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UW CSE professor Ali Farhadi and Ph.D. alum Jon Froehlich win Sloan Research Fellowships

Ali Farhadi

Ali Farhadi

UW CSE professor Ali Farhadi and Ph.D. alum Jon Froehlich have been recognized with 2017 Sloan Research Fellowships. The fellowships are granted by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support outstanding early-career researchers who represent the next generation of scientific leaders. Fellows are nominated by their peers and selected to receive one of these prestigious awards by an independent panel of senior scholars based on their demonstrated potential to make significant contributions in their respective fields.

“The Sloan Research Fellows are the rising stars of the academic community,” said foundation president Paul L. Joskow in a press release. “Through their achievements and ambition, these young scholars are transforming their fields and opening up entirely new research horizons. We are proud to support them at this crucial stage of their careers.”

Farhadi and Froehlich are among only 16 researchers recognized in the computer science category — and only 126 recipients in all, representing 60 colleges and universities and eight different fields: chemistry, computer science, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics.

Farhadi’s research focuses on artificial intelligence, computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing. He is particularly interested in enabling computers to perform visual tasks that humans can do seamlessly, such as intuiting why an “abnormal” image looks strange or understanding the actions and behaviors in a scene. In addition to his role on the UW CSE faculty, Farhadi is the senior research manager for the Computer Vision Group at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. There, he leads Project Plato, which aims to advance visual knowledge extraction and reasoning and go beyond standard image classification and object recognition to achieve visual “common sense.”

Jon Froehlich

Jon Froehlich

Froehlich is on the faculty of University of Maryland-College Park. His research focuses on human-computer interaction with an emphasis on interactive technologies that address social issues such as accessibility, environmental sustainability, and personalized health and wellness. He completed his Ph.D. in 2011 working with UW CSE professor James Landay and CSE and Electrical Engineering professor Shwetak Patel. His dissertation, “Sensing and Feedback of Everyday Activities to Promote Environmentally Sustainable Behaviors,” earned him CSE’s William Chan Memorial Dissertation Award as well as the UW Graduate School Distinguished Dissertation Award.

Farhadi is the 22nd current UW CSE faculty member to have earned a Sloan Fellowship, joining recent winners Emina Torlak (2016) and Emily Fox, Shyam Gollakota, and Thomas Rothvoss (2015). In addition to Farhadi, two other members of the UW faculty — Emily Levesque in astronomy and John Tuthill of physiology and biophysics — were named fellows in 2017.

Read the Sloan Foundation press release here and the UW News release here. Check out the full list of 2017 fellows here.

Congratulations, Ali and Jon!

February 27, 2017

UW CSE establishes the Guestrin Endowed Professorship in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Carlos Guestrin in the Allen CenterUW CSE announced today the creation of the Guestrin Endowed Professorship in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to support efforts to recruit and retain outstanding faculty in these leading-edge areas of the field. The $1 million endowment, which is named after CSE professor and machine learning expert Carlos Guestrin, was made possible by Apple’s acquisition of CSE spin-out Turi last year.

Guestrin has been a member of the UW CSE since 2012, when he was named the Amazon Professor of Machine Learning. He later founded Turi to commercialize large-scale machine learning tools he developed as part of his open-source research project, GraphLab. When Apple acquired Turi in 2016, it appointed Guestrin as its new director of machine learning. In this role, he will help the Cupertino, California-based company to establish a new hub for its artificial intelligence and machine learning research in Seattle and strengthen its ties with UW.

“Seattle and UW are near and dear to my heart, and it was incredibly important to me and our team that we continue supporting this world-class institution and the amazing talent coming out of the CSE program,” Guestrin told UW News. “We look forward to strong collaboration between Apple, CSE and the broader AI and machine learning community for many years to come.”

Read the UW News release here, and coverage by Geekwire, The Seattle TimesCNBC, and The Verge. Also be sure to check out today’s GeekWire exclusive on Apple’s plans to expand its operations in Seattle.

This is terrific news for UW CSE, and terrific news for our region!

February 23, 2017

UW CSE receives $5 million gift from philanthropists, technologists and entrepreneurs Charles and Lisa Simonyi

Charles and Lisa Simonyi

Charles and Lisa Simonyi

The campaign to expand UW CSE received a major boost today through a $5 million gift from longtime philanthropists Charles and Lisa Simonyi. The couple’s gift, which will help fund construction of a second building that will enable UW CSE to double annual degree production, is the largest personal donation received toward the project.

“The need for more computer scientists and computer engineers in the Puget Sound region to build on the legacy of innovation here is well known, and this new building will help the UW meet that need,” the Simonyis told UW News.

Charles Simonyi is an innovator and philanthropist who was the chief architect of core Microsoft programs such as Word and Excel and founded local productivity software company Intentional Software. Lisa Simonyi is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who holds degrees in corporate communication and international management and serves on the boards of multiple civic and cultural organizations. In recognition of the couple’s generosity, UW CSE will name one of the highlights of the new building — a “home away from home” for CSE majors — the Charles & Lisa Simonyi Undergraduate Commons. The space will enrich the student experience by providing a place for undergraduates to study and collaborate, and also help nurture a strong sense of belonging and purpose.

“We are pleased to support this expansion of the UW’s CSE program and are excited to see what new ideas and opportunities for collaboration will be inspired by the commons space,” the Simonyis said.

The Charles & Lisa Simonyi Undergraduate Commons

The Charles & Lisa Simonyi Undergraduate Commons (LMN Architects)

“Expanding access to computer science capacity is not only important to students looking to take part in the digital economy, but to every single employer in this state,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith, who leads the CSE campaign committee. “We hope that commitments such as the Simonyis’ gift will continue to inspire others to support this project, which is so vital to the future of Washington state.”

Read more in the UW News release here and the GeekWire article here.

Many, many thanks to Charles and Lisa for their tremendous support of UW CSE and our students!

February 16, 2017

UW CSE + EE professor Shwetak Patel to deliver NSF CISE Distinguished Lecture on mobile health

Shwetak PatelTune in Wednesday, February 15th, when UW CSE and Electrical Engineering professor Shwetak Patel will deliver a talk on the emerging role of mobile phones in health as part of the National Science Foundation’s Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) Distinguished Lecture Series.

In his presentation, Patel will describe how he and his students in the UbiComp Lab have leveraged the increasingly sophisticated sensing capabilities of mobile phones to create palm-sized, yet powerful, health diagnostics and disease management tools. He will also share his thoughts on the critical role that computer science plays in enabling mobile health innovation and what he envisions for the future of this rapidly growing field.

Patel’s talk will begin at 11:00 am PST (2:00 pm EST). Learn more and register to watch the live stream here.

February 14, 2017

UW CSE undergrad Nate Yazdani’s love of research “PLSE-es” through his veins

Nathaniel YazdaniIn the latest edition of our Undergrad Spotlight, we catch up with Nate Yazdani, a senior computer science major who works as an undergraduate research assistant with professor Ras Bodik of UW CSE’s Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group. Yazdani, who hails from Battle Ground, Washington, chose to study computer science because of his keen interest in math, logic and programming — a choice he hopes will lead to graduate school and a career in academic research.

He appears to be well on his way to realizing his goal: he was named a Washington Research Foundation Fellow for 2016-17, and the Computing Research Association recognized him as part of its 2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher competition. Yazdani takes inspiration from his own time in the lab to encourage his peers to seek out similar opportunities — as one of UW’s Undergraduate Research Leaders, he contributes to classroom presentations and panel discussions that promote the value of research as part of the overall university experience.

Yazdani recently accepted a summer research internship at the IMDEA Software Institute in Madrid. Before he could become too distracted by the excitement of planning his next adventure, he shared his thoughts on what makes CSE a special place in which to learn and grow as a student researcher.

CSE: What is your favorite thing about being a UW CSE student?

NY: This is such a welcoming, close-knit community — CSE actively embraces and supports the diverse backgrounds and experiences of its students. I myself am a first-generation Iranian-American. Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, my father immigrated to the United States at age 17. Even though he passed away when I was young, his experience has always served as an inspiration for me growing up. Since then, my family has struggled financially, and I am immensely grateful for the scholarships and grants from the university, the department, and outside organizations that have made it possible for me to pursue higher education. I’ve found the students here to be friendly and supportive of each other, and the faculty and staff are always willing to go the extra mile to help me succeed.

CSE: In what ways do they help you to succeed?

NY: In my research group, PLSE, the faculty and students have gone above and beyond when it comes to encouraging and supporting my research interests. They’ve allowed me to participate in all their group functions, meetings, and seminars and have made themselves resources to help me navigate complex research topics. Whenever I pick an especially hard paper to present in a seminar, the senior Ph.D. students offer to help me understand and present the material. That kind of environment is really conducive to intellectual growth, and I’ve gained a lot from it.

CSE: How did you come to work with Ras Bodik?

NY: After getting into functional programming, I started reading more about research in programming languages and became interested in doing research myself. The summer before I started at UW, I had the opportunity to attend the ACM International Conference on Functional Programming on a scholarship. The experience solidified my desire to pursue a career in research. Coincidentally, Ras Bodik — whom I had never met at this point — gave the keynote talk at that conference. I connected with him afterwards, and by the time classes started, I was officially working for him as a research assistant!

CSE: What do you do in this role?

NY: Mostly, I write lots — and lots! — of code. More specifically, I read research papers, design domain-specific programming languages, implement those languages with compilers and interpreters, and design algorithms for program synthesis. I am currently writing a paper that I hope will be published.

CSE: What is the potential impact of this work?

NY: My research will address one of the challenge problems of the PLSE group’s SandCat project, which is funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In the long term, this work will enable interactive data visualizations to scale to much larger data sets — without losing responsiveness or dropping too much quality.

CSE: Describe your favorite moment as a researcher so far.

NY: At one point, I was stuck on some particularly difficult problem, so my adviser, Ras, and I worked it out on the whiteboard. We spent four hours on it, in what was scheduled to be only an hour-long meeting. That was a great mentorship experience. My second-favorite moment was going to Houston over the summer for a DARPA principal investigators meeting, where I got to present a research poster about my work on SandCat. That was a pretty cool moment for someone who aspires to make a career out of research.


Thanks, Nate, for being an inspiration to aspiring young researchers everywhere—and kudos to Ras and all the members of PLSE for giving our undergrads an opportunity to shine!

February 10, 2017

UW’s AccessMap makes navigating Seattle safer and more accessible for all

Screenshot of Access Map routingThis week a team of researchers working with UW CSE’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology rolled out an online travel planner, AccessMap, which enables people to easily map out accessible or pedestrian-friendly routes for getting around Seattle. AccessMap’s customizable routing includes information on gradient, curb ramps, and closures due to construction — features that will make navigating the city easier for all users, including travelers with luggage, parents with strollers, delivery drivers, and people who rely on assistive devices.

“The big highlight now is our ability to offer automated routing and accessible travel planning for Seattle residents who may have mobility challenges or may simply want to find the easiest way to navigate a neighborhood,” Taskar Center director Anat Caspi told UW News. “Identifying routes that optimize not for time or distance but for things like changes in elevation and curb cuts is a really big and important change.”

The group of researchers behind AccessMap is also working on OpenSidewalks, a project that aims to create a set of standards and tools to encourage users in Seattle and elsewhere to crowdsource detailed information about real-world pedestrian conditions in their communities. OpenSidewalks is partnering with the City of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools on the Safe Route to Schools initiative to encourage students to walk and cycle to school — and to be citizen scientists by contributing their own real-world observations along their routes.

“We hope to be able to crowdsource all kinds of information that relates to accessibility,” said technical lead Nick Bolten, a Ph.D. student in Electrical Engineering. “Our goal is to have a set of toolkits and instructions so other municipalities…can get their own mapping efforts up and running.”

The AccessMap team won the 2015 Hack the Commute competition organized by the City of Seattle and also participated in the eScience Institute’s Data Science for Social Good summer program.

Read the UW News release here, and check out coverage by GeekWireTechCrunch, Daily Journal of Commerce, Seattlepi.com, and KIRO 7 News.

February 2, 2017

UW CSE’s Kira Goldner wins Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellowship

Kira GoldnerUW CSE graduate student Kira Goldner has been named a 2017 Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellow. She is one of only 10 young researchers in North America to be recognized as the “best and brightest” in computer science and related fields in this year’s fellowship competition.

Goldner is a third-year Ph.D. student who works with professor Anna Karlin in UW CSE’s Theory group on algorithmic mechanism design and approximation algorithms. Most of Goldner’s work so far has been focused on the design and analysis of revenue maximizing mechanisms; more recently, she has turned her attention to the design of mechanisms for “social good” in domains such as health care and income inequality.

Goldner has been on a roll when it comes to earning accolades for her research. Last month, she was an invited speaker at the Young Researcher Workshop on Economics and Computation (YoungEC ’17) in Tel Aviv, Israel, where she delivered a talk on the FedEx Problem, and was recognized with the 2017 Evening with Industry Outstanding Female Award from the UW Society of Women Engineers. She also was named a finalist for the 2017 Facebook Ph.D. Fellowship, a competition that attracted more than 800 applications from Ph.D. students around the globe. Last summer, Goldner won a Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship and, prior to that, earned honorable mentions in the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship competition in 2015 and 2016. She also was selected as an alternate in the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Fellowship competition.

As a Microsoft Research fellowship winner, Goldner will receive financial support and enjoy an opportunity to work alongside leading computer scientists at MSR as part of a 12-week paid research internship. Past winners at UW CSE of this prestigious award include Lillian de Greef and Irene Zhang (2015), Yoav Artzi and Mayank Goel (2014), and Gabe Cohn and Franzi Roesner (2012).

Learn more about the 2017 Ph.D. fellows here.

Congratulations, Kira! And thanks to Microsoft Research for supporting future leaders in computer science!

February 2, 2017

UW CSE+EE startup Jeeva Wireless raises $1.2 million for Passive Wi-Fi

Jeeva Wireless logoJeeva Wireless, a UW spinoff created by faculty and students in CSE and Electrical Engineering, has raised $1.2 million to commercialize a line of research based on backscatter — a groundbreaking approach that harvests ambient wireless signals to enable devices to communicate without draining battery power. Relevant projects include Passive Wi-Fi, a system that is capable of generating Wi-Fi transmissions using 10,000 times less power than conventional methods, and Interscatter, which enables implanted medical devices to communicate using Wi-Fi. This work — which represents a major leap forward in realizing the potential of the Internet of Things — was named one of the 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2016 by MIT Technology Review and earned Best Paper Awards at NSDI 2016 and SIGCOMM 2016.

Jeeva Wireless was co-founded by CSE postdoc and EE Ph.D. alum Vamsi Talla (who recently won the WAGS/UMI Outstanding Innovation in Technology Award based on his contributions to this work); EE Ph.D. students Bryce Kellogg and Aaron Parks; CSE professor Shyam Gollakota of the Networks & Mobile Systems Lab, and CSE and EE professor Joshua Smith of the Sensor Systems Lab.

Read more about the team’s latest milestone in a GeekWire article here.


February 1, 2017

How undergraduate Mitali Palekar developed a passion for programming and diversity at UW CSE

This week, UW CSE catches up with computer science major Mitali Palekar for the latest installment of our Undergrad Spotlight. Palekar is a sophomore from Cupertino, California who spent a portion of her childhood in Mumbai, India and is trained in Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form.

Palekar serves as an undergraduate research assistant in the Security & Privacy Research Lab. Last summer, she completed an internship at NASA working on a project for the HoloLens. She has wholeheartedly embraced and amplified CSE’s commitment to diversity in her role as vice president of community outreach for the UW Society of Women Engineers and her work with UW Girls Who Code.

We asked Palekar to share her journey to CSE, her passion for the technical as well as social aspects of computing, and why she aims to be a role model for other young women who would follow in her footsteps.

CSE: Why did you choose to study computer science?

MP: Having taken a few programming courses in high school, I came to UW with a fair idea that I wanted to pursue computer science. The theoretical aspects tied to algorithmic and logical thinking as well as programming really excited me and I knew that CSE would provide the perfect blend of both. Though my interests remain the same, broadly speaking, my time at UW has definitely expanded my definition of computer science and its potential applications. CSE has exposed me to a variety of concepts, including combinatorial game theory, programming bots, and computer vision-based game solver techniques — the breadth and power of these applications is what makes CSE so appealing.

CSE: What is your favorite thing about being a UW CSE student?

MP: That’s a hard question, but I think as everyone within CSE will agree, the opportunities that are presented to us as UW CSE students are truly “boundless” and that’s absolutely been my favorite part of CSE over the past quarter. UW CSE exposes us to a diverse set of opportunities: interdisciplinary and sub-field specific classes, research, community building and outreach. What really makes my time so memorable and enjoyable is the collective learning, discovery and discourse with a diverse and committed group of peers. I’ve only been a part of this amazing community for a quarter and a half and I’m sure that I’ve only scratched the surface. CSE is a very close-knit community within the larger UW community, and I cannot wait to further engage in this community over the next few years!

CSE: How did your earlier educational experiences inspire you to pursue computer science?

MP: Eight years ago, I moved to Mumbai. In India, I was exposed to a diverse demographic with a unique set of issues. I was also immersed in a very stringent educational set-up which laid emphasis on grades and rote learning. This challenging environment instilled self-discipline and motivation to take advantage of the opportunities later presented to me at the UW. It also gave me a greater cultural awareness and connection with my ethnic origins, as well as a greater sense of self-awareness in terms of my own interests. I want to channel these personal experiences into a positive learning experience for my community and also use them as a vehicle for promoting gender equality in STEM fields.

CSE: Who or what in UW CSE has inspired you the most?

MP: As a collective, my CSE professors, research mentors and advisers. I love how passionate the faculty are, be it about education, large-scale issues such as gender equality in STEM, or technical projects. More importantly, they are passionate about sharing this with their students. My CSE professors have always been open to discussing how course content fits into a large domain of industry and academia, my lab mentors have guided me in the process of determining where my interests lie within CSE, and my adviser has helped me piece together different experiences into creating a coherent goal for myself. I’m so happy to have discovered this group of people, because they definitely push and inspire me every day!

CSE: One of these experiences is an undergraduate research position in CSE’s Security & Privacy Research Lab. What led you to seek out that opportunity?

MP: Over the past year and a half, I have sought to intentionally step outside of my comfort zone and actively pursue new avenues that would lead to both academic and personal growth. I was looking for an opportunity to apply the skills that I had developed in backend development, data structures and algorithms to a real-world scenario. Working in the Security & Privacy Research Lab seemed the perfect avenue to apply my academic knowledge to a project that has the ability to be affect thousands of users — and I’m so happy that I did.

CSE: What are you working on?

MP: I am working to develop and maintain Confidante, an encrypted email client that makes sending PGP encrypted emails easy by using Keybase for automatic key management. The main goal of Confidante is to make email encryption a more user-friendly, quick and accessible service, which will benefit users for whom information security is of prime importance. I’ve contributed to the development of several features, such as making private key signing optional, changing the front-end to allow for interaction with past email threads while composing new messages, and adding the drafts feature for the email client. The opportunity to independently implement features has enabled me to hone my technical skills and develop a greater understanding of security research. As a college sophomore, I find it gratifying that I am able to contribute to CSE research that has the potential to benefit thousands of users.

CSE: What has been your favorite aspect of your lab experience?

MP: Definitely my interactions with professor Franzi Roesner and my lab mentors, Ada Lerner and Eric Zeng. They have made my research experience an enjoyable and fulfilling one. They have been approachable and supportive, and they have also pushed me to identify how my activities contribute towards my larger goals and interests. It’s not easy entering a completely unknown field where everyone around you seems to be an expert and you need to learn a new language and new concepts. I hope I can use this positive mentorship experience to inspire and encourage other young women to pursue computer science and other STEM fields.

CSE: How does the effort to increase diversity in CSE align with your own academic and career goals?

MP: In the short-term, I want to focus my energies on broadening my technical knowledge through research, personal projects and internships. I have a strong desire to address large-scale issues such as gender inequality in STEM from a technical perspective and inspire other women through my work on technical projects. Having personally experienced a lack of mentorship in high school, I also want to fill that gap by creating a supportive and collaborative environment for young women entering CSE and other STEM fields so that they are able to pursue their dreams independently and fearlessly. I believe that diversity is invaluable in promoting a more balanced and inclusive thought process and perspective. In the long term, I hope that my technical knowledge will allow me to create impactful and meaningful products that, directly or indirectly, promote gender equality in STEM fields, foster a more comfortable and inclusive environment for minorities, and advance the positive impact of technology on society.


We are inspired by Mitali’s contributions in the short time she has been at CSE and her dedication to serving as a role model for other young women in the STEM fields!

January 27, 2017

It’s winter recruiting season at UW CSE!

Crowd at the UW CSE recruiting fairAnd as usual, our established company fair has been packed all afternoon with eager recruiters and students! We saw a similar scene yesterday for our startup recruiting fair.

It was great to catch up with the UW CSE alumni who were back on campus, talking with current students about internship and employment opportunities with their companies (and handing out some pretty awesome schwag).

Many thanks to the nearly 80 companies from our Industry Affiliates who participated over the past two days. See you again in the fall!

January 26, 2017

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