SNU receives 3-year science research grant

Bethany, Oklahoma

Southern Nazarene University received a $192,557 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the three-year Fission-Fusion Multi-Robot Systems project through the NSF's Information and Intelligent Systems and Research in Undergraduate Institutions programs. The research project involves collaboration with Ingo Schlupp, professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma, who received a subcontract through the award.

"Participating in high-level research is integral to the quality education and scholarship we offer in the Sciences at SNU," said Mark Winslow, dean of the College of Natural, Social, and Health Sciences. "The Fission-Fusion Multi-Robot Systems grant represents an incredible opportunity for undergraduate students to conduct research under the mentorship of Dr. Brent Eskridge and prepares them for post-baccalaureate success in graduate school and computer science-related careers."

This research project uses insights from biological systems to study subgroup composition and numbers in robot systems. Researchers will investigate the fission-fusion process as robots adapt to dynamic environments, rapid changes in tasks, or situations in which team membership frequently changes. Resulting research can provide insights on how teams of robots can be used in real-world tasks such as exploration, reconnaissance, and search and rescue settings.

“This grant will provide undergraduate students at SNU with valuable experience in a formal, multi-year research project like they would encounter in graduate school,” Eskridge said. “Most student research is confined to a summer or a single semester, which can limit the scope of the project. This project, however, will allow them to dive into the research at a deeper level, allowing for a broader range of experiences to be had and skills to be developed.”

The grant provides funds for two faculty researchers and four undergraduate students serving as research assistants to assist with preparing experiments and collecting results, along with media specialists to assist with disseminating project results. In addition, the grant provides funding for to prepare publications and travel to research conferences.

This new NSF award builds upon research supported by a previous NSF award (Grant No. BCS-1124837), Emergent Hierarchies of Leaders in Multi-Robot Systems, funded through the NSF's Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation and Research in Undergraduate Institutions programs. This prior research used insights from biological systems to investigate how leadership emerges as robots work in teams and has resulted in multiple presentations and publications, including a 2015 article in PLoS ONE, co-authored by Eskridge, Schlupp, and Elizabeth Valle (former SNU Biology student), and papers presented at the 2014 Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference by Tim Solum (former SNU computer science student) and Jeremy Acre (former SNU math student).

“This grant allows us to expand upon the quality of education our students expect,” said Melany Kyzer, provost. “We are grateful to receive this grant and for the work of Dr. Eskridge.”

Eskridge joined the SNU faculty in 2004 and currently serves as chair of the Computer Science/Network Engineering department. SNU currently offers three traditional degree programs in computer science, software development, and network engineering, along with a professional studies degree completion track in network management. In addition to obtaining a degree, the network engineering program also prepares students for industry-standard certifications, including Microsoft and Cisco certifications.

--Southern Nazarene University

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