Computer Science students collaborate with professor in theoretical research

June 28, 2011

As hundreds of students drove their packed cars away from the McDaniel campus in May, two Mathematics & Computer Science majors knew their work was not yet over.

Along with Computer Science professor Pavel Naumov, Sarah Holbrook of Winchester, Va., and Brittany Nicholls of San Jose, Calif., comb through the complex world of computer science theory, specifically, concurrency theory and game theory.

Sarah Holbrook, Pavel Naumov and Brittany Nicholls

The juniors, who have won a $17,000 grant from the Computing Research Association Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research, study the abstract concepts of computer science and intersect with both mathematics and economics.

Nicholls and Naumov have been partnered in research since last summer, when they examined information flow.

“After last summer, we thought we had a solution, but it fell apart when we started to write the paper and realized it was much more complex, so we continued to research,” she said. They both will present the paper this July at a conference in the Netherlands.

Nicholls was awarded a $1,200 national travel scholarship for women to attend the conference in Groningen and says that this will be a good source of closure for the extensive and long-term project.

Game theory, Nicholls and Naumov’s current topic, was first popular among social scientists and economists, according to Naumov. Within the concepts of conflict and strategy, it examines actions a “player” may take to secure advantageous outcomes, at the loss of the other.  This makes it applicable in an infinite number of real-world situations.

Naumov cites Coke and Pepsi in the advertising game. While competing companies, each must take into account the other’s actions in order to fulfill their own interests. This can also be applied to strategies of government, war, and social intercourse.

Holbrook’s project deals with concurrency theory, studying the properties of interaction among multiple programs sharing the same resources – for example, a printer and a hard drive on a computer. Their research attempts to assess the programs in a situation of deadlock (the universally dreaded computer “freeze”) and how the independence of each program affects the solution of lifting the deadlock.

Naumov will also present a paper at the 20th Conference on Computer Science Logic in Bergen, Norway, in September. This paper, co-authored with alum Benjamin Sapp ’11, shows that properties of probability appear in areas of computer science. Similar to, Naumov says, Newton discovering the same properties in both orbiting planets and small objects on earth.