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Yao Liang, Computer Science, Faculty

Environment is the laboratory for cutting-edge computer science

Yao Liang, Ph.D. | Professor | Department of Computer & Information Science The intrigue of Yao Liang’s work rests in how it expertly blends two entirely different facets of science – computer technology and the environment.

A School of Science faculty member since 2007, Liang is working on a multi-disciplinary  project designed to improve forecasting of devastating floods and drought.

Collaborating with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, the National Weather Service (NWS) and NASA’s Data Center, Liang is a lead investigator on a project to rebuild the NWS’ computerized River Forecasting System to seamlessly integrate and organize data sets coming from multiple sources. With enhanced accuracy and efficiency, the new system offers significant potential for improving the forecast of natural disasters. 

According to Liang, the current system cannot, for example, make a good use of satellite data and data from other sources, except for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radar precipitation data, rain gauge data, etc. To overcome such hurdles, Liang and his research partners have created an innovative, hydro-information system for improving the National Weather Service River Forecast System (NWSRFS). This new system effectively uses satellite and other data to improve the forecasting capabilities. The new system also includes user-friendly tools and a data-management subsystem to improve its usefulness.

“We are using computer and technology systems to help environmental scientists better manage the huge amounts of data available to them, and the system is currently under a rigorous testing and validation at one of the National Weather Service (NWS) river forecast centers,” Liang explains. “If this new system is as successful as we expect, we have the opportunity to extend it to NWS forecast centers across the country.”

Another of Liang’s current research endeavors involves the use of wireless sensors for environmental monitoring. A collaboration with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the investigation centers around prolonging the lifetime of wireless sensors placed underwater or in watersheds, hillsides and mountain ranges. The sensors are designed to gather important scientific data at very fine resolutions, but because of their location, it is virtually impossible to change the device’s batteries. Reducing power consumption of the sensor nodes (small computers) to extend their lifetime is therefore crucial to the enduring success of this technology.