Di Wu, an assistant professor in the UCF Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was one of 12 new faculty who came to the College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) last year as part of the largest cohort of members to join the department. He specializes in computer architecture, or how computer systems are designed and how their components work together.

“Computer architecture research involves rigorous reasoning at the intersection of algorithms, software, hardware and beyond, all working together synergistically,” he says. “This field continually presents new challenges and opportunities. As an adventurous and curious person, I am drawn to this hybrid discipline and excited to embark on its unknown journey.”

Wu earned his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, before moving to Orlando.

UCF’s ideal location in the Sunshine State was a big draw. Along with its beautiful beaches and world-renowned theme parks, its close proximity to industry partners and the Florida high-tech corridor opened doors to a number of research collaborations.

“Orlando is the best city I can imagine [striking] a perfect balance between career and life,” Wu says. “Everything on my wish list is tangible around the Central Florida area at any time.”

Perhaps his strongest draw to UCF was its mission. Wu says he was captivated by UCF’s commitment to unleashing potential in students and faculty.

“I am very impressed by the potential of UCF CECS to impact the research community, given its established strength in computer science broadly,” he says. “This vision aligns perfectly with mine. The college has extensive support for new faculty, in terms of administration, funding, collaboration and beyond.”

Today, Wu is working towards that shared vision in a number of ways. He’s celebrating two awards he received this year: the Harold Peterson Outstanding Dissertation Award from UW Madison, and a Distinguished Artifact Evaluation Award from the 2024 International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems.

He is also serving as a mentor for the department’s interns at Northrop Grumman and AMD. Both programs give students the opportunity to develop research for Northrop Grumman and AMD, and intern at their facilities. Additionally, Wu started a computer architecture speaker series, inviting faculty from around the nation to share their latest work.

He is teaching one graduate course: Big Data Computer Architecture and Systems. His lab U.N.A.R.Y. —  Unary, Neuromorphic, Approximate, Reconfigurable and Yet more computing — is the research home to a mix of undergraduate and graduate students.

“It’s incredibly exciting to watch students acquire new knowledge and advance in their careers,” he says. “I find my role as a faculty member deeply fulfilling, especially when I can assist students in overcoming challenges.”

Wu is working on a number of projects in his lab, many of which include collaborations with other universities. His research focuses on large-scale systems that enable the deployment of cutting-edge technologies with unparalleled capabilities, including large language models and homomorphic encryption, in collaboration with AMD. He is also working on an accelerated quantum error correction to enable fault-tolerant quantum computing with the University of Chicago, the University of Pittsburgh and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. With Carnegie Mellon University and Yale University, he is investigating neuromorphic computing to develop an efficient brain-computer interface.

“We are on the rise to challenge existing design methodologies and discover what has been overlooked historically,” he says. “Domain specific computer architecture will bring sci-fi vision into the reality, such as a brain-computer interface, augmented and virtual reality, and a personalized virtual assistant. In a decade, our interaction with the rest of the world will be more delightful, more secure and more sustainable.”

Wu’s non-academic interests are a far cry from the next-generation technological concepts that fuel his research. In the lab, he pursues human-made breakthroughs in computer architecture, but in his downtime, he’s entertained by Mother Nature’s creations.

“I really enjoy watching cute animals, especially penguins,” he says. “I feel like I have exhausted all penguin videos on YouTube. I also take a walk every night along the pond pathway behind my apartment, since there are cute ducks there. You know, cute ducklings heal a day.”