Three Computer Science Professors Receive NSF Awards

Computer Science Professors Lisa Singh, Grace Hui Yang, and Wenchao Zhou have received awards from the National Science Foundation. 

March 17, 2015—Three Georgetown College professors from the Department of Computer Science—Lisa Singh, Grace Hui Yang, and Wenchao Zhou—recently received awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF funds research and education in science and engineering through grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements.

Singh’s award, “Planning the Future of Big Data R&D,” will run through Decemember 2015 and is part of the NSF’s Big Data Science & Engineering Program. Singh is developing a report that will provide guidance for furthering big data research, development, and education.

“Given the vast amount of data that is accumulated every day, we need to pause and think about how to leverage this data for the greater good,” she explained. “We need to consider privacy, security, and ethics challenges, and think outside the box to develop systems that can adapt to changing data environments. Just as importantly, we need to determine intelligent ways to convert this data to actionable knowledge that can be used to advance both the traditional sciences and social sciences.”

To gather content for the report, Singh proposed a workshop that would “engage a range of experts…to share concerns and ideas.” The event took place in late January 2015 in Washington, DC. Speakers and panelists included Tom Kalil from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and Andrew Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Grace Hui Yang and Wenchao Zhou received awards from the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. CAREER awards support “junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

Yang’s CAREER award, “Statistical Information Retrieval Modeling for Complex Research,” will focus on creating “next generation search engines.”

“I view search as a much more complex process than Google’s query box and 10 returned blue links,” Yang explained. “Current search engines leave too much burden on users to make decisions about reformulating smart enough queries. [They] examine quite a lot of documents for non-trivia search tasks, such as planning a family trip to Paris or writing a survey paper on hydropower.”

Estimated to run through January 2020, Yang’s project “aims to provide both theoretical and practical support to complex and tasked-based search.”

“A lot of user and search engine interactions are modeled and used to provide more effective search results,” Yang said. “We are passionate about developing novel algorithms and more powerful search engines in this new dynamic information retrieval paradigm.”

Zhou’s CAREER award, “Diagnosing Distributed Systems with Provenance,” is projected to last through May 2020 and will focus on improving the functionality of distributed computer systems. "The award will propel my research and teaching agenda towards the long-term vision of enhancing the reliability and security of distributed systems in an automated manner,” Zhou said.

Distributed systems are collections of computers that are connected by networks and operate with a user-specified protocol. “Despite the ubiquitous adoption of distributed systems,” Zhou wrote in his proposal, “designing and deploying distributed systems remain challenging because of the ever-increasing scale, complexity, and unpredictability of system executions.”

Zhou’s project will introduce “a framework that leverages dependency information exposed during system execution for diagnosing distributed systems.” The work will provide a “holistic support for diagnosing practical applications that concern performance, availability and security.” He also plans to develop new tools that will be freely distributed, and his findings will be incorporated into networking and database courses.

—Melissa Nyman