ACM Distinguished Members

Three CS@VT faculty members were among the 49 computing professionals recognized this year as Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Distinguished Members.  This honor recognizes educators and researchers with at least 15 years of professional experience, who have significant accomplishments or who have made a significant impact within the computing field.  Congratulations to Dr. Cliff Shaffer (ACM Distinguished Educator), Dr. C.T. Lu (ACM Distinguished Scientist), and Dr. Adrian Sandu (ACM Distinguished Scientist).

Congratulations also to one of our alumni, Dr. James “Bo” Begole (PhD, 1998), who was also named a Distinguished Scientist this year.


Dr. Lu
Dr. C.T. Lu, ACM Distinguished Scientist


Dr. Sandu
Dr. Adrian Sandu, ACM Distinguished Scientist


Dr. Cliff Shaffer - ACM Distinguished Educator
Dr. Cliff Shaffer, ACM Distinguished Educator


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Computational thinking will help students become better scientists

A team of researchers led by a Virginia Tech faculty member has received $1.25 million from the National Science Foundation to introduce computational approaches to help students learn chemistry in an environment that encourages scientific discussion.

Led by Deborah Tatar, a professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, a member of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction, and a fellow with the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, the researchers will embark on a two-year project to familiarize students with the ways computational thinking can interact with and deepen the understanding of chemistry.

Felicia Etzkorn, a professor of bioorganic chemistry in Virginia Tech’s College of Science, is part of the team, along with two faculty members from the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education — Victor Sampson and Stephanie Rivale. The project will involve four teachers in the Austin, Texas area.

Tatar talked about ways to integrate computing with science, technology, engineering, and math education at a National Science Foundation Conference about Next Generation STEM Learning on Nov. 9 in Washington, D.C.

Now, with National Science Foundation support, the researchers will help teachers introduce computational approaches into eighth grade integrated science courses.

Supporting one of the primary goals of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, the work brings together science, engineering, art, and design in an effort to transform K-12 education.

The project embeds targeted chemistry topics into computational models, supported by a framework that encourages structured scientific argumentation. Eighth grade chemistry students will learn how earth-science systems work by interacting with graphically-based computational models, or simulations. By modifying and adapting the code in these models to better represent aspects of chemical systems, they will also build computational thinking skills.

“Our goal here is for students to understand how systems work — both chemical and computational — and the important role complex systems play in our lives,” explains Tatar. “It’s difficult to describe these systems to students, so simulations provide a level of interaction with the processes. Students can actually see cause and effect and they have opportunities to think critically about the problems in the world around them.”

The team will develop four modules to be used in four eighth grade chemistry classrooms. Each module will have measurable goals related to chemistry and computational learning, as well as argumentation implementation.

For example, one module will examine atmospheric science, specifically the retention of greenhouse gas in the environment. While the results of this process can be seen, the actual process — how increased concentrations of carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere — is more abstract. The simulation created by the team visually demonstrates the interactions between matter and energy, with an emphasis on thermodynamics and kinetics.

This model shows the earth and sky and features graphical representations of the heat generated by the earth and the sun’s energy. Users can add sources and sinks of carbon dioxide to the model world in the form of trees and factories. Students can easily change the production rates of the factories in the simulation’s code and immediately see the results and potential real-world impacts. For example, they could manipulate the code to determine how many trees would be needed to balance the production rates of the factories.

Using these graphically-based simulations, students can discover how initial elements on the model operate, and they can also easily inspect, change, and test the code. When a student examines the model, makes a prediction, changes the code, and then re-runs the model, the computer provides feedback.

The process of anticipating, interpreting, and testing the computer’s feedback allows the student to act as a scientist, exploring both the computational and physical world. This also helps strengthen their argumentation skills — being able to prepare, support, challenge, and refine their ideas. Before implementing any changes, the students will describe in their own words how the code will be changed, outline their plan, and justify their expectations.


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Dr. Tatar
Dr. Tatar


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Southeast Women in Computing Conference (SEWIC)

Dr. Barbara G. Ryder and 18 CS@VT undergraduate and graduate students attended the Southeast Women in Computing Conference (SEWIC) in Atlanta, Georgia November 13-15.  Congratulations to Sorour Ekhtiari Amir who won first place in the Graduate Research Poster category.  Her poster is entitled “DASSA: Automatic Segmentation of General Time-Stamped Data Sequences “.  Sorour along with Liangzhe Chen and B. Aditya Prakash co-authored the poster.  For more information about the conference, please visit SEWIC.



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Dr. Ryder receives COE Diversity Award

Dr. Barbara G. Ryder, J. Byron Maupin Professor of Engineering, received the College of Engineering (COE) Diversity Committee Award for her commitment to diversity.  Barbara’s work has improved diversity in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech, region and state.  This award is richly deserved and one in which all supporters of inclusion efforts can take pride in.  The award was presented by Dr. Bevlee Watford, COE Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, at an AdvanceVT luncheon on November 4, 2015.  Barbara said, “I am honored by this award and very much appreciate the CS faculty and staff who have contributed to the department’s recent gains in the gender diversity of its students and faculty (in fall 2015, 16.7% CS majors and 21% CS tenure-track faculty are female).”

AdvanceVT began in 2003 with a grant from the National Science Foundation to promote and enhance the careers of women in academic science and engineering through institutional transformation. Read more about Advance VT here.


Dr. Ryder
Dr. Ryder

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Best Paper Award at ICAT-EGVE

Dr. Doug Bowman, professor and CHCI Director, and Mahdi Nabiyouni, computer science PhD Student, co-authored a best paper award at the ICAT-EGVE conference.  ICAT-EGVE is the merger of the 25th International Conference on Artificial Reality and Telexistence (ICAT 2015) and the 20th Eurographics Symposium on Virtual Environments (EGVE 2015).  The paper is entitled “An Evaluation of the Effects of Hyper-Natural Components of Interaction Fidelity on Locomotion Performance in Virtual Reality”.  Mahdi said, “Hyper-natural interaction techniques are intentionally designed to enhance users’ abilities beyond what is possible in the real world. We have developed a locomotion test-bed to compare such hyper-natural techniques to their natural counterparts on a wide range of locomotion tasks for a variety of measures. The results show that the effects of the hyper-natural transfer function was mostly positive, however, hyper-natural techniques designed to provide biomechanical assistance had lower performance and user acceptance than those based on natural walking movements.”

Additional information about the conference can be viewed here.

The Center for Human Computer Interaction recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary.  Photos from the celebration are here.


Dr. Doug Bowman


Bowman story final


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Dr. Lu leading university’s Big Data Regional Innovation Hub

NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, Nov. 10, 2015 – An initiative supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) will bring research universities across the southern U.S. into a partnership to develop a Big Data Regional Innovation Hub.

Virginia Tech’s Chang-Tien Lu, associate professor of computer science and associate director of the Discovery Analytics Center, is leading the university’s broad-based collaboration on the project, which will develop public-private partnerships to address big data challenges facing the region.

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Dr. Lu
Dr. Lu

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