Dr. Hongyi Wu considers himself as much an inventor as he is a researcher.

“Computer science is different from other science fields like physics, chemistry or even biology. In those fields, we try to understand what’s going on in the world, to understand the theory behind something we observe. But in computing, there’s a spirit of creativity. A computer scientist seeks to invent something — a computer, a program, an application.

“I want to make something new, something that has real-life applications,” the associate professor in UL’s Center for Advanced Computer Science said in a recent interview. He earned the 2011 Distinguished Professor Award presented by the UL Foundation.

Wu is known nationally and internationally in the field of wireless technology. In 2004, he became the first UL faculty member to receive the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Award. The award is the most competitive and prestigious given by the NSF to young faculty members in the fields of science and engineering.

Wu joined the faculty in 2002. In 2008, he was named the Alfred and Helen M. Lamson Endowed Professor in Computer Science.

Dr. Magdy Bayoumi, director of CACS and head of UL’s Computer Science Department, said Wu’s research is distinguished by “its novelty, its rigorous mathematical foundation and its applicability to real-life problems.”

Wu is exploring ways to use radio frequency identification technology. An RFID tag includes a computer chip with a unique identity and a radio antenna. A device called a RFID reader delivers a radio signal that energizes the chip, which in turn, transmits information through the tag’s antenna to the reader. RFID systems are already beginning to replace barcode technology in retail stores. Barcodes require manual scanning of individual items at a checkout counter. But RFID readers do not require a “line of sight.”
“At a grocery store, instead of scanning individual items, you could simply push your shopping cart past a stationary reader,” Wu explained.

He is working on a NSF-funded project to develop another use for RFID tags: tracking wildlife.

Traditional battery-powered tracking devices used by biologists don’t work well on small animals because the devices are too heavy. RFID tags, however, resemble a small strip of paper and are less likely to interfere with an animal’s movements. They are small, lightweight and inexpensive.

Wu is also part of a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort to develop wireless communication networks for offshore oil platforms. He is working on communication protocols for wireless sensors that collect, analyze and transmit data about drilling operations.

Wu involves undergraduate and graduate students in his research to give them real-life experience. “They become more capable of doing research. They are prepared to be involved in research projects as they move forward academically and professionally.”

Wu teaches graduate courses in mobile computing and applications, and computer networks. He holds a weekly meeting with graduate students. “We study problems. We discuss ideas and solutions in our meetings. We do experiments, collect results and write papers and proposals together. We are a team.”

The University of Louisiana Foundation honored four exceptional faculty members in April who inspire their students and colleagues. Honorees are nominated and chosen by their peers. The Distinguished Professor Award has been given since 1965. The Excellence in Teaching Award was established in 1992 and was renamed in 2008 to honor former UL President Dr. Ray P. Authement. The awards include a stipend and are given each year at a banquet held to honor the recipients.

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