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Computer scientist and physicist wins Cottrell Scholar Award | Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine

Computer scientist and physicist wins Cottrell Scholar Award |  Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine

CU Boulder’s Orit Peleg will use this support to launch a new interdisciplinary investigation into the physics of Firefly communications


Orit Peleg, a computer scientist and physicist from the University of Colorado at Boulder, has won a 2022 Cottrell Scholar Award, which honors and supports early-career scientists who have the potential to become leaders in their fields.

Peleg, an assistant professor of computer science and at the CU Boulder BioFrontiers Institute, is one of 24 scholars to win this year’s award, which comes with $100,000 in research support. The prize is awarded annually by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA), which announced the recipients this month.

Peleg, which is also affiliated with the departments of Physics, Applied Mathematics, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, focuses on understanding how biological communication signals are generated and interpreted.

At the top of the page: Orit Peleg’s research will focus on the physics of firefly communications and how these communication signals are generated and interpreted (Photo credit: Fred Huang via Flickr). Above: Orit Peleg is a computer scientist and physicist at CU Boulder.

“These outstanding faculty members are chosen not only for their research and teaching programs, but also for their potential to become academic leaders at their institutions and beyond,” said RCSA President and CEO. , Daniel Linzer.

Recipients are chosen through a rigorous peer review process of nominations from a wide variety of public and private research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions in the United States and Canada. Their price proposals incorporate both research and science education.

In describing the Cottrell-supported work she will do on the physics of firefly communications, Peleg notes that our world is full of living creatures that must communicate information to survive and reproduce.

“A better understanding of how these communication signals are generated and interpreted – an important challenge in ecology – could benefit from physics and mathematics, through the application of concepts such as energy cost, compression and detectability” , she wrote.

She proposes working with swarms of fireflies, which offer a “rare avenue in this interdisciplinary endeavor, as their signals are purely visual, approximately digital, and traceable, even in large crowded groups of individuals”.

Recent advances in field and virtual reality technologies allow scientists to probe deeper than ever before and investigate deep questions about signal design strategies, broadcast and processing, she said, adding:

“My extensive experience in quantitative studies of insect swarms and my mastery of theoretical and experimental approaches place me in a unique position to develop a deeper understanding of animal communication through testable phenomenological theories.”

As a Cottrell Fellow, Peleg will also develop a course titled “Physics, Artificial Intelligence, and the Generative Art of Agent-Based Models,” which will encourage a “Feynman-like joy” in learning, she writes, referring to the physicist Richard Feynman.

Building on materials from the multi-agent systems class she piloted at CU Boulder, Peleg will increase the accessibility of the classroom through interdisciplinary visual experiences, she said.

“The visual component will be aligned with my current research on firefly behavior, with content inspired by and linked to the research proposal. As multi-agent systems have long been used to seed generative works of art, the course will will build on these aesthetic expressions while teaching students the physics and artificial intelligence of multi-agent systems.

Peleg said she was honored to have her work recognized by the RCSA: “It means so much to me that the research and education that I am passionate about resonates with others as well. I am incredibly grateful to the many mentors and mentees I have had over the years. I wouldn’t be able to do this without them. »

My extensive experience in quantitative studies of insect swarms and my mastery of theoretical and experimental approaches place me in a unique position to develop a deeper understanding of animal communication through testable phenomenological theories.

Peleg joined the CU Boulder faculty in 2018. She holds a PhD in Materials Science from ETH Zürich, Switzerland. She also holds an MS and BS in Physics and Computer Science from Bar-Ilan University, Israel.

She is the fourth CU Boulder faculty member to be named a Cottrell Scholar. The others are physicist Dennis Perepelitsa in 2020, physicist Cindy Regal in 2014, and chemist Gordana Dukovic in 2013.

“The Class of 2022 joins an innovative and impactful community,” said Silvia Ronco, RCSA Senior Program Director. “We look forward to seeing these latest winners leave their mark on the face of science and academia throughout their careers.”

The awards are named after educator, inventor and scientific visionary Frederick Gardner Cottrell, who founded the Research Corporation for Science Advancement in 1912.

RCSA is a private foundation that funds basic research in the physical sciences at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. It creates and supports inclusive communities of early career researchers through two main programs: the Cottrell Fellowship Program and Scialog.