Dartmouth’s Newest Networker Pursues Smartphone Stamina

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Arriving in August with the ink barely dry on her University of California PhD, Xia Zhou hit the ground running as the newest assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science.

Xia Zhou

Xia Zhou, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, is working on improving smartphone network connectivity. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

She is working to improve the devices we carry in our pockets—the smartphones whose batteries tend to run down at the most inopportune moments. While many technologists are working toward longer-lasting and more dependable batteries, Zhou is taking quite a different approach: She’s looking at ways to reduce the phone’s power consumption.

A specialist in network systems, she joined Professor Andrew Campbell as co-director of the DartNets (Dartmouth Networking and Ubiquitous Systems) Lab. Scarcely six months after her arrival, Zhou and Campbell corralled a highly competitive Google Faculty Research Award of $62,500 for their work.

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“Many smart devices try to always stay connected to the Internet via WiFi,” says Zhou. “Devices continually seeking connectivity can deplete a device’s battery very quickly. We want to be able to offload some of this searching to the phone’s WiFi radio connection circuits.”

This alternative would require far less energy than is consumed by the central processor—the CPU—that ordinarily carries out this function. “As a result, the device can obtain maximal wireless connectivity while spending much lower energy cost on grabbing the connectivity and extending battery life,” she says.

Growing up in southern China, in the city of Ji’an, Zhou left for Santa Barbara in 2007 to begin doctoral studies in computer science, which she completed in 2013.

Joining the department at Dartmouth has been a positive move, says Zhou. “It is small and people know each other. It provides a collegial environment, and I find that everyone is very supportive to new faculty.”

While immersed in pushing the envelope of technological research, Zhou also professes a love for teaching. “Teaching is fun, working with all those different students,” she says. “It is really rewarding to see how they learn new things and interact with each other as they work on different projects.”

She says that balancing teaching and research is an art. “On one hand you really want to be a scholar, but the success of the faculty is ultimately based on the success of the students,” says Zhou. “In the end it is not about how many papers we generate. Producing good students is a much greater achievement.”