The professor leading your weekly lecture might spend her time outside of the classroom protecting the nation from internet security breaches or improving video games. Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science's faculty conducts innovative research that is revolutionizing fields from computer science to biology to animation. The Daily Pennsylvanian checked in with a few faculty members to see where their research is headed.
Computer and Information Science professor Nadia Heninger is currently working on applied cryptography, which is crucial in encrypting private financial information on the internet.
“When you hear about internet breaches, that is basically because people are terrible at security systems,” Heninger said. “We don’t know how to write secure software.”
Heninger explained that when the internet was originally developed, people trusted each other online. “They didn’t think to build security into the fundamental architecture,” she said.
Heninger also claims that we have a long way to go in creating more secure systems, especially in a society where the internet is becoming increasingly vital to daily activities.
“People are putting computers into lots of different things much faster than we are learning how to secure systems,” Heninger said. “Things like cars and medical devices are going to be intelligent, and they are all going to have software flaws.”
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering professor Scott Diamond is conducting research that has captivated the interest of the United States Army. He works on creating extremely detailed descriptions of an individual’s blood makeup.
“Ideally, your blood is a liquid until you need it to clot, and these two properties sometimes fight with each other,” Diamond said. “If someone is tipped either way, they are at a risk.”
The Army analyzes the best way to treat traumas like gunshot or explosion wounds, and Diamond’s research could be instrumental in giving doctors a better understanding of how to best care for a wounded soldier.
“The clinician can say ‘this patient’s blood looks fine; they are not at risk,' and this allows them to focus more on the surgery,” Diamond said. “But if the patient is at risk, that could suggest the use of certain blood products.”
The future of this field, in which biological and engineering techniques mingle, is bright, especially in the realm of personalized medical care.
“I see the opportunity to do very complex and rapid analyses of blood samples bedside,” Diamond said. “So the clinician can get the information right when he or she needs to make a decision.”
Computer and Information Science professor Norman Badler is working on research that could improve human systems, from army training to video games.
“We are working on how to give digital human models more realistic behaviors,” Badler said. “We use gestures, the face, gait and other characteristics to portray emotion or personality.”
Badler’s previous project culminated in an animated human model known as Jack, which has been used by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force for simulations.
Now Badler works more on models of larger crowds and how to program a virtual crowd to act like humans normally would in a natural environment, interacting with both each other and their surroundings.
“This may end up in video games, but there are more serious applications for this, like police training,” Badler said. “The problem is making people realistic enough to make the training meaningful.”
Badler also works on giving these virtual humans a sense of hearing, which he hopes could be used in games, where characters could hear another player approaching, as well as in other fields.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.