Featured Researcher: Dr. Elizabeth Sklar


Dr. Elizabeth Sklar, professor of Computer and Information Science and director of the Multimedia Computing Program at Brooklyn College, brings a small group of aspiring undergraduate researchers into her Agents Lab each year to participate in the MetroBotics program. MetroBotics is a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) project funded by the National Science Foundation, and is unique in that it is the only REU within the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) field that runs for the full academic year. The REU, currently in its fourth year, is composed of five students from three CUNY senior colleges. These undergraduate MetroBotics fellows delve deeply into an independent research project under the mentorship of Elizabeth Sklar and Dr. Simon Parsons, co-directors of the lab.

The research conducted in the Agents Lab focuses on agent-based and multiagent systems research. Drs. Sklar and Parsons examine how teams of robots interact with one another and with human operators, which can be applied to the development of search and rescue robots. Most search and rescue teams currently utilize a single high-end robot. The goal of Dr. Sklar’s research is to design a fleet of inexpensive robots that is as capable as one high-end robot in a search and rescue context. These teams could be significantly more cost-effective for emergency situations in which robots could potentially be damaged.

The research involves algorithmic development to improve communication between the individual robots and between the robot team and the human operators. Teams of search and rescue robots must be capable of reconfiguring in the event that one robot drops out. The robots must also be able to preprocess data and identify significant information before relaying it to the human operators, which prevents an unmanageable amount of data being sent to the operators in an emergency situation.

The undergraduate MetroBotics fellows are introduced to the Agents Lab through informal seminars given by Sklar, Parsons and PhD students on various subjects related to robotics research, such as engineering and computer science. They are then given the opportunity to choose a research question to examine within the scope of the lab’s research. Students work in the lab for twelve hours a week for the duration of the academic year and present their findings at the Brooklyn College Science Day, held annually in May.

Dr. Sklar benefitted from a mentored research experience as an undergraduate at Barnard College and began working as a mentor while employed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratories. However, it was during her time as a junior faculty member at Columbia University that she gained extensive experience working closely with undergraduate students in a lab setting; this experience taught her how to be an effective mentor and how to maintain a high level of enthusiasm in the lab. Since the inception of the MetroBotics program in 2009, Dr. Sklar has mentored 32 undergraduate students from seven CUNY campuses.

Dr. Sklar will be on leave for the 2013-2014 academic year as she is a recent recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award. She will be spending four months at Kings College in London as well as working as a research fellow at the University of Liverpool. Three of Sklar’s colleagues from the environmental science and computer science departments at Brooklyn College will be taking over the MetroBotics program in her absence.

By providing undergraduate students with an intensive, hands-on mentored research experience, the MetroBotics program gives its participants the opportunity to apply what is learned in the classroom to meaningful research experiences and to develop skills that will aid them in their academic and professional careers. Elizabeth Sklar’s REU program contributes to CUNY’s goal of institutionalizing undergraduate research across all our campuses.


Other REU Projects at CUNY

  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Satellite and Ground-Based Remote Sensing to NOAA-CREST
    PIs: Dr. Reginald Blake & Dr. Pamela Brown, New York City College of Technology
  • An Invitation to Basic and Applied Science of Psychology: Research Experiences for Undergraduates at Baruch College
    PI: Dr. Jaihyun Park, Baruch College
  • Intensive Mentored Research Experience for Undergraduates in Clinical, Cognitive, and Behavioral Neuroscience at an Urban Public College
    PI: Dr. Laura A. Rabin, Brooklyn College
  • REU Site: Research Opportunities in Biology
    PIs: Christine Li & Jonathan Levitt
  • Earth and Planetary Science and Astrophysics REU at the American Museum of Natural History in Collaboration With the City University of New York
    PIs: Charles Liu, College of Staten Island

 To learn more about the NSF REU program, visit: www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/reu