Leyla Nazhandali, an assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, is the recipient of a 2008 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.

Nazhandali received the award for her proposed work entitled, “Overcoming Power Challenges in Embedded System Design with Subthreshold-Voltage Technology.” She is the sixth Virginia Tech engineering faculty member this year to receive this prestigious award.

An embedded system is essentially any system that contains a microprocessor but does not have a usual computer interface. Examples include a car, a cell phone, and an airplane.

The subthreshold-voltage technology drastically reduces the power consumption of the microprocessor, and has the potential to protect the microprocessor from security threats. More specifically, the technology shields the microprocessor from hacker attacks that attempt to exploit the variability of its power to infer secret properties of the system. Hacker attacks can decode the power consumption of the microprocessor and unveil properties that are not supposed to be discovered.

The applications of subthreshold-voltage technology are numerous. “This CAREER award will allow me to explore new avenues that this technology can offer in order to improve our lives. Examples include enhancing the security of embedded designs such as electronic passports and credit cards, as well as significantly reducing the energy consumption of highly parallel applications such as image processing employed in security cameras and hand held landmine detectors,” said Nazhandali.

“The CAREER award, by providing funding for five years and a high recognition, will also allow me to introduce the benefits of computer engineering for society to pre-college students in an educational program that I have named "embedded for life". Embedded designs are everywhere in our lives from refrigerators and coffee makers to cars to cell phones and ipods to advance medical equipments. Research has shown that women and minorities show more interest in fields that positively impact our lives. My hope for this program, which will be implemented in a national and local level, is to attract more women and minorities to pursue their studies in computer engineering,” Nazhandali added.

Nazhandali received her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Sharif University of Technology, Iran, in 2000 as an honor student. Then, she joined Advanced Computer Architecture Laboratory (ACAL) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. While there she pursued her graduate studies in computer engineering, receiving her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in 2002 and in 2006, respectively.

Nazhandali is also the winner of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Real World Engineering Projects Contest, for her project “smart vehicles,” where she has developed a hands-on project for freshman students in order to introduce the benefits of computer engineering for the society using the example of automatic vehicles. Among her other awards, she received a Riethmiller Fellowship Award for 2005-2006 to conduct research with applications in biomedicine.

In 2005, she won the first place in the Computer Science and Engineering Honors competition at the University of Michigan. In 1996, she was ranked 44th in Iran’s National College Entrance Exam in a field of more than 150,000 applicants.

According to the National Science Foundation, the CAREER program is a foundation-wide activity that offers its most prestigious awards in support of the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education.

Learn more about Nazhandali’s research.

Jung-Min Park, also of electrical and computer engineering, was notified recently of her award, after five other Virginia Tech engineering professors had learned earlier this year they had received similar awards. The others are: Masoud Agah and Jung-Min Park, also of electrical and civil engineering; Ali Butt of computer science; Leigh McCue of aerospace and ocean engineering; and Mark Paul of mechanical engineering.