CIS professor Cavazos customizes research for defense needs

Flying in a military jet, rubbing elbows with retired generals and getting an insider’s view of the Department of Defense (DOD) were never part of John Cavazos’ job description as a university professor, until recently.

Cavazos, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciencesat the University of Delaware, was one of 12 junior faculty selected nationwide to participate in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Computer Science Study Group. The program was created by the DOD to support university research that could lead to advances in defense and communications technology.

In order to learn about the DOD’s technology needs, Cavazos visited military installations, toured intelligence agencies such as the Pentagon and CIA, and talked with soldiers about technology issues they face in the field. Witnessing the in-flight refueling of a military jet, jumping from a 34-foot tower and being mentored by retired generals from the Army, Navy and Air Force, he says, have made the experience particularly memorable.

“I was humbled by the fact that these distinguished men and women were truly interested in what computer scientists had to offer in solving DOD’s big problems,” says Cavazos.

Now entering Phase II of the program, Cavazos is customizing his research to speed up large scale applications for DOD supercomputers through a two-year $400,000 grant from DARPA.

“High performance supercomputers are built out of thousands of smaller machines, like what you might find on your desktop, networked together to run in parallel and solve problems,” says Cavazos. “We want to help these computers work faster, smarter and use less energy.”

His team is currently working to improve open-source programs found on the Internet, work he believes has application to DOD programming problems. Specifically, he hopes to improve software compilers that translate computer programming data into a language which computers can understand and execute.

“Fundamental software changes could dramatically reduce the need for specialists to program these extreme-scale computing systems,” he says.

In addition, Cavazos hopes to work with mobile computing researchers employed by the U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to apply his unique compiler techniques to identifying vulnerabilities in the computer code running on mobile devices. If successful, his work could lead to an additional $500,000 in research funding for Phase III of the DARPA Computer Science Study Group program and may even impact desktop and mobile devices used by the general public.

“We are pushing the envelope of what can be accomplished with computers,” he concludes.

Article by Karen B. Roberts