Russell Bent - Featured alumnus (2006 Newsletter)

In Russell Bent’s junior year at Rochester he began an independent study project with Lane Hemaspaandra, grad student Gabriel Istrate and fellow undergraduate Mike Schear. His work on error correcting codes, which resulted in a refereed journal publication his senior year, changed the direction of his life. Up until that research experience, Russ hadn’t even considered graduate school as an option. Working on that particular project showed him that research was both exciting and interesting and that grad school could be in his future.

Russ began his Ph.D. studies at Brown University in the fall of 2000 and found that his previous research provided him with a strong foundation. He explained, “ It takes many students time to adjust from the undergrad environment where you know all the problems have a solution, to a graduate environment where you do not know if there exists an answer to your research problem or if you are even asking the right question!” Having done research at UR, his adjustment seemed more seamless than some of his fellow students. The transition to the CS Department at Brown was also quite smooth as the departments are similar in their close-knit feel. The size of the faculty and student body is also comparable. Both departments emphasize the success of each individual student and not a quota system found at some schools. It’s no wonder that five of our URCS alumni have begun their PhD studies at Brown in recent years.

Bent completed his Ph.D. in the spring of ’05. Along with his advisor, Pascal VanHenterick, they have a book to be released this fall. Look for “Online Stochastic Combinatorial Optimization” from MIT Press (ISBN0262220806) coming soon to a bookstore near you! Soon after graduation he moved to New Mexico to work at Los Alamos National Labs. He found right away that LANL is a nice combination of academia & industry. Russell enjoys the opportunity to do basic research in conjunction with projects that have direct application to existing technological challenges. The future holds much to be discovered in the field of combinatorial optimization. His current work is in the area of (infrastructure and network) analysis and development. What is interesting to him is to see that many infrastructure research problems can be characterized as optimization problems (think scheduling, routing, etc) so there is a very direct application of his graduate studies to his current programmatic work at the lab. He sees a critical component of his future work hinging on identifying and solving the basic underlying optimization problems inherent to infrastructure problems. The intent is that through understanding these core problems he can both advance the field of optimization and apply this understanding to problems that arise in practice.

It’s not all about work for Bent & his wife Sabrina. The move from Providence to New Mexico has been exciting for both of them. Though they are farther away from family and friends, the sunshine isn’t hard to adjust to! They spend their free time exploring the wildlands of New Mexico, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing, and hope one day to have reached the highest point in each of the fifty states.

When asked what part of his undergrad education at Rochester has influenced him the most, Russ responded that though the concept is somewhat vague, it was learning how to think like a computer scientist. Bent says from a theoretical perspective, for example, when considering a problem (research or application), what will be an effective algorithm to solve the problem and what guarantees on performance, solution quality, etc, can be provided. It also ranges all the way to implementation in terms of how to actually convert the algorithm to something that can be used effectively and efficiently to explore the problem being considered. This skill to think as a scientist, and Lane Hemapaandra’s strong influence to encourage Russ to apply to graduate school, have had a considerable impact and have contributed to Bent’s success today.