Computing That Serves

IDeA lab receives $700,000 grant from NSF

Getting Good IDeAs: The National Science Foundation announced last Wednesday that it would back a BYU Computer Science lab, the IDeA (Information and Decision Algorithm) Lab, which is co-directed by Computer Science professor Sean Warnick, with a $700,000 grant. 

In collaboration with BYU's Computer Science, Mathematics, and Statistics Departments, IDeA Labs focuses on the application of Algorithmic Decision Processes to better understand methods for making decisions from data. However, the program is not limited to students of these majors, but instead encourages students to take their individual interests in combination with a mathematical background, creating a unique research practice.

This is where the rubber hits the road. And when there are bumps in the road, this is the place for answers and solutions.

That is the case of ATK Thiokol, a company that sought help in solving a difficult mathematical problem. It is also the case closer to home, when the BYU Bookstore needed assistance with the complexity of computer-programmed prices and sales. In each case, BYU's IdeA's labs solved it.

Known as "IDeA Labs," the Information and Decision Algorithm Laboratories recently won a $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation that will help the labs continue cutting-edge undergraduate research.

"Too often we build barriers between our fields when actually we're working on very similar problems," said Jeffrey Humpherys, assistant professor of mathematics and co-director of IDeA Labs. "These labs help students understand the mathematical and computational structures that are common in a variety of disciplines," Humpherys said in an e-mail.

IDeA Labs is a collaboration between the computer science, mathematics and statistics departments that study Algorithmic Decision Processes. Whether in business, engineering or government, a decision process becomes algorithmic when it is made scientifically, or based on measurements or data.

The specific laboratories allow students to apply research techniques to a variety of problems in economics, finance, biology, business, manufacturing, engineering and government.

The labs allow both undergraduate and graduate students to work closely with professors in solving difficult Algorithmic Decision Processes for real clients. It is the merging of theory, research and application that caught the attention of the National Science Foundation.

"This is the best proposal I have read," noted one of the NSF panel reviewers who critiqued the proposal. Another reviewer noted that this program could "serve as a national model for integrating teaching and research at the undergraduate level."

The proposal placed first among 25 in its class that were submitted. "It is nice to get recognition from the National Science Foundation," said Sean Warnick, associate professor of computer science and co-director of IDeA Labs. "We are really excited about the work that we have been doing in IDeA Labs, and we are especially grateful to our supporters... and our other industrial partners that allowed us to build the proof of concept that captured NSF's attention."

IDeA Labs was formed by Warnick and Humpherys, who merged their research groups a year ago to develop this unique interdisciplinary mentoring environment.

For more information about these labs visit

Article written by Andrew Pete for the Daily Universe September 19, 2006