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In an EXCEL project this summer, computer science major Alex Balan ’03 (Bucharest, Romania) is doing work on clutters and their structure, research that has applications, most notably, for communication networks.

As Lorenzo Traldi, professor of mathematics and adviser for the project, explains, “We’re researching applied symbolic logic. A clutter is simply a collection of sets, none of which is a subset of any other. One example of clutters is associated with communication networks. For example, telephone transmissions are carried over a channel of wires. Occasionally, one of the circuits may collapse, but we don’t know which one. This work helps analyze which circuit has failed and what are the minimum configurations of interconnections necessary to successfully operate the network.”

A double major in computer science and mathematics and economics, Balan appreciates the EXCEL work in part because it allows him to develop skills in both disciplines.

“When I first joined this research program last summer, it was because I was confident I could combine both my mathematical and computer programming skills. The interdisciplinary research ranges from topics like network reliability and graphs to set theory, clutters, and boolean products,” says Balan. “This research gives me a chance to practice my knowledge solving real-life problems. It broadens my horizons and exposes me to the real world.”

Balan employs a variety of skills in completing this EXCEL work.

“I have been programming software using different programming languages to use in the research and also to investigate and discover patterns. My job now is to compare the efficiency of various existing heuristics and to come up with new or better ones,” he says.

For Balan, EXCEL offers him experience that will benefit him in future endeavors, most likely pursuing research in artificial intelligence.

“EXCEL is my first research experience. It gives me a feeling of what research is, and offers more perspective for when I’ll go to graduate school,” he says. “It is extremely beneficial to somebody who is going to pursue academic research in the future. EXCEL is a valuable experience, and can help one decide his or her own focus in the field of study. In a sense, it represents the variety and opportunities available at this academic institution.”

He adds, “Lafayette faculty are very enthusiastic to work with students, which is a unique aspect of academic life here. Lafayette has been generous in providing the facility and funds for this kind of research. This college has played a positive and active role and is very inspiring to a young person who is going to face all the life challenges arising in the real world.”

Balan is a tutor and offers computing services and support in the computer lab. He is the winner of the Benjamin F. Barge Mathematical Prize for three consecutive terms and the winner of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges Mathematics Contest. He also was the winner of the 9-Ball Billiards Intramural Tournament last fall. He is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Mathematics Problem Solving Group, and the International Student Association, for which he is a travel coordinator. He is also a fitness assistant at Kirby Sports Center and plays basketball, volleyball, and racquetball.

Categorized in: Academic News