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Grant Supports Professor's Research into Biologically Inspired Embedded Systems

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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