Locating Aircraft Wrecks via Molecular Signals

Locating Aircraft Wrecks via Molecular Signals

Dr. H. Birkan Yılmaz, a faculty member of the Department of Computer Engineering Department at Boğaziçi University, is conducting a project titled "Molecular Signal Source Localization for Underwater and Medical Applications". This young scientist, who focuses on the molecular communication, has moved from Spain to Turkey to join Boğaziçi University via the TÜBİTAK 2232 program. Dr. Yılmaz emphasizes that the Computer Engineering Department at Boğaziçi University embodies one of the best Nanonetworking research groups in the world.

In the project, which started in 2020 and is planned to last for three years, the aim is to implement innovative applications by using communication theory, fluid dynamics, and medical science within the scope of molecular communications technology. Various different applications, from determining the location of the submerged aircraft wreck to pinpointing the source of a chemical leakage in pipelines passing through the sea floor or localizing cancer cells, are expected to come to life with molecular communications technologies in an interdisciplinary approach. Yılmaz continues the test processes related to the project at the Telecommunications and Information Technologies Application and Research Center located in Kandilli Campus.

Molecular communications and wireless technologies constitute the major research interests of Dr. Birkan Yılmaz who returned to Turkey from abroad in 2019 via the TUBITAK 2232 program. Yılmaz, who graduated from Boğaziçi University Mathematics Department in 2002 and completed his master's and PhD degrees in Computer Engineering at Boğaziçi University, worked as a senior researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Spain and as a post-doctoral fellow at the Yonsei Institute of Convergence Technology in South Korea. We received information from Yılmaz about his research titled "Molecular Signal Source Localization for Underwater and Medical Applications". 


First of all, what should be understood when it comes to Molecular Communication. Can we get some brief information?


Molecular communication (MC) is used in multicellular organisms in nature to establish organized behavior through molecules. In recent years, simultaneous studies have been carried out to design MC systems at different scales where information is transported by molecules. In the current research on MC, the results have been confirmed by theoretical tools and simulations. IEEE has established a standardization group (IEEE 1906.1) in order to overcome the theoretical-work barrier and develop inclusive practical applications methodologically. In addition to that, the future direction of MC research is to design and develop experimental testbeds, which will contribute to alternative and novel approaches for real life problems. 

We encounter many uses of localization via molecular communication at many points in our daily life, the most classic example being how we detect the existence of a pastry shop nearby, and even guess the direction, with the scent due to the molecules reaching our nose while walking down a street.


Can we get some information about your project titled "Determining Molecular Signal Source for Underwater and Medical Applications"?


Our goal in this project is to develop macro- and meso-scale test environments to solve localization problems for underwater and in-body applications with a perspective inspired by MC. The macro-scale localization testbed will be a water channel equipped with a camera and laser, it can be used for underwater search and rescue or underwater environmental monitoring experiments. The meso-scale localization testbed will be a mock circulatory network similar to the human circulatory system and it can be used for medical applications such as cancer cell geolocation, smart drug technologies or in-body NEMS / MEMS coordination. In both test environments, we will use MC-inspired positioning techniques that rely on molecular signals in harsh environments. Designing and applying MC-inspired localization techniques in harsh environments has the potential to pave the way for complex and pioneering MC applications. Our proposed project has an interdisciplinary structure related to communication theory, fluid dynamics and medical science. 

Can you elaborate on the application areas of the project a little more?

Our project has the potential to pave the way for some innovative applications; Some of them can be listed as follows:

Wreck Plane Localization: The proposed system can be used to detect the location of an aircraft wreckage by tracking the spread of chemicals used for molecular signaling from a wrecked airplane in the ocean. Search robots used today are equipped with only optical sensors, and in some cases wrecked planes cannot be found for years, even with large budgets. Therefore, integrating MC-inspired algorithms to underwater search robots will bring new perspectives and result in more effective search strategies. The output of this project may inspire the manufacturing of planes and standards about planes. In other words, airplanes may contain appropriate chemicals embedded to the interior linings for signaling plane’s location in case of an accident.

Spill Localization: The proposed system can be used to detect leakage of certain chemicals from seafloor pipelines (e.g. trans-Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea) or illegal waste discharge into rivers. Environmental monitoring systems for underwater or rivers can be improved by integrating techniques from communication theory.

Cancer Cell Localization: The experimental system proposed for meso-scale environments can be used to localize tumors. The proposed mock circulatory network testbed will enable the localization of specific chemicals and will enable the determination of the requirements for effective localization algorithms. The number of in-body sensors and calibration algorithms will be designed, tested, and evaluated with the help of the proposed testbed. The output of this project have the potential to inspire medical science and healthcare applications.


Molecular Communication is a relatively new and unheard field. What are the potentials of this field for scientific research? What kind of progress is there in the world in this area?

Correct. Molecular communication is a field that is still in its infancy phase, but its potential has become more evident with the application of nanotechnology in many fields. For example, if we consider intra-body cellular manipulation applications, the devices to be used will generally be very small in scale. However, there are disadvantages as well as the advantages of being small-scale. One of these disadvantages is that their capabilities/abilities are quite limited due to the small size of the device.

As we have learned from nature, we have to use a large amount of our small-scale devices to cope with this challenge, and if we can ensure that the micro-/nano-machines act in coordination, complex and critical applications can be realized much more effectively. Therefore, a communication link established between micro-/nano-machines will be the most critical part of a complex nanotechnology applications.

One of the three groups closest to realizing this communication link in the world is the Nanonetworking Research Group (http://nrg.boun.edu.tr) at Boğaziçi University with its multi-disciplinary structure. Our team includes academicians from the Computer, Electrical-Electronics, Chemical Engineering and Molecular Biology and Genetics Departments. 


You have returned to Turkey with TÜBİTAK in 2232 and joined Boğaziçi. What kind of factors were effective in making this decision? Could you tell us about your next goals?

The Computer Engineering Department at Boğaziçi University has one of the best Nanonetworking research groups in the world. I spent four years of my professional life abroad at Yonsei University in South Korea, which is home to another leading research groups in this field. Then, I continued my work in the same field by receiving a prestigious project grant in Spain. After all these international experiences, I am proud to return to Boğaziçi University and to carry out the TÜBİTAK 2232 project hosted by Boğaziçi University.

First of all, I care about the establishment of the experimental infrastructure within our ongoing project. In this way, an experimental working environment will be established for our future studies and I believe that it will create a valuable infrastructure for training new researchers and realizing new projects. In addition to these, our studies continue intensively with the Nanonetworking Research Group of Boğaziçi University and the research teams (abroad) that I worked with. My next goal is to get European Union projects funded and take our work one step further.

(This article is initially published on Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Haberler – in Turkish)

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