Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap Profile: W&M

The College of William and Mary (W&M) was established in 1693 and is, after Harvard, the second oldest university in America. W&M is a highly ranked public institution offering a full range of undergraduate majors and minors, and select graduate and professional degrees. The small size of the student body and the strong research orientation of W&M faculty are conducive to problem-based learning through individual student research, laboratory, and field projects. The College's emphasis on hands-on interdisciplinary activities expands students' abilities and enhances their readiness to successfully perform in the international workplace.

Much of the scientific research conducted at W&M falls into four areas of strength and recent research priority:

  • Interdisciplinary analysis of geotagged big-data for policymakers;
  • Materials science, including nano-electronics, optical sensors, and lasers;
  • Fundamental computational science, in support of computational modeling and simulation; and
  • Life, physical, and marine sciences for creating sustainable energy and environmental policies.

W&M is bridging the gap between computer science, applied mathematics, geospatial technology, and decision making by leveraging the power of geotagged data to more effectively target, coordinate, and evaluate budgetary decisions being made by local up through international policymakers. Anticipating the wide variety of skill sets and knowledge bases required to accurately collect and interpret vast amounts of geospatial data, W&M has integrated a wide variety of disciplinary actors including economists, modelers, data analysts, visualization experts, geographic information scientists, and substantive research experts. This interdisciplinary group continues to engage in both methodological and substantive research, examining new geospatial methods for quantifying decision-relevant uncertainties in big-data analyses, building tools such as interactive maps and dynamic documents to provide decision makers with relevant information, and leveraging geospatial information to understand the effectiveness of budgetary allocation decisions.

The College is a leading institution for policy, law, doctrine, training, and supporting national security and other federal initiatives; these include quantitative entrepreneurship programs in the School of Business, STEM-oriented research and outreach in the School of Education, and theoretical and practical policy-work in the College's Thomas Jefferson Public Policy Program and the Institute for Theory and Practice of International Relations, including AidData, the Project for International Peace and Security, and the Center for Geospatial Analysis.

Fundamental computational science, in support of computational modeling and simulation, is one of the most important areas at the College and crosses into virtually every domain of activity above. W&M is seeking faster grid generation, parallel methods for differential equations, and improved architecture for partitioning solution spaces. Applications-oriented research includes examination of linear and non-linear systems, network behavior, wavelet and signal analysis, clustering and classification methods, statistical handling and data mining of ultra-large dynamic datasets, and effective means for display of multi-dimensional results, including visual and auditory interfaces. In particular, W&M is improving analytical methods for geo-tagging data and making similar parallel investments to find ways to display results. W&M's computational modeling research is formed around a "cluster-of-clusters" model, including the SciClone Cluster, one of the larger clusters in terms of cycle and storage capability that provides a wide range of interdisciplinary modeling and simulation in areas from non-destructive evaluation, to cardiac rhythm analysis for prediction of pediatric disease, to large-scale hurricane storm surge inundation of coastal areas of Virginia and Washington, D.C.

In biomathematics and computational biology (CB), W&M's goal has been to develop predictive understanding of the behavior of organelles, single cells, and clusters of cells, organs, and organisms on the way to a fuller understanding of biomedical issues in human health. Initial efforts in this area have focused on neurological (and other active) tissues, starting with ion-channel transport, through improved Hodgkin-Huxley models, on the way to cell-network models and measurements associated with neonatal breathing centers or heart rhythms. On the other end of the CB spectrum, College researchers are analyzing very large data sets associated with multi-channel EEG measurements collected at the College, looking for cerebral correlates associated with sensory signal processing or correlates of various states of consciousness. The ability to display results in this domain has also been a key requirement. Better methods are being developed to present information after it has been pre-processed to make it more easily interpreted by a human.

W&M has begun un-tethering workers from the constraints of being in the same room with instruments, computational hardware, or sophisticated and expensive display environments. The College is installing software and controls to permit remote operation of specialized equipment, such as Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (ToF-SIMS). Thus, equipment located in one facility or building will be accessible to others throughout the College, or even by collaborators elsewhere in the state.

The College is also investigating the use of mobile devices (tablets, smart phones, wearables) for access to highly compressed displays of data mining results and other outputs associated with the analysis of big datasets. This is useful for NGO or aid agency workers while on remote deployments or to provide GIS-tagged displays of sophisticated financial or investment analysis data, construction projects, political data, logistic or troop movements, or for real-time emergency management. Anticipating this future, W&M's computer scientists are working in security analysis - to extend advances in threat detection, intrusion denial, and systems recovery and repair - in support of coming autonomous vehicles; augmented-sensory, mental, and physical operations; print-manufacturing quality assurance; embedded-device analysis; etc. Research is also underway to improve security for mobile devices, telecommunication tools, and conventional wireless client-server structures, and to evaluate, classify, and identify active agents appearing on the other end of remote connections, especially for applications operating through social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.

The W&M Commonwealth Center for Energy and the Environment has several projects underway on both the main campus and at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the College's graduate school in marine science. These include established projects to clean the Chesapeake Bay using in-water algae growth systems while simultaneously providing biomass, which can be pyrolyzed to produce hydrocarbon gas or fermented to produce gasoline substitutes. Other projects include developing advanced sensors for part-per-trillion identification of contaminants in waterways, investigating the entire range of biological effects of mercury in the environment, and identifying policy changes needed to maintain road infrastructures in a world dominated by hybrid or all-electric vehicles.

W&M plays an important role with two neighboring national laboratories: the nuclear physics facility of the Jefferson Lab and the NASA Materials Science core facilities of NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA). W&M's expertise drives much of the collaboration in synthesis, processing, diagnostics, property measurement, and evaluation of high-value and very-high-value materials associated with nano-electronics, sensors, and devices. Related W&M infrastructure supports these and other partnerships and programs within and outside the Commonwealth. W&M projects include many areas of commercial importance, such as optical and plasma research, advanced spintronic materials, energy-saving windows, superconducting coatings, RF accelerator structures, high-power microwave tubes, energy conversion devices, ultra-sensitive magnetometers, advanced optical gyroscopes, more efficient photo-conversion materials, and various ultra-cold-atom (Bose-Einstein condensates) and single-atom systems for electromagnetic and gravitational sensing. In addition, W&M and EVMS have agreed to explore partnership opportunities during the coming year.