Entries tagged with “thesis” from Computer Science Department News

On September 6, 2012, Harshavardhan (Harsh) Achrekar, a computer science graduate student, under the guidance of Dr. Benyuan Liu, successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis titled “Online Social Network Flu Tracker – a Novel Sensory Approach to Predict Flu Trends.” He is currently employed with the Community Analytics division of eClinicalWorks®, a market leader in ambulatory clinical systems.

Achrekar’s PhD research involved online social network (OSN) analysis, with a focus on predicting flu trends and information extraction from messages posted on OSN's. He was utilizing information posted on online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to help improve the prediction of influenza levels within US population and was tracking of its spread.

He spend three years developing and perfecting an in-house framework called the Social Network-Enabled Flu Trends (SNEFT). The software that uses continuous data-collection mechanism to monitor flu-related messages, extract relevant user demographic and location information, classify messages in real time, and predict the current influenza levels.

Starting 2009, Achrekar tapped into Twitter and Facebook and extracted tens of millions of influenza-related user posts till date, to provide an almost-instantaneous snapshot of current epidemic conditions and building comprehensive mathematical models that improves the estimate of nationwide flu activity.

Achrekar's approach can significantly enhance public health preparedness against influenza and other large-scale pandemics.

For this research, Achrekar was supported with a $200,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health under a Small Business Innovation Research Award.

His results have been presented in various scientific publications:

  • His paper “Twitter improves Seasonal Influenza Prediction" at the fifth annual International Conference on Health Informatics, Portugal, February 2012, received the Best Student Paper Award. This is a prestigious and competitive conference with a 9% full-paper acceptance ratio.
  • His paper titled “Predicting Flu Trends using Twitter Data” at the International Workshop on Cyber-Physical Networking Systems (CPNS) 2011, in conjunction with IEEE INFOCOM 2011, held in Shanghai, China, April 10–15, 2011, is considered to be a foundational research for flu tracking with OSN data and has received many citations.
  • The paper titled “A Spatio-Temporal Approach to the Discovery of Online Social Trends” at the fifth Annual International Conference on Combinatorial Optimization and Applications (COCOA), Zhangjiajie, China in August 2011 provides insights into using online social network data to discover trends in other domains. 
  • Also “Vision: Towards Real Time Epidemic Vigilance through Online Social Networks” was his first ACM Workshop paper at Mobile Cloud Computing & Services: Social Networks and Beyond (MCS), in conjunction with ACM MobiSys, San Francisco, California, June 2010, that explains the SNEFT architecture for flu tracking and pandemic outburst detection using online social network data.

Dr. Achrekar’s committee included Cindy Chen (Computer Science), Georges Grinstein (Computer Science), Yan Luo (Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Jie Wang (Computer Science).

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Harshavardhan (Harsh) Achrekar at his doctoral defense on September 6, 2012.
On November 17, 2011, Computer Science graduate student Michael K. Penta successfully defended his Master's thesis, entitled “Video Game Creation as a Platform for Mathematical Learning.” Penta had previously earned a B.S. degree in Computer Science from UMass Lowell (2006).

Penta’s work was inspired by an experience he had teaching video game design in a summer camp held at the university. Two of his students were trying to position a cannon ball at the end of a cannon, which could be positioned at various angles. Near the end of a day, the students asked Penta how to do this, and he told them, “That is just a bit of trigonometry. I will show you tomorrow.”

Penta was then surprised when, the following day, the students had solved the problem on their own. As he described it:

I learned that they had gone home and introduced themselves to trigonometry by searching the web. ... These students had taken responsibility for their learning, and became self-directed problem solvers. They had taken a subject disliked by most students and [...] learned the essence of an important math concept. ... They were motivated by their own problem, a problem within a context about which they cared, the game they were making.
Penta used this insight as a jumping-off point for his Master’s project. He set out to develop an intentional learning environment where students would be encouraged to build their mathematical competencies through video game creation.

He then evaluated three different learning environments: an in-school mathematics classroom, an after-school game design workshop, and an after-school mathematics-focused game design workshop. Using a design-based research methodology, Penta created a series of evaluation tools to measure students’ learning, and refine the learning environment in each iteration.

Ultimately, Penta argued that because of curricular constraints, in-school time is not suitable for student video game design projects. He concluded that interventions should be structured around authentic video game design with integrated, focused mathematical design challenges. Finally, he demonstrated that students developed improvements in their understanding of mathematical concepts including plotting Cartesian coordinates, using negative numbers, and finding functions from patterns.

Penta’s work was advised by Prof. Fred Martin. Douglas Prime (College of Engineering) and Prof. Marvin Stick (Mathematical Sciences) were thesis readers. A copy of the thesis is available on Proquest or as a local PDF.


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Video games were programmed in MIT Scratch and Game Maker. In this Scratch program snippet, a student has used knowledge of X and Y coordinate axes, and positive and negative numbers, to program a game character to move up, down, left, or right, in response to arrow key presses.

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“Haunted Mansion,” a student-created game in response to the maze challenge. Student games had to have a “hero” character which moved using the arrow keys, and at least two “good” and two “bad” non-player characters (NPCs). When the hero struck a good NPC, its number of lives had to increase, and when it collided with a bad NPC, it would lose a life. When all lives were lost, the game had to end.

On November 15, 2011, Computer Science graduate student Derrell Lipman successfully defended his Master's thesis, entitled “LIBERATED: A fully in-browser client and server web application debug and test environment.”

Lipman’s research focused on addressing the challenge of developing client-server web systems.

He observed that traditional web-based client-server application development is accomplished in two separate pieces. There is a front-end portion which runs on the client machine, and a back-end portion which runs on the server machine. Typically, the front-end component is coded in HTML and JavaScript, while the back-end is written in PHP, ASP.net, or some another language that can interface to a database.

The skill sets required for these two pieces are different. Often, the front-end and back-end are developed and tested completely independently, based purely on an interface specification.

Lipman addressed this by developing his framework, LIBERATED, which stands for “Lipman’s In-Browser EnviRonment for Application TEsting and Development.”

In the thesis, Lipman proposed a new methodology for web-based client-server application development, in which a simulated server is built into the browser environment to run the back-end code.

This design allowed the front-end code to issue requests to the back-end in either a synchronous or asynchronous fashion, and single-step, using a debugger, directly from front-end code into back-end code, thereby completely testing both components with the desktop browser environment.

In Lipman’s system, that exact same back-end code, now fully tested in the simulated environment, is then recompiled and moved to a real server.

In the defense, Lipman presented the detailed design of LIBERATED, and described how he used it to develop the App Inventor Community Gallery, a web system created for users of Google’s App Inventor programming environment for Android phones to share their projects.

Prof. Fred Martin served as Lipman’s thesis adviser, and Dr. Mark Sheldon served as his thesis reader. Lipman’s research was supported by a grant from Google.

A copy of the thesis is available at http://search.proquest.com/docview/928125360.

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Block diagram of the LIBERATED architecture. The programmer uses JavaScript and the qooxdoo framework to code both the frontend and back pieces of the client-server system. The backend runs in a simulated environment in the developer’s browser, and when completed, is moved to a separate server machine. The same backend code is run in both places.
Alexander Baumann, a doctoral student in UMass Lowell’s Computer Science department and researcher at the Institute for Visualization and Perception Research (IVPR), successfully defended his doctoral dissertation on May 9, 2011. Dr. Baumann’s research and thesis, entitled “The Design and Implementation of Weave: a Session State Driven, Web-Based Visualization Framework,” was advised by Prof. Georges Grinstein of the Computer Science department.

Baumann’s research focused on the design and development of Weave, a web-based data visualization framework that is now available under an open source license. Dr. Baumann oversaw the development of this software package from its original design to the current implementation with his research on a novel windowing environment for web-based data visualization that allows transitions between many types of user interactions and layouts.

Baumann’s work was funded by the Open Indicators Consortium (OIC), which was founded to both develop this platform and offer a community of learning for not-for-profits and government agencies who deal with indicator data, or custom measures that track progress towards a goal or quality of an entity. The agile development process was used to provide the members with regular releases and use their feedback to drive feature design and evolution.

Dr. Baumann extended many of the concepts of the earlier desktop-based Universal Visualization Platform in whose development he participated. He led the team in its first Weave designs, and through the feedback from the OIC, extended that design to provide a more flexible and customizable framework for web-based data visualizations. The new design supports dynamic customizable layouts, visualizations targeted to different levels of users, and exploratory data visualization, all within a novel windowing environment.

Prof. Grinstein noted that there are already many users of the software ranging from small communities to cities such as Boston, Seattle, Chicago and Atlanta, to states such as Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, with many more anticipated users.

Dr. Baumann has accepted a position as Software Product Developer at Knome, a genome sequencing platform company in Cambridge, MA founded in 2007 by Harvard Geneticist George Church. KNome has just received $5 million of an expected $20 million equity round of funding.

Dr. Baumann’s dissertation committee readers were Dr. William Mass (Economic and Social Development of Regions) and Dr. Haim Levkowitz (Computer Science). Baumann's thesis document is archived on ProQuest.

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The novel windowing environment within Weave. The image at the top left shows a single map tool with quality of life index data for each country within a movable, resizable, customizable window. At the bottom of this image is the minimized tool area that windows are moved to when minimized using an animated transition. When this area is hovered over with a mouse, the size of it increases to show screenshots of the minimized tools, and the name of the window is shown in a tooltip. Clicking on a tool restores it to its original layout. The windowing environment allows defining static layouts such as the Lowell foreclosure example: tools can be resized, positioned and customized and then turned to a static view that removes all windowing controls and fixes their position and sizes.
On March 21, 2011, Alessandro Agnello successfully defended his Master’s thesis, entitled “Design and evaluation of an Android/Web based system for acquiring users’ physical activity with minimal interaction.” This work was supported by adviser Dr. Haim Levkowitz.

Agnello developed an Android application that tracks a user’s physical activity using sensors built into most Android phones (primarily, GPS and accelerometer data). The application then analyzes the collected data and verifies that the user is actually doing physical activity (e.g., identifying running vs. sitting in a moving car).

Upon ending a session (shutting down the application or user selection), the application communicates with a web server and sends the user’s current physical activity completed. A corresponding web site displays different measurements of the user’s physical activity (by week, month, or year). Additionally, the web site offers RSS feeds dedicated to help motivate the user to continue their physical activity.

As this is application part of a framework for what could be a complete solution, Agnello designed this project in a modular structure for easy porting.  The technologies used in the development of this work were the Android operating system, PHP, MySQL and HTML. Dr. Guanling Chen served as thesis reader for the project.

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Screenshot of Agnello’s Distance Watcher web site that accompanies the project’s Android phone app.
On July 20, John Fertitta successfully defended his Master's thesis, entitled “Design and Evaluation of Dedicated Smartphone Applications for Collaborative Science Education.”

Fertitta’s work involved the development of a set of custom apps that were used in a high school physics classroom. Fertitta worked closely with a local high school teacher to conceive of the apps, and then implemented them and supported the teacher in using them in this classroom.

Fertitta's project extended the Engaging Computing Group's Internet System for Networked Science Experimentation (iSENSE), which Fertitta also helped develop. In his thesis work, Fertitta's apps allowed students to gather acceleration data on Android smartphones. These data were then uploaded to iSENSE, and then students collaboratively made sense of the data by overlaying views of their various data sets.

In one of the projects, students went on rides at the Canobie Lake amusement park, and used Fertitta's app to collect acceleration data. Then, back in the classroom, the students completed worksheets where they predicted what their graphs would look like. Finally, students viewed the actual data, and had to figure out which graph matched which ride.

In analyzing student work and in a post-interview with the teacher, Fertitta argued that in this case “smartphones were ‘far superior’ to other technologies” for data collection, and that the use of the iSENSE system, which easily allowed students to overlay each other’s data, “facilitated more in-depth discussion” than other tools.

Fertitta's thesis was advised by Profs. Fred Martin (Computer Science) and Michelle Scribner-MacLean (Graduate School of Education). Fertitta's work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (DRL-0546513 and DRL-0735597) and a gift from Google Inc. A copy of the thesis is online here.

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Student prediction graph (left) and actual data from the iSENSE web system. Also, interact with the visualization live on the iSENSE site at this URL: http://isense.cs.uml.edu/visdir.php?id=121
On April 4, 2011, Jason M’Sadoques successfully defended his MS dissertation, entitled “Regarding an Alternative Method for Translational Single-Item Containment.” This work, supported by adviser Dr. Karen Daniels, took an idea originally presented by Althaus et al. that obtained the feasible region for placing an object into a container without the use of unbounded point sets. The thesis supplied a formal proof and also presented the restrictions on its validity.

The use of unbounded point sets requires special handling in computational geometry. One method is to calculate or estimate a maximum volume of space in which all geometric manipulations will fit: a bounding box. Alternatively there is a technique called infimaximal frames. Neither option was suitable for use in this case in the field’s standard Computational Geometry Algorithms Library, and so M’Sadoques’ algorithm was developed as a solution.

In addition to two alternate proofs, additional work was done to allow the packing of two objects into a container, again avoiding unbounded sets. The algorithms were implemented in C++ and timings were taken using simple 3D input shapes.

Present at the defense were thesis committee members Drs. Karen Daniels, George Grinstein and Cindy Chen from the Computer Science department, and remotely Dr. Victor Milenkovic from the University of Miami.

The complete thesis may be retrieved from the department’s Technical Report repository. The results of this work will also be presented in the Cutting and Packing stream of the Conference for the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS 2011) in Melbourne, Australia on July 11.

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Image illustrating containment problem. Beyond two shapes, the containment problem is NP-complete.
Shawn Konecni, a doctoral student in UMass Lowell's Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology Program, successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, entitled “Scenario Design for Evaluation of Visual Analytics Tools to Support Biomedical Research,” on March 23, 2011.  Konecni's research was advised by Prof. Georges Grinstein of the Computer Science department.

Konecni's research aims to increase awareness of important visual analytics problems, and improve evaluation methodologies for complex visual analytics systems.

In his doctoral project, he leveraged the Visual Analytics Science and Technology (VAST) challenge framework, a contest designed to advance visual analytics tools and methods.

Konecni developed custom scenarios and synthetic data sets, including multiple mini-challenges, based on a hypothetical pandemic outbreak involving a rapidly evolving fictitious virus. After analyzing the data sets made possible by his scenarios, Konecni presented a series of recommendations, to “enable the design of scenarios that push the forefront of visual analytics research relevant to real-world biomedical research problems.”

Prof. Grinstein noted that Konecni's work “integrates not just biological and chemical knowledge, but also modeling and computer science to solve extremely complex problems including for example bioterrorism and drug discovery. Whereas most work is often done as prototypes that provide examples of the research, his work has been immediately used both by Pfizer and analysts around the world. He has handled this pressure quite well, and his work is broad and superb.”

Konecni's dissertation committee readers were Dr. Haim Levkowitz (Computer Science) and Dr. Kenneth Marx (Chemistry).

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