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Stevens Institute of Technology’s Cutting-Edge Techniques and Protocols to End Concussion Epidemic

Jing Li, a member of the Class of 2018, and associate professor Mehmet Kurt review an image of the brain

Concussions are mild brain injuries that are increasingly prevalent among student athletes. According to a National Collegiate Athletic Association survey, nearly one quarter of student athletes experience concussions during their collegiate career.

Mehmet Kurt wants to protect them.

Kurt is an associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. A recent addition to the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Kurt is already establishing himself as an expert with a recent National Science Foundation grant and an appearance in the Washington Post.

“I love helping improve the quality of people’s lives through biomedical engineering,” Kurt explains. “Although millions of dollars in research funding has been put into understanding and solving the concussion epidemic, the severity and societal burden persists. I’m trying to solve it.”

To read more stories about Stevens, scroll down:

Stevens President Honored with Carnegie Academic Leadership Award
Stevens Launches Scholars Program with $15 Million Endowment from A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation
Powerful Password Crackers May Be Closer Than You Think, Say Stevens Researchers
U.S. News & World Report Names Stevens One of the Nation’s Most Innovative Universities
Stevens Team Named Finalist in Collegiate Inventors Competition

As Kurt sees it, the key to solving the concussion epidemic is using a combination of computational modeling and medical imaging to understand the mechanical properties of the brain. Measuring the brain’s mechanical properties could give us hints about how and why the brain functions the way it does. Once those properties are clear, it’s easier to identify different kinds of damage from concussions to aging—and figure out how to fix them.

Kurt and the students in KurtLab do this in three ways: neuromechanics imaging, computational modeling, and instrumentation. “We develop neuroimaging tools to measure the mechanical properties of the human brain in vivo [in living humans],” Kurt explains.

The lab’s key neuroimaging tool is Magnetic Resonance Elastography, or MRE. MRE is a non-invasive medical imaging technique that uses an MRI to measure the stiffness of soft tissues. MRE also helps researchers see microstructural components of neuronal tissues. Kurt works closely with Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai on applications of MRE, where he holds an appointment in the Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute.

Kurt and his Stevens team are also creating state-of-the-art computational models of the brain, incorporating results from medical imaging experiments. They’re also working with Samantha Holdsworth of Stanford University on a methodology called amplified MRI where they study the motion of the brain in response to cardiac beats.

In addition to these research areas, Kurt is also the recipient of an NSF grant for his project “A New Nonlinear Modal Updating Framework for Soft, Hydrated Materials.” The grant is part of the NSF Dynamics, Control and Systems Diagnostics (DCSD)​ program and is in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It will cover three years of research into developing methodologies for better characterization of the nonlinear dynamical properties of biomaterials—meaning, a way to mechanically probe, observe and interpret data from a biomaterial. “The findings of this research have the potential to drastically enhance the accuracy, cost-efficiency and accessibility of broadband biomaterial characterization and, as such, it can be transformative in many biomedical areas, including the study of brain mechanics,” Kurt explains.

While he’s only been at Stevens for a few months, Kurt is excited by the gains his research has already made.

“There is a certain level of excitement and momentum here that you can rarely see in other institutions,” he says. “Everyone that I met before coming here was really passionate about what they do. It’s so easy to interact with other colleagues, which makes this place special. I’m excited to be here!”

Stevens Institute of Technology President Honored with Carnegie Corporation of New York Academic Leadership Award

President Nariman Farvardin

Following a rigorous nomination and review process, Stevens Institute of Technology President Nariman Farvardin was selected by Carnegie Corporation of New York to receive the 2017 Academic Leadership Award in recognition of exceptional leadership in higher education, the Corporation announced today. He is one of seven college and university presidents to be honored this year.

Established in 2005, the award reflects the conviction of Andrew Carnegie, the Corporation’s philanthropic founder, that education and knowledge are fundamental tools for strengthening democracy and creating a more vibrant civil society.

The award is granted biannually to a small number of select educators who “demonstrate vision and an outstanding commitment to excellence in undergraduate education, the liberal arts, equal opportunity, the development of major interdisciplinary programs, international engagement, and the promotion of strong ties between their institutions and their local communities.” The award includes a $500,000 grant to each honoree’s institution. At Stevens, Dr. Farvardin will use the money to fund academic initiatives.

In honoring Dr. Farvardin, the Carnegie Corporation cited a number of institutional accomplishments, among them:

  • Investment in faculty members, support services for students, new academic and research facilities and new classroom technology;
  • Emphasized experiential learning opportunities as a way for students to connect their education to work in their chosen fields;
  • Facilitated a 365 percent increase in students participating in international programs;
  • Oversaw increased applications and improved retention and graduation rates.

Dr. Farvardin has been the driving force for the development and implementation of an ambitious 10-year strategic plan, entitled, The Future. Ours to Create. During his tenure, the university has made significant progress on many of the goals and metrics identified in the plan, including a 28.4% increase in undergraduate enrollment a trend of stellar student outcomes and an incredible 19-point ascent in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges ranking.

“Since Dr. Farvardin’s arrival a little over six years ago, Stevens has advanced on all fronts,” said Virginia P. Ruesterholz ’83, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. “We have become a first-choice university for talented students and faculty as we pursue our goal of being a premier, student-centric technological research university. Recognition of Dr. Farvardin as an outstanding leader casts a bright light on our university.”

“There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, which play a fundamental role in educating the next generation of our workforce, leaders, and citizens. Our higher education institutions are central to the future of our nation,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “Andrew Carnegie believed in the importance of strong, dedicated, and effective higher education leaders. As custodians of Mr. Carnegie’s legacy, it is our honor to salute a new class of exemplary leaders, who join with another 20 past award recipients in representing some of the best of the American academy.”

In addition to Dr. Farvardin, the other 2017 honorees are Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University; Mark P. Becker, president of Georgia State University; John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University; Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College; and Barbara R. Snyder, president of Case Western Reserve University. Past recipients have included the presidents of Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, USC, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Pennsylvania.

A. James and Alice B. Clark

Stevens Institute of Technology Launches A. James Clark Scholars Program with $15 Million Endowment from the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation

New Program Will Benefit Underrepresented Engineering Students

The A. James Clark Scholars Program has been established at Stevens Institute of Technology, thanks to a $15 million endowment from the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation, the university announced today. It is the largest endowed scholarship gift in the school’s history and will provide financial support and enhanced learning opportunities for exceptional undergraduate students who are underrepresented in the engineering field.

The A. James Clark Scholars Program is the Foundation’s signature academic initiative, combining engineering, business, leadership and community service. The gift honors the legacy of the late A. James Clark, a noted engineer, philanthropist and president of the Maryland-based Clark Construction Group LLC, one of the nation’s leading privately-held construction companies. Through dedication and tenacity, Mr. Clark grew a local construction company into a national success, but he never forgot that his business success began with an engineering scholarship. This has guided the Clark family’s longstanding investments in engineering education that continues in his name today. As part of its commitment to build a pipeline of future engineers, the Clark Foundation has partnered with some of the nation’s foremost engineering institutions to financially support promising engineering students.

“Mr. Clark was an inspiration, a mentor and a friend to me,” said Stevens President Nariman Farvardin, “and I am profoundly honored that this program—a symbol of his legacy—will benefit current and future generations of deserving and talented Stevens engineers. Through the Clark Scholars Program at Stevens, we will create an environment that we hope will produce many more graduates who will make their mark on the world and who possess the rare combination of attributes that Mr. Clark embodied: remarkable leadership skills, unquestionable integrity, business acumen, engineering prowess and a selfless dedication to humanitarianism.”

Dr. Farvardin joined Stevens in 2011 from the University of Maryland. Soon after his appointment as Stevens’ seventh president, Mr. Clark established the Nariman Farvardin Endowed Chair in Civil Engineering, a $2 million gift to the Stevens endowment. Dr. Farvardin was a member of the faculty at the University of Maryland for 27 years and served as that University’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost (2007-11), having previously served as dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering (2000-07). In 2005, Mr. Clark established a $30 million scholarship program at the University of Maryland.

“We are proud to establish the Clark Scholars Program at Stevens Institute of Technology,” said Joe Del Guercio, president and CEO of the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation. “Mr. Clark believed in the power of education and investing in hard working students with a drive to succeed. The Clark Scholars Program helps to eliminate financial barriers so that promising young students can receive the education and training to achieve their full potential and become tomorrow’s engineering leaders.”

The inaugural cohort of approximately ten Clark Scholars will enroll at Stevens in fall 2018. The Clark Scholars’ core curriculum, which reflects A. James Clark’s values in business and in service to his community, includes a rigorous program of engineering study with a minimum of two business or finance courses, participation in community and service-based learning projects, enrichment seminars, mentorship opportunities and events with professionals in the field.

With a focus on students from underrepresented backgrounds, including first generation college students, Clark Scholars will be selected annually based on financial need, academic achievement and community involvement. The program seeks students with leadership skills and a keen interest in the engineering profession.

Dr. Jean Zu, dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering & Science, noted that the Clark Scholars Program supports Stevens’ mission of providing a multi-disciplinary and hands-on learning experience. “The Clark Scholars Program creates a transformative opportunity for deserving students to receive invaluable practical engineering experience and leadership development at Stevens,” Zu said.

“Our faculty is engaged in cutting-edge research and working to create the technologies and innovations that will shape our world today and tomorrow,” said Dr. Christophe Pierre, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Stevens. “Clark Scholars will have the extraordinary opportunity to participate in research and seek solutions to address many of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Grounded in Mr. Clark’s belief in the power of hard work, the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation invests in people with an unwavering drive to achieve. The Foundation seeks out grantees who build practical, immediate and concrete connections between effort and opportunity — from scholarships for engineering students to better schools for D.C.’s children to veteran reintegration programs to the D.C. community at large. Other Clark Scholars institutions include The George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University and Virginia Tech.

Powerful Password Crackers May Be Closer Than You Think, Say Stevens Institute of Technology Researchers

With hackers, crackers and intelligence services on the loose, building better passwords is a constant challenge for everyone from the casual social media user to national governments. Most users’ passwords suffer from a number of weaknesses, including predictability, redundant use and excessive brevity.

Now a new Stevens Institute of Technology research project led by computer science chair Giuseppe Ateniese demonstrates how artificial intelligence (AI) techniques can be harvested to crack passwords with even greater ease.

Curiously, the technology works by discovering all the usual human password tricks — then throwing that book aside to make up new rules at light speed.

Breaking terrorist messages, cracking phone passwords

New guidance suggests that traditional prescriptions for varying passwords, such as introducing and mixing in “special” characters, numbers and capital letters, don’t help your privacy as much as believed. That’s because algorithmic password-cracking programs can pretty quickly cycle through most of the obvious permutations.

“If it’s anything shorter than twelve characters long, your password is probably going to be cracked, sooner or later,” notes Ateniese. “Hackers or intelligence agencies can run existing tools in minutes to figure out most of the regular passwords.”

Solutions have evolved, including the creation of longer or completely random passwords and the use of software tools to confound crackers.

To test whether these truly work, Ateniese and his team — which included graduate student Briland Hitaj, faculty member Fernando Perez-Cruz and New York Institute of Technology professor Paolo Gasti — tried a different approach.

“This was a collective effort,” notes Ateniese, “and I assembled the best team possible: Fernando is unmatched in machine learning, Briland is the AI code magician, and Paolo is the person I trust most when a system must be built properly and quickly.”

The team first trained a GAN (generative adversarial network) to rapidly learn all the most common human password strategies — dictionary words, numerical sequences and the like — from databases of tens of millions of known, leaked common and complex passwords and simple variations of them. Then the researchers advanced the project a notch higher: they freed up the network to create its own rules and patterns, if it chose, from that training data.

And that’s precisely what the AI did.

“The machine is already generating a good set of passwords even in this early version,” says Ateniese. “In some cases, our network could guess nearly half of the passwords in the test set, but even when it could not, the guesses looked remarkably like real user passwords.”

The machine learning tool, which the Stevens team is calling PassGAN, is more likely than existing hacking tools to crack existing passwords that have not yet been leaked or broken, Ateniese notes. That means it holds tremendous potential for intelligence agencies, for example, operating during emergencies.

“Let’s say you have a group of terrorists communicating, and you need to crack a message or get into their encrypted files in a hurry,” he explains. “This tool is going to be of great help in that sort of case.”

It will also become incrementally better at guessing private passwords as additional sets of passwords are discovered through data breaches or other means and learned over time.

While our human rules for creating passwords are more or less fixed and known, the neural network can run forever, and devise new rules forever,” Ateniese concludes. “There is just tremendous power in that ability. This is only the first step, it is not perfect yet, but we will improve this tool gradually, and it’s very exciting to have established that AI has a clear edge in this type of task.”

Aerial view of the Stevens Institute of Technology campus

U.S. News & World Report Names Stevens One of the Nation’s Most Innovative Universities

U.S. News & World Report has named Stevens Institute of Technology to an exclusive list of the top 25 “Most Innovative Schools” in the nation in its just-released Best Colleges 2018 rankings.

Stevens’ inclusion in the ranking is based on survey responses from college presidents, provosts and admissions deans of ranked national universities, who were asked to nominate up to ten colleges or universities that are making the most innovations in curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology and campus facilities. Stevens was top-of-mind for many of the university officials surveyed.

The ranking shines a spotlight on Stevens as one of a select number of schools “that the public should be watching because of the cutting-edge changes being made on their campuses,” according to U.S. News. The recognition also underscores the remarkable changes taking place on campus as the university implements its ten-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., which charts a course for Stevens as a premier, student-centric, technological research university.

Expanded, leading-edge facilities and programs for a technological era

Innovation at Stevens extends from educational delivery and student experiences to the development of new teaching tools and research and learning facilities. Some recent highlights include:

  • The new Hanlon Laboratory for Financial Analytics and Data Visualization, which provides leading-edge visualization technology to students and enables groundbreaking research in financial shocks, portfolio optimization, risk assessment and other critical areas of finance;
  • A newly constructed Living Laboratory, which integrates multiple green roof setups and other green infrastructure to enable detailed studies of stormwater management and bioretention solutions in urban environments;
  • The SCENE (Sensory Computation, Experimental Narrative Environments) Lab, where students and faculty create and test virtual reality applications and music technology; and
  • The ABS Engineering Center, where students and faculty collaborate on design projects that range from robotics to building materials, maritime craft and green technology.
  • The introduction of a Virtual Learning Environment, a software delivery and collaboration platform that reduces costs and increases student access to the latest technological applications;
  • Required first-year coursework in entrepreneurial thinking;
  • An IDEaS (Innovation Design & Entrepreneurship at Stevens) program that integrates design coursework and “maker” culture, supported by a new lab outfitted with multiple 3D printers and other fabrication equipment;
  • The development and deployment of Gradarius, the world’s first calculus-learning software to give step-by-step feedback, manage homework, and administer and grade quizzes for instructors — one that has helped yield marked improvements in student retention, grades and retention of calculus knowledge; and
  • A continued focus on meaningful, collaborative and hands-on experiences for students such as the 2015 Solar Decathlon, in which Stevens took first place; the 2017 Solar Boat competition; and the university’s renowned capstone senior design projects, displayed annually at its annual Innovation Expo.

The positive impact of Stevens’ continuing culture of innovation is evident in metrics ranging from strong (and improving) student retention and graduation rates to the stellar student outcomes Stevens has become known for. Additional information about Stevens’ remarkable progress can be found in the university’s Five-Year Progress Report.

Leaders of other national universities also lauded Stevens’ focus on student success, as evidenced by Stevens’ inclusion in a separate U.S. News select listing of universities that provide undergraduates with stellar or notable faculty-guided research opportunities and creative projects. Stevens was also recently included in The Princeton Review’s 2017 guide, “Colleges that Create Futures: 50 Schools that Launch Careers By Going Beyond the Classroom.”

Stevens ranked #69 overall in U.S. News’ newly-released National Universities rankings, up from #71 last year and #88 in 2011, making Stevens the second fastest-rising college in the nation among the top 100 national universities. Improvements have been made across nearly all metrics collected by U.S. News — including enrollment selectivity, student success, financial profile, alumni engagement and peer assessment — over the past six years since President Nariman Farvardin took office.


Left to right: Andrew Falcone, Maria De Abreu Pineda, David Ferrara

Stevens Institute of Technology Team Named Finalist in Collegiate Inventors Competition

CerebroSense Brain Pulsatility Measurement Device Provides Better Brain Monitoring

A Stevens Institute of Technology Senior Design team has been named one of only six undergraduate finalists for the 2017 Collegiate Inventors Competition, which honors the nation’s top collegiate inventors. The students devised CerebroSense, a device that can monitor and measure exposed brain tissue from a distance, which reduces complications during and after open-brain surgery.

The Senior Design team, who have all graduated, includes David Ferrara, Andrew Falcone and Maria De Abreu Pineda. The trio worked in in collaboration with Dr. Glen Atlas ’82, an anesthesiologist and adjunct clinical professor at Stevens, and biomedical engineering professor and program director Vikki Hazelwood.

During open-brain surgeries, the brain’s health is traditionally monitored by physically touching the exposed brain to feel for changes in size that indicate swelling, decreased blood flow or other issues requiring action. This touch carries a small risk of stroke, ischemia or other complications during or after surgery.

The team set out to find a better way to measure and report brain changes in real time — without physically touching it. CerebroSense can be quickly brought into an operating room and safely pointed at exposed brain tissue from a distance of two to 20 inches. Using ultrasonic sensing technology, it sends sound waves toward the surface of the brain and provides safe, non-contact, real-time measurements.

As part of the competition, the finalists will travel to Washington, D.C., for the event, which will take place from November 1-3. The esteemed panel of judges include National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) inductees and leaders from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Winners and their advisors will be awarded cash and prizes ranging from $2,500 to $10,000

“It is inspiring to meet the Collegiate Inventors Competition Finalists and to witness their accomplishments, idealism and motivation,” said NIHF CEO Michael Oister. “By the time the competition at the United States Patent and Trademark Office is over, they have all benefitted greatly by developing stronger go-to-market strategies, creatively solving challenges and problems, and gaining a much greater understanding of our patent, trademark and intellectual property systems.”

“This project has the potential to significantly improve outcomes in craniotomy surgeries,” explains biomedical engineering professor and program director Vikki Hazelwood, who advises the team. “These students have embraced the opportunity that this project offers to extend far beyond the classroom. It’s a great example of our academic ideal, where students impact society while they are learning.”

CerebroSense was awarded first prize in an undergraduate-poster competition at Johnson & Johnson’s 2017 Engineering Showcase and the Senior Design team also won the Stevens 2017 Innovation Expo Elevator Pitch Competition, which awarded the team $10,000.