College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Polikar earns College of Engineering alumni award

Robi Polikar (MSEE’95, MSBME’95, PhDEE’00, PhDBME’00) will receive the 2012 Professional Progress in Engineering Award from the College of Engineering at the Marston Club Dinner on April 19. The award was created to recognize outstanding professional progress, personal development, and distinguished community service by engineering alumni under the age of 46.

Polikar received his bachelor’s in electronics and telecommunications engineering with a specialization in biomedical engineering from Istanbul Technical University in 1993. After graduating, he began looking for graduate schools, and stopped at Iowa State during his search.

He received an exceptionally warm welcome from Mary Helen Greer, the chair of the biomedical engineering (BME) program at the time and now professor emeritus. Knowing Polikar’s electrical engineering background, Greer sent his application to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) and asked whether the department would also admit him.

Since he didn’t actually send in an application to ECpE, Polikar was a bit perplexed when received a letter from Iowa State admitting him into the program. Greer later explained what she had done, and told him he could major either in ECpE or BME, or co-major in both. He chose the third option.

He completed his master’s degrees in 1995 with a thesis on novel signal processing and pattern recognition tools for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, an area he continues to study today. He enjoyed Iowa State so much he stayed at the university to pursue his PhD.

While on campus, Polikar also got interested in ballroom and modern dancing and joined Iowa State’s modern dance companies, Orchesis I and Orchesis II, and performed with them in various dance concerts, including the annual gala dance concert Barjche.

During his PhD studies, he continued to focus on areas that interface engineering and medicine, working at the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation as well as the Department of Energy Ames Laboratory to develop electronic noses. In 2000, Polikar received his co-major PhD in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering. He then accepted a position at the newly founded College of Engineering of Rowan University in Southern New Jersey.

The move to Rowan was somewhat risky, as the school’s engineering program was an unknown and not yet accredited program. It was also a primarily undergraduate education program with very little research infrastructure in place and no PhD program. Determined and convinced that high quality research can be done with undergraduate and master level students, Polikar established the Signal Processing and Pattern Recognition Laboratory and started writing proposals.

In 2003, he received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER award, a highly competitive research grant given to new faculty with promising research careers. Polikar’s grant for developing incremental learning algorithms from streaming data, was the first CAREER award received by Rowan faculty.

In 2009, he received a new grant to continue his work on developing intelligent systems that can learn in nonstationary environments, where data characteristics change in time. He also revived his work on early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, collaborating with University of Pennsylvania in multimillion-dollar grants first from National Institutes of Health and then from Pennsylvania’s Department of Health.

Polikar is currently interested in researching ensemble-based intelligent systems and their various novel applications, such as incremental and nonstationary learning, data fusion, and the missing feature problem in automated decision making. More recently, he also started working in brain machine interface and bioinformatics.

He teaches upper level undergraduate and graduate courses in wavelet theory, pattern recognition, neural networks, signal processing, bioinformatics, and biomedical systems.

In 2011, Polikar was promoted to the rank of professor and was appointed chair of the electrical and computer engineering program. He is also tasked with developing a new biomedical engineering program, which Rowan intends to start in fall 2013.

Polikar is a senior member of IEEE and an Associate Editor for IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks and Learning Systems. He is currently in training to become an ABET evaluator.