Undergraduate Research Program Enters Fourth Year

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Irvine, Calif., June 16, 2008 -- Come June, most college students gleefully pack away textbooks and other remnants of the school year while dreaming of fun and sun.

Ten undergraduate students, however, will spend the summer enhancing their research skills by working with Calit2-affiliated faculty members in their labs.

For the fourth consecutive year, Calit2@UCI is partnering with the university’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program to offer a select group of undergrads a rewarding summer research experience.

The 10-week SURF-IT (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Information Technology) program pairs the students with faculty mentors to participate in hands-on, multidisciplinary research projects with an IT component. SURF-IT is designed to help the already accomplished undergraduates develop the knowledge and skills that can help propel them into graduate studies or careers in telecommunications and information technology.

The undergrads chose their assignments from a variety of challenging projects proposed by faculty members. From June 23 to August 29, they will work closely with their mentors, gaining experience and training in state-of-the-art facilities and techniques. They will also attend a series of seminars that will help them build knowledge and enhance their dialogue about telecommunications and information technology systems and applications. At the conclusion of the program, students will share their research accomplishments at a forum and closing reception.

This year’s summer program includes eight SURF-IT participants and two undergraduates funded by the National Science Foundation’s ‘Research Experiences for Undergraduates’ (REU) program. The students represent a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, information and computer science, psychology and studio art.

Lauren Lewis, computer science major, will team with education professor Rebecca Black on Fanfiction University. The project seeks to deploy a community-based web site of fan-authored texts based on forms of media and popular culture. The processes of writing, reading, and peer-reviewing will help build adolescents’ English literacy and composition skills.

Computer science professor Sharad Mehrotra will mentor Zohrab Basmajian, a computer science and engineering student, on Semantic Information Extraction from Free Text. This project entails exploring the automated extraction of information from free text. Basmajian will continue work on an open-source text synthesis system called XAR that has been made available to many research groups within UCI.

Andrew Zaldivar, psychology and cognitive science major, will team with informatics professor Bill Tomlinson to investigate Green IT, a field that explores the juncture between environmental concerns and information technology. Zaldivar will develop a cell-phone system for gathering environmental information and build a web site about green-IT projects at UCI.

Tomlinson will also mentor informatics student Jordan Sinclair, as he researches Computational Metaphor Identification in Political Blogs: Tools for Blog Readers. As the public obtains more of its news from blogs, the ways in which bloggers frame issues – including the use of conceptual metaphors – becomes more important. This project employs computational techniques to identify these metaphors in political blogs and will develop and evaluate a tool that readers can use to examine these figures of speech as they read.

Tomlinson is also mentoring the two REU-funded undergraduates. Robert Simpson, a UCI computer science major, and Michael Riccobono, an engineering student from Olin College in Needham, Mass., will develop a new model of interactivity in which people help computers to communicate, in contrast to computers facilitating communication between people. By using networking to coordinate electronic devices more effectively, Human-Mediated Networking may limit the need for multiple features on every mobile device.
Computer engineering student Howard Wong will work in the lab of electrical engineering/computer science professor Jean-Luc Gaudiot, investigating Parallelization of Telemedicine Benchmark for the Xbox 360 Architecture. Wong will study whether the affordable and potentially powerful Xbox 360 could be a viable architectural platform for making telemedicine more widely available.

Information and computer sciences student Alex Kindel and computer science engineering undergraduate Ilya Sukharnikov both will work with EECS professor Stephen Jenks on large-scale projects. Kindel’s project, Extremely Large-Scale 3D Object Viewing, will develop a viable approach to high-resolution 3D data display, with the ultimate goal of displaying the data on Calit2’s HIPerWall.

Sukharnikov will work on Extremely Large-Scale Animation, a process that could display extremely high-resolution time-series data in intuitive ways. The method could be valuable to diverse disciplines including biomedical engineering, life sciences, computational chemistry, nuclear physics and art.

Studio art student Dean Bottino will collaborate with education professor Liane Brouillette in Designing Computer Games that Foster Ethical Behavior in Grades 1 and 2. The project seeks to combine visual images and narrative to heighten children’s awareness of others’ needs and to encourage pro-social behavior.

Calit2 division director GP Li considers the SURF-IT program an unparalleled experience for undergraduates. “It offers students an atmosphere where they can hone their research skills and realize firsthand the benefits of multidisciplinary collaboration,” he said.

The summer program is co-directed by Stuart Ross, assistant director for research development at Calit2, and Said Shokair, UROP director.  “SURF-IT is a wonderful opportunity for students to experience multidisciplinary research that will help them develop their skills and learn about career opportunities,” Ross said “We’ve got a great group of students this year and we’re anticipating exciting results.”

SURF-IT kicks off June 23 with an information session and pizza lunch for participants.