Students Take Part in WPI's Inaugural Projects in Silicon Valley

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

WORCESTER, Mass. - Worcester Polytechnic Institute students helped launch a new project center this spring in California's Silicon Valley. Led by David Finkel of WPI's Department of Computer Science, three teams worked on sponsored research to fulfill their required Major Qualifying Project.

Silicon Valley is home to some of the nation's most dynamic companies in the computer and high-technology industries. WPI's new Silicon Valley Project Center will expose students to this cutting-edge technology and growing entrepreneurship while providing valuable research for sponsoring companies.

The first teams of Silicon Valley/WPI students worked full-time at their project sponsor's site for about nine weeks, completing the following projects in March of 2000:

"Customer Migration Tools Utilizing Java and XML for Kana Communications Inc." was completed by senior Glenn Barnett, a computer science major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Barnett of Syracuse, N.Y.; senior Christine Lawrence, a computer science major and the daughter of Joyce Mina of Minot, Mass.; and Frederick Tan, a junior biotechnology major and the son of Drs. Jose Manuel and Fely Tan of Trumbull, Conn.

Project sponsor Kana Communications Inc. develops industry-leading applications focused on online customer communication that aids in marketing, sales and service. To increase the likelihood of signing on customers, Kana needed to ease the migration of external data into the Kana Response system. The eXtensible Markup Language (XML), an emerging format for defining and creating standardized, portable documents, was identified as an appropriate technology for Kana's needs. Kana used the WPI project as an opportunity to become involved with XML research and development.

"To adequately test our tools, we designed different testing scenarios to fully test all the aspects of functionality, including data validation, import conflict-handling options and export parameters," wrote the students in their final report.

The second project, "Design and Implementation of the Chemlogger for Microbar Inc.," was completed by three senior electrical engineering majors: Matthew Cole, the son of Mr. and Mrs. S. Michael Cole of Smithfield, R.I.; Brian Donnelly, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Donnelly of Doylestown, Pa., and Nathaniel Wieselquist, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Kermit Wieselquist of Westford, Mass.

Project sponsor Microbar Inc., located in Sunnyvale, Calif., provides photolithography and copper plating chemical delivery as well as waste collection and tracking technologies. To help companies that fabricate computer chips or integrated circuits move into the future, Microbar developed a chemical management and delivery system for fabrication facilities. The system dispenses chemicals from bottles to the wafers of silicon from which integrated circuits are made. Some chemicals used are highly susceptible to corruption due to changes in environmental conditions. To remedy this, Microbar developed an embedded system, known as the Chemlogger, to measure environmental conditions.

The Chemlogger is a data logger, designed by the WPI project team to monitor and store such environmental conditional changes as temperature and tilt of the container. To determine whether the chemical was corrupted during transport, the Chemlogger required a wireless method of communicating with the host chemical delivery system. It was designed to be autonomous, requiring no operator intervention once initialized.

"The complete system and interface to the chemical delivery system were designed by this project team," the students noted in their final report. "Microbar can complete a final implementation...with minimal effort and expense."

The third WPI project, "Filtering Greeting Cards at Sparks.com," was completed by three senior computer science majors: Sharad Bhojnagarwala, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Yogesh Bhojnagarwala of Ahmedabad, India; Michael Sao Pedro, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Carlos Sao Pedro of Revere, Mass.; and Zachary Zebrowski, the son of Mr. and Mrs. George Zebrowski of Windsor, Mass.

The WPI students sought to determine if filtering technology could be used to suggest paper greeting cards appealing to particular buyers at Sparks.com, a startup San Francisco-based Internet company.

"Filtering is the technique of comparing incoming information to the profile of the user's interest and displaying relevant information to the user based on that profile," they noted. The students decided to use collaborative filtering, which uses similarities and dissimilarities among users to determine relevant information.

"Our system (makes) recommendations based upon the opinions of other users who have purchased similar cards," they wrote. "Because Sparks.com has such a vast inventory, users may not (otherwise) be able to readily find the perfect card they want. Sparks.com may also benefit from this from a competitive standpoint because today none of the other online paper greeting card sites use filtering...for recommendations."

WPI, founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students integrate classroom studies with research projects conducted on campus and around the world.