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ECE Faculty Profile: Philip Schniter

What is a theory without practical application? This is a question electrical and computer engineering (ECE) professor Philip Schniter asks while conducting research and teaching students.
Gaining his Ph.D. in ECE from Cornell University, Schniter joined The Ohio State University faculty team shortly after, in 2000, for its reputation, city-like atmosphere, and interesting colleagues.
“I chose Ohio State because it is a prestigious place,” he said. “I also liked the faculty I met when I visited here. I’ve continued to enjoy working with my colleagues.”
Throughout the years, Schniter’s research interests have evolved. Originally finding adaptive filtering and audio intriguing, he now focuses on designing algorithms to extract information from data sets.
Schniter is currently working on message-passing algorithms, which he said are akin to studying large collections of molecules. Since analyzing each molecule is very difficult, most researchers study their average behavior. This statistical physics based analysis, he said, actually has a connection to ECE and computer science engineering (CSE) work.
“It turns out there are a lot of analogies between looking at the average behavior of a large collection of random molecules and high dimensional problems that are of interest in electrical engineering and computer science,” he said. “By high dimensional, I mean you’re trying to recover some data that has many degrees of freedom.”
Schniter’s work now combines theory and methods; two STEM areas with boundaries blurred through the evolution of researchers’ interest, technology, and theories.  
“Several research communities have converged,” he said. “In my corner of ECE, we study things related to computer science, applied mathematics, theoretical statistics, and statistical physics. When I started here 17 years ago, ECE was not as strongly connected to these other fields. Over time, things change.”
But like any engineer knows, change and evolution are vital for creating a more efficient future. Schniter hopes his work will advance the world of engineering, health, and science.
“In my research group, we try to push forward certain frontiers of knowledge,” he said. “We try to come up with more efficient and accurate ways of recovering information in many different applications; it could be wireless communication, it could be medical imaging, or it could be extracting information from large data sets more generally. A lot of the same theories and tools can be applied to these seemingly different problems.”
Apart from research, Schniter has published numerous papers and in 2016 won an IEEE Signal Processing Society “Best Paper Award." He’s also created many classes, like the Ph.D. course he currently teaches, which focuses on signal processing and understanding the interface between the analog and digital worlds through the branch of mathematics known as Hilbert spaces.
Overall, his passion for research, teaching, and brainstorming with other colleagues makes his work at Ohio State enjoyable.
“The best part about being a faculty member is you keep learning,” he said. “You’re always learning something new and you get to choose what you want to learn. And you get to work with smart colleagues and students. It’s just always fun.”

Article by ECE Student Public Relations Writer Lydia Freudenberg