In the Spotlight: Mingmin Zhao and Building a Bridge Between Machine Learning and Monitoring Health

In the past year, the Department of Computer and Information Science has welcomed an unprecedented number of academic professionals to join Penn’s faculty. One of the Assistant Professor’s who has joined both CIS and ESE this past Fall is Mingmin Zhao, an MIT graduate with a PhD focusing on building wireless sensing systems with artificial intelligence.

The collaboration between CIS and a number of departments at Penn is what encouraged Zhao to further his research and teaching career here.

“Penn provides a fertile ground for interdisciplinary research not only within the CIS department but also with other departments, including ESE, medical school, nursing school, etc.” said Zhao, “I am very excited about collaborating with people at Penn and working on highly-impactful interdisciplinary research.”

Zhao’s research interests include building wireless sensing systems that can capture a human’s functionality through physical surfaces. He explains that his research “uses machine learning to interpret and analyze wireless reflections to detect humans through walls, track their movements, and recognize their actions, enabling a form of x-ray vision.”

“Through-Wall Human Pose Estimation Using Radio Signals”
Mingmin Zhao, Tianhong Li, Mohammad Abu Alsheikh, Yonglong Tian, Hang Zhao, Antonio Torralba, Dina Katabi,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

With these wireless sensing systems, he has also developed a way for healthcare professionals to track a person’s functions including sleep, respiration, and heart rate. “These technologies allow us to continuously and without contact monitor people’s health without wearable sensors or physical contact with the user.” In the startup he joined after graduating, Zhao stated that they are building upon his own research to “work with pharmaceutical companies to run clinical trials in people’s homes.”

“Learning Sleep Stages from Radio Signals: A Conditional Adversarial Architecture”
Mingmin Zhao, Shichao Yue, Dina Katabi, Tommi Jaakkola, Matt Bianchi,
MIT & Massachusetts General Hospital

When asked about what made him passionate about the work that he does, Zhao explained that he is passionate about developing sensing tech that focuses on better understanding humans and their wellbeing.

“New sensing technologies (e.g., contactless monitoring of physiological signals) could help doctors understand various diseases and how patients are doing after taking medications,” said Zhao. “They could enable new digital health and precision medicine solutions that improve people’s life.”

Mingmin Zhao is currently teaching CIS 7000 focusing on wireless mobile sensing and building AIoT (Artificial-intelligence Internet of Things) systems. He is looking forward to educating his students to apply what they have learned in building “hardware-software systems” to solving practical problems that can impact the world.


Penn Alumni offers a series of “Antiracist Education and Action” programs

Graphic for Penn Spectrum on the Road event, “Black Lives Matter: Understanding the Reason Behind Protest and Unrest,” scheduled for 07/14/2020, 7-9PM EST.

Given the current racial tensions and incidents involving police brutality around the country, the Penn Alumni’sAntiracist Education and Action” series is timely and important. Starting as soon as tomorrow, the events range from a Zoom chat with Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith (Penn ’97) as he answers questions about his latest Black Lives Matter-centered cover story, to a discussion of the importance of Penn Alumni’s James Brister Society. The series has come into fruition concurrently with the announcement of Raymond S. Markowitz President’s Distinguished Professor CJ Taylor as Penn Engineering’s inaugural Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Find the full listing of events (to date) below.

Zoom Q&A with Penn Alum and Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 6:00 PM PT/9:00 PM ET
Join Penn Club LA and Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith (Penn ’97) for a timely and topical discussion on Tuesday, June 30 at 6 pm PT. Jamil will discuss his recent cover story in Rolling Stone (The Power of Black Lives Matter) and issues relating to the current social justice movement around Black Lives Matter and racial inequity in America.
Host: Penn Club of Los Angeles
Featuring: Jamil Smith C’97 
Click here to register. – –

La Casa Latina Combating Anti-Blackness Book Club

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 6:00 PM EDT
Please join us in reading and discussing: Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis. Join us Tuesday, June 30 at 6pm EST for a virtual discussion on the book!
Please RSVP at to receive Zoom link.
Host: La Casa Latina
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Solidarity and Allyship: LGBTQ and Black Communities

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 8:00 PM EDT
Due to Covid-19 and civil unrest in the country, this year’s PennGALA / YaleGALA annual Pride party has been rescheduled and in its place, we will be hosting a conversation about Pride, allyship and solidary between the Black and LGBTQ communities. We invite you to participate in the conversation as our speakers take us on a journey to explore how we can support and advance our communities. Click here to register. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Host: PennGALA & YaleGALA
Featuring: Malik Muhammad, Associate Director of the LGBT Center and Thomas Simsarian Dolan, Yale C’05 
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Diversity at Penn: An Introduction to The James Brister Society

July 9, 2020 | 7:00 PM EDT
Our speakers will discuss Diversity & Inclusion, their experience as Penn students, and the importance of the James Brister Society.
Host: James Brister Society, Penn Club of San Francisco
Featuring: Trustee Ramanan Raghavendran, ENG’89, W’89, LPS’15, Trustee Patricia Martin, MD, M’85, Trustee Michael Barrett, ENG’89
Click here to register. 
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Black Lives Matter: Understanding the Reason Behind Protest and Unrest

July 14, 2020 | 7:00 PM EDT
With a focus on current events, police brutality, juvenile justice, and prison reform how are activists today forging change for our communities?
Host: Penn Spectrum on the Road
Speakers: Sara Reese Lomax, C’87, Judith Browne Dianis, W’87
Click here to register. 
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Penn Alumni Reading Club

Discussion will be held in August – date and time to be announced soon
Host: Black Alumni Society, Alumni Education


Senior Design Presentations Highlight Creativity and Perseverance in Uncertain Times

By Ebonee Johnson

A still from video footage of Team 17 demonstrating their design, Personalizing Physical Therapy via Muscular Feedback.

On Friday, April 24th, CIS students gathered to present their projects at the Spring 2020 Senior Design Alumni Presentations

Due to the current COVID-19 crisis and its subsequent effects, “gathered” took on a virtual connotation: Seniors were asked to attend using video call platform Zoom.

CIS Associate Professor Ani Nenkova facilitated the event, and despite a few technical difficulties, Penn perseverance prevailed. Robert Zajac, one of 14 panelists, believes that the presentations shone bright although communication during these final months of development must have been undoubtedly more difficult.

“Ordinarily you would have a more human element when seeing the project in person,” said Zajac. “But I think the understanding among everyone is that we have to just do the best we can and try extra hard to have empathy for each other.”

Students were separated into breakout rooms (or sessions) on the call, with 3-4 teams presenting in each session for a group of assigned panelists. The seniors utilized PowerPoints to demonstrate their work via frontend and backend analysis, algorithm and tech evaluation, and planned improvements.

Team members included Jack Buttimer, Matthew Kongsiri and Siyuan Liu (Team 7) introduced an interface they called Newsfluence, which hopes to help users recognize their own biases by allowing them to see how media outlets are comparatively reporting. Studies that the group encountered suggested that those who are most susceptible to fake news are “tech illiterate,” so their most prioritized metrics included interface friendliness, intuitiveness and seamlessness.

Like Newsfluence, many of the groups have working models of the projects currently available.

The Online OH Queue project – winner in the social impact category and created by team members Steven Bursztyn, Christopher Fischer, Monal Garg, Karen Shen and Marshall Vail (Team 19) – has already been effectively helping students and faculty schedule electronic office hours during this global crisis.

“It is rare in this class to have a project deployed and used by 1000+ people before the end of the Spring semester,” said Nenkova via email. “This year is a first for that.” 

Zajac, who received both his BSE and MSE in Computer Science in 2019, sat in on the presentation of a document reader called CoParse. Group members Jacob Beckerman, Josh Doman, Sarah Herman and James Xue (Team 5) posed the question, “What if we could navigate contracts like we navigate the web?” and replied with an app that allowed for just that. The project was awarded the panel’s technical sophistication honor.

“CoParse was a smart legal document reader that used natural language processing to build a rich representation of documents,” said Zajac. “It was impressive because the team received interest from industry in trying the product, which is not always common for senior design projects.”

Zajac, currently a Software Engineer with company Two Sigma, imparts words of wisdom to future presenters:

“Start your presentation with the problem you’re solving and explain why it’s meaningful! If we don’t first agree on why the problem is meaningful, we can’t begin to talk about the technical solution.”

The complete list of winners is as follows:

Technical sophistication: Team 5 (Jacob Beckerman, Josh Doman, Sarah Herman and James Xue): CoParse: Performance-enhancing document reader for legal contracts

Creativity: Team 14 (Alexander Chea, Yi Ching, Vijay Ramanujan, Anelia Valtchanova, Leon Wu): Gamifying Physical Therapy Using Virtual Reality

Societal impact: Team 19 (Steven Bursztyn, Christopher Fischer, Monal Garg, Karen Shen, Marshall Vail): Online OH Queue

Alumni’s choice: Team 16 (Suyog Bobhate, Tsz Lam, William Sun, Zeyu Zhao, Zhilei Zheng): Data Synchronization

Click HERE for a full list of participants and panelists