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Updated: 32 min 10 sec ago

Notes from Department Head Cal Ribbens

Tue, 2017-02-14 09:44

Today we are seeing a large spike in undergraduate computer science enrollment.  There have been two previous spikes in CS, one in the late 80’s (following the debut of the PC) and one in the early 2000’s (the “dot com boom”).  So here we go again?  Is this another enrollment bubble?  This one feels different to me.  While the current growth rate will surely level out, I believe CS enrollments will be sustainably high for the foreseeable future.  Computing is just so pervasive, and a CS degree is such good preparation for deep computational thinking and creative problem solving—exactly what is needed to address virtually all of the most important problems and opportunities society faces today.  And as we make progress on broadening participation in our field to include historically under-represented groups, the potential for new talent and growth is even more exciting.

Here are a few numbers, to give you a sense of CS undergraduate enrollment trends at Virginia Tech.  This year we will award almost 250 bachelor’s degrees, our largest group ever, and almost twice the size of the class that graduated only four years ago.  Our current sophomore class numbers 341, a number which ranks second in the College of Engineering, trailing only Mechanical Engineering.  The average GPA of this group is an impressive 3.37.

We are thrilled at the number of talented students that are streaming into our field!  It is a great privilege to help the next generation build on what has come before.  In a future post, I’ll have more to say about the great jobs our students are moving into, and about the exciting growth we are experiencing in other dimensions of the department.


Daphne Yao running for office!

Thu, 2017-02-09 15:30

Dr. Danfeng Yao, associate professor in computer science and Elizabeth and James E. Turner Jr. ’56 Faculty Fellow, will run for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) SIGSAC secretary/treasurer officer position this spring. SIGSAC is the ACM’s society on security, audit and control. “I feel quite excited about the possibility of serving the community”, Dr. Yao said.  Her candidate statement is below.

ACM SIGSAC is a strong, successful, and inclusive organization. I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to serve this large international community that makes my 15-year academic life interesting and fulfilling. Besides the duties of managing SIGSAC finances and correspondences, the secretary/treasurer officer will be a member of the executive committee and participate in decisions that improve SIGSAC’s ability to support its members. Several challenges that I hope to help address include encouraging constructiveness in paper reviews, supporting women in security, and facilitating international exchanges. From serving on numerous PCs I found that security paper reviews tend to be overly negative and sometimes inconsistent, leaving junior researchers confused and discouraged. This is partly due to the critical nature of security and the breadth of the field. However, I believe that constructive criticisms foster our scientific community without reducing its competitiveness. I am also committed to increasing women’s participation in security. Diverse groups with the capacity of anticipating and working with alternative viewpoints are more innovative. The immense task of securing cyberspace demands a diverse and sustainable workforce.  Through organizing workshops and exchange programs, I will help create opportunities to broaden the participation of female security professionals around the world.

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Danfeng Yao

Technology on the Trail

Thu, 2017-02-09 12:35

Through support from Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, Center for Human Computer Interaction, and Computer Science Department, we are beginning an initiative we call Technology on the Trail.

This initiative seeks to explore the influences, both positive and negative, of technology when used on extended trail hikes and similar activities. Technology is often targeted for use in heavily populated urban environments, but thousands of people take technology away from cities on their hiking adventures, raising questions about appropriate use when in a more isolated and natural environment. These environments provide some level of separation for most people from technologies, but a need for community and communication still exists for hikers and their friends and family. Widely available technologies and apps, including mobile devices, GPS, biometric sensors, photo and video apps, and mobile blogging tools allow the capture of data and information related to a hike, but the right ways to use it are not well understood.

Our Technology on the Trail initiative seeks to understand and develop ways that technology is used (or avoided!) on trails and in trail-like settings, such as extended and multi-day hikes, where different user goals and desires affect our behaviors and interactions with others.

We have divided this initiative into three main thrusts: preparation, experience, and reflection.

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Scott McCrickard


Naren Ramakrishnan and colleagues explore big data analytics to plan for smart communities of the future

Wed, 2017-02-08 10:58

We already have smartphones, smart clothing, and smart appliances, but emerging “smart cities” are still a concept of our imagined future. A Virginia Tech team wants those smart cities to feature zero energy, zero outage, and zero congestion. Their tools: big data and interdisciplinary technology.

Walid Saad, the Stephen O. Lane Junior Faculty Fellow and assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering; Harpreet Dhillon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering and director of the Discovery Analytics Center in the Department of Computer Science, are leading a three-year, $1.4 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to develop a new planning framework for smart, connected, and sustainable communities.


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Danfeng Yao recognized as the VT Scholar of the Week

Mon, 2017-02-06 09:45

Dr. Danfeng Yao, associate professor in computer science and Elizabeth and James E. Turner Jr. ’56 Faculty Fellow, is being recognized as the Scholar of the Week by the Office of the Vice President for Research.

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Danfeng Yao

Kurt Luther Awarded NSF CAREER Award

Fri, 2017-02-03 08:49

Dr. Kurt Luther, assistant professor of computer science, has been awarded an NSF CAREER award for his project entitled “Transforming Investigative Science and Practice with Expert‐Led Crowdsourcing.”  The prestigious NSF CAREER award recognizes creative and high-impact research proposals submitted by early-career faculty members.  Dr. Luther’s project will study how best to combine experts and crowds to improve the effectiveness, ethics, and efficiency of investigations, with applications in domains such as history, journalism, and national security.

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Dr. Kurt Luther

3rd Virginia Tech High School Programming Competition

Wed, 2017-01-25 12:40

The 3rd Virginia Tech High School programming competition took place on Saturday, Dec 10, 2017. Dr. Godmar Back served as contest director and head judge. 101 teams from 25 high schools from 5 states took part at the 3rd online Virginia Tech High School contest that is run by volunteers from the ACM ICPC Programming Team at Virginia Tech. This was the first year that the event was advertised on a national site (Google CS4HS), which attracted teams from California, Alabama, North Carolina, and Maryland in addition to teams from Virginia.

The popularity of the event continues to expand. The competition has grown in 3 years from 24 to 58 to 101 teams. Dr. Back said, “We know that there is demand for more”.

More than 1,200 submission was entered in 5 hours, with 430 successful solutions. You can find the scoreboard and problem set (html, pdf). 100 out of 101 teams solved at least one, 56 solved 4 or more. The problems were developed by students from the programming team (Neha Kapur, Peter Steele, Harrison Fang, Daniel Moyer, Andriy Katkov) and Dr. Back.  Much to Dr. Back’s surprise, 4 teams solved all 10 problems (one in half the time).

To participate, teams needed to be sponsored by a teacher or parent coach. At most schools, the students got together at their school for the day with their teacher to participate in the contest. Teachers from several schools provided very positive and expressed that their students enjoyed the contest.

This year, for the first time, a team from Blacksburg High School participated. Prizes were sponsored by Eastman Chemical, the Computer Science Resources Consortium, and stack@cs

More detailed information about this year’s contest can be found here. Please spread the word about this contest to colleagues or teachers!



Virginia Tech Team Victorious at ACM-ICPC Regionals

Wed, 2017-01-25 12:21

For the fourth straight year a team from Virginia Tech has qualified for the prestigious ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) World Finals.  This year’s Mid-Atlantic regional contest, held on November 5, included 177 teams from over 100 schools.   Under the leadership of Dr. Godmar Back, ten Virginia Tech three-person teams participated in the regional contest this year.  The team consisting of CS majors Peter Steele, Chris Wu, and Andriy Katkov finished first.  They will be representing Virginia Tech at the 41st World Finals, to be held this coming May in Rapid City, SD.

The performance of all the Virginia Tech teams was outstanding, with four teams finishing in the top 14, and eight in the top 30.  According to Dr. Back, “I need to acknowledge the enthusiasm and hard work of all involved. This year, I had a group of 60-70 dedicated students that attended the Saturday practices. We did five full (five hour) practices on Saturdays during October and September, plus a qualification contest the week before, plus an additional six virtual contests on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I would also like to thank our sponsors, Eastman Chemical, stack@cs, and the CSRC!”

Congratulations to all the ICPC participants:

“PriorityQueues for President” – Peter Steele, Chris Wu, Andriy Katkov

“HashSets for President” – Jeff Robertson, Christy Coghlan, Nathan Lahn

“LinkedLists for President” – Andy Sin, Shengzhe Xu, Geson Chong

“TreeSets for President” – Daniel Moyer, Jamie Simon, Ariana Herbst

“ArrayDeques for President” – Eric Williamson, Lance Chao, Harrison Fang

“Hashtables for President” – Stu Harvey, Daniel Amick, Drew Maczugowski

“BitSets for President” – Luke Wolff, Andrew Lahann, Swaraj Dhumne

“TreeMaps for President” – Bryce Humphrey, Ryan Berft, Alexander Glasson

“ArrayLists for President” – Raju Nadimpalli, JooYoung Whang, Yevhen Pylypenko

“HashMaps for President” – Hunter Morris, Jameson Dyer, Bright Zheng


Godmar Back

Dr. Ed Fox named an IEEE Fellow

Mon, 2017-01-09 14:04

Dr. Edward Fox, professor of computer science, has been named an IEEE Fellow for leadership in digital libraries and information retrieval.

The IEEE Fellow grade is conferred by the IEEE Board of Directors upon a person with an outstanding record of accomplishments in any of the IEEE fields of interest. The total number selected in any one year cannot exceed one-tenth of one-percent of the total voting membership. IEEE Fellow is the highest grade of membership and is recognized by the technical community as a prestigious honor and an important career achievement.

Dr. Fox directs the Digital Library Research Laboratory and the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations.  He is known for extraordinary contributions to technology-enriched learning activities in the classroom. When asked what this honor means to him, Dr. Fox said, “It is always an honor to be recognized in such a way and I’m grateful for all the people who have worked with me over the years.”

Fox has held multiple leadership positions in IEEE.  He is a member of the IEEE Thesaurus Editorial Board and a member of the Executive Committee of the Technical Committee on Digital Libraries; he served as chair of TCDL from 2004 to 2008. He has been an IEEE Senior Member since 2004. He was on the editorial board of IEEE Multimedia from 1997-2003. Fox was General Chair for the ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries in 2001, and has served on the JCDL steering committee since 2003, including as chair from 2010 to 2014. Fox also has served on the program committee of many IEEE conferences and workshops.

Fox has been (co)PI on over 123 funded projects.  He has co-authored and/or edited 18 books, and (co)authored 120 journal/magazine articles, 49 book chapters, and 211 refereed conference/workshop papers. These are in areas including digital libraries, information storage and retrieval, machine learning/AI, computational linguistics (NLP), hypertext/hypermedia/multimedia, computing education, and electronic publishing.  His work has been cited more than 14940 times and his h-index is 56 according to Google Scholar.  Fox has graduated more than 50 masters and Ph.D. students.

Dr. Ed Fox holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Computer Science from Cornell University, and a B.S. from M.I.T.  He joined the Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science in 1983.

The IEEE is the world’s leading professional association for advancing technology for humanity. Through its 400,000 plus members in 160 countries, the association is a leading authority on a wide variety of areas ranging from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power and consumer electronics.

Dedicated to the advancement of technology, the IEEE publishes 30 percent of the world’s literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields, and has developed more than 1300 active industry standards.  The association also sponsors or co-sponsors nearly 1700 international technical conferences each year.  If you would like to learn more about IEEE or the IEEE Fellow Program, please visit


Edward A. Fox

Successful corporate partnerships provide hands on learning experiences for CS students

Fri, 2016-12-16 17:24

Professor Eli Tilevich provided a great opportunity for students in his CS 4704 capstone course this fall.  Dr. Tilevich partnered with The MITRE Corporation, a member company of the department’s Computer Science Resources Consortium (CSRC) program.  The MITRE Corporation sponsored the course this fall and created hands-on learning experiences for students to work with real clients.  The MITRE Corporation managers met and one-on-one with students during the semester.  The results of the students’ hard work were displayed to company representatives on December 14.

Alexander DeRieux, Christie Goddard, Andrew Heatwole, David Pickle, Will Schrag presented on ERIS (Emergency Responder Information System)

Alex Martin, Anthony DiMarco, Riley Babcock, Victor Weiss presented onSkyBook (Aircraft Specification Aggregator)

Arman Bahraini, Zhizheng Chen, Taiwen Jin, Steffen Moseley, Sungha Song presented on GroupSafe (Group Location Safety System)

A summary of each team’s work is below:

ERIS (Emergency Responder Information System)

In times of crisis, effective communication and informed decision making can mean the difference between life and death. Modern-day first responder communication systems rely heavily on dispatch to control the flow of information among units. While this system has its merits, data flow to on the ground personnel is somewhat restricted to the speed that dispatch can process and disseminate information. In order to decrease response time, dispatch filters out much of the information they receive; some of which could actually be useful to responders. This tradeoff can lead to dangerous situations for firemen, police officers, and EMTs. ERIS aims to ease communication and data collection by creating a system to provide fast and detailed information sharing among first responders. ERIS application development was guided by the standard Android development paradigm, and utilized various APIs and SDKs to communicate with peripheral devices and remote services. The ERIS application provides users (responders) with relevant location and status information for incidents and other responders, and interacts with mobile phones and wearable computing devices (Recon Jet glasses, Motorola smartwatches, and Myo armbands) to facilitate collection and display of information.


SkyBook (Aircraft Specification Aggregator)

This project involves the aggregating, storing, and displaying of data on various types of commercial aircraft. The primary goal is to collect this data from multiple sources and make it accessible by two means: an intuitive web application and a RESTful API endpoint. This has been accomplished by utilizing a Python web-scraping library called Beautiful Soup to gather data from official manufacturer websites (Boeing, Airbus, etc) in addition to third-party sources like Aircraft Bluebook and storing that data in a SQLite database. A flexible Web API was created with use of the Django REST framework. Through making aircraft data available via these two highly useful mediums, this project resulted in a useful tool for the originally targeted users in addition to opening the door for a diverse variety of unplanned potential use cases.



GroupSafe (Group Location Safety System)

GroupSafe is an application designed to provide connectivity between all the members in a group at all times in order to ensure everyone’s safety. The goal of the application is to leverage current technologies available in modern smartphones to share and display locations on a map in real time. Users are able to create groups with unique names and passwords. Each group member shares his or her location and can chat with other members since websockets are utilized to provide a low overhead location and messaging system. In addition, the creator/host of the group can set up a radius which he/she expects everyone to be within at all time. If any member of the group is to wander past the radius set by the host, the application will send an alert to everyone in the group so they can react accordingly. For easy direct communication the app provides click to call or text. Google Maps is embedded in the app to show user locations, so in the event where a member does not respond to group chat, call, or text, everyone in the group will still be able to find the member by looking at the map. While the application was developed with college students and young adults as the primary clients in mind, other user bases may also find the app useful.



A family’s legacy continues in CS@VT

Fri, 2016-12-16 12:20

CS student Jeff Robertson will continue his family’s legacy at VT when he graduates summa cum laude on Friday, December 16.

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Notes from Department Head Cal Ribbens

Mon, 2016-12-12 14:03

This semester we embarked on a new initiative to reconnect with our alumni.  It has been great fun to meet Virginia Tech CS alumni at events in San Diego, Austin, and Arlington over the last few months.  For those of you in the Bay Area or the Seattle area, we expect to announce opportunities to reconnect in those regions soon, as well.  We see many potential benefits to spending time on these efforts. For our alumni, we want to provide a way to stay connected to an important chapter in your life.  When you crossed that stage with a diploma, you didn’t cease being a CS Hokie!  Seeing how the university and the department continue to grow and impact the world is one way to add to the significance of that chapter in your own life. These events are also a fun way to meet fellow CS alums, to share stories of how a VT education has opened doors to an incredibly wide array of fulfilling careers.  For us in the department, these interactions help us continue to improve and grow our program.  Alumni are an important stakeholder group.  Frequent interactions with you all closes a critical feedback loop that enables continuous improvement.  So thanks to all of you who we’ve seen at recent alumni events, and be on the look out for future opportunities to reconnect!


Eli Tilevich awarded grant for computational exploration of music performance and composition

Mon, 2016-12-12 13:56

Eli Tilevich, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Charles Nichols in the School of Performing Arts have received a $10,000 grant from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) to create a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program that will focus on computational exploration of music performance and composition.

The goal of the program is to introduce undergraduates, with interests and background in both computing and music, in multidisciplinary research that creates computational and artistic approaches for exploring musical scores, with possible applications for automated performance guidance and advanced musical analysis.

In addition to serving as a Computer Science faculty, Tilevich is also pursuing a parallel career as a professional clarinetist, engaged with various orchestral and chamber music ensembles nationwide as well as in solo performances. Influenced by his music background and experiences, he has recently become interested in music informatics, applying computational approaches to music.  The ideas that influenced this work stemmed from his recent work with students Galina Belolipetski and Arman Bahraini.


Eli Tilevich

Ali Butt receives grant to keep cloud connectivity robust

Mon, 2016-11-28 10:22

The world is increasingly connected through not only smart phones and email, but new and hungry gadgets, such as webcams, sensors, and monitors, which demand an ever-larger slice of the bandwidth pie.

Ali R. Butt, professor in the Department of Computer Science in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, was recently awarded a $516,000 grant to examine how to keep those gadgets from depleting the cloud computing bandwidth that the internet currently depends on.

“We are now just beginning to experience living super-interconnected lives,” said Butt. “Imagine five or 10 years from now when we will live in smart houses that use all kinds of sensors to monitor your safety, adjust the cooling or heating, and many other little devices and things that are only beginning to be used. These things require valuable computing abilities and information on the cloud to work properly and be useful.”

Butt, who also holds a courtesy appointment in electrical and computer engineering, is the principal investigator on the collaborative research project. He is partnering with Muhammad Shahzad, assistant professor of computer science from North Carolina State University, to design new techniques for massive data management and processing in the cloud, as well as study the actual nodes computers use to transfer information. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.


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Ali Butt


Barbara Ryder honored with emerita status

Mon, 2016-11-28 10:18

Barbara Ryder, professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has been conferred the title of professor emerita by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The emerita title may be conferred on retired professors, associate professors, and administrative officers who are specially recommended to the board by Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. Nominated individuals who are approved by the board receive an emeritus certificate from the university.

A member of the university community since 2008, Ryder served as head of the Department of Computer Science from 2008 until 2015. During that time, the number of undergraduate computer science degrees and majors doubled, and computer science research expenditures per tenure-track faculty member nearly tripled.

Ryder made significant contributions in teaching and research in her eight years at Virginia Tech. She had 23 research publications, including 12 in highly selective conferences and journals. She graduated one Ph.D. student, mentored three postdoctoral researchers and nine undergraduate researchers, and served on six additional Ph.D. dissertation committees.

She held the J. Byron Maupin Professorship of Engineering from 2008 until 2016, has been an Association for Computing Machinery Fellow since 1998, and is widely recognized internationally as a research expert on inter-procedural program analysis.


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Raising diversity awareness inspires career of computer science alumna

Wed, 2016-11-16 08:09

Jessica Zeitz Self had become accustomed to being in the minority.  As she made her way through the doctoral program in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, Self, who earned her Ph.D. in 2016, was always mindful of the fact that she was one of only a handful of women.  No wonder.  Women who earned undergraduate degrees in computer science in 2015 were just 18 percent of the academic population, according to the National Science Foundation.  When Self was hired as an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Mary Washington this year, she became part of a professional cadre of women that represents only 25 percent of the total STEM workforce in the industry.

Self’s collegiate experience at Virginia Tech allowed her to become a champion for diversity in her field, however. Being one of just three women out of a cohort of 40 in 2011, she made it a priority to weave diversity into her academic training.  “One of the main issues with the gender gap in computer science is that girls simply aren’t exposed to what computer science is,” said Self.

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MetaStorm: A Computational System for Customizable Metagenomic Analysis

Mon, 2016-11-14 15:18

Lenwood Heath gave the Clavius Distinguished Lecture in the Department of Computer and Information Science at Fordham University in New York City on Thursday, November 10.  Dr. Heath is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech.

MetaStorm is a joint research project with Liqing Zhang, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech, and Amy Pruden, professor in Civil & Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech.  Metagenomics is the capturing of microbial DNA sequence from environmental samples, where the environment might be soil, the ocean, or the human gut, for example.  Especially important is that such samples contain multiple species of organisms, so the DNA sequence collected originates from a variety of unknown sources.  Modern DNA sequencing results in a large number of short sequences, called reads, that are typically analyzed by using each read as a query to search a large database of known DNA or protein sequences.  The accumulated results of such searches indicate what biological entities are present in the sample and what biological functions (proteins) are performed by organisms in the sample.  Existing computational pipelines to perform these searches and subsequent analyses tend to be inflexible.  We have developed a user-customizable analysis pipeline called MetaStorm that promises to support more targeted investigations of metagenomic data sets.  MetaStorm provides the capability of assembling the reads into longer sequences, called contigs, that allow more precise identification of sequence matches.  Also, MetaStorm allows the user to provide her own specialized sequence database to guide the search for particular classes of genes, for example, antibiotic resistance genes.  MetaStorm is available as a free Web service where users upload their metagenomic data sets, select the desired analyses, and visualize the results in several novel ways.

Dr. Heath’s research interests include theoretical computer science, algorithms, graph theory, computational biology, and bioinformatics.  Dr. Heath completed a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, an M.S. in mathematics at the University of Chicago, and a B.S. in mathematics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  Before joining the faculty at Virginia Tech in 1987, he was an instructor of applied mathematics and member of the Laboratory of Computer Science at MIT.  He has supervised 11 computer science PhD students to completion and currently supervises 8 computer science graduate students.  He has worked on a number of computational biology and bioinformatics projects funded by the National Science Foundation, including the current Beacon project, which captures, represents, infers, and simulates signal transduction pathways in plants.  Other projects involve computational genomics, motif finding, and machine learning.  Work in metagenomics is a natural fit to his interests in computational genomics.


Dr. Heath

Liang Zhao, CS alumnus, named in the Top 20 New Stars in Data Mining by Microsoft

Wed, 2016-11-09 10:47

Liang Zhao, computer science Ph.D. alumnus, has been named one of the Top 20 New Stars in Data Mining, provided by Microsoft searching.  Microsoft searching mines the past 6 years of Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD) submissions and combines the big data from Microsoft to then achieve the ranking by an automatic algorithm.

Zhao was advised by Dr. Chang-Tien Lu, professor in the department of computer science at Virginia Tech.

Liang Zhao is an assistant professor in the Department of Information Sciences and Technology at the Volgenau School of Engineering. He is also affiliated with the Department of Computer Science. His research interests include data mining and machine learning, with particular emphasis on social media modeling, feature selection, and text mining. He has led the papers in prestigious conferences and journals including ACM SIGKDD, IEEE ICDM, SIAM Data Mining, PLoS One, and IEEE BigData, and served as the reviewer for leading conferences and journals such as ACM SIGKDD, ACM TKDD, IEEE ICDM, SIAM Data Mining, ACM TIST, ACM SIGSPATIAL, and Geoinformatica. He also owns two US IP discloses on social media mining.

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