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First UW-Eau Claire faculty-student patent awarded to research project

RELEASED: Oct. 25, 2010

Michael LeMay photo
Michael LeMay

EAU CLAIRE — Research on e-mail security that Eau Claire native Michael LeMay began with a professor when he was a 16-year-old sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been granted a patent by the U.S. Patent Office.

LeMay, who began taking university computer science classes at age 15, collaborated on the research — titled "Secure Electronic Message Transport Protocol (SETP)" — with Dr. Jack Tan, professor of computer science.

"It is very exciting to receive my first patent because it is an official recognition of the novelty of the work that Dr. Tan and I did during our research project," said LeMay, who earned his computer science degree from UW-Eau Claire in 2005. "One of the greatest challenges for researchers is finding interesting topics that haven't already been adequately explored."

Research on computer security is at the forefront of computer science, Tan said. Their research uses a message transport protocol and an encryption key management protocol, which operate in tandem to provide enhanced security, he said, noting that the protocol may be applicable to other electronic message applications in addition to e-mail.

The patent awarded for their work on the secure e-mail protocol will enhance the defense against intrusion for academia and industry, Tan said of the significance of the research.

This project marks the first time a UW-Eau Claire faculty-student research project has resulted in a patent, said Dr. Karen Havholm, assistant vice chancellor for research.

"To result in a patent, research outcomes must meet rigorous standards," said Havholm, noting that each year nearly 800 students conduct research with faculty across the UW-Eau Claire campus. "That a patent was awarded to a faculty-student team is indicative of the high quality of research and creative work students participate in with their faculty mentors here."

WiSys is licensing the patent for Tan and LeMay.

Starting the patent process when he was still an undergraduate student encouraged him to pursue graduate-level research because it gave him confidence that his ideas had significant value, said LeMay, who is now in a doctoral program in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"The research I performed as an undergraduate excited me and convinced me that I should pursue my Ph.D.," said LeMay, who started in the doctoral program at age 20. "My favorite aspect of research is the ability to personally control the whole process, from generating the initial idea to implementing a working research prototype, publishing the work, and possibly even commercializing it."

LeMay, the oldest of six siblings, became interested in electronics as a young boy thanks to his father, David LeMay, a longtime employee of Chippewa Falls-based Cray Inc. His love of electronics soon included computers. He began programming at age 13 and was interested in computer security issues by age 15.

As a teen, two projects that LeMay entered in a 4-H Club competition at a county fair caught the attention of 4-H judge Dr. Susan Harrison, who was then an associate professor of computer science at UW-Eau Claire. One of LeMay's projects was the equivalent of a final project in a college freshman computer science class, Harrison said, adding that she was stunned when LeMay said he'd taught himself programming.

"I had the pleasure of watching him grow and mature and blossom when he was at UW-Eau Claire," said Harrison, who now teaches mathematics at UW-Eau Claire. "It's a delight to think that I had even a small role in this because one summer day I took a few extra minutes to talk with him at the fair and to help open this door."

With Harrison's encouragement and guidance, LeMay, who was home-schooled from fifth through 12th grade, enrolled in a UW-Eau Claire computer science class at age 15. He studied at UW-Eau Claire part-time for three semesters and then enrolled as a full-time student when he was 16.

Soon after LeMay enrolled, he began working with Tan on research involving e-mail security, work that resulted in a published paper, national presentations and, eventually, the patent.

"Michael's innate ability to do quality state-of-the-art research is astounding," Tan has said of LeMay. "He's meticulous, innovative and intelligent, all hallmarks of a great researcher. He'll be a prolific researcher who will one day be a major contributor in his chosen field."

LeMay said he is appreciative of UW-Eau Claire's commitment to supporting and funding faculty-student research. The support allowed him to participate in multiple research projects on a variety of interesting topics, which helped him shape his future, he said.

"Dr. Michael Wick, professor of computer science, and Dr. Tan organized outstanding research experiences for me starting early in my undergraduate studies, and those were pivotal in allowing me to gain admittance to a top-ranked graduate school," LeMay said. "Those experiences also helped me to form ideas about the research I wanted to do when I got here."

LeMay was among the first recipients of a Karlgaard Computer Science Scholarship, for students who maintain high academic achievement and who collaborate with faculty on computer science research that results in scholarly publications. Karlgaard Scholars are eligible for up to four years of full tuition and fees support.

LeMay, who was an intern for two years at Cray Inc. while an undergraduate student, also was among the winners of a prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. He's the only UW-Eau Claire student to receive an NDSEG fellowship, which was created by the Department of Defense as a way to increase the number of U.S. citizens trained in science and engineering disciplines of military importance.

Fore more information about their research and patent, contact Dr. Jack Tan at 715-836-2408 or tanjs@uwec.edu or Michael LeMay at m@lemays.org.

-30-

JB/DW

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