FCGR Matt King, '09

Computer science major tries math research on for size

Name: Matt King ‘09
Major: Computer Science and Philosophy
Minor: Math
Academics: Oldham Scholarship
Activities: Literary Magazine
Summer Research
Alpha Phi Omega

Describe your research project.

We’re looking at the spread of resistant bacteria in a population. Using background gleaned from epidemiology and other biology texts, we invent models that describe the biology using math. Particularly, the models are systems of differential equations, which track the rate of change of certain quantities (for instance, the amount of bacteria or the number of people infected by a disease) over time. We use our models to predict what will happen in the long run (how extensive will the epidemic be? How many people will die from the disease?) given certain assumptions. These assumptions are formulated as part of the model.

How’d you get involved in the project?  

I heard about it in the math department. I wanted to know what math research is, exactly, and I wanted to see practical applications of math in the real world. There were four faculty members with projects and I chose the one I found most interesting.

Did you have prior research experience? What prepared you for this opportunity?

I did have a prior research experience, but that was in a different department, and the  research method this time around is a little different. Previously I was set on my own to tackle a particular problem, so I had to do a lot of mining for relevant information among scholarly articles. With LURE (my current program), we are inventing a lot of our models from scratch, rather than building off recent work in the field. Thus the literature search does not play a big part this time. I think what prepared me best was my strong math background, particularly Linear Algebra and Multivariate Calc under my belt, since these tools are necessary to understand systems of differential equations.

How do you see this project contributing to your collegiate success during the rest of your time at Richmond?

I really enjoy having a more casual atmosphere, not based on grades, in which to discuss and really delve into mathematics. I think it encourages better cooperation and collaborative creativity, since thinking outside of the box is rewarded more than repeating what was read in a textbook. I think besides being more motivated, I am also more inclined to want to stay in this program (it is a two-year continuing program, not just this summer) in place of electives because of the more active role I can play. It has also been a help in mastering differential equations (I have not even taken the class). One of the most important things, for me, was that it has helped me in fleshing out my honors thesis for computer science, since now I have a stronger background on the math side of modeling, whereas previously I was limited to computer simulation.

You’ve got a crystal ball.  What’s in store for you after graduation?  

The ball is still pretty cloudy, but I think I may be working as a financial analyst at the firm where I interned, working up the Wall Street career track managing money. Or I may be working at a small tech company trying to make it big. I’m set on starting to work, at least  for a while, right after graduation. I’ll probably return to school at some point to get a graduate degree to remain competitive in the workforce.

What has a liberal arts education at the University of Richmond meant to you?

It means I can get my hands into diverse academic areas and meet creative minds in many different fields. For instance, at a tech school I would not have been able to find both like-minded literary minds and like-minded mathematical minds, at least not as easily. Also, a liberal arts education means I’m not on a track toward a specific career (for example, an engineer), and it also means that my education isn’t merely utilitarian. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make for a more relaxed attitude because Richmond has earned its reputation for a massive workload.

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