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Casey Nelson And Dylan Sam Win The Randy F. Pausch Computer Science Undergraduate Summer Research Award

Click the links that follow for more news items about R. Iris Bahar, Stephen Bach, Peter Norvig, and the Randy F. Pausch '82 Computer Science Undergraduate Summer Research Award.

The Randy F. Pausch '82 Computer Science Undergraduate Summer Research Award, given this year to Casey Nelson and Dylan Sam to support their work with Brown CS Professors R. Iris Bahar and Stephen Bach, respectively, recognizes strong achievement from undergraduate researchers and offers them the opportunity to continue their work over the summer.

A generous gift from Peter Norvig '78 (a Director of Research at Google and a thought leader in the areas of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, information retrieval, and software engineering) established the award, which provides $10,000 annually to support an undergraduate engaged in an intensive faculty-student summer research partnership. The gift honors the life and work of Randy F. Pausch '82, a renowned expert in computer science, human-computer interaction, and design who died of complications from pancreatic cancer in 2008. "His story is inspiring," Peter says, "and this is an opportunity to remember him."

Casey explains that she began collaborating with Iris last summer. “She was my first year advisor, and talking with her about her work during our advisor meetings led to me joining her project last summer.” Casey’s research focuses on using near data processing (NDP) as a solution to the memory wall problem, which is the bottleneck in performance due to the increasing gap between memory access speeds and processor speeds. “Using NDP involves making hardware modifications (like moving processing closer to memory) and software modifications to take advantage of these hardware changes,” she describes, “and we specifically focus on using NDP to optimize concurrent, pointer chasing data structures, whose poor cache locality causes bottlenecks which NDP might be able to eliminate.”

How might Casey’s work be used in the real world? It seems like there are a variety of possibilities. “Currently, I’m working on applying these NDP data structures to realistic applications to get a measure of the real world benefits,” she says, “and I’m specifically looking into applications in databases and security.”

Dylan, on the other hand, began working with Steve his sophomore spring. “I started out reading papers and discussing them, focusing on the deeper underlying theories behind machine learning models,” he says, “and I gained an appreciation of his background in weakly supervised machine learning, which I was immediately interested in.” This interest led to Dylan focusing on weakly supervised machine learning for his research project. “In modern machine learning applications, models require large amounts of labeled data,” he explains, “and weakly supervised learning looks to solve this bottleneck and find other solutions when labeled data is not readily available.” 

More specifically, Dylan’s work focuses on the underlying theory behind why weakly supervised strategies work. “Steve and his collaborators at Stanford have worked on projects including Snorkel, which empirically show that these weak supervision strategies perform well,” Dylan explains. The biggest issue, Dylan says, is that these strategies miss a theoretical explanation as to why they work. How exactly does Dylan plan to solve this problem? Well, it really requires a multifaceted approach. “My project first looks to survey the field, searching for inspiration for a new theoretical approach. Next, I will apply their strategies on difficult computer vision tasks to fully understand and demonstrate the workings of the algorithms. Finally, I’ll develop a theoretical justification for why these strategies work.”

With summer coming soon, both Casey and Dylan tell us that they can’t wait to begin work on their proposals. “I’m very excited to pursue this research over the summer, and I’m very grateful to Iris for allowing me to get involved on this project,” says Casey. Likewise, Dylan tells us that he plans to use this project as a springboard to really explore his interests. “This award will allow me to further dive into my research in preparation for PhD programs,” he says, “and I’m thankful to Steve, the BATS lab, and the TA2 group for continuously inspiring me and driving me to pursue my research.”

Casey and Dylan’s eagerness and curiosity are exactly what Peter Norvig is looking for. He sees this award as a multiplier that will amplify the value of his gift and extend it through time. "In the past," he says, "we had to build all our own tools, and we didn't have time to combine computer science with other fields. Now, there are so many opportunities to do so. I think it's a wise choice: you invest in things that you think will do good, and educating a student allows them to help add to the things that you're already trying to accomplish."


For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communications Outreach Specialist Jesse Polhemus.