Unraveling the Mysteries of Complex Systems

melanie moses

Melanie Moses combines biology and computer science in innovative research

Could ant colonies hold the key to better computer security? And can computers decipher how our immune systems really work? Melanie Moses thinks so. As associate professor of computer science, Moses studies distributed complex systems and applies what she learns to make the world safer and healthier.

Her research is a unique integration of biology, computer science and engineering. Not only does Moses use tools and techniques from all of these disciplines, she asks questions motivated by each discipline.

Students in Moses’ lab build robust and adaptable robot swarms based on behaviors that ants have evolved over millions of years of foraging. From carefully controlled experiments with their engineered systems, they gain detailed information about how each feature of ant behavior contributes to foraging success.

Moses and a graduate student are studying invasive Argentine ants on the Stanford University campus. These tiny ants have built massive colonies that are especially cooperative with each other and dominate other ant species. By documenting the Argentinian ants’ movement between nests in the colony, Moses hopes to learn what makes them so successful and then apply that learning to create robust, adaptive, and scalable computer networks.

Just as colony behavior emerges from complex interactions among ants, immune system function emerges from interactions among many different cells. Moses uses computational models to help researchers at the New Mexico Spatiotemporal Modeling Center (STMC) understand how immune cells move through the body to mount an immune response. “The goal is to understand how the cells quickly recognize and react to pathogens that enter the body,” explains Moses. The computer models convert data about the cells’ movements into valuable information for STMC researchers. They use that information to formulate and test new hypotheses that could lead to disease prevention and new treatment methods.

Moses is also part of a UNM research team creating a computer security system that mimics the individualized approach immune cells take to attacking pathogens. The idea is to have each computer repair itself after a malware attack rather than relying on instructions from a central command center. “That way one repair is different from another so the next virus that comes along will see two different machines. That makes it harder for the virus to spread,” she explains.

2013 Co-director of the UNM Program in Interdisciplinary Biological and Biomedical Sciences

2013 UNM School of Engineering Junior Faculty Research Excellence Award

2012 UNM School of Engineering Research Excellence Award

2011 UNM Outstanding New Teacher of the Year

2010 UNM Faculty of Color Research Award