Computer grid would reduce need to buy software
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A system at Purdue University could help create a worldwide "computational grid" in which individual users no longer have to purchase software but are able to run programs remotely over the Internet.
The system is called the Purdue University Network Computing Hubs, or PUNCH, a network computer that provides access to programs from 16 universities, four research centers and six companies.
"We had a million hits the first half of last year, and we don't advertise," said Mark Lundstrom, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.
PUNCH is now primarily used by engineers who require highly specialized software for research and teaching. The software is not commercially available and is difficult to use and install. PUNCH not only makes the software accessible to the entire research community, it automatically enables computer users to run the software via their own computers through the World Wide Web.
"The software does not actually run on the users' computers, it runs on a server somewhere," said Nirav Kapadia, a senior research scientist responsible for developing the underlying software that makes PUNCH possible. "It enables whatever you are running on your server to interface with a distant computer."
The system has saved money for engineering students by eliminating the need to buy expensive software for certain courses.
"PUNCH is essentially a system that enables users throughout the country and the world to access our computer-based tools, and more importantly, to actually run them through their own computers," said Jose Fortes, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who worked with Kapadia to develop the system.
Although PUNCH is now dominated by engineering applications, in principle it could be used for a much broader range of software, including programs used for business and industry. Companies with offices in different states or countries would benefit from using such a hub to share expensive software.
"In the long run, I think a grid should serve all computing needs," Kapadia said. "For now, the research community provides a nice user base to test the ideas behind the grid. I see PUNCH as a prototype of a grid; its purpose is to allow us to learn what needs to go into building a large-scale infrastructure of this type. Personally, I would love to see PUNCH evolve into a commercial computational grid."
However, developing a commercial grid would pose challenges.
"The software vendors are going to have to sort out how to license and charge for this service because the implication is that people would not have to buy software," Lundstrom said.
The grid concept has recently been attracting more interest from corporate America.
"This has suddenly, within the last year or so, become a very hot field," Lundstrom said. "Companies called application service providers are beginning to jump into this. The advantage that we have is that we've been doing it for five years now. We've learned what it takes to make it work."
Career choices abound in hospitality and tourism management
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. If current trends continue, professionals in the field of hospitality and tourism will find their career choices nearly limitless.
The industry is the fastest growing and changing retail field in the United States, experiencing growth of about 23 percent annually. Airlines, restaurants, schools, health care, catering, theme parks, resorts, country clubs and an array of other businesses have an ongoing demand for managers and service workers in this field.
In keeping with these changes, Purdue University has changed the name of its Department of Restaurant, Hotel, Institutional and Tourism Management to the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
"We changed the name to better reflect the change and growth in the industry," says Ray Kavanaugh, head of the department. "The old name represents three components, but there is so much more than that in the industry. For example, we're considering adding a professional golf management program to our department. The new name is more inclusive of all the areas in which our graduates can work."
The program includes about 550 undergraduates and 50 graduate students working toward degrees in the science of hotel and tourism management.
"This field is the third-largest retail industry in the United States, right behind automobiles and food stores, and is one of the top three employers in 29 states," Kavanaugh says. "The strongest growth is in the golf industry, fine dining, and economy and upscale lodging."
According to figures from the National Restaurant Association, Americans spent $519 billion on restaurants and tourism in 1999, up about $90 billion from the previous year.
To fulfill the steadily increasing demand for professionals, Purdue offers associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in this field, as well a doctoral degrees in consumer science and retailing and in hospitality and tourism management.
Purdue hospitality and tourism management graduates have a 90 percent job placement, and can expect to earn between $25,000 and $40,000 their first year.
"There's so much a person can do with a degree in this field," says Beth Wood, career coordinator for hospitality and tourism. "You could open your own business, work for a cruise line, join a large company, or work for an international company."
Wireless Net may require 'smart antennas'
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Just as people hear better with two ears than with one, future wireless communications devices may have two or more antennas so they can outperform conventional, single-antenna versions.
These "smart antennas," when combined with sophisticated signal processing techniques, may be especially critical in preventing Internet traffic jams as an increasing number of people use wireless devices to download files from the Web. The use of multiple antennas may enable a new generation of cellular communications equipment to better access the Internet and download large amounts of data, including video files, says Michael Zoltowski, a professor in Purdue University's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Zoltowski presented a research paper about smart antennas this month at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference was sponsored by the Signal Processing Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
In the United States, the number of people downloading data with wireless devices is expected to surge from the current 3 percent of the online population to 78 percent over the next year, according to Cap Gemini America Inc., an information technology and management consulting service.
The performance of wireless devices, such as cell phones and laptop computers, is plagued by interference. But equipping future devices with two or more antennas would drastically reduce the interference, increasing reception accuracy by as much as 100 times and enabling three times as many wireless users to operate within the same frequency band. The antennas are referred to as smart because they are able to reject the interference and compensate for the "multipath effects" caused by signals reflecting off buildings and other structures, Zoltowski says.
Texas Instruments Inc., which is partially funding research at Purdue to develop the technology, is testing a prototype cell phone that has two antennas. The second antenna is a patch-like strip instead of the standard whip antenna. A similar setup might also be used for laptop computers.
"We want a user to be able to fire up the laptop and, while in a car or on a train, with no wire connections, be able to download information from the Web," Zoltowski says. "That's the goal of the next generation of cellular communication systems."
The performance of wireless systems could be further improved by switching from the conventional technology used to deal with multipath effects, referred to as a "Rake receiver," to sophisticated techniques that attempt to restore the delicate timing and sequence of the codes that are used to transmit data. Using these techniques, called "space-time equalization," and equipping devices with more than one antenna, would increase the number of users able to operate simultaneously in each frequency band.
Computer simulations have shown that using two antennas and space-time equalization would enable the simultaneous use of all 64 channel codes in each frequency band.
"Just for one user to download video files even close to real time requires a large bandwidth for that user," Zoltowski says. "Given limited spectrum allocation by the Federal Communications Commission, the key technological challenge is how to deal with many users trying to download information from the Web wirelessly at the same time in the same cell or geographical area."
Having more than one antenna also would increase the accuracy with which wireless systems receive the codes. The accuracy can be increased by about 100 times when two antennas are used instead of one. However, adding more antennas poses new challenges, because they will increase power consumption for portable equipment.
Zoltowski says some of that increased power consumption will be offset by power savings that accrue because of the reduced interference.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and by Texas Instruments' Digital Signal Processing University Research Program.
CONTACT: Michael Zoltowski, (765) 494-3512, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Low-power circuits increasingly needed in wireless age
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue University engineers have designed an innovative circuit shown to drastically reduce the amount of power needed to run a computer's memory. The technology is aimed at saving energy, enabling portable devices to run longer on a single charge and to use lighter-weight batteries.
"The ultimate goal is to keep the performance at the highest level possible while reducing power consumption to as low as possible," says T.N. Vijaykumar, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue.
Power conservation is critical for laptop computers, medical devices that are worn on or implanted in the body, and a plethora of emerging wireless devices that run on batteries. The low-power issue also is becoming increasingly important for ultra-powerful "parallel processors" used for everything from weather forecasting to animation. These computers require so much power that they place an enormous load on a building's electrical system.
Meanwhile, just as high-performance wireless and portable devices are proliferating, battery technology is reaching its limits, making low-power designs more attractive.
Vijaykumar is involved with other faculty in a project at Purdue called ICALP, for Integrated Circuit/Architecture Approach to Low Power, which was formed to develop innovative low-power computer microprocessors.
Recent ICALP work has resulted in a circuit design shown to dramatically reduce the amount of energy needed to run a computer's memory. The new circuit is designed to continually monitor how much memory is needed depending on the programs that are running at any given time and then strategically shut down unneeded memory circuits automatically. The design also reduces the amount of electricity that is normally "leaked" from memory circuits in a computer's microprocessor chip.
Computer simulations have shown that the design would reduce the amount of energy consumed by a computer's cache memory by 62 percent, while degrading overall performance by only 4 percent.
Cache temporarily stores only the information being accessed most often by a computer user, making for much faster retrieval of that information than would be possible if it were stored along with all the other memory. However, there is a tradeoff for the high performance provided by cache memory: It consumes a large amount of energy.
Presently, computers run on full power all the time, even if they are using programs that require only a small portion of the system's total memory.
"Sure, they have beautiful performance, but they give you that performance whether you want it or not," Vijaykumar says. ""But sometimes we will need only 10 percent of the memory that is on the chip. As the application is running, we are going to figure out how much memory it needs and cut down the power for the rest of the unused portion."
The smart circuit reevaluates how much memory is needed every thousandth of a second by counting the number of times cache memory is unable to find information requested during that time. If the cache memory is too often unable to retrieve requested information, more memory is automatically made available. Conversely, if performance is higher than the level required, memory is reduced.
CONTACT: T.N. Vijaykumar, (765) 494-0592, email@example.com.
IU, Purdue team up to offer distance master's degrees to GM
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. While they may compete hard in athletics, Indiana's two leading public research universities Purdue and Indiana are teaming up to provide graduate education to future management at General Motors Corp. using the latest in information technology.
IU's Kelley School of Business and Purdue's Continuing Engineering Education program will join four universities in offering a special one-two educational punch a master's of engineering paired with a master's of business administration.
The offerings will be available via distance education directly to GM professionals. GM is Indiana's largest private-sector employer.
The new double degree program will enable employees to earn the master's degrees from their home or office, using the Web and various other media. After earning master's degrees in engineering from Purdue and other universities, GM engineers then would be eligible to apply to the Kelley Direct Online MBA program.
With the combination of degrees, GM employees are expected to better meet industry standards for management roles.
"We at the Kelley School of Business are delighted with our partnership with General Motors, Purdue University's School of Engineering and these other fine universities," said IU Kelley School Dean Dan Dalton.
"It is said that you are known by the company you keep; this is, indeed, terrific company. Most importantly, however, it is the students who will benefit from the concerted efforts and resources of this consortium."
Ray Eberts, director of Purdue's Continuing Engineering Education Department, said, "Engineers learn how to use mathematical equations and technology to solve engineering problems while managers emphasize financial strategies and people skills. Those completing this double degree program will learn the human side of technology and combine engineering problem solving with financial strategizing."
Joe Joseph, director of GM Knowledge Center and dean of GMU Engineering College, said: "Our strong relationship with our partner universities has helped us to lead the way in offering our employees the means to maintain our innovative edge, and to meet the challenge of quickly changing technology.
"TEP's program is unique in that it offers employees two competitive graduate degrees in the areas that are important for the employees' and GM's success. The program's modern distance learning technologies offer employees flexible, convenient education at work or at home."
The degree programs will include material tailored to GM and the automotive industry. The partnership comes at a time when more and more engineers are leaving the profession, and distance education is becoming more viable through advanced computer and telecommunications technology. IU and Purdue are among the first research universities nationally to provide specialized graduate programs in this manner.
GM's Technical Education Program currently offers engineers continuing education with a number of other universities. The new program will broaden the company's educational offerings by adding the Kelley Direct Online MBA, a master's degree in engineering from Purdue, a master's degree in engineering management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and graduate degrees from other universities involved.
The other universities offering master's degrees in engineering through the GM program are Carnegie Mellon University, Kettering University and the University of Michigan. Michigan Technological University will offer a bachelor's degree in engineering.
The GM double degree program will start next January. There are more than 1,400 GM engineers who have completed master's degrees in engineering and who are eligible to apply.
Pharmacists prescribe solution to insurance bottleneck
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Weaving through the diverse assortment of insurance plans has changed the way pharmacists do business, and, according to some, contributed to a national shortage of practicing pharmacists.
One of the fastest growing trends is the third-party payment plan, where insurance companies sign contracts with drug companies to provide certain medications at a set price with a small professional fee provided for the pharmacist.
These plans, along with other insurance and managed-care plans, are such a maze that many universities, drug stores and insurance companies have developed programs to help educate the pharmacist on how to process claims and offer the best price on a prescription drug.
"There are many, many different plans," said Charles O. Rutledge, dean of Purdue University's School of Pharmacy and Pharmacal Sciences. "Some have deductions up to a certain amount, some are co-pay, and some pay for certain medications while not covering others. The third-party payment plan is fairly new, but something that has escalated dramatically in the past few years."
According to figures from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, pharmacists spend about 22 percent of the working day on administrative duties.
It has become a topic in today's pharmacy classroom, said Joseph Thomas, a professor of pharmacy administration at Purdue, which has one of the largest professional programs in pharmacy in the nation.
"It is a topic covered today, and the students get hands-on practical experience at the training pharmacy, which is an actual working pharmacy we have on campus for Purdue students," Thomas said. "The students must take the health card from the patient and determine the payment of the prescription. This is definitely growing as managed-care plans grow."
Due to an increase in drug development, greater availability of insurance and managed-care plans, and the mass marketing of prescription drugs, the demand for prescriptions has grown as well. According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, about two billion prescriptions were filled in 1992, and three billion in 1998. By the year 2005, this figure is expected to reach four billion.
Experts say the answer to meeting this growing demand is not to increase the number of practicing pharmacists, but to change the way prescriptions are filled.
"It may seem that there are not enough people to fill the prescriptions, and it is only natural that the first instinct is to increase the number of pharmacists, but the real answer to this is improved time management and a more efficient use of pharmacy technicians," Rutledge said.
CONTACT: Charles O. Rutledge, (765) 494-1368, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spectraline Inc. shines its radiant light on quality control
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A high-tech company in the Purdue University Research Park is taking industry into the far end of the spectrum for the purpose of on-line quality monitoring.
Spectraline Inc. has developed the ES 100 Mid-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer, an instrument that uses infrared light to monitor quickly and easily the quality of products in a wide variety of industries, including the petrochemical, dairy and beverage industries.
The ES 100 scans materials by using light from the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, light the human eye cannot see. That region is divided into near-, mid- and far-infrared.
The consistency of a liquid product, such as gasoline or milk, usually is tested for quality when technicians take random samples from the production line to the laboratory and analyze them using bench-top instruments. The ES 100 is the first spectrometer operating in the mid-infrared region that is designed specifically to constantly monitor the product as it flows through the manufacturing process."Our technology reduces unnecessary waste," said Rony Joseph, Spectraline's vice president of product development. "By continuously monitoring the liquid flow with our spectrometer, operators can immediately revise the process the moment something fails to meet specifications rather than waiting until an entire batch has been ruined."
While available mid-infrared spectrometers can complete a scan in one second, the ES 100 can take 390 complete scans in the same amount of time, enabling it to capture rapidly changing phenomena. A high-speed scan also enables large numbers of samples to be collected, which then can be averaged together to reduce "noise" or other conditions that might interfere with readings.
Previously developed mid-infrared spectrometers are delicate instruments that rely on high-precision mechanisms for moving mirrors and gratings within the instrument. They are designed for use in the lab, not for rugged on-line applications, Joseph said. In addition, their lifetimes are limited to about 10,000 hours because they use cryogenic coolers, which also have many moving parts.
The shoebox-sized ES 100, however, can withstand being moved around the factory floor because it has no moving optical components. The instrument also features a photosensitive detector made of lead selenide that uses a much less expensive cooling system and has a proven lifetime of more than 100,000 hours.
On top of shortcomings with durability and speed, most near-infrared spectrometers are lying idle because of the extensive calibration required to block out background influences such as sunlight, room light and heating sources.
The ES 100 will be shipped factory-calibrated with a customized database for the particular product to be monitored.
The ES 100 can be used in three modes: emission mode, to study turbulent flames, monitor gas turbine combustors and utility furnaces; absorption mode, to monitor multiple constituents in flowing liquids; and reflectance mode, to monitor solids and powders. These methods can be used to measure fat in milk, sulfur in gasoline, and glucose in blood; to detect the presence of poisonous gases; to monitor a gas turbine or an engine to find out how lean it is running; or to monitor the spoilage of fruits and bacteria in meats and other foods.
Spectraline licensed the technology for the ES 100 from En'Urga Inc., which was founded in 1994 by Yudaya Sivathanu, a research scientist in Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering. En'Urga formed Spectraline in 1999 to develop the instrument further for commercial applications.
Spectraline has its headquarters in one of the Purdue Research Park's small-business incubators where more than 35 companies have access to professional business assistance. The park's incubator concept provides high-tech venture companies with shared office services, flexible leases and attractive rental rates.
Compiled by J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077; email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org