Megan Olsen

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About Me (Basics)

Megan Olsen

I am currently a 5th year PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in the Department of Computer Science. I work in the BINDS Lab under the direction of Professor Hava Siegelmann. My undergraduate degree is also in Computer Science (with in minor in Mathematics), from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).



My research interests are based in Biologically Inspired Computing and Computational Biology, and include the field of Artificial Intelligence. My research is a computational biology approach to investigate the problem of cancerous cell growth in a tissue, by using mathematical and computational models to find solutions without a laboratory. This allows discovery of new ways to look at old problems, as well as creating new questions to investigate. My approach differs from the norm in cancer research as I determine ways in which the surrounding healthy tissue cells can combat tumor cells, instead of only studying the tumor itself. To accomplish this task I combine lessons from computer science about modeling and simulating complex systems with insights from biology about how normal and cancerous cells interact. My goal is to improve both fields: provide new models of tumor growth and potential cancer treatments, and reinterpret this new knowledge to identify and combat faulty computer components that would adversely affect the complex systems they support. This naturally relates to complex systems, both because cancer is a complex system and because techniques from the field of complex systems must be used to adequately model and analyze the problem.

For fun I enjoy hiking, biking, eating good food, drinking good wine, crafts, video games, and much more. I am quite the hobbyist, really. Hopefully during CSSS there will at least be time for some delicious food and drink, as well as a few beautiful hikes.


Main Interests

I really enjoy looking at emergent behavior, and investigating natural phenomena via computational mechanisms. Although my dissertation focuses on cancer and how we can both model it and use it as an inspiration for designing new multi-agent system fault tolerance techniques, I have also looked at computational models of human emotion, and neuro-degenerative diseases. After my PhD I hope to continue studying Complex Systems.

I have a list of projects with brief descriptions on my website, if you're interested in slightly more detail.


My main expertise is in Computer Science, primarily in multi-agent systems. I have also worked on projects using Cellular Automata, and Neural Networks. As much of my dissertation relates to cancer modeling, I am very familiar with cancer modeling and simulation techniques. Outside of Computer Science, I also have knowledge in Population Dynamics, Swarm Intelligence, and Nonlinear Dynamics, although I would not consider myself an expert yet in any of these fields.

I am proficient coding in C++, Java, and GL/GLUT, and have experience coding in MATLAB and Mathematica.

I am experienced with algorithm design, and have knowledge in Graph Theory and Discrete Mathematics.

SFI Complex Systems Summer School

What I Hope to Gain from CSSS

I am looking forward to taking the information I learn at SFI and applying it toward my many research directions. These 3 weeks will give me additional knowledge that will propel me forward in all of the areas I am currently working: computer modeling of cancer, computing inspired by complex systems, and mathematical modeling of dynamical systems. It will also help prepare me for future projects, as I plan to continue work on complex systems related projects, as well as multidisciplinary projects.

The opportunity to learn from those that are more advanced in their knowledge of complex systems or who approach problems from a different perspective will be extremely useful. I am looking forward to the great opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary project with other students, and especially to network and share ideas.

I also hope to receive feedback on my current projects, find new collaborators, and broaden my potential areas of future research. I wouldn't mind finding a good fit for a postdoc or professor position for when I graduate next summer, either. ;)

Project Ideas

Let me think about this for a week or two. :) At the moment I think it would be great to find some people interested in a Population Dynamics approach to some problem, maybe epidemiology or ecology? Maybe there is a field that hasn't used this type of model before that could make an interesting project? If a biologist wants to work on a cancer model obviously that would be right up my alley, too.