Featured Engineer

Interview with Dr. Nirwan Ansari

Dr. Nirwan Ansari

Interview with Dr. Nirwan Ansari - Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology

Can you give us a little background about yourself?

Born in Indonesia, I didn’t start school until I was 10 when I joined, after having left behind a couple of years, my family in Hong Kong. I left for USA pursuing my higher education when I was 18. Having completed my Ph.D. at Purdue University, I joined the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where I am Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Why did you choose Electrical Engineering and when did you start?

Physics was my favorite subject when I attended secondary school (i.e., high school) as it explains many physical phenomena. As I was contemplating to pursue higher education in USA, I wanted to major in Physics, but at the same time I wanted to do something more practical, and thus I picked Engineering which is very close to Physics. I was always curious about how things work—-how does an automobile work, how does radio work, how does TV work, etc. When things broke, I naturally took them apart, trying to fix them. Intrigued by many emerging electronic gadgets, I finally chose Electrical Engineering as my major.

Can you tell us about your work at New Jersey Institute of Technology?

Like many professors, I teach classes, conduct research, and serve the department, the college and the university in various capacities. I’d also assumed some administrative functions such as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.

One of your research interests is broadband networks and multimedia communications. Can you please tell us more about it?

Myriad applications are constantly emerging, and many are bandwidth-hungry. To facilitate these ever increasing applications, service providers and telecom carriers have to keep upgrading their network capacity both in the core and the access part of the telecommunications infrastructure. So, my research has been addressing various aspects of broadband networks and multimedia communications in enhancing network capacity, provisioning quality of service and quality of experience, ensuring network security, providing energy efficient communications and computing (green communications), etc.

You have plenty of publications. Which one is your favorite among them and why?

It is a tough question. My favorite one is time varying. That is, new exciting findings often seem to outpace the old favorites as we tend to be more excited in tackling new problems, like folks craving to replace their iphone5 with iphone6. In the past few years, I’ve been researching on making telecommunications infrastructure more energy efficient, and thus one of my recent favorite articles is

T. Han and N. Ansari, “On Optimizing Green Energy Utilization for Cellular Networks with Hybrid Energy Supplies,” IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications, vol. 12, no. 8, pp. 3872-3882, Aug. 2013.

Here, we envision a future cellular network where base stations (BSs) are powered by multiple types of energy sources, such as those from the traditional power grid, solar energy, and wind energy. This means that the BSs can reduce their carbon footprints if they have enough green energy stored in their batteries. Otherwise, BSs can be switched to on-grid energy to serve mobile users. As the society is becoming more conscious about our environment, greening information and communications technology (ICT) is receiving more attention, and this article may attract further follow-up research. Besides, it was reported in the IEEE Communication Society (ComSoc) Communications Technical News, thus reflecting its timeliness, and it was considered as a distinguished paper by the IEEE ComSoc MMTC Reviewer Letter.

Well, the more cited an article seems to be more significant. In this sense, the following article,

Z. Ni, Y.Q. Shi, N. Ansari, and W. Su, “Reversible Data Hiding,” IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems for Video Technology, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 354-362, March 2006.

which has been received more than 1000 citations, should be a favorite one.

You received plenty of awards and recognitions. What are your secrets to achieve those awards and recognitions?

I don’t really know the secrets. I guess honest hard work plays a key role; it is the basic ingredient for success.

What are you currently working on?

I have recently received grant awards from NSF and AT&T Foundation to tackle various issues in green communications and networking. For example, my most recent NSF grant, FreeNet: Cognitive Wireless Networking Powered by Green Energy, aims to liberate wireless access networks from spectral and energy constraints. The limitation of the spectrum is alleviated by exploiting cognitive networking in which wireless nodes sense and utilize the spare spectrum for data communications. The energy constraint is assuaged by powering wireless access networks with green energy. As a result, FreeNet enhances the spectrum and energy efficiency of wireless access networks; hence, it increases the network availability and thus extends emerging network applications.

What books do you like to read aside from engineering books?

I read bible, some biographies, and books on history and economics.

Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

I like all kinds of sports.

Few years from now, what direction do you see yourself?

I will still be working with my students in tackling various emerging problems in communications and networking.

As a professor, what words of encouragement would you give to your students?

Attitude is the key to succeed. Many things are achievable once one is committed to invest their time and effort in pursuance of their goals.

Is there anything you’d like to say to young people to encourage them to pursue Engineering?

Engineering is fun and fulfilling. Besides, there are plenty of well-paid engineering jobs. It is also the most versatile discipline; one can even pursue other non-engineering careers with an engineering degree, but not vice versa.

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