Student lecture series forges scientific understanding

On Oct. 24, junior Herb Susmann opened the Shared Learning in Science program, a new lecture series designed to foster interconnectedness between those studying the sciences, mathematics and computer science, with a talk on the potential of evolutionary algorithms.

The idea for this program came when Susmann approached professor of biology Gregg Hartvigsen with a problem he was trying to tackle: namely, modeling how diseases move through populations and accurately predicting the resultant numbers of susceptible, infected and immune people.

Hartvigsen proposed the lecture series as a way for Susmann to potentially meet people interested in his problem who might have solutions he wasn’t seeing.

Susmann touched on this research toward the end of his presentation, but first discussed his interest in ants as well as evolutionary algorithms. According to Susmann, essentially a revolutionary algorithm mimics natural selection and genetic heredity to find the best solution to whatever problem is at hand.

He demonstrated this concept through an analysis of squirrel populations, using R, an open-source programming language involved in statistical analysis.

The lecture series, which is run through the biophysics program, aims to reach out to students of many different scientific disciplines, encouraging them to work together. “I’d love to see some collaborations come out of this,” Hartvigsen said.

Senior Jarrod LaFountain and sophomore Marina Massaro will host the next lecture planned for the series. They are trying to calibrate a force plate to accurately measure movements in a horse’s step, so they might be able to detect if a horse is going lame far before problems become visible. The date and time of this talk is to be announced.

Interested students should contact Hartvigsen, who says he is open to a variety of presentation topics as long as they are within the sciences, mathematics or computer science.