Skip to Content

CSE News

  • In Absence of New Specialty Rankings, Computer Science at UC San Diego Is #15 Nationally, #9 Globally

    The 2017 edition of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Graduate Schools highly ranks UC San Diego's professional schools and programs in engineering and medicine. The Jacobs School of Engineering was ranked #17 out of 215 engineering schools, and the School of Medicine came in at #18 in the research category (and #21 in primary care).

    In the U.S. News 2016 global ranking of computer science university programs, published last October, UC San Diego ranked #9 in the world. Data from previous U.S. News surveys indicate that UC San Diego graduate programs in the sciences are among the best in the nation. In particular, computer science  remains #15 in the national 2017 list, which was unchanged because the publication did not survey computer science specifically this year. However, last October, U.S. News also came out with its 2016 Best Global Universities rankings (which it compiles separately from the national rankings), based exclusively on research in computer science and the department's reputation, In that survey, UC San Diego was ranked at #9 on the global list for computer science, while the overall campus was ranked #19 among global universities for all disciplines. 

    The Jacobs School has been consistently ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News for its wide range of strengths in fundamental engineering research areas such as wireless communications, computer engineering, and biomedical engineering. The school is also building on its many core strengths through new research centers, including the CSE-based Center for Visual Computing, and other emerging, interdisciplinary research areas including contextual robotics, wearable sensors, sustainable power and energy, visual computing, and microbiome innovation and others.

    “UC San Diego’s impressive showing in the U.S. News and World Report rankings is a testament to the campus’s broad academic excellence,” said Chancellor Pradeep. K. Khosla. “The cutting-edge work of our graduate students and faculty are critical parts of UC San Diego’s success, bringing hard work, ingenuity, creativity and a diversity of life experiences that enrich the campus and its scholarly pursuits.”

    U.S. News Best Global Universities for Computer Science 2016

  • New Apple Watch App Provides Best Time to Cross International Borders

    A team of three CSE undergraduates helped develop an app for the Apple Watch that provides users with wait times to enter the United States from its northern and southern borders at 70 different points of entry. The app is believed to be the first specifically for the Apple Watch developed by UC San Diego researchers. The development team included CSE seniors Kevin Gu, Brian Chin and Martin Gao (pictured left to right),

    Called “Best Time to Cross the Border,” the Apple Watch app is an evolution of an app designed by Qualcomm Institute Principal Development Engineer Ganz Chockalingam and his students for the Android and iPhone. Like its predecessor, the Apple Watch version (when synced to an iPhone) provides estimates for border wait times based on real-time crowd-sourced data, but does so at-a-glance, with the flick of a button and “without the need to check your phone,” says Chockalingam.

    Chockalingam notes that future improvements to the Apple Watch app could include haptic vibration to alert the users of severe congestion. His team is also working with Natasha Balac, who recently joined QI from SDSC, to mine the data collected. The hope is that they can determine if usage of the app itself has led to a reduction in wait times at the border, if wait times are correlated with seasonal changes or if the app can be used to help distribute traffic to more optimal border crossing.

    The development team also released a new feature for the iPhone version of the app that allows the user to add “favorite” border crossing locations to determine corresponding wait times more quickly. Another new gesture-based control feature makes it possible to submit an iReport timer by simply shaking the iPhone. When drivers reach the end of the line at the border, they shake the phone to start a timer and shake it again when they cross a checkpoint, which submits an automated iReport of the driver’s wait time to the app’s database. The data are then aggregated to provide a more-accurate weighted average of wait time based on the most recent driver report.

    Along with driver-reported wait times, the app also aggregates GPS data from users’ phones as they drive past  “geofences” that are strategically located near the borders. Collecting such data, however, is complicated by a disparity in the roaming capabilities of networks on both sides of the border. On the Mexican side, for instance, roaming is limited in some areas to only 3 km. “If your WiFi is not on,” Chockalingam says,” your location can be off by a mile.”

    Data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is also incorporated into the app’s algorithms but the Qualcomm Institute's Chokalingam notes that the CBP-reported wait times “are updated at best once per hour, which is not frequent enough. Things can change a lot in an hour.”

    Still, this combination of data from drivers, phones and border agents amounts to a predictive system that is accurate enough to have garnered 200,000 downloads for both Android and iOS. Chockalingam says his team also hopes to eventually extend the app’s predictive technology to other scenarios that require a lot of waiting, such as airport security checks or – the holy grail –  standing in line at the DMV.

  • Pacific Research Platform Awarded CENIC Innovations in Networking Award

    Less than five months since the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided a $5 million, five-year grant to develop and deploy the Pacific Research Platform (PRP), the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives (CENIC) has selected the PRP for one of its top awards. Next week at CENIC 2016 on the UC Davis campus, the organization will honor the PRP with its Innovations in Networking Award for Experimental Applications. A team of investigators led byCalit2 Director Larry Smarr, a UC San Diego Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, will accept the award on behalf of the large team assembled to deliver on the promise of a “science-driven, high-capacity and data-centric freeway system on a large regional scale… to move data 1,000 times faster compared to speeds on today’s inter-campus shared Internet.”

    On hand at the award ceremony are researchers (l-r) Smarr, and co-PIs Camille Crittenden (CITRIS/UC Berkeley), Phil Papadopoulos (SDSC), UC San Diego's Tom DeFanti (Calit2/Qualcomm Institute) and Frank Wuerthwein (Physics/SDSC). In announcing the award, CENIC also noted the “essential technical support” from John Graham at Calit2’s Qualcomm Institute, John Hess at CENIC, and Eli Dart at ESnet.

    Just days before the CENIC annual meeting, CSE’s Smarr sat down to talk about the CENIC honor and the award-winning, multi-institutional effort that kicked off officially on October 1, 2015:

    Q. Congratulations to the team, Larry. Why do you think the Pacific Research Platform (PRP) was selected for the award in the Research Applications category?

    SMARR: The PRP team is humbled by the CENIC award, since without the existence of the CENIC/Pacific Wave backbone connecting many of the West Coast campuses that are in the PRP, we could never have taken on this project. CENIC is perhaps the best regional optical network in the world, being virtually invisible to millions of users because of how well it is engineered and operated. But at the end of the day, CENIC is an enabler, so I think what the Pacific Research Platform has added is to bring many multi-campus Big Data scientific and engineering applications onto the CENIC/PW backplane.

    Q. How big of an effort is the PRP in terms of researchers and institutions?

    SMARR: There are over 50 frontier researchers who have signed commitment letters as part of the PRP grant, but there are also such letters from the Chief Information Officers of the participating campuses, as well as national laboratories that are linked in as well. So it’s a very large-scale collaboration of more than 20 institutions and probably close to 100 individuals.  While I am principal investigator, the real work of bringing the PRP into being has been done by our large team of very talented people drawn both from network engineering and from Big Data research. This project cannot be accomplished with just the money in the NSF grant and I’ve been very pleased to see the level at which all of the participants have stepped up to the plate to contribute. For instance, because the core of the PRP is the ten-campus UC system, the UC Office of the President provided vital ‘momentum funds’ to enable our team to get started, while waiting for the NSF review process.

  • Teaching Professors Win Second SIGCSE Best Paper in Four Years

    Last week, two CSE teaching professors, Leo Porter and Beth Simon, were awarded the Best Paper Award at Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) 2016. Their winning paper, "A Multi-institutional Study of Peer Instruction in Introductory Computing"*, was selected from among 105 accepted papers.  This is the authors' second Best Paper Award at SIGCSE since its inception in 2011. They previously received the award at SIGCSE 2013 for their work, "Retaining Nearly One-Third More Majors with a Trio of Instructional Best Practices in CS1."

    The paper examines inter-institutional variance in student perceptions of the evidence-based instructional practice called Peer Instruction (PI), which has previously been shown to reduce fail rates in computer science courses by 60 percent. The key finding of the new SIGCSE paper is that even "first-time" adoption of the practice by faculty resulted in positive evaluations by students, with an average of 91 percent recommending that other faculty should use PI. The study also identified ways in which faculty might not experience such good results, notably if they require students to get clicker questions correct to get points (not a recommended PI practice).
    "This work is really about faculty adoption of evidence-based teaching practices," said Porter. In addition to documenting positive student valuation, Porter also points out that the authors "also found the instructors themselves valued the shift and were happy to have made the change."
    For background, Peer Instruction is a flipped classroom pedagogy where students prepare for class through readings and/or videos and then, in class, the "lecture" centers on students answering and discussing challenging conceptual questions. The algorithm for PI consists of students answering a question individually (often with clickers), then discussing with peers, then voting again (often with a clicker) and finally a class-wide discussion led by the instructor. 
    * Leo Porter, Dennis Bouvier, Quintin Cutts, Scott Grissom, Cynthia Lee, Robert McCartney, Daniel Zingaro, and Beth Simon. 2016. A Multi-institutional Study of Peer Instruction in Introductory Computing. In Proceedings of the 47th ACM Technical Symposium on Computing Science Education (SIGCSE '16).
  • International Conference Invites CSE Professor to Deliver High-Profile Keynote

    With the proliferation of big data and machine learning algorithms to analyze all of that data, more and more sensitive information about individuals is raising the risk of invading those individuals' privacy. That's the topic -- "Challenges in Privacy-Preserving Data Analysis" -- that CSE Prof. Kamalika Chaudhuri will tackle in a high-profile speech to the 19th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics (AISTATS 2016). Chaudhuri is one of only three experts invited to deliver keynote presentations at AISTATS 2016, which will be held in Cadiz, Spain, May 9-11.

    AISTATS is an interdisciplinary gathering of researchers at the intersection of computer science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, statistics, and related areas. Chaudhuri (at right) is an expert in the theoretical foundations of machine learning.

    In her talk, Chaudhuri will explore how to design data analysis algorithms that operate on the sensitive data of individuals while still guaranteeing the privacy of individuals in the data.  She will address two particular challenges to the preservation of privacy. The first problem involves privacy-preserving classification, and a proposed classifer that works "in the ERM (empirical loss minimization) framework, and includes privacy preserving logistic regression and privacy preserving support vector machines." Chaudhuri will also address the question of learning from sensitive correlated data, including private information on users connected together in a social network. Another example, she notes, would involve measurements of physical activity of a single user across time. Chaudhuri explores a new generalization of differential privacy and will prsent new privacy mechanisms in the framework.

  • Gordon Center Invites Applications for 2016-2017 Academic Year

    Undergraduate and graduate students in CSE and other Jacobs School of Engineering departments have until Monday, April 4, 2016, to apply for a Gordon Scholarship for the next school year.

    On March 11 the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center held an information session ahead of the application deadline. In addition to the honor of being named a Gordon Scholar, center officials highlighted other opportunities for students taking part in the center's engineering leadership activities. At the end of the year, Gordon Scholars will receive an Engineering Leadership Certificate after taking engineering leadership courses organized by the center. Scholars will also gain access to workshops and forums on topics including leadership, innovation, business and interpersonal skills. Each student is also matched with a mentor from the ranks of executives in San Diego high-tech companies, and the program invites Gordon Scholars to attend exclusive networking events with fellow scholars, alumni and industry.

    Acceptance decisions to the Gordon Scholars program are to be made before th eend of the Spring quarter. Applicants to the Graduate Gordon Scholars program must be able to demonstrate engineering leadership, either in the context of a summer internship or as a member of a team behind a successful engineering project of a student organization, industry internship or a project-based course in one of the six engineering departments (including CSE).

    Full-time students are not the only target demographic for the Gordon Center. The center is also admitting Professional Gordon Scholars, primarily those with a track record of engineering leadership in high-tech industry or non-profit management. However, the center now requires that all applicants to the Professional program be admitted into the Jacobs School's Master of Advanced Study degree program (and former students in the MAS program are also eligible to apply.

  • Closing the Gender Gap in Computer Science Education

    International Women’s Day was March 8 and two CSE faculty members were invited to weigh in with their perspectives on how to close the gender gap in technology. The "inspiring" Associate Teaching Professor Christine Alvarado (below at right) and Assistant Teaching Professor Mia Minnes were featured in a week-long social media campaign, #WomenInTech, by Coursera along with other female faculty who teach online courses offered on the Coursera platform.

    "Over the early years of my career as a professor, the goal of increasing women’s participation in computer science moved from a hobby to a central goal of my teaching and research," writes Alvarado. "I was distressed by women’s absence in a field that I found so fascinating. I wanted to help young women, and indeed all students, see that there was no fundamental reason why they shouldn’t be studying or pursuing a career in technology."

    Alvarado adds that, "We need to address the cultural issues and biases that are at the root of gender diversity, to make women feel that they are accepted and belong in computer science and the tech industry. The more people who acknowledge these biases publicly, from educational institutions to technology companies, the more we all will be able to confront this problem and work together to change it."

    Minnes says she first realized the problem as an undergraduate. "I remember the jolt of realizing, almost every time I stepped into a lab or a lecture hall, that I was the only woman in the room or one of very few women," she writes.

    "I think it’s especially important to be able to see others who you can identify with and who have gone before you and succeeded... (and) I see this in my student dynamics each semester," explains Minnes. "All of our core Computer Science courses typically have enrollments of only 20-30% women. However, the demographics in my office hours are much more balanced. Many of the women who attend my office hours have told me this is the first time they’ve ever felt comfortable approaching one of their professors, not to mention participating in office hours... I think that’s very telling of just how crucial it is to have networks of women – both in the workplace and in education."

    Read the full reflections of professors Alvarado and Minnes on the Coursera website.

  • CSE Sophomore and Team Finish #3 in HealthHack

    While students from Bioengineering dominated the top two teams at the second annual HealthHack 2016 organized by the UC San Diego chapter of Engineering World Health, a Computer Science and Engineering sophomore and his team mates took the third spot. Well over 100 students, mostly undergraduates, took part in the hackathon aimed at designing a solution to "diagnose, limit, prevent or treat a mental condition and its associated problems." Computer Science major Gustavo Umbelino (far right), Class of '18, and his colleagues from Math (Rodolfo Flores) and Bioengineering (Alfredo Lucas) focused their hacking effort on ADHD, and specifically for students in the classroom. The prevalence of ADHD is particularly elevated among students from lower-income neighborhoods. The third-place team developed a Stimulating Pen, which sends routine prompts to the user in the form of visual cues or haptic feedback (i.e., vibration). According to the Jacobs School of Engineering blog, "the device also has a component for anxiety relief that allows the user to continuously press the button on the pen's top, similarly to clicking a pen non-stop." In place of a working prototype, teams were required to submit a written proposal describing the need that the pen would fulfill, an explanation of how it would work, a plan for bringing the project to fruition, and any roadblocks the team might face in creating the device.

  • What Citizen Science and Computer Science Can Do for Medical Research

    Citizen-science initiatives in which members of the public contribute to a particular study have become a very valuable asset to researchers.
    UC San Diego professor Rob Knight (right), who has dual appointments in Pediatrics as well as Computer Science and Engineering, co-founded the American Gut project, a crowdsourced, crowdfunded initiative in which anyone can contribute mouth, skin or gut samples from themselves, family members, even dogs -- all for microbiome sequencing. "The biggest value of this kind of citizen-science initiative is that only with thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people might we get a full range of microbes and what range of microbiomes are out there," said Knight in a March 6 feature broadcast over WBBM Radio in Chicago. "In particular, what's fascinating about this study... is that we are finding all kinds of configurations of the microbiome out there in healthy people and in people with various diseases, that we would have had no idea existed. So were are getting this tremendously expanded view of what kinds of microbiomes are out there."
    Knight will also appear in the April 2016 edition of "Computing Primetime" on UCSD-TV, in a conversation with fellow CSE Prof. Larry Smarr on "decoding the microbiome".
  • UC Invitation for Faculty to Develop Fully Online Courses

    The University of California is inviting faculty from all UC campuses to submit proposals for developing undergraduate  online courses that run fully on UC Online. The university's Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI) offers financial support to defray the costs of creating fully online courses, and it has set a deadline of Thursday, March 31 at 6pm Pacific time for principal investigators to submit their proposals. To apply, applicants must be UC ladder-rank faculty, teaching professors and assistant teaching professors, and the courses must be "offered during the academic year across multiple campuses and without any additional fees to students." 

    The maximum award is $110,000 for quarter-long courses, but the average ILTI award to date is approximately $55,000. For semester-long courses, grants top out at $117,000. ILTI  guidelines note that faculty seeking to revise a fully online course may apply, but the average such grant is $6,500.

    [At right: CSE Prof. Pavel Pevzner teaches bioinformatics for beginners, a Coursera online course that grew out of a "Bioinformatics for Biologists" course developed with funding in the second round of ILTI.]

    Under the current Request for Proposals, UC is prioritizing online courses that: target high-need, high-enrollment areas for undergrads exclusively; exemplify UC quality; involve collaboration between two or more campus PIs and departments to develop and teach the course; and generate UC-wide interest and benefits as reflected in letters of support from at least two other campuses in addition to the home campus. Principal investigators also need to submit  courses through their respective campuses' regular course-approval process.