Research Projects

Our faculty and affiliates engage in a broad range of collaborative research projects with our academic, government, and industry partners. While most of our projects expand beyond traditional disciplinary divides, we broadly categorize our work into the following areas:

Cyber and Software SystemsEcological and Environmental InformaticsHealth and Bioinformatics

Informing UN-assisted National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plans with Earth Observations: Application to Forest Integrity and Connectivity

/assets/0/122/139/6442462019/6442462024/6442462244/6442464356/5279f5c5-9418-47fe-a11b-d0e9bcf2851b.jpgPatrick Jantz
Keywords: habitat fragmentation, forest integrity, connectivity, biodiversity, united nations development program, remote sensing
Human activities are increasingly fragmenting intact habitats and reducing connectivity among protected areas. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is working with 135 countries to implement National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plans (NBSAPs) to minimize and mitigate impacts of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity. We are working closely with the UNDP to (1) develop satellite-based products that are global in extent, but also relevant at the regional level for mapping forest integrity and assessing habitat fragmentation and connectivity; and (2) use the products to inform a decision support system (DSS) hosted by the UN Global Pulse Lab that includes tools for summarizing regional data, evaluating forest condition and trends, and communicating results to stakeholders.  These products and tools have the potential to improve the transparency, consistency and sustainability of land use decisions in developing countries.
/assets/0/122/139/6442462019/6442462024/6442462244/6442464356/02e29275-6c5c-4be3-939f-db639327e21e.pngScott Goetz
Keywords: vulnerability, resilience, remote sensing, tree-ring studies, greening, browning, biome shift
This project’s integration of remote sensing and tree-ring studies of vegetation will yield a comprehensive assessment of the impact of climatic and environmental change on tree and shrub growth across the taiga and tundra ecosystems of northwestern North America, provide insight into their vulnerability and resilience, and allow inferences to be made on how they are likely to be altered in the future.  Tree and shrub growth in the Arctic is important because it regulates climate through a range of feedback mechanisms that are not only complex but also rapidly changing with climate warming. 
/assets/0/122/139/6442462019/6442462024/6442462244/6442464356/e5b558d3-836a-4330-98fa-155717e0de9e.pngScott Goetz
Keywords: CO2 flux, climate change, productivity, respiration, process model, boreal, arctic
During the last half century, the magnitude of seasonal variability in CO2 exchange has increased by 30-50% in high latitude environments, with two thirds of this change attributed to increased CO2 flux in boreal forest and arctic tundra.  Mechanisms for this change have been identified but the relative contributions of each of these mechanisms are not well understood.  Given that these increases in seasonal CO2 flux impact carbon cycling and climate feedback in boreal forest and tundra ecosystems, it is important to fully understand the underlying mechanisms.
/assets/0/122/139/6442462019/6442462024/6442462244/6442464356/57413745-6b08-4f81-87aa-4360695d137d.pngScott Goetz
Keywords: LiDAR, canopy height, canopy structure, aboveground biomass, surface topography, international space station, carbon cycle, biodiversity
GEDI is a NASA Earth Venture mission designed to build, launch and install a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) instrument on the International Space Station, and derive a suite of forest canopy structure and biomass products.  The GEDI LiDAR will fire billions of laser shots at the surface over the earth over its 2-year operational period (2019-2020) that will allow the science team to map forest canopy heights, canopy three-dimensional structure, aboveground biomass and surface topography with unprecedented accuracy.  GEDI data products will be useful for a range of science applications with societal benefits, including informing models of carbon and water cycling processes, biodiversity and habitat mapping, weather forecasting, forest management, glacier and snowpack monitoring, and more accurate elevation models of the earth's surface.  NAU Professor Scott Goetz is the GEDI Deputy Principal Investigator for Science, and NAU Research Associate Professor Patrick Jantz is a co-investigator.  
/assets/0/122/139/6442462019/6442462024/6442462244/6442464356/5a908242-837a-48c2-86cb-db87ad9932cc.jpgScott Goetz
Keywords: arctic tundra, boreal forest, remote sensing, climate change, modeling, vegetation, mapping, shrub, lichen
This project, part of the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), is designed to assess the evidence for vegetation changes and transitions consistent with expectations of a biome shift resulting from changing climate in the high latitudes of North America.  We are investigating the implications of such a shift on both flora and fauna, and exploring options for resource management adaptation to change.
/assets/0/122/139/6442462019/6442462024/6442462244/6442464356/e5930ee0-0463-46a5-b726-01d00c16713a.jpgScott Goetz
Keywords: environmental change, climate change, resilience, ecosystem ecology, ecosystem dynamics, arctic, boreal
ABoVE is a large-scale NASA-led study of environmental change, including climate change, in Arctic & boreal regions and the implications for ecological systems and society.  The overarching ABoVE Science Question is "How vulnerable or resilient are ecosystems and society to environmental change in the Arctic and boreal region of western North America?"  NAU Professor Goetz is the Lead of the ABoVE Science Team.

Understanding Tropical Forest Productivity

Chris Doughty
Keywords: Carbon cycling, Remote sensing, Climate change, Tropical forests
Every year tropical forests uptake about 18% of human CO2 emissions, likely due to CO2 fertilization effects and increased forest productivity, but this uptake may be decreasing. At some point, such fertilization effects will decrease as tropical forest growth is limited by climate change induced droughts and those human caused CO2 emissions will remain in the atmosphere further increasing global warming.

High-Level Parallel Programming

Frédéric Loulergue
Keywords: Programming languages, parallel programming, calable computing
If parallel programming is to become as widespread as sequential programming, the languages supporting it should incorporate all the standard abstraction mechanisms including higher order functions, recursion, pattern matching, etc. Yet for such languages to be practical scalable programming tools, abstraction should not come at the price of predictable performance.

UAV Tracking System for Monitoring Wildlife

Paul Flikkema
Keywords: Unmanned aerial vehicle, radio telemetry, wildlife tracking
Current methods of locating and tracking small tagged animals are hampered by the inaccessibility of their habitats. The high costs, risk to human safety, and small sample sizes resulting from current radio telemetry methods limit our understanding of the movement and behaviors of many species. UAV-based technologies promise to revolutionize a range of ecological field study paradigms due to the ability of a sensing platform to fly in close proximity to rough terrain at very low cost.

Analysis and Certification of Parallel Programs

Frédéric Loulergue
Keywords: Parallel and concurrent programming, deductive verification, interactive theorem proving, static analysis, program refinment and generation
With the current generalization of parallel architectures and increasing requirement of parallel computation arises the concern of applying formal methods, which allow specifications of parallel and distributed programs to be precisely stated and the conformance of an implementation to be verified using mathematical techniques.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Expand Geoinformatics Research at NAU

Temuulen Sankey
Keywords: unmanned aerial vehicale, geoinformatics, environmental informatics, ecological informatics
Dr. Sankey recently acquired a custom-engineered octocopter UAV. The UAV has a unique capability to carry a large payload including a hyperspectral sensor, which images the Earth surface in over 300 spectral bands at 5 cm resolution, and a lidar scanner, which images the land surface and vegetation in 3-dimensions.

Role of Animals in Distributing Nutrients

Chris Doughty
Keywords: Animal nutrient distribution, Diffusion models, Ecosystem ecology.
Earth system models operate in a world without animals: they largely assume that animals have negligible effects on global processes. Chris Doughty has developed models that indicate that large animals may play important roles in regional and global biogeochemical cycles.

Microbial Forensics via Minority and Rare Variant Profiles

Viacheslav Fofanov
Keywords: bioinformatics, microbial forensics
Our work aims to address one of the major questions in microbial forensics: "did query sample A come from source sample B"? Here, we leverage the advances in High Throughput Sequencing technologies to enable sample attribution via rare variants - SNPs and indels present in very low frequencies in bacterial populations (as low as 0.1%).

Cybersecurity with Secure Elements

Bertrand Cambou
Keywords: Cybersecurity, Physically Unclonable Functions, True Random Number Generators, ReRAM.
This research project is focused on hardware-software solutions based on Secure Elements (micro-controllers with embedded secure memories), components that are widely distributed on terminals, mobile devices, banking cards, ID/passports, and Internet of Things.

Detecting an Invasive Species in the Grand Canyon

Temuulen Sankey
Keywords: ecological informatics, invasive species
Tamarisk trees have invaded many riparian ecosystems across the southwestern US. A bio-control agent, known as the tamarisk beetle, was introduced in the Grand Canyon, Arizona in 2009 to control the invasive tamarisk. Using high-resolution multispectral images and 3-dimensional lidar data, we are quantifying the impact of the tamarisk beetle on tamarisk distribution and individual tree biomass.

Runtime Architectural Visualization

John Georgas
Keywords: software engineering, visualization
This newly-initiated project is focused on developing the next generation of architectural visualization techniques that both integrate animated elements showing runtime system behavior and also explore fundamentally different types of visualization approaches that leverage color and three-dimensional shapes to better support understanding the behavior and interactions of software module.

Climate Change and Plant Community Composition in the Southwestern US

Temuulen Sankey
Keywords: ecological informatics, climate change
We are conducting a regional analysis to determine how dryland plant communities in the southwestern US respond to climate change. We integrate past local and regional patterns in climate with long-term vegetation datasets to identify plant species and functional types that increase or decrease with climate change.

SEGA Cyberinfrastructure

Paul Flikkema
Keywords: cyber-physical systems, ecological informatics, real-time streaming systems
SEGA cyberinfrastructure (CI) will form a critical component of SEGA’s network of experimental gardens. It will be a fully integrated cyber-physical design, with physical control of temperature across a 1500-m elevational gradient and cyber control of water availability using a sensor-actuator network.

Pathogen Detection and Transmission in Wildlife Reservoirs

Viacheslav Fofanov
Keywords: bioinformatics, pathogen detection,
Our group is working on developing, testing, and implementing accurate and cost-effective bacterial and fungal pathogen detection approaches to enable sustainable long-term monitoring and surveillance of wildlife reservoirs. Our focus is on one such important wild animal order, Chiroptera (bats), which is a very successful mammalian order with more than 1,200 species of bats distributed across all regions of the planet, except the Arctic, Antarctic, and some island chains.

Design Challenges and Stories: Reflective Design Learning

John Georgas
Keywords: software engineering, pedagogy, reflective design learning
This project is investigating strategies to better foster design learning in undergraduate computer science courses and centers on constructivist learning theories, particularly reflection-based learning. Our approach focuses on the centrality of structured reflection over a design problem -- called a design challenge -- to result in a reflective narrative -- called a design story.