USM Narratives - Information Technology
Improving Health with Mobile Phones
USM graduate student Brent Atkinson is part of an international team of faculty, programmers, and health officials who have been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to determine if mobile phones can improve health services in developing countries.
Over the past year, Atkinson, who is pursuing his master’s in computer science, has been working with USM Professor Bruce MacLeod and USM programmer Matt Blanchette, a USM graduate, on software that will allow nurses and families to receive timely health information via mobile phones.
The Mobile Technology for Community Health (MoTeCH) initiative will determine how mobile technology could be used to improve natal care in rural Ghana. The project focuses on developing a suite of services delivered over low-end mobile phones that provides relevant health information to pregnant women and encourages them to seek antenatal care from local facilities.
Specific tools will also be created for health workers to track patients and the services they receive. Atkinson and Blanchette are designing the program that will determine when and what information to send to health workers and families. In 2010, Professor MacLeod and Atkinson will travel to Ghana to pilot the project in consultation with a Ghanaian tech company.
Going Global with GIS
USM undergraduates Alex Peppe and Nevins Bartolomeo—both computer science majors—are key members of a team of faculty and research staff in USM’s Research Computing Group (RCG), who are working with the Maine GeoLibrary Board to enhance the GeoPortal, an ever-growing online catalogue of free spatial data that provides information in a wide range of fields, from community planning to public health to the environment.
Peppe, who plans to pursue his Ph.D. next fall, is researching options for the GeoPortal’s map viewer to make it more attractive and user-friendly, and will write the actual code to develop it.
Bartolomeo, who administers the servers necessary for the programs to run, started taking classes in industrial technology at USM, but is now planning to pursue a career in data security. For both students the project is an invaluable part of their education and an enhancement to what they learn in the classroom.
Winning International Awards for Computer Science
USM computer science student Ryan Small of Auburn won an artificial intelligence competition at the 2009 Congress on Evolutionary Computation (CEC) held in Trondheim, Norway. Small, an undergraduate and program analyst at IDEXX Laboratories, entered the “Unreal Tournament” competition, designed to evaluate how well an artificial intelligence program can play a challenging interactive game. Such games are popular subjects for artificial intelligence research because the games are fast-paced and different each time they are played.
The annual CEC is one of the leading events in evolutionary computation. It is an international conference that covers topics, ranging from computer vision to biological applications to evolutionary games. In addition to presentations from researchers throughout the world, the event features competitions that illustrate advances in computing and pose cutting-edge challenges.
In what USM Assistant Professor Clare Bates Congdon described as an almost unprecedented move, undergraduate Small delivered a research paper at the CEC on designing artificial intelligence systems. It was well received and, according to Congdon, generated “nonstop questions” from the audience.
Assisting Displaced Workers at BNAS
A team of faculty and students from USM’s Research Computing Group and professional staff from USM’s Continuing Education program have developed a training program to assist workers at the Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) and the surrounding region who are losing their jobs as a result of the base closure.
In collaboration with the Maine Department of Labor and the Coastal Counties Workforce Institute, the USM team (including USM faculty and a graduate student as instructors) is delivering the program to 25 former BNAS employees as a test case at the Mid Coast Center for Higher Education.
In a departure from more traditional IT training for displaced employees, this program emphasizes both computer skills and an introduction to business fundamentals. In addition to one of two skill concentrations—website design or computer networking—the students are provided with workplace skills since some may be unfamiliar with common practices and the culture of private industry.
Cracking the H1N1 Code
Clare Bates Congdon, an assistant professor of computer science at USM, with help from a of undergraduates, is working on a new project with collaborators at Washington University and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexicoto study the 2009 Swine Flu (H1N1) outbreak.
The project will compare genetic sequences from hundreds of related human, swine, and avian viruses in an effort to model the evolutionary path of the disease and to better understand the potential threats to human health.
The goal of this work is to reconstruct hypothesized evolutionary histories through the creation of “trees of life.” Using a high-capacity computer, the USM team will initially interpret the large amount of data collected by biologist Gerardo M. Nava, who curated the extensive flu data.
Sketching out influenza’s “tree of life” will show how this common virus has evolved, how the deadly 1918 flu compares to the 2009 outbreak, and how the virus adapts over time. The team is looking at more than 1,500 sequences from samples dating as far back as 1918.