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Luddy School awards IU's first-ever engineering Ph.D. to NSWC Crane employee

By Ken Bikoff, Indiana University | Jan. 8, 2020

Indiana University has bestowed hundreds of thousands of degrees to students during their first two centuries of existence, but it never has awarded a Ph.D. in engineering.

Until now.

The Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering awarded its first ever Ph.D. to Adam Duncan, an electrical engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane). Duncan’s dissertation focused on securing field-programmable gate arrays against post-synthesis attacks.

“It means a lot to me,” Duncan said. “I received a ton of support from my family and from Crane. They let me do this full-time, which means I spent two years away from Crane to come here and devote myself completely to this degree. It’s a big deal.”

Duncan’s research examined the threat of post-synthesis attacks on FPGAs and introduced comprehensive defenses to secure FPGAs. His work with the ISE program at Luddy is the culmination of the first phase of an important partnership between IU, the Luddy School, and Crane.

“I didn’t want to let people down,” Duncan said. “Crane supported me. They invested in me, and I didn’t want them to think they made a bad investment. I have a lot of respect for the faculty at IU. They’re top-notch leaders in their fields, and I didn’t want to misrepresent them and the work we’ve done together, so it was important for me to communicate what we’ve accomplished to everyone during my dissertation defense.”

Martin Swany, a professor and chair of the ISE program at Luddy and one of Duncan’s Ph.D. advisors, has been impressed with Duncan’s drive throughout the process.

“Adam is incredibly diligent and so self-motivated,” Swany said. “He came into the program geared up and ready to do it, and he has worked so hard. He’s a machine, but at the same time, he has helped us create a new area. He also has helped with mentorship for grants for other Ph.D. students, and he has sort of bootstrapped us to be able to do more with this partnership. He’s a singular individual, but he has really helped us hit the ground running in an area where we didn’t have a strength before. Now, the strength is there. He’s a great example to others.”

Duncan will return to Crane in January, but he will continue to work with other students in ISE to help grow the area and the partnership with Crane.

“It’s tremendously important,” Swany said. “ISE had an explicit goal to collaborate with Crane when the program was founded to help with workforce development. This is great for the department and for IU. It symbolizes a new level of collaboration with Crane, especially with us branching into more computer engineering. Adam’s strength underscores the relationship between ISE and Crane, and it shows we’re on the right track. We’re not bidding him farewell, and that will help.”

Crane's relationship with IU has a proud history. Students from Crane have earned 215 Master of Public Affairs degrees from IU, 15 Masters of Electrical and Computing Engineering/EW from IUPUI, and there have been five Ph.D. fellows and one postdoctoral fellowship. Duncan downplays his place in history as the first-ever recipient of an engineering Ph.D. at IU—“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he said—but he’s excited about what’s to come.

“I’m hoping I can grow this research area that we have, which is developing FPGA security techniques and countermeasures,” Duncan said. “I want to grow that research area. I think we have some good ideas. I want to see these ideas be put into practice. I love working with the students and the faculty. I love the area of FPGA security and supporting the global microtronics supply chain in general. I also want to continue to grow our research group and take on bigger problems, come up with more solutions.”

About NSWC Crane

NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.

Join Our Team! NAVSEA employs a highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce - from students and entry level employees to experienced professionals and individuals with disabilities. We support today's sophisticated Navy and Marine Corps ships, aircraft, weapon systems and computer systems. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, IT and cyber specialists, as well as trade and other support professionals to ensure the U.S. Navy can protect and defend America. Please contact NSWC Crane Human Resources at crane_recruiting@navy.mil.

This story has been republished on NSWC Crane's website with permission from Ken Bikoff and Indiana University. Original story can be found here:  https://luddy.indiana.edu/news/story.html?story=Luddy-School-awards-IUs-firstever-engineering-PhD