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Computer Science 2018/19

REDEFINING THE REALMS OF POSSIBILITY


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DALHOUSIE FACULTY OF COMPUTER SCIENCE

1,480

4,094

STUDENTS

LIVING ALUMNI

PROGRAMS 2 UNDERGRADUATE

1000+

STUDENTS FROM

PROGRAMS 5 GRADUATE

ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS IN SHIFTKEY LABS

2018/19 BY THE NUMBERS

48

30+ COUNTRIES 97%

PLACEMENT RATE FOR OUR CO-OP STUDENTS

EVENTS HOSTED THROUGH SHIFTKEY LABS

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CANADA RESEARCH CHAIRS

Computer Science Magazine 2018 Editors: Becca Rawcliffe and Allison Kincade Photography: Danny Abriel, Bruce Bottomley, and Nick Pearce Writers: Becca Rawcliffe, Allison Kincade, Erin Elaine Casey, and Stefanie Wilson


DEAN’S MESSAGE

In 2018, we added to our expanding research agenda with DeepSense joining the Institute for Big Data Analytics in our portfolio of world-leading research centres and institutes. DeepSense is a unique ocean research partnership between industry, academia and government that enables companies to take advantage of applied research in analytics and the ocean economy. Alongside this we continue to hire top researchers to boost our core research areas in human-computer interaction, visualization and graphics; big data analytics and machine learning; systems, networks and security; and algorithms and bioinformatics.

Dean’s Message

Reflecting on 2018

2018 was a big year for Dalhousie and the Faculty of Computer Science. Not only did the university celebrate its 200th anniversary, the Faculty grew across all fronts, we welcomed new research initiatives and celebrated existing partnerships, and we reached some very important goals. In this year’s Computer Science magazine, we reflect on the last year and share stories from across our community – focusing on the achievements and progression of our students, faculty, staff and alumni. We continue to grow, with the Faculty now home to almost 1,500 students across our undergraduate and graduate degree programs. We have made significant changes to our first-year experience at the undergraduate level to ensure that alongside our growth we continue to provide an enriched experience for every student. Our transformed curriculum provides students from all backgrounds with multiple paths through their first year; new classroom technology means that programming skills are developed through daily problem solving supported by online feedback systems; and all students now take a core course in computer science and society that explores the history of computing and its social and philosophical implications.

Finally, we ended 2018 on a high as we announced that the number of female students entering our first-year undergraduate programs in September increased by 144% versus 2016. Increasing diversity has been at the core of everything we do for some time and I am delighted that we have been able to make this shift through our WeAreAllCS campaign. This is not something we have done alone, this has been a collaborative effort with industry and the Nova Scotia school system and our efforts do not end here. In line with this commitment to gender diversity in technology, the Faculty organized and hosted the 2018 Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing (CAN-CWiC). This was the first time this national event has visited the East Coast. The conference welcomed almost 500 students, faculty and industry professionals from 8 provinces, 4 states and 30 academic institutions. To continue to grow and support the ICT industry, Nova Scotia, and our community, we rely on you, our partners, to give your time, experience and resources to ensure we are training the leaders we need for tomorrow and developing research that will shape the future. Let’s work together in 2019! Best Regards,

Andrew Rau-Chaplin, Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science

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BIG DATA MEETS BIG OCEAN RESEARCH

Big data meets big ocean research A new addition has joined the growing expertise in ocean research and innovation taking place at Dalhousie and across Atlantic Canada. Hosted by the Faculty of Computer Science, DeepSense is a unique ocean research partnership between industry, academia and government that enables companies to benefit from technology solutions that solve real-world ocean related data challenges – helping them to make sustainable and better-informed commercial decisions.

DeepSense is also creating a pool of highlyqualified people with the expertise and skills to contribute to further growth in Canada’s ocean economy. World-class to world-leading “These are exciting times for ocean sciences and the ocean sector in Canada”, the Honourable Scott Brison, former President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government, said as he launched DeepSense on behalf of the Government of Canada. In his remarks, Brison noted that DeepSense continues the “wave” of investment to take Canada’s world-class ocean research and sector to world-leading. “This is an important partnership of academia, industry and government focused on the ocean sector that will help transform the ocean economy into a digitally powered knowledge economy,” said Brison. “DeepSense is where big data meets big ocean research. It supports intensive data science research that drives innovation and new business opportunities.” “We know that improving our use of data can help our region and our country become a global leader in the knowledgebased economy. DeepSense helps Atlantic Canada lead the way in data analytics for the new blue economy, assisting companies to expand their product lines, increase export opportunities, reach new customers, and hire more people.” IBM Canada is providing the high-performance computing infrastructure and personnel support that DeepSense will use to develop products and services for ocean industries, an in-kind contribution valued at $12.6 million. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s (ACOA) Business Development Program have provided $6.9 million in funding to help establish DeepSense and fund operations for five years. Dalhousie and the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) are also investing a total of $2,133,151.

Connections across the ocean sector President of DeepSense partner IBM Canada, Ayman Antoun, took time at the Government of Canada’s announcement to reflect on the company’s 65+ year relationship with Nova Scotia. “I bring you the great and deep privilege and honour of 12,800 IBM’ers that are just as excited as I am for giving us the opportunity to be part of this,” said Antoun. “DeepSense is a classic example of extending our partnership. It’s not about the $12.6 million investment, even though that’s important. I want you to know that the IBM company is into this heart and soul and money, and everything in between. This is going to be a relationship that I hope will be talked about for quite some time.” Over the next five years, it is estimated that DeepSense will be involved in 60 – 100 projects that address data analytics challenges faced by industry in the ocean economy. This includes a partnership with Irving Shipbuilding through an investment of $750,000 for projects that will use the vast amounts of maintenance and logistics data from its shipbuilding and ship repair operations. This funding is part of Irving Shipbuilding’s Value Proposition commitment under the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS). Kevin McCoy, President of Irving Shipbuilding, has talked as to how DeepSense will help them to reach their goals and the goals of their customers. “Everyday we are using data analytics to optimize or processes and our planning, which will lead to shipbuilding and ship repair efficiencies but there is much more that can be done to ensure the data we collect is used to its full potential,” said McCoy. “The research and projects with DeepSense will have a significant impact on shipbuilding and the marine industry, and also on our primary customer the Royal Canadian Navy.”


BIG DATA MEETS BIG OCEAN RESEARCH

The power of an idea Both Kevin Dunn, Interim Executive Director of DeepSense, and Jim Hanlon, CEO of COVE, credit Andrew Rau-Chaplin, Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science, as a key driving force behind DeepSense. Hanlon noted the “power of an idea that stood the test of time” as he recollected the birth of DeepSense, two years ago in RauChaplin’s office. The Faculty of Computer Science will be the lead DeepSense academic research partner, in collaboration with the Nova Scotia Community College and the Collaboration for Analytics Research, Education and Technology (CARET), and its member institutions to discover and attract academic research expertise, and develop curriculum and customized industry training. “Dalhousie is proud to be part of this unique ocean research partnership,” says Dr. Alice Aiken, Vice President Research. “By providing a platform that can be used by universities, industry partners, and government to support intensive ocean data science research, DeepSense will help position Atlantic Canada as a leader in the ocean economy for years to come.” DeepSense is now open for business and keen to hear from ocean industries looking to make better use of their data. Inquiries can be directed to info@deepsense.ca.

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MORE FEMALE STUDENTS CHOOSING COMPUTER SCIENCE AT DALHOUSIE

More female students choosing computer science at Dalhousie In 2017, the Faculty of Computer Science set an ambitious goal – to double the number of female students entering undergraduate programs in September 2018. A special goal for Dalhousie’s 200th year. Now Dalhousie’s 2018 class is settled on campus, the Faculty is reflecting on the progress made after announcing that the number of female students entering first

“We are delighted to have made this progress over the last two years,” says Andrew Rau-Chaplin, dean of the Faculty of Computer Science. “This is not a goal the Faculty set out to reach alone. Rather, this has been a collaborative effort between the University, industry and the Nova Scotia school system. It’s so wonderful to look out at a first-year class and see a student body that is so much more reflective of us as a society.” Creating a positive cycle Increasing diversity within the classroom has been a priority for the Faculty for many years with gender at the forefront. “A lack of gender diversity in tech related fields not only affects us but similar schools in Canada and beyond, and industry,” explains Christian Blouin, associate dean, academic in the Faculty of Computer Science. “It’s also bad for society generally. Technology impacts on everyone, every day. If the creators and influencers behind technology are not diverse, technology cannot truly reflect and serve society. We hope to create a positive cycle to encourage more female students to consider computer science in the future through nurturing more female role models and supporting a positive culture shift in our classrooms”

year computer science this past

Working with industry

September has increased by

Thirty-two of the female undergraduate students entering computer science programs in September received one of the Faculty’s new Women in Technology Scholarships, an industry and Faculty funded award that not only offers financial support but mentoring from female tech leaders and enriched co-op opportunities, that will help develop this next generation of female technology leaders.

144% versus 2016.

“We have working partnerships with a number of industry supporters who share our interest in this topic in a hope to bridge the gap between education and industry and better support our students,” says RauChaplin.

Industry partners supporting the Faculty’s efforts and giving their name to scholarships include TD, CGI, MOBIA Technology Innovations, Gogii Games, T4G, and Analyze Re. Industry is joined by non-profits Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) and Techsploration as founding partners in this campaign. “Working closely with Dalhousie’s Faculty of Computer Science and their WeAreAllCS initiative will help TD hire the best people, foster a work environment where people can be their authentic selves, and give people the power to help drive our transformation. In the past, our financial business drove our technology development. Now, technology is driving our businesses forward, and the line between the two will disappear altogether,” says Bruce Mitchell, CIO for TD Wealth and Insurance. “We all need to work to change the persistence of low female representation in Computer Science. At TD, supporting successful women studying or working in STEM fields where they have been traditionally underrepresented is an example of how we can help advance women in leadership roles in the Canadian technology community.” First-year student and Women in Technology Scholarship recipient, Tabea Marzlin’s interest in computer science started at early age through an introduction to programming but she credits her scholarship with providing the “flexibility and opportunities” to explore technology as a path for her. “I generally believe the scholarship is a major asset in helping women interested in computer science,” says Tabea. “Since I began programming and sharing my work online, I experienced first hand some of the issues facing women in technology at an all-too-early age. I am passionate about changing that reality for others.”


MORE FEMALE STUDENTS CHOOSING COMPUTER SCIENCE AT DALHOUSIE

Supporting current students A key development for first year female students is the introduction of a peer mentorship program. A collaboration between the Faculty and the Women in Technology Society (WiTS), the program has provided each incoming female student with an experienced student mentor to offer advice and support as they embark on their academic journey. “WiTS wanted to support the mentorship program to provide first years with a direct connection to upper year students and help foster a community where all students feel included,” explains WiTS president Alicia Wong. “Mentors are readily available on or offline, to answer questions, share experiences and just chat about life. In a field with

a gender gap it is important for femaleidentifying students to know that they are part of a strong, supportive community and the mentorship program introduces new students to this as soon as they arrive at Dalhousie.” An ongoing effort The Faculty may have reached its shortterm goal but efforts to build on this momentum do not end there. “We still have a long way to go to see a true gender balance in our classrooms,” says Rau-Chaplin. “We have worked very hard alongside our partners in the private and public sector to make an impact in our corner of the world. This is an ongoing effort and we will continue to collaborate with industry so

that we can offer scholarships for years to come, make developments to support all of our current students, and use our learnings from this campaign to inspire other institutions and the sector to act. We have the opportunity to make a lasting change and we won’t stop our advocacy in this area until we no longer have to discuss gender and technology in the same breath.” The Faculty of Computer Science will be offering additional industry-funded Women in Technology Scholarships to students applying to enter undergraduate programs in 2019. A team from the Faculty organized and hosted the 2018 Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing (CAN-CWiC) in Halifax. The conference welcomed almost 500 students, faculty and industry professionals from across Canada and the States.

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INSTITUTE FOR BIG DATA ANALYTICS TURNS 5

The Institute for Big Data Analytics turns 5 Founded in 2013 with support from the Province of Nova Scotia and headquartered at the Faculty of Computer Science, The Institute for Big Data Analytics has become an international hub of excellence in big data research. Over the last five years, the Institute for Big Data Analytics has supported industry in using big data to make an impact, and trained the next generation of researchers and practitioners to advance this area of innovation.

Big Data as a priority At a recent event held to celebrate this five-year milestone, Dr. Alice Aiken, Vice-President Research and Innovation at Dalhousie, acknowledged the progress made by the Institute for Big Data Analytics. “Work coming out of the institute has not only supported more than 30 industry partners, which we all understand is a critical role universities are playing now, but it’s also trained the next generation of researchers. I was told that there are over forty graduate thesis students working out of the institute. I mean, that’s really impressive and also why we are here,” said Dr. Aiken. “Big data is not only a priority for the Faculty of Computer Science but for Dalhousie University.” Dalhousie recently launched a new research and innovation strategic direction. At the centre of this direction lie five signature research clusters: Sustainable Ocean; Healthy People, Healthy Communities, Healthy Populations; Clean Tech, Energy, The Environment; Culture, Society, Community Development; and Food Security. Dr. Aiken highlighted the role big data plays as one of two cross-cutting themes enveloping these central clusters. “Big data really touches all aspects of our research here at Dalhousie and a lot of that is thanks to the work taking place here at the Institute,” said Dr. Aiken. “I’m sure that everyone will agree that when looking into the future, how we work with big data will really transform our approach to research and the way we move through the world.”


INSTITUTE FOR BIG DATA ANALYTICS TURNS 5

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do together in the coming years.” Building stronger connections Dr. Stan Matwin, Director of the Institute for Big Data Analytics, has echoed Dr. Aiken’s words as he reflects on the Institute’s first five years and looks ahead to the future. Describing big data as a “bagel or a doughnut” around the Dalhousie research “pie”, Dr. Matwin says “We are seriously working, not just thinking, on building stronger connections with other parts of the university.” When looking back on his highlights from the past five years, Dr. Matwin notes the relationships made within the Institute for Big Data Analytics and beyond. “I’m really grateful to Dalhousie for giving me the opportunity to do this job,” says Dr. Matwin. “The nicest thing about it is the constant stream of new talent coming every year with new ideas, new approaches, and new cultures. Pulling this all together with this fantastic group of new talent from around the world is a privilege.” It isn’t just me, we are a group and there are eight faculty members involved in the Institute and we have built collaborations with other parts of the university. In particular, with engineering, science particularly in the oceans area, management, and lately intensified our connections with the Faculty of Medicine. The Institute for Big Data Analytics is all about partnerships.” Impact on industry One example of the partnerships developed by the Institute for Big Data Analytics is with Defence R&D Canada (DRDC) Atlantic Research Centre. Part of the Department of National Defence, the DRDC Atlantic Research Centre in Dartmouth deals with research and development in areas including underwater sensing, platforms and maritime information for bodies including the Royal Canadian Navy “I was brought over in interest to some database technology work that was going on,” Anthony Isenor recalled of his first meeting with the Institute for Big Data Analytics in 2014. “Dr. Matwin and I decided we should try for a DND NSERC under this umbrella of information science in maritime information. We were, I think, the first DND NSERC successful proposal that came out of DRDC.”

From this proposal the Mission-relevant Information Management for Integrated Response (MIMIR) was born two years ago. This project seeks to develop ideas and techniques for seamless integration of data streams of the many Internet of Things (IoT) sensors infrastructure. “Students and postdocs are producing papers on things like trajectory analysis, linked open data, semantics, and augmented reality, and most recently in alerting using real-time information,” said Isenor. “The partnership with the Institute has been fantastic, we see such value in the creativity in the students and postdocs. It’s a wonderful experience for us.” Varied research MIMIR is one of the many examples of projects coming out of the Institute for Big Data Analytics. “From big data education for Mi’kmaq children in Nova Scotia, classifying whale species using deep learning, and AI-based applications for diagnosing glaucoma, the scope of projects we are working on is vast,” explains Dr. Matwin. “Basically, if you have data there’s a good chance we can work together.”

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BACHELOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE

BACHELOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE Our Bachelor of Computer Science gives students a solid understanding of the theory, design and application of computer science through a wide range of areas including software development, algorithms, networking and graphics. By the end of their degree, students are not only strong programmers but have the skills needed to create new and innovative technologies that can shape how we will use computers and interact with each other in the future.

KEY FACTS 2018

882 students

2491 alumni

15% growth 2017/18 – 2018/19 experiential & work integrated learning: co-op option


BACHELOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE

Contributing to the experience The word ‘dedicated’ comes up a lot when people talk about Computer Science student Brandon Poole. It’s no wonder: Brandon is so involved with activities outside of classes that he says he sometimes forgets he’s a student. “There’s so much going on, so much to be a part of — it’s easy to feel at home in this community.”

The only problem? Brandon wasn’t a big fan of math and the Computer Programming class offered in grade 12 required advanced math and pre-calculus. Brandon really wanted to take that class, so he decided to put in the work. “I knew it was going to get harder and harder,” he explains. “I couldn’t goof off because I had to get the skills that would help me get through the next class.”

In his first year, Brandon joined the Computer Science Society (CSS) as secretary, he then went on to be society president for two consecutive years. He’s been a teaching assistant every semester he can — he loves teaching. He’s also working as a communications assistant, managing the faculty’s social media accounts.

Just as he was about to achieve his goal, the Computer Programming class was cancelled. Though disappointed, he decided to shift his focus to getting into his choice of university, hoping he’d like computer programming when he got there. He did.

Impact that resonates

Any doubts Brandon had about his choice of major were quickly erased when he got to the Faculty of Computer Science and discovered the incredible sense of community. That’s one of the reasons he’s passionate about contributing.

For Brandon, it’s all quite intentional. “People think they have to go out of their way to volunteer but I think change on a global scale, which everyone seems to want to do, can really start where you currently are. So, when you’re a part of something that is very localized like the CSS, you can build that in such a way that it affects people outside of your faculty.” He sees the Course Representatives idea as an example of that. As CSS president, he worked with Associate Dean Academic Christian Blouin to address issues within classes when they come up, instead of waiting to discover problems through course ratings at the end of the semester. At the start of the term, they reach out for volunteer Course Representatives from each class. “We give them a handbook with all their resources so they can act as a funnel to ensure issues get to the relevant people. “For example, let’s say you’re a CR for a course I’m in and I say, ‘Hey, this due date is unreasonable but I’m afraid of talking to the prof because I don’t want it to reflect negatively on me.’ The CR takes this information and anonymously passes it on to the prof, who then addresses it either with the CR or with the class as a whole. It works and it’s amazing.” Now other faculty societies are watching with interest. Reaching for goals Brandon discovered Computer Science in grade nine when the option came up as a recommended career choice on an aptitude test. “I loved computers and when I realized I could spend my life on computers I thought that sounded great.”

Vibrant community

“Everyone gets to know your name, especially if you come to the Learning Centre,” he says. “I don’t think you’ll find that in very many faculties, that space where people aren’t always competing and they’ll set aside 20 minutes to help you with a first or second year course. People really care and I think that’s a very rare quality.” Brandon also speaks highly of the co-op program. “I don’t know if I’d have any of the options I’ll have if I didn’t do co-op. I have lots of industry contacts from my placements.” His dedication and ingenuity have earned Brandon the Faculty Leadership Award, Computer Science Society Leadership award, Citizenship award, TA award and elusive Root award — only given out every few years to a student who has made a lasting impression in the faculty. Brandon realizes that level of involvement isn’t for everyone, but he encourages new students to approach their university experience with an open mind. “Take your first year to see all the opportunities around you, discover what interests you and be really dedicated to that one thing. To actually build something takes time and understanding and if you’re too spread out you won’t be able to make the opportunities happen.”

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BACHELOR OF APPLIED COMPUTER SCIENCE

Putting CS on the radar After quitting her job in public relations, Ariane Hanlon decided to take an Introduction to Computer Science course to fill her time. It didn’t take long for her to discover that coding was a better fit than communications. “About a week in to the class I realized that, for me, a really frustrating day doing coding was better than any day doing PR,” she recalls. “I took that as a pretty clear sign I should change career paths.” Now in her final year of the Applied Computer Science program, Ariane still feels she made the right choice — and she’s also discovered that it’s not actually all that different. “My database classes are about taking information and producing some kind of knowledge from all these little data points,” she explains. “It’s similar to what I did in my Journalism degree — you collect information and then you synthesize it and ask yourself, ‘what’s the story here?’ That’s what interests me.” Ariane is also encouraged by the number of career options that are available to her. She has her hopes set on something in data work or web development. Her interest in web development also complements her previous degree: “I’ve had training in web design and, now, in web development so I can see it from both sides. When I’m working with the bones of it I have a more complete understanding.” Increasing awareness Ariane is completing her degree during an exciting time. In 2018, Dalhousie’s 200th anniversary year, the Faculty of Computer Science doubled the number of female students entering undergraduate programs. When Ariane thinks about it, she suspects the gender gap is mostly a matter of awareness. “I just didn’t even think of Computer Science,” she says. “It’s not that I thought I couldn’t do it or it wouldn’t interest me, it wasn’t even on my radar.”

Her work leading the Halifax Chapter of Teachers Learning Code will help address awareness issues. The initiative ensures teachers are comfortable with coding so they can introduce it to their classes. The first workshop in Halifax was held in February 2018. Ariane was excited to see how her pilot workshop would be received. “That was the test for whether the content I’d put together is useful to the teachers who attended.” She wasn’t too concerned — the parent initiative, Canada Learning Code has a strong track record with making coding fun and accessible. “What I like is that we focus on tangible results,” she says. “So, if someone comes in knowing nothing, by the end of the day they can confidently make a web page about themselves. That’s really fun to see.” Ariane is also enthusiastic about Teachers Learning Code because it connects kids with coding. She learned first-hand how coding can boost the confidence and skills of students. “Programming is math and I didn’t clue into that until about two months into it, when a whole bunch of math snapped into place. I think if I had learned the basics of programming as a child, I probably wouldn’t have struggled with math as much.” Looking to the future For now, she’s excited about what the future might hold. She finds the work interesting and that’s a good place to start. “I quit my job because I was so bored and I thought it had no real purpose,” she admits. “But when you learn to program you realize you can use it to do the most menial tasks, like build yourself a calculator — or you can build apps that are used in hospitals. You can work in any field and imagine any function that would be useful to someone, and then you can figure out how to make it.”


BACHELOR OF APPLIED COMPUTER SCIENCE

BACHELOR OF APPLIED COMPUTER SCIENCE Our Bachelor of Applied Computer Science combines a deep understanding in technology with problem-solving, communications and management skills, equipping students to develop solutions to real-world problems using proven technologies. Our students gain knowledge on how to lead teams to analyze and tackle problems, helping organizations to overcome challenges and succeed in today’s increasingly connected world.

KEY FACTS 2018

203 students

83 alumni

78% growth 2017/18 – 2018/19 experiential & work integrated learning: co-op option

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MASTER OF APPLIED COMPUTER SCIENCE

MASTER OF APPLIED COMPUTER SCIENCE The Master of Applied Computer Science prepares students for dynamic careers in the software industry. Students develop their technical skills through core courses in data science, software development, web and the cloud. They then apply what they have learnt in a paid industry internship, entrepreneurship work term, or project.

KEY FACTS 2018

257 students

291 alumni

18% growth 2017/18 – 2018/19 experiential & work integrated learning: internship, entrepreneurship and project streams

Building a community of support It’s been a year of reflection and planning the for the Master of Applied Computer Science (MACS) program – the graduate degree that prepares students for a dynamic career in the software industry. As director of the program, Dr. Raghav Sampangi has been the driver behind many of the new – and re-focused – initiatives, working hard to build a community where students and alumni feel connected and supported. MACS students are now provided with their own dedicated team of academic advisors and graduate administrator – as well as an opportunity to receive in-program scholarship funding and recognition for their hard work in and out of the classroom. Dr. Sampangi is particularly proud of the introduction of the new scholarships. “It’s a chance to thank everyone for contributing to creating an engaged community,” he says. “There is great strength in working together, and everything our students have been doing is contributing immensely towards creating a positive learning environment.” Gold, silver and bronze medals valuing from 500 to 1000 dollars each were awarded this year to three students – Shilpa Singh, Grace Liu, and Robbie MacGregor - for their contributions. “These students managed to work on their grad school academic requirements and motivate themselves and their peers to work together to create an engaging and positive learning environment,” says Dr. Sampangi. In addition, $2,500 in-program academic scholarships will be awarded to some MACS students in the spring as a chance to recognize academic excellence. Looking ahead, Dr. Sampangi says “Our students can expect to benefit from some sought-after certificate options in topics like cloud computing, and from elective courses that are created based on trends in industry (often through industry suggestions

and feedback). We will look to industry and ensure our students are graduating with the confidence that they have what it takes to stand out and exceed in the job market.” Venture out The MACS degree offers students three stream options (internship, entrepreneurship, project), to better suit their needs and goals. Sogra Memon is the first student to go through the entrepreneurship stream, aimed at leveraging students’ technical skills with business knowledge. Taking these skills, Sogra has acted as Chief Product Officer for a business venture named Toddler+, where she’s been responsible for everything from product design to aligning customer requirements with the business vision. Their idea looks to solve a problem that so many parents face today. “The time spent by toddlers on tablets and smartphones has increased drastically over the past couple of years. This drastic change has caused – and is causing – multiple issues among children, such as obesity and developmental delays,” Sogra’s team explains. “Toddler+ is working on designing a range of innovative products that will take the tablet away without the tantrum.” This business venture led to winning a prestigious award – taking home first place in the Nova Scotia International Entrepreneurship Competition. “It’s really an amazing achievement for Sogra. It’s also an amazing confirmation that this stream could really help students innovate and maybe kickstart some ideas of their own,” says Dr. Sampangi.


MASTER OF COMPUTER SCIENCE/PHD

MASTER OF COMPUTER SCIENCE / PhD Our Master of Computer Science and PhD programs provide ample opportunities, and areas of specializations, for students to contribute to our groundbreaking research. Working closely with our award-winning professors, individuals can find the right research area to impact on the Faculty and our industry partners.

KEY FACTS 2018

104 students 693 msc alumni / 74 phd alumni

Diving into ocean data A foray into the gaming industry as a graphic artist at a Lunenburg-based studio kicked off Ontario-native Johna Latouf’s East Coast experience. “My background is in gaming,” says Johna. “I was interested in expanding my knowledge into something more science related and so applied for the Bachelor of Computer Science at Dalhousie.” Currently, Johna is continuing with her studies in the Master of Computer Science program. Discovering her passion It was taking an Honours option combined with experience working with the Institute for Big Data Analytics that sparked Johna’s interest in research. “I chose the Honours option and I had also done directed studies,” explains Johna. “My project focused on designing an application for virtual reality for drawing voxel models. This was a great way for me to try research out as part of my undergraduate studies, learn how theses are written, and how research projects work. “It’s a great foundation for the future and you can always come back to it later.” Technology to support sustainable fishing activity In her third year, Johna started working part-time for the Institute for Big Data Analytics in web development. This soon turned into a series of co-op work terms and an introduction to ocean data research. Working as a research assistant to a post-doc within the institute, Johna supported the development of a web application to interactively display fishing activity across the globe. “Using Automatic Information System (AIS) vessel tracking data from a company called exactEarth, my post-doc student supervisor Erico Neves de Souza developed an algorithm to determine if ships currently in the ocean are fishing or not,” Johna explains.

“This helps us to see where fishing is taking place, where vessels come from, how they move and how much fishing is happening worldwide. The application can be used by groups and professionals including conservationists and biologists to contribute towards sustainable fishing activity.” Making ocean data useful Johna’s work with ocean data doesn’t end there, she is currently working as a software engineer with the Marine Environment Research Infrastructure for Data Integration and Application Network (MERIDIAN) initiative alongside her graduate studies. Based out of the Institute for Big Data Analytics, MERIDIAN is an initiative to build a distributed data centre and a hub of expertise devoted to ocean data, with a focus on ocean acoustics. “Ocean related research is huge, and I’m particularly interested in conservation, so it works out as a good fit for me,” says Johna. “It’s an interesting but challenging area of research as there is so much data. It’s a challenge to make all of this data useful for scientists.” The work Johna is involved with as part of MERIDIAN and the Institute for Big Data Analytics is supporting the increasing volume of ocean data research taking place in the Faculty of Computer Science. Emphasis in this area was significantly bolstered with the recent launch of DeepSense, the world-class big ocean data innovation environment tackling real-world, commercially-focused ocean data challenges.

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MASTER OF ELECTRONIC COMMERCE

MASTER OF ELECTRONIC COMMERCE The Master of Electronic Commerce program is a collaboration between Dalhousie’s Faculty of Computer Science, Rowe School of Business, and the Schulich School of Law. The program is the first of its kind in Canada, equipping students to tackle the challenges of change by looking deeper into the forces that shape technology markets through an understanding of web technologies, e-business and internet law.

KEY FACTS 2018

39 students 322 alumni experiential & work integrated learning: internship option

MEC faculty and alumni support Canada’s Food Price Report 2019 Faculty and alumni from the Master of Electronic Commerce contributed to Canada’s Food Price Report 2019. Dr. Vlado Keselj and Jay Harris (MEC ’17) provided their expertise to this annual report, now in its ninth year. The average Canadian family is expected to spend $411 more on food in 2019 than in 2018, bringing the total cost of healthy food to $12,157 for the year, according to Canada’s Food Price Report 2019. The report was just released by a team of researchers from Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph. “Overall food prices are expected to rise no more than 3.5% in 2019, a slight increase from last year,” says Dalhousie Project Lead Sylvain Charlebois, professor in the Faculties of Management and Agriculture. “This is particularly due to the higher cost of fruits and vegetables, which will likely increase by 4% to 6%.” “With fruits and vegetables being a major part of a healthy diet, this raises concerns about the ability of Canadians to maintain the twofold effort of putting food on their plates and it being something healthy,” adds Guelph Project Lead Simon Somogyi, professor in the College of Business and Economics. There is some good news for consumers. For the very first time, Canada’s Food Price Report forecasts a price decrease in two important categories: meat and seafood, still key parts of the Canadian diet despite the fact that consumers are turning to plant-based proteins in larger numbers. “We consume 94 million fewer kilograms of beef annually today than in 2010, and more than 3 million Canadians say they are eliminating meat from their diets completely,” says Charlebois. Another way Canadians can save money next year is to cook and eat at home. Canadians spend on average 35% of their food budget on buying prepared foods, and this year’s report is predicting a further increase in the cost of eating out. Team member Erna van Duren, agricultural economist in the College of

Business and Economics at Guelph, points out, “Consumers can save money, but only if they plan ahead and know how to adapt. It makes sense to invest in cooking skills because they make it possible to cut costs by buying what’s on special as opposed to what’s simply on your list or looks appealing when you grocery shop.” One trend to watch in 2019 is edible cannabis products, which are expected to be on the market in the next 12 months. “One day a food product will be illegal, the next legal,” explains Somogyi. “I can’t think of another time in Canada where a food product has experienced this. Having seen major disruption in the marketplace with cannabis shortages nationwide, will food processors have access to adequate supplies of cannabis to put into food? Time will tell.” Eamonn McGuinty is a first-year student in the Master of Resource and Environmental Management (MREM) program at Dalhousie and served as a research associate for the project. He also completed a Bachelor of Commerce in Food and Agricultural Business at Guelph, which made him a perfect fit for the team. “I am passionate about this topic, especially as things are at a crossroads with technology and globalization,” he says. “I’m extremely bullish on the role Canada can play on the world stage of agriculture and food. We’re getting there, but still have lots to do.” “Most of us eat at least three times a day,” says van Duren, “and each of these times is an opportunity to be more informed, eat better and save money.”


MASTER OF HEALTH INFORMATICS

MASTER OF HEALTH INFORMATICS Our interdisciplinary Master of Health Informatics – a collaboration between Dalhousie’s faculties of Computer Science and Medicine – has health as the focus and technology as the enabler. Students are trained to analyze, design and evaluate digital health solutions to provide technology-enriched solutions to bridge the knowledge and information gaps within the healthcare system.

KEY FACTS 2018

38 students 168 alumni experiential & work integrated learning: internship stream

Tackling chronic disease with technology A passion for healthcare and technology has taken new graduate Ali Daowd on a journey from medical school in the Middle East to a PhD in Computer Science, here at Dalhousie. Ali graduated last year with a Master of Health Informatics (MHI) but isn’t finished with his studies just yet. He has chosen to continue with his current research at the PhD level, with the hope of using technology to benefit the lives of Canadian citizens. “The MHI program has enabled me to combine my medical experience with technology, to explore real solutions to everyday healthcare problems,” he says. “A PhD will allow me to take the research I have done so far to the next stage.” Innovative solutions to common medical problems Ali’s research is based around the development of a health platform that will help citizens self-assess their risk of chronic diseases. “Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide,” he explains. “However, it is well understood that if modifiable risk factors are targeted, many chronic diseases can be prevented, and individuals can maintain a healthy status.” Canada’s aging population, and a recognition of healthcare platform advances in Europe, led Ali to acknowledge this gap in the Canadian system and look towards a solution. “There isn’t anything like this in the market here, so we have the opportunity to assist individuals in achieving desired health targets, and avoiding harmful lifecycle choices,” he says.

which makes sense,” he says. “To be truly effective to meet healthcare needs, there needs to be input from medical professionals. This is where my experience in both fields has been very beneficial.” Ali will continue to work on the platform as part of his PhD research, with hopes of launching it to the Canadian public in the near future. Discovering a passion for research After graduating from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland – Medical University of Bahrain, Ali moved to Halifax to do an elective at the QEII. It was through residents at the hospital that Ali found out about the Master of Health Informatics. “I have always been passionate about technology and so the program seemed like a good way to pair my background with my interests,” he recalls. “I heard great things about the program and Dr. Raza Abidi - my experience certainly lived up to those testimonials.”

The digital health-based platform leverages artificial intelligence, data visualization and mobile health technologies to empower citizens to self-assess, self-monitor and self-manage their overall risk of major chronic diseases and pursue personalized chronic disease prevention programs.

Through the MHI program, Ali was able to use state of the art health informatics and tools to explore a whole new area of science and discover his love of research, describing his time on the program as an “exciting and challenging experience”.

Ali credits his combined experience in healthcare and technology for really helping him think about innovative solutions to some of the medical issues faced by modern society. “Canadian health informatics relies heavily on computer scientists for technical input,

Ali is now looking ahead to the prospect of continuing with a career in either academia or industry. “The one thing I do know is that I want to remain in research. I love that in health informatics I can collaborate with researchers in various fields and really make an impact.”

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RESEARCH FOCUS: BIG DATA ANALYTICS AND MACHINE LEARNING

BIG DATA ANALYTICS AND MACHINE LEARNING The Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning research cluster tackles important problems and develop real-life application, harnessing technologies to extract insights and use data in a more effective way – supporting decision-making across organizations and industry sectors – in a way made possible through dramatic advances in computing, digital storage, networking, and sensor technologies. Research Cluster Lead: Dr. Stan Matwin


RESEARCH FOCUS: BIG DATA ANALYTICS AND MACHINE LEARNING

Exploring the limits of technology and art Dr. Sageev Oore’s research enables him to combine two passions – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and music. In addition to being a computer scientist working in machine learning (a subfield of AI), his background also includes training and working professionally as a musician. “My research is focused on using deep learning techniques to generate music and art, and ultimately to use those techniques to build tools that people will be able to use.” Dr. Oore joined the Faculty of Computer Science earlier in 2018 after spending eighteen months as a Visiting Research Scientist working at Google Brain in Mountain View, California. “I was on the Magenta team, creating AI-powered tools to assist people making music and art. Part of this included using deep learning to generate music. Sometimes that music might sound, for a moment, as though a human is playing it, even though it’s machine-generated.” “This happens,” explains Dr. Oore, “through neural networks. Feeding the network thousands of minutes of data, collected from skilled pianists playing classical music, trains it to produce more of the same music. I say the ‘same’ but that’s sloppy language: really, what I mean is that we convert human performance data into sequences of thousands of events — for example, a sequence of 3 instructions: ’play note C, then 50 milliseconds later, play note E’. Then we generate new sequences with similar statistical characteristics and patterns. Given the complexity of the data, deep learning with neural networks is a natural way to approach this problem — and as a pianist, I found the resulting output quite … eerie and fascinating. We’re just beginning to explore this area. There’s lots more to do.” Analyzing and generating audio and music has been a curiosity for Dr. Oore for a

long time and something which he will continue to explore at Dalhousie as he builds his lab to explore machine learning in computational creativity. “Just because I’m working on algorithms to automate music generation doesn’t mean that I think that all of music, or its most important elements, can necessarily be automated, or that we would even want to do that as a goal for its own sake. Sometimes we set a goal because it’s an effective focal point to lead us through an interesting process. It’s a way to explore and push the limits of what we can do with machine learning; it might let us see both music and machine learning in new light; it may well lead to new creative tools; and perhaps we’ll learn something about ourselves in the process. “When I play piano, I’d have no interest in having a machine play piano instead of me: playing is one of the great joys. But I’m still fascinated to discover more about underlying patterns that exist in music. Learning about those patterns might give me new ideas for how to further play with them—whether that means breaking them or extending them.” Combining neural networks and music has been a curiosity for Dr. Oore for a long time, “It’s extremely exciting to be building my lab here at Dalhousie.” His lab is focused on machine learning in computational creativity, but Dr. Oore is also very interested in the synergies with related areas in the field. “As a scientist and musician, it’s fascinating to see how this research relates closely to many other directions. Some musicgeneration models use a ‘language model’ that’s based on similar techniques used for text processing—like Google Translate. Other projects are tied to signal processing, speech, or image generation. A keen student has lots to contribute regardless of whether they have musical background, and we have many collaborative opportunities.”

Alongside his work at Dalhousie, Dr. Oore is a Research Faculty Member at the Vector Institute. Based out of Toronto’s AI Hub, the Vector Institute is a community of world-class AI researchers and academic partners who work across disciplines on both curiosity-driven and applied research. The chief scientific advisor of the Vector Institute is Geoffrey Hinton, one of the founders of the field of neural networks and deep learning, who also happens to have been Dr. Oore’s PhD supervisor. “I joined Vector in early 2018 and I’m fortunate to be part of it,” says Dr. Oore. “There’s enormous wealth of experience and strength in machine learning at Vector, and my students at Dalhousie also have the opportunity to be affiliated with that.” It is often difficult to discuss AI without the question of whether technology is gearing up to replace human ability, something which Dr. Oore is confident will not happen anytime soon when it comes to music. “The text or music generated using AI is impressive in some ways but still has severe limitations. For example, it doesn’t have narrative or long-term structural coherence. You could compare it to certain public speakers who have impressive delivery of individual sentences, but where, after listening for a moment, you realize there’s no connection of ideas, no substance to what’s being said. So I don’t fear that AI will replace musicians. It’s just really, really interesting to explore the limits of what it can do, why those limits are there, and how we might transcend them.”

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RESEARCH FOCUS: SYSTEMS, NETWORKS AND SECURITY

SYSTEMS, NETWORKS AND SECURITY Our Systems, Networks and Security research cluster takes an interdisciplinary approach to using advancing technology to explore the real-world problems – and sometimes threats – facing organizations and individuals today. By analyzing the data and behaviours of both machine and humans, we develop solutions to improve the usability and security of systems and networks. Research Cluster Lead: Dr. Srini Sampalli


RESEARCH FOCUS: SYSTEMS, NETWORKS AND SECURITY

MYTech makes advances in IoT There has been a phenomenal amount of growth in wireless technologies and mobile communication systems over the last decade.

Kanazawa University in Japan as an active participant in the lab, bringing with him years of hardware expertise for developing IoT applications.

The Internet of Things (IoT) – the embedding of the Internet and computing devices into every day objects – is one example of this, and is on the brink of revolutionizing almost every sector.

In just six years, MYTech has accumulated many success stories, from graduating 60 graduate students to helping two local organizations create spin-off companies from their work within the lab, to two MYTech students co-founding their own companies.

Technically speaking, IoT refers to a collection of autonomous, smart, connected and uniquely identifiable objects with embedded processes that have capabilities in sensing, computing and communicating (sending and receiving data). “Market analytics estimate that in the next few years, there will be nearly 30 billion IoT devices,” explains Dr. Srini Sampalli, professor and 3M National Teaching Fellow at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Computer Science. “This promises advances in connected health and critical infrastructures with smart grids, cities, and autonomous vehicles, and enormous application benefits within our environment, the military, and for disaster prevention and rescue.” With this comes an array of questions and concerns around security, reliability, and ultimately wondering how to ensure these technologies are being used in the most effective and positive way. This is what motivated Dr. Sampalli to establish his EMerging WIreless TECHnologies (MYTech) lab six years ago. “My goal was to create a collaborative environment that would foster a culture of innovation to move us ahead in this emerging area of research.” There are currently 19 (5 PhD, 10 master’s, and 4 undergraduate) students working alongside Dr. Sampalli, focusing not only on the security and reliability of IoT, but also on the applications of sensor networks, critical infrastructures and mobile computing, generally. Recently, the team has also welcomed professor and expert on IoT, Dr. Hiroyuki Ohno, from

Rooted in academic excellence When asked why each student decided to complete their research in this field at Dalhousie, without fail, every student says it was for “Srini”. Whether Dr. Sampalli taught them during their undergraduate degree here at Dalhousie, presented at their university in India, or simply came up in conversation with a friend, he made the kind of impression that motivated them.

Power. With an undergraduate degree in computer and communications engineering, Steve has a background in dealing with electronics and robotics. After working with Halifax Learning (an organization best known for its reading remediation program, SpellRead) on a project that helps children overcome dyslexia challenges, Steve became fascinated by the power of the human mind and how technology (specifically, EEG) can be leveraged to help people, particularly those who have lost their ability to communicate – suffering, for example, from locked-in syndrome, ALS disease, and some coma cases – as well as those who have lost their ability to move their bodies freely due to paralysis.

In collaboration with Dr. Aaron Newman’s NeuroCognitive Imaging Lab in Dalhousie’s Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, under a MITACS scholarship, Steve has been able to experiment and innovate with an EEG set for his research. With more than twenty years of teaching “Although controlling devices using brain and research experience, Dr. Sampalli has waves (EEG) is anything but new, the graduated 120 students under his supervinovelty of my project lies in the fact that sion, something he’s extremely proud of. no middleware interface – or, computer – is required to control a targeted device,” “Teaching and supervising students will always remain one of my primary passions,” he explains. he says. The whole purpose is to make controlling a desired device possible by simply He has received many awards and recognilooking at it and thinking about what tion for his impacts in teaching, including the user wants it to do. Simply put, the the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, the device would read our minds and obey our most prestigious in Canada. He holds an commands as a result of a simple glance. honourary position of the Vice President (Canada) for the International Federation of National Teaching Fellows (IFNTF) – an important role for driving teaching excellence across any field of study. “I look forward to meeting every new student and really enjoy following them in their journey,” he says. “Nothing makes me happier than hearing from one of my past students. I love seeing where they took my teaching – or where they’ve gone with the hard work they put into their time here in the Faculty.” Steve Mostafa Dafer is a Master of Computer Science student working in MYTech lab on a project called Mind

“What greater purpose can we achieve other than giving those who can’t speak a voice - and empower people who have no means of expression or communication with the means to share their thoughts and emotions again?” says Steve. In Dr. Sampalli’s lab, Steve says the only limit is one’s imagination – and motivation. “As the lab consists of students and collaborators from different backgrounds, support – both technical and emotional – is in abundance,” Steve notes. “Nothing is impossible when a group of experts from different backgrounds and expertise are passionate about the same goal.”

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RESEARCH FOCUS: HCI, VISUALIZATION AND GRAPHICS

HCI, VISUALIZATION AND GRAPHICS Research in the HCI, Visualization and Graphics cluster connects computer science with human-centered disciplines including psychology, health, sociology, anthropology, and art and design, developing technologies that advance the interfaces between humans and computers. Working to understand how humans use computing technologies, we are helping to define the interactive technologies of the future - making technology useful, effective and enjoyable. Research Cluster Lead: Dr. Derek Reilly

Caption


RESEARCH FOCUS: HCI, VISUALIZATION AND GRAPHICS

Games for change It was issues in his native Nigeria that inspired Master of Computer Science student Chinenye Ndulue, together with his supervisor Rita Orji, to develop an innovative smartphone game to tackle risky sexual behavior. Recognizing the rise of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in West Africa, they looked to technology to create a tool to help young people navigate decision-making amongst the cultural and religious conflicts that sometimes prevent them from understanding the risks and consequences of risky sexual behaviours, like unprotected sex. “Technology often has people from developed countries as the focus, different approaches need to be taken to be effective in other cultures,” says Dr. Orji. “Western ideas often don’t align with some of the barriers to the education and sensitization of young people in Africa. This group are more prone to being exposed to risky sexual behaviors as it is not as culturally acceptable for parents or schools to have open discussions about topics such as this. Often, they end up relying on their peers for information that may not be accurate.” Trusted and relatable advice One noticeable cultural similarity between West Africa and North America is the adoption of handheld technology amongst the younger demographic, with the majority of West Africans owning a smartphone. Chinenye began considering how devices can be used to empower and motivate African youths to change risky sexual behavior that may lead to STDs such as HIV. With mobile applications, they can explore trusted advice and compelling facts about risky sexual behaviours in a safe and private manner.

This has formed the basis for Chinenye’s work in persuasive computing, coming out of the Human-Computer Interaction research cluster at the Faculty of Computer Science. His project: “STD Pong,” an easy to play game which navigates the user through defeating a number of STDs, collecting important information along the way. “The power-ups the player receives include condoms and blood tests, giving the avatar strength and the ability to defeat infections,” he explains. “Whereas, “STD bullets” reduce the avatar’s life and come in the form of unprotected sex and unsterilized sharp objects, demonstrating how infections reduce the immune system in real life.” Western African culture has remained at the core of game research and development to ensure the product is approachable to its intended audience. “We worked with African doctors in the early stages of exploration to establish the STDs used in the game. This expertise resulted in us highlighting the nine most common West African infections to ensure users receive the most useful information. “We have also ensured the storyline and characters remain African-centric. For the game to be effective, it needs to be relevant and relatable to our intended audience.” Gaming that makes an impact Chinenye’s research is already gathering acclaim from his technology colleagues. In April 2018, a paper presented by Chinenye and Dr. Orji — STD PONG: An AfricanCentric Persuasive Game for Risky Sexual Behaviour Change — won best poster at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) – HCI Across Borders in Montreal. CHI is the premier

international conference of HumanComputer Interaction. He was also awarded best presentation at the 2018 Persuasive Technology Conference, Personalizing Persuasive Technology Workshop at the University of Waterloo. STD Pong is currently in the final stages of internal testing and will be uploaded to app stores soon. This will be followed by a launch to the African public. Dr. Orji, also a Nigerian native, is using her connections with NGOs and universities in Africa to promote the app to young Africans. “We are in contact with a number of African organizations who are committed to this topic and confident that this is something that youth will engage with,” she says. “Not only will users get to learn something, acquire skills that will empower them to adopt healthy behaviour, and avoid risk but the game is also fun. We want to use technology to engage in meaningful discussions and change perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors.” The STD Pong team also hope to apply for a grant to conduct a longitudinal study of the game in Africa to see how the app impacts people’s behaviour in real life, once it is launched. The study will assess shifts in knowledge, attitude, and behaviors related to risky sexual behaviour. “It’s not just the short-term, but the longerterm impact we are interested in,” says Dr. Orji. “We want to be able to make the game available to the general public for free after evaluation to increase its impact.”

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RESEARCH FOCUS: ALGORITHMS & BIOINFORMATICS

ALGORITHMS AND BIOINFORMATICS Researchers in Algorithms and Bioinformatics develop tools that address real-world problems in medicine, the environment, industry and beyond. Through collaboration with colleagues in Computer Science, Biology, Oceanography and Statistics, we are developing solutions that have gained widespread use, nationally and internationally. Research Cluster Lead: Dr. Rob Beiko


RESEARCH FOCUS: ALGORITHMS & BIOINFORMATICS

Building big tools to tackle big problems It is difficult to avoid headlines over the state of our environment and what the future may bring, with news often appearing dire. Our ability to collect vast amounts of data about our planet, due to numerous technological advances, creates tremendous opportunities to analyze this data to guide our efforts to becoming better stewards of our planet. Data about changing populations of species in different habitats and the evolution of bacteria, as examples, has the potential to inform our efforts to enhance and sustain bio-diversity. Analyzing large amounts of genetic data, however, is infeasible without appropriate analytic software that can discover complicated patterns in large data sets efficiently. “To get to a position where biologists can use any of this data effectively, we need tools to analyze, understand, and decipher genetic data and the evolutionary processes that led to the species we have today, “explains Dr. Norbert Zeh, professor in computer science. Dr. Zeh is part of a team of interdisciplinary experts within the Faculty of Computer Science’s Algorithms and Bioinformatics research cluster who focus on developing such tools. “Success depends on having a group with expertise in the right mix of areas. My colleagues Dr. Robert Beiko and Dr. Christian Blouin contribute the expertise in biology necessary to express biological problems as computational ones that can be addressed using techniques from a wide range of areas such as Statistics, Machine Learning, and Algorithms. Dr. Meng He and I look at this through the algorithmic lens necessary to solve the hard problems that arise in bioinformatics in any reasonable amount of time.”

One specific problem to which Dr. Beiko, Dr. Zeh and their graduate students devote significant energy is the discovery of evolutionary events beyond vertical inheritance. Something which Dr. Zeh argues is key to understanding today’s habitats. “We do this to understand how species acquired certain traits,” says Dr. Zeh. “A key step in this is the construction of an evolutionary network that displays these events from a collection of phylogenetic trees that represent the evolution of individual genes shared by a group of species.” Dr. Zeh acknowledges that many bioinformatics problems are very difficult to solve efficiently, “which is a big part of the fun in trying to solve them anyway.” “Most biologically meaningful variations of the evolutionary network construction referred to are NP-hard – meaning that, at least in theory, these problems cannot be solved in any reasonable amount of time,” explains Dr. Zeh. “As a team, we have developed algorithms that can solve such network construction problems on many inputs in a fraction of a second, despite theory telling us otherwise. Previous methods to solve such network construction problems would have taken hours or sometimes years to find a solution for the same inputs.” He adds, “This has enabled us to develop methods for constructing a “tree of life” from the gene trees of a collection of species based on solving millions or billions of such network construction problems.” A method Dr. Zeh has found essential to speeding up algorithms in this area is cluster reduction.

“Essentially, we break an input into smaller parts that can be solved independently; a solution to the original input can then be assembled from the solutions computed for the parts,” says Dr. Zeh. “When it can be applied, this method promises exponential speed-ups in phylogenetic network construction algorithms and a recent extensive experimental study demonstrates that it is extremely effective in practice, to the point that the choice of other techniques that are combined with cluster reduction to compute a solution is almost irrelevant; cluster reduction does all the heavy lifting.” A central theme of the algorithms work carried out in the Algorithms and Bioinformatics research cluster is a focus on balancing fundamental results on the effectiveness of different techniques to solve particular problems with engineering of practical implementations that have impact on real-world applications. Beyond the bioinformatics domain, members of the research cluster also collaborate with researchers in Machine Learning in order to improve the computational cost of various machine learning methods. “Insights into the practical effectiveness of algorithmic techniques – in terms of computation time, the need for computational hardware, or energy consumption - is what is needed to solve computational problems on the increasing wealth of data we have to analyze,” concludes Dr. Zeh. “Big Data provides great opportunities to make informed decisions based on information but the processing of these large amounts of data is possible only if we use efficient algorithms and carefully engineered algorithm implementations.”

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ALUMNI STORIES

Alumni Stories LEAH BROWN

Class of 2014

When I was young, I was pretty crafty and really enjoyed making things,” reflects Leah Brown, 2014 graduate of the Bachelor of Computer Science degree with honours. “This translates pretty well to coding,” she says, which she was happy to discover with her degree. Brown still loves to code as much as she did in university.

Getting this opportunity – so quickly – made Brown realize what her degree did for her. “It made me realize how far I had come as a student at Dal, and how much my time there had allowed me to grow.”

“I love that once I have a design plan, I get to build it through code and bring it to life. I find the process really exciting. It’s so cool to see the finished product when you’re all done.” As a student, she explored classes in software development and operating systems. Although they may not have seemed like the obvious links to her childhood interests, these two classes stand out as being two of her favourites. “They were tough courses, but they had a focus on a fairly low-level, memory-conscious development which I found very interesting,” she remembers. “It made you think hard about what the machine was doing underneath the code you were writing.” While at Dalhousie, Brown’s dream job was to be a software developer for a major tech company. After a presentation from a Microsoft recruiter when she was in her third year, Brown took the plunge to apply for one of their internships. This paid off and she found herself leaving her Bedford, Nova Scotia home for Seattle – setting out to make the first impression that would put her on track to where she is today. Her first graduate job within Microsoft’s enterprise sales portal was lined up before she even finished her studies. Fortunately for Brown, Microsoft IT has a new-hire program that rotates employees through different teams within your first few years of working. “It was a great experience – I got to learn how different teams operated and met a lot of new people,” a point that is important to her after leaving behind the strong community Brown belonged to in the Faculty of Computer Science. Getting this opportunity – so quickly – made Brown realize what her degree did for her. “It made me realize how far I had come as a student at Dal, and how much my time there had allowed me to grow.” Five years later, Brown is settled into the team she has called home for the last three years, working on the desktop version of Microsoft Word. But what exactly does a day look like for a software engineer in a big tech company? “My day usually starts with a sync meeting in the morning. It’s a good opportunity to catch up with the rest of the team on everyone’s progress and anything they might be blocked on. There is a bit of coding before lunch time, then our team eats lunch together,” describes Brown. “From there, it largely depends on the day – sometimes the afternoon is fairly quiet which gives you some quality focus time, but other days we’ll have design reviews to discuss plans for upcoming work.” “I feel lucky, I expected it would be 10, 15 years down the road to land a job like this.”


ALUMNI STORIES

IAN BEZANSON

Class of 2004

Even though Ian Bezanson (BCS’04) was enrolled in the Bachelor of Computer Science program, he actually had aspirations of being a local restauranteur in Halifax after graduation. “When I was a student, I was exposed to the exciting side of working in restaurants,” recalls Bezanson. “Once I graduated, I became fully enveloped in the business, understanding the rate of failure in that industry and what it takes to make it. That wasn’t the path for me at that stage in my career, though I do romanticize it from time to time.” In the years following, he decided to further advance his technical skills in roles as a systems administrator for a large multi-national corporation and a software developer for a sports company. He, then, discovered marketing and his focus and interest very quickly shifted. “I became really interested in using technology in creative ways to solve business problems,” Bezanson says. It’s been ten years since he entered the field, and he continues to love every aspect of what he does. In 2000, he created and led his own marketing agency, Bits Creative Agency, a full-service creative agency that transformed brand aspirations into reality through marketing, branding, digital designs, and web creations. Recently - eight years into running this Halifax-based company - Bits was acquired by Halifax’s Trampoline Branding Subsidiary, Twist by Trampoline. Now, as Director of Technology for the newly-formed company, Twist & Bits, Bezanson is described as being “always focused on the larger picture, [he’s] the calming force within the organization.” His approach is simple. It’s client-focused. “First and foremost, we work to understand our client’s business needs, goals, and gauges for success,” he says. “Working within teams that cut across both creative and tech, we look to understand our clients’ customers (both their existing and desired), we conduct research to understand their behaviour, and develop personas and hypotheses that drive our strategy for how we can help them achieve – and measure the success of – their goals.” Bezanson says that this kind of collaboration is really motivating. “It allows for a really wellrounded and inspired approach to any work we do. It forces us to always be open to different perspectives as well as look in unexpected places for valuable insights.” So how did an undergraduate degree in computer science help equip him for this success? “Dalhousie’s CS program did a really good job at helping me develop a strong foundation for proper software development,” says Bezanson. “About five years out, I found myself with a strong level of critical thinking that I attribute to my learnings at Dal.” Although it’s not exactly how he originally thought he’d be spending his days after university, he says he couldn’t imagine it any other way. He’s ingrained into the local marketing scene here in Halifax and loves that the sense of community he felt as a student at Dal has carried through in everything he has done since. When not thinking about how to innovate and solve problems, he spends his time either running the streets of Halifax or cooking at home for his wife – and fellow CS alum! – and two young boys.

“I became really interested in using technology in creative ways to solve business problems,” Bezanson recalls. It’s been ten years since he entered the field, and he continues to love every aspect of what he does.

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GOODBYE ISN’T REALLY GOODBYE dal.ca/cs

As a member of our alumni community, there are plenty of ways you can engage with Dalhousie, the Faculty and our students. Don’t be a stranger. ATTEND alumni events on and off campus NETWORK and make valuable contacts through our social media channels VOLUNTEER with our students and share your insight HIRE students to fill your graduate, co-op and internship roles We’re always keen to hear your success stories, stay in touch alumni@cs.dal.ca

FACULTY OF COMPUTER SCIENCE Dalhousie University 6050 University Avenue PO Box 15000 28 Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4R2     /dalfcs Linkedin /dalhousiecs

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Computer Science Magazine 2018/19  

Computer Science Magazine 2018/19