BEACON, an NSF Science and Technology Center directed by Goodman, has three themes dealing with evolution in action—biological evolution, digital evolution and evolutionary applications—and Goodman’s research deals with the third theme, namely, applications of evolutionary computation to solution of a variety of engineering design and related problems. While classical evolutionary algorithms (genetic algorithms, genetic programming, etc.) have been widely used for many years, many challenging problems cannot be practically addressed using “out of the box” methods. Goodman, his colleagues, and their students develop new forms of evolutionary computation, largely driven by lessons learned from research in BEACON’s other two themes and other discoveries about evolution in action. Goodman currently participates in five active projects (among BEACON’s 50 or so), as described briefly below.
The backgrounds of the four co-principal investigators in BEACON reinforce its multidisciplinary character. Richard Lenski, Hannah Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and member of the National Academy of Sciences, has been studying evolution of E. coli bacteria for twenty years (50,000 generations), with regular freezing of samples allowing him to trace mutations backward in time to pinpoint when they occurred and to explore alternative paths from ancestors. Charles Ofria, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, is the author of the Avida software system for evolution of digital organisms in the computer. His digital organisms self-replicate in the computer, producing (sometimes mutated) copies of themselves and competing for resources. Kay Holekamp, Professor of Zoology and director of the interdisciplinary program in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior, studies evolution of behavior and morphology among spotted hyenas in Kenya. Robert Pennock, Professor of Philosophy and in Lyman Briggs College, studies evolution and leads a team creating software to allow students to experiment with digital evolution.