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Nolan Part of Wide-Ranging Defense Project

By Ben Grafe

Math Department Prof. Nolan wins 3-year grant

AU math professor John Nolan has won a three-year, $306,000 Defense Department grant for his work on a multidisciplinary university research initiative (MURI) to create new ways of analyzing data and securing networks.

Nolan was named in August 2012 as a co-principal investigator on the “ARO-MURI” research project. The project, funded by the Army Research Office and led by Cornell University, comprises the work of 11 researchers from seven different universities. The total budget is $3 million, with an option to extend for another two years.

The purposes of the MURI project are wide ranging and include many different focuses and areas of expertise. Nolan’s contributions are in the area of probability theory. One major objective is to create an empirically grounded analytical framework for multivariate heavy-tailed models, which are models created by looking at the accumulation of data to predict future extreme events. The models will provide theoretical results and statistical tools to help draw correlations between data and rare events.

The Department of Defense will use these tools for evaluating data from a variety of problems. The project plans to use these tools for measuring risk in social network analysis, network design and control, network security and anomaly detection, risk analysis, and signal processing.

The range this research can be applied to illustrates the importance of these research initiatives and their potential benefits and applications.

“It is another step forward for AU,” Nolan says of the grant. “American University’s faculty are getting major grants and interacting with prominent researchers around the country.”

Nolan’s own interest in the project started when he saw its relation to and inclusion of probability theory, a long-term interest and area of study. Probability theory develops theoretical models that look at large data sets to understand extreme events, a central focus of the MURI Project.

Nolan hopes his work will encourage others to pursue this area and that this will help lead to new initiatives in grant research. Particularly, in the field of math, exciting discoveries are constantly being made, he says.

MURI is an example of the potential these research initiatives have of furthering our understanding in a wide range of math-related fields. The constant novelty and discovery in the math world is lost on many people, Nolan says. In fact with the development of technologies and new concepts, it is a field that is greatly expanding and is constantly shifting.