Mac Research Opportunities

Academic Year Research Opportunities

Many MSCS students collaborate in research during college. During the school year, research can be performed via an honors project, capstone project, or independent study. To initiate work with a Macalester faculty member, start by talking with a professor with whom you would like to work. Also visit the Macalester Science and Research Office.

Summer Research Opportunities

Macalester provides opportunities for paid summer research with a faculty sponsor. Usually, students live on (or near) campus. (MAXIMA is an exception: it is hosted at the nearby Institute for Mathematics and its Applications.) After completing their summer research, students can attend national meetings of professional societies to present their work. Sometimes, summer work even leads to a joint publication in a research journal.

Below is a description of the MSCS faculty who are looking for summer research students for next year. Contact faculty individually if their work sounds interesting.

Faculty Name: Professor Andrew Beveridge
Department: Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science
Title of Research: MAXIMA REU in Interdisciplinary Mathematics

Description: MAXIMA is an intensive six week REU program in interdisciplinary mathematics which is a joint effort between Macalester and the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). The program takes place at the IMA, which is located at the University of Minnesota, and is funded by the NSF and the IMA.

Students will work in teams of four on an open research problem in applied mathematics. In Summer 2013, problems will be posed by University of Minnesota researchers from computer science and electrical engineering. Each team will be advised by a Macalester MSCS faculty member, and students  also will be mentored by a postdoctoral fellow at the IMA. The program is designed to allow students to experience the excitement of doing research that is relevant to another field. Students will learn how to formulate domain-specific questions in mathematical ways and assimilate the ability to communicate across disciplines. The program will develop mathematical skills and expository argumentation. By the end of the summer, each team will produce a written report, an oral presentation, and a research poster. Project descriptions and the program application are on the MAXIMA website.


  • Students must be current sophomores and juniors who will be full-time undergraduate students as of September 2012, majoring in mathematics or a related field at a U.S. college or university.
  • Students must have taken multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and at least one upper-level undergraduate courses (and preferably more). Exposure to one of computer science or statistics is also preferred. See the problem descriptions for further background requirements.
  • Students must be fully committed to the REU. Students may not engage in any other course work or employment for the duration of the program.
  • Nine spots are funded by the NSF: these are open to US citizens and permanent residents. Three spots are funded by the IMA: these spots are open to US citizens and permanent residents, and to international students studying at US institutions.

Faculty Name: Professor Susan Fox
Department: Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science
Title of Research: Adaptive Robot Navigation: Building Robots That Learn

Description: Robot technology is increasingly present in our everyday lives, from robot vacuum cleaners to cars that can parallel park themselves, to cars that drive themselves. Successful robot systems need to exhibit robust behavior: to be predictable and reliable over time. My current research has focused on image processing to support the robot localization, which is the process of determining where the robot is in the world. The robot lab has several different robots, writing programs that can be used with any of the robots is a current goal.

Students interested in working with me should come talk with me prior to submitting an application. Students should have completed Comp 124 at least; preferably Comp 221 as well. Experience with artificial intelligence is NOT required; training in the tools used to program the robots will be a part of any research collaboration. Students and I will need to submit a request for funding to the SFSR (Student-Faculty Summer Research) fund at Macalester.

Faculty Name: Professor Shilad Sen
Department: Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science
Title of Research: Extending Macademia's Semantic Recommendation System

Description: If you enjoy building large software systems, machine learning, data mining or web design and development come join the Macademia summer research team! Macademia visualizes faculty research interests as a dynamic, interactive, graph. Researchers describe their interests using their own vocabulary, and the site mines millions of Wikipedia articles to understand that somebody interested in "jazz performance" is closely related to somebody interested in "Miles Davis." This summer, we will bring Macademia's concepts to the Facebook "interest graph." Any Facebook member will use our algorithms and visualizations to explore the interest and social connections between their friends.

Students will work as a member of a small software team for 10 weeks and gain real-world experience in cutting edge web development and data science practices. The team will:

  1. Enhance the Macademia website
  2. Build a Facebook application inspired by Macademia
  3. Developing and analyze semantic similarity and social recommendation algorithms
  4. Conduct research experiments using both the site and the Facebook app.
Ideal candidates will have experience in several of the following areas:
  • Front end website technologies such as HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, D3, etc.
  • Web development using server frameworks (Grails preferred).
  • Facebook application development.
  • Parallel computing in Java (Hadoop preferred).
  • Applying methods from data mining, machine learning, natural language processing, or recommender systems to large datasets.

Faculty Name: Professor Libby Shoop
Department: Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science
Title of Research: Parallel Computing Techniques

Description: Professor Libby Shoop will be conducting research pertaining to parallel computing techniques, especially those that can be used in Computer Science Education.  We will work with interesting hardware and build sophisticated computer systems for use in courses here at Macalester and other colleges and universities.  Please visit Libby in Olin-Rice 232 to find out more and to apply for a summer position.

Faculty Name: Professor Chad Higdon-Topaz
Department: Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science
Title of Research: Pattern-Forming Natural Systems: Mathematics, Biology, and Chemistry

Description: Research in the Topaz group is inspired by the appearance of beautiful, organized patterns across the natural world. Specifically, we study pattern-forming systems in biology and chemistry. Potential projects include modeling, analysis, and computation of (1) biological aggregation patterns such as locust swarms and fish schools, (2) collective movement of cancer cells, and (3) Turing patterns, which appear in certain chemical reactions and which have been hypothesized as the mechanism behind animal coat patterns like zebra stripes.

The Topaz group’s interdisciplinary research is funded by the National Science Foundation and is carried out in Macalester’s eXperiment, Modeling, Analysis and Computation (XMAC) Laboratory.

Ideal candidates will have completed calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and an introductory computing class. Candidates who have not completed all of this coursework will be considered if they can demonstrate an outstanding academic record and outstanding motivation. Candidates should have enthusiasm for applied mathematics and a genuine willingness to learn from the ground up about a field of application in biology or chemistry.

Students interested in summer research are welcome to speak with Prof. Topaz ( before applying. Students should submit (minimally) a letter of interest and an unofficial transcript. Ideal candidates will be considering graduate school in a scientific discipline. Graduating seniors and international students are welcome to apply. Women, members of underrepresented minorities according to the National Science Foundation’s definition (members of Black, Hispanic, Native American, Native Alaskan, and Native Pacific Islander ethnic groups) are especially encouraged to apply.

A partial list of peer-reviewed collaborative papers by Macalester students

  • Shoop, E., R. Brown, E. Biggers, M. Kane, D. Lin, and M. Warner (2012). Virtual clusters for parallel and distributed education. In: Proceedings of the 43rd ACM technical symposium on Computer Science Education.
    SIGCSE ’12. New York, NY, USA: ACM, pp.517522.
  • Beveridge, Andrew and Cooke, Sean (’09) “The Mathematical Sorting Hat,” UMAP Journal, Vol. 33, No.2 (2012), 99—118.
  • A. Catllá, A. McNamara (’10), and C.M. Topaz. Instabilities and patterns in coupled reaction-diffusion layers, Phys. Rev. E 85 (2) (2012) 026215.
  • Addona, Vittorio and Roth, Jeremy (‘10) "Quantifying the Effect of Performance-Enhancing Drug Use on Fastball Velocity in Major League Baseball," Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports: Vol. 6 : Iss. 2, Article 6.
  • Daniel Flath, Tom Halverson, and Kathryn Herbig ('06), "The Planar Rook Algebra and Pascal's Triangle," L'Enseignement Mathématique, (2) 55 (2009), 77–92. Find in Digital Commons
  • Lewin, D. ('09) and Addona, V. (2007) "Measuring player contribution in the NBA". 2007 Proceedings of the American Statistical Association, Section on Statistics in Sports, Alexandria, VA: American Statistical Association, pp. 2578–2580.
  • Susan Fox and Peter Anderson-Sprecher (’06), "Robot Navigation Using Integrated Retrieval of Behaviors and Routes", Proceedings of the 19th International FLAIRS Conference (Florida Artificial Intelligence Research Society), AAAI Press, Menlo Park, CA. Presented at Melbourne Beach, Florida, May 2006. Find in Digital Commons
  • William Briggs, Stephen Becker, Adrianne Pontarelli ('04), and Stan Wagon, The dynamics of falling dominoes, UMAP Journal, 26:1 (Spring 2005) 35–47
  • Dale Beihoffer, Jemimah Hendry '03, Albert Nijenhuis, and Professor Stan Wagon, "Faster algorithms for Frobenius numbers," Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, 12:1 (2005) R27
  • Tom Halverson and Tim Lewandowski ('03), "RSK Insertion for Set Partitions and Diagram Algebras," Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, Volume 11(2), (2004–2005) R24.
  • Shoop E, Casaes P ('04), Onsongo G ('04), Lesnett L ('03), Petursdottir EO ('04), Donkor EK ('04), Tkach D ('03), Cosimini M ('05), "Data exploration tools for the Gene Ontology database," Bioinformatics. 2004 Dec 12;20(18):3442–54
  • Momar Dieng ('00), Tom Halverson, and Vahe Poladian ('99), Characters of the q-rook monoid, J. Algebraic Combin., 17 (2003), no. 2, 99–123. Find in Digital Commons
  • Tom Halverson and John Farina ('01), "Character orthogonality for the partition algebra and fixed points of permutations," Adv. in Appl. Math., 31 (2003), no. 1, 113–131.
  • Michael Schneider and Tamas Nemeth ('99), "A Simulation Study of the OSPF/OMP Routing Algorithm," Computer Networks, 4 (2002).
  • Andy Cantrell ('02), Tom Halverson, Brian Miller('02), "RSK Insertion for Cyclotomic Hecke Algebras," Journal of Combinatorial Theory A, 99 (2002).
  • Chris Bremer ('02) and Danny Kaplan, "Markov Chain Monte Carlo Estimation of Nonlinear Dynamics from Time Series," Physica D, 160 (2001). Find in Digital Commons
  • John Renze, ('01) Stan Wagon, B. Wick, "The Gaussian Zoo," Experimental Mathematics, 10, pp 161–173 (2001).
  • John Bruning, Andy Cantrell ('02), Robert Longhurst, Dan Schwalbe, Stan Wagon, "Rhapsody in White: A victory for mathematics," The Mathematical Intelligencer, 22:3 (2000) 37–40. Find in Digital Commons
  • Claire and Helaman Ferguson, Dan Schwalbe, Tamas Nemeth ('99), and Stan Wagon Invisible Handshake, The Mathematical Intelligencer, 21:4 (Fall 1999) 30–35. Find in Digital Commons
  • Aaron Schlafly ('93) and Stan Wagon, Carmichael's conjecture is valid below 10^10,000,000, Mathematics of Computation 63 (1994) 415–419. Find in Digital Commons