Thanks to grad student David Gravano and his class project, commuters to campus can now learn the best route to UC Merced.
Professor Mike Colvin’sQuantitative and Systems Biology (QSB 280) class in spring 2007, Gravano studied advanced mathematical biology and needed to choose a computer modeling project.
Knowing many people who commute to campus from Madera, Modesto and Turlock, he thought it would be fun and interesting to figure out the fastest way to campus via Highway 99. Gravano hoped his project would not only help commuters save time, but would also save precious natural resources.
“Professor Colvin’s goal for the course was for us to create models that can be applied outside of his classroom,” Gravano said. “Our projects were practical and applicable.”
In talking with friends who commute daily, Gravano said, the fastest route wasn’t obvious. For his project, he looked at four different paths, two in each direction, strictly in terms of time.
His study compared two northbound routes - the Arboleda Drive exit and the G Street exit - and two southbound routes - the Buhach Avenue exit and the 16th Street exit.
He accounted for parameters like traffic, stop lights, stop signs and trains. Then he modeled the four routes using simulations based on probability, which Colvin taught in class.
To make sure the model coincided with actual traffic conditions, he physically drove the routes, estimated congestion and timed traffic lights to determine such factors as the probability of stop lights being red and the duration of the stop.
The computer simulator traveled each route 10,000 times.
The results? Commuters heading north can save an average of five minutes by taking the Arboleda Drive exit instead of G Street, and those heading south can shave off 1.5 minutes by choosing Buhach over 16th Street.
“Computer modeling is an efficient way of testing something,” Gravano said. “It would have been almost impossible for me to physically drive each route 10,000 times, but the computer accomplished it in about 10 seconds.”
Traffic isn’t the only thing Gravano examines. He’s doing his graduate studies with
Professor Jennifer Manilay, looking at T-cell development, trying to understand the molecular interactions that occur during the process of maturation.
But his computer modeling lessons are coming in handy.
“Computer modeling is something I learned from scratch, and I am already applying the techniques to my biological research in the lab.”
For more specifics on Gravano’s computer modeling project, e-mail him at