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A record three ECE students win 2020 Graduate School Presidential Fellowships

For the first time in the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) program, a record three students were announced among the winners of the distinguished 2020 Graduate School Presidential Fellowship at The Ohio State University.

Daniel Lepkowski, Kaiyi Ji and Towhidur Razzak were each selected as winners for their achievements to date. The award provides students with one year of full-time financial support as they complete their dissertations. All three winners have earned glowing praise from their professors over the years for their work at Ohio State. 

Ringel and LepkowskiFor Lepkowski, earning the fellowship dovetails his Ph.D. achievements in Solid State Electronics and Photonics working under Professor Steve Ringel. Learn more about the student’s passion for engineering in my previous spotlight on his work

Razzak said he grew up with a fascination with computers and how they work.

“I have been an avid gaming computer builder since middle school and loved doing physics and math. This made me decide to pick electrical engineering as a profession,” he said. “I especially enjoyed learning about semiconductor physics and devices, which ultimately drove me toward semiconductor device research.”

This focus, he said, led him to pursue Professor Siddharth Rajan’s research team.

“In my opinion, Rajan is one of the best minds in the world right now, in terms of device research. He has deep insight and understanding of semiconductor materials, device physics and applications, which is what made me decide to study under him,” Razzak said. “From the time I joined his group, he has been instrumental in all of my research achievements and progress.”

RazzakRajan said he was so happy Razzak was recognized with the Graduate School Presidential Fellowship award.

"Towhid’s work, which has been supported by AFOSR and DARPA, has pushed the boundaries of performance by bringing some truly new ideas into semiconductor electronic devices," Rajan said.

In addition, Rajan said, Razzak was featured in Semiconductor Today, has already edited a book, and is a super-user at Nanotech West helping staff with advanced clean room equipment and training.

Specifically, Razzak’s research focus is essential for next generation telecommunications. His work explores the design and fabrication of novel ultra-wide bandgap (UWBG) devices to realize high power density electronics operating in the mm-wave spectrum (30 – 300 GHz). 

“We have been able to achieve state of the art devices and have demonstrated the highest experimentally observed breakdown electrical field in any semiconductor to date,” he said.

The primary goal of Ji’s research is to develop fast, principled and scalable optimization algorithms for modern large-scale machine learning and deep learning.

“In the era of big data, deep learning has become a powerful tool for various artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, with a broad impact on various areas including computer vision, pattern recognition, robotics, natural language processing, and online advertising,” he said. 

When Ji came to Ohio State, his first research actually focused on cache networking. He also learned some cutting-edge techniques in both machine learning and deep learning. 

Ji“I discovered I was willing and very interested to try some projects related to deep learning,” he said.

Ji chose to contact Professor Yingbin Liang’s group, which he said is very active and successful in this field.

“Considering my strength in math, and with some advice from Prof. Liang, I started to work on deep learning from two perspectives," he said.

He researches algorithm acceleration for large-scale deep learning applications, and theoretical justification of widely-used deep learning frameworks. 

“During this process, I was continuously motived by the results of my projects and positive feedback from other researchers along this direction. I am very grateful to my advisor Prof. Liang for finding me such a suitable research direction,” Ji said.

Each of the three presidential fellowship winners agreed finding successful paths within the Ohio State ECE program is not easy.

Ji said he pays very close attention to the advice and instructions from his advisors and professors, because they have much more experience and professional vision. From there, he said, it comes down to finding a new independent pathway to focus his attention on.

“Good research work often takes us a long time, from finding a topic, to writing a paper,” Ji said. “During this period, we should make a good time plan for pushing us to finish each part of our project on time.” 

Razzak agreed, saying students should focus on staying motivated.

“In my opinion, perseverance at all times is the key to succeed,” he said. “It can be a fun experience if one thinks of hardship as a way to learn important life lessons and build discipline.”

For mental health, Ji tries to go swimming and plays basketball with friends two or three times a week. 

“Such a rest time definitely helps me relax from the intensive Ph.D. work, and gives me sufficient energy every day,” he said.

Story by Ryan Horns, ECE/IMR Communications Specialist, Horns.1@osu.edu