Engineering Fresh Faces: Rong Zheng

McMaster engineering professor Rong Zheng sits at her desk

Photo by Kareem Baassiri

Welcome to Fresh Faces. In this series, we’re highlighting 43 Engineering faculty members, all hired within the last five years, who are doing interesting and innovative things in the lab and the classroom.

Rong Zheng is a professor and associate chair in the department of Computing and Software. She joined McMaster in 2013. Here, she talks about her work, her passion for being outside and what her mom taught her about freedom.

On her work

Sensing connectivity and intelligence

There’s a banner of me outside the Engineering building with three words on it: sensing, connectivity and intelligence – that pretty much sums up my work. For example, we’ve developed a platform that integrate sensors to monitor a data centre 24/7. This platform combines wireless transceivers (e.g. Blu-tooth, wifi), humidity and temperature sensors, as well as an airflow sensor to help making intelligent decisions about IT workload placement and DCs’ cooling schedule.

But that’s not all we do. Hardware platforms allow us to take measurements of physical or biological environments. More importantly, we need to develop algorithms to interpret and sensor data and extract information – for example, the location of the targets you’re tracking, or understanding human activities and interactions. Eventually, the high-level intelligence collected from the sensor data will be used for decision-making – so it’s an end-to-end solution.

On her big goals for the next five years

I’m in a transition phase right now – I was promoted to full professor starting July 1, so I’m looking for the next big thing.

I’m very interested in working on something having to do with health and the aging population.

I’m part of the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA), and I’ve been involved in a recent proposal regarding AI and health – the devices and algorithms I’ve worked on can definitely find applications in health.

On what makes her proud

Our work has the potential to make real-world impacts. I admire theoreticians – they laid the foundation for a lot of the principles that we apply in our work.

There’s always a little voice in my head saying, what’s the real problem, and what difference can I make now?

On her mom

There are a lot of people who are my role models, but by far the most influential person in my life is my mom. She guided me to pursue my interests in science and engineering from a young age.

Most importantly, she taught me early on that freedom is the most important thing.

Not freedom in the political sense, but in terms of personal choices. Freedom to choose my own profession, freedom to work on problems that I found most interesting, freedom not to only work 9 to 5, freedom to live where I want. The importance of freedom was something she learned from her own life experience, then she passed it on to me.

On biking

I’m a very outdoorsy person – I bike almost every day. I have a winter bike with studded tires, so I can bike about 300 days out of the year. I don’t cover a lot of mileage, though, because I live close to campus!

In the lab, I…

Work with computers and devices – they’re not the traditional lab you’d see in chemistry or biology. I work with my students, help them troubleshoot, discuss ideas and come up with solutions to problems.

Outside the lab, I…

Play hard!

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