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2013 REU Program Participant Profiles: Christian Mason

Christian Mason photo.

Major: Mathematical and Computational Biology
School: Harvey Mudd College
Hometown: Los Altos, CA
REU Research Project: Automatic detection of rare birds through recordings

What is the purpose of your research?
We want to answer the question, "Is the call of bird species X present in a specific audio recording?" Essentially the plan is to create a program that can use unmanned recordings from areas of interest to see whether a specific species of bird (in our case, the Prairie Warbler) is present in the area. This would give the ability to possibly estimate not only presence and absence of a type of bird, but possibly we can obtain population size estimates as well.

What does the research ultimately accomplish? What contributions to science and/or humanity does the research ultimately make?
Many species of birds are becoming endangered with both loss of habitat and other anthropogenic disturbances. Being able to understand the change in size of a bird population over time would give us an idea of how we can apply conservation techniques to save different bird species.

Describe a typical day on the job.
I'm not entirely sure we've had very many typical days. On a quiet day we will meet together at NIMBioS, continue writing code for our identification program, and show our results to our mentor. It involves a lot of working together to understand who is doing what and who has what skills.

Do you have an interesting "personal side" to your research experiences?
I am actually nearly deaf in one ear, which has been happening over the past few years but has not really been a hindrance. Working on an audio recording project has been both a challenge and a reward. Going out into the field makes it difficult to localize bird locations, but creating a program to automatically detect birds would completely cut out the need for human listeners, which from my perspective could be quite helpful.

What advice would you give someone who's interested in participating in the program?
Do it! My area of study is epidemiology, but I am currently doing signal and image processing. I came in with very little background in these areas, but I still feel that I am able to contribute and have fun with the project.

Would you recommend the NIMBioS REU program to others?
Yes. It is a great experience! Not only are the projects worthwhile and enlightening, but the ability to get to know 20 or so other individuals who are interested in the interface between mathematics and biology is wonderful. The extra activities planned are both extremely useful (the grad school panel, for example) and fun (seeing the synchronous fireflies in the Smoky Mountains, for example).


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NSF logo. NIMBioS is sponsored by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
 
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