October 11, 2013

LGO's EECS program lands students on field's cutting edge

By Kathryn M. O'Neill

MIT LGO's program in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) is the only master's-level EECS program available to new MIT applicants, providing rare access to a world-renowned department that prepares students to work in a broad range of technical fields, from semiconductors to smart grids to biotechnology.

"An EECS degree gives you the tools to go anywhere you'd like to go," said Ted Equi, LGO's research and internship manager. "Many of our LGO students are going to be leading operations companies, but if you've been exposed to these tools and technologies, you'll have the technical background to be able to go into a new industry and lead it."

The largest department at MIT with more than 100 faculty members, EECS is the academic home of many of MIT's best-known innovators, including Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; Marvin Minsky, pioneer of artificial intelligence; Hal Abelson, a founding director of Creative Commons; and Ron Rivest, co-creator of the public cryptography system known as RSA Data Security. The current department chair, Professor Anantha Chandrakasan, is a pioneer in low-power electronics.

"We are probably the most flexible engineering department in terms of what's required to get a master's," said Patrick Jaillet, the Dugald C. Jackson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and co-director of the MIT Operations Research Center. "We have a huge number of really attractive classes, and students can build their own programs."

Students can study machine learning, artificial intelligence, data management, decision theory, algorithm development, user interface design, and nanofabrication. One class popular this fall was 6.525J Medical Devices Design, in which students work to translate a clinical challenge into a proof-of-concept prototype device; another was 6.152J Micro/Nano Processing Technology, which gave students a chance to fabricate metal-oxide-silicon (MOS) capacitors, nanomechanical cantilevers, and microfluidic mixers.

Those who imagine that LGO's EECS program is all about manufacturing computer chips are amazed by the variety of applications. For example, classes involving semiconductors "go way beyond silicon," Equi said. "It's really about all the technologies that enable pervasive computing, whether it be medical devices, smart grids, or wearable devices."

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (left) visited Raytheon IDS when Leo Espindle (LGO '11) was doing his internship there in 2010.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (left) visited
Raytheon IDS when Leo Espindle (LGO '11) was
doing his internship there in 2010.

LGO's EECS program offers an optional track in information and decision systems, which centers on big data, analytics, and how to manage information. Alumnus Leo Espindle (LGO '11), who helped create this track, now works as quality control manager at Amgen, the world's largest independent biotechnology firm. "Day-to-day operations management is about decision-making under uncertainty and big data now, so that track is very relevant to the state of the industry," he said.

EECS students—like other students in LGO—also benefit from the program's six-month internship at a partner company. This was what attracted Augusta Niles (LGO '14) to the program, and she hasn't been disappointed. "The ability to work with engineering faculty on real problems at the forefront of operations management was one of my goals as I applied to the program," she said.

Augusta Niles (LGO '14)

Augusta Niles (LGO '14)

Niles got the chance to intern at Novartis Vaccines and has been working closely with her advisors, Jaillet and LGO Program Director Don Rosenfield, to develop a long-term manufacturing strategy for the company's packaging area. "Patrick's input about how to use the principles of decision making under uncertainty to create a capacity development strategy for their packaging lines has been invaluable," she said.

Some classes in the department can take significant effort, but Espindle said the experience is well worth it. "It exposed me to cutting-edge research in the field that has influenced on a really practical level my approach to work," he said. "I loved it."

Espindle said one of the highlights of LGO's EECS program for him was the class he took on dynamic programming with Professor Dimitri Bertsekas. "He literally wrote the book on dynamic programming, which is really important and useful because it's the underpinning of most of the operations management principles we learned in LGO," Espindle said. "These classes are definitely fulfilling and doable and fun."