Summit: Spring 2017

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SPRING ISSUE 2017

New Data Science Degree Opens up the COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

INFINITE POSSIBILITIES OF ANALYTICS Sunday

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Saturday

Christmas Day 6.3

Christmas Eve

New Year’s Day 6.2

New Year’s Eve

Valentine’s Day 6.1

6.0

5.9

U.S. Ban on refugees

Terrorist attack on Quebec City mosque 5.8

5.7 Dec 04

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Average Happiness for Twitter The hedonometer is based on people’s online expressions, capitalizing on data-rich social media. Learn more in this issue’s feature story.

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UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT

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SUMMIT


THE

UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

Dean’s View D

ear CEMS Alumni and Friends,

We have been imagining, designing and building an exceptional future for CEMS which is now being realized.

Center; along with student spaces, and engineering design and software labs.

In this issue of Summit we highlight our new Data Science Bachelor of Science degree. It provides an exciting opportunity for our students to learn the skill sets that will allow them to move across the disciplines of math, statistics and computer science. This degree benefits from the internationally recognized work of the transdisciplinary faculty that comprise the Vermont Complex Systems Center. It complements our existing Graduate Certificate in Complex Systems and our new M.S. in complex systems and data science. We have also proposed a Ph.D. in complex systems and data science that we expect will be approved to start next fall. This will position UVM as one of a very select group of universities with all three degrees (B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.) related to this rapidly expanding field.

This spring we have started in earnest the remodeling of Votey. We will fully vacate the building this summer so that all renovations can be completed before the beginning of the fall semester. Votey upgrades are in two categories.

We are making great progress in upgrades to the critical infrastructure for the College and University with the $104M STEM Complex. This investment will transform our teaching and research labs, student design spaces, classrooms and faculty offices. The project involves the construction of two new STEM buildings (Discovery and Innovation) as well as substantial renovations to Votey Hall. The Discovery Building will open in May, and our students will start taking their Physics and Chemistry labs there this summer. Environmental Engineering labs will commence in the fall. Once that building is open, Cook will be demolished and replaced with the second building (Innovation), which will open in May 2019. That building will house our Computer Science Department, Mathematics and Statistics Department, and our Complex Systems

The first involves the infrastructure including a new roof (completed last summer), an upgrade of our fire alarm system, sprinkler installation throughout the building, a revamped electrical system, modernized HVAC, new data and network wiring and expanded bathroom capacity. The second category features upgrades to all the teaching labs and student spaces in the building. We will upgrade/expand all teaching labs, and create a few new ones, as well as create student design studios. This is an exceptional opportunity to transform the learning environment for all our students; of the 26 million we seek in private philanthropy, we have raised 9 million thanks to the generous support of our alumni and friends. I look forward to reporting on our renovated facilities in the next issue of Summit along with other accomplishments and opportunities. Please continue to check our improved website and social media feeds for more frequent updates. Sincerely,

Luis Garcia, Ph.D. Dean and Barrett Foundation Professor College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

Photo: Sally McCay


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EDITOR: Jenn Karson

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CEMS News & Updates

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A New Wrinkle in Conductivity

EDITORIAL ADVISOR: Ed Neuert GRAPHIC DESIGN: Ion Design

Frederic Sansoz explores wires that are super strong, super-small, and stretch like gum

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Joshua Brown, Andrea Estey, Luis Garcia, Hagan Associates, Jenn Karson, Ed Neuert, Marnie Owen, Andrea Suozzo, Sarah Tuff Dunn, University Communicaions, Jeff Wakefield

12 Reddit Brings Evolutionary Robotics Class to the World An online class leads a student from Nepal to Burlington

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Analyze This UVM’s new Data Science degree merges mathematics, statistics and computer science to prepare students for dynamic careers

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PHOTOGRAPHY/IMAGES: Joshua Brown, Nick Bucci, James Buck, Kerry Castano, Andy Duback, Maggie Eppstein, Polly Garcia, Sally McCay, David Seaver, UVM Athletics, UVM Special Collections

Greed for Speed A CEMS study provides insights on evolution of drug resistance

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Making it Real

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Sunday Monday Alumni Spotlight

Christmas Day Christmas Eve

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In UVM’s “FabLab” ideas become three-dimensional objects Tuesday

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Nick Strayer ‘15 is landing cover stories with the New York Times and funding from the NIH using his talent for telling visual stories through data

Looking Back: When Votey was New

6.3

New Year’s Day

6.2

New Year’s Eve

Valentine’s Day 6.1

6.0

5.9

U.S. Ban on refugees

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Terrorist attack on Quebec City mosque 5.8

SUMMIT IS PUBLISHED TWICE A YEAR BY THE DEAN’S OFFICE AT THE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

SEND LETTERS AND ALUMNI NEWS TO: summit@uvm.edu ON THE COVER: Hedonometer.org is based on the research of Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth and their team in the Computational Story Lab, including visualization by Andy Reagan at the University of Vermont Complex Systems Center, and the technology of Brian Tivnan, Matt McMahon and their team from The MITRE Corporation.

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NEWS

UVM LEADS PROJECT TO IMPROVE GRID Mads Almassalkhi

UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

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n innovative project developed at CEMS has received a $1.8 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative for research aimed at improving the electric grid’s ability to accommodate power generated from renewable energy sources.

UVM Spinoff One of Nation’s Top Start-Ups Ryan McDevitt G’14, co-founder and lead R&D engineer for GreenScale Technologies of South Burlington, Vt., with his former doctoral advisor, Darren Hitt.

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reenScale Technologies of South Burlington, Vt., a research and development company with ties to the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) that focuses on the small satellite market, was honored in Washington, D.C., last September by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer as one of the nation’s top 36 university-spawned start-up companies. The company was selected for its miniaturized propulsion system for small satellites. NASA has identified propulsion as a key enabling technology for future missions. The technology was created by GreenScale Technology’s cofounder and lead engineer, Ryan McDevitt, who earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering at UVM in 2014, in partnership with his former Ph.D. advisor, Darren Hitt, a professor of mechanical engineering at CEMS. GreenScale holds an option to license the technology from UVM.

Read about how Prof. Darren Hitt is working with Senior Experience Engineering Design to develop a “solar sail” on page 21.

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GreenScale Technologies was one of four winners of UVM’s 2016 SPARKVT awards. The company has also received three awards from Vermont EPSCoR.

The award, one of only 13 awarded nationally, is part of SunShot’s newest program called Enabling Extreme Real-time Grid Integration of Solar Energy, or ENERGISE. As more roof-top solar comes onto the grid, electric utilities have to manage an increasingly variable and uncontrollable power supply, which creates challenges for maintaining reliable, resilient, and economic grid operations. The UVM-led project seeks to overcome these challenges by adapting advanced real-time control and optimization concepts from high-voltage power systems to low-voltage three-phase distribution grid operations. This allows the team to develop state-of-the-science analytical and software tools necessary to ensure reliable and resilient distribution system operations under extreme penetration of solar PV generation. The team will also study the role and capability of novel energy market formulations and validate the resulting technology in multiple phases with industry partners. Mads Almassalkhi, principal investigator and assistant professor of electrical and biomedical engineering (EBE) in UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, is partnering with EBE colleagues Hamid Ossareh, Pavan Racherla, and Paul Hines at UVM and professors Dennice Gayme and Enrique Mallada at Johns Hopkins University. In addition, the project will leverage expertise from Dr. Soumya Kundu’s team at Pacific Northwestern National Lab, the National Institute of Science and Technology, and Consolidated Edison New York (Orange & Rockland Utility) to develop and validate the technology as well as a strategy that will help distribution utilities manage a much larger contribution from renewable sources.

Photos: Sally McCay


CEMS RESEARCH AWARDS FOR MORE AWARDS VISIT

FACULTY FROM ACROSS THE COLLEGE ARE ENGAGED IN LEADING-EDGE RESEARCH SPONSORED BY THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION, NASA, AND OTHER FUNDING AGENCIES

WWW.UVM.EDU/CEMS

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR SPONSOR

PROJECT TITLE

Mads Almassalkhi US DOE

Robust and Resilient Coordination of Feeders with Uncertain Distributed Energy Resources: From real time control to long-term planning

Lisa Aultman-Hall

UCDavis/USDOT

National Center for Sustainable Transportation (UTC)

$94,930

Jeff Buzas

VT Oxford Network

Statistical Support for the Vermont Oxford Network

$141,629

Paul Hines VELCO Co PI Mads Almassalkhi

Stochastic Receding Horizon Optimal Power Flow Given High-resolution Weather Forecast Data

$108,291

Darren Hitt

Vermont Space Grant Consortium

$570,000

Britt Holmen USDA-ARS

Health Promoting Roles of Food Bio-active Phenolic Compounds on Obesity-altered Health, and Kidney Functions

$221,714

Dryver Huston NSF Co PI Tian Xia

Smart City: Underground Infrastructure Sensing and Mapping for Smart Maintenance, Sustainability, Usage and Resilience

$296,146

Dryver Huston NSF Co PI Tian Xia

US Ignite: Collaborative Research: Focus Area 1: Fiber Network for Smart Mapping, Monitoring and Managing Underground Urban Infrastructure

$298,526

Judi Laird

VT Agency of Education

Vermont Mathematics and Science Partnerships

$300,000

Regina Toolin Co PI Donna Rizzo

US Dept. of Education

The VSTEM Leads Institute

Daniel Weiss Co PI Patrick Lee

NIH

Decellularized Avian Lungs for Use in Pulmonary Therapeutics

$428,532

Tian Xia ONR

Adaptive Surveillance Radar System for Detecting Human Object with Obscure Features

$216,828

Jianke Yang

Mathematical Analysis of Nonlinear Optics in Periodic and Complex Media

$240,000

NASA

$1,772,036

$117,545

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

NASA

AWARD

CEMS BY THE NUMBERS: CAREER OUTCOMES

93% 80% 13% of CEMS 2015 graduates were employed or continuing with their education within six months of graduation.

of graduates were employed within six months of graduation.

of graduates were continuing their education.

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NEWS UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

Professor and CS Chair Maggie Eppstein, Professor Jackie Horton and Complex Systems Center Associate Director Andi Elledge brought 28 students to the 2016 Grace Hopper Conference. Twenty-seven of the students were sponsored by BRAID funding and one graduate student was funded by CA Technologies.

WORLD’S LARGEST GATHERING OF WOMEN TECHNOLOGISTS INSPIRES UVM STUDENTS TO

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hen 28 University of Vermont students traveled to Houston, Texas, for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing— the world’s largest gathering of women technologists—they found job and internship opportunities, made new connections with their classmates, and had the opportunity to meet inspiring female leaders in the field. They also heard a call to action, a fitting tribute to the event’s namesake, Admiral Grace Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist from the World War II era. Said one student of the October event: “I feel like one of the most important things I took away from this conference was learning that I have the power to do more. Seeing all of these accomplished women in tech made me realize I can dream bigger than I thought I could.” As chair of UVM’s Department of Computer Science, this is music to Professor Maggie Eppstein’s ears. Data from the National Center for Women in Technology point to a trend we aim to reverse: In 1985, 37 percent of undergraduate computer science degree recipients were women. In 2012, that number was 18 percent. Fortunately there is plenty of demand if

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“Dream Big”

we can generate additional graduates. By 2022, there will be roughly 1.2 million computing-related jobs available in the United States, and universities currently are graduating about 39 percent of the professionals needed to fill them. This field provides a great opportunity for women to get well-paying and rewarding careers. Both the field and the economy could benefit from higher participation of women. “More diverse teams have been shown to be more creative and productive,” says Eppstein. “And we need software developers who are as diverse as the software users are, in order to have designs that better meet the needs of these users.” Attending the Grace Hopper celebration helps students better understand these opportunities, says Eppstein, and they come away with renewed confidence and purpose in the face of what may sometimes seem like a barrage of news reports about a technology work culture that is not welcoming to women and minorities. “I hear many students talk about how empowering it was, and it reaffirms their commitment to the field,” she says. “It makes them feel like they’re not alone.”

Students also make connections with potential employers; the event features a career fair with more than 200 booths representing major companies like Google, Apple, and IBM, as well as smaller start-ups. Eppstein said most UVM students had at least one interview, and one student had ten interviews during the event. Several walked away with offers for jobs or internships. This year, the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences was a sponsor for the conference, allowing access to the resume database and a booth to recruit women for graduate programs and faculty positions in computer science and complex systems. For the past two years, students have attended the event free of charge thanks to BRAID funding from Facebook, Google, Intel and Microsoft. BRAID, which stands for Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity, is administered by the Anita Borg Institute (which runs the Grace Hopper Conference), and was the brain child of Dr. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College. UVM’s computer science department is one of only 15 BRAID-supported programs nationwide.

Photos: Dave Seaver, Nick Bucci, Maggie Eppstein


RESEARCH EXPERIENCES FOR UNDERGRADUATES (REU) This academic year, CEMS is funding 100 one semester REU opportunities for our students.

CEMS undergraduate students are able to engage in project-based research under the guidance of an experienced faculty member. One example is Anwar Elhadad (left photo) who worked with Professor Maryam Etezad. In this project a UV sensor and a microcontroller form a wearable detector to remind the user—via a text message—to apply sun screen if the radiated wavelength from the sun is in the range of the sun’s harmful rays. Laura Weed (right photo) works with

Professor Ryan McGinnis to develop a human gait analysis iPhone app, which is intended to allow doctors to use the

app in a clinical setting to analyze gait in order to, for instance, track the progress of hip replacement patients.

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

FIRST SEMESTER ENGINEERING SEMINAR PROJECT SHOWCASE In December, 80 teams from the new course First Semester Engineering Seminar came to the Billings Library and presented their project proposals and pitched their ideas that addressed a challenge, problem, or unmet need. Attendees from across the College and UVM campus saw a huge range of creativity and innovation from these first-year students.

CS FAIR SHOWCASES TALENT Have a late-night hankering for a pint of Cherry Garcia or a handful of Oreos on campus? “Midnight Delivery” can help. It’s a website developed by sophomore Rohit Nawani and first-year Ken Liu, as part of their

Beginner Web Design class. On the site, students can order snacks right to their door between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. “Midnight Delivery” was just one of 171 projects showcased at the latest CEMS Computer Science Fair in December. The annual event is open to any student who took a computer science course in the last year and wants a chance to share their work with peers and tech professionals—and a chance to win up to $300 in cash prizes, made possible by 29 sponsors. First, second and third prize teams in a variety of categories were picked by a team of judges from IBM, Dealer.com, State Street, MyWebGrocer, and others. Nawani and Liu won first place among beginner programmers for a cryptography program.

CS Fair participants from left to right: Gabriela Ortiz, Madison Anderson, and Nikki Allen

FOR A FULL LIST OF THE WINNERS AT THE FAIR, GO TO:

HTTPS://CSFAIR.W3.UVM.EDU

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NEWS UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

STEM COMPLEX ON THE RISE CEMS students and faculty will soon reap the benefits from UVM’s investment in a $104 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) complex, the university’s largest-ever capital project. The Discovery building is nearing its completion this spring, along with its bridge to Votey Hall. Discovery will bring new laboratory facilities online for the College. Renovations in the summer of 2017 to Votey Hall will provide significant upgrades to numerous engineering labs, including the CEMS machine shop and prototyping lab. The next two years will see the demolition of the Cook Science Building and its replacement with the the final STEM complex component, the new Innovation building, scheduled for completion in May 2019. Innovation will house the CEMS departments of computer science, and mathematics and statistics; and the Vermont Complex Systems Center.

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The Barrett Bridge connects Votey to the new STEM Complex.

CEMS NEW STAFF Samantha Dawn Williams

Coordinator for Graduate Programs Samantha comes to CEMS from the Grossman School of Business at UVM, where she was an enrollment management professional. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2010, and a Masters in Higher Education Administration from New England College in 2011. Prior to coming to UVM she was a resident director at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts, and a graduate hall director at New England College.

Courtney Giles Lab Manager

Courtney earned her B.S. in chemistry and B.A, in environmental geochemical science from the State University of New York at New Paltz in 2007, and she completed a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Vermont in 2012. Before returning to UVM she was a postdoctoral research associate at the James Hutton institute in Dundee, U.K.

Katarina Khosravi

Administrative Assistant Katarina received her undergraduate degree in economics from SP University in Kosice, Slovakia. She then pursued graduate studies at both the University of Virginia and University of Oklahoma graduate schools of banking. She comes to CEMS after most recently working as the administrative assistant to the CEO of Niku and Associates in Champlain, N.Y.

Photos: Dave Seaver


Kaelyn Burbey Receives Top ROTC Award Cadet Kaelyn Burbey, a UVM senior majoring in environmental engineering with a math minor, has received the ROTC Legion of Valor Bronze Cross Award, given annually for achievement of scholastic excellence in military and academic subjects. Burbey, one of only 13 cadets nationally to receive the award, ranks in the top 10 percent of the nation’s senior cadets. The award was presented at the UVM Army ROTC alumni reception in September at the Davis Center by Maj. Travis Myers, executive officer, and Master Sgt. Christopher Cunningham, senior military instructor, of the Green Mountain Battalion.

Originally from San Marcos, California, Burbey has numerous other academic and military accomplishments at UVM. She received the June Veinott UVM Engineering Award and the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Leadership Award, is a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society and was selected for the Superior Cadet Award. This summer she completed an engineering internship

at the MIT Lincoln Labs and graduated from the Cadet Leaders Course in Fort Knox, Kentucky. She has also earned her German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge and completed a cultural understanding and language proficiency program in Macedonia. In addition, she has twice been a member of the UVM ROTC Ranger Challenge Team, which competes in military skills competitions with other ROTC programs across the region. “Cadet Kaelyn Burbey brings great credit upon herself, the United States Army Cadet Command and the University of Vermont for receiving this award,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Knoth, professor of military science for UVM Army ROTC. “She is the epitome of the student, athlete, leader, and has a great future ahead of her as an Army Officer.”

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

“Cadet Burbey is an exceptional cadet who embodies everything we look for in a future Army officer,” said Myers. “She earned this award by excelling both in her academics at the University of Vermont and at her military development through Army ROTC. Above all, Cadet Burbey has proven herself to be a moral and ethical leader with an impressive character. She is an exemplary representative of the University of Vermont’s Army ROTC program.”

DAN ARCHDEACON MEMORIALIZED BY JOURNAL Dan Archdeacon, an intellectually engaging teacher, world-renowned scholar and highly respected colleague who joined the University of Vermont’s Department of Mathematics in 1982, died in 2015. Now this highly-regarded scholar and teacher has been honored by the current volume of the Australasian Journal of Combinatorics, which has been edited in memory of Archdeacon.

Archdeacon served the university in many leadership roles, including as director of the Mathematics Graduate Program and as a long time member and chair of the Professional Standards Committee of the Faculty Senate. Archdeacon was named a University Scholar for the academic year 2003-2004, and was also a Fulbright Teaching Fellow. A passionate and highly accomplished mathematician, Archdeacon’s research focus was on graph theory, combinatorics, theoretical computer science and topographical graph theory, for which he had particular interest. 7


NEWS

HELPING POLICE OFFICERS AID VICTIMS FASTER Casey Husband with Provost Rosowsky

UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

Casey Husband ’20, a born and raised Vermonter, was looking for ideas for his high school senior project when the San Bernardino, California shooting happened. Not only did that shooting impact the country, but it gave Husband a new outlook on the direction for his project. He decided to focus on equipment he could design for law enforcement for active shooting situations. Husband is a CEMS mechanical engineering major.

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From those conversations with police departments and preliminary research, he created the Emergency Defense Gear & Equipment (EDGE) Backpack that attaches to a standard bullet proof vest to provide law enforcement with easily accessible medical equipment, ammunition and other items that may be needed in active shooting scenarios. Eight to nine months of research and development followed those initial phone calls. Husband then sent the backpack to police departments across the country, the design was critiqued, sent back to Vermont and edited accordingly until it was perfected.

The EDGE Backpack is housed under Husband’s company, Lazarus Design. EDGE and Lazarus Design has opened many doors for Husband in his first few months of being a student at UVM. “My business has introduced me to so many faculty members, fellow student entrepreneurs and other campus groups,” he said. Husband has met with various advisors within CEMS, Erik Monsen of the Grossman School of Business, Provost David Rosowsky, Vice President for Research Richard Galbraith, as well as members of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) at UVM’s co-working space.

A WELL ENGINEERED TEAM The UVM’s men’s basketball team played a phenomenally successful 2016-2017 season, finishing unbeaten in regular season play, capturing the America East championship, and earning their first NCAA Tournament berth in five years. Three of the team members are CEMS students. Pictured left to right: David Urso, a mathematics major, computer science major Nate Rohrer, and statistics major Trae Bell-Haynes. Bell-Haynes was named the 2017 Kevin Roberson Player of the Year, an award that honors the top player in the America East Conference. The award’s namesake, Kevin Roberson, was a UVM engineering graduate and basketball star who was killed in a tragic car accident in 1993.

Photos: Kerry Castano, UVM Athletics, Josh Brown


Scarpino Finds Substitute Teachers and Replacement Nurses May Hasten Disease Spread Professor Josh Bongard BY JOSHUA BROWN

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“One take-home of our study is that it may be very difficult to predict the size of a disease outbreak,” says Sam Scarpino, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, with CEMS and the Vermont Complex Systems Center, who led the new research with two colleagues, “and that mass action models can’t really account for the kind of sudden speed up and slow down” in transmission that many real-world epidemics show—and that the scientists’ new model produces

“This doesn’t mean nurses and doctors shouldn’t go home when they’re sick,” says Scarpino. Almost the opposite. Instead, the new findings suggest that as epidemics approach their peak, replacement workers are in a more dangerous situation than conventional disease models would suggest. Scarpino’s co-authors are Laurent Hebert-Dufrene at the Santa Fe Institute, and Antoine Allard at the University of Barcelona in Spain. The new study had its beginning during the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. During that time, Scarpino, a mathematical biologist and expert on epidemiology who leads UVM’s Emergent Epidemics Lab, observed how many health care and funeral workers would get sick and a healthy person would replace them—only to get sick themselves. He wondered how this kind of substitution affects the spread and speed of the virus and various other kinds of epidemics.

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

magine a nurse who gets the flu while working at a hospital. He or she goes home to recover, and an uninfected replacement nurse comes in. This kind of substitution happens all the time in the real world— teachers, doctors, firefighters and others with essential societal roles get sick and a substitute comes in to fill their role. A new study shows that this kind of healthprotecting behavior—a “relational exchange”—can explosively accelerate the spread of some epidemics. This finding is in striking contrast to the standard “mass-action” disease models—like many used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations—that don’t account for this reality. The study was published in the journal, Nature Physics.

“Our study suggests that replacing sick workers quickly throughout an epidemic is important,” Scarpino say, “and vaccines, if they’re available, should be provided to substitute teachers and nurses and other critical replacement workers as far in advance as possible.”

2016 CEMS FACULTY AND STAFF AWARDS Outstanding Junior Faculty Performance Mads Almassalkhi Faculty Award for Excellence in Research Douglas Fletcher Outstanding Faculty Performance Dryver Huston Prof. Dryver Huston receives his award from Dean Luis Garcia.

Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching Catherine Bliss Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award Joan “Rosi” Rosebush Faculty Award for Excellence in Service Robert Erickson Staff Award Sylvie Butel & Anthony Fouche

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Frederic Sansoz finds a new wrinkle in conductivity

UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

BY JOSHUA BROWN

SUPER STRONG STRETCHY SILVER

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ry bending your iPhone in half. Or roll up your tablet like a scroll. Or wrap a touchscreen TV around a pole. Didn’t work out so well, did it? That’s because the ceramic material used to make many of today’s touchscreens has only two of three needed qualities: it’s conductive, it’s transparent—but it’s not flexible.

that were both super-strong “and stretchy like gum,” he says.

“It’s brittle and so if you bend it, it breaks,” says Frederic Sansoz, a professor of mechanical engineering.

Or, as they write in their study, “we report unusual room-temperature super-elongation without softening in face-centered-cubic silver nanocrystals.”

Sansoz and a team of other scientists have made a discovery that may change that. Working with silver at a vanishingly small scale—nanowires just a few hundred atoms thick—they discovered that they could make wires 10

This kind of silver wire could be fashioned into a mesh that conducts current, allows light to shine through— and bends so easily “you might be able to tie your smartphone into a knot,” he says.

The team’s results were published in the March issue of the journal Nature Materials.

Photo: Josh Brown


“THIS KIND OF SILVER WIRE BENDS SO EASILY ‘YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO TIE YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A KNOT.’” — FREDERIC SANSOZ

follow the expected trend: they get relatively stronger and more brittle. But earlier research by other scientists had shown that at even-more-extreme smallness—below 10 nanometers—silver does something weird. “It behaves like a Jello gelatin dessert,” Sansoz say. “It becomes very soft when compressed, has very little strength, and slowly returns to its original shape.”

But there’s a problem. “As you make them stronger, they become brittle. It’s chewing gum versus window glass,” Sansoz says. Which is why he was very surprised by what the team discovered about silver. As wires of silver are made smaller and smaller, down to about 40 nanometers, they

“So our question was: what’s happening in the gap between 10 nanometers and 40 nanometers?” says Sansoz. “This is the first study to look at this range of diameters of nanowires.”

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

UVM’s Sansoz, his collaborator Scott Mao at the University of Pittsburgh, and their colleagues have led pioneering research on how to transform soft metals, including gold, into super-strong wires at the nanoscale. It’s part of a growing area of research that shows that as materials are engineered to be smaller and smaller it’s possible to eliminate many defects at the atomic scale. “And this makes them much stronger,” he says, “generally, smaller is stronger.”

Materials scientists hypothesize this happens because the crystals of silver are so small that most of their atoms are at the surface, with very few interior atoms. This allows diffusion of individual atoms from the surface to dominate the behavior of the metal instead of the cracking and slipping of organized lattices of atoms within. This causes these tiniest, but solid, silver crystals to have liquid-like behavior even at room temperature.

What the team of scientists found in the gap—using both an electron microscope and atomistic models on a supercomputer—is that “the two mechanisms coexist at the same time,” Sansoz says. This gives silver wires in that littleexplored zone both the strength of the “smaller-is-stronger” principle with the liquid-like weirdness of their smaller cousins. At this Goldilocks-like size, when defects form at the surface of the wire as it’s pulled apart, “then diffusion comes in and heals the defect,” Sansoz says. “So it just stretches and stretches and stretches—elongating up to two hundred percent.” There has been remarkable progress since 2010 in applying silver nanowires in electronics, Sansoz says, including conductive electrodes for touchscreen displays. And some companies are working hard to apply these wires to creating cost-effective flexible screens. “But, right now, they’re manufacturing totally in the dark,” Sansoz says, “they don’t know what size wire is best.” His new discovery should give chemists and industrial engineers a target size for creating silver wires that could lead to the first foldable phones.

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BY ANDREA SUOZZO

REDDIT BRINGS A UVM EVOLUTIONARY ROBOTICS

UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

CLASS TO THE WORLD

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hat comes to mind when you think of the social-news site Reddit? Perhaps the topic-specific boards devoted to cat GIFs? Gaming? Whatever you’re thinking, chances are good it’s not evolutionary robotics. But Reddit is where Bijay Koirala, 25, stumbled on an evolutionary robotics class called Ludobots in March 2015. The discovery ultimately brought him more than 7,000 miles from his home in Nepal to the University of Vermont in Burlington. Evolutionary robotics takes the concept of guided evolution — for example, selective breeding of dogs from wolves, or corn from the wild grass teosinte — and applies it to robots. Rather than build hundreds of machines by hand, researchers virtually evolve algorithms toward a goal. Josh Bongard, an associate professor in the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) Department of Computer Science, said the aim is to move the field of robotics forward — from robots that can perform physical tasks to robots that can actually think. Bongard runs UVM’s Morphology, Evolution & Cognition Lab. He developed Ludobots based on an introductory class he teaches on campus. When the course went live on Reddit in 2014, it became the only MOOC (massive open online course) run entirely on that platform — a distinction it still has. “Josh’s class is really at the forefront of how to engage a broader audience and have impact well beyond the classroom,” Garcia said. “He’s really at the bleeding edge of this technology and his own research.” In spring 2015, Koirala was working full time as a software engineer in Kathmandu and looking for a way to go to graduate school. He had an undergraduate degree in software engineering from Pokhara University and had been admitted to schools in the U.S., Switzerland and Thailand — including UVM. But he lacked the funding he needed to enroll. Koirala discovered a link to Ludobots while looking through information on UVM’s computer science department. The first course assignment he found was a simple one, the “connect-the-

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dots” bot: Draw a shape on a grid of dots and hit “go.” That shape drops onto a plane and begins to move. On the simulation’s first run, it rarely moves far, mostly wriggling and writhing in place. Hit “go” again, though, and the robot tries something new. Maybe this time it inches away from the starting dot. The more times you run the simulation, the better the creature gets at leaving its starting point. Koirala was intrigued. “[It] was very easy. I go, ‘OK, this is fun. Let’s get started,’” he recalled during a recent interview at UVM. The Reddit-based course is structured around a core of 10 assignments, but any student who wants to explore a concept further can build a new branch and add a line of investigation. That ability to evolve the course was part of the appeal of using Reddit, Bongard said. All of the coursework is structured in a wiki (like Wikipedia, but for learning evolutionary robotics). That means anyone with a Reddit account can supplement the course or edit its content. Besides adding projects, students can add resources they’ve


Left: Bijay Koirala. Middle: One of Bijay Koirala’s bots. Right: Professor Josh Bongard

Once the course had an online home, Bongard restructured his on-campus introductory class. Now those students submit their assignments on Reddit, posing any questions there and contributing links to resources. Though the class quickly delves into more difficult territory after the connectthe-dots bot simulation, Koirala said he was hooked. It took him several days to complete each assignment, since he juggled the work during scant free time between full-and part-time softwaredevelopment jobs. But he kept going.

“THE GOOD THING ABOUT SOFTWARE ENGINEERING IS THAT, AS CHALLENGING AS IT GETS, YOU GET MORE INTERESTED IN IT,” KOIRALA SAID. Bongard said his Nepali student’s work

impressed him, noting that Koirala moved through the course at a steady pace. In spring 2015, Koirala was still plugging along, submitting new assignments regularly. Then, that April, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring many more. In Kathmandu, Koirala was safe but couldn’t return to his workplace on the 13th floor of an office building. Without electricity or internet access, and wary of aftershocks, he and several friends found an unused office and tried to keep themselves occupied. When Bongard heard about the earthquake, he reached out to make sure his long-distance student was safe. “That was the main source of motivation for me,” said Koirala. “I was glad to feel like someone cared.” Bongard was impressed by Koirala’s drive to complete an online course with no deadlines and limited resources. When the time came for computer science faculty to allot student funding for the following year, he knew who he wanted to attend UVM. “I came to that meeting armed with Bijay’s story and said, ‘Look, this is the

kind of student we want here,’” Bongard said. “’Bijay has wonderful grades, but, in addition, look at the tenacity of this student who managed to complete an online course in the midst of this terrible tragedy.’” At that meeting, the faculty awarded Koirala a graduate teaching assistantship. He enrolled in fall 2015 and left his home country for the first time.

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found on the internet to any of the project pages or ask questions about topics when they get stuck. That’s where Reddit’s built-in social structure comes in handy.

Now, in Vermont, Koirala is focused on fulfilling the core requirements for his master’s in computer science — and on navigating life in a new country, speaking a language that’s not his native tongue. In his classes this year, he developed an app that uses data on invertebrates in Vermont waterways to help researchers estimate river health. He also analyzed accident rates in New York City using traffic data. People look at UVM, and they see there’s so much going on here, with courses like Ludobots,” Koirala said. “It’s the only reason why I’m here.” This article first appeared in Seven Days Newspaper

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UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

Analyze This UVM’S NEW DATA SCIENCE DEGREE MERGES MATHEMATICS, STATISTICS AND COMPUTER SCIENCE TO PREPARE STUDENTS FOR DYNAMIC CAREERS

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ake one look at the “hedonometer”—an empiric instrument that delivers a data visualization of the measure of happiness of a human population in real time, based on a random sampling of some 50 million tweets posted to Twitter each day—and the random acts of daily public life seem to take on a newer, deeper level of meaning.

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BY SARAH TUFF DUNN

It comes down to data—the facts and statistics that give meaning and context to everything from Walmart sales and Lake Champlain temperatures to Colorado’s coyote population and France’s Facebook habits. Described as “the new oil of the digital economy” data defines our lives more and more each day. But until now, few programs

Photos: Dave Seaver


Opposite: Professors James Bagrow, Chris Danforth and Peter Dodds at the Vermont Complex Systems Center Left: Christopher W. Fusting, M.S. in Mathematics; Professor Chris Danforth; Abigail P. Ross, M.S. Complex Systems and Data Science; Tyler J. Gray, Ph.D. Mathematics. Above: Professor Peter Dodds

Enter UVM’s new data science degree, offered jointly by the departments of mathematics and computer science. The degree brings an interdisciplinary approach to a rapidly growing area, arming graduates with the skills to find lucrative careers among employers who are latching on to the infinite possibilities of analytics. “It’s an amazing intersection of how to manipulate and manage large amounts of data,” says Dean Luis Garcia.

“THERE’S A HUGE OPPORTUNITY AND DEMAND FOR A PERSON WHO CAN MOVE ACROSS THE DISCIPLINES OF MATH, STATISTICS AND COMPUTER SCIENCE; WE FELT THERE WAS AN UNMET NEED.” Launched in the fall of 2016, the undergraduate program synchronizes with the work already being done in the Graduate Certificate in Complex Systems and the master’s degree in complex systems and data science.

The College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences is also hiring several more faculty to support teaching and research in these areas, an indicator of even more growth ahead. “The past 20 or so years have led to many industries being flooded with tons and tons of data,” says Assistant Professor James Bagrow. “But the ability to understand and learn what the data contains has not been able to keep up with the flood. Now, we’re realizing this gap and starting to address it, training people with a joint set of skills—both the ability to handle the large scale of data on the computer and the ability to ask the right questions in the right way from that data.” Students in this program are able to feel first-hand how acquiring, storing, manipulating and curating data can reveal promising patterns of human behavior. “This is a Renaissance, and it’s incredible,” says Professor Peter Dodds, who directs UVM’s Complex Systems Center, co-runs the Computational Story Lab (a group that, as Dodds puts it, produces “blatantly fun research results”) with fellow Professor Chris Danforth, and helped create the aforementioned hedonometer. “We’ve gone from being

data poor to data rich, and now that we’ve figured out the little bits, such as atoms and DNA, going forward we have ‘big data,’ which is about citizens.” Danforth elaborates, using the analogy of making weather predictions. “In about the early 70s, if you wanted to know what the weather would be like here in Vermont tomorrow, you’d call over to Ohio, assuming that things propagate east; there was little data on the Earth’s atmosphere,” he says. “But now with satellites, we can make a forecast six or seven days in advance that’s really quite accurate. Now it’s happening with human behavior because of the Internet, social networks and mobile phones. These devices and the technology are giving us observations never possible before. For people with skills in computer science and math and data, it’s a gold rush time.”

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have allowed undergraduate students to practice the three fundamentals of this field (mathematics, statistics and computer science) simultaneously.

That makes students such as Sam Zonay ’18, savvy prospectors. Originally a math major, he says he fell in love with the data science course material and the idea of using computers to complement his math and statistical knowledge. “The most fascinating parts of the program for me,” he says, “have been when I get a small taste of what I hope to do one day

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— helping a company that I believe in and has purpose I can support with their data pools and objectives.”

UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

As the study of big data has guided what pops up on our CNN stream and what goes into the latest Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, so, too, is it empowering the planet to become more interconnected through the telling of stories in different ways. “It’s very playful, very creative — the aspect of design is very important,” says Dodds. “And there’s incredible social good happening.” Disease modeling from real-world flu and dengue data at UVM, for example, has revealed that substitute teachers and replacement nurses can accelerate the spread of epidemics, as an August 1 Nature Physics study explains (see page 9). Another study co-written by Dodds, Bagrow and Danforth in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences spells hope for populations knitting together more; after they crowdsourced evaluations of 100,000 words in 10 languages, the authors found “the words of natural human language possess a universal positivity bias.” So, while news headlines may be negative, the work of UVM’s data science is producing more optimistic outcomes. Those are some of the slightly less tangible results of their work so far; there are also the business advantages for graduate students including Andy Reagan, who became involved in the data science program while working on his master’s and Ph.D. in applied math and has now landed a position at MassMutual. “We’re applying data science to drive decision-making by using a combination of data and predictive models that help us analyze risk, work with high-dimensional data, and focus efforts for successful sales outcomes,” says Reagan. “This comes down to providing better overall customer experience for policy holders and greater business efficiency.” As Danforth points out, the frontier of data science is limitless — and largely unknown by undergrads.

“EVERY COMPANY IN THE U.S. IS HIRING A DATA SCIENTIST, AND YET HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS MAY NOT EVEN REALIZE THAT THIS AREA EXISTS, THAT YOU CAN DETERMINE HOW HAPPY WE ARE THROUGH TWITTER, OR PREDICT DEPRESSION FROM INSTAGRAM PHOTOS,” SAYS DANFORTH. “UVM CAN TRULY SHOW PEOPLE WHAT THE FUTURE IS GOING TO BE LIKE.” TO SEE HOW ONE CEMS GRADUATE IS AFFECTING THE WAY THE NEW YORK TIMES DISPLAYS DATA, SEE PAGE 22

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Greed for Speed? UVM STUDY PROVIDES INSIGHTS ON EVOLUTION OF DRUG RESISTANCE

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undreds of millions of people suffer with malaria—and the disease killed some 429,000 people worldwide in 2015. There are medicines, like chloroquine, that can treat it, but the development of resistance to these drugs poses one of the central challenges to malaria control. “How—and how fast—malaria and other diseases evolve resistance to drugs is one of the world’s urgent public health problems,” says Brandon Ogbunugafor, an evolutionary biologist at UVM. Now collaborative research by Ogbunugafor and UVM computer scientist Maggie Eppstein provides new insight into how two species of malaria may evolve resistance to drugs—and reveals a fundamental principle that governs the speed of evolution in microbes. Their results were published in the inaugural issue of the journal, Nature: Ecology & Evolution. In 1932, the famed geneticist Sewall Wright proposed the idea of understanding evolution through “fitness landscapes.” The idea was to visualize the evolutionary pathways that generations of an organism could take as a kind of map. Some pathways lead to increasing or decreasing fitness along a series of mutations—different alleles coded in their DNA—that travel to local “peaks” and “valleys” of fitness. Those that can reach the top of the mountain would, at least for that local evolutionary “landscape,” outcompete other genetic variants. In the example of malaria, a rare mutation that gives the disease resistance to a drug might open a new pathway to a fitness peak and might quickly spread in a population.

Photo: Josh Brown


“HOW—AND HOW FAST— MALARIA AND OTHER DISEASES EVOLVE RESISTANCE TO DRUGS IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S URGENT PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEMS.” — BRANDON OGBUNUGAFOR

Professors Maggie Eppstein and Brandon Ogbunugafor

The core of the UVM scientists’ new discovery is that the speed of evolution along a path is largely determined by competition along that path itself: it’s variants on one evolutionary step on the path competing directly against those on the next step of the same path—and how fierce that competition is—that govern the rate of evolution. Ogbunugafor—an assistant professor in the biology department and a UVM Henderson Fellow—and Eppstein, chair of UVM’s computer science department and core member of the Complex Systems Center—took real-world data from strains of two malaria species to build a computer model. Then they examined twenty-nine different “adaptive landscapes”—corresponding to differing levels of two antimalarial drugs. They watched to see what happened to simulated populations of malaria that started with varying forms of a gene known to code for proteins associated with resistance to these kinds of drugs.

The scientists were intrigued to observe dramatic differences in the number of generations of the malaria it took to evolve along different pathways—and they discovered that the “greediest” path didn’t always get to the top of the fitness peak first. In other words, they saw that genetic mutations that provide a population with an initially larger-than-average fitness gain on an evolutionary path don’t necessarily win the evolutionary race, since that path may have smaller fitness gains on later steps. Sometimes, a population started fast, but then slowed down—bogged down on flat spots on the evolutionary landscape as two nearly-equal-infitness alleles competed against each other for many generations until one slowly won out—allowing variants following another, more gradual pathway to get to a fitness peak faster.

Understanding this resistance to gene flow—what the UVM scientists call “within-path competition”—cuts against a common assumption of evolutionary biology: that the greediest path wins. And it may provide important insights into the best strategies for managing and slowing the creation of drugresistant strains of malaria and other diseases. For example, “maximizing the predicted time along adaptive trajectories toward antimicrobial resistance,” the scientists write, could become a useful goal in designing drugs and treatments. And, conversely, the scientists caution against blithely targeting known genetic pathways toward drug-resistance without understanding the larger fitness landscape. Their results illustrate how this “may inadvertently open up other, potentially much faster trajectories.”

“After a lot of time spent doing exploratory data analysis to try to determine what underlying factors of the landscape were predictive of the speed of evolution,” Eppstein says, “it occurred to me that gene flow along an evolutionary trajectory was analogous to the flow of electrical current along a serial circuit with varying resistance.” With this insight, she was able to derive an equation that accurately predicts the relative speeds of different pathways.

Going far beyond biology, Brandon Ogbunugafor and Maggie Eppstein speculate that “the study of any complex system where the fitness landscape analogy is invoked may benefit,” they write, from a greater understanding of what they call the “greed/speed dichotomy.” It’s a step on the path, it seems, toward a science of predicting evolution.

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

Today, Wright’s fitness landscape idea has led to laboratory-measured fitness landscapes for actual organisms, including strains of malaria. But a key question for theorists, public health officials, and drug designers is: can the pathways and speeds in these landscapes be predicted?

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UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

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MAKING IT REAL An incubator for ideas and a place to engage people’s imaginations, the UVM FabLab makes rapid-prototyping tools available to College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) students and faculty. The lab provides the opportunity for interaction in developing and testing innovative products and designs. The mantra of the space: “Innovate, Iterate, Make!”

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Photos: Sally McCay, Dave Seaver


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SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

Photo ( 1 ) The undergraduate students who work in the FabLab are encouraged to push materials and the possibilities of the lab’s rapid prototyping technologies. ( 2 ) The FabLab helped Mathematics Professor Greg Warrington make a 3D print of a four-dimensional hyperplane arrangement called the rank-3 Shi arrangement. ( 3 ) The FabLab has invested in a “farm” of MakerBot desktop 3D printers to make 3D printing affordable and accessible for students. ( 4 ) FabLab technicians work with students and faculty on a wide variety of projects and research. Pictured here are FabLab Special Projects Coordinator Claudio Benito and Professor Ryan McGinnis. ( 5&6 ) Students in Professor Patrick Lee’s course Modern Manufacturing Processes (ME 161) design and print objects that account for the constraints and unique features of additive manufacturing. Pictured: Pawinn Songtachalert, Dakota Greenblatt. ( 7 ) Ryan Walsh, M.D., assistant professor of radiology at the UVM Larner College of Medicine, uses the FabLab to construct three-dimensional models of human organs and bones. Below is a ribcage model. ( 8 ) Student entrepreneurs like engineering student Cullen Jemison use the lab for prototyping product designs. Cullen won the LaunchVT Collegiate competition. 5

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UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

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Photo ( 1 ) The Laser cutter/engraver is a popular tool in the FabLab across disciplines. Professor Mildred Beltre of the art department has assigned students to make wood cuts by hand and wood engravings with the FabLab’s laser. ( 2 ) 3D hand models are part of Introduction to Biomedical Engineering (BME 001) class projects with Professor Ryan McGinnis. Students Rose Warren and Alicia Tannenberger watch their design iteration print. ( 3 ) Students in Professor Will Louisos’ ME First Year Design Experience perform fundamental Fluid Dynamics experiments in order to gather and analyze data as part of the engineering design process. Teams of students then design and build jet-propelled vehicles using 3D printing and other modern fabrication technologies before competing in payload, acceleration, and power competitions. Pictured: Lara Weed. ( 4 ) The lab’s more sophisticated prints require support structures. Below FabLab team leader and SEED student Carlo Giorelli removes a project from the bath that dissolves the support material. Giorelli’s project is a design to improve lockdown window shades used in schools. ( 5&6 ) The CEMS AERO electric car team uses the FabLab to construct models of components that connect tires to the suspension system of the car. This allows them to gain greater efficiency in the final manufacturing process.

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Photos: Sally McCay, Dave Seaver


The SEED group (picture in the FabLab) is working with Professor Darren Hitt on a “solar sail” project. From left to right: Greg Castaldi, Lukas Adamowicz, TJ Heffernan, Matt Walton, Dan Cashman, Jake Wainer

THE SEED OF CAREERS

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From a company’s perspective, a SEED project allows the client to address a long-standing problem that requires a proof-of-concept investigation or proto-

Have a design problem that needs a solution? Consider working with UVM’s Senior Experience in Engineering Design (SEED) program Submit a project at go.uvm.edu/dbtos

type build. A SEED project also offers the opportunity to work directly with likely candidates for entry-level engineering positions. Practicing engineers often find that mentoring students is a personally rewarding experience. UVM’s civil and environmental engineering seniors in SEED (under the direction of Professor John Lens) work with community partners on engineering service-learning projects. The program emphasizes integrating technical solutions with the relevant social, economic, and ecological considerations needed to create sustainable outcomes. Beginning this fall, student teams will work on the projects in a two-semester sequence. The capstone projects provide students the opportunity to assimilate what they learn from individual courses through applying their knowledge and skill to a multi-disciplinary professional practice project. They start with scoping and estimating their required effort,

Electrical, Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering Dustin Rand SEED@uvm.edu Dustin Rand

continuing through fieldwork, analysis, and design, to a culminating design which they communicate via drawings, summary report, and presentation to their client and outside reviewers. The SEED group pictured here in the FabLab is working with Professor Darren Hitt on a “solar sail” project. As the number of small satellites launched each year continues to grow, there is increasing interest in the aerospace community for safe, reliable methods for de-orbiting these satellites. Among the most attractive options are designs based around solar sails, as they require no propellant to operate. This project will develop a solar-sail-based de-orbiting system, which will be integrated into a 3U (4 kg) CubeSat for an upcoming mission. The focus is on minimizing the size, weight, power and cost of the solar sail while stowed for launch, and developing a deployment mechanism that is highly reliable in the space environment.

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

VM’s Senior Experience in Engineering Design (SEED) program links seniors in the department of mechanical engineering and the department of electrical and biomedical engineering (under Professor Dustin Rand) with the best Vermont and New England businesses. Start-ups, companies, farms, healthcare providers, non-profits, researchers and individual entrepreneurs have all participated as clients in over 160 projects since 2007. The multi-disciplinary student teams collaborate with their client, the course instructor, faculty mentors and UVM staff to address a design need, build a device, engineer a process, or formulate a mathematical model. SEED projects have resulted in successful devices, marketed products, start-up companies, and useful tools, software programs and analyses.

Civil and Environmental Engineering John Lens jelens@uvm.edu John Lens

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UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT

Nick Strayer likes data. Manipulating it, generating it, visualizing it and “yes, even cleaning it,” says the member of the UVM Class of 2015. “I have been extremely lucky to work in many different realms, including as a journalist at the New York Times, data scientist at Dealer.com in Vermont, and as a ‘data artist in residence’ at tech startup Conduce in California,” he notes. Now he’s pursuing a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt.

BY JOSHUA BROWN

ALUMNUS FINDS DEEPER STORIES IN THE DATA SO ADEPT AT TELLING VISUAL STORIES THROUGH DATA, NICK STRAYER ‘15 IS LANDING COVER STORIES WITH THE NEW YORK TIMES AND FUNDING FROM THE NIH

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he way Nick Strayer ‘15 tells the story, it seems simple. How did he get an opportunity as a data journalist at The New York Times a few months after he graduated from UVM? “They contacted me,” he says. A captivating narrative in three words. But beneath it—like the interactive visualizations, maps, and other stories he has created for the Times and elsewhere—rests a much more complex foundation of “messy data and a lot of hard work,” he says. A double-major in mathematics and statistics, with a minor in computer science, Strayer started putting data visualizations on his website when he was an undergrad. “Basically, what I do is make numbers tell a story through pictures,” he says. For example, in the summer after his junior year, he was working for a data visualization start-up company in California and there were a lot of forest fires. “It was fifteen miles each way to work,” he recalls. “ I didn’t want to bike if the smoke was really bad. But there were no good tools online to see where wildfires were burning.” So he built one himself. “I went and found some data that NASA had opened up from their satellites that pinpoint temperature anomalies on the surface of the planet.” Strayer’s goal was simply to have a “map on my phone that I

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could check out and see: hey, should I bike today?” he says. But it was such a good tool that he soon got a call from the Red Cross. They wanted to use it to help with rescue efforts. During his senior year, Strayer worked with researchers at UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics to create a “narrative visualization” of the effects of different policies on global warming. His goal: to help a team of UVM scientists that was heading to the UN climate negotiations in Paris. Afterward, he got a message on Twitter from an editor at The New York Times, who “liked what I was doing,” Strayer says. Soon, he had a summer internship at the newspaper and was cranking out stories and images, including several for The Upshot, the Times’ quantitative blog—and a 20-hour workday to build a block-by-block visualizaton of the terrorist attack in Nice, France. One of Strayer’s stories drew wide national attention and echoed with his own story of going to college—having left a small farm town in Michigan to come to Vermont. “The Great Out-of-State Migration: Where Students Go,” presents a national map showing the number of first-year college students who left their home states to attend public college

Photo: Sally McCay


“The Great Out-of-State Migration: Where Students Go,” shows the number of first-year college students who left their home states to attend public college in another state.

JUST CONNECT

of what he calls “narrative insight” began on his very first day of class in the Honors College—when he had a paper due for professor Helga Schreckenberger’s freshman seminar, The Pursuit of Knowledge. “I’m a very quantitative, mathematically-minded person,” Strayer says, “and in high school I thought all this liberal arts stuff was stupid. I was naïve.” He got a poor grade on that paper—and began a close friendship with Schreckenberger, the chair of UVM’s German Department, who mentored him for four years. “She’s a wonderful person,” he says, “whose scholarly interests in exile narratives couldn’t be more different than mine,” he says, but “she helped me see that writing was more than simply putting words down on a page to get a good grade,” he said. “It’s a chance to connect.”

And the power of stories is perhaps the most important lesson he learned as a student at UVM. Strayer’s discovery

From her, as well as mathematicians James Bagrow and Richard Single, lake ecologist Jason Stockwell, and other professors, Strayer began to learn that the search for narrative allows knowledge, even the most quantitative, to illuminate “other people’s experience and to distill meaning,” he says. At its deepest, a story is a “form of empathy,” Nick Strayer says. “I’m looking for the deeper story in the data.”

in another state. The flowing orange arrows make the story of this in-and-out migration seem, well, simple. But in truth it was so hard to uncover that it had never been told before. “I had to play with this data for a long time,” Strayer says in an understated Midwestern kind of way. He gathered lists of students from “thousands of public universities, each with its own systems, and all these weird codes,” he says. Soon after his story was published, Strayer received an email from a university researcher, an expert on school migration. “’Where did you get this data?’ he asked me. I’ve been searching for this for my whole career,” Strayer says.

Now Strayer is a Ph.D. student in biostatistics at Vanderbilt— with his own independent funding from the NIH’s Big Data to Knowledge program—but he plans to continue contributing to The New York Times. “I’m going to go crazy on my next vacation to get some freelance pieces done for them,” he says, “I’ve got some stories in mind.”

SUMMIT | SPRING 2017

Nick Strayer had a simple goal: make a wildfire map so he could avoid smoke on his bike commute. But it attracted the attention of the Red Cross and helped lead him to a story about wildfires that he published in The New York Times.

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UVM COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

When Votey Was New As work on the new STEM complex continues, including the new Barrett Bridge connecting the Discovery Building to Votey Hall, we take this look back 54 years to the summer of 1963, when Votey was brand new. The building was constructed from 1962 to 1963, and was named for Josiah William Votey, who served as the dean of UVM’s College of Engineering from 1901 through 1931. Votey graduated from UVM in 1884. Besides educating generations of UVM scientists, he is also credited with modernizing Vermont’s roads and water systems in the early 20th century. Photos courtesy of UVM Special Collections

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Designing & Building a Better Future OUR GOAL: Raise $26 million to construct the STEM Complex project that will benefit students, faculty and the larger UVM community. THE IMPACT: Transform UVM’s main campus to better connect the many disciplines at the heart of STEM teaching, learning and research. The College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) is creating real-world solutions to the increasingly complex challenges our society faces. In everything we do, our focus is on innovation, interdisciplinary problem solving, critical thinking and sophisticated quantitative skills, all of which prepare our students for success in an increasingly specialized and globalized work force. Our graduates are in high demand.

Top: The new Barrett Bridge will connect the STEM Complex to Votey Hall. Above: Votey will receive extensive renovations this summer including the Machine Shop and Rapid Prototyping Lab. Pictured: Emily Bolt

The university’s largest-ever construction project, the 266,000 square foot STEM Complex consists of three buildings: a new state-of-the-art research and laboratory building to replace the Cook Physical Science Building, a new flexible and tech-equipped classroom and office building, and an extensively renovated Votey Hall. Once completed, the $104 million STEM Complex will provide UVM with the infrastructure required to continue teaching and innovating in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The STEM Complex will be an interdisciplinary hub for advanced research and scholarship. It will also serve as a portal open to students from all disciplines, reflecting UVM’s broad commitment to preparing students for the country’s fastest-growing careers and industries. Move Mountains: The Campaign for The University of Vermont presents CEMS with an opportunity to excel. Campaign support will help us continue to attract the very best students and faculty, while at the same time providing them with the tools and technology they need to move mountains.

Photos: Sally McCay, Dave Seaver

JOIN US.

movemountains.uvm.edu 411 Main Street Burlington, VT 05401 888-458-8691 (toll free)


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