Apr 24, 2018 By Victoria Grdina
Junior Colton Harper traveled to Honolulu last week to present his paper at IEEE INFOCOM 2018.
The paper, “Estimating Information Exchange Performance of Engineered Cell-to-Cell Molecular Communications: A Computational Approach,” examines the implementation of molecular communication through computational methods. The paper was co-authored by Harper, computer science and engineering assistant professor Dr. Massimiliano Pierobon, and Dr. Maurizio Magarini of Politecnico di Milano (PoliMi) in Milan, Italy.
Harper was able to travel to Hawaii for the conference with Pierobon thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Harper began his research with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s interdisciplinary iGEM team in 2016 and continued it through Pierobon’s MBite lab. After being accepted into the university’s McNair Scholars graduate prep program, Harper had the opportunity to conduct additional summer research advised by Pierobon, who suggested he submit a paper on his research to INFOCOM.
“Being on the iGEM team last year gave him a lot of knowledge that is not usually the knowledge of a computer science student,” Pierobon said. “He was in the wet lab. He was working with cells and petri dishes for several months. I think that gave him an open mind on this topic. It’s very difficult to get that.”
Harper’s paper presents the idea of developing metrics to engineer and measure information exchange at the molecular level. It explains the importance of this idea and introduces a computational model, developed by Harper, used to run cell communication simulations and collect data to prove its potential impact.
“It’s very simplistic, but it’s practical for us because what we aim to do is develop communication theory metrics for biology, which, to my knowledge, has never been done before,” Harper said.
The biological paper topic was also new to INFOCOM, and was the first to examine computer communication metrics in an engineered cell-to-cell communication system using biological circuits, as well as chemical noise in the system.
“The striking thing is that not many people submit INFOCOM papers talking about bio,” Pierobon said. “I think that we’re creating something within the community that’s totally new.”
Harper’s paper was one of only 309 selected for presentation out of 1,606 submissions. Papers are also selected through a thorough triple-blind review process. Most papers are written and submitted to INFOCOM by faculty and graduate students, and undergraduate acceptances are extremely rare.
“It really is an honor. Dr. Pierobon, McNair and I all worked hard to get this paper ready in such a short timeline, so it’s nice to see that it worked out,” Harper said. “I’m really interested in going into academia, and it’s such a great experience to learn this process.”
Congratulations to Colton and Dr. Pierobon on this exceptional achievement!