College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Professor conducts research to discover causes of and solutions to disruptive events on large networks

Nicola Elia
Nicola Elia

Ames, IowaNicola Elia, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State University, recently started a new research project funded by the National Science Foundation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) on the “Emergence, Mitigation, and Exploitation of Complex Behavior in Networked Control Systems.” Specifically, Elia’s project focuses on networked systems and developing new analytical and computational tools for understanding and analyzing how uncertainty is generated, propagated, and managed in the system.

Elia says he became interested in this research topic because researchers don’t know how complex interconnected systems work, what their limitations and fragilities are, and how to design and build them so that large disastrous events are eliminated or their effects are mitigated.

Elia’s research could be applied to complex systems such as the electric power grid, the Internet, social networks, and networks of cooperating autonomous robots which he says work well most of the time, but are occasionally subject to large disruptive events such as blackouts or congestion. He’s looking to discover why those blackouts or congestion occur so changes can be made to their design and construction.

“A key point we want to understand is how the quality of decisions or actions depends on the quality of information that each network node has available,” he says.

Elia is incorporating his research on this project with activities of his Distributed Sensing and Decision Making Laboratory. The lab activities will focus on the networks of cooperative autonomous vehicles such as robots and helicopters and involve both undergraduate and graduate students who will implement and test the theoretical results and approaches on the physical test beds.

Get more information on electrical and computer engineering and other faculty at Iowa State who have received ARRA funding.


Nicola Elia, associate professor, 515 294-3579,
Dana McCullough, communications specialist,