Why Not Provenance


Engineering and Applied Sciences


Professor Computer and Information Science

Project Summary

At first, the naïve-freshman-me was not even aware of the possibility of computer science research. The word research brought into mind test tubes and lab coats, micropipettes and flow cytometers…so pretty much just biology, since that was the only research I have ever had contact with. Furthermore, I did not think one could do much for the lab in just one summer.

Oh, sorry, did I say lab? I had no lab this summer. Or rather, my “lab” was my professor’s office, the Levine 5th floor lounge, the grad school basement, Skype, and my desk at home. The necessary equipment for database research was simple--a brain and LaTeX, and maybe some pens and paper.

If anyone asked what I even did this summer, I could probably sum it up like this: I chilled, had meetings, thought about stuff and typed up the thoughts. [Chilled as in froze to death in the engineering buildings because of air conditioning. Lame, I know.] But if anyone important asked what I did this summer, I would start by saying we are trying to characterize why-not and why-so provenance. And then I would start again by asking: so do you know what a database is? Can you imagine asking a question on the data in a database and getting some answers? What if an answer is missing that should be in the results? What if a wrong answer shows up? How would you explain these events to a user? Ah, so that is where we come in! We want to formulate a framework that can explain and offer repairs to these phenomena using polynomials and logic. 

You might be a confused, which was exactly me on day one. I was supposed to have read all these academic things, most of which I crammed the night before and did not understand, and my mathematical background felt majorly insufficient. Rewind back to the first paragraph: I did not think I could do much this summer.

I gladly admit I was wrong. Beyond the database knowledge that I now wield, I think I learned something better. I learned that learning is the best skill anyone could offer. Before May, I thought semirings were arcs. Now, in August, I know they are quite different, and though I cannot actually define it well, I know enough to have gotten this far. We have enough stuff to type into a paper, which we hope to publish later somewhere. Summer’s almost over, but research is not, and certainly, learning is not either.