BS Alumna Susan Martonosi '99 Returns to ORIE as a Faculty Visitor
Harvey Mudd College Professor Susan Martonosi, who is spending a sabbatical semester at Cornell, is now a recognized expert in a field that did not even have a name when she was working on her bachelors degree, namely homeland security.
As an undergraduate - she was a Merrill Presidential Scholar and graduated summa cum laude - Martonosi knew she wanted to pursue a Ph.D. In her senior year she was admitted to several graduate schools, including MIT. But she says "since high school I had wanted to live for a while in Africa. I was intrigued by the cultures (especially the music), the languages, and the religions of Africa," and she recognized that "it was now or never if I wanted to go to Africa." So she put graduate school plans on hold and applied to the US Peace Corps.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer Martonosi accepted the first assignment offered, to the Republic of Guinea, West Africa. She explained that "I wanted my time in the Peace Corps to be a full-fledged experience, so was delighted to be assigned to teach in Koundara," a town 240 kilometers from the nearest paved road, in the north of Guinea. Unlike in her work as a teaching assistant at Cornell, she could not use PowerPoint projection or rely on a textbook in conducting her high school calculus courses - there was no electricity and no textbooks. "I was the textbook," she says.
|Guinean student Aissatou Diallo displays her knowledge of the theory of complex variables at the blackboard in Martonosi's classroom.|
Martonosi found the Guinean students "bright and motivated" but she had to work to strengthen their mathematical foundation. Although she had only high school French, she taught exclusively in French (she also learned some Pulaar, the ethnic language of the the Fouta Djalon highlands where she taught). She didn't find teaching math in French all that difficult. "So many of the words are the same - you just have to say them with a French accent," she jokes. She made close friends with two families, one, her next door neighbor Mr. Camara, his wives, children and their grandmother; the other, the extended family of three of her students. Of her "full-fledged" experience living and working in Guinea she says that "I couldn't even explain my experiences in Africa to people at home because they couldn't imagine it."
Martonosi started graduate work at MIT within three weeks of returning to the US. Having spent two years "making a difference" in the lives of her African students, she felt there "must be a way to do that" through her professional work. A couple of weeks later, "9/11 happened." At the time she was taking a course from MIT Professor Arnold Barnett, who had been working on airline security for many years. Collaborating with Barnett on problems associated with terrorism, particularly from the perspective of concrete security policies for passenger and airline cargo screening, fulfilled her objective of doing OR that makes a difference. She is now fully committed to OR in the public sector, including not only homeland security, but eventually on problems in health care, education, and public safety.
|Martonosi explains the attacker's strategy in the resource allocation game.|
More recently Martonosi's research has moved towards more abstract, system-wide approaches to security. In addition to her academic research on the subject, she has been a consultant to the Homeland Security Institute (a federally funded analytical organization sponsored by the US Homeland Security Department). At a recent ORIE Ph.D. colloquium, she spoke about two problem areas: optimally allocating resources to defend multiple targets from terrorist attacks, and disrupting terrorist networks
The first of these areas analyzes the allocation by a defender of a constrained budget to potential targets, under the assumption that the attacker is also allocating resources and can be deterred if defensive measures sufficiently reduce the probability of success relative to the value to the attacker of a successful attack. "This is a game theory problem," Martonosi pointed out, "but it is not a zero-sum game." In particular, the value of a target to the attacker and to the defender are not equal. The work, which is still in progress, has already yielded significant insights.
The second problem deals with the nature of terrorist communication networks. Although the network flow theory developed by Lester Ford and the late Cornell professor Ray Fulkerson at RAND Corporation (where Martonosi spent a summer working on shipping container security as an associate while a graduate student) dealt with the interdiction of networks, disrupting terrorist communication networks introduces new considerations. In particular, Martonosi is analyzing a strategy of forcing secretive individuals (network nodes) to become more visible, by removing other nodes so that communication must flow through the hidden nodes. She uses methods more characteristic of social networks (studied by Cornell's Steven Strogatz and Jon Kleinberg, among others) than of the logistical networks analyzed by Ford and Fulkerson.
Cornell Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Mark Turnquist attended Martonosi's seminar presentation. He is currently on sabbatical, alternating his time between Ithaca at Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he participates in homeland security work related to the talk. Turnquist's efforts are particularly focused on the security of physical infrastructure assets. After the seminar he commented that "Susan really seems to be building on the right core ideas, and she's producing some very intriguing results. I look forward to hearing more from her over the course of the semester."
At the end of the year, Martonosi will return to Harvey Mudd, one of the Claremont Colleges. In introducing her seminar talk, Professor Michael Todd characterized Harvey Mudd as a great source for excellent graduate students in ORIE. Several Harvey Mudd graduates have come to Cornell ORIE to obtain their Ph.D.'s, and Martonosi hopes to continue the tradition by sending more good HMC students to Cornell. Her research at Harvey Mudd involves undergraduates, and she characterized her talk as "joint work" with six HMC students. With its emphasis on science and technology and the expectation that all undergraduates participate in research projects with faculty, Harvey Mudd students have done well in Cornell's Ph.D. program.
Recent ORIE Ph.D. graduates who came here through Harvey Mudd include Aaron Archer and Mark Huber. Archer, who completed his Ph.D. in 2003, is a research scientist at AT&T Shannon Research Laboratory in Florham Park, NJ. Huber, who got his Ph.D. in 1999, is an assistant professor in the Departments of Mathematics and Statistical Sciences at Duke University. Both Archer and Huber returned to Ithaca not long after Martonosi's talk, Archer to give a seminar in Computer Science and Huber to give one in ORIE. Harvey Mudd graduates currently pursuing their Ph.D. degrees in ORIE include Gwen Spencer and Tim Carnes.
Martonosi said she is "excited to be on sabbatical in ORIE, partly because of the broad array of OR topics discussed in seminars and colloquia" here. As a member of the Mathematics Department at Harvey Mudd, her involvement in OR is encouraged and supported by the other members of the department, "but sometimes I miss the shared mathematical language offered by an OR department." At Cornell, Martonosi is establishing connections with faculty who do speak the same language and is even auditing a course, the graduate version of Jon Kleinberg's popular networks course.
Martonosi, who grew up in nearby Syracuse, is delighted to be back in Ithaca in the beautiful weather here this fall. She confesses to having been a bit apprehensive about returning, fearing that here experience as a visiting faculty member "might not live up to the fond memories I have of my undergraduate days" but says in reality has been really nice to be back. The faculty, many of whom are her former teachers, "have been welcoming, and it has been great to meet all of the new faculty" who have joined the department since she graduated. Martonosi says she loves the focus on teaching at Harvey Mudd (where she has a teaching load roughly double that of a Cornell professor) but she clearly relishes the opportunity to focus on her research during the semester long sabbatical that Harvey Mudd provides at three year intervals.