Computer Science and Engineering News - Fall 2014
This is the Fall 2014 edition of a bulletin highlighting recent research and publications by the Computer Science and Engineering faculty and students. To suggest items for future editions, please e-mail Melynda Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Message from the Department Chair
As we settle into the fall semester, I am pleased to tell you about the many great things that are happening in at the NYU Tandon School of Engneering. One may think that the summertime is a slower part of the academic year, but our latest developments would tell you otherwise!
There was good reason to celebrate early in August, when the NYU Tandon School of Engineering was officially honored as a National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Operations by the National Security Agency (NSA). The school was the first in New York to earn that prestigious designation, which will be limited to just 25 institutions across the country and it is now one of only a handful to have earned all three CAE designations, having been previously named a CAE in Information Assurance Education and a CAE in Information Assurance Research.
Taking the Byte Out of the Data Deluge
Data scientists have pointed out that we live in the “Age of the Petabyte,” soon to become “The Age of the Exabyte,”—and those bytes have the potential to radically transform how business, government, science, and healthcare work.
Professor Juliana Freire is playing a pivotal role in that transformation: she has been named Director of Graduate Studies at NYU’s new Center for Data Science. Enjoying the support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation since 2013, the Center is currently home to a well-regarded master’s degree program in Data Science. Its graduates, Freire and other teachers predict, will be uniquely equipped to gain practical insights from the deluge of data being generated in every facet of modern life.
NYU’s Media and Games Network (MAGNET) is typically a beehive of activity, and many of those drawn there (like bees to honey, as it were) hail from the School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering. That might be surprising if you’ve never considered computer scientists to be a particularly playful or game-loving lot.
Everyone has heard of telethons, but if you’re not part of the tech community, you may never have heard of a hackathon, a multi-day event during which teams work intensively and collaboratively to solve an engineering challenge.
In May, the NYU Tandon School of Engineering was the site of Hack NYU, and more than 20 groups tested their skills in programming, design, time management, and teamwork to develop apps aimed at making life at NYU better.
According to the Computing Research Association, a group comprised of members from across academe and industry, women represent only 8 to 13 percent of the cybersecurity workforce. The Department of Computer Science and Engineering is doing its part to close that gender gap, running an intensive two-week summer program introducing female high school students to the field. (So popular was the first two-week session that a second was added.) Run by Professor Linda Sellie, who acknowledges the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the program touched upon programming, digital forensics, and more.
When journalists at National Public Radio are preparing a story about the social and emotional aspects of gaming, Associate Professor Katherine Isbister is one of their go-to experts. Isbister, who also directs the School of Engineering’s Game Innovation Lab in addition to her work in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, could be heard, for example, on a segment of the program Science Friday entitled “Can Gaming Make Us More Social?”
From Student to Teacher
Devorah Kletenik knew when she arrived here to earn her doctoral degree that she had found her niche. Big enough to be a world-class center of research and scholarship yet small enough to inspire personal attention and mentoring, the School of Engineering struck her as an ideal place to study computer science. It is also, as she has discovered, an ideal place to teach.
Kletenik, who earned her PhD in January 2014, now teaches the undergraduate course “Intro to Programming and Problem Solving.” Her own research, which focuses on machine learning, straddles the line between the theoretical and the applied; she is exploring how to reduce the costs of using Boolean classifiers. It’s a pleasure, she says, to work with young computer science majors, a category into which she would have fit not too long ago. “They are eager and enthusiastic,” she says, “and ready to make this department their own niche.”
In 1910 a sportswriter named Hugh Fullerton and Johnny Evers, the second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, collaborated on a book they called Touching Second: The Science of Baseball, which promised to examine how the game developed into an “exact mathematical sport.” “As a problem in geometry,” they wrote, “baseball, in all of its departments, may be reduced to exact figures."
The pair would no doubt be amazed and impressed by the work of Claudio Silva, a professor of computer science and engineering and the head of disciplines for the Center for Urban Science and Progress, who has taken that assertion to a whole other level. Along with independent visualization researcher Carlos Dietrich, Silva has developed a visual analytics system dubbed Baseball4D, which provides for the first time the ability to analyze each and every play on the field and allows both fans and industry officials to answer previously unanswerable analytics questions: are the best fielders really those who make dramatic and graceful-looking catches or are seemingly mundane players actually watching the ball and anticipating its trajectory better? Where should an infielder be positioned to best catch a ball traveling at a particular velocity?
It’s a long way from the IT University of Copenhagen to the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, but Julian Togelius is undaunted by the move. “New York is becoming the center of the indie game development community,” he says, “and I’m excited to have the chance to work with NYU faculty members like Katherine Isbister, Andy Nealen and Frank Lantz. I think some great collaborative gaming projects are in store.”
In a coincidence that could well have inspired an episode of Seinfeld, when Moshe Kaplan (with a K) arrived at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, he bumped into Moshe Caplan (with a C), a fellow student who happened to be working in the Information Systems and Internet Security (ISIS) lab. Kaplan, previously undecided about his area of specialization, was hooked. If life was, in fact, a television show, there’d now be a montage: Kaplan winning a scholarship from the CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service (SFS) program, doing an internship at the Center for Cyber Defenders at the Sandia National Laboratories, developing a framework for testing Android applications, earning a Master’s degree in 2013, moving to the Washington, D.C. area , accepting a position with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and, not incidentally, meeting and marrying the love of his life.
Anshul Vikram Pandey admits that it can be difficult to attend school and develop a business at the same time, but the PhD candidate is making it work. “Everyone in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering is very supportive of entrepreneurial efforts,” he says. “They helped me to realize after I spent several months writing code on the weekends that what I was doing was much more than a hobby. It was a serious enterprise that was going to require a major investment in time.”
Bowen Yu was a student at Peking University, earning an undergraduate degree and working with the school’s Visualization and Visual Analytics Group, when he heard that Claudio Silva would be teaching at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Suddenly, the choice of where to study for his doctoral degree became plain. “In addition to the chance to study with Professor Silva, the School of Engineering is a great choice for anyone interested in data visualization, simply because of the enormous amount of data available in New York City,” he explains.
You may never have given much thought to regolith, the layer of powdery substance that covers virtually the entire surface of the moon, much of Mars, and some asteroids—unless, that is, you work for NASA or happen to be an engineering student.
This year a team of NYU Tandon School of Engineering students took part in the Fifth Annual NASA Robotic Mining Competition to design and build a robot capable of traversing Martian terrain (known for its chaotic crags, craters, and hills), excavating as much simulated regolith as possible, and depositing it in a collection bin within 10 minutes.