Dr. Warren Jasper has received the NC State University Outstanding Extension Service Award (OESA) for the 2018-2019 academic year. The OESA acknowledges exceptional extension engagement and economic development activities and honors faculty and staff for these efforts.

An alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Jasper earned both his B.S. and his M.S. in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at the school. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in the same from Stanford University. He joined the NC State faculty in 1991 and is a professor in the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science (TECS). In the intervening years, he has been awarded over $5.5 million in funding for solo and group research projects.

He frequently engages with the textile industry to streamline their processes and improve their products. He has worked with Cotton Incorporated and Unifi to increase their dyeing efficiency, saving them thousands of dollars per year. He also co-founded HueMetrix, a company which manufactured an instrument capable of measuring in real time the exhaustion of one or more dyes during the dyeing process, thus improving dye efficiency and leading to a better understanding of the dyeing process. In addition, he has worked with Eastman in areas including image processing and heat transference.

Jasper has led workshops with Makerspace through the NC State University Libraries on integrating the Raspberry Pi, an inexpensive single board computer, into the classroom and extramural projects. He has been a co-teacher for two short courses on dyeing and finishing offered through Zeis Textiles Extension (ZTE). He taught students from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering programs how to write Linux device drivers and has helped a number of engineering and textiles students with their capstone senior design projects and entrepreneurial ventures related to data acquisition, wireless technologies and Linux. He sponsors the Triangle Linux Users Group and regularly gives talks on writing Linux device drivers and the Raspberry Pi.

But he is probably most well-known for the volume of work he makes available for free on the internet.

“Dr. Jasper has the largest single author repository of open-source drivers on the Web,” said Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor Jeff Joines, TECS department head. “He is world renowned for Linux drivers and now Python drivers. Drivers are pieces of software that connect devices [and] hardware to computers through data acquisition boards (DAQs). Without these drivers to communicate with DAQs, devices could not communicate to computers for monitoring or control purposes. Dr. Jasper’s drivers, because they are open-source, are used in thousands of applications throughout the globe.”

His drivers are used around the world, on six continents and in thousands of projects in academia, aerospace, national labs, government and industry. In fact, scientists at CERN, the high energy particle facility located in Switzerland, use his drivers to measure temperature and control the flow of liquid nitrogen around Miniball, a gamma ray spectrometer.

We spoke with Jasper about his work and how it feels to know that he is a part of the exploration of the very makeup of our universe.

Yours is the largest single author repository of open-source drivers in the world. What motivates you to contribute your time and talents to this public service?

I was first introduced to open-source back in the late 1980’s when I was a graduate student studying aerospace engineering. I did not know it at the time, but I met and knew many of the founders of open-source whose work turned out to be quite influential. Originally, it was called “free software,” but the name was a little misleading since “free” has many different connotations and interpretations. While working on my Ph.D. thesis, I found some bugs in the open-source software I was using and gave back to the community by sending patches and bug fixes. When I arrived at NC State, I discovered that there were very few open-source Linux device drivers for the kind of hardware used to interface computers with machines and instruments. I posted a few drivers on the internet and it seems to have caught on.

They are using one of your drivers at CERN. What is it like to know that you are helping in the ongoing quest to determine how the universe works?

About a year ago, I received an email thanking me for writing a driver that is used to control the temperature of germanium crystals in the gamma-ray spectrometers at CERN. In order to detect gamma-rays, the instrument has to be cooled down to below 77 Kelvin (that’s under -321 degrees Fahrenheit!). It’s really cool to know that I played a small part in the very important work that goes on at CERN and other fundamental physics laboratories around the world.  

Tell us more about your work with the Eastman Innovation Center.

Back in 2013, Eastman created the Eastman Innovation Center at NC State University to better facilitate a partnership between industry and academia. The center fosters a win-win environment by sponsoring research and collaborating with faculty and students at NC State. I was very fortunate in that the project that I led was the first to be commercialized. A big part of that I credit to the environment at the Wilson College of Textiles, which lets me run the gamut from advanced signal processing algorithms of surface irregularity to the design of instruments that detect defects in plastic films and coatings.

What drew you to work with the Wilson College of Textiles — and what keeps you here?

Back in 1978, there was a documentary television series called “Connections,” presented by the science historian James Burke. The basic premise of the TV series was that technological advances are not the result of a linear process, but rather a result of a web of interconnected events. My work, whether in teaching, fundamental research, applied research, or extension, is only possible by making connections between different scientific discoveries, which at first glance appear unrelated, but which are in fact interconnected. The Wilson College of Textiles fosters an environment of diversity and inclusivity that promotes creativity and discovery.

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Written by Cameron Walker