

Trinkle worked in robotics at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico for four and a half years before he came to Rensselaer. The Pennsylvania native earned two bachelor’s degrees in physics and engineering through a joint program between Ursinus and Georgia Institute of Technology. He received his doctoral degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987.

After receiving his bachelor’s degrees, Trinkle worked as an engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California where he studied the properties of fiber composite materials. Toward the end of his two and a half years at the lab, he decided to pursue graduate school and defined his life’s work in robotics.

“I had some internal conflict about my contribution in making weapons, so I decided that robotics would both suit my background and be more beneficial to society,” he says.

Trinkle, who has taught at Texas A&M University and the University of Arizona, returned to his native East Coast to head the Computer Science Department at Rensselaer in 2003.

“It has become increasingly evident that our nation’s academic institutions are not producing enough scientists and engineers to fill all the high-tech positions created by the U.S. economy,” Trinkle says. “The move to Rensselaer is allowing me to have a direct impact on this problem.”

As chair of computer science, Trinkle is working to improve all facets of the department, from the undergraduate experience to the graduate research program.

In the latter, he is promoting collaborative and interdisciplinary research activities that build on existing strengths in the department in data science, computer vision (a field that combines artificial intelligence and image processing), pervasive computing, and robotics.

The department also will play an integral role in shaping new institutional strengths exemplified by the new Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. To meet this mission, the department will expand its collaborations with researchers directly involved in Rensselaer’s biotechnology initiative.

Plans also are being formulated to establish a Data Science Research Center. The center would work closely with Rensselaer’s Center for Pervasive Computing and Networking, which encompasses a multidisciplinary group of researchers from the schools of Engineering and Science.

“Together, these centers and our strengths in computer vision and robotics will form the core in our efforts to advance computer network infrastructures,” Trinkle says. “These research efforts will aid in countless new and improved technological developments—from computer-based implanted biological devices and bridge-monitoring systems, to teams of robots that can be sent into a collapsed or burning structure to locate survivors.”

Photo by Mark McCarty

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MILESTONES

Alan Cramb * Alan Cramb has been appointed dean of the School of Engineering and the John A. Clark and Edward T. Crossan Professor of Engineering. Cramb, whose career spans both industry and academia, is a distinguished researcher in the area of steel processing. Following seven years as a research engineer at Bethlehem Steel, Cramb moved to Carnegie Mellon as a faculty member in the Department of Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science in 1986. In 1992, he was appointed co-director of the university’s Center for Iron and Steel Research. He was appointed head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 2000. Born in Kilwinning, Scotland, Cramb attended the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, receiving a bachelor’s degree in metallurgy in 1975. He completed his Ph.D. in materials science at the University of Pennsylvania in 1979.
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John Minasian John Minasian has been appointed vice president and dean at Rensselaer at Hartford. Minasian, who has had a successful career in the information technology (IT) industry, as an entrepreneur, and as an educator, came to Rensselaer from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he led the education for working professionals programs. Minasian’s corporate experience in the IT industry has spanned marketing, information services, consulting, and executive management. He held professional positions at several IT companies, including Data General Corporation, Interdata Inc. (now Perkin-Elmer Data Corporation), Dennison Manufacturing Company, and Wang Laboratories. He also served as CEO of Cirrus Computers, a worldwide manufacturer of IBM PC-compatible computer systems.
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Koushik Kar, assistant professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Kar will use the projected five-year, $409,939 grant to research methods to improve the flow of information through large-scale wireless sensor networks. Kar will work on developing energy and bandwidth management algorithms that operate only on the basis of locally available information, yet maximize the performance of the entire network. The CAREER is the most prestigious honor the NSF presents to junior faculty.
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Robert Palazzo Robert Palazzo has been appointed director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Palazzo, who has been serving as acting director of the center since last spring, will continue to oversee Rensselaer’s priorities in biotechnology research, coordinating and developing the center’s research programs and core facilities, and facilitating strategic growth opportunities. Palazzo joined Rensselaer as professor and chair of biology in 2002.
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Prabhat Hajela Prabhat Hajela has been appointed vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at Rensselaer. Hajela, who will continue his professorship in mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, is internationally recognized for his significant achievements in engineering research and education, and his active service in leadership roles and professional societies. Last year, he completed a year-long fellowship in the Washington, D.C., office of Montana Republican Senator Conrad Burns where he contributed to Senate oversight hearings in the wake of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy and was involved in the enactment of the Burns-Wyden “Can-SPAM” bill to control unsolicited e-mail. Hajela joined the Rensselaer faculty in 1990.
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Jonathan Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has been selected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dordick is leading a multi-university research team in a drug-discovery project that was recently awarded a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dordick’s research includes using enzyme technology to produce unique chemical structures that accelerate the drug-discovery process. He is co-director of an NIH-funded biomolecular training program for doctoral students.
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Chang Ryu Chang Ryu, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Ryu will use the projected five-year, $445,000 grant to explore new and improved techniques for separating and analyzing polymers, which are widely used as plastics. Ryu works with polymers in nano-sized pores to better understand the chemistry of these materials in the nanoscale environment. The CAREER is the most prestigious honor the NSF presents to junior faculty.
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Carlos Varela Carlos Varela, assistant professor of computer science, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation. Varela will use the five-year, $400,000 grant to design and implement computer programming technology to solve complex scientific problems through high-performance grid computing. Varela is collaborating with researchers in varied scientific disciplines on computational grids and associated software to address the growing research need for increased computational power. The CAREER is the most prestigious honor the NSF presents to junior faculty.
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Aleksandar Ostrogorsky, professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering and professor of materials science and engineering, has been named a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Designation as a fellow, the highest grade of membership within ASME, recognizes significant contributions to the engineering profession.
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Michael Hanna, associate professor of biology, and George Plopper, assistant professor of biology, have been named Education Fellows in the Life Sciences by the National Academies. The designation was given to 39 educators around the country who successfully completed a summer institute program aimed at fostering innovative approaches to teaching undergraduate biology. Admission was highly competitive and only 20 research universities nationwide were chosen to participate. Four organizations comprise the Academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council.
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Myles Brand ’64, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) president, and John Nigro, Capital Region business leader, have been elected to Rensselaer’s Board of Trustees. Brand, president of the NCAA since 2003, also served as president of Indiana University. Nigro is president of Nigro Companies, an Albany-based commercial real estate development and management firm.
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

 
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