On Jan. 14, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) awarded about $20.6 million in grants to scientists and engineers who had applied through the Young Investigator Research Program, including to Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics, Daniel Licata. Of the 265 applicants, only 56 were presented with awards. He will receive $360,000 over three years to study “Software Verification with Directed Type Theory.”
“[The Young Investigator Research Program (YIP)] supports scientists and engineers who have received Ph.D. or equivalent degrees in the last five years and show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research,” the Air Force Research Laboratories website reads. “[The program aims to] foster creative basic research in science and engineering; enhance early career development of outstanding young investigators; and increase opportunities for the young investigator to recognize the Air Force mission and related challenges in science and engineering.”
Licata was first exposed to computer science in high school during a summer coding class. He continued his interest, taking an introductory computer science course during his first semester at Brown University. He later graduated with a B.S. in computer science and mathematics. After Brown, Licata wrote his dissertation on “Dependently Typed Programming with Domain-Specific Logics,” earning a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in computer science. He then spent a year teaching at Carnegie Mellon as a post-doctoral fellow before becoming a member of the Institute for Advance Study for a year-long program on Homotopy Type Theory. He came to the University as Assistant Professor of Computer Science in 2013.
Licata said he enjoys being at Wesleyan partly because he is in a combined math and computer science department, and this has become an important part of his research.
“I have a lot of freedom here to collaborate with math people and with computer science people,” Licata said.
The Air Force grant supports Professor Licata’s study of “Software Verification with Directed Type Theory.”
“[Software verification] is a way of writing code in such a way that you can prove that it does good things,” Licata said. “For example, it can prove that a program doesn’t crash, or it doesn’t take your credit card information, and it doesn’t use too many resources and run out of time.”
He combines mathematics and computer science, aiming to create tools that can be used to reason about software and to reason about math with the computer. This project is an extension of his dissertation, and a synthesis of knowledge and research accumulated by Licata and his colleagues over the last several years.
The Air Force grant will aid Licata’s research by allowing him to bring a collaborating postdoctorate to the University who will also teach a course or two and supervise some undergrad projects. Furthermore, the grant will provide funding for undergraduate student projects related to Licata’s research.
Licata is grateful for the help he received from Wesleyan’s Office of Corporate, Foundation, and Government Grants. Associate Director of Corporate, Foundation and Government Grants Carolyn Kaufman helped him with his 20-page grant proposal, as well as other faculty members who meticulously checked his budgets.
“He’s my favorite professor at Wesleyan,” Lex Spirtes ’17 said, “just because he’s so smart and explains things really simply and will stay and work with you. He’d stay with me until 10 at night even though he was supposed to leave an hour before just to help me out, and doesn’t rush people at all and makes people [feel] really comfortable and not stupid. I wouldn’t major in computer science if it weren’t for him.”
Aside from researching, Licata is teaching COMP212 and COMP360 this semester, the second of which covers topics important to his research project. Even if computer science is not your major, Licata encourages all students to take a computer science course during their undergraduate career.
“They’re really fun courses and especially useful for any science majors, since you’re going to end up processing all the data you’re collecting,” Licata said.