Advances of Machine Learning in Theory & Applications


Here you will find answers to some general questions regarding the AMALTHEA REU Site. If you are a prospective applicant you will find additional information under the FAQ: For prospective participants page. Tip: You may use the Find functionality of your web browser and an appropriate keyword to quickly locate specific Q&A items.

Q: What is the AMALTHEA program about?

A: During the period 2007-2012, the AMALTHEA REU Site was a collaborative effort between two closely-located universities, Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in Melbourne and University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, Florida. Starting in 2013, the program is hosted (unfortunately) only at FIT. The project seeks to provide top quality educational experiences to a diverse community of learners through research participation in the area of Machine Learning (ML).In specific, the project's thrust area is the theory of ML and how it can be integrated and applied to important real-life problems, thus exposing participants to both theory and applications.

The AMALTHEA program is held for 10 weeks in the summer (usually May through July; see our Calendar page for exact dates) at the host university and it involves an average of 10 undergraduate Engineering or Science students on an annual basis. During the length of the summer experience, these undergraduate students perform supervised research on ML topics that have the potential to impact the field of ML itself, as well as how ML is applied to other scientific disciplines. REU research results are expected to be published in interdisciplinary conferences, and, potentially, technical journals. Additionally, these REU research advances are fed back and integrated into the teaching of ML-related courses at the host institutions.

Q: What is Machine Learning?

A: Machine Learning, or ML for short, is traditionally considered a (quite) broad subfield of Artificial Intelligence. Technically speaking, there is no consensus on what exactly its definition should be due to a pile of philosophical issues that stand in the way (e.g. we are not even sure how to define "intelligence"!). Nevertheless, laying aside all these concerns, it is generally stated that the subject matter of ML, as the name partially implies, is the study, development and analysis of processes that endow artificial, computational devices or entire systems with the ability to learn, i.e. to extract knowledge, either from past experience or by observing their environment, so that these devices or systems can, subsequently, serve a particular useful purpose.

Stated differently, we can regard ML as an attempt to develop systems that can autonomously (without human supervision) implement important parts of the scientific method, that is, investigate phenomena through observation, acquisition of new knowledge, integration of this evidence with past experience, adequate modeling of the phenomena, and, finally, using these models to predict the characteristics of future, similar phenomena.

Machine Learning is nowadays a high-importance, ever-expanding discipline that draws concepts from a variety of fields, including Cognitive Sciences, Information Theory, Statistics, Mathematics, Physics, Philosophy and Biology among others. On the other hand, automatic target recognition, earthquake prediction, gene expression discovery, intelligent credit fraud protection and affectionate computing, to mention just a few, are examples of cutting-edge applications of ML in various technological and scientific domains.

Q: What does "AMALTHEA" and "REU" stand for?

A: "AMALTHEA" stands for Advances of MAchine Learning in THEory & Applications, which, in turn, stems from the program's full title "REU Site: Collaborative Research: Advances of Machine Learning in Theory and Applications (AMALTHEA)." Finally, "REU" stands for "Research Experiences for Undergraduates", which is the name of the National Science Foundation (NSF) program funding our efforts. For more details on NSF, the REU Site program and AMALTHEA's sponsorship and funding efforts, please visit the Credits page.

Q: Why did you decide in favor of the "AMALTHEA" acronym?

A: In Greek mythology, Amalthea was a nymph that nurtured Zeus with her goat's milk in a cave on Mt. Aegeon, Crete. Zeus was brought to the cave to be spared from being swallowed immediately after his birth by his father Cronus (Saturn, in Latin). Amalthea's horn, also known as Cornucopia in Latin, is the very horn, which Zeus was nurtured from and became a symbol of inexhaustible riches. We would like to regard the AMALTHEA program as an inexhaustible source of knowledge to all participants.

Q: What are the main objectives of the AMALTHEA Program?

A: There are two main objectives, which can be summarized as follows:

1. To recruit a diverse, talented body of undergraduate students from around the nation and from a variety of engineering and science disciplines. Furthermore, the program is particularly interested in reaching women, minorities, and, in general, student groups that have had traditionally low representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Towards this end, the program is supported by a geographically-broad, national network of Affiliate Universities (see Affiliate Faculty), some of which serve significant numbers of underrepresented minorities and others offer only BS/BA degrees.

2. To offer an experience that will actively engage the recruited students into cutting-edge Machine Learning (ML) research. The program aims to form, maintain and evolve a vibrant community of learners here in Central Florida, which will foster and provide a valuable summer research experience for undergraduate students through participation in research programs and high quality student/faculty interaction and mentorship. We plan to familiarize and excite the participant students about many, state-of-the-art aspects of ML, which, we hope, will facilitate their retention in STEM fields, either career-wise or by continuing into STEM graduate education.

Q: Who is sponsoring the AMALTHEA REU SIte?

A: Prior to 2013, the AMALTHEA summer experience was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under its Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) program via two 3-year grants, namely IIS-REU-0647018 and IIS-REU-0647020, one for each host university. Secondary sponsors of the program were the host universities themselves, FIT and UCF; they provided matching financial support for participant stipends, graduate student stipends, etc. In 2013, the AMALTHEA site managed to secure continuation funding from NSF again for 3 years under the REU program via a grant to FIT. More information on the supporters of our program can be found our Credits page.

Q: What happened to your partner, UCF?

A: As mentioned earlier, the AMALTHEA REU Program started as a joint 3-year effort of UCF and FIT. For 3 consecutive years (2009, 2010 and 2011) the program's principal investigators unsuccessfully attempted to secure additional monies from NSF. The repeating pattern of failure to convince REU proposal review panels about continuing the funding of our collaborative efforts prompted FIT to submit in 2012 a renewal proposal of its own, which was subsequently funded. Thus, starting in 2013 we do not collaborate anymore with our former partners at UCF on this effort. We feel that this is very unfortunate, as we strongly believe that they were a key factor contributing to the past successes of the program.

Q: I see that there were no AMALTHEA summer experiences during 2010, 2011 and 2012. What were the AMALTHEA-related activities during those years?

A: By the end of 2009, the program did not have enough residual funds left to be able to offer full-blown summer research experiences. Instead, we opted to recruit 5 students in total from the host universities to engage in research activities during the academic year.

Q: Who were/are the people behind AMALTHEA's operations?

A: The REU effort is supported by a strong Project Staff with significant experience in ML and involving undergraduate students in their research, as well as by an active and diverse Advisory Board. Recruiting efforts have been greatly facilitated by our network of Affiliate Faculty. Finally, several additional organizations and people have been supporting the Program's operations in a variety of ways as explained on the Credits page.

Q: How do I find more information about the AMALTHEA summer experience?

A: First, please refer to the FAQ: For prospective participants page. If you still have questions, please contact us; we will be happy to assist you.