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Biocomplexity Institute Launches Computing for Global Challenges Undergraduate Research Program

In early June, 16 University of Virginia undergraduate students joined the Biocomplexity Institute’s Network Systems Science and Advanced Computing division (NSSAC) to take on some of our world’s most challenging issues relating to health, infrastructure, and the environment. The Computing for Global Challenges program, launched in June and running through the summer, partners undergraduates with faculty mentors to learn how to make meaningful contributions to solving real-world problems through the use of computational methods, research, and transdisciplinary team science processes. 

The research projects span a wide range of domains, including invasive species control in Nepal, hurricane modeling in the United States, global pandemics, and social media analytics, among others. As they focus on these real-world problems, students learn about cutting-edge software technologies, methods in machine learning, network science, agent-based simulation, data science, computational biology, and more.

“For each project, we embrace a transdisciplinary team science approach because these problems require multiple viewpoints and skills,” said Madhav Marathe, director of the Institute’s Network Systems Science and Advanced Computing division. “These applications help broaden student perspectives on global issues and deepen their understanding of the application of computational methods that will help us progress in solving some of the most critical issues of our lifetime.”

Through the program, students use experiential learning in immersive environments to gain a theoretical as well as practical understanding of how these methods work and can be applied to address problems in different domains. Many of the research projects are funded by federal agencies, including USAIDNational Science Foundation (NSF), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), among others.

“It is our hope that through this program, these students – the next generation of leading scientists and researchers – will come away with the understanding, knowledge, and passion to help study and solve our most pressing global challenges,” said Samarth Swarup, Computer for Global Challenges program leader and NSSAC research associate professor.

This year, the program runs June through July, and culminates with a one-day workshop on July 29, which will feature summary presentations by the students at the Biocomplexity Institute.