New conference focuses on math and computer science

James Dyer

On Saturday, March 20, students and faculty from across the U.P. gathered to share their research in computer science and mathematics at the first Upper Peninsula Computing Conference (UPCON).

The conference took place in the West Science’s Mead Auditorium, and was sponsored by NMU’s department of mathematics and computer sciences and the UNIX User Group, a student organization. UPCON focused on topics in computer science and showcased research done by various students and faculty from NMU, Michigan Technological University (MTU) and Lake Superior State University (LSSU). The event also gave students interested in computer science and mathematics from the U.P. a chance to hear presentations from other area schools.

“(UPCON) started as an Internet security/hacker conference, but being in the U.P. it’s hard to attract speakers,” said Esther Su, a senior math major. Su is also the public relations and event coordinator of the UNIX User Group, an organization that promotes the use of alternative computer operating systems such as the UNIX system.

Bryan Franklin, a graduate student in computer science at Michigan Technological University, gives a presentation on comparing genetic sequences at NMU’s first Upper Peninsula Computing Conference. // James Dyer/NW

Because it was difficult to find speakers on one specific subject, Su and the UNIX User Group decided to open up the conference to general topics relating to computer science and mathematics.

“We sent out a call for presentations. We really wanted it to be faculty and students,” said Su.

While the faculty presenters were sought out individually, the student participants submitted an abstract, a synopsis of their research, to be accepted to present at the conference, said Su.

Among the faculty presenters were Jerry Seethoff the dean of NMU’s College of Arts and Sciences, associate professors of computer science Randy Appleton and Mark Paulsen, computer science professor Evan Schemm of LSSU, and NMU adjunct instructor John Sarkela. Associate professor of computer science Jeff Horn, who is currently in Finland conducting research, also participated in the conference through a laptop and webcam mounted on a Pioneer 3DX model robot. There were also presentations by MTU student Bryan Franklin and NMU student Brian Krent.

“It’s been a solid conference. It’s nice to see how many people came out,” said Krent, a senior computer science major and former vice president of the UNIX User Group.

Krent’s presentation, “Programming Artificial Life using the Breve Simulation Environment,” demonstrates an easy-to-use 3-D world that can be used to create simulations of artificial life.

“I am demonstrating a useful tool,” he said, “It speeds up the process, so you can focus on the experiment.”

Franklin, a graduate student at MTU, spent a year and a half researching his presentation, “A Parallel Longest Common Subsequence Algorithm in UPC.” Franklin said his presentation showed a way to compare genetic sequences.

Franklin is using the research toward a master’s degree in computer science, and he plans on presenting his research again at the High Performance Composition Symposium in Orlando. Franklin said that UPCON was great practice for the larger conference held in April.

“I really enjoyed all the presenters here. It’s a very laid-back atmosphere,” he said.

J.D. Phillips, head of NMU’s computer science and mathematics department, said that he plans on making UPCON a yearly event. Phillips’ presentation demonstrated the effectiveness of computers in solving complicated math problems that would be difficult to complete by a single person.

“We had people from three different (U.P.) colleges and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences,” he said, “It was a good turnout.”

This year’s UPCON was almost entirely organized by the students of the UNIX User Group, said Phillips.

“Conferences such as these that are organized and run by students are really a feather in NMU’s cap,” said Phillips.