Profile of a Collaborative Researcher

Tommaso Melodia

Tommaso Melodia, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering currently directs the Wireless Networks and Embedded Systems Laboratory (WiNES) at Northeastern.

Aspiring to change the world of biomedical devices through the Internet of Things and Wireless Networks, Melodia believes in simplifying healthcare by fostering relationships with industry and commercializing his research. “Translation of research to product and reaching the people is what truly drives me,” he says.

Domains of research

Melodia’s lab carries out research in multiple domains ranging from modeling, optimization, and control of wireless network communication systems to ultrasonic intra-body networks for biomedical application. The lab also focuses on: a) underwater networks; b) software-defined, cognitive, and cooperative networks, and c) wireless multimedia sensor networks.

How things are. How they can be

Current Medical devices often have lag time and non-optimal, less functional mechanisms which leave room for significant improvement. Says Melodia, “Wirelessly networked systems of intra-body sensors and actuators are believed to enable revolutionary applications at the intersection between biomedical science, networking, and control with a strong potential to advance medical treatment of major diseases of our times.”

Yet, he notes, most research to date has focused on communication among devices interconnected through traditional electromagnetic radio-frequency (RF) carrier waves. Melodia observes, “The main obstacle to enabling this vision of networked implantable devices is posed by the physical nature of propagation in the human body, composed primarily of water (65%), through which RF electromagnetic waves are notoriously hard to propagate, even at relatively low frequencies.”

The WiNES lab takes a different approach — investigating and employing ultrasonic waves to wirelessly connect intra-body devices.

Collaborating for purposeful impact

Melodia believes in having a purpose, a drive, and a vision while conducting research. He strongly believes that cutting edge research capable of directly improving human life should not grow stale in a lab. To advance his work, he identifies pesky industry problems and aligns his research accordingly.

This practice marks Melodia as a champion of collaborative research and has positioned his lab to form successful partnerships across academia and industry. A current example is his partnership with Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR), an organization funded by the National Science Foundation and a consortium of 28 leading companies and associations that enables “experimental exploration of robust new wireless devices that will revolutionize the nation’s wireless ecosystem while sustaining US leadership and economic competitiveness for decades to come.”*

Melodia’s role in the partnership with PAWR, is extensive. He provides oversight for technological development and direction, while ensuring alignment with PAWR’s vision of “developing a shared, open, usable, diverse experimental facility that will support groundbreaking research in wireless networking.”*

Partnership provides focus …

Industrial partnerships inject life and excitement to research and provides Melodia with focus. He states:

“We do cool things in the lab and have cool ideas. We create and innovate things that will exist in the real world maybe 10 years down the line. In academia we have the space to think out of the box without paying heed to outcomes. Industry brings us down, back to our feet.”

For Melodia, engaging with industry helps propel academics to think more objectively about their research and mould it to be more reproducible. This reproducibility brings about increasingly sophisticated data and improved troubleshooting opportunities.

… and mutual benefit

From Melodia’s perspective, a partnering philosophy revolving around compatibility is central to the commercialization of technology. “A partnership in academia or in industry is like a marriage,” he says, continuing, “both parties have to want to have the same vision. Collaboration should benefit both parties at the table and everyone should walk away happy.”

Empowered by Northeastern

Melodia appreciates how Northeastern has facilitated the translation, collaboration, and propagation of his research. Also, it has empowered him to become a professor, a researcher, and an entrepreneur all at the same time.

Sitting in his office at ISEC, Northeastern’s newest architectural landmark, Melodia smiles and says, “I get to do what I love. I get to present what I do. And I get to make a change with what I present. I have had nothing short of a fulfilling journey here at Northeastern.”

Want more Melodia?

Click to watch him speak about research capabilities in IoT

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Written by Divya Parikh

*Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) website

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