Hi, I am Regina and I'm double majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. I'm a senior and my expected graduation date is Spring 2020.
This is my second year participating in the Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates (DREU), a program organized by the Computing Research Association (CRA-WP). (2018 DREU website)
This year, I am continuing my research as an intern at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) under the supervision of Dr. Nancy Amato, the Computer Science department head at the same institution, Shawna Thomas, a research specialist at Texas A&M university, and my graduate student mentor Diane Uwacu.
Nancy M. Amato is Head of the Department of Computer Science and Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Previously, she was Unocal Professor and Regents Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University where she co-directed the Parasol Lab.
Amato received undergraduate degrees in Mathematical Sciences and Economics from Stanford University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois, respectively. Her main areas of research focus are motion planning and robotics, computational biology and geometry, and parallel and distributed computing.
Thomas is a research specialist and Instructional Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University. Thomas's research is in developing randomized motion planning algorithms than can be applied to many different areas such as: mobile robots, virtual prototyping, computational biology and computational neuroscience.
Diane Uwacu is a Ph.D. Student at Texas A&M. She graduated from Oklahoma Christian University where she studied Computer Science and Finance. Uwacu is working on motion planning at Parasol Laboratory and her research interests include applications of motion planning in computational biology and machine learning.
Given a robot with a start and goal position, in an environment containing obstacles, the basic motion planning problem involves finding a collision-free path for the robot to move from the start to the goal position.
Aside from robotics, motion planning is applied in computational biology, to study protein folding and the interactions of protein and ligand molecules. Other applications include robotics surgery, computer graphics, and autonomous driving, to name a few.
This summer, I am working towards a conference submission. My project involves conducting experiments, extending our method from last summer to the protein-ligand binding application, while also carrying out literature surveys, for the conference paper.
Here are my initial research proposal and technical report.
Week 1: May 28th - May 31st
I'm delighted to be back with the group, and I look forward to learning more and hopefully submitting a paper to a conference. This week, we were all getting acclimated to the new lab. I spent most of the week reviewing the motion planning crash course and previous papers related to our project.
I attended the first UIUC CS REU lunch, and I sat with some UI students and Professor Cheng Zhai, we had a very insightful conversation about local vs. global optimization, social impact, and how that's related to life success. I'm excited to explore this city and also try some of the restaurants; they are so many 😅.
Week 2: June 3rd - June 7th
This week was off to a great start. I completed the setup and started building complex environments for running experiments. It took some time to get everything together because I had so many VIZMO errors. (VIZMO is the motion planning visualization tool we use at the lab).
I attended the CS REU luncheon, and I enjoyed the best empanadas ever! The lunch presentation was on how to get started with research. I particularly enjoyed learning about the diverse paths UI professors took to get their PhDs.
Week 3: June 10th - June 14th
Running experiments with the environments I built did not go as planned, mainly because the generated workspace skeleton was not the best quality. So instead, I ran a small set of experiments using the MazeTunnel to show as preliminary results in my initial research project proposal. I spent the rest of the week writing scripts to automate the experiments, and I shared the project proposal with my mentors for feedback.
Aside from research, I enjoyed the Grad Students Panel during the CS REU lunch. It was insightful to hear how different people balance life and research in grad school.
Week 4: June 17th - June 21st
I mostly spent the bulk of my time working on adding features I need for the experiments to the MeanCurvatureSkeleton (MCS) and implementing feedback from the project's code reviews. I also worked on the scripts for getting statistical analysis from the experiments and analyzing the paths found. Diane and I also peer programmed the MCS bug.
I had some delicious plantains during the REU lunch, and we had a presentation on the value of networking. Lucas and I attended the other REU's lecture series on Ethics in Research, and we took part in interesting case studies.
Week 5: June 24th - June 28th
I presented a project update at our group meeting. I also implemented new feedback from the code review, and debugged the exploration process and path analysis script.
This week's REU lunch was memorable. I conversed with interesting people, and I learned helpful tips for being a good research assistant and the importance of reading critically. I also practiced my elevator pitch and got a crash course on quantum computing. I attended two other REU workshops this week, on Scientific Writing and the other on emotional intelligence. I'm proud of how much I've achieved in the past five weeks, and I look forwarding accomplishing more in the coming weeks.
Week 6: July 1st - July 5th
This week, Diane and I had various brainstorming sessions to update our publication plan (based on Shawna's feedback) and to find other application examples for the clearance method. Aside from the brainstorms we had, I also completed and analyzed the robotics experiments I conducted using MCS. And I worked on the paper outline and started the first draft.
During this week's REU lunch, I learned about presentation skills, and I got a crash course on Haskell from Max, a UI student. Dr. Misailo's story inspired me during the CS REU Lunch, he participated in the 2008 UIUC REU, and ten years later, he came back as an assistant professor. Lucas, Adelson, and I attended a workshop on Imposter Syndrome, where we learned tips for owning our achievements and had candid conversations about our imposter syndrome. This was one of the highlights of my week, and I enjoyed the conversations we had during the workshop.
Week 7: July 7th - July 11th
This week I had different errors and bugs with PMPL and VIZMO, but Diane and I debugged to solve them. I also worked on my paper draft, summarized the experiment results, and conducted a literature survey to find other applications for our method. I thought serpentine robots would be a good application example for the clearance method because I assumed it would be efficient to explore narrow passages first in disaster situations like an earthquake. But, I had no concrete research to back this assumption, so I scratched it off my brainstorm list.
I enjoyed the CS REU lunch as usual, and I also attended the other REU's lecture series on research presentations with Lucas and Adelson.
Week 8: July 15th - July 19th
This week, I worked on submitting my GHC poster application and conducting a literature survey for the animation/VR application of our method. Clearance-bias for character navigation - One of the difficulties with character planning is being able to generate a convincing virtual path for characters. The hypothesis is that max clearance-bias would solve this problem and also improve "character realism". Also, I did not make much progress with the conference paper since last time.
I had fun hanging out with other CS REU students during the Wednesday lunch and at the CU Adventures in Time and Space escape room.
Week 9: July 22nd - July 27th
This week, we worked on our posters in preparation for the CS REU Poster symposium and the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration. Bonnie, Diane, and I brainstormed an outline for our technical report, and we spent the rest of the revising the technical report and poster.
I enjoyed the last CS REU lunch with friends, and I learned about different career paths having a Ph.D. opens. The CS REU lunch has been one of the highlights of my summer. I've fascinating conversations and interacted with so many amazing people. I also attended another REU workshop about applying to graduate school.
Week 10: July 29th - August 2nd
I ran some experiments to gather data for the poster presentation, and I noticed a bug with the MCS skeleton for specific queries. I presented my research at the CS REU Symposium and won an award for the Best Research Poster. After the poster presentation, I worked on understanding and fixing the MCS bug.
We enjoyed some BBQ and reflected on the past ten weeks during our lab group dinner at Black Dog, Champaign. I also had an advising meeting with Dr. Amato to reflect on the summer and discuss my plans for the future and grad school.
I've learned a lot this summer, and I'm also proud of my work and accomplishments. I look forward to continuing my research in the fall and applying to graduate school. Hopefully, I would be back at UIUC.