Noteworthy achievements 2011-2012

Bren School faculty, students and research initiatives are some of the most well regarded successes on the UC Irvine campus. We are pleased to announce the following noteworthy achievements.

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Awards, grants and other honors can be sent to to be considered for publication.


El Zarki receives Fulbright fellowship

photo: Magda El Zarki

El Zarki

Professor of computer science Magda El Zarki has received a nine-month Fulbright-Nehru Teaching/Research Fellowship to pursue her research on networked games and virtual worlds at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

With the advent of online gaming and the tremendous success of this new application area, El Zarki’s research thrust has shifted to studying the networking requirements of online game technologies, in particular Massively Multiuser Virtual Environments (MMVEs). With the anticipated growth in this application area, more and more stress is being placed on the underlying transport system to provide the kind of quality of experience (QoE) that these applications and their users expect. The quality of an end user’s experience is the true litmus test of a proper online game deployment. El Zarki’s Fulbright research project, “Networked Games and Virtual Worlds,” will further explore how understanding both the application and network facilities for QoE can ensure the highest quality user experience.

El Zarki is director of the Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds and heads the computer game science degree program at UC Irvine. She is an editor for several journals in the telecommunications field and is actively involved in many international conferences.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.


Newman receives $120K from NSF

photo: David Newman


Associate research scientist David Newman has been awarded a $120,000 grant by the National Science Foundation to develop topic models to help better understand and manage research conducted in NSF's Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems Division (CBET).

The CBET Division supports research and education in the rapidly evolving fields of bioengineering and environmental engineering.

“Managing a portfolio of research projects is a complex business,” says Newman. “We will develop topic models that accurately characterize CBET-funded research — as described by the investigators. These topic models will help program managers better understand the unique role of CBET programs, and be in a better position to set research strategy.”


Franz wins a U.S. Patent on software diversity and over $900,000 in new grant funding to investigate software diversity

photo: Michael Franz


Professor Michael Franz and two of his former Ph.D. students were just awarded a patent by the U.S. Patent Office for a fundamental invention in the field of software security. The patent, on which Prof. Franz is the first named inventor and which is assigned to the Regents of the University of California, protects the idea of using program diversity in conjunction with parallel programming to protect a computer against malicious hacker attacks.

Like many major inventions, the idea is quite simple at the core: instead of generating a single binary from a source program, a special compiler generates several slightly different program versions that implement the program's functionality in subtly different ways. These different versions are then executed in lockstep on a multicore processor.

The key idea is to generate the versions in such a way that all "in specification" behavior is identical across the versions, but "out of specification" behavior differs significantly. As a result, the versions will execute in lockstep as long as the program is behaving as designed, but will typically diverge as soon as an attacker exploits a programming bug, causing "out of specification" behavior. This can be detected almost in real time.

In addition to this U.S. Patent, Prof. Franz won over $900,000 in additional funding for his work on software diversity in the past month. First, he won an additional year of funding from DARPA for his project "Defending Mobile Apps Through Automated Software Diversity." The existing project, on which Dr. Franz is the sole PI, has been extended through February 2015 along with an additional award of $467,442, bringing the total to $1,847,602. Second, he received a further award of $456,809 from the Navy on a subcontract from Johns Hopkins University for his project "Meta-Circular Software Diversity for Intrusion Tolerant Clouds."


Newman awarded $300K from NSF

photo: David Newman


Associate Research Scientist David Newman has been awarded a $600,000 grant by the National Science Foundation, with funds split equally with co-Investigator Meg Blume-Kohout, an Economist at University of New Mexico.

Newman and Blume-Kohout's interdisciplinary research will combine machine learning and econometrics to create models that assess effectiveness and efficiency of biomedical funding, focusing on the National Institutes of Health.

"In this current age of scarcity, two things are required: fiscal restraint, and an accurate assessment of research effectiveness and efficiency" says Newman. "Matching publications and grant funding levels by machine learned topics will allow us to evaluate the contribution of publicly-funded research to the body of published research. Our models will be able to measure whether changes in funding for a topic affect the quality and quantity of publications on that topic."


ICML 2012 best paper award goes to Welling and students

photo: Sungjin Ahn


photo: Anoop Korattikara


photo: Max Welling


photo: ICML award

Co-authored by Ph.D. students Sungjin Ahn and Anoop Korattikara, and computer science professor Max Welling, “Bayesian Posterior Sampling via Stochastic Gradient Fisher Scoring” won the best paper award at the 29th International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML 2012) held in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) is a technique that allows one to draw representative samples from almost any probability distribution. According to the paper, while the MCMC technology has revolutionized the usefulness of Bayesian statistics over the last few decades, it has not been able to scale well to today’s very large data problems. The authors’ new method borrows ideas from Stochastic Approximation Theory to improve the efficiency of MCMC samplers and make them relevant to big data challenges.

Ahn and Korattikara on June 27 presented the paper in an ICML 2012 plenary session.



ACM publication features open virtual 3-D world developed by Baldi, Lopes

photo: Pierre Baldi


photo: Crista Lopes


The Universal Campus: An open virtual 3-D world infrastructure for research and education,” written by Chancellor’s Professor Pierre Baldi and Associate Professor Crista Lopes, was featured in the April issue of eLearn Magazine, an Association for Computing Machinery publication. According to the paper: “One should not discount the power of technology to provide increasingly realistic, almost haptic, interactions in real time, or the additional creative inspiration that could emerge for users by simply being immersed in a completely novel and unusual environment.”

Developed by Baldi and Lopes, the Universal Campus allows users in academia and research settings to interact and collaborate in a 3-D virtual world that includes multiple buildings with fully furnished laboratories, classrooms, meeting rooms and lecture halls. Deployed using Second Life and OpenSimulator, the Universal Campus can host multiple scale gatherings, from lab meetings to classes, lectures, symposia and conferences. Its infrastructure provides a default set of 12 avatars that are freely customizable by users. A local chat feature allows avatars to converse with other avatars within the same virtual room, while a voice conference feature allows avatars to speak with multiple other avatars simultaneously.

All the content and source code of the Universal Campus is downloadable under Creative Commons or similar licenses. The Universal Campus provides a complete open access and open source infrastructure that can be replicated and used for a variety of research or educational purposes.


Bren School hosts annual AP Stats project competition

AP Stats graph

Dozens of students from five high schools in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties presented their work May 19 in Donald Bren Hall as part of the 7th Annual AP Statistics Project Competition of the American Statistical Association’s Southern California chapter. Sponsored by the Bren School Department of Statistics and the City of Hope National Medical Center, the event featured 28 poster presentations by student teams and a breakout session for instructors on teaching AP Statistics. Judges came from academia — including Bren School professors and graduate students — as well as business and industry. Click here for competition results and photos from the event. 

Faculty, alumnus win SIGMOD Test-of-Time Award

photo: Sharad Mehrotra


photo: Chen Li


The 2012 ACM SIGMOD Test-of-Time Award, given annually by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Management of Data to recognize the most impactful paper from a decade prior, was presented in May to Hakan Hacigumus (M.S. '02, Ph.D. '04), IBM collaborator Bala Iyer, and Bren School faculty Sharad Mehrotra and Chen Li for “Executing SQL over Encrypted Data in the Database-Service-Provider Model.”

According to the award citation: This paper from the SIGMOD 2002 Conference remarkably anticipated the world of “Database as Service” which did come about and continues to grow in importance. To get a sense of how visionary the work was, consider that this paper was published in June 2002 (and thus accepted in Jan 2002), even a couple of months before Amazon EC2 and S3 services were launched (of course, Amazon RDS and SQL Azure came much later). The core of the paper focuses on the challenges of how to leverage cloud services while keeping some of the information (at the discretion of the enterprise/user) hidden from the service provider. Beyond the specific algorithmic details, the key contribution is the framework: (i) introduction of a mapping function, and (ii) query splitting logic to ensure how the work can be distributed across cloud and client when some information is encrypted. Is this framework used by enterprises today? As best as we can tell, the answer is perhaps no. But, is the framework interesting and has real possibilities of adoption and further impact and more follow-on by research community? Absolutely. In summary, this paper is one of the early papers to foresee the world of Database as Service (before any one of us were working on that problem). The specific technical focus was dealt with reasonable depth. The impact of the technical focus has not yet been seen by the industry but this paper has the possibility of inspiring much more follow-on work/thinking (beyond 140+ citations it already has in ACM DL).


UCI team earns prize for best educational game at intercollegiate showcase

Q-Bitz robot

The top two finishers in the latest Game Jam “build a video game in a week” Tournament at UCI were recognized at the first-ever IEEE GameSig Intercollegiate Computer Game Showcase, held April 28 at Chapman University. Q-Bitz won the MIND Research Institute Prize for Best Educational Game, while Massteroid received honorable mention. A third UCI team — the creators of Godfighter — also competed in the final round, along with seven others from Chapman, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State San Bernardino and Westwood College. “I hope [the showcase] means we can groom the local talent pool so the next Blizzard can exist here in Orange County,” Brian Fargo, CEO of InXile Entertainment, told the Orange County Register.


Doctoral student receives award from Yahoo! Labs Key Scientific Challenges Program

photo: Raman Grover


Computer science Ph.D. student Raman Grover has been awarded $5,000 in unrestricted research seed funding from the Yahoo! Labs Key Scientific Challenges (KSC) Program. The program supports a limited number of outstanding Ph.D. students who are conducting research in scientifically challenging areas, including web information management, machine learning and search experiences.

Grover, whose research interests include large scale data-intensive computing, databases, parallel processing and data feeds, was one of 30 researchers selected from a pool of 208 proposals. Along with the funds, the program’s award benefits include exclusive access to select Yahoo Datasets, opportunities to collaborate with Yahoo’s industry-leading scientists, and an invitation to the upcoming KSC Graduate Student Summit, where recipients join top minds in academia and industry to present work, discuss research trends and jointly develop revolutionary approaches to fundamental problems.

Grover’s research projects include ASTERIX, which focuses on developing new technologies for ingesting, storing, managing, indexing, querying, analyzing and subscribing to vast quantities of semi-structured information; and Hyracks, a new partitioned-parallel software platform designed to run data-intensive computations on large shared-nothing clusters of computers. Grover is advised by Bren Professor Michael Carey and is a member of the Information Systems Group at UCI.


Olson delivers 2012 Athena Lecture

photo: Judy Olson


As the 2011-12 Athena Lecturer, Bren Professor Judy Olson presented “Broader Impacts: Research You Can Use” at the Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work.

According to Olson’s abstract: A number of threads of thought have come together recently having to do with how we make our research useable and useful to the world. One thread is inspired by a movement in medicine called Clinical Translational Science in which funding is given to researchers to translate basic research into guidelines, treatments, and regimens that clinicians can use. A second thread arose in reflecting about our own recent work in which we translated a theory about what makes for good distance collaboration into an online assessment tool and administered it to hundreds of people involved in remote collaboration. Upon completion of the assessment, each participant immediately gets a personalized report on the strengths of their collaboration, the challenges, and what to do about it. We get the data, and they get the help. These two threads point to making a difference, having broader impact. In this talk I will review some ways we can have an impact, both directly to people, through design practice (our clinicians), and via a myriad of other tools while doing good research. I encourage us all to spend more energy on having more direct effects on the world in which we live.

A video of her lecture and other background materials are available through the ACM Digital Library.



Nardi serves as ICIC 2012 program co-chair

photo: Bonnie Nardi


Informatics professor Bonnie Nardi is the program co-chair for the 4th ACM International Conference on Intercultural Collaboration (ICIC 2012), which takes place March 21-23 in Bangalore, India.

The main theme of this year’s conference is intercultural collaboration, from both technical and socio-cultural perspectives. Topics include collaboration support (e.g., natural language processing, Web and Internet technologies), social psychological analyses of intercultural interaction, and case studies from activists working to increase mutual understanding in a multicultural world.

Nardi's research interests include theory in human-computer interaction and computer-supported collaborative work and studies of social life on the Internet.


iGraVi lab highlighted in IEEE, ACM conferences

photo: Gopi Meenakshisundaram


photo: Aditi Majumder


Two Bren School computer science associate professors served as general chairs for recently held IEEE and ACM conferences sponsored by UC Irvine and co-located in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Aditi Majumder co-chaired IEEE Virtual Reality 2012 (VR 2012), the top international conference and exhibition involving the fields of virtual environments, augmented reality and 3D user interfaces, while Gopi Meenakshisundaram co-chaired the ACM Interactive 3D Graphics and Games 2012 (i3D 2012), a leading conference for interactive realistic rendering, hardware acceleration, animation, and geometry processing.

As part of the conferences, Majumder and Meenakshisundaram hosted open houses to showcase 10 research projects conducted by members of the Interactive Graphics and Visualization (iGraVi) lab at UCI. Click here for photos taken at the March 6 open house.

Led by the two professors, the iGraVi lab features expertise in various areas of graphics and visualization including interactive rendering systems, optical systems for future cameras and displays, geometric processing for rendering, user interfaces and applications, and building multi-projector display environments for visualization, simulation and training. The lab includes 10 graduate students and many undergraduates.

iGraVi is supported by funding from NSF and equipment donations from nVidia, Epson and Canon. Collaborators include faculty within the UCI campus, such as stem cell researchers in the School of Medicine, as well as colleagues in other parts of the country, such as Purdue University and MIT, and the world, including researchers in Switzerland and Brazil.


Kobsa receives $80K from Samsung

photo: Alfred Kobsa


Informatics professor Alfred Kobsa received a gift in the amount of $80,000 from Samsung Information Systems America. The gift will support his research in the area of user privacy preferences and international privacy legislation in cloud services. A recent gift from Ericsson Research also supports his work in this area.



FALL 2011

UCI team receives ‘Energy to Educate’ grant

photo: Bill Tomlinson


Informatics associate professor Bill Tomlinson and his group, in collaboration with assistant professor of education Rebecca Black, received a $50,000 grant from Constellation Energy in support of their work on the “Causality Project.”

Through a novel online system currently in the works, the Causality Project collects information about the cause-and-effect relationships across a wide range of topics, to help people understand how everyday decisions can affect the environment.

“By illustrating chains of causality, which can often be indirect and complex, we hope to encourage people to recognize the ripples they make, big or small,” Tomlinson says. “For example, people may not think about where their power comes from or the effects brought about by the generation, distribution and use of that power. The Causality Project aims to address this type of disconnect.”

Constellation Energy awarded 14 E(2) Energy to Educate grants in 2011 to support hands-on projects that enhance student understanding of the science and technology needed to address energy issues. Tomlinson’s grant will enable the team to launch a contest next year among UC Irvine undergraduate students to contribute to the Causality Project and create online videos about indirect causal chains related to energy issues in their own lives. Participants will work in interdisciplinary teams to learn about energy technologies, the environmental impacts of various energy systems, and how these systems relate to their world. Students will then use this new knowledge to create an online repository of causal linkages among energy issues and other topics of global importance.


Four faculty recognized by ACM

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, has announced that four faculty members from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC Irvine have been selected for the following honors:


photo: David Eppstein
Computer science professor David Eppstein has been named a 2011 ACM Fellow for his achievements in graph algorithms and computational geometry. Established in 1993, the ACM Fellows Program recognizes and celebrates the exceptional contributions of leaders in the computing field. According to ACM President Alain Chesnais, this year’s fellows are “some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in computer science and engineering… These international luminaries are responsible for solutions that are transforming our society for the better.” Eppstein's research areas include algorithms and complexity, and computer graphics and visualization.


The ACM Distinguished Member Recognition Program recognizes ACM members with at least 15 years of professional experience and five years of continuous professional membership who have achieved significant accomplishments or have made a significant impact on the computing field.

photo: Cristina Lopes Named a 2011 ACM Distinguished Scientist, informatics associate professor Cristina Lopes is one of the co-inventors of aspect-oriented programming and one of the original designers of the AspectJ programming language. She is also a core developer and one of the main architects of OpenSimulator, a platform for massive online 3D virtual environments.

photo: David Redmiles Named a 2011 ACM Distinguished Scientist, Informatics professor David Redmiles is the author of more than 100 research publications integrating the areas of software engineering, human-computer interaction and computer-supported cooperative work. His research focuses on the processes and technologies needed to develop and support useful and usable interactive software.

photo: Richard Pattis Named a 2011 ACM Distinguished Educator, computer science senior lecturer Richard Pattis is the author of the Karel programming language and published Karel the Robot, an introductory computer science textbook used in high schools and colleges for nearly 30 years. He serves as the computer science vice chair for undergraduate studies at the Bren School.


Baldi named IEEE Fellow

photo: Pierre Baldi


Pierre Baldi, Chancellor’s Professor in the department of computer science and director of the Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics, has been named an IEEE Fellow for his contributions to machine learning and its applications in the life sciences.

Current projects in his laboratory include mining high-throughput genomic data and developing expert systems for chemistry and systems biology, to better understand the computations carried by metabolic, signaling and gene regulatory networks, and identify new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. Baldi also is a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The IEEE is the world’s leading professional association for advancing technology for humanity and publishes 30 percent of the world’s literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields. IEEE Fellow is the highest grade of membership; the total number selected in any one year does not exceed one-tenth of 1 percent of the total voting membership. IEEE boasts 385,000 members in 160 countries. This year, 312 individuals were elevated to IEEE Fellow.


Tsudik reappointed editor-in-chief of ACM TISSEC

photo: Gene Tsudik


The Association for Computing Machinery Publications Board has unanimously approved Gene Tsudik's reappointment for a second three-year term as editor-in-chief of the ACM Transactions on Information and System Security (TISSEC), a top scholarly, scientific journal covering all aspects of computer/network/information security and privacy. Tsudik's new term ends on Dec. 31, 2014.

Tsudik’s research interests include computer/network security and applied cryptography. He serves as director of UCI’s Secure Computing and Networking Center and as director of the networked systems graduate program.


NSF awards $500K to Franz

photo: Michael Franz


Computer science professor Michael Franz, as sole PI, has been awarded a three-year $500,000 grant by the National Science Foundation to create better virtual machines (VMs).

A virtual machine is an “ideal computer” built out of software. “Most people use multiple VMs every day,” Franz explains. “For example, web applications such as Gmail or Google Maps run on a JavaScript VM inside of your web browser, animations run on Adobe’s Flash VM, and, if you are using an Android mobile phone, most of the apps on that phone run on a VM called Dalvik. Running software on virtual machines rather than directly on hardware creates cross-platform portability and provides some insulation against malicious or faulty programs.”

Franz’s research project aims to simplify the development of virtual machines and improve their architecture, especially when used on mobile devices. The project has garnered additional support from Samsung, which awarded a supplemental $350,000 to Franz this spring.

Franz continues: “It doesn’t make sense to have three separate VMs (JavaScript, Flash and Dalvik) on a cell phone, where space is at a premium, when these VMs are actually quite similar to each other under the hood and have lots of overlapping functionality.” Franz’s research aims to create a modular VM that can support multiple languages while using only a fraction of the space. Rather than compete for processor resources and memory, the modules of the VM supporting the various languages would collaborate with each other.

Franz leads the Secure Systems and Languages Laboratory at UC Irvine, one of the top research teams on dynamic compilation, virtual machines and language-based computer security. In collaboration with the Mozilla foundation, he transitioned the JavaScript compilation technology invented in his lab into the Firefox browser, where it is used every day by hundreds of millions of people.


Baldi, Tsudik and team present at CSS 2011

photo: Pierre Baldi


photo: Gene Tsudik


A paper on efficient handling of fully-sequenced human genomes — co-authored by computer science professors Pierre Baldi and Gene Tsudik, recent alumnus Emiliano De Cristofaro (Ph.D. ’11), postdoctoral researcher Paolo Gasti, and Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics researcher Roberta Baronio — will be presented at the 18th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Chicago. Titled “Countering GATTACA: Efficient and Secure Testing of Fully-Sequenced Human Genomes,” this paper addresses the issue of privacy in the emerging field of digital genome sequencing and already has been featured on the MIT Technology Review home page and as a feature article in the journal NewScientist. The authors have devised methods for implementing privacy-preserving operations over digital genome sequences. These genome sequences could be stored by users on their computers or smartphones and queried in secure and private ways in several applications, ranging from medical, to authentication, to social interactions. This work is supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.


Padhraic Smyth awarded $2.9M by Office of the Director of National Intelligence

photo: Padhraic Smyth


Padhraic Smyth, professor of computer science and director of the Center for Machine Learning and Intelligent Systems at UC Irvine, has been awarded two grants worth $2.9 million by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a center housed within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, for research on statistical text mining.

The first project — with co-investigators David Newman, assistant researcher in computer science at UCI, and Mark Steyvers, professor of cognitive sciences at UCI —will focus on developing new statistical topic modeling algorithms to help users automatically search and understand large amounts of unstructured text. Funded by a $1.3 million IARPA award over four years, the project is a collaborative effort with Cornell University, the University of Maryland, UC Santa Barbara, the University of Massgachusetts Amherst and Purdue University.

Supported by a $1.6 million five-year award from IARPA, the second project focuses on developing models and algorithms for automatically detecting and quantifying trends and changes in scientific literature. In a recent news release, IARPA announced that the Foresight and Understanding from Scientific Exposition (FUSE) Program seeks to produce a new capability to accelerate the process of identifying and prioritizing emerging technologies across the globe. Smyth and co-investigator Newman will develop algorithms that can detect statistically significant changes in language usage and citation patterns to measure how scientific disciplines are evolving over time. FUSE will be carried out in collaboration with researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois.

Both projects will build on research by Smyth, Newman, Steyvers and their students, who for the past few years have been developing statistical models and algorithms for automatically extracting information from text. These techniques have broad applications in such areas as Web search, digital libraries and biomedical text mining.


Jarecki, Tsudik receive $750,000 IARPA grant

photo: Stanislaw Jarecki


photo: Gene Tsudik


Stanislaw Jarecki and Gene Tsudik have been awarded a $750,000 three-year grant as part of a subcontract from IBM Research, by the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The research project is titled “ESPADA: Efficient Security and Privacy Assurance for Database Access.” The goal of ESPADA is to efficiently and securely support a wide range of database queries between mutually mistrustful parties, while minimizing the amount of information learned by either party.


Utts receives NISS Distinguished Service Award

photo: Jessica Utts


Statistics professor Jessica Utts received a 2011 Distinguished Service Award from the National Institute of Statistical Sciences in recognition of her multiple terms on the NISS board of trustees and the executive committee, and for serving as chair of the awards committee. The NISS Distinguished Service Awards were established in 2005 to recognize individuals who have given extraordinary service that significantly advances NISS and its mission. Utts joined the NISS board in 1997, served as vice chair from 2008-11, and is now one of its longest-serving members.





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