Taking on Twitter

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Is it a human or a Twitter bot? Researchers from the University of Mary Washington and the Naval Surface Warfare Center want to know for sure. UMW computer science majors Bryan Holster and Chris Zimmerman, under the guidance of Professor Stephen Davies, have teamed with scientists at the center’s Dahlgren division to get to the bottom of this sometimes perplexing social media mystery. The partnership is one of several ongoing collaborations between the University and the Naval Surface Warfare Center. For novices to the Twitter sphere, a Twitter bot is an automated software program that posts content or tweets to the online social network Twitter. For instance, the bot @everyword spent seven years tweeting every word in the English language, while @EnjoyTheFilm posts spoilers in response to the tweets of unsuspecting movie-goers. Since the fall, Holster and Zimmerman have collected an innumerable number of tweets using a Web application that they built. Then they developed a … [Read more...]

Mathematical Predictions

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What if there was a better way to track and predict the spread of worldwide epidemics like H1N1 flu and HIV before they happened? At the University of Mary Washington, Casey Howren ‘14 answered this question when she developed a computer program that uses mathematical formulas to predict the progress of global epidemics. Meeting on a daily basis with her mentor, Mathematics Professor Leo Lee, to help guide her research, the mathematics and sociology double major looked at the current ways that the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization track epidemics, and she realized that she could improve the process. Right now, those organizations track epidemics as they are happening. They follow how quickly epidemics spread in real time and then predict how they will continue in the future. Howren’s algorithm-based computer program takes this process a step further by predicting how an epidemic will spread from the first infected person before it ever happens. In … [Read more...]

Flipping the Classroom

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At first glance, Jon Meister ’13 looks like a teacher from another time with his handlebar mustache, black satin vest, and thick-framed glasses, but his teaching style – honed at the University of Mary Washington – is anything but old fashioned. For his final research project, Meister explored one of the latest trends in education, a flipped classroom. At its most basic level, a flipped classroom is where students learn a lesson at home via video and then come to class to work on homework. It’s a move away from the traditional classroom where a teacher gives a lecture and then students work on homework problems on their own time. In his final semester at UMW, Meister was a student teacher at his alma mater, Norview High School in Norfolk, Va. He worked with 18 seventh-grade students to flip the way that they learn algebra and geometry. Meister recorded YouTube math lessons that the students watched outside of class time, and then the students worked in the classroom on … [Read more...]

Conundrum Challenge

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The Spider and Fly Puzzle has mesmerized math buffs for more than a century. “You’re in a big room and there’s a spider on one wall and on the opposite wall is a fly,” said Keith Mellinger, associate professor and chair of mathematics. “The question is, if the spider wants to walk along the walls and get to the fly, what’s the shortest path?” The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is a spiral. Mellinger takes exception to that conventional solution. He recently discovered that the conventional answer doesn’t always hold true. His research appears in a recent issue of the College Mathematics Journal, a publication of the Mathematical Association of America. “If we tweak the conditions of the problem, the problem has a different solution,” he said, explaining that the dimensions of the room can change whether a spiral pattern or a straight line is in fact the shortest path. The complexities of the problem have served as an effective teaching tool for Mellinger. “It shows how … [Read more...]