NCSA groups sweep Original Undergraduate Research Award again at EOH 2021

04.14.21 -

by Sophie Bui

Three student groups from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications won all top awards in Original Undergraduate Research at this year's Illinois Engineering Open House. This is the second time NCSA groups secured all placings in this category, sweeping the award two years prior at EOH 2019. A voluntary judge panel comprised of alumni, students, faculty, staff of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and local community members, determined winners this year. Judges selected winning groups by taking into account the research itself, the ease of explanation and the exhibit's ability to engage with the audience.

First place went to NCSA's Student Cluster Competition team, which competes in the international Supercomputing Conference each year. No stranger to this award, the group took first place in this same category in 2019. The team, made up entirely of undergraduate students, worked closely with advisors and project managers to design and build a high performance cluster, learn scientific applications, apply optimization techniques and compete in a 72-hour competition. Students effectively shared their roles, collaborative efforts and research projects with attendees.

"Our team is proud to receive an award for our EOH exhibit this year. The Student Cluster Competition has provided an exciting opportunity for team members to experience firsthand the challenges of benchmarking and optimizing scientific applications on high-performance clusters. Participating has certainly been a highlight of my undergraduate experience and encouraged me to pursue graduate studies in HPC," says Jonathan Nativ, a Computer Engineering senior and two-time competing member. "We are especially grateful for the guidance and support we receive from our NCSA mentors Volodymyr Kindratenko, Chit Khin, and Yan Zhan, as well as from JD Maloney and other members of NCSA staff."

Volodymyr Kindratenko, NCSA's Senior Research Scientist, Innovative Systems Lab Lead, and Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation Co-Lead, has mentored the Illinois SCC team since 2016. He shares, "I am thrilled to see the students working across the spectrum of projects at NCSA being recognized for their accomplishments. The students are very determined and goal-driven, and despite all the difficulties and challenges of this past year, they were able to participate in the competition and perform well. I am also very happy to see that Simeng Liu and Omri Mor—the students who participated in these competitions in the past and have already graduated—are still attached to the effort and are providing valuable mentorship and support to the current team members."

Second place went to NCSA's Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation (CAII) Mentoring Tomorrow's Leaders exhibit. Here, CAII's leadership team shared their efforts and excitement toward creating new opportunities for students at Illinois and providing them valuable experience and workforce skills. Students then presented their AI research projects ranging from healthcare to advanced computing tools to studying the Universe.

"This is the third consecutive year that NCSA teams are included at EOH's podium. It's a testament to the sustained innovation and world-class mentorship provided by NCSA staff to U of I students," says Eliu Huerta, interim director of the Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation and head of the NCSA Gravity Group. "The CAII entry for this competition featured ECE students mentored by Volodymyr Kindratenko, who developed an innovative AI model and deployed it on a low-power edge platform to monitor human falls. From Math and CS, my students presented published results in Physics Letters B. Combining Argonne's Data and Science Learning Hub for Science and NCSA's HAL deep learning cluster, they developed AI ensembles that enable accelerated, reproducible and scalable, data-driven gravitational wave detection."

"Our entry also included interviews with students I mentored in the past who were recognized with the EOH's Original Undergraduate Research award and who are now pursuing undergraduate studies at Princeton or who now hold leadership positions in renowned tech companies. I am pleased that students continue to stream to NCSA, searching and finding mentors who deeply care for them and who provide them with a platform to reach their goals."

Third place went to NCSA's Students Pushing INnovation (SPIN) internship program exhibit, showcasing the center's rich history of nurturing innovative concepts. Some of the best ideas owe a great deal to undergraduate student involvement. SPIN interns have the unique opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary research efforts in many areas, including digital agriculture, bio and health sciences, earth and environment, astronomy, and more.

"Students Pushing INnovation internship program introduces University of Illinois undergraduates to research by providing opportunities to work on cutting-edge projects alongside NCSA world-class researchers. I enjoy helping SPIN interns explore the research process and their professional interests," says Olena Kindratenko, Senior Education and Outreach Coordinator, who coordinates SPIN program activities since 2016.

"SPIN interns are highly motivated and creative individuals who contribute and innovate in many emerging areas with societal impact. From working on identifying biomarkers in cardiac microvascular disease diagnosis to using novel satellite data to study the environmental impact on global and U.S. agriculture productivity to addressing the local community needs in a web-based directory of social service providers in the Champaign County area. EOH is a great venue to showcase students' talent, and winning third place in the EOH Original Undergraduate Research category is a well-deserved recognition of their achievements."

In addition to these awards, NCSA put on seven virtual exhibits this year, spanning a diverse array of disciplines and various groundbreaking research conducted here and at UIUC as a whole.

NCSA appreciates and sincerely thanks all of the students and staff who made the exhibits and demonstrations at Engineering Open House 2021 such a success.

About NCSA

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation's science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students and collaborators from around the globe use these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world's industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.