Research and Innovation

Connective solutions

By making collaboration across multi-expertise, inclusive research networks a seamless reality, we are eliminating the silos that have limited the power of academic research to resolve real-world problems.

  • 272%

    increase in external research awards since 2006

  • 67%

    increase in research collaborations with external partners, 2011–2019

Powering human-centered solutions

Putting our perception of color into words

How we perceive color depends on its surrounding context and whether we interpret that background as light or shadow. At Northeastern in Boston and London, researchers in color psychophysics and computer science are pooling their expertise to learn why. “We want to understand how signals in the retina’s cone photoreceptors relate to one’s interpretation of light as color,” says Professor Rhea Eskew (at left), whose work with Dimitris Mylonas (center) and Alexandros Koliousis (right) at NCH, and Andrew Stockman at University College London, is enabled by a Northeastern grant. “Understanding how color terms are used across languages has implications for understanding cognition and communicating about color—important when designing and interpreting computer graphics.”

Autonomy for visually impaired passengers

Self-driving cars could revolutionize transportation. Visually impaired people stand to benefit greatly, but they’ll need tools that will enable them to locate the right vehicle, stay oriented inside the cabin as it changes direction, and safely enter and exit. Northeastern’s Shelley Lin, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is developing deep learning, self-teaching algorithms to take on these challenges. She’s collaborating with researchers from the Virtual Environments and Multimodal Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maine who study human-technology interaction. One day, she imagines, artificial intelligence will process images of passengers as they move about the cabin, responding to their voice commands and hand gestures in real time without the need for power-hungry external computer systems.

Examining gender inequities in drug efficacy

Why do women have adverse drug reactions nearly twice as often as men? Because pharmaceuticals are tested in male laboratory animals, says Northeastern Associate Professor of Psychology Rebecca Shansky (at left), who studies sex differences in the brain. Shansky has helped debunk the myth that hormone variants in females complicate research more than in males. She advocates using both sexes, as the National Institutes of Health has required of grant applicants since 2016. In Nature Neuroscience, she and Georgia State University neuroscience professor Anne Z. Murphy (right) argue that absent enforcement, male-only studies will lead to less rigorous science and harmful outcomes for women.

Inroads against a neglected tropical disease

A faculty collaboration sparked the development of a treatment and research center in Baringo, Kenya, for visceral leishmaniasis, a parasitic infection that annually afflicts as many as 90,000 of the world’s poor. In 2011, Richard Wamai, associate professor of cultures, societies, and global studies (at left), and Michael Pollastri, professor of chemistry and chemical biology (now also senior vice provost of the Roux Institute, at right), resolved to jointly study infectious diseases in Wamai’s native Kenya. Seeded by university grants, they convened health and government experts in Nairobi and surveyed rural populations for infections. That work helped launch Northeastern’s Integrated Initiative for Global Health, Baringo’s center, and soon, Wamai hopes, an ointment devised by the U.S. military to treat cutaneous leishmaniasis.

Establishing Northeastern’s leadership in wireless innovation

The Federal Communications Commission designated Northeastern University as the nation’s fourth Spectrum Innovation Zone, greatly expanding the capacity of university researchers and partners to research and develop groundbreaking 6G and other wireless communications and sensing technologies. The move strengthens the university as a leader and innovator in wireless research, said Tommaso Melodia, the William Lincoln Smith Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of Northeastern’s Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things. “This is a big deal,” FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said. “When you give innovators in the United States sandboxes to test new ideas, good things follow.”

  • $166.3M

    in research expenditures, 2020–2021

  • 338

    research funding awards of $1M+ since 2006

Future of innovation

Andrea Unzueta-Martinez, PhD’21

Saving marine ecosystems under threat

A high school science trip to Plum Island, Massachusetts, sparked Andrea Unzueta-Martinez’s love of marine life. Now a doctoral candidate at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center, she combines ecology and marine biology to investigate oysters’ microbiomes—the collection of tiny organisms on and inside of animals that are essential to animal health. This work could help protect oyster communities—and the fishing industries that rely on them—from accelerating threats such as disease and environmental degradation. Crucial to Unzueta-Martinez’s research was three months she spent at Port Stephens Fisheries Institute in Australia through a prestigious National Science Foundation grant. “I worked with scientists in more applied fields and gained exposure to the many types of research conducted at aquaculture facilities.”

Syed Arefinul Haque, PhD’21

Networks offer insight that’s universal

Syed Arefinul Haque thinks network scientists like him are uniquely suited to work across disciplines: “Network science is a mix of math, physics, computer science, social sciences …we’re trained to understand different ‘languages’ and work in different areas.” Haque has already applied his acumen to a variety of research projects as a Northeastern doctoral candidate. He’s helped develop models of how infectious diseases move from household to household and beyond. He’s used data to examine potential gender and racial bias in COVID-19 news coverage and research initiatives. And he’s investigated how ideas about gender and racial equality spread across academic institutions “and carry a seed of transformation.” Next up for Haque is a Food and Drug Administration fellowship analyzing health data to determine which people are most susceptible to opioid addiction.

Jordie Kamuene, PhD’23

Improving public health, promoting justice

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordie Kamuene saw that a lack of strong public health programs could lead to otherwise preventable diseases and death. The experience drove her aspirations to improve health outcomes and equity. As a doctoral student working in Assistant Professor Leigh Plant’s lab, Kamuene examines how proteins in the heart affect important cardiac functions. “We work with Northeastern’s Center for Drug Discovery and faculty across campus, and these collaborations help us think about problems in new ways,” she says. Kamuene is now on an Experiential PhD assignment with pharmaceutical giant Amgen—another step toward her career ambition: working at the intersection of public health and social justice.

Guillermo Hernandez, PhD’24

Applying machine learning to natural disasters

Guillermo Hernandez is fascinated by machine learning: using data and algorithms to improve computer systems and artificial intelligence. As a doctoral candidate and research assistant in Northeastern’s SPIRAL (Signal Processing, Imaging, Reasoning, and Learning) labs, he harnesses the computing power of advanced neural networks to identify ways to track humans’ locations faster, more easily, and more accurately through mobile devices. The goal of this work, which involves close collaboration with computer scientists and cryptographers, is to develop better technologies to find and save people in emergency situations, such as fires and earthquakes. Says Hernandez, who earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern: “It’s exciting that this type of research could be used to improve disaster response.”

  • 78%

    increase since 2010 in the percentage of applicants admitted to PhD programs who then enroll

  • 38

    current PhD students have NSF Graduate Fellowships, nearly four-fold the number in 2016

Expanding our knowledge base

  • 802

    tenured/tenure-track hires since 2006, including 56 in 2020–2021

Excellence without boundaries

Tina Eliassi-Rad

Professor of Computer Sciences; core faculty member, Network Science Institute and Institute for Experiential AI
Selected one of the 100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics for 2021, Women in AI Ethics

Eliassi-Rad’s research lies at the intersection of artificial intelligence and network science. Her algorithms have been integrated into systems used by government and industry, as well as open-source software. Her selection was based on her strong advocacy for responsible AI and greater diversity in computer science and related fields.

Ari Ezra Waldman

Professor of Law and Computer Sciences; director, Center of Law, Information, and Creativity, Northeastern School of Law and the Khoury College of Computer Sciences
The World’s Top 50 Thinkers 2020, Prospect

Waldman is a leading authority on law, technology and society, with particular focus on privacy, misinformation, and the LGBTQ community. The Prospect editors noted that he “stands out as a mind who can grapple with every side—technological, legal and sociological—of the multifaceted problem of privacy in a digital age.”

Vincent Harris

University Distinguished Professor and William Lincoln Smith Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering 
Jefferson Science Fellow, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 

Harris has made significant advances in the development of materials used in applications such as radar and communications, power electronics, and medical diagnostics and therapeutics. As a Jefferson Science Fellow, he will provide technological expertise to help shape U.S. policy on recycling, end-of-life plastics, coal as a power source, and supply chain dynamics of critical materials.

David Luzzi

Senior Vice Provost for Research; Vice President, Innovation Campus; and Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
Fellow, National Academy of Inventors

Luzzi was recognized by the NAI for his leadership of Northeastern’s research enterprise. He has spearheaded the development of the university’s Innovation Campus at Burlington, Massachusetts, as a focal point for the commercialization of research discoveries in biotechnology, communications, sensing, materials science, and manufacturing—amplified by the participation of more than 70 academic, industry, and government partners.

Valentine Moghadam

Professor of Sociology and International Affairs
Kluge Chair in the Countries and Cultures of the South, The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress

Moghadam’s research focuses on globalization, social movements, and feminist networks in the Middle East and North Africa. The Kluge Chair, which recognizes her scholarly accomplishments and intellectual and communication abilities, will give Moghadam the opportunity to advance a new project: exploring varieties of feminism in the Middle East and North Africa.

Heather Clark

Professor of Bioengineering and Chemistry and Chemical Biology; director, Institute for the Chemical Imaging of Living Systems
Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

Clark focuses on the development of chemical imaging nanosensors to measure concentrations of ions and small molecules at the cellular level, as well as in living tissue. She was nominated for her development of nanoscale optical probes for chemical imaging. Only 2% of researchers in medical and bioengineering are elected AIMBE Fellows.

  • 13

    faculty earned awards for early career achievement, including 9 National Science Foundation CAREER Awards

Fueling invention

Accelerating Maine’s economy

The first cohort of 10 startup companies has been chosen for the Roux Institute Techstars Accelerator, an immersive entrepreneurship program to bring startup companies to Portland, Maine, help them build their businesses, and strengthen the regional economy. The initiative was launched in February through a partnership between Northeastern’s Roux Institute and Techstars, a leading accelerator provider and global network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. The 13-week program—designed for high-growth technology companies from around the world—will provide funding, mentoring, and teaching in how to acquire and serve new customers, grow their talent pipeline, and attract additional resources and investors.

Making smartphones more powerful

Smartphones use deep neural networks—a type of artificial intelligence—to sharpen videos, perform facial recognition, and detect hand gestures. These tasks must be processed on remote servers due to the computing power and memory required. But in a potential game-changer for phones and applications such as self-driving cars and IoT devices, a research team from universities in the U.S. and abroad, led by Assistant Professor Yanzhi Wang, has devised a method for enabling real-time AI on mobile devices themselves. They have formed a startup, CoCoPIE, based on their technology, which has already been licensed to eight companies.

Bringing clean electricity to Nigeria

Northeastern graduate Natasha Ibori co-founded Uwana Energy in 2020 to provide clean, affordable solar energy to Nigeria. The country produces little renewable energy, while 43 percent of Nigerians lack access to grid electricity. Uwana Energy is trying to fill these gaps; it sells, installs, and maintains rooftop solar panels, and offers loan-to-own financing. Ibori’s interdisciplinary education and experiences have helped shape her entrepreneurial journey. She studied international affairs and social entrepreneurship, graduating in 2018, and worked at financial institutions in Boston and Lagos, Nigeria. She’s also taken advantage of Northeastern’s entrepreneurship ecosystem through the McCarthy(s) Venture Mentoring Network and IDEA, the student-led venture accelerator. She also received a $10,000 award for Uwana Energy from the Women Who Empower entrepreneurship initiative.

AI helping to track ocean fish stocks

To maintain the health of America’s marine fisheries, highly trained observers must watch hours of video footage to gather a literal boatload of data on each catch. New England Marine Monitoring hopes to revolutionize this painstaking process with vital help from Northeastern’s Roux Institute, in Portland, Maine. NEMM plans to use machine vision-based artificial intelligence to speed up video review time without sacrificing accuracy. The Roux Institute’s leadership team assisted by connecting NEMM with two Northeastern professors to make the technology work. NEMM was also selected for the institute’s first cohort of startups for its Founder Residency, a yearlong venture advising program that aided NEMM’s acquisition by an investment firm. The program enabled NEMM to create a co-op position for a Northeastern computer science student, who developed a tool for determining how NEMM’s innovative monitoring system could be improved.