USD Professor Michael Shulman described goals of Pentagon grant in short video posted on USD website. Image via sandiego.edu

Aiming to help the Pentagon with cybersecurity and other computer needs, the University of San Diego has received a grant potentially worth $7.5 million from the Department of Defense’s Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the school announced Thursday.

The first year’s award is $1.5 million and two more will bring the value to $4.5 million. The funding benefits the USD Department of Mathematics within the College of Arts and Sciences.

“If the DOD funds the entire program, by extending the research for another two years, this would total $7.5 million and be the largest award to the university,” the school said.

(The amount is far less than gifts from donors such as Joan Kroc, Jenny Craig, “Papa” Doug Manchester and the Shileys, however. A spokeswoman said of the DOD award: “This is a grant, not a gift. Gifts are donor directed and grants fall under agency specific terms and conditions.”)

Michael Shulman, USD associate professor of mathematics, applied for the grant, which will support 13 USD student fellowships through the life of the project.

He’ll use the money to research the theoretical foundations of computer programming that helps mathematicians verify their work by checking mathematical proofs and provide confidence in the correctness of a theory.

In a video, Shulman said his work would also help assure “computer software correctness” with applications including aircraft autopilots. It can even help the Pentagon with cryptography and cybersecurity.

“With the increasing importance of mathematics and computers in our daily lives, as well as the defense of our country, it’s essential to ensure the correctness of proofs and software,” he said.

“Our project uses the mathematics of shape and deformation to create new programming languages for this purpose that are more intuitive and easier to use, and gives student researchers the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new kind of mathematics.”

Shulman will be collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University, Wesleyan University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Minnesota, USD said.

“This grant … is an incredible opportunity for Dr. Shulman to expand on work in the mathematics field that can benefit our military,” Noelle Norton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“This is also an invaluable experience for our student researchers who will get hands-on experience and develop mathematical insight that will help our community near and far as we continue to serve as an anchor institution.”

The project began Jan. 15 and will continue through 2024, with an option for an additional two years of research, officials said.

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