The Carl M. Hansen Foundation recently awarded a $10,000 research
grant to Kent Jones, associate professor of mathematics and computer
science at Whitworth, to fund Jones' research of embedded control
systems. The grant provides equipment funding and a stipend for
Jones and two student-researchers, junior computer science and music
double major Julie Kurtz and junior computer science major Tim Etters.
The faculty-student research team spent the summer of 2001 conducting
research on Jones' ongoing project, "Biologically Inspired
Embedded Systems Designs."
"Embedded control systems appear in a wide range of devices,
from heating/cooling systems and automobiles to cochlear implants
and pacemakers," Jones says. "The design of reliable,
efficient and safe embedded systems poses many challenges."
The research team tackled those challenges as they sought to learn
from neurobiological systems in order to make reliable and efficient
embedded systems; to gain a deeper understanding of how neurobiological
systems process signals (i.e. encode, transmit and decode information);
and to develop new theoretical tools for designing and analyzing embedded systems.
As part of the research project, Jones conducted a seminar series
for the student-researchers on the modeling and simulation of neurons.
Kurtz and Etters worked on developing biologically inspired embedded
control algorithms for a variety of LEGO-based robots. They then
compared the control algorithms to algorithms designed by traditional
computer science and engineering techniques and wrote research papers
summarizing their findings.
"Cross-discipline research provides a fertile area for research.
Analyzing the design of biological systems provides insights and
clues that lead to better embedded systems," Jones says. "Most
importantly, this research directly benefits students. It challenges
their ingenuity and creativity and requires that they master underlying concepts."
"The critical thinking and analytical problem-solving skills
students develop while doing research provides them with extraordinary
tools for successful careers and graduate school," Jones says.
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