Transition Workshop brings SAMSI’s ASTRO Program to Close

SAMSI recently hosted an ASTRO Transition Workshop from May 8-10, 2017. The workshop was the final event of SAMSI’s Program on Statistical, Mathematical and Computational Methods for Astronomy (ASTRO) and was attended by numerous astrophysicists, astronomers and astrostatisticians from across the country.

Nearly 40 participants attended the workshop in order to discuss their findings compiled from multiple working groups formed throughout the past academic year. The organizing committee for the program listened to spokespersons from each group as they presented their findings. The group also discussed continuing future collaborations between these working groups once the program was over.

SAMSI’s ASTRO program liaison and Deputy Director, Sujit Ghosh, noted that the ASTRO program has been successful in creating a cohesive bond between the statistical and mathematical sciences and the disciplinary sciences, like astronomy and astrophysics. According to Ghosh, this coupling is helping to systematically streamline the analysis of huge data sets that are produced from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), gravitational wave (GW) research and exoplanet discoveries.

A panel, consisting of ASTRO program leaders, collected feedback from the numerous researchers in attendance. A significant issue that researchers brought up was the challenge of publishing research articles in domain sciences (i.e. core stat or astrophysics journals) versus the disciplinary sciences. This issue was viewed as a significant obstacle when using these research papers as a reference for tenure-based decisions. The panel of program leaders could not determine the best way to address this situation. Instead they agreed that this topic should be readdressed during future interdisciplinary engagements, like transition workshops.

“This [ICTS-SAMSI] workshop helped form several collaborations to enable what will likely prove to be a fruitful collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds that can propel the progress of science”

Overall, the ASTRO Program focused on ways to create solid partnerships between researchers in applied mathematics, astronomy, astrophysics and statistics (professionals who do not ordinarily work together in the field). In fact, the concept of astrostatistics emerged from numerous collaborations, like this one, between researchers during past SAMSI programs. The partnerships created by this program are important because they could potentially advance research in astronomy. In addition, three mid-program workshops (one on Exoplanets in the Fall of 2016 and two on Synoptic Surveys and GW Astronomy and Astrophysical Population Emulation in the Spring of 2017) were organized by the researchers to support the program during the past year.

SAMSI also expanded its international collaboration capability by organizing a joint workshop with the International Center for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) in

Bengaluru, India. This workshop enabled scientists to share their ideas and work together across two continents in order to explore the grand challenges in gravitational waves time domain astronomy.

“SAMSI workshops and working groups have helped me understand how my thesis work fits into the larger scientific picture and how to gain a better understanding of what our science priorities are as a community of observational astronomers,” said Jackeline Moreno, a graduate student at Drexel University, who was a member of one of the working groups. Moreno said she was impressed with how the joint workshop brought together experts from around the world and from different research backgrounds to come together and share techniques and insights for analyzing time series data.

Kaustabh Vaghmare, a data scientist from the Inter -University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, India, who also attended the ICTS-SAMSI workshop, agreed. Vaghmare began by saying that time domain astronomy has improved a great deal in the last decade, due in large part, to advances in robotic telescopes, image processing and database technologies. These advances, according to Vaghmare, have given astronomers the ability to organize several systematic surveys of the sky. In addition to those advances though, Vaghmare sited the importance of the human aspect as a valuable way of sharing information. “This [ICTS-SAMSI] workshop helped form several collaborations to enable what will likely prove to be a fruitful collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds that can propel the progress of science,” he said.

Joint workshops, like the ICTS-SAMSI workshop, help SAMSI to emphasize the value of collaborating with other institutions or across fields of study. The results of these collaborations creates more dynamic ways to solve traditional problems using the tools of applied mathematics and statistics as a guide.

The program offered academic courses on Analytical Methods and Applications to Astrophysics and Astronomy in the fall of 2016 and Time Series Methods for Astronomy this past spring. The program also provided numerous opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to participate and see what future opportunities are available to them in the field of astronomy from a mathematician’s point of view.

As the ASTRO Program transitions, SAMSI sets its sights on the two new 2017-2018 programs: Program on Mathematical and Statistical Methods for Climate and the Earth System (CLIM) and the Program on Quasi-Monte Carlo and High Dimensional Sampling Methods for Applied Mathematics (QMC). Both programs open this August and will end in May 2018.

Transition Workshop Completes Optimization Program for 2016-2017

The Optimization Transition Workshop was hosted by SAMSI from May 1-3, 2017 to effectively close the Program on Optimization for the 2016-2017 research year.

The workshop was attended by nearly 40 participants who discussed findings in research conducted from the program’s 13 different working groups formed last fall. Scholars and researchers from multiple fields of applied math and statistical science not only  explored progress made by their groups throughout this past year, but they also discussed effective ways to collaborate after the program was over in hopes of continuing to tackle some of the complex issues the field of optimization presents.

The program featured six different workshops:

The program also hosted multiple opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students: an undergraduate workshop earlier this year; and a two-part course hosted in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017.

Overall, the program was attended by some 500 participants throughout this past research year. The program offered an opportunity for colleagues to share their knowledge and to network with up and coming researchers in the field. Programs like this one help SAMSI to provide researchers in statistics, applied mathematics and data science fields a forum to meet, discuss and collaborate on a wide range of topics.

SAMSI is one of eight math institutes funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) whose purpose is to advance research in the mathematical sciences, increase awareness of mathematical sciences and disciplines and directly engage prospective intellectual talent in that effort.

To see what was presented, click on this link: Optimization Transition Workshop. In order to find more information on the workshops for this program for this past year, click here: Program on Optimization.



SAMSI Educates Undergrads on Mathematics and Optimization

SAMSI hosted an Undergraduate Workshop as part of its Education and Outreach initiative in their Program on Optimization from Feb. 27-28, 2017.

Nearly 40 undergraduate students from universities across the country were treated to lectures on optimization methods used in large-scale statistical analysis and were also introduced to statistical inverse problems. In addition, students received hands on familiarization with software packages that help to determine these complex calculations.

Though the workshop only lasted two days, students stayed busy! They received an overview on who SAMSI is and how they are helping to support and promote those considering the fields of mathematics and statistics. Students also met and networked with SAMSI Postdoctoral Fellows. Post docs mentored the young group on what they should focus on in their academics to get ready for the job market in the fields of applied mathematics and statistics.

On the last day, students took a field trip to SAS, a major internationally known software company, headquartered in N.C.

During their visit, the students received talks from computer scientists, analytical mathematicians and optimization specialists on how SAS develops software in line with client user and business objectives.

To see what was discussed, visit: OPT E&O Undergraduate webpage.

SAMSI Ends 2016 Successfully; Prepares for Upcoming 2017/18 Campaign

As 2017 begins, another year of successful SAMSI workshops has closed. Since the beginning of the 2016 academic year, in late August, SAMSI has hosted at least seven workshops that supported the goals of both the Program on Optimization (OPT) and Program on Statistical, Mathematical and Computational Methods for Astronomy (ASTRO).

Since the 2016 academic year began, the OPT Program offered a two-part course in Numerical Optimization and Applications. These courses, given in fall and spring semesters, teach students how to use various statistical and applied mathematical techniques to solve complex optimization problems. In addition to these courses, OPT has hosted four workshops, most recently, the Workshop on the Interface of Statistics Optimization (WISO).

WISO took place on the campus of Duke University, one of many SAMSI partners. The workshop lasted for three days and featured twelve lectures from some of the most esteemed minds in field of optimization. The scholars spoke to an audience of more than 100 participants from all over the world. An exciting element of LIVE STREAMING was added to this workshop which gave the event the capability to reach a wider audience. For those who were not part of the LIVE audience, SAMSI archived all the lectures on the WISO video webpage for future viewing.

The ASTRO program has helped to bridge the gap between astrostatisticians and astronomers so that, collectively, they can work together to potentially discover the unknown in our universe.

Since the academic year began, ASTRO has also hosted four workshops and two research related courses. The fall course, Analytical Methods and Applications to Astrophysics and Astronomy, was led by James Long of Texas A&M. Long and other visiting academic fellows at SAMSI worked together to provide instruction on the current methods used to capture astronomical data and how this data is being analyzed and interpolated.  The spring course, Time Series Methods of Astronomy, is being led by Eric Feigelson of Penn State University and a team of others. The course focus is how big data sets are being used to accurately categorize and identify astronomical bodies such as “exoplanets” and distant stars in the universe.

In all, SAMSI has hosted approximately 530 academic scholars, undergraduate and graduate, Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows since the 2016 academic year began in late August.

SAMSI is also committed to bringing this same level of excellence to the 2017-2018 programs, Mathematical and Statistical Methods for Climate and Earth Systems (CLIM) and Quasi-Monte Carlo and High-Dimensional Sampling Methods for Applied Mathematics (QMC).

CLIM will bring together esteemed academic scholars in the various fields of the study of climate to explore current climate models, while also discussing how modern environmental issues will impact earth systems and the human population in the future. CLIM begins in August 2017 and runs through May 2018.

Finally the QMC program will tackle complex mathematical techniques that are used in advanced technology such as machine learning, computer graphics and PDE solving systems. The program analyzes further how complex mathematical    sampling algorithms are used in these systems.

As 2017 begins, SAMSI takes pride in what was accomplished last year and looks forward to bringing their participants new and challenging programs emphasizing ways in which applied mathematics and statistics impact our world. Going forward, SAMSI will continue to offer the best programs to the best professionals in the field. For attendees and colleagues, that is what the SAMSI experience is all about.

ASTRO Spring Course Prepares Students for Analyzing Astronomical Big Data

Astronomers continue to search the stars in order to archive large amounts of data in hopes of learning the mechanics and wonders of the universe. SAMSI is hosting a Spring Course, “Time Series Methods for Astronomy,” as part of their Program on Statistical, Mathematical and Computational Methods for Astronomy (ASTRO).

The course started in January and runs through April 26th of this year. This is the first time a team of astronomy scholars, is teaching this course. The course is designed by Eric Feigelson, a Distinguished Senior Scholar and Professor from Penn State University’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Feigelson is accompanied by several SAMSI Astronomy Visiting Scholars from other academic institutions, who made up the remainder of the class instruction.

The class is taught in four phases:

  • Phase I introduces students to a background of astronomical materials, including the introduction to the public domain ‘R’ Statistical Software environment.
  • Phase II reviews classical time series analysis in the time and frequency domain for data analysis.
  • Phase III consists of various expert SAMSI researchers: Ashish Mahabal [Caltech]; Eric Ford [Penn State]; Bekki Dawson [Penn State] and many more, who will be teaching advanced techniques for astronomical time series analysis.
  • Phase IV has students present course projects for class discussion.

Those taking the course will come away with an understanding of how to capture and interpolate data from sometimes problematic astronomical samples. The skills taught during the course are some of the most state-of-the-art techniques in the field. These techniques allow for astrophysicists and astrostatisticians to work together in order to potentially chart the galaxy. Due to the large amount information captured and in some cases, data samples containing uneven dispersion rates, special consideration must be taken in order to ensure all information is measured correctly. Therefore, researchers must know how to interpret the sample information provided and extrapolate accurate data.

For ongoing updates on the course, visit the Time Series Methods for Astronomy page on the SAMSI website. All presentations will be videotaped and posted on the Time Series Methods for Astronomy Video page. For questions please email

Pioneer in Forensic Statistical Research and SAMSI Colleague Passes Away

stephen-fienberg-memorial-pictureWe at SAMSI were very sad to hear of the death of Steve Fienberg, whose enormously influential career in statistics included numerous contributions to SAMSI, among them, chairing the search committee that led to my appointment as Director.

Some of Steve Fienberg’s more prominent research centered on using statistical analysis to assist those in the law enforcement and the justice system with more accurate data to better assist in the field of forensic science. He was as co-chairman of the Commission on Forensic Science under the American Judicature Society. His work focused on developing statistical research to find the most accurate data possible in order to identify suspects of interest during criminal investigations. As a result there is now a whole subfield of “Forensic Statistics” that inspired the 2015-16 SAMSI Program on Statistics and Applied Mathematics in Forensic Science. Steve attended the Opening Workshop of that program and gave a superb overview lecture. Before that, he had been a leading contributor to the SAMSI programs on Computational Methods in Social Sciences (2013-14) and Complex Networks (2009-10).

Steve Fienberg was born in Canada but spent the bulk of his career in the US, obtaining his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1968 and joining Carnegie Mellon as a faculty member in 1980, where he spent the rest of his career. Apart from his contributions to forensic science, he made significant contributions to categorical data analysis and Bayesian statistics, and was a world leader in the application of statistical methods to social sciences. His numerous honors included election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1999).

I personally interacted with Steve at many points of my career but especially after I became Director of SAMSI. His advice was always well thought out and helpful.

We extend our condolences to his family. He will be sadly missed by all his professional colleagues.

Richard L. Smith

Director, SAMSI

SAMSI Brings Together Researchers in Optimization for Opening Workshop

20160830_091323Many problems in mathematics, statistics, science, engineering, and everyday life revolve around the choice of a best selection to achieve a specified goal: finding the fastest way to the airport, or the best rice cooker for under $100. From a mathematical point of view, optimization often amounts to finding the maximal value of a function.

This vibrant SAMSI program has produced an unprecedented number of 13 research working groups, which are concerned with fundamental methodology and computational methods for optimization, and applications of optimization to radio therapy; decision analysis; energy and the environment;  and electronic structure models in physics, chemistry and materials science; among many others.

It is the mission of the 2016-17 SAMSI Optimization program to capitalize on and advance this synergy. The program aims to guide the interaction between mathematics and statistics, so as to produce benefits for each area individually, but also combined.

More than 90 students and postdocs attended the Summer School in August 2016, which featured a lively mix of tutorials and hands-on interactive labs, where participants were introduced to state-of-the-art software. The Opening Workshop two weeks later signaled the official start of the research program. The number of participants, more than 130, was limited only by the seating capacity of the lecture room. There was a large variety of presentations, with speakers from academia, of course, but also industry (the oil and gas company ExxonMobil, and the online advertising company MaxPoint Interactive Inc.) and the National Labs (Argonne, Sandia-Livermore, and Sandia-Albuquerque). A special two-hour session gave participants a glimpse at the challenging research problems faced by the National Labs.

Much like attendees from the Summer School, feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive.20160829_174219

A number of mid-program events are in the works. The Workshop on the Interface of Statistics and Optimization (WISO) in February 2017 is planned as a high-profile event. It will be lived-streamed for a national and international audience and will feature the pioneers in this area, by giving their work prominent visibility to a broad audience.

Overall, the researchers in attendance got a chance to see how their specialized research could contribute to these industries. The Optimization Program runs from August through the end of May in 2017. For those interested in learning more about this program and its various working groups, visit:

SAMSI 2016-2017 ASTRO Year-long Program Begins with Bang

This composite image shows an exoplanet (the red spot on the lower left), orbiting the brown dwarf 2M1207 (centre). 2M1207b is the first exoplanet directly imaged and the first discovered orbiting a brown dwarf. The photo is based on three near-infrared exposures (in the H, K and L wavebands) with the NACO adaptive-optics facility at the 8.2-m VLT Yepun telescope at the European Southern Observatory Paranal Observatory.
This composite image shows an exoplanet (the red spot on the lower left), orbiting the brown dwarf 2M1207 (centre). 2M1207b is the first exoplanet directly imaged and the first discovered orbiting a brown dwarf. The photo is based on three near-infrared exposures (in the H, K and L wavebands) with the NACO adaptive-optics facility at the 8.2-m VLT Yepun telescope at the European Southern Observatory Paranal Observatory.

Since the dawn of time we all have often looked at the night sky and wondered WHAT, if anything, is out there?

In this ongoing 2016-2017 yearlong SAMSI Program on Statistical, Mathematical and Computational Methods for Astronomy (ASTRO), astrophysicists, mathematicians and statisticians are working together among many other things, to explore better ways to find the existence of other planets, in particular the ones which have habitable conditions as our own planet Earth.

This year’s opening workshop for the ASTRO program was held at the NC Biotech Center from August 22-26 which brought together some of the most brilliant minds in the field to discuss among other research topics, the possibility and existence of other worlds or “exoplanets.” The workshop featured a multitude of talks and panel discussions on the various research topics that includes Astrophysical Emulation, Astrophysical Populations (exoplanets), Gravitational Waves, Synoptic Time Domain Surveys and Cosmology.

Over 90 participants from around the nation and also a from other countries (Canada, Spain, UK), specializing in astronomy and astrostatistics were present for the five day workshop that featured speakers from NASA, Caltech, Harvard, Penn State and Yale just to name a few. The year-long program will allow astrophysicists, mathematicians and statisticians to collaborate via virtual media (e.g., weekly webex meetings) and they will be working together for approximately the next nine or so months to analyze huge size data and explore better ways to improve current methodologies based stellar observations  produced by spectrographs and other ground-based and space-based astronomical surveys.

– The workshop featured numerous speakers who talked about the growing importance of exoplanet research.

Currently, one of the emphases in the astronomy field is to find the existence of exoplanets and/or other worlds that have the potential to support life. As this is a hot topic in the astronomy field, scientists and mathematicians are focusing their efforts on finding these exoplanets right here in our own galaxy. By trying to locate exoplanets, the potential exists for probes to be sent to explore these regions for earth-like planets.

Since 1988, survey based analyses have identified the discovery of more than 3,500 exoplanets. The data provided for these discoveries came from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searchers (HARPS), beginning in 2004, and later by the Kepler Space Telescope launched in 2009.

Eric Fiegelson, a Distinguished Senior Scholar and Professor from Penn State’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, was one of the attendees and was one of the speakers for the opening workshop. Fiegelson was extremely excited about this opportunity to work with other researchers in order to learn how both astrophysicists and astrostatisticians can bring their collective experience and knowledge to the table in order to potentially lead to the discovery of other exoplanets.

Over the past 25 years Fiegelson has been involved in astronomy and teaching, he said, “This event was the first time I have ever seen a room filled with nearly 50% astronomers and 50% statisticians…SAMSI made this possible!” Fiegelson explained why this was significant because until now, the two disciplines in the science of astronomy rarely worked together on a grand level research endeavor like this. Fiegelson is also one of the many visiting fellows at SAMSI for this program whom are charged with supporting the research and collaboration of this program from this consortium of brilliant minds in the field of astronomy and statistics.

– Astrostatisticians met and collaborated with astrophysicists and astronomers to work on ways to improve data analysis in exoplanet research.

It was only fitting that while this workshop was in session, astronomers announced that they may have found a planet 1.3 times more massive than Earth. The exoplanet is known as Proxima B and current analysis suggests that it resides near the star Proxima Centauri, our sun’s nearest neighbor. Proxima B is within the habitable zone to Proxima Centauri, which means that the exoplanet can support liquid water given sufficient atmospheric pressure and therefore has the potential to sustain life. Proxima B is approximately 4.7 million miles away and would take almost 20 years to reach with our current technology of space exploration. Still the existence of Proxima B is our most hopeful prospect yet of finding other life out there in the cosmos.

The news of this exciting discovery was well received by those attending the opening workshop. The existence of the very source of their research further supplanted the need to explore this topic even more. Many of the researchers are excited for the chance to work together and learn each other’s capabilities. Overall, the hope for the ASTRO program is that it provides a wealth of opportunities by promoting the sharing of data and ideas and by allowing scientists to collaborate almost on a daily basis for nine months that could potentially have huge ramifications into the research of five focused research topics.

The ASTRO program, which started in August of this year will be ongoing through May, 2017. To see what other interesting topics and workshops will be discussed in this program, visit:

– Over 90 participants from around the nation and also a from other countries (Canada, Spain, UK), specializing in astronomy and astrostatistics were present for the five day workshop that featured speakers from NASA, Caltech, Harvard, Penn State and Yale just to name a few. The researchers met from all over to explore better ways to find the existence of other planets, in particular the ones which have habitable conditions as our own planet Earth.

SAMSI Deputy Director to Deliver Helen Barton Lecture Series at UNC-G

Dr. Sujit Ghosh, Deputy Director of the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI), has been invited by the University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics to present a series of three lectures this fall as part of the Helen Barton Lecture Series in Mathematical Sciences.

The lecture series has been a fixture in the academic community since 2012 and the target audience for these talks are graduate and upper level undergraduate students and faculty members. Dr. Ghosh is one of many distinguished mathematicians/statisticians who have been invited to speak for the series.

Ghosh’s three-part series, entitled, “Statistical Inference Subject to Shape Constraint,” will take place on the UNC-G campus from, Monday, November 14 thru Wednesday, November 16.

The focus of Dr. Ghosh’s talk will be to present an introductory overview of lectures on statistical inference for density and regression function estimations that are known to preserve a set of shape constraints. Some popular applications include the study of:

  • utility functions, cost functions, and profit functions in economics
  • the analysis of growth rates as a function of various environmental factors
  • the study of dose response curve in the phase I clinical trials
  • the estimation of the monotone hazard rates and the mean residual life functions in reliability and survival analysis and many more

In addition to theoretical results and applications, the lectures will also feature demos of R software packages that can be used to compute various statistical data and graphics.

Ghosh has served as the Deputy Director at SAMSI since 2014. He has served as the Co-Director of Graduate Programs in Statistics at North Carolina State University, where he managed over 150 students annually from 2010 – 2013. Before serving in his current role at SAMSI, Ghosh served as the Program Director in the Division of Mathematical Sciences within the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the National Science Foundation from 2013 – 2014.

Prof. Ghosh has more than 20 years’ experience in conducting, researching and applying statistical analysis of biomedical and environmental information in a wide variety of capacities and subjects. On top of these accomplishments professionally, he has a lengthy and extensive academic record which includes: giving over 125 invited lectures at seminars and national/international meetings; serving as a statistical investigator and consultant for over 40 different research projects funded by numerous private industry leaders and federal agencies and publishing over 95 referred journal articles in the area of biomedical, econometrics and environmental sciences just to name a few. Dr. Ghosh has also co-edited a popular book entitled “Generalized Linear Models: A Bayesian Perspective.”

To see more information on Dr. Ghosh’s lecture or other upcoming events visit the web page for the Helen Barton Lecture series.

IMSM 2016 Prepares Graduate Students for ‘Real World’ Research

The sun set on a hot July day across the street from North Carolina State University, signaling the end of another positive experience in research.

Nearly 40 Graduate Students, of various science, applied mathematics backgrounds and statistics celebrated their accomplishments and experiences after attending the 2016 Industrial Modeling Workshop (IMSM) for Graduate Students in Raleigh, N.C., July 18-27.

This year marked the 22nd anniversary of the IMSM workshop, a major educational outreach component of the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI). Each year, SAMSI invites graduate students from across the country to attend a 10-day workshop, where various industrial and government agencies partner with academia to solve “real world” problems that impact our lives.

This year, SAMSI was pleased to have representatives from: Sandia National Laboratories; Rho, Inc.; the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE); Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pfizer and the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites (CICS). The IMSM workshop is sponsored by SAMSI as well as the Department of Mathematics and the Center for Research in Scientific Computation (CRSC) at N.C. State University.

Graduate students were split into six teams and presented with six different projects from the various industry and lab partners. Subjects of these problems ranged from climate and health to environmental issues. Each team was guided by at least one Industry and one faculty mentor who offered support and helpful hints to make sure the team could develop workable solutions within the allotted time frame.

The IMSM workshop introduces graduate students to the effective application of academic knowledge towards solving “real world” problems. Students also learned valuable skills about time management and team-based research in a time-constrained environment – a practice that is key to achieving results in industry and government labs. The group of students was dynamic, representing such disciplines as Geophysics, Engineering, Biology and of course Applied Mathematics and Statistics. The diversity of students played a pivotal role in helping the teams to develop synergy through their collective strengths and experience in order to reach a common goal. Most students were excited about the opportunity to attend and collectively looked forward to the challenges presented in the IMSM workshop. In the end, industry and lab partners as well as the students benefitted from the experience of producing research results that have the potential to advance “real world” applications.


One highlight of this year’s projects was a problem set directed at ways to identify elements of various allergens in order to develop therapies against food allergies. This important issue was posed by Rho, Inc.

Based on research from the Centers from Disease Control (CDC), food allergies are specifically prevalent in children ages 5 and above. This trend has increased by 18% from 1997 to 2007 and effects nearly 5% of adults and 8% of children. Primarily, eight foods account for 90% of all food allergy reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

The students’ focus was to look at nut allergies. Nut allergies make up more than 25% of the most common foods associated with severe allergic reactions. In this specific case, the research developed here could easily be replicated towards the study of other food allergies as well. Allergies are caused by a person’s immune system overreacting to harmless proteins in our food or the environment.  One tool for analyzing these proteins is a peptide microarray. These microarrays help to identify parts of certain proteins that trigger allergic reactions. Fragments of allergy-triggering proteins are arranged on small plates or “chips” and exposed to a patient’s blood.  Antibodies from the patient’s immune system found in the blood will react with some of the fragments. These interactions can be detected by microscopes or scanning machines. The data from these experiments, however tend to be “noisy” when researchers try to accurately determine which protein fragments react with the patient’s antibodies. The students’ aim was to try to identify a more effective way to clear up the noise in these samples. Clearing up the noise ensures better predictability by the researchers in their analysis.

Nut Allergies

The data from samples presented by Rho, Inc., had positive markers for a specific nut allergen. The students analyzed these samples and created an algorithm that could identify these patterns more quickly. The students identified the outliers in each sample, which correlated into clearing up the noisy data from these findings. Correctly identifying these outliers made the predictions about this data more reliable and accurate. The result of applying this approach led to identifying 96% of the noise or “bad spots” on a microarray. By identifying these bad spots with a high degree of certainty, one can have a more effective tool to correctly see what protein fragments are triggering allergies.

Though this algorithm was a big break through, still much research needs to be done. The students’ assistance was a positive step forward on this problem.  With these new findings, Rho, Inc., can now go back and apply some of these same techniques to their ongoing research for this problem. It is work like this that further justifies the purpose of bringing great minds together in order to tackle some of life’s puzzles and help us all to live more problem free.

USACE presented two problems: one on habitat quality assessments in the Columbia River and the second on using surface wave properties to predict nearshore bathymetry. Bathymetry is a measurement of submarine topography and can be used to indicate changes in the ocean floor. This near shore analysis could prove vital for predicting damage to coastal environments due to major storms or significant erosion. Storm surge and erosion also negatively impact transportation routes and civil infrastructure. Collectively, these factors would prohibit efforts of support agencies to assist the civilian populace with critical needs in an emergency.

The group used USACE data from Duck, N.C., compiled from various resources to determine coastal depths within 500 m of the coastline. This distance is crucial when it comes to large vessels providing logistical aid support. Support agencies want to ensure adequate water depth, keeping these large vessels from running aground in poor conditions.  The data could also help to understand the various impacts of erosion on coastal structures and transportation routes.  Studies like this have been used in other situations as well, like saving the Historic Lighthouse out at Cape Hatteras.

Accurate measurements of bathymetry in nearshore regions using conventional means are difficult to obtain.  Direct measurements are costly and sparse, and the underlying topography is constantly changing.

Currently, obtaining accurate data related to this research requires many man hours and often costly equipment. The students used USACE data on wave height, wave number and ocean depth to understand how information on the wave mechanics can be used to generate a map of the underlying bathymetry. They used mathematical representations of the connections between measurable wave properties and bathymetry to develop a statistical algorithm for estimating the water depths along a one-dimensional profile.


The students used data provided by remote sensing platforms, compiled from airborne, satellite and onshore sensors. They studied the dispersion relationship connecting water depth to surface properties, including wave length and period, and discovered using these factors as input provided a relatively accurate estimate of the bathymetry.

Using three different inversion methods, the students accurately determined ocean floor topography up to 900m away from shore. The students found that by using these multiple measurement types, it helped to reduce the amount “noise” in a given variable. In addition, the students determined which inversion method was the best algorithm to use when attempting to accurately identify this data.

Though the group was successful in finding a solution, more work is still needed. The researchers suggested more refinement of their selected inversion method in order to account for more parameters such as beach profile and more access to wave number profiles throughout a given year. These factors could help to isolate trends in the shifting of the ocean floor, which could lead to making mitigation efforts to correct these issues easier.

The group’s final recommendation was to apply this information to a higher fidelity model in order to assess bathymetry in multiple dimensions. The USACE industry mentor looked upon the results favorably. The students’ findings have the potential for numerous applications in keeping with the USACE mission at home and abroad.

Dining Out


Overall the consensus of the graduate students was that this workshop was helpful in preparing them for their future contributions in research. The IMSM is a valuable tool for industry as well. Industries actively seek qualified up and coming researchers by being a part of workshops like this and the research gained also has the potential to advance the work in their various research. As the workshop closed, the students spent their last night dining together and reflecting on the experiences they shared over the previous week and a half with peers and faculty and industry mentors in the program.


Planning and scheduling by SAMSI has begun for the 2017 IMSM; applications for the workshop next year will be accepted in January. To find out more and apply, interested graduate students should visit the SAMSI website at: