USD Math Department Receives $4.5 Million Award from the U.S. Department of Defense, Could Be Largest Award to USD with Grant Extension

USD Math Department Receives $4.5 Million Award from the U.S. Department of Defense, Could Be Largest Award to USD with Grant Extension

Dr. Michael Shulman, associate professor of mathematics at the University of San Diego College of Arts and Sciences, has received a $4.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)’s Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The grant, which supports the work of Dr. Shulman and his research collaborators across the country, will extend over three years, with a $1.5 million allotment in the first year.  The DOD can fund the entire program by extending the research for another two years, which would result in a total of $7.5 million in grant funding; this would be the largest grant award in the history of the University of San Diego.

As a part of the grant, Dr. Shulman and his collaborators will be researching the theoretical foundations of computer programming that help mathematicians verify their work by checking mathematical proofs, and therefore, providing confidence in the correctness of a theory.  Not a math or computer person? In simpler terms, the team will be developing formal mathematical systems (“homotopy type theories”) that will assist computers in verifying the correctness of a mathematical proof or a computer program.

According to Dr. Shulman, this sort of formal system is “being used more and more”, including in “real production code”.  Shulman said that this is especially important “in really critical code such as aircraft autopilots”, or “cryptographic software, where you really don’t want there to be a hole for a hacker to get in.”  Given the increasing importance of cyber warfare and cyber defense, research such as this is crucial.

Dr. Shulman’s research team extends across the country, including Professors Steven Awodey and Robert Harper at Carnegie Mellon University, Daniel R. Licata at Wesleyan University, Emily Riehl at Johns Hopkins University, and Kuen-Bang Hou (Favonia) at the University of Minnesota, and their students and postdocs. At USD, the funding will support 13 student fellowships through the life of the project, who will get hands-on experience and the mentorship of Dr. Shulman.

Needless to say, Dr. Shulman’s hard work and dedication has resulted in incredible opportunities for students and immense pride for the school.  “This grant from the DOD’s Air Force Office of Scientific Research is an incredible opportunity for Dr. Shulman to expand on work in the mathematics field that can benefit our military. This is also an invaluable experience for our student researchers who will get hands-on experience and develop mathematical insight that will help our community near and far as we continue to serve as an anchor institution,” said Dr. Noelle Norton, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Dr. Shulman hopes that the research of his team will produce “a formal system that can be used both on paper and in a computer.”  He hopes that it will be “convenient and comfortable for mathematicians, intuitive for students, and convenient for programmers to use in their practical lives.”

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