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Prestigious grant awarded to Baylor

Sept. 28, 2007

By Star De La Cruz
Staff Writer

Tick, tick, tick. The clock ticks 60 times per minute, but all digital computer technology functions on a clock whose little ticker clicks in units of a gigahertz per second.

"You and I operate on continuous time, computers have computer time," said Dr. Ian Gravagne, research professor and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Computers are a part of everyday life, but how do systems running on computer time relate to the physical world in real time?

Through a grant from The National Science Foundation, three Baylor faculty members are continuing to explore this question. The team includes Gravagne, Dr. John Davis, associate professor of mathematics, and Dr. Robert Marks, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering along with two students: Aledo graduate student Kirk Bolton and Anchorage, Alaska, graduate student Alice Ramos.

The three-year grant of $143,952 for a study titled, "Mu-Dynamics on Time Scales: Adaptive Time Domains for Dynamical Systems."

Davis said the NSF is the most competitive and prestigious funding agency in the country and that "only about 10 percent of the proposals in this program were funded this cycle."

A Baylor press release on the research stated that because "computers work only at distinct points in time and the physical world advances in continuous time," combining the two "results in a system that exhibits behavior that is neither discrete nor continuous in the usual senses." The team has been working with hybrid systems of "real time" and "computer time."

Gravagne said computer time is not uniform for all computerized systems because each has distinct capabilities for example, a cell phone's computer time is slower than a laptop's. "It's hard to say exactly what specific technologies the research will ultimately lead to, but so far it shows promise in any system where computers interact over real-time communication networks," Gravagne said.

Gravagne' basic ideas for this research go back to 2002.

"Soon after I arrived on campus and met Dr. Davis I told him about some of my previous experiences," he said.

"We studied (dynamic equations on time scales) together, and it quickly became apparent that, while the mathematics weren't appropriate for my prior work, they could advance some other areas of engineering research," Gravagne said.

Marks joined the research team in 2003 to explore the engineering potential of "computer time." Davis said that for the average person, studying the dynamic equations on self-generating time domains means to be able to describe how complicated phenomena in the world behave.

"This is a potentially very powerful paradigm shift- in both mathematical theory as well as real -world applications," Davis said. "A major component of this study is to take those simulations from the computer and implement them in a complicated real -life system."

Ramos said it was an honor to receive the grant because the team can resolve real-world problems with this research. Ramos also said she hopes to help the team find solutions.

"I love to teach, so I look forward to encouraging research when I teach," she said.

Gravagne said undergraduate students have been responsible for doing everything from mathematical investigation to developing the first-ever library of numerical computation routines.

"We can find ways to get students at any level involved," he said. "We are looking for interested students."

Davis said that at the conclusion of the research, they will publish the findings in applied mathematics and or engineering journals and give lectures at conferences.

Thier research might be useful to share to with other scientists who may be able to use it.

The beauty of the research, Gravagne said, is that "even we don't know what we can look forward to."

"The research has taken us in some very interesting directions that we could not have predicted, and I'm sure that pattern will continue," he said.

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