University of Vermont

The Honors College

Kameron Decker Harris: Fulbright Scholar

Kameron Harris - Fulbright Scholar

Kameron Decker Harris, a senior Honors College student majoring in Mathematics and Physics has received a Fulbright Scholarship for 2009-10 to study transportation systems in Chile. Kam will begin work on his project, entitled, "Traffic Modeling for a Busier World," in March 2010 in Valparaiso. There he will work with Andres Moreira, computer scientist with the Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria (UTFSM), as his advisor, and Eric Goles, mathematician and director of the Instituto de Sistemas Complejos de Valparaiso. In addition to his research, Kam will enter the computer science master's program at the UTFSM. Kam will use his Fulbright fellowship to study current issues related to mass traffic associated with Transantiago, the new bus system in the Chilean capital of Santiago. When this system was introduced, Kam explains, it could barely meet the needs of its users despite using state-of-the-art technology, and it became, he says, a political and social disaster for the country. Kam adds that his fellowship will allow for him to return to Valparaiso, where he studied Mathematics and Physics at Pontificia Universidad Catolica in the fall of 2007, and to investigate what an intuitive, simple traffic model can tell us about real traffic behavior as well as how to improve the Chilean public transportation system.

To investigate the dynamics of traffic, Kam will apply a mathematical model to real road networks in Chile, using a modeling paradigm called cellular automata (CA). This approach, Kam explains, will permit him to capture the most important traffic behavior in real terms and including fine detail. In this way he will be able to make use of both his math and physics knowledge by developing a model which incorporates the best properties of each.

In the first two months of his Fulbright, Kam will immerse himself in the literature on modeling of traffic systems, and then in consultation with experts he will formulate an experiment that best addresses regional-specific challenges to a traffic modeling scheme in Chile. Next he expects to develop his model, which he will then spend his remaining time refining and analyzing the results of and drawing conclusions from the data he gathers. His plan is to bring together the results of his experiment in a paper to submit to a peer review journal, and to then recommend a plan of improvements and discuss with transportation authorities in Chile how best to combine them with work already underway to upgrade the Transantiago system.

Kam credits a course taken with Professor Chris Danforth, in the UVM Mathematics and Statistics Department, Chaos, Fractals & Dynamical Systems, which first got him interested in the diverse dynamics (motion) exhibited by physical, social, biological, and technological systems that make up our world. Graduate level courses in classical and quantum mechanics followed, providing him with analytical tools for dissecting their behavior. Courses on complex systems, networks, and numerical analysis emphasized model-building and computational techniques. With Professor Danforth serving as his thesis advisor, Kam put all this knowledge to work in his Honors Thesis. Their study uses weather forecasting techniques to understand and correct for forecast error in a chaotic fluid dynamics experiment which is likened to a 'toy' climate. Mentored through the thesis process by Professor Danforth, Kam says that his thesis has strengthened his skills outside the classroom by allowing him to research independently and with other scientists and to coherently present his ideas to a technical audience.

When asked what he sees as the outcomes from his dynamic systems research, Kam says that there are numerous practical problems to investigate using traffic models. As for the Transantiago, he foresees the day when with a better-functioning system, fewer cars will be on the roads, less pollution with be in the air, and people will not have to worry about their everyday commute. He would like to think that his project will contribute in some way to bring this future nearer for the pueblo chileno.

In addition to his Fulbright research, Kam looks forward to reuniting with friends he made in Chile, as well as continuing to perfect his Spanish. The four years of Latin he took in high school was fun, he said, but when he realized that speaking it was useless, his mother hired a tutor to teach the two of them Spanish while he was still in high school, the study of which he continued at UVM. In Chile, he said, "listening and speaking with friends in vernacular chileno was a continual challenge, but because he loves the nuances of language, it allowed him to get to know himself better in a foreign country." Now, he says, "I want to continue to use the castellano language in my everyday life, study, and work." As to the future, "my focus has become math modeling," he says, and while his specific Fulbright study will be on traffic systems, he sees further modeling applications everywhere. "Perhaps," he says, "we could find ways of stabilizing or reinforcing food webs, more efficiently controlling nuclear fusion of turbulent plasma, or forecasting with less uncertainty global temperature thirty years from now. Computers may become orders of magnitude faster, and with them will come an enormous amount of data in media and the internet. I want to make my path through this jungle of information, because I sense the glimmer of gems to be found."

Before beginning to dig for the precious stones he is determined to find, Kam will study Math as a UVM graduate student until December. And then, he plans to follow his other love and work as a free style ski coach at Mad River Glen in Vermont until the spring thaws of March compel him to turn in his skies and fly south to greet the advancing fall weather of Chile, where he is told, skiing in the Andes is considered by many to be the best in the world.

Last modified June 18 2009 10:59 AM