Two UNM Faculty Researchers Designing a Way to Go With the Flow

August 23, 2010

Two young research profs from UNM
Have set out to follow a whim
They think they can ride
The information tide
Without losing their way in the din

While trying to come up with a lead for this story on complicated research, I wrote a dumb limerick.  Thinking well of the limerick, I sent it to three friends.  One posts it on her Facebook page.  Another sticks it in a PowerPoint presentation on the problems of writing about research.  I email it to the professors.  One thinks it is funny and forwards it to friends.  The other doesn’t, emails back a scathing response and deletes the original email from his computer.

For the next three years, Jed Crandall (right), an assistant professor in Computer Engineering, and Rafael Fierro (left), associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will use a $450,000  grant from the National Science Foundation try to come up with algorithms that can track the way information (such as the dumb limerick) flows through computers and the Internet.  They are searching for a way they can tag data and monitor the way it moves around without slowing the system it moves through.

Crandall says scientists have been trying unsuccessfully for the past 30 years to come up with a way to efficiently track data. But people cut and paste data in many ways and in so many different formats that makes it difficult to create a data tag that will stay with the information, no matter how it is manipulated.  Fierro specializes in control theory and he will be seeking ways they can mathematically describe and predict how information flows.

There are many potential uses for this research.  For example, a consumer who uses a credit card number to purchase goods from a website might like the reassurance of receiving an alert if the tagged information is sent anywhere else on the web than the place they intended.

Both Crandall and Fierro lead research groups of graduate students who will help them do some of the work.  They say this problem, which combines the research areas of information flow and control theory will be an interesting way for their students do to cutting edge research in an area that is likely to have great interest in the world of internet security.

Media contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; email: