UK Grad Problem-solving, Painting With Computer Science

By Whitney Harder

(May 28, 2015) — “I never really thought I’d be working on something like this,” said Michael Roup, who earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics from the University of Kentucky earlier this month. Roup is referring to his work on unveiling text in ancient scrolls with computer software.

Roup, a UK Presidential Scholar from Crestwood, Kentucky, joined the ancient scrolls team led by UK Department of Computer Science Professor and Chair Brent Seales last summer. Roup has since been dubbed the “segmentation expert," and recently traveled to Paris, France, to present his work with the team at Google Paris.

Segmentation refers to finding the actual scroll inside a chunk of data produced from scanning the scroll, which also includes empty space.

“I wrote some code, and then I could see the fiber patterns in the papyrus,” Roup said casually. But to his knowledge, this team was the first to accomplish and then extend that process.

Before he became Seales’ segmentation expert, Roup interned at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for Homeland Security. There, he worked on static analysis, which is analyzing code without running it, allowing him to check code for security flaws while it was being written.

Roup began programming in high school for fun and during his freshman and sophomore years at UK competed in programming competitions. Before coming to UK, he considered several engineering paths, but decided “computer science would just be more fun.”

“Some of the programming I like most is compression and optimization — how do you make the program run faster and use less memory,” he said. “Usually there’s a trade-off. It’s fun for me to think ‘how can I make it better in every way.’”

Roup’s other favorite pastime? Painting. Well digital painting, actually. Using a tablet and a pen tool to “paint,” his artwork never makes a mess, but instead becomes a Photoshop file on his computer.

“This summer in my free time I plan to paint portraits of the X-Files characters…just for fun,” Roup said.

When he isn’t painting, he’ll be completing his work on the ancient scrolls project throughout the summer, and applying for jobs. 

"Ideally, I’ll be working on some program that I use, like Photoshop or something similar," Roup said.

But first, Roup is focused on his next goal for the ancient scroll project: finding some method of more effectively storing their entire volume of data, which will be hundreds of gigabytes after processed.

"I like to feel like computer science is more about problem-solving than just programming," he said.