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Two UW-Madison alumni among top-10 Pop-Sci geniuses

Photo of Leo Walton, Justin Williams, and Adam Wilson.
Student Leo Walton wearing the electrode cap. Adam Wilson (seated in the foreground) and Justin Williams (standing). Larger Image

The November 2009 edition of Popular Science magazine recognized two University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering alumni as two of its “Brilliant 10,” the 10 young geniuses shaking up science today.

J. Adam Wilson, who earned a PhD in biomedical engineering in May 2009 under UW-Madison Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Justin Williams, researches brain-computer interface technologies. Someday, these technologies could enable people with “locked-in” conditions, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, to communicate.

In April 2009, Wilson demonstrated a manageable application for brain-computer interface technology when he posted an update to the social networking site Twitter, using only his thoughts.

At UW-Madison, the brain-computer interface system employs an electrode-studded cap wired to a computer. The electrodes detect electrical signals in the brain — essentially, thoughts — and translate them into physical actions, such as a cursor motion on a computer screen. Wilson is continuing his research of brain-computer interface technologies at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York.

Photo of Dennis Hong.
Dennis Hong (BSME ’94), Associate Professor, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia. Larger Image

The iconic Star Wars robots R2D2 and C-3PO captured alumnus Dennis Hong’s interest in robotics. Hong, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UW-Madison in 1994, honed that interest and sharpened his robotics expertise under Mechanical Engineering Professor Emeritus John Uicker. Today, Hong is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, where he and his students develop intricate robots with artificial intelligence through the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.

In addition to creating such devices as a dexterous robotic hand and a three-legged walking robot dubbed STriDER, Hong is perfecting a humanoid called CHARLI, short for cognitive humanoid autonomous robot with learning intelligence. He and his students are using the robot to study human locomotion.

Engineering External Relations
10/22/2009