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Research at WVU

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Research at WVU for IMS

Researchers in the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics here at WVU are working on a wide range of problems that are of interest on both a local and national scale. A few examples of these are:

  1. Gypsy Moths & the Timber Industry: Gypsy moth caterpillars are voracious eaters. During one year (1981) they ate the leaves from 6 million hectares of oak forest in PA alone, causing a loss to their timber industry of $72 million. Accurate prediction of when such large outbreaks of this forest pest will occur has proven difficult. Research done at WVU may have a partial answer as to why this difficulty exists. This research has demonstrated that the response of these populations to how much food is available and how many caterpillars are present per hectare is fractal in nature (see the figure at the right). This means that any small error in estimating the number of caterpillars present this year can lead to huge errors in the prediction for next year, and completely unreliable ones thereafter.

  2. Using Coal Efficiently: Coal is an important natural resource in West Virginia. One of its most important uses is its conversion into electrical power, much of which is done through combustion (burning) in a fluidized bed. Ground up coal is placed in a cylindrical or box shaped apparatus, and air is blown up from the bottom of the bed, causing the particles to float, or become "fluidized". This fluidization allows for more efficient burning of the coal. Under a variety of conditions, the bed develops what look like bubbles of air rising through the floating particles. A simulation of such a bed is shown at the right. One goal of this research is to understand how these bubbles affect the dynamics of the bed, which impacts the efficiency of the combustion of the coal.

  3. Predicting Lung Disease: Lung diseases such as emphysema and fibrosis affect the efficiency of the lungs. One way to measure this effect is being studied by researchers at WVU. In an aerosol bolus dispersion test, the patient inhales a known quantity of particulate matter. When exhaled, the concentration of particles coming out of the lungs is measured as a function of time. It is believed that certain concentration profiles can be ascribed to abnormalities in lung function. Examples of the concentration profiles for a smoker (red circles) and a non-smoker (black circles) are shown in the figure at the right, where the concentration is shown as a function of time. Researchers are developing models to study such profiles as a diagnostic tool for catching lung disease in its earliest stages.

  4. Molecular Entropy: The interactions between cells in the body, as well as the actions of drugs on these cells, are governed by the interplay between molecules such as proteins and DNA, and the particular shapes they assume. Statistical models of the various shapes that these molecules are capable of assuming are important for understanding how normal biological and biochemical processes occur, how environmental toxins affect mammals, and aid in the design of new therapeutic agents. Entropy is one measure of the ability of molecules to change their configuration. In a joint effort with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, researchers in the Statistics Department are developing probabilistic models which will enable more accurate prediction of these important conformational changes in biological molecules.

  5. Biometrics Identification Systems: Increasingly, personal identification numbers and passwords are being replaced by fingerprints and retinal scans. The reason for this change is the need for heightened security in some environments such as the Internet. Researchers in the Department of Statistics, in collaboration with faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, are developing methodology for assessing the overall performance of such systems. The goal of this research is to estimate the probability that such a device will misclassify a user. Modern hierarchical statistical methods with heavy computational aspects are being employed to carry out this work.