Newsletter for Spring 2010

In this issue…

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Message from the Chair

Dear alumni, students, and friends,

It is spring break. Many of our undergraduate students are off-campus this week, catching up on much needed rest and enjoying some time with family and friends, or contributing to community service in a wide range of alternative spring break activities.

Since our last newsletter, there have been some new accolades for our faculty and students, and hearty congratulations are in order!

Azer Bestavros was awarded the 2010 United Methodist Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award. The award recognizes Azer’s outstanding dedication and contributions in myriad aspects of teaching and scholarship at Boston University. Provost David Campbell presented the award at the Faculty Assembly in November. This honor is indeed well deserved, and Azer’s work is a credit to the Department and Boston University.

Congratulations also to this year’s TCL Scholarship winners, Rufat Mammadyarov, Sophia van Valkenburg, Natali Ruchansky, and Ed Rivas (see story and photo later in this newsletter). These are competitive scholarships, and we are delighted to see four Boston University students recognized with scholarship awards this year.

As described later in this newsletter, our department will hold its 10th Annual Research Open House on Friday, March 19, from 10am-2pm. The day will be full with poster presentations and demos of current research projects, and lunch with faculty and students in the second-floor computer science research lab. Everyone is welcome! There is also a special session for undergraduate students, from 1-2pm. This promises to be a lively and stimulating event. We hope to see many of you there.

Stan Sclaroff, Chair
Department of Computer Science
Boston University

BUILDS: “A Place to Hack or Just Hang” for the BU ACM Student Group

On January 27th, the ACM student group inaugurated its new “BUILDS” (BU Information Lab and Design Space) playroom — “A Place to Hack or Just Hang” as summarized in a BU Today article, which went on to say that:

“The room opened [to] all manner of strange and geeky research and fun. In one corner, four network servers donated by Information Services tower over several computer workstations, where students search for and destroy lurking computer viruses. On a nearby table, the racing robot mouse stands ready to compete with racecars built by professors in another office[…] Another project, still in the works, is the creation of a computer system that can log miles run at the FitRec track. ACM members are writing code that will allow a webcam to recognize different colored bracelets worn by runners. In theory, every time a runner completes a lap, the camera will record his or her time. Then there is the lock-picking effort, launched a few weeks ago when some outside experts led a lock-picking workshop[…] ACM’s projects are not free of controversy. The group got some heat last semester when more than 2,000 BU ID numbers were posted online through a well-intentioned third-party petition Web site. The ACM wanted to find out more about BU IDs, so [they] took the BU numbers — without names or other identifying information — and reposted them on the ACM Web site so that members could access the data.”

The Computer Science Department, which allocated that space to the ACM student group, has also produced a video feature, which you can view at:

Distinguished Alumna Veloso recounts her RoboCup research adventures

CMU Professor Manuela Veloso (GRS MA ’86) accepted her 2009 BU/CS Distinguished Alumna Award on October 9, 2009, after delivering a fascinating lecture to a room-full of students and faculty.

The lecture, entitled “Planning, Execution, and Learning in Teams of Robots: A Fascinating Research Adventure”, recounted Veloso’s life-long research work since graduating from the CS Department in 1986. In her talk, she described her research work, which aims to empower teams of intelligent autonomous robots to perform tasks in highly uncertain domains, in particular in robot soccer and indoor tasks. In such environments, robots need to jointly assess the state of their environment, communicate with each other, make decisions, execute actions towards the achievement of team objectives, and learn from observation and feedback based on the outcome of their actions. Veloso’s talk featured video clips from various RoboCup competitions that highlighted the various challenges she had to tackle (with an army of students).

For details on Professor Veloso’s achievements, please refer to the Fall’09 BUCAN Newsletter.

Lively Panel on Cyberwarfare features faculty and alumni from CS and IR

As part of the BU Arts and Science Discoveries Series, on November 19, 2009, the CS Department organized a panel entitled “Cyber-Terrorism/Warfare — The Emergent Threat: Strategies for Survival.” Moderated by Azer Bestavros, the panel examined various facets related to the security and safety of cyberspace in an attempt to frame one of the most pressing questions facing the US (and indeed the entire world), namely:

As the world’s infrastructure becomes increasingly dependent on the Internet, is it possible to balance cyber security, privacy, civil liberties, and innovation?

BU International Relations Professor Arthur Hulnick noted that intelligence professionals are always trying to predict what threats will be next in the realm of cyber terrorism, and that the current intelligence system is focusing on how we might anticipate what cyber terrorists will do to our infrastructure, and what cyber criminals will do to day-to-day commerce. BU/CS Alumnus Dr. Robert Popp (GRS MA ’92) explained that one approach to making such predictions relies on the fact that cyber terrorists and criminals engage in activities and transactions that involve other people, such as financiers and foot soldiers, as well as services such as banking and travel. He also noted that the transactions of cyber terrorists and criminals could be analyzed to derive signatures that could be used for prediction. Popp recognizes that information and privacy protection technologies are fundamental aspects of research, and that for progress to be made, there needs to be a balance struck between new technologies and privacy and civil liberties. BU Computer Science Professor Leonid Reyzin emphasized that the difference between conventional warfare and cyber warfare is that the mode of attack for cyber warfare is code. Information is the only transported object, it is very hard to constrain, and attackers do not have to choose a target with a code to create a harmful outcome. Reyzin noted that as long as we engineer our systems cleverly and separate mission-critical systems from other systems, we can achieve effective defense. BU International Relations Professor Joseph Wippl made the point that the private and public sectors must work together to secure the global cyber infrastructure. The private sector has a business interest and needs an efficient and effective cyber system, and the government is responsible for protecting this cyber system and using it to counter threats to national security.

A complete 75-minute video recording of the panel is available for viewing from BUniverse (and available for download from iTunesU).

Distinguished Lecture by Charles Bennett on Quantum Computing & Crypto

The CS Distinguished Lectureship Series featured Dr. Charles Bennett as its first speaker for 2010.

Dr. Bennett, an IBM Fellow at IBM Research, is best known for exploring deep interconnections between physics and information. Again and again, he introduced approaches that may have sounded exotic at first, but in a few years became a major object of study. The thermodynamics of computing, reversible computing, logical depth, random oracles are examples of that early work. Bennett discovered in the 1980’s, with Gilles Brassard, the concept of quantum cryptography, then in the early 1990’s, in the company of several others, quantum teleportation. These and numerous other results make him one of the founding fathers of modern quantum information theory. Dr. Bennett is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the 2008 Harvey Prize by the Technion and the 2006 Rank Prize in opto-electronics.

The topic of Bennett’s lecture, which was held on February 24, was nothing if not wild and fantasy-stimulating. He was following up on ideas of David Deutsch and others who explored the consequences for the computational capabilities of a hypothetical physical system with some time travel allowed. Deutsch claimed that the formalism of quantum mechanics helps avoid logical contradictions like the grandfather paradox. Bennett exposed some of the weirdness lurking in Deutsch’s model. The talk attracted a broad audience, including a significant constituent not from BU.

Transition Consulting Awards Scholarships to Four BU CS Undergrads

Four BU computer science majors were awarded scholarships from Transition Consulting Limited (TCL). The awardees are (left to right): Rufat Mammadyarov (CAS ’11), Sophia van Valkenburg (CAS ’13), Natali Ruchansky (CAS ’12), and Ed Rivas (CAS ’13). TCL is a specialist consultancy in software testing, which is headquartered in Reading, England with a USA branch office located in Burlington, MA. Scholarship applicants submitted essays on subjects related to the future of software testing. Each awardee received a check for $2,600, and has the opportunity to take a summer internship with TCL, if they so choose. This is the third year BU computer science students have won TCL scholarships.

Join us for our Tenth IAP Research Open House on March 19, 2010

On Friday March 19, 2010, our department will be holding its 10th Annual Industrial Affiliates Program (IAP) Research Open House. This is an opportunity for our students to show off results from their research work and to get feedback from a broad audience.

The IAP Research Open House is also a wonderful opportunity for members of our larger community, including alumni of the Department, to get acquainted with the various research projects undertaken by members of our faculty.

The main event in our IAP Research Day is a Poster Session, which will be held in the CS Research Lab from 10:00am to 2:00pm (with Lunch served at 12:30pm). During this poster session, attendees are invited to walk through the lab, browse through the dozens of posters on display, listen to on-demand brief presentations and demonstrations by graduate students, and chat with faculty members. The format of the Poster Session is intentionally flexible and informal to accommodate the wide interests and time constraints of our guests, who are welcome to come for any part of the session (noting that the period from 1:00pm-2:00pm will also be open to undergraduate students of our department). A list of poster abstracts are available here: IAP Research Open House web page.

Noteworthy BU/CAS Events and Opportunities

  • Alumni Weekend 2010 is October 29-31: Mark the date and make plans to join us for: Alumni College classes, Reunions with your classmates, BU-wide celebrations, and more at the all-alumni event of the year. Alumni Weekend 2010 will be October 29-31, 2010. For more information, check the Alumni Weekend Web Site in early summer (and until then, check the 2009 activities to get an idea about the range of events to expect for 2010).
  • Global Day of Service is April 17, 2010: This April, alumni, students, faculty, staff, friends, and family will join forces at service sites around the world to create a new chapter in the University’s proud history of service and to deepen constituents’ sense of “One BU.” Check for details.
  • Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Awards: The College of Arts & Sciences Collegium of Distinguished Alumni and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Academy of Distinguished Alumni honor alumni whose service to their professions, communities, and alma mater has set them apart. You may nominate your fellow alumni online. The nomination deadline is May 24, 2010.
  • Is Your Company Hiring? Post internships for BU CS students or jobs for new graduates by sending an email to or If you would like to make these opportunities available to the entire BU community, you may post such announcements online.

Join BUCAN on LinkedIn!

LinkedIn has emerged as the de-facto social-networking tool for connecting professionals. To help you connect or reconnect with members of the BU/CS community, and in addition to its presence on Facebook, BUCAN is now a LinkedIn Group, which you can join at

Join us now (and spread the word!)