Alum Wins Award for Thesis Research

Paul Burgess, the Humboldt State University alumnus recognized for his pioneering work in computer software and land mine clearance, has received a $1,000 award for his master's thesis in applied mathematics, completed this spring.

The money was awarded to Burgess by the Western Association of Graduate Schools, a group of 90 member institutions from 15 states and three Canadian provinces that fosters regional graduate studies and research.

Burgess’ master’s thesis grew from a unique collaboration with Ken Owens, HSU professor of applied mathematics. After earning an HSU bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, Burgess teamed with Owens, translating the professor’s statistical algorithms into computer software that operates de-mining machines automatically, while mapping the area that has been searched by the vehicles.

Their ingenious solution is literally a life-saver—an estimated 25,000 people are killed, maimed or injured each year by land mines. It also embodies Humboldt State’s historical commitment to practical applications of academics and research to social and humanitarian needs.

The breakthrough has led to another transformation: Burgess and Owens have become entrepreneurs. In 2004, they won Intel’s $50,000 Intel Environment Award, enabling them to found the locally-based Cognisense Labs in 2005. The company is dedicated to furthering and marketing the de-mining technology to governments and humanitarian organizations worldwide. It focuses on research and development rather than manufacturing.

“Through this small business development, Ken and I hope to generate enough capital to hire talented HSU graduates as employees, allowing them to stay in the area and help us strengthen the local economy,” Burgess said in an interview. “Our goal is to provide the most accurate maps of land mine clearance operations to organizations involved in the cleanup of land mines.”

Burgess’ winning thesis is available for viewing on Humboldt Digital Scholar, a digital archive of scholarly works written by HSU faculty and students, found at