UA College of Engineering Names Janet Roveda 2017 da Vinci Fellow

Electrical and computer engineer is honored for multidisciplinary research projects bringing millions in funding dollars to the University of Arizona.

Janet Roveda works with data -- for more powerful supercomputers, more efficient solar-powered homes, mammography machines better able to detect cancer, pacemakers more immune to hacking, and apps that help children get more sleep.

In recognition of her far-reaching research contributions, Roveda, a University of Arizona professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, has received the 2017 da Vinci Fellowship from the UA College of Engineering.

Each year, the College selects one member of the faculty to receive the award for excellence in teaching or research. The fellowship includes a one-time grant of  $10,000 to support work in either area.

The focus of this year’s award was faculty members who play critical roles in campuswide multidisciplinary research that has generated major funding for the entire University.

“To design and develop many of the new technologies, you need a team,” said Roveda, a member of the UA BIO5 Institute whose research collaborators come not only from several departments in the College of Engineering but also from the UA colleges of Optical Science, Science, Education, and Medicine.

An ‘Electric’ Collaborator

Roveda’s research focuses on improving data acquisition and management for biomedical applications, smart grids for renewable energy, and reliable, energy-efficient supercomputing at the nanoscale.

In the past six years alone she brought more than $2.3 million in external funding to the University from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Air Force, Army and Naval research offices.

One frequent research collaborator is Linda Powers, Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair for Bioengineering in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“She is amazing to work with,” said Powers, whose projects with Roveda include developing mobile devices for detecting pathogens in blood and designing technologies for higher-resolution mammography image processing.

With Powers’s expertise in designing sensors to collect biomedical data and Roveda’s skill designing software to compress, analyze and store the data, the researchers have recently turned their focus to creating health-monitoring wearable devices. Roveda presented their biomedical wearables research in April 2017 at the SPIE Defense and Commercial Sensing conference in Anaheim, California.

“Janet is a collaborator who brings a wealth of talent, knowledge and energy to her research efforts,” Powers said. “These attributes make working with her fun and a delightful learning experience. It’s very electric working with her.”

Not Driven by Data Alone

Roveda, the mother of two preteens, juggles her hefty research and teaching loads -- courses include analog and digital circuit design -- with outreach to inspire girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, through organizations such as Women in Science and Engineering and the Society of Women Engineers.

One of her research projects also has a heavy STEM-education component. With Michelle Perfect, associate professor of disability and psychoeducational studies in the College of Education, Roveda is conducting the largest-ever sleep study on elementary school students’ sleep habits and STEM learning. 

Dubbed the Z-Factor project, the study -- with an interactive and engaging data-driven web application called MySleep and health-monitoring wearable watches -- is tracking the sleep habits of hundreds of children in Tucson, Arizona. The project promotes healthy sleep habits while getting its young participants excited about science. Roveda and Perfect are looking to expand the project to a school district in Phoenix.

Beyond her own research, Roveda is advancing others’ work, as associate editor for IEEE Circuits and Systems Magazine and as chair on several committees for conferences sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

She is also an avid inventor and entrepreneur. With help from Tech Launch Arizona, the UA office that commercializes inventions stemming from University research, she has filed five utility and provisional patents and co-founded two companies based on her UA-developed technology.

Roveda earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from the East China Institute of Technology and Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, respectively, and master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. She worked at Intel and Silicon Perspective/Cadence Design Group before joining the UA College of Engineering faculty in 2003.

Since then, she has received the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award, the NSF’s highest honor for junior faculty members, and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Despite her high-powered career and mounting pile of honors, Roveda is undaunted and lacks pretension.

“As long as my research is fun and brings some contribution to society, I am happy,” she said.

She is happy, too, to receive the 2017 da Vinci award and appreciates the additional prestige it will bring to her professionally. But she doubts it will bring her much cachet with her children.

“They call it my ‘geek award,’” she said. “Kids keep you humble.”

The da Vinci Fellowship is supported by the da Vinci Circle, the UA College of Engineering’s top giving society that invests in College research, scholarships, fellowships and unrestricted support.

Roveda, the 14th College of Engineering faculty member to be named da Vinci fellow, was formally honored at the 2017 da Vinci Circle Dinner in April 2017.

2017 da Vinci Student Scholars

Each year, the College of Engineering also awards da Vinci student scholarships to at least 10 exceptional students. This year’s winners are:

2017 da Vinci scholarsBrett Conway engineering management
Jim Encinas
mechanical engineering
David Malboeuf
electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering
Joshua Malzahn
chemical engineering
Alexander Marshall
systems and industrial engineering, mechanical engineering
Alexander Mccarthy
aerospace engineering
Brent Miller
biomedical engineering
Andrew Rocha
optical sciences and engineering
Regdy Vera
systems engineering
Seth Werly
electrical and computer engineering