Computer science

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Two teams at Washington State University Tri-Cities have partnered with Washington River Protection Solutions to procure and program an autonomous vehicle and develop a form of ultra high-performance concrete to help protect workers in radioactive areas at the Hanford Site and safely immobilize solid secondary wastes.

Srinivas Allena and students

Engineering professor Srinivas Allena and students work with in the concrete lab at WSU Tri-Cities.

WRPS is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Tank Operations contractor responsible for managing Hanford’s 56 million gallons of highly radioactive waste and preparing it for delivery to the Waste Treatment Plant on the site. The partnership for the projects will provide WRPS with customized technology to fit their needs, in addition to further improving the safety capabilities of its employees and environmental impact stemming from the tank farms at the Hanford Site.

Robotics to analyze radioactive vapors

WRPS provided a WSU team with an initial contract to procure and program an autonomous vehicle that would be used for measuring vapors, or chemical gases, within the tank farms.

The WSU team consists of Akram Hossain, vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and external programs; Scott Hudson, professor of electrical engineering; John Miller, associate professor of computer science; and Changki Mo, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The team plans to purchase a pre-fabricated, compact and programmable vehicle, which has the capacity to hold 40-50 pounds of equipment. The team will then eventually outfit, customize and program the vehicle for its desired purpose within the tank farms. The vehicle must be able to follow a defined path, dock itself to charge its battery, withstand long-term use, be able to run autonomously, as well as allow manual override operations.

“This vehicle will be going into areas, minimizing personnel entries, so we need to assure that it can operate reliably and it won’t break down,” Miller said “We have to make certain that the quality is of impeccable standards and that the system can demonstrate operational longevity in these areas.”

The design of the autonomous vehicle marks the first phase of what will potentially turn into a multi-phase project. WRPS has also expressed interest in having the robot detect obstacles in a changing environment, change filters at the site and monitor radiation. Miller said those challenges will most-likely be addressed in future phases of the project.

“This is a great opportunity, both for WSU, as well as for our students,” Miller said. “It creates opportunities for undergraduate research, as well as providing funding for graduate research. It is the perfect opportunity for us.”

The team plans to have the first phase of the autonomous vehicle completed and demonstrated to WRPS in the next few months. The team will conduct demonstrations and additional phases of development over the course of the year. When fully developed, the autonomous vehicle would be deployed in tank farms to support construction and operations.

Ultra high-performance concrete to encapsulate nuclear waste

Srinivas Allena, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, received a contract to develop an ultra-high performance cementitious

Cementitious material created by Srinivas Allena and his team

Cementitious material created by Srinivas Allena and his team at WSU Tri-Cities.

material to potentially be used as a grout to encapsulate solid secondary waste from the Hanford tank farms.

“WRPS is currently using a grout that they obtain from a local concrete supplier, which uses a regular cement mix with sand and some other chemical additives,” Allena said. “But the goal with our research is to use locally available materials to create a composite with low permeability, superior durability and greater stability that would perform at the same level as the commercially available pre-packaged ultra high-performance concrete.”

Allena said there is currently limited types of ultra high-performance concrete available on the market with high operational costs associated with use of the material. He said by using locally available materials and by optimizing mixture constituents with those that are more environmentally friendly with his team’s composite, however, they would be able to keep the costs low, while maintaining the same quality in the concrete and reducing the impact to the environment.

“We will be able to compare our grout materials with properties that WRPS is currently using and show the improved properties,” he said. “The goal is to provide a cheaper, more environmentally friendly option that will compete with the best product on the market.”

The team plans to have initial mixtures ready with their mechanical and durability properties evaluated by September.

The projects are a part of solving some of the world’s Grand Challenges. They pertain particularly to developing sustainable resources and smart systems by harnessing technology to improve quality of life. The projects are also in line with WSU’s Drive to 25.

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – Students in a computer science capstone course at Washington State University Tri-Cities have partnered with Cypherpath, a local software company, to develop a platform that will help companies, both large and small, easily set-up, safeguard and better monitor their online business network.

Cypherpath logoAs the world of technology moves into a more cloud-based platform, information technology departments and companies are looking for ways to better convert, safeguard and maintain their cyber security infrastructure. Ways of capturing their online information and turning it into a completely digital platform, however, can be difficult, as it may require a lot of manpower, time, equipment and funds.

What the students are helping Cypherpath achieve is a platform that would allow companies to seamlessly capture their network information, which would then be used to autonomously create a company network. In the case of a cyber attack, the user could then go back and see exactly what happened, and if disrupted, seamlessly recreate the infrastructure that was damaged or lost.

Scope of the project

The group working with Cypherpath on the project includes students Logan Wickham, Andrew Tolman and Matthew Harris, all of which are completing the project as part of a senior design computer science course at WSU Tri-Cities. Cypherpath’s Chief Technology Officer Steve Silva and Philip Tilton, the company’s chief engineer, are both mentoring the students for the project.

Computer science students post with their project poster during the undergraduate research symposium

Computer science students (from left) Logan Wickham, Andrew Tolman and Matthew Harris post for a photo with their poster on the project they are completing in partnership with Cypherpath, a local software company in the Tri-Cities.

“We wanted the students to focus on a real customer problem that could be mentored in parallel to our development teams,” Tilton said. “We scoped the project in such a way that they could demonstrably show success with an initial end-to-end solution.”

Tolman said the ability to recreate a network has big potential for many organizations that have and deal with cybersecurity.

“In IT, there is a great demand to virtualize infrastructure to reduce the costs,” he said. “You can pay people to do this, or you can pay to have a system do it for you.”

Creating and refining the platform

Wickham said with their system, instead of having individuals to physically go in and create the network from scratch, their system would accomplish the same feat seamlessly and autonomously.

“It is all digitized and automated,” he said. “With cyber security, it also allows us to see when a cyber attack is happening and also allows us to feel out a dangerous area and seamlessly copy a system.”

The group is in the first phase of the project. They spent this fall semester building the program and will spend the following semester refining and adding other elements to complete the software.

“A viable network is what we intend as we move forward,” Harris said. “Anybody running large-scale networks would be interested in this technology.”

A partnership that prepares students for success in computer science

The partnership with Cyperpath resulted out of Brian Lamarche, the instructor for the course, reaching out to local industry members about possible real-world projects for their students to complete as a senior design final project.

“I reached out to a few colleagues I’ve worked with and many agreed to provide us with a project and also be the technical mentors for the project,” he said.

Lamarche said what is exiting about the group’s project is that it will be viable for companies ranging from small to large.

“This company provides a simplified system that cuts costs for many companies,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for our students because they’re a local organization and their project could have a large impact.”

The software the students are completing is an entirely new platform, but one that will exist between two existing systems for Cypherpath, aiding in their overall efforts to meet regional, state and national company networking needs.

“The students’ project will enable our customers to discover and bring existing infrastructure definitions directly into Cypherpath’s Software Defined Infrastructure Operating System, where they can provision, copy, share and management infrastructure on-demand,” Silva said. “This project has also introduced us to talented individuals who could someday join Cypherpath’s mission.”

The students will present their project to Cypherpath in April. The goal with their software, Tolman said, is to hopefully open it up through Cypherpath as an open source so that anybody can use it.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Students will present on their research, course projects and art from noon – 1 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, Dec. 12-14, as part of the Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition - Spring 2017Members of the public are invited to attend the student presentations. The sessions will be in Consolidated Information Center room 120, with Thursday’s presentations also in the Art Gallery and SIMIAN Lab, located on the second floor of the library.

Allison L. Matthews, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of psychology, said that the symposium provides students with the opportunity to showcase their research designs and findings, in addition to providing them with the public experience of communicating those results to a wide audience.

“This event is a great way for our students to present their scholarship, creative works and real-world research that has the potential for advancing discovery and knowledge in a range of academic subjects,” she said. “The Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition allows our students to showcase these projects and highlight their accomplishments.”

Academic areas highlighted during the symposium include: biology, computer science, English, fine arts, history, political science and psychology.

Some of the projects include:

  • Partnering with PNNL to write software that helps advance informatics and instrumentation to help understand fundamental biology, including aiding cancer research.
  • Evaluating the composition of macroinvertebrate samples from the Tucannon River.
  • Exploring how dystopian literature reflects the culture and social anxieties of a given time period.
  • Using quantitative analysis to help establish patient demographics and to assess the relationship between mental health and blood sugar levels – a partnership with the Grace Clinic in Kennewick.
  • Creating virtual reality environments through the use of the Simian Lab on campus.
  • Partnering with CypherPath to write software that can analyze network traffic, which can be used for cyber security.

 

Contacts:

Allison L. Matthews, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of psychology, 509-372-7146, almatthews@wsu.edu

Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations spe

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

Jonah Firestone
Firestone

RICHLAND, Wash. – WSU Tri-Cities is developing a teacher endorsement program in computer science that has attracted a $49,000 grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and a matching contribution from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Currently, there is no teaching endorsement program at any universities in Washington state for computer science, which makes program development in the subject increasingly important in today’s advancing technological society, said Jonah Firestone, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of teaching and learning and campus lead on the grant.

“The state of Washington has pushed to have at least one computer science teacher at every school who has an endorsement in the subject,” Firestone said. “Up until now, it was usually a math or science teacher who also had an interest in computing that would serve that role. But we need to take that further and offer an endorsement in the subject in order to best prepare our teachers.”

The first phase of the grant funds, he said, will fund the development and offering of professional development workshops with teachers from five districts that include Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, Prosser and Othello. The workshops, which currently are being developed by WSU Tri-Cities and PNNL and will be taught by PNNL computer scientists this spring, will provide training on computer science concepts and skills and for designing computer science curriculum.

The funds will also go toward stipends for educators who participate.

Firestone said there will be a combination of teacher recruitment for the program and recommendations from districts for current instructors who would immediately qualify for the program based on their roles in schools.

“We’re looking at teachers who are already in technology classes, plus we’re working with our contacts at the local science, technology, engineering and mathematics schools to inquire about teachers who would qualify and be interested,” he said.

Morrison Judy
Morrison

The second phase of the grant entails the analysis of data collected over the course of the workshops, which will then be used for the development of a computer science certificate program for educators. Firestone and Judy Morrison, associate professor of teaching and learning, will co-lead the project. Together they will analyze the workshops and develop the certificate program.

Firestone said the certificate program will combine education courses with computer science courses.

“Classes on the content are not enough,” Firestone said. “We have to have classes on how to teach this material to the kids.”

WSU Tri-Cities is the only university in the state selected for the grant program. Twenty-four other districts, schools and nonprofits also were selected for the program, who will use the funds to train teachers, provide and upgrade technology, and expand access to girls, students from underrepresented populations and communities who have historically been underserved. The grants awarded to higher education institutions across the state total nearly $1 million.

“We are very grateful to OSPI for presenting this opportunity and to PNNL for providing the in-kind matching funds that will go toward the program and their time in working with us on this endeavor,” Firestone said. “This grant is allowing us to get this program started and off the ground. This is stage one of a multistage process.”

 

Contacts: