Q: What are the main lines of research taking place here at Carnegie Mellon?
A: Areas of research are shaped by our strategy, the availability of research funding, having a critical mass of expertise, as in faculty and scientists, and the needs of the region. The areas of research at CMU-Q are primarily the areas where we have majors and faculty expertise: computer science, information systems, business administration, biological sciences, English and Arabic language development and pedagogy, statistics, and others.
Q: Can you give me a few examples of the research projects underway?
A: Computer science is one of our big areas of research, which includes human-language technologies, applied robotics, cloud computing, networking, programming languages and security and others.
Let’s start with Human-Language Technologies with a focus on Arabic. Carnegie Mellon is world-known for its language technologies institute. Compared to English, there’s very little research that’s been done on the natural language processing of Arabic. It makes a lot of sense for us to invest and develop capacity in this area, which we have. We have a group of faculty and scientists who are working on various research projects such as the automatic translation of English Wikipedia to Arabic.
Then we have applied robotics for Qatar. In one of our applied robotics projects, our experts are building robots to autonomously inspect oil and gas plants and pipes that could have a high percentage of H2S, which is very lethal, even at small parts per million. This will increase the safety and reduce costly maintenance time at gas plants. This initiative shows the local and regional relevance of our faculty’s research.
In the new field of cloud computing, our faculty are working on consolidating a variety of scientists’ computing needs into a single location, or data center, which can be accessed through a high-speed and high-bandwidth connection. Why is this important? Qatar is a small country, aiming to do science that is regionally relevant. Rather than scientists having a bunch of different computing systems for each different scientific group in Qatar, we can propose a large public computing system that scientists can access from anywhere.
Such a system will offer the flexibility, elasticity and rapid provisioning to meet many of our computing needs. The cloud computing research here at Carnegie Mellon is a part of a larger consortium of researchers at Texas A&M University at Qatar and Qatar University. We call it Qloud with a Q.
We also have systems faculty who are developing intelligent sensor networks which are coupled with social networks for a slew of intelligent services. We have faculty working on the development of new programming languages to make web services more secure. Others are developing intelligent e-tutors that aid students’ learning.
Our business faculty are primarily studying entrepreneurship. They focus on the relative contribution of knowledge-based, entrepreneurial companies to the economies of Qatar and other nations. They study the economic, cultural and policy factors that encourage or discourage entrepreneurial success. What nations are most effective in entrepreneurial wealth creation? Why are some nations more effective than others in this important area?
Q: Let’s talk about students. What would you say is required of computer science students in terms of how they think?
A: Students nowadays are technologically savvy, but that does not mean that they necessarily understand computing. What we do at CMU-Q is focus on developing the students’ ability to think logically, algorithmically, to find good solutions to problems.
This method of thinking is not taught in high school. You’re taught math, you’re taught science, biology, physics, chemistry, but you’re not taught algorithmic problem solving. You’re not taught computational thinking. That’s a critical element of what we do with our students from the freshmen year, and you see the students making a transformation into becoming confident problem solvers.
This is what we do in the classroom. What we do outside the classroom is we engage students in research at a very early stage. Students learn the scientific method, they also learn to understand a problem, its specifications and identify and evaluate possible solutions based on a set of criteria. This process allows students to explore and evaluate a set of approaches, through which they research and learn. One of the benefits of being involved in research is that it promotes unstructured learning in the students. This is critical for the students’ development.
Q: Would you talk a bit about some of the other centers you are working with around the world?
A: Our Arabic language technology faculty are working with the Language Technology Institute in Pittsburgh, and Columbia University researchers, making up the most active language technologies programs in the world. One of our direct collaborators, Nizar Habash, is one of the most prominent language technologies experts and is a collaborator on one of our projects that aims to identify and reduce errors in automatically translated text.
In robotics we work with the National Robotics Engineering Consortium, NREC and with Shell on Sensabot, a robot that does maintenance chores at an oil/gas plant. For cloud computing we work with Garth Gibson on the CMU main campus and part of the Intel Science and Technology Center in Cloud Computing, on developing science clouds. We also work with scientists at the Argonne National Labs and the University of Chicago on similar topics.
We’ve also been tracking our impact regionally, with collaborators in Africa, India, Asia and Australia. In addition to our closer neighbors at Qatar University and Texas A&M at Qatar, we consciously work toward collaborations with labs in the Gulf and Middle East. This year, I went to KAUST [King Abdullah University of Science and Technology] in Saudi Arabia three times, and MASDAR [Institute of Science and Technology] in Abu Dhabi to initiate collaborations. New York University faculty came to visit us from Abu Dhabi as did faculty from AUB [American University of Beirut].
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