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BYU IDeA Labs receive major National Science Foundation grant

Applying algorithmic decision processes to variety of problems

Brigham Young University’s Information and Decision Algorithm Laboratories or IDeA Labs was recently awarded a $700,000 grant by the National Science Foundation.

Named by the NSF review panel as the strongest proposal in its category, IDeA Labs could potentially serve as a national model for integrating teaching and research at the undergraduate level.

A collaboration of BYU's Computer Science, Mathematics and Statistics Departments, IDeA Labs focuses on the application of algorithmic decision processes to better understand methods for making decisions based on data.

“The program is not limited to students of these majors, but instead encourages students from all majors to pursue their individual interests in combination with a mathematical background,” said Katherine Tyau, IDeA Labs administrative assistant.

The program consists of four application-specific laboratories that serve as centers for research in various disciplines. The labs include the Computational Biology and Environmental Systems Lab (CBES); the Computational Economics and Financial Systems Lab (CEFS), the Operations Research and Engineered Systems Lab (ORES); and the Policy Sciences and Human Systems Laboratory (PSHS).

“Virtually any student can find a natural home in one of these lab settings,” said Tyau. “The laboratories house research projects, invite collaborations, facilitate interaction with other research groups and encourage partnerships with industry.”

Student researchers operate as industry “externs,” developing theoretical and computational tools relevant to a business partner's challenges.

“The students learn to abstract away the peculiarities of a specific business problem and generalize it into an interesting computational problem,” said Tyau. “Students are then able to address the business problems while also developing an abstract decision problem that can be published.”

For example, in collaboration with the BYU Bookstore, the CEFS Lab has developed a particularly unique test bed for its methods. Bookstore management yielded an unprecedented degree of pricing and promotional authority to the CEFS Lab. In response, the CEFS Lab is developing procedures leading to more efficient and profitable marketing and merchandising decisions.

With the additional funding from the NSF grant, IDeA Labs will be expanding its recruitment of undergraduate students.

“The common computational and mathematical core for solving abstract decision problems creates opportunities for students to move fluidly between fields,” said Tyau. “This approach not only connects undergraduate researchers to top graduate programs through external program reviewers, but also connects to various industries through a industrial partners program.”

The NSF funding will be distributed in stages as certain reviews are passed. For more information about IDeA Labs, visit or call Katherine Tyau at (801) 422-3020.

Writer: Katherine Tyau

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