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National Science Foundation recognizes Allen School graduate students for research excellence

NSF GRFP logoFour Allen School Ph.D. students have been recognized for exceptional research as part of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Each year, the NSF celebrates the most promising student researchers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from across the nation. Allen School students Terra Blevins, Matthew Johnson, Eunice Jun, and Max Willsey helped to carry on the University of Washington’s tradition of excellence in the “Computer and Information Sciences & Engineering” category as part of the 2018 competition.

Terra BlevinsFellowship winner Terra Blevins is a first-year Ph.D. student working with professor Luke Zettlemoyer in the Allen School’s Natural Language Processing group.

Blevins’ most recent project with Zettlemoyer and postdoc Omer Levy explored whether deep recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are capable of learning low-level linguistic features such as syntax when trained on traditional NLP tasks. She and her colleagues investigated four tasks — machine translation, semantic role labeling, dependency parsing, and language modeling — and determined that RNNs are learning syntactic features even in the absence of explicit supervision. Her latest work, which is in its early stages, focuses on multilingual language modeling.

Matthew JohnsonSecond-year Ph.D. student Matthew Johnson, who also won a fellowship, focuses on computer networking research. He is a member of the Allen School’s Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab, where he works with professor Kurtis Heimerl on projects related to the management and security of community-owned cellular networks.

Johnson’s current work aims to address the challenges associated with distributed management and network optimization within the context of community cellular networks. He also contributes to a project exploring the feasibility of crowdsourcing the maintenance and repair of rural cellular infrastructure by engaging members of the affected communities.

Eunice JunFellowship winner Eunice Jun is a second-year Ph.D. student who works in human-computer interaction with Allen School professor Katharina Reinecke. Her research interests span collaborative learning, citizen science, artificial intelligence, and large-scale online experimentation.

Jun’s recent work has focused on gaining a better understanding of the motivation and behavior of participants in online experiments using LabintheWild, a platform for conducting large-scale experiments of user abilities and preferences. Through her research, Jun aims to promote the design of creative learning opportunities for participants while simultaneously supporting researchers in easily collecting novel kinds of data when conducting online experiments.

Max WillseySecond-year Ph.D. student Max Willsey earned an honorable mention for his application of programming language techniques to problems in computer architecture and synthetic biology.

Willsey’s recent work includes Puddle, an open-source operating system for microfluidics developed in collaboration with professor Luis Ceze and members of the Molecular Information Systems Lab. Puddle aims to make laboratory automation cheaper, more reliable, and easier to use. He also works alongside professors Ceze, Rastislav Bodik, and Alvin Cheung as part of the Sampa group applying programming language techniques to the hardware design process.

The Allen School honorees were joined by Hugh Chen of the UW Department of Statistics, who earned a fellowship for his work with Allen School and Department of Genome Sciences professor Su-In Lee on techniques for combining machine learning with big data to improve human health, and Alexander Kale, a Ph.D. student in the Information School.

NSF awarded a total of 122 fellowships and 71 honorable mentions in the “Comp/IS/Eng” category this year. The competition for NSF fellowships is always fierce; more than 12,000 applicants from across the country this year vied for 2,000 fellowships across 11 science and engineering fields. In the past five years, the NSF has recognized a total of 45 Allen School student researchers through its fellowship program.

Read the NSF announcement here and learn more about the program on the GRFP website here.

Way to go, team!


April 9, 2018

Postdoc Laura Pina honored for contributions to student mentorship

Laura PinaLaura Pina, a postdoctoral research associate in the Allen School and Human Centered Design & Engineering, was recognized this week with the 2018 Postdoc Mentoring Award from the University of Washington Graduate School. This annual award honors the vital contributions of postdocs in educating, inspiring, and guiding student researchers.

Pina — who works on human-computer interaction with Allen School professor James Fogarty and HCDE professor and Allen School adjunct faculty member Julie Kientz — was selected from a field of 34 postdocs from five schools and colleges across campus. According to the Graduate School’s Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Pina earned recognition not only for her technical leadership but also her patience and compassion in mentoring aspiring researchers. It credited Pina for setting high standards for her mentees, and for investing her time and attention in helping them to achieve those standards.

“[Pina] works to instill confidence and celebrate successes along their scientific journey,” the office noted in its award announcement. “She is truly a model citizen and someone we know will be [a] successful scientist. She has made UW a better place by supporting undergraduate and graduate students throughout our community.”

Pina’s research focuses on the design and development of technologies that advance human health and wellness. She is particularly interested in promoting family health — including “family informatics,” which encourages parents and children to track their health together — and designing more effective tools for improving sleep quality, tracking personal fitness, diagnosing chronic health conditions, and other issues affecting health and wellness. According to the students and faculty who supported her nomination, Pina’s research is especially noteworthy for tackling problems faced by underrepresented groups that otherwise tend to be ignored. For example, she has explored the barriers that prevent immigrant and low-socioeconomic families struggling with chronic illness from gaining access to digital wellness and other resources.

Pina has mentored 16 students across seven projects that span multiple units on campus. In addition to her work in the lab, Pina serves on the Allen School’s Postdoc Committee and helps broaden participation in computer science and academic research through her work with first-generation graduate students and with Latinx families who need assistance with navigating the college application process.

The review committee also recognized a dozen finalists for the Postdoc Mentoring Award, including Allen School postdocs Yonatan Bisk, who works with professor Yejin Choi in natural language processing, and Nigini Oliveira, who works with professor Katharina Reinecke in human-computer interaction.

Congratulations, Laura!


April 6, 2018

Allen School’s Joseph Redmon wins Google Ph.D. Fellowship

Joseph RedmonJoseph Redmon, a Ph.D. student working with Allen School professor Ali Farhadi on computer vision research, has been named a 2018 Google Ph.D. Fellow. Redmon, who is one of only 39 students across North America, Europe, and the Middle East to be selected for a fellowship, was recognized in the “Machine Perception, Speech Technology and Computer Vision” category for his efforts to develop faster, better, and more useful computer vision tools for real-world applications.

The latest and most powerful computer vision tools typically require significant investments in hardware and training time. In addition to being expensive to implement, new techniques also tend to be fine-tuned for particular tasks; this makes it difficult for users to adapt them to new domains and data sets. Even with sufficient resources, existing tools can take seconds or even minutes to process a single image — rendering them unsatisfactory for many emerging applications, from autonomous vehicles to augmented and virtual reality. Redmon aims to eliminate such barriers to make it more practical for researchers in a variety of domains to employ state-of-the-art computer vision techniques.

One of his most visible projects is YOLO (You Only Look Once), a unified model for fast, accurate object detection in real time. YOLO treats object detection as a single regression problem, applying a single convolutional network to simultaneously predict multiple spatially-separated bounding boxes and associated class probabilities. Using the system, you need only look once at an image before being able to predict what objects are present and where they are located within that image — hence the name. The paper describing YOLO — which Redmon and Farhadi co-authored with former Allen School postdoc Santosh Divvala, now a research scientist at the Allen School for Artificial Intelligence, and Facebook researcher Ross Girshick — earned the OpenCV People’s Choice Award at the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR 2016). Redmon and Farhadi followed that up with an Honorable Mention at CVPR 2017 for YOLO9000, a new version capable of identifying more than 9,000 different object categories in real time. YOLO9000 also introduced a novel multi-scale training method to offer users an easy tradeoff between speed and accuracy.

While an intern at AI2 — and later, spinout company — Redmon worked with Farhadi and research scientists Mohammad Rastegari and Vicente Ordóñez on XNOR-Net, which introduced binary approximations for standard convolutional neural networks to enable fast and efficient object recognition and detection on mobile devices. While CNNs are reliable in their accuracy, their power-hungry, memory-hogging nature means they are only really practical on expensive, GPU-based machines. With XNOR-Net, Redmon and his colleagues were able to reduce the amount of computational resources required for running accurate natural image classification on mobile CPUs and other low-power devices. Prior to his collaboration with AI2, Redmon completed an internship at Google Brain, where he contributed to a state-of-the-art system for real-time robotic grasp detection.

Since 2009, the Google Ph.D. Fellowship program has recognized and supported exceptional graduate students working in core and emerging areas of computer science. Previous Allen School recipients include Tianqi Chen and Arvind Satyanarayan (2016), Aaron Parks and Kyle Rector (2015), and Robert Gens and Vincent Liu (2014).

Read more about the 2018 fellows on the Google Research Blog here.

Congratulations, Joseph — and thanks to Google for generously supporting student research!


April 5, 2018

Allen School students Nelson Liu, Kimberly Ruth, and Andrew Luo recognized in 2018 Goldwater Scholarship competition

Allen School juniors Nelson Liu, Kimberly Ruth, and Andrew Luo have been recognized as part of the 2018 Goldwater Scholarship competition sponsored by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship & Excellence in Education Foundation. The Goldwater Scholarship program is one of the oldest and most prestigious scholarship programs in the nation focused on supporting exceptional undergraduates who aim to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering fields.

Nelson Liu

Scholarship winner Nelson Liu is majoring in computer science, statistics, and linguistics. Since fall 2015, he has worked with professor Noah Smith of the Allen School’s Natural Language Processing group on various research problems in NLP and machine learning. He earned a 2017-2018 Washington Research Foundation Fellowship for his research into the limitations of recurrent neural networks and a 2016-2017 Mary Gates Research Scholarship for his work on building models of sound symbolism in language.

Liu has completed multiple research internships off campus, including stints at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) and the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) at the University of Southern California. While at AI2, Liu earned an “AI3 award” for his outstanding contributions as part of the team working on Project Aristo. Those contributions included his work on deep learning methods for domain adaptation in reading comprehension and the development of the AllenNLP platform. At ISI, Liu worked on low-resource neural machine translation as part of their Natural Language Group. Liu plans to obtain a Ph.D. in computer science and pursue an academic research and teaching career focused on natural language processing and machine learning.

Kimberly RuthKimberly Ruth, who also won a scholarship, is pursuing a double major in computer engineering and mathematics. She works with professors Tadayoshi Kohno and Franziska Roesner in the Allen School’s Security and Privacy Research Lab, where her research focuses on privacy and security of emerging augmented reality platforms. In collaboration with Ph.D. student Kiron Lebeck, she contributed to the prototype for Arya — a system that protects users from buggy or malicious output by augmented reality applications — and helped design and conduct a user study focused on multi-user scenarios with the Microsoft HoloLens. Ruth is now spearheading further work on security and privacy for multi-user augmented reality. She also completed an internship with Google’s security and privacy engineering team.

Ruth previously was named a finalist in the Computing Research Association’s Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards competition and earned both a Mary Gates Research Scholarship and a Washington Research Foundation Fellowship for her work in AR security. Outside of the lab, Ruth works as a teaching assistant for middle and high school students taking online classes in math and Python programming. Ruth plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science on her way to a research career in computer security and privacy.

Andrew LuoAndrew Luo, who earned an honorable mention, is a double-major in computer science and bioengineering. For the past two years, he has worked in the UbiComp Lab with Allen School and Electrical Engineering professor Shwetak Patel and Allen School Ph.D. student Eric Whitmire on the development of machine learning techniques for automatic detection of user errors in spirometry. The goal of his research is to improve diagnosis and monitoring of patients with diminished lung function while expanding availability of testing in low-resource and remote settings by reducing the need for professional supervision. Luo previously worked in Department of Bioengineering professor Ying Zheng’s lab to design, program, and build a 3D printer for producing sacrificial carbohydrate glass lattices for use in vascular biology research. He also completed an internship at the Institute for Systems Biology, where he developed data simulations to aid research in gene set analysis and enrichment techniques. While at the institute, Luo served as a teaching assistant for a workshop on the use of machine learning to characterize cancers based on biomarkers.

Luo previously earned an Emerging Leaders in Engineering Scholarship and a Mary Gates Research Scholarship and completed a software engineering internship at Facebook. He hopes to join an industrial research lab after completing his education and devote his research career to accessible health sensing.

The fourth and final nominee from the University of Washington in this year’s competition, Tyler Valentine of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, earned a scholarship in the Geosciences category. The Goldwater Foundation fielded a total of 1,280 nominations from colleges and universities throughout the United States in 10 fields. In addition to CISE and Geosciences, the foundation supports students in Chemistry, Engineering, Life Sciences, Materials Research, Mathematical Sciences, Medicine, Physics & Astronomy, and Psychology. Since 1989, the program has provided more than 8,100 scholarships totaling $65 million dollars.

Read the Goldwater Foundation’s press release here, full list of 2018 scholarship winners here, and the list of honorable mentions here. Read a related UW News story here.

Congratulations to Nelson, Kimberly, Andrew, and Tyler on their outstanding achievement!


April 3, 2018

University of Washington students win regional cybersecurity competition

Team Hillarious members holding the PRCCDC trophy

Team Hillarious, left to right: Saagar Saini, Brandon Kim, Stephen Bray, Rowan Phipps, Justin Inouye, Melody Kadenko, Xander Lent, Emma Casper, and Nick Huber (Not pictured: Dan Arens, Kayla Butler, Jin Oh, and Julia Houppermans)

A team of University of Washington students captured first place in the 2018 Pacific Rim Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (PRCCDC) last weekend to secure a place at the national championships next month. The multi-disciplinary group from Seattle — known as Team Hillarious* — emerged victorious from two action-packed days of competition designed to test their practical skills, teamwork, and time management against 11 other teams from colleges and universities across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Each year, PRCCDC selects a theme that will test students’ ability to identify and fend off cybersecurity attacks from live opponents while maintaining a simulated network modeled on that of a small company with multiple servers and common internet services. The theme of this year’s competition, which was held at Highline College, was supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Teams attempted to keep their SCADA system and all services running — including responding to incoming customer service requests — while a group of industry professionals playing the role of hacker repeatedly attempted to disable their mail and web servers, database, file sharing, and more. The teams were scored on their ability to detect and respond to these outside threats while balancing security needs with business needs.

SCADA system setup

The members of Team Hillarious include Allen School undergraduates Kayla Butler, Emma Casper, Brandon Kim, Xander Lent, Jin Oh, and Rowan Phipps; Dan Arens of Atmospheric Sciences; Justin Inouye of the Information School; Saagar Saini of Mathematics; and pre-major students Stephen Bray, Julia Houppermans, and Nick Huber. The team is advised by Melody Kadenko, a research program director in the Allen School. They have a brief respite before joining their peers from nine other regions at the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) in Orlando, Florida, on April 13th. This will be UW’s seventh appearance at NCCDC since 2009.

Way to go, team — and good luck at nationals!

*This is not a typo: The UW team got its name at a competition several years ago, when a team of hackers frustrated by our students’ ability to defend against their attacks left the team a note that read, “You think you’re so hillarious, don’t you?” And so the legend of Team Hillarious was born.


March 30, 2018

Allen School faculty and alumni recognized with Google Faculty Research Awards

Research at Google iconEach year, Google invites proposals from faculty at universities around the world as part of its Google Faculty Research Awards program, which supports cutting-edge computer science research in areas of mutual interest. In the company’s most recent competition, five Allen School faculty members — Magdalena Balazinska, Shyam Gollakota, Hannaneh Hajishirzi, Michael Taylor, and Xi Wang — earned awards for their efforts to advance the state of the art in data management, mobile computing, natural language processing, and systems and hardware design. In addition, several members of the Allen School’s extended family received awards, including adjunct faculty member Julie Kientz and collaborator Jason Yip of the UW Information School, and Ph.D. alumni Yoav Artzi and Nicola Dell.


Magdalena Balazinska

Magda BalazinskaMagdalena Balazinska is a member of the Allen School’s Database Group and director of the University of Washington’s eScience Institute. Her research interests include data management for data science, big data systems, and cloud computing. She earned an award in the “Augmented and Virtual Reality” category to support the development of a new system for managing virtual, augmented, and mixed reality data at scale. The goal is to enable powerful new virtual reality video applications by moving beyond existing capabilities in multimedia processing. Specifically, the system provides a declarative query interface coupled with powerful underlying query optimizations. Balazinska’s collaborators on the project include Allen School Ph.D. students Brandon Haynes and Amrita Mazumdar, former postdoc Armin Alaghi, and professors Luis Ceze and Alvin Cheung.


Shyam GollakotaShyam Gollakota

Shyam Gollakota, who leads the Allen School’s Networks & Mobile Systems Lab and received an award in the “Mobile” category, focuses on the development of new capabilities in computer networking, user interfaces, mobile health, and ubiquitous computing. He is particularly interested in the use of backscatter to enable battery-free computation and communication. Gollakota’s research has contributed to the creation of 3D-printed objects that connect to WiFi without electronics, the world’s first battery-free phone, and the development of new “smart” capabilities for a variety of objects and settings, from medical devices and clothing, to agriculture and urban environments.


Hannaneh HajishirziHannaneh Hajishirzi

Hannaneh Hajishirzi, who will be joining the Allen School as an assistant professor this summer, received an award in the “Natural Language Processing” category. Her research aims to address the problem of open-domain question answering using maximum similarity search. Inspired by a combination of log-time document retrieval techniques used by today’s search engines and the emergence of modern end-to-end trainable question-answering systems, Hajishirzi will develop practical, scalable methods for word-level question answering that reduce latency and computational costs compared to existing, more complex pipeline systems. Potential real-world applications for this work include the news media, search engines, and government. Hajishirzi is currently a research assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at UW and adjunct in the Allen School.

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor holds a joint appointment in the Allen School and Department of Electrical Engineering at the UW. He earned an award in the “Systems” category to support his work with the Bespoke Silicon Group. Taylor’s research focuses on rapid hardware design. His team has been researching ASIC Clouds, a new kind of datacenter that uses specialized chips to reduce the energy of the rapidly growing class of planet-scale computations.


Xi WangXi Wang

Xi Wang is a member of the Allen School’s Computer Systems Lab and Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group whose research focuses on building secure and reliable systems. He earned an award in the “Other” category to support his work on the development of provably secure operating systems using formal verification techniques.


Julie Kientz and Jason Yip

Julie KientzJason YipJulie Kientz, a professor in Human-Centered Design & Engineering, and iSchool professor Jason Yip earned awards in the “Human-computer Interaction” category for their work with  HCDE Ph.D. student Kiley Sobel on Inclusive JME, a project exploring the design of cooperative technologies that foster productive joint media engagement (JME) among children with and without disabilities. The team plans to develop a prototype version of YouTube Kids that supports inclusive co-viewing and evaluate its potential as a model for future applications that support cooperation and learning among children of differing abilities and needs.


Yoav ArtziYoav Artzi

Yoav Artzi earned his Ph.D. in 2015 working with Luke Zettlemoyer in the Allen School’s Natural Language Processing group. Now a faculty member at Cornell University, Artzi received an award in the “Natural Language Processing” category. His research aims to advance systems for context-dependent natural language understanding, with a specific interest in learning from situated interactions.


Nicola Dell

Nicola Dell

Nicola Dell, who earned an award in the “Privacy” category, also completed her Ph.D. in 2015. She worked with the late professor Gaetano Borriello and professor Linda Shapiro as a member of the Allen School’s Information & Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab before joining the Cornell University faculty. Her research encompasses human-computer interaction and technologies that address the social, technical, and infrastructure challenges faced by people in low-resource settings.


Google funded a total of 152 projects out of 1,033 proposals received from faculty at more than 300 universities worldwide. The awards provide graduate student support and the opportunity for winning faculty and their students to work directly with Google researchers and engineers. Read Google’s announcement here, and view the complete list of award recipients here.


Congratulations to all of the winners — and thanks to Google for supporting UW research!


March 26, 2018

Richard Ladner honored with Strache Leadership Award for impact on accessibility education and research

Richard LadnerRichard Ladner, professor emeritus at the Allen School and a nationally recognized leader in accessibility research and advocacy, has been recognized with the Strache Leadership Award from the Center on Disabilities at California State University, Northridge. Each year, the center honors an individual who has made a significant and lasting impact through education and research in the area of assistive technology with the Strache Leadership Award, which is named for CSUN’s former Vice President for Student Affairs Fred Strache.

Ladner, who began his career in theory of computation, has been a leading researcher and advocate in the field of accessibility for more than three decades. Examples of his research impact include Tactile Graphics, a project to make figures and diagrams in textbooks accessible to students who are blind and low-vision, and MobileASL, a project to enable deaf people to communicate via sign language over mobile phones that Ladner undertook in collaboration with Electrical Engineering professor Eve Riskin. His latest project is designed to engage blind children in computer programming via an accessible block-based programming language for tablets. Through his work, Ladner has helped establish the University of Washington as a leader in accessible technology — and ignited students’ and colleagues’ interest in accessibility research.

Ladner also has been at the forefront of multiple initiatives to increase access for people with disabilities to computer science education and careers. He serves as the Principal Investigator for two programs funded by the National Science Foundation: the AccessComputing Alliance, which focuses on engaging and supporting students with disabilities to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in computing; and AccessCSForAll, an effort that began last year to increase the participation of K-12 students in computer science classes through the provision of accessible curricula and tools. Previously, Ladner directed the Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing, an intensive educational program aimed at preparing students for majors and careers in computing-related fields.

Ladner’s work previously earned him the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM); the Computing Research Association’s A. Nico Habermann Award; the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing; the Broadening Participation in Computing Community Award; the ACM CHI Social Impact Award; and the SIGACCESS Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility. He will be formally honored with the Strache Leadership Award as part of the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference — the largest international conference focused on the field of assistive technology — in San Diego, California this week. Previous recipients of the award include Ladner’s friend and colleague, Sheryl Burgstahler, who was recognized in 2012 for her work as founder and director of the UW’s DO-IT Center and co-principal investigator with Ladner of the AccessComputing Alliance.

Congratulations, Richard!


March 20, 2018

UW and Allen Institute researchers develop new method for large-scale analysis of gene activity to advance disease research

Illustration of split-pool barcoding process

Credit: Jennifer Sunami

A team of researchers at the University of Washington and the Allen Institute have come up with a highly efficient, scalable approach for measuring gene activity at the cellular level that could aid the fight against potentially devastating diseases. The researchers described their novel technique — called SPLiT-seq, short for Split Pool Ligation-based Transcriptome sequencing — in a paper published this week in the journal Science.

SPLiT-seq enables scientists to identify the cellular origin of ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules, which are essential to the regulation and expression of genes, without having to rely on expensive instrumentation. It employs an approach called combinatorial barcoding, in which the cells go through multiple rounds of sorting and labeling with a DNA identifier, or barcode, through a process known as in-cell ligation. Each time the cells are sorted, all of the cells in a particular pool — and their corresponding RNA — receive the same barcode. Four rounds of sorting and labeling produced a unique barcode combination for each cell that could be used to identify its RNA during bulk sequencing.

“Using SPLiT-seq, it becomes possible to measure gene activity in individual cells, even if there are hundreds of thousands of different cells in a tissue sample,” explained Allen School and Electrical Engineering professor Georg Seelig in a UW News release. “With these ‘split-pool barcoding steps,’ we solve a big problem in measuring gene expression: reliably identifying which RNA molecules came from which cell in the original tissue sample.”

Seelig and his colleagues used SPLiT-seq to profile more than 156,000 mouse brain and spinal cord cells. They were able to identify more than 100 cell types, for which they analyzed gene expression patterns related to cellular function, region, and stage of differentiation.

The process costs around a penny per cell, according to Seelig, and requires no special equipment. By reducing the expense and effort required to analyze gene expression on the cellular level, the team hopes SPLiT-seq will accelerate research into the onset, progression, and treatment of diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

Co-authors of the paper include Bioengineering Ph.D. students Charles Roco and David Peeler; Electrical Engineering Ph.D. student Sumit Mukherjee and postdocs Alexander Rosenberg, Anna Kuchina, and Paul Sample; former Electrical Engineering postdoc Richard Muscat, now Research Funding Manager at Cancer UK; Wei Chen, a graduate student at the UW Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute; Bioengineering professors Suzie Pun and Drew Sellers; Allen Institute scientists Zizhen Yao and Lucas Graybuck; and Bosiljka Tasic, Associate Director of Molecular Genetics at the Allen Institute.

Read the full Science paper here, the UW News release here, and a related Allen Institute article here. To learn more about this and related work, visit the Seelig Lab for Synthetic Biology website and follow @seeliglab on Twitter.

Credit: Anna Kuchina


March 16, 2018

Celebrating our first year of innovation as the Paul G. Allen School

Seattle Times front page depicting Paul Allen firing t-shirt gunOn March 9th, 2017, the University of Washington Board of Regents approved the establishment of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering in recognition of our increasing prominence and impact on campus, in our region, and around the world — and to honor Paul Allen’s many contributions to our university, to science and innovation, and to society.

Today, Allen marked the one-year anniversary of our founding by highlighting 10 exciting innovations from the Allen School that are advancing the field of computer science and helping to make the world a better place. From the article:

“One year ago, with the clink of champagne glasses and the pop of a t-shirt gun, the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington was christened. With a mission to drive technology forward and a motivation to change the world for the better, the Allen School has already shown itself as global hub for technology innovation. From battery-free cellphones to 3D printed smart objects as well as the development of a digital storage system using DNA, here are just 10 of the many innovations that have come out of the school over the past year.”

See the full list here.

Thanks, Paul, for your ongoing friendship and support — and for highlighting the contributions of our faculty and students.

Happy one-year anniversary to us!

March 9, 2018

Allen School undergrad Christine Betts is geeking out and giving back

Christine BettsAn avid runner, reader, writer, crafter, and scholar — computer science major Christine Betts exemplifies the creativity and academic excellence that are the hallmarks of Allen School students. She also embodies a commitment to service: she has embraced the role of peer adviser, eager to help her fellow CSE students succeed, and also volunteers her time and talents working with kids through non-profit organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Betts’ achievements have not gone unnoticed in the local community. Last month, she received the inaugural Allen AI Outstanding Engineer Scholarship from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and was featured in GeekWire’s Geek of the Week. Between her studies, her extracurricular activities, and her volunteer work, Betts is keeping busy these days. She recently slowed down long enough to share her thoughts with us for the latest edition of the Allen School’s Undergraduate Spotlight — including how coming from a position of privilege inspires her to be a geek who gives back.

Allen School: What are some of your favorite things about being an Allen School student?

Christine Betts: There are so many awesome things about studying CSE. I’ve already been able to get exposure to teaching, research, advising, and some really interesting parts of computer science. I think what I’m most amazed by is how approachable and kind the people I’ve gotten to work with are. For example, the Ph.D. student I’ve been doing research with in the Molecular Information Systems Lab, Max Willsey, is patient and excellent at explaining things. He’s just one example of the many passionate people I’ve had the chance to learn from in the Allen School.

I’m grateful for not only the material I’ve learned, but the forethought with which it’s been taught, as well. It’s so cool to have dipped my toes in many different realms as an undergrad, and I’ve gained much more than CS knowledge through these experiences! I try to be cautious about deeming anything as “meant to be,” because I think that mentality can be dangerous when bad things happen, but after following a really bizarre path to get here, I couldn’t be more grateful to have discovered my inclination towards algorithmic thinking and absolute love of programming. As weird as it is to be a Missourian who took a gap year in the other Washington — DC, that is — here at UW, I feel so incredibly lucky for the things that felt negative at the time, but which led me into STEM even though I previously never saw myself in this field.

Allen School: You recently received the very first AI2 Oustanding Engineer Scholarship. That must be exciting. What impact will this scholarship have on you and your plans for the future?

CB: Holy cow, am I excited! I still can’t really believe it. The scholarship means a ton for my family and me, and the opportunity to intern with AI2 is incredible. I think this scholarship says so much about AI2 as an institution; increasing the voices being heard in tech is about even more than providing financial support, and I think AI2 really recognizes that. I’m beyond excited for this fall and the chance to receive mentorship, learn a ton, and to get a feel for working with a smaller organization.

I’m particularly looking forward to seeing AI in practice and will hopefully have lots of resources to figure out what I want to do after I graduate. Grad school? Research? Industry? I heard Oren Etzioni’s TEDxSeattle talk last year and was inspired and impressed by his message about the problems in the assumptions we make about an AI-controlled future. It really got me thinking about the things that make us human and are hard to replicate. I’ve always been interested in human behavior and cognition, so I’m sure during my internship at AI2 I’ll get all kinds of intellectual stimulation! I feel so much gratitude for this scholarship, and I hope to be able to share the knowledge and opportunities that come from this with other young women.

Allen School: You’ve also joined the ranks of Allen School peer advisers. What does that mean to you?

CB: I’m absolutely stoked to be a new peer adviser! I feel lucky to have had so many opportunities myself as a student, such as the chance to do research as an undergrad. I can’t wait to help others create game plans for their own success regardless of their major or background!

Allen School: Who or what have you found most inspiring during your time here?

CB: I’ve been sitting in on advising appointments and have been really inspired by the advising team; they all have so much compassion and empathy. I think they really reflect the prevailing vibe of the school, where people are accessible, interesting, and excited about CSE. This quarter, I’ve also been attending the Change seminar, which is a weekly presentation and discussion about a topic that pulls together technology and global development. The seminar has been a great reminder of all the meaningful applications of the skills I’m acquiring in my classes. It’s easy to get caught up in free food, cushy jobs, and the latest stories featured in MIT Tech Review. But at the end of the day, when I graduate I’ll have something to offer that can make the world a better place, and I feel I have an obligation to strive for that given how many opportunities I’ve had.

Finally, my peers never fail to inspire me! I’ve made so many great friends within the Allen School community that I think I’ve become an extrovert. I’m amazed by how hard everyone works, but also by my classmates who have the innate desire to invest in other people.

Allen School: It sounds like you stay pretty busy within CSE, but what do you like to do outside of the classrooms and labs?

CB: I love to build things, so I’m drawn to kinetic and creative endeavors like weaving, sewing, knitting, and physical computing. I especially love the intersection of CS and those other types of creative activities; I’m currently working on a project for an English class that’s a woven data visualization about the portrayal of women in the hero’s journey. It’s rooted in The Odyssey, where Penelope is weaving and unweaving Odysseus’ burial shroud while waiting for him to return. (The statement is that I’ll finish the weaving, thereby pushing against a patriarchal structure while still working within it.) I also love to read — mostly poetry and non-fiction books — and listen to podcasts. I used to do other creative and personal projects, including calligraphy and writing about things I think about a lot, but I’ve learned that sometimes we have to lose little parts of ourselves if we want to really grow in other areas. For now, at least, the tradeoff is worth it.

I also love to run and enjoy long-distance activities. I’ve done a triathlon, ridden my bike across Iowa, completed a century (a 100-mile bike ride), and, most recently, run a marathon with my buddy, Olga. I hope to one day do a half Ironman; the hardest part will definitely be finishing the swim before the cutoff time, because I’m a super-slow swimmer!

Allen School: You are very service-oriented. How have the opportunities you’ve enjoyed influenced how you approach your volunteer work?

CB: I’m really interested in the larger dynamics of American society and the role I play as someone with a lot of privilege. I don’t come from anything close to a private-school, “coastal elite” type of background, but I am aware of the inequities that exist and the biases that positively affect my outcomes as a straight cis white woman.

A few years ago, I saw an interview with Killer Mike from Run the Jewels in which he discussed how well-educated white folks should spend time mentoring children who might not have the same access, but have a lot of potential — not to “feel good about ourselves,” but to recognize the benefits that come with one’s identity and to try to improve outcomes for those who don’t share that identity. While I was living in Washington, DC, I was a Girls on the Run coach, which I absolutely loved. Since moving to Seattle, I’ve been a Big Sister for a young woman in East Bellevue. I’ve gotten a lot out of my time with my “Little,” and her wit and curiosity are a constant reminder of how important it is to encourage and support success in everyone — not only those who come from the most well-educated or wealthy families.


Christine is clearly going the extra mile inside and outside of the classroom. Thanks, Christine, for being an exemplary member of the Allen School community!


February 23, 2018

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