One of the best parts of studying mathematics and statistics at university is exposure to fields of mathematics that you may never have seen before.
Cellular automata are incredibly rich and interesting models that can be used to model things as diverse as computability, traffic flow, forest fire spread, microstructure of materials, fluid dynamics, and much, much more.
In a cellular automaton, space is divided into cells (i.e. spaces on a road, trees in a forest, locations in a grid etc.) and at each cell, the system is in a specific state (i.e. on/off, present/absent, fire/no fire, etc.). At specific times, the system is updated according to local rules to produce global effects. This local-global mix is what makes cellular automata valuable for modeling. Cars cannot randomly jump 5 kilometers away in an instant, fires spread to nearby trees, and particles interact with their immediate neighbours to produce global effects in the substance.
Dr. Anna Lawniczak and Dr. Dan Ashlock each work with students and collaborators to examine how these systems can be used to model a variety of natural phenomena. Their work combines knowledge of mathematics and computer science to design algorithms and systems that can be used to model and predict many important occurrences.