Northeastern computer science senior Tyler Denniston is among just 60 students nationwide recognized with a 2012 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award from the Computing Research Association (CRA). The recipient of an honorable mention, he became the fifth College of Computer and Information Science undergraduate the CRA has commended for exemplary research. The others were overall award winner Andrea Grimes in 2005, finalist Jason Ansel in 2007, and honorable mention recipients Jennifer McDonald in 2002 and Tanya Cashorali in 2008.
Denniston has been a member of Professor Gene Cooperman’s research group for the past three years and further honed his research skills through a co-op with VMware, the global leader in virtualization and cloud infrastructure. He also co-authored a peer-reviewed paper included in the PLOS 2011 Workshop on Programming Languages and Operating Systems, a prestigious computing conference.
Denniston’s research has focused on “checkpointing,” or saving the state of a computer program. He contributed to Cooperman’s large Distributed MultiThreaded CheckPointing (DMTCP) research project and to the development of a universal reversible, or “time-traveling,” debugger known as FReD (Fast Reversible Debugger) that uses a novel form of checkpoint restart.
By the time he was a junior, Denniston had developed the first version of a determinism module integrated into the team’s research software. He also acquired what Cooperman has described as “the same research skills as a first- or second-year PhD student.”
The research team recently completed the FReD project, and their open-source software is ready for release to the public. Denniston says, “As an undergraduate, I’ve been able to make very significant contributions to this research. The determinism model turned out to be a very critical piece of the software. I also wrote the whole user interface for the software.”
Now that his research has earned the CRA’s recognition, Denniston says, “It’s good for everyone. It’s good for the college because it shows we have strong students coming out of Northeastern in terms of research. For me personally, it’s really going to help in getting into graduate school. My target is a PhD program, and this is evidence that I know how to do research.”
Although this is the first time Denniston has gained national attention for his research, his potential was apparent several years ago. As a freshman, he was awarded the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship, which enabled him to work with Cooperman as a sophomore.
“After that, I continued on my own initiative,” Denniston says. “The scholarship started all of this for me.”