REU Site: Computing for Disasters
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Disasters pose a comprehensive need for critical real-time computing, where data must be collected, transmitted, transformed, and displayed to stakeholders in real-time. In this REU program, a cohort of 10 students in computing are introduced to a new style of holistic, multi-disciplinary research in which they interact with responders, industry, and agencies, and are embedded into faculty and graduate students teams to conduct individual research projects. Each summer, the program begins with the annual Center for Emergency Informatics'' Summer Institute at Texas A&M''s Disaster City(R) where the student cohort is introduced to applying human-centered design to problems in emergency management. The students use the feedback from responders and agencies in framing, with their faculty and graduate student mentors, creative approaches to disaster response. The individual student projects include designing new natural user interfaces for situation awareness and sensor fusion, applying cognitive neuroscience to image processing to select key snippets of video data to transmit rather than send large files over highly limited wireless networks, analyzing "big data" to understand trends and bottlenecks in decision making, improving security and privacy, and applying social networking to extract information about structural and social vulnerability. In addition to the purely research activities, each cohort attends seminars and brown bag lunch discussions; goes on tours of Texas A&M laboratories and NASA Johnson Space Center; and has weekly social functions with other REU students and with faculty and graduate students.The broader outcomes of this project are both scientific and educational. The intellectual merit is the contribution of the projects to the emerging field of real-time computing for critical events such as disasters. The broader educational outcomes of integrating research and education are increases in the enrollment in graduate schools due to: exploiting the attractiveness of humanitarian applications to attract under-represented groups and encourage social networking and mutual support; using the topic of emergency response to create a common ground between students in a cohort, providing a rich set of activities that develops an understanding of research methods, new communication skills, and ethical practices; engaging students with faculty, graduate students, and industry/agency mentors; and exposing faculty outside of Texas A&M to the emerging emergency informatics research community. Students will gain experience in presenting results from their individual projects orally, as posters, and as written reports. The written reports will be targeted for conference publications or inclusion in journals.The website for the REU site (http://www.cse.tamu.edu/reu/computingfordisasters) provides additional information.