Social Media to Collisions: Researchers, congressional staff discuss Mason impact

Congressional staff receive briefing from Mason researchers at the Center for Geospatial Intelligence. Photo Credit: Martha Bushong

George Mason University researchers and administrators briefed staff from the U.S. House Subcommittee on Research and Technology on scientific projects that will safeguard computer networks, protect drivers in automobile crashes, help airplanes fly safe, and more.

Elected officials and their staff visit George Mason as they seek to understand the latest research trends and how Mason research directly helps people.

George Mason President Ángel Cabrera recently testified about the impacts of research regulations to the subcommittee, resulting in a visit Oct. 26 by members of the subcommittee’s professional staff, Sarah Jorgenson and Jennifer Wickre, to learn more about Mason research. The subcommittee authorizes National Science Foundation and other research programs that fund many of Mason’s research activities.

College of Science dean Peggy Agouris and Volgenau School of Engineering dean Ken Ball, along with Mason’s Vice President for Research Deborah Crawford, helped frame how Mason research is advancing understanding of new fields and educating a cyber-ready workforce while providing answers to current problems. This year Mason joined the top ranks of the nation’s research universities, as designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education.

“The measure of success of a research university is its ability to create new knowledge and to share that knowledge with its students and its partners in the external community,” Crawford said.

Anthony Stefanidis, director of Mason’s Center for Geospatial Intelligence, and his team showed how social media has become a scientific tool. “This is the beginning of a new science,” Stefanidis told Wickre and Jorgenson.

GPS combined with social media can show how conversations from bombings to vaccinations move across communities to the nation and provide immediate data that also can be analyzed to create more effective communications tools.

Bioengineering professor Parag Chitnis and his students demonstrated how a small, flexible, and light system can help amputees use prosthetics to their full potential. Simply thinking about an action, such as making a fist, causes the muscles to react. That reaction is captured by ultrasound waves and immediately translated to the prosthetic limb.

Safety was a focus of Wickre and Jorgenson’s visit.

The multidisciplinary Center for Assurance, Research, and Engineering (CARE) works with Amazon and other companies to test new approaches that keep computer networks safe from hackers. One method they use deceives hackers by making them think they’re succeeding while simultaneously moving critical functions to another server, explained Angelos Stavrou, director, and J.P. Auffret, associate director. That way key computer functions are always one step ahead of the hackers.

Duminda Wijesekera, director of the Radar and Radio Engineering Lab (RARE), and Paulo Costa, associate director, showed how they apply physics to radio waves to determine the causes of accidents. “We can tell what you did and when you did it,” Wijesekera said.

The RARE team works with control systems security to protect transportation infrastructure, including airplanes, trains, and automobiles, from cyber-attacks.

Led by Steve Kan, the Mason-based Center for Crash Safety and Analysis collects data and analyzes the events that lead to automobile crashes, how vehicles crumple as well as how to prevent accidents from happening. The center combines advanced computer tools with physics, materials science, biomechanics, and engineering to develop new methods to make transportation safer.

Lance Sherry, director of Mason’s Air Transport Systems Center, demonstrated the complex choreography of an airport. The center’s work has helped airports test changes and has researched why even “blue sky” days can result in delays—it’s because too many flights arrive early to their destinations.

But perhaps most useful to regular fliers, especially as the high-travel holiday season approaches, is Mason’s GreenFlights travel tool. The website was created by Mason faculty and students to identify flights that are systemically delayed, canceled, diverted, or overbooked, as well as highlight flights that minimize environmental impact through clean engines and/or minimum delays.

Write to Michele McDonald, Director of Research Communications at the Office of Research, at