CAREER Award Focuses on Framework for Learning Complex Network Dynamics

UAlbany Assistant Professor Abram Magner stands in front of his white board with equations in the background. (Photo by Brian Busher)
Assistant Professor of Computer Science Abram Magner has received a prestigious NSF CAREER Award to examine complex network dynamics. (Photo by Brian Busher)

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 25, 2024) — Complex networks can come in multiple forms, from the human body to the interstate highway system. Within each network, dynamic processes are constantly unfolding, from brain activity to ocean currents.

For UAlbany computer scientist Abram Magner, these processes and the complex networks they inhabit offer an opportunity to develop novel, data-driven learning models.

Magner, an assistant professor in the College of Nanotechnology, Science, and Engineering, was awarded a $584,993 grant from the National Science Foundation for his project,  “CAREER: Theoretical Foundations for Learning Network Dynamics.”

At the core of Magner’s research is the development of machine-learning algorithms that can improve and provably estimate the accuracy of the models.

“The networked nature of dynamic processes brings additional challenges for assessing model accuracy,” said Magner. “What we aim to do with this project is to develop a new mathematical framework to understand the way these processes unfold on complex systems.”

Magner’s project also will provide rigorous techniques for validation and interpretation of the models he develops. These advances should result in improved model validation, accuracy, efficiency and interpretability, which could be applied across numerous domains.

“These new models could be applied to such diverse fields as epidemiology, social networks, electrical power grids, supply chain networks and nutrient diffusion processes in agriculture,” said Magner.

Through the project, Magner will mentor underrepresented doctoral, undergraduate and high school students, something that has already started with two math problem sessions for students in the Capital Region earlier this year.

He’s also looking to collaborate with domain experts in agriculture and a develop a boot camp on machine learning and statistics for network dynamics.

“Being awarded a CAREER grant from the NSF is not an easy goal to meet. It can take several years to develop the integrated research and education proposal that is expected by NSF review panels and program directors — and there is only one submission window each year. We are very proud of Abram and the high caliber work that he has already produced both in the lab and in the classroom,” said CNSE Dean Michele J. Grimm. “This grant will allow him to springboard to the next phase of his career as a scientist and educator. He continues an outstanding history within the college, with faculty earning seven CAREER awards since 2019.”

“At UAlbany, AI Plus comes in many flavors, including this type of theoretical investigation into applying machine learning to network problems," said Computer Science Professor and Chair Jeff Offutt. "The Computer Science Department is incredibly proud of Abram for winning this most prestigious award, and we very much look forward to the great research results to come from his project. Abram is the fifth member of the CS department to win this award, a remarkable accomplishment for such a small group.”

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award is a National Science Foundation-wide activity that offers the most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.