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The JRI Community Comes Together to Send Two Aspiring Scientists to a Conference


1When the two scientific papers entitled Hijacking Swarms and Swarminess were accepted to the 11th IASTED International Conference on Intelligent Systems and Control earlier this year, the students were excited yet still cautiously optimistic. Students Ahyoung Lee and Jihyun Chang had worked for years to complete their research, had submitted their work at the beginning of the summer, and had awaited a response from the conference organizers. The response they'd waited for was here, but the crushing cost of the conference became a very real obstacle to their attendance. 

Over the preceding year, Jihyun, working with Research Mentor Dr. Sanza Kazadi, had been studying the conditions under which a swarm can be hijacked, or made to do something other than what the designers of the swarm had in mind when they created the swarm. In order to do this, Jihyun studied two different kinds of swarms. One of the swarms is an economic swarm which self regulates prices despite having only greedy agents in the system. The agents regulate the behavior of the system automatically, through carefully designed behaviors. The second swarm is a simulated robotic swarm which arranges itself in a perfect hexagonal grid, correcting perturbations automatically. Using these two swarms, Jihyun and Dr. Kazadi derived and demonstrated the conditions under which a swarm can be hijacked. The result was a set of conditions under which one might determine if a given swarm is potentially hijackable, a useful tool for the designers of swarms.Ahyoung has been working for perhaps a bit longer than Jihyun on her own project, again under the guidance of Dr. Kazadi. Ahyoung and Dr. Kazadi developed a concept called swarminess which is a measure of a task that indicates how appropriate a swarm is to accomplish a given task. The study resulted from an initial impression that most of the work done in the swarm community essentially sidestepped this issue. While many groups have been able to do impressive work on their specific areas, it is often times not clear that the solutions developed are superior to conventional solutions, or that the use of a swarm is reasonable. Ahyoung and Dr. Kazadi created a measure of swarminess that indicated the fitness of a task for a swarm solution. Using this measure to evaluate several tasks, they found that the new measure correlated well with the intuitive expectations of swarm engineers. They concluded that the measure was a good first step in developing a good idea about whether a particular task was appropriately attacked using a swarm. 

2Despite realizing their goals after years of work, the problem that both girls had was the overwhelming cost of attending the conferences. One of the girls was essentially supporting herself in college while the other girl was faced with paying for much of the conference cost by herself. Customarily, the student participants of the conference cover Dr. Kazadi's conference costs, as the Institute rarely has enough of a surplus of funding to support Dr. Kazadi's conference trips. The overall cost of the trip, including the trio's conference registrations, was set to be well over $3,500.00. Unfortunately, this was more of a financial burden than the two girls could handle. To make matters worse, the conference had given three weeks only between the acceptance of the papers and the deadline for the registration. 

Dr. Kazadi began making calls - first to JRI Board Members Dr. Henry Lin and Nancy Webb. Both members heard the plight of the two students and decided to help with donations. The Board started with donations of $400.00. Next, Dr. Kazadi discussed the situation with JRI students, who also decided to help. The students and their families raised $1,694.00, with two families obtaining matching funds from their employers and one donor providing $1,000.00. JRI was able to get the conference organizers to waive approximately $800.00 in fees. As a result, the girls' costs dropped to less than $1100.00. "The level of involvement in a period of a few weeks was very heartwarming. Students donated $10 and $20, whatever they could, to help these JRI graduates in need." said Dr. Kazadi. "The worst thing that could have happened is that after all this work, the girls couldn't go and participate in the conference. The JRI community made sure that didn't happen." 3Ahyoung and Jihyun were then able to attend the conference. For both young women, this was not only their first conference presentation but their first conference. Held in Orlando Florida, the conference brought together experts from many fields. When they gave their presentations, both Ahyoung and Jihyun captured their audience's attention and fielded many questions. Their presentations were very successful; they marked the beginning of a bright future for the two. 

The entire episode marked the first time that the JRI community had worked together to assist students in need of help of this kind. While JRI itself has helped families in need of financial assistance, providing jobs in the place of tuitions or obtaining financial assistance from donors, this was the first time that JRI families and students had helped fellow students to overcome a financial hardship. The result was the triumphant completion of two young women's JRI experience. "I hope this becomes a trend, not an isolated example," smiled Dr. Kazadi. "I'm not that worried. I'm sure it will be."



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