Students present summer research at URSI symposium


On Wednesday, Sept. 27, Vassar students presented their faculty-advised research projects at the 2017 Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) Symposium, the 22nd annual of its kind. It featured undergraduate research in fields such as anthropology, computer science and mathematics, as well as lab sciences like chemistry and biology.

On Wednesday, students, parents and faculty crowded the Villard Room for the afternoon’s program to see the 45 projects on display. Dean of the Faculty Jon Chenette and Director of URSI David T. Carreon Bradley gave opening remarks. Next were three oral presentations from student researchers.

...  Kaya Deuser ’20 went first. Titled “Navigation Strategies of Autonomous Agents: How to Choose Your New Vacuum Cleaner,” Deuser’s research tackled issues of automation. In her presentation, she focused on the issues of automated vacuum cleaners, examining two distinct strategies of automation. Deuser worked closely with Professor of Computer Science Pavel Naumov on her research.

Deuser and Naumov’s project was purely theoretical; unlike most URSI researchers, Deuser spent no time in the lab. “Rather than doing a standard nine-to-five shift, we spent about four hours a day just talking about the theory one-on-one,” she said. “You can’t think about this stuff much longer than that.” Deuser added that staying focused was one of her biggest challenges.

Deuser, however, had passion on her side. “I had no idea I had this interest before starting my research,” she said. “I wasn’t even a computer science major.” Deuser elaborated on how she fell into her project, becoming Professor Naumov’s research assistant her first year at Vassar. Researching with Naumov helped her discover what turned out to be an incredible passion. “It feels so good to be working to solve a big problem … It makes me feel good about the way I think and work.”

Deuser and Naumov have since authored two papers together. She continues her research nine hours a week with Professor Naumov this semester and hopes to apply for summer research again next year. “URSI’s a great experience—you get to work on something you’re passionate about.” ...


Students Demonstrate “Swift” Development of Mobile Games

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— The class was about to start and in typical fashion, students spent the last seconds hunched over their cell phones. Instead of scrolling through text messages or watching cat videos, however, students in the Illinois Wesleyan University “Software Development” course were making last-minute checks on the iPhone games they’d designed and were about to present.

Teams of students were tasked with coming up with ideas for iPhone games utilizing Xcode, an Apple code development program. To use this program, they had to draw on their knowledge of Apple’s programming language Swift, a language new to the students at the beginning of the semester.

After voting on the most promising proposals, students perfected the best ideas and presented them to their classmates in a sort of focus group test of new products. One of the games was “Swift Hero,” the creation of Jacob Nowakowski ’17. Inspired by the music video game “Guitar Hero” and recalling how much he enjoyed playing rhythm-based games like “Tap Tap Revolution” in high school study hall, Nowakowski (Crystal Lake, Ill.) drew on his love of music to design and program “Swift Hero.”

Classmate Sydney Cucerzan ’18 spent even more time – she estimates close to 40 hours – on her game “Shooting Star.” Fascinated with space, she wanted to create a game that was simple yet challenging. “I was heavily influenced by another game called “Powder” and I also drew from [mobile game] “Flappy Bird,” a hard game that was so frustrating yet you were addicted at the same time,” said Cucerzan, a native of Murfreesboro, Tenn. ...


Mathematics conference equals insight into career possibilities for student researchers

Senior Kristine Harjes and junior Meg Protzman went to the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics to share their student-faculty research with 260 students from all over the country. When the Jan. 31-Feb. 2 gathering was over, the Honors students each had a network of peers, experience presenting and a better sense of where they were headed with their majors.

Protzman of Elkridge, Md. has ruled out graduate school and is inspired to jump right in to a career.  She appreciates the opportunity “to interact with all these people who share the same interests and passions. It really just opened up all the possibilities that are out there.”

A double major in Mathematics and Computer Science, Protzman presented on functional dependence between Boolean variables, fundamental research she conducted with associate professor Pavel Naumov the year before...


Math major presents research at international conference in India

Jeffrey Kane’s talent for teaching showed when he used the child’s game of telephone line or whisper down the lane to explain the basics of the theoretical mathematics paper he recently delivered at an international professional conference in India.

The Mathematics major’s original research with Computer Science professor Pavel Naumov resulted in the paper, “Epistemic Logic for Communication Chains,” which is also the game of telephone line expressed mathematically.  And that was the example he used in his presentation of the paper, which mathematically describes communication in a network. 

“It was nice that I had something that I could say that all these people with doctorates didn’t know off the top of their heads,” says the junior from Elkridge, Md., who has wanted to be a teacher since second grade. “To talk with people who are such experts in this field was rewarding.”  

Kane’s collaborative research with Naumov during the summer of 2012 resulted in the paper that was accepted for full presentation and publication at the 14th Conference on Theoretical Aspects of Rationality and Knowledge (TARK), which brings together researchers from a variety of fields to further understanding of interdisciplinary issues involving reasoning about rationality and knowledge. Also accepted, and presented by Naumov, was “R.E. Axionmatization of Conditional Independence,” a joint paper with senior Brittany Nicholls...


Computer Science seniors design games as final projects

Battleship-Plus, Battle Quest, McDanoply, Evolution Wars, Rogue – the list of Computer Science capstone projects reads like a library of computer games. And that’s exactly what it is, except these games were designed by students.

“The students enjoy writing a game,” says Computer Science professor Pavel Naumov, who mentors the senior projects. “Most of their learning is theoretical, but this is more practical as they apply what they’ve learned to designing a game plus learn interactive programming. It’s fun for them.”

The tabletop game of Battleship was among Steve McGuire’s favorite games when he was growing up, and it seemed only natural for him to design a computer version for his senior capstone. He says he used everything he learned in his Computer Science major went into the game, which pits a single player against the computer on divided screen...


Computer Science student’s research efforts garner national honor

 Growing up in the Silicon Valley, Brittany Nicholls has always been around computers, but it is her computing research that recently earned the junior an honorable mention in the Computing Research Association’s national awards. While Nicholls remembers playing computer games at age 4 and beginning to use a computer in fourth grade, her high school in San Jose didn’t offer computer science and she really didn’t get serious about studying computer science until her freshman year at McDaniel.

“Now I don’t touch a computer except to write papers,” Nicholls, who is majoring in both Mathematics and Computer Science, says, explaining that the theoretical computing research doesn’t involve actually using a computer. Her mentor, Associate Professor of Computer Science Pavel Naumov, quips that “the grad student’s definition of a theoretical computer scientist is someone who uses the computer only to check e-mail and write papers.” Instead, professor and student are exploring the abstract concepts of computer science – and their research efforts have now earned a national award.

A letter from the C.R.A. says “this year's nominees were a very impressive group. … several were authors or coauthors on multiple papers, others had made presentations at major conferences, and some had produced software artifacts that were in widespread use. Many of our nominees had been involved in successful summer research or internship programs, many had been teaching assistants, tutors, or mentors, and a number had significant involvement in community volunteer efforts.

“It is quite an honor to be selected for Honorable Mention from this group.”...


Getting a Better Grip on Computer Science, One Chalkboard at a Time


At first it seems strange that chalk letters and numbers fill a wall of blackboards by the end of a co-minute collaborative-research session in computer science. Chalk and computers seem not even distantly related.
Yet here on the first floor of Lewis Hall of Science professors and students alike use chalk - often in vivid shades of blue, orange, yellow, burnt sienna - to "talk" to each other about information flow and networks and, yes, secrets and security.

Computer science professors Sara Miner More and Pavel Naumov frequently and actively involve their students in their research, so it's not unusual to find hieroglyphic-looking notations on most of the chalkboards in the department. The collaboration often results in a student-faculty authored paper or presentation at a professional conference. In fact, More and Naumov are awaiting publication decisions on two papers they co-authored with students - one with senior Ben Sapp and another with junior Mike Donders...



McDaniel College student from San Jose and professor research computer science theory

WESTMINSTER, MD -- McDaniel College student Brittany Nicholls of San Jose, Calif., and Computer Science professor Pavel Naumov are collaborating this summer on a student-faculty research project that immerses them in the complex world of theoretical computer science.

The junior, who has won a $17,000 grant from the Computing Research Association Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research, studies the abstract concepts of Computer Science and intersects with both Mathematics and Economics.

Nicholls and Naumov have been partnered in research since last summer, when they examined information flow. This July they will travel to the Netherlands to present their paper at the Theoretical Aspects of Rationality and Knowledge conference. Nicholls was awarded a $1,200 national travel scholarship for women to attend the conference in Groningen.

Game theory, Nicholls and Naumov's current topic, was first popular among social scientists and economists, according to Naumov. Within the concepts of conflict and strategy, it examines actions a "player" may take to secure advantageous outcomes, at the loss of the other. This makes it applicable in an infinite number of real-world situations...


Computer Science students collaborate with professor in theoretical research

As hundreds of students drove their packed cars away from the McDaniel campus in May, two Mathematics & Computer Science majors knew their work was not yet over. Along with Computer Science professor Pavel Naumov, Sarah Holbrook of Winchester, Va., and Brittany Nicholls of San Jose, Calif., comb through the complex world of computer science theory, specifically, concurrency theory and game theory. The juniors, who have won a $17,000 grant from the Computing Research Association Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research, study the abstract concepts of computer science and intersect with both mathematics and economics. Nicholls and Naumov have been partnered in research since last summer, when they examined information flow. “After last summer, we thought we had a solution, but it fell apart when we started to write the paper and realized it was much more complex, so we continued to research,” she said. They both will present the paper this July at a conference in the Netherlands. Nicholls was awarded a $1,200 national travel scholarship for women to attend the conference in Groningen and says that this will be a good source of closure for the extensive and long-term project...


National awards fund student-faculty research in computer science

Lizzy McCaslin and Becky Putnam recently landed national computer science awards to support their faculty-student research project in information flow in networks and to travel to conferences. The collaboration required by the Computing Research Association (CRA) award will be nothing new to the juniors, who have been the best of friends since elementary school.

“We do everything together so it’s natural to do research together,” says McCaslin, explaining that they live two miles apart in Mt. Airy. “We did get the idea to come to McDaniel independent of each other though.”

The Urbana High graduates will also collaborate with Computer Science professors Sara Miner More and Pavel Naumov, whose research projects center on information flow in computer networks to be sure, but also in other multi-party systems from corporations to spy rings, from Facebook to genetics.

“It has to do with cryptographic protocols – determining the rules so that the good guys can talk but the information doesn’t fall into the bad guys hands,” says More, who recently presented the Mathematics and Computer Science department’s first peer-reviewed student-faculty joint research publication at a Toronto conference. The paper, “Independence and Functional Dependence Relations on Secrets,” was co-authored by More and Naumov with Rob Kelvey ’10 and Ben Sapp ’11 ...


Student-faculty research moves ahead over summer

...  senior Ben Sapp and sophomores Brittany Nicholls and Andrew Yang are just wrapping up their computer science research projects with professors Sara Miner More and Pavel Naumov. The seven-week projects were timed to begin before spring semester ended to give the students a summer vacation as well as to allow Nicholls, from San Jose, Calif., an opportunity to participate before heading back to the West Coast.

There, on the chalkboard in Lewis 109, are some of the rules of information flow that the students and professors have identified so far. The series of letters and symbols could very well be in a foreign language – and perhaps they are if you count computer-ese. But, to these researchers they are important keys to unlocking the natural laws that govern knowledge transfer and shared resources among computers and people alike.

“This is theoretical research,” says More, who is interested in cryptography and computer and network security protocols.  “It will further our understanding of information flow and its applications in the secure transmission of data over computer networks, and in other areas of computer science, such as artificial intelligence.” ...


A Robot that Solves the Rubik's Cube

When Professor Pavel Naumov offered his senior Computer Science majors the opportunity to design and program a robot for their capstone projects, Shannon Jackson couldn’t resist the challenge. The traditional project of inventing and programming a game would have been a challenge too, but the robot intrigued Jackson, who has a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science. She decided to use the Lego Mindstorm kit to build and program a robot to solve the Rubik’s Cube.

“I wanted to do something people would understand – something everyone could relate to,” Jackson said, explaining that math and computer science are generally perceived as abstract and complex. The commonly recognized puzzle would provide a connection. Besides, she said, this was something she could build and see the concepts at work. Her first step was to write the program using the known algorithm, the set of steps that solves a problem – in this case, the Rubik’s Cube. “My math major proved to be incredibly helpful since the construction of the robot relies on geometry, specifically angles",” said Jackson, who is also doing a Mathematics capstone on prime numbers – a number that is only divisible by one and itself – and an independent study in cryptography. “It’s interesting that 1867, the year our school was founded, is a prime number.” ...


Computer Science major designs robot that solves Rubik’s Cube

... Both Jackson and Naumov were surprised by the parts of the project that proved trickiest. "I thought that the most difficult part would be to implement the known algorithm that human beings use to assemble the cube," said Naumov. "However, now it appears that the even greater challenge is in solving the mechanical engineering problems of the robot's operation." Jackson designed, built and programmed the robot, which she named Jasper, to flip the cube and rotate its six nine-square sides in a series that results in the jumbled puzzle's six sides each having all the same color squares. Jasper, which is made of Lego pieces, has a light sensor that distinguishes the cube's colors and two rotation arms to manipulate the cube. "It's been fun," said Jackson, who seems to thrive on new challeneges- She made a commitment to tackling a new and different skill each of her college years and has taken up knitting, photography and sewing. This year she added juggling to the list. News around campus and beyond "Juggling is fun too - and a great stress reliever."