Excellence in the EE Department: Graduate Student is Awarded Microsoft Research Fellowship

Salma Elmalaki Growing up in Egypt, Salma Elmalaki came from a family of engineers. Her father and her brothers are all electrical engineers and Elmalaki has been interested in the subject since high school. She said she liked how the work done by electrical engineers directly affects people.

After two years as a master student at UCLA, Elmalaki is now in her second year as an electrical engineering PhD student. Her research interests are in designing smart operating systems for various devices and in developing algorithms and system mechanisms to effectively address the challenges that these devices face.

She uses her smart phone as an example to explain her work. Most modern smart phones have 12 to 15 sensors in them that can be used to monitor the person operating the device. For example, these sensors can be used to infer a user’s activity and location. Using these inferences, a smart phone can adapt to the user’s daily behavior in order to enhance their experience. The ability of a device to sense and adapt to its physical environment is called context-awareness.

Elmalaki created a framework that makes it easier for app developers to create apps which utilize context-awareness. In order to build context-aware apps, developers usually need to deal directly with the sensors in a device to determine when conditions have changed, but Elmalaki’s framework, called CAreDroid, allows developers to separate the app’s service to the user from the complex adaptation decisions needed to guide the app. This means that with CAreDroid, developers only need to design an app’s response to certain conditions; the CAreDroid framework deals directly with the sensors and automatically adapts the app’s behavior when the conditions have changed.

In 2015, Elmalaki’s work on CAreDroid was recognized by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking (MobiCom’15). Her paper on CAreDroid won the best paper award and the best community paper award, which is given to the paper that contributes the most to the broader research community.

After winning these awards, Elmalaki applied to the Microsoft Research Fellowship. The highly prestigious fellowship accepts a dozen PhD students from the United States and Canada each year. After six rounds of interviews, she was notified by Microsoft that she had been awarded

the fellowship. A UCLA PhD student has not been a Microsoft Research Fellow since 2009.

This summer, Elmalaki will work with Microsoft researchers in Redmond, Washington. Though Elmalaki doesn’t know if she wants to go into academia or into industry, she is excited for the opportunity to work with Microsoft since it will be a chance to both conduct research and work on product development.

At UCLA, Elmalaki is currently researching how context aware apps can operate privately and securely so that malicious apps do not collect data on users’ actions.