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Min Song, an Old Dominion University assistant professor of computer and electrical engineering, has won a highly prized Early Career Development award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his research in computer networks and wireless communications.

The five-year award will provide a total of $400,000 in support of the young researcher's contributions to the next wave of super-reliable, high-performance wireless networks. He proposes to develop fundamental rules-called protocols-that will make wireless networks more reliable, efficient and versatile. One goal of the protocol development is wireless communications technology that can be counted on in times of emergencies, such as in disaster or combat zones.

Song's project is titled "Distributed Broadcasting Protocols for Multi-Radio, Multi-Channel and Multi-Rate Ad Hoc Mesh Networks." In addition to engineering research, the project also includes unique education opportunities for ODU students and a science literacy program for inner-city high school students.

Announcement of the award comes just a few weeks after another ODU assistant professor, Michael Nelson in computer science, became the recipient of an NSF Early Career award. Only two other ODU researchers have received awards under the program since it was launched more than a decade ago.

For the current year, six faculty members at Virginia institutions received Early Career grants, including the two at ODU, two at Virginia Tech, one at the University of Virginia and one at the University of Richmond.

"This Career award is reflective of an aggressive research agenda Min has been pushing for himself," said Mohammad Karim, the university's vice president for research. He noted Song's leading roles in projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education Graduate Assistance in the Area of National Need (GAANN) program and the Mid-Atlantic Institute for Space and Technology.

Shirshak Dhali, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, said, "The Career grants are awarded only to extraordinarily outstanding young professors. Dr. Song's award demonstrates his distinguished achievements and leading status in his field."

Song, who came to ODU in 2002, is the founder and director of the Wireless Communications and Networking Laboratory at the university's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology. The NSF and NASA provided financial support for the lab and, together with the U.S. Department of Education, have supported the professor's research with about $1.4 million in awards.

His Career award, Song added, is proof that "my hard work, persistence and ability have paid off."

Wireless mesh networking is attracting interest as a low-cost platform to support ubiquitous broadband access within private homes and for popular consumer devices, as well as for critical uses in medicine, transportation, military operations, emergency response and security surveillance.

Individual workstations that are connected in a network are called nodes. In mesh networks there are two types of nodes-mesh routers and mesh clients-and they operate in way that eliminates the need for a central-station management infrastructure. A small set of routers also function as gateways connecting to the wired network.

An ad-hoc network implies a wireless mesh in which nodes are mobile and efficient groupings of them can link up for each transmission session. Ad hoc means "for this (purpose)," and applied to a wireless network it means for the purpose of one session.

Wireless mesh networks characterized as single-radio, single-channel and single-rate suffer from serious capacity degradation, said Song. "A promising approach to improve the capacity of mesh networks is to provide each node with multi-radio, multi-channel technology and permit medium access control (MAC) protocols to adjust the transmission rate," he explained.

Problems arise with the performance of the so-called multi-radio, multi-channel and multi-rate mesh (M4) networks when they employ broadcasting protocols developed for single transmission rates.

Song proposes new protocols that will enable M4 networks to be as smart and efficient as they are designed to be. This means (1) 100 percent reliability, with each node guaranteed to receive each message, (2) low broadcast latency, with each message getting to all nodes in the network within a shortest possible time, and (3) a reduction in the redundant transmissions that can be necessitated by system glitches. Currently, no set of protocols exists that can promise all three.

Developing protocols that can provide all the coordination necessary to harness the M4 potential is a very complex chore, said Oktay Baysal, the dean of the Batten School. "What is interesting and challenging about this project is its simultaneous consideration of multi-radio, multi-channel and multi-rate for distributed broadcasting protocols."

"A deep understanding of interference and broadcasting will foster the deploying of more wireless mesh networks, and the development of better network protocols and architecture," Song said. Solutions to the problems he will study are critical to the modeling of wireless communication links and system performance analysis, he added.

Song will link the research project to classroom instruction he provides for both undergraduate and graduate students. He also will set up a Wi-Fi Summer Camp for high school students, and preference will be given to students from Portsmouth. He noted that Portsmouth students score lower on Standards of Learning (SOL) science tests than students in other Hampton Roads cities or in Virginia as a whole.

Before coming to ODU, Song taught at Eastern Kentucky University. He received his doctorate in computer engineering from the University of Toledo in 2001.

Besides computer networks and wireless communications, his research interests extend to wireless sensor networks, packet switches architecture, information security, data mining of terrorist communications, and network modeling, simulation and performance analysis. He has authored 46 journal and international conference papers, and seven book chapters.

This article was posted on: January 23, 2007

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