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Christine Betts receives inaugural Allen AI Outstanding Engineer Scholarship

AI2 scholarship recipient Christine Betts and AI2 CEO Oren Etzioni

This afternoon the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) awarded the inaugural Allen AI Outstanding Engineer Scholarship for women and underrepresented minorities to Allen School undergraduate Christine Betts.

The Allen Institute for AI created this scholarship to encourage underrepresented groups to excel in computer science and engineering, and become leaders and role models in their fields. The scholarship covers full tuition, fees, and textbooks for one academic year. It is accompanied by mentorship and a paid summer internship at AI2.

AI2 believes that diversity is fundamental to the greatest advances in science; a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences are necessary to combat the echo chamber effect so prevalent in technology companies. Encouraging diversity demonstrably results in teams with greater resilience and adaptability, and produces a wider range of tools and strategies. AI2 also believes it is important not just to attract diversity to CSE programs, but to nurture lifelong careers, and lend assistance to those who might not have equal access to opportunity.

Congratulations to Christine, and thanks to AI2, its CEO Oren Etzioni, and its founder Paul G. Allen!

January 9, 2018

Allen School launches UW Reality Lab to advance augmented and virtual reality research

Student working with VR headset on a telepresence applicationThe Allen School has partnered with leading technology companies to create a new academic research center aimed at advancing the state of the art in augmented and virtual reality. The UW Reality Lab, which launched today with $6 million in funding provided by Facebook, Google, and Huawei, will focus on the pursuit of leading-edge research and educating the next generation of innovators in this burgeoning field. The center will build upon the Allen School’s established leadership in computer vision and graphics, object recognition, game science, computer architecture, privacy and security, and more. It will also pave the way for new academic and industry collaborations in a region known as a hub of AR and VR innovation.

The UW Reality Lab will be co-led by Allen School professors Brian Curless, Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, and Steve Seitz. According to Seitz, who serves as chair of the new center and divides his time between the Allen School and Google, academic researchers are uniquely positioned to advance AR and VR by tackling the fundamental research problems that will underpin this growing field.

“We’re seeing some really compelling and high quality AR and VR experiences being built today,” Seitz said in a UW News release. “But there are still many core research advances needed to move the industry forward — tools for easily creating content, infrastructure solutions for streaming 3D video, and privacy and security safeguards.”

Seitz and his colleagues were inspired to create the center in part by their experience in launching the Allen School’s first virtual and augmented reality capstone course. Students in the course worked together in teams to produce new AR applications using the latest devices. Projects ranged from original games, to how-to programs for music and cooking, to art and industrial design tools.

Brian Curless, Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, and Steve Seitz

The UW Reality Lab leadership team, left to right: Brian Curless, Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, and Steve Seitz

Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, the new center’s director of research and education, said the faculty quickly recognized an opportunity to expand beyond the capstone course to accelerate new developments in the field.

“This opened our eyes to the potential of investing deeper in development of algorithms and applications for AR and VR,” observed Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, who splits her time between the Allen School and Facebook. “We realized there were so many cool things we could do if only we had more resources, more time and more devices.”

The team will have all three thanks to a partnership with Facebook, Google, and Huawei. The funding will be used to develop new courses and provide the infrastructure and access to emerging technologies that will enable UW researchers and students to develop and test new ideas and applications. The companies are also contributing time and expertise to the UW Reality Lab’s advisory board, a group of leaders drawn from across the AR/VR community who will assist the center in remaining at the forefront of new developments in the field.

As director of the new center, Curless is enthusiastic about the opportunity to help shape the future of AR and VR. “It’s big, it’s happening now and there’s a lot of research to be done,” he said. “We’re thrilled to take a leading role in making it all happen.”

Visit the UW Reality Lab website and read the UW News release to learn more, and see coverage in The Seattle TimesGeekWire, Xconomy, and the Puget Sound Business Journal.

January 8, 2018

UW researchers “MERGE” machine learning and medicine to enable targeted treatment of cancer

Su-In Lee and Safiye Celik discuss the MERGE formula written on a whiteboard

Allen School and Genome Sciences professor Su-In Lee, left, and Allen School Ph.D. student Safiye Celik discuss the key formula for their MERGE algorithm to match patients with cancer drugs based on their molecular profiles. Credit: Dennis Wise

In the latest example of computing’s potential to transform health care, a team of researchers at the Allen School, UW Department of Genome Sciences, and UW Medicine is applying a combination of machine learning and big data to improve outcomes for cancer patients. The team’s approach, detailed in a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications, helps physicians deliver targeted treatment to patients based on their individual molecular profiles.

Allen School and Genome Sciences professor Su-In Lee, first and corresponding author, and Allen School Ph.D. candidate Safiye Celik, co-first author, have developed a new machine learning algorithm called MERGE to identify reliable biomarkers of therapeutic response to 160 anti-cancer drugs in cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) — an aggressive form of cancer of the blood and bone marrow cells that is predominantly found in older adults — in collaboration with UW Hematology and Institute for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine professors Pamela S. Becker and C. Anthony Blau. MERGE “recycles” publicly available genomic data from many AML patients and biological knowledge databases to find the best drugs for AML patients and opens promising avenues to improve patient care for many other diseases in the era of precision medicine.

Safiye Celik, Su-In Lee, C. Anthony Blau, and Pamela Becker

Clockwise from top left: Safiye Celik, Su-In Lee, C. Anthony Blau, and Pamela S. Becker

MERGE — short for “Mutation, Expression hubs, known Regulators, Genomic CNV, and mEthylation” — is a novel computational approach for prioritizing genes based on their relevance as drivers of disease progression and observed drug response. The system models a weighted combination of these features to learn each gene’s MERGE score, which indicates its potential reliability as a biomarker for drug sensitivity. Celik trained MERGE using publicly available AML data and gene annotation databases, along with gene expression data from 30 patients diagnosed with AML and their in vitro sensitivity data for 160 approved or experimental chemotherapy drugs. She then tested its performance against that of four existing methods for predicting patient drug response: correlation-based methods, ElasticNet, multi-task learning, and Bayesian multi-task multiple kernel learning (MKL).

Not only did MERGE outperform the current state of the art in its ability to accurately identify reliable biomarkers for drug response, but it discovered new gene-drug associations that those other methods failed to identify; these novel associations were validated in a biological laboratory. These findings are clinically important because they involve the drugs included in nearly all upfront AML treatment regimens today — mitoxantrone and etoposide.

“We ranked the top eight genes that were likely to be biologically significant for leukemia in several major drug classes,” explained Celik. “For five of those genes, MERGE was the only system capable of identifying their role in predicting treatment response and patient sensitivity to certain drugs — a significant improvement over existing approaches.”

One of those genes is the SMARCA4 gene expression, which the researchers determined and experimentally validated to be a sensitivity marker for a class of chemotherapy drugs known as topoisomerase II inhibitors. The MERGE analysis revealed that cell lines genetically engineered to show high SMARCA4 expression exhibit dramatically higher sensitivity to such drugs — making them excellent candidates for treating AML patients with high SMARCA4 expression.

“Drug development is an expensive and challenging process, and cancers that appear pathologically similar can respond to the same drug regimen in different ways,” noted Lee. “There are more than 1,200 potential cancer medicines in development in the United States alone. We need better methods for matching patients to the most effective treatment, and that has been our goal in developing MERGE.”

Lee Lab contributors, from left: Benjamin Logsdon, Scott Lundberg, and Javad Hosseini

In addition to Lee, Celik, Blau, and Becker, contributors to the project include former Lee Lab postdoc Benjamin A. Logsdon of Sage Bionetworks; Allen School Ph.D. student Scott Lundberg; former Allen School Ph.D. student Javad Hosseini; Timothy Martins of the Quellos High Throughput Screening Core at UW’s Institute for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine; Vivian Oehler and Elihu Estey of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and UW Medicine; and Chris Miller, Sylvia Chien, Jin Dai, and Akanksha Saxena of UW Medicine. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, American Cancer Society, Life Sciences Discovery Fund, and philanthropic funding from Norman Metcalfe.

Read the full paper here, and visit the MERGE website here. Read a related UW Medicine story here and The Huddle article here.


January 5, 2018

Wheelchair-using Allen School alums Doug Ferry, Chris Schlechty featured by Google, Microsoft

In a remarkable coincidence, Google and Microsoft each published articles describing the accomplishments of wheelchair-using computer scientists in their engineering organizations – each of whom is an Allen School alum.

Doug Ferry, ’91, is quadriplegic as a result of a bodysurfing accident when he was 20 years old. He steers a motorized chair with his head and codes with a mouth stick. He spent 18 years at Microsoft before moving to Google 18 months ago. Read more about Doug in the Google post here.

Chris Schlechty, ’08, has been at Microsoft since graduation. A full-stack developer on the Sharepoint team, Chris has muscular dystrophy and uses an onscreen keyboard and other assistive technology. Read more about Chris in the Microsoft post here.

Doug Ferry and Chris Schlechty – wonderful examples of Allen School alums overcoming adversity and using their education to craft technology that helps others to do the same.

Thanks to Google and Microsoft for highlighting these amazing alums.

January 3, 2018

Paul G. Allen’s “7 Biggest Moments of 2017”

“In March of 2017, the University of Washington elevated its Department of Computer Science & Engineering to a school and honored Allen by naming it in his honor. Growing up as the son of the university’s Associate Director of Libraries, Allen spent hours and hours at the university not only devouring piles of books but honing his computer skills in the graduate computer lab. UW was also the place where Allen and Bill Gates created Traf-O-Data laying the groundwork for Microsoft. While he never attended the university, the honor wasn’t lost on Allen.”

Read more of Pauls greatest moments here.


January 2, 2018

“Topping out” celebration for new Bill & Melinda Gates Center heralds next phase of Allen School expansion and impact

Shot of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center with final beam in place at nightNearly 300 members of the Allen School’s extended community gathered earlier this month to celebrate two exciting milestones for the new Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering currently under construction across the street from the Paul G. Allen Center: the “topping out” of the steel structure, and the conclusion of fundraising for the project thanks to a $15 million gift from Bill and Melinda Gates. With this step completed, the Allen School is now able to shift the focus of its fundraising efforts from building bricks and mortar to building support for the students and faculty who will use the center as a springboard for creativity, innovation, and global impact.

The topping out was marked by the ceremonial hoisting of the final steel beam, which faculty, staff, and supporters were invited to sign throughout the day. After adding their own signatures to the beam, the Gateses joined fellow special guests UW President Ana Mari Cauce and Microsoft President Brad Smith onstage.

Melinda and Bill Gates sign the beamMelinda Gates recounted for the audience the couple’s surprise and delight when, in the midst of discussing making a building gift of their own, they discovered that more than two dozen of their longtime friends and colleagues had banded together with Microsoft to provide a naming gift in their honor.

“That was a really, really special day for us, and we really appreciated that,” she said. “We couldn’t be more proud to have our names on the building.

“Sometimes, when you agree to a gift, you have to push people in a certain direction,” she continued. “This is a case where because of the work that Ed Lazowska has done and Hank Levy to make sure there are multiple and many pathways for young women and minorities into computer science, we don’t have to do anything except be along for the ride.”

Bill Gates recalled the early days of Microsoft, back when the company numbered 15 employees, and how his hopes for the company and for UW were intertwined.

Hank Levy in hardhat“We had big ambitions, so we were hoping that the university would grow along with us — that its size and its ranking would make it the best in the world,” he said. “And in fact, that’s exactly what’s happened.

“It was a good computer science department; it’s now a great computer science department,” he continued. “If there’s ever been a clear win-win for this region, for Microsoft, for the companies here, and for the students, it’s got to be investing in great computer science. So thank you very much.”

At Allen School Director Hank Levy’s signal — “Okay, Mortenson, beam us up!” — the beam began its ascent to the top of the structure. The beam would later be welded into place, enabling work on the building’s enclosure and interior to begin. The Bill & Melinda Gates Center is slated for completion by the end of 2018 and will be ready for occupancy in early 2019.

Read an excellent recap of the topping out celebration on GeekWire here, and a related UW News release here. See below for a video of the beam-raising and more photos of the evening’s festivities.

We are grateful to our generous donors and friends whose leadership and support over the past several years have made this day possible. We look forward to sharing many exciting and inspiring stories about the faculty and students who will benefit from the building that you helped build!


Brad Smith

Brad Smith, who spearheaded the fundraising campaign, signs the beam


The team overseeing the building project on behalf of the Allen School (from left): Ed Lazowska, Tracy Erbeck, Dawn Lehman, Hank Levy, Paul Beame, and Aaron Timss


Charles Simonyi, Hank Levy, Lisa Simonyi

Charles Simonyi (left) and Lisa Simonyi (right), who co-led the effort to name the building in honor of the Gateses, sign the beam as Hank Levy looks on


Ana Mari Cauce signs the beam

UW President Ana Mari Cauce adds her name to the building beam for posterity


Constance Rice

UW Regent Constance Rice joins in the celebration


LMN Architects team

The team from LMN Architects, which designed the Bill & Melinda Gates Center, pose with the beam


HERB the robot serves soda

HERB – the Home Exploring Robot Butler – serves soda to the crowd inside the Allen Center


Rob Short signing the beam

Campaign co-chair Rob Short (M.S., ’87) signs the beam


Melinda Gates with students

Melinda Gates poses with students she met as part of her advocacy campaign to support more women in STEM fields


Ben Slivka, Lisa Wissner-Slivka

Longtime Allen School supporters Ben Slivka (left) and Lisa Wissner-Slivka


Onstage toast

A toast to the new Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering


Beam showing signatures

The beam


Additional photographs here.


December 28, 2017

Thanks to “the shops” – UW Facilities Services

Today was the Paul G. Allen School’s annual thank-you luncheon for the 100+ men and women from UW Facilities Services who keep the Allen Center looking great and working great!

Thanks for all you do!




December 28, 2017

UW programmers are among the best in the west at regional ACM competition

ACM ICPC logoLast month, six teams of students from the University of Washington put their programming skills to the test in the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Competition (ICPC). Three of those teams placed among the top 10 in the region — demonstrating that when it comes to computer programming, UW students are among the best in the west.

The road to the competition began in October with a local contest sponsored by Google. A total of 45 teams entered, from which six teams were chosen to represent the UW in Division 1, which also included Stanford, University of British Columbia, University of California, Berkeley, and others. The top-ranked UW team, “May the bugs be with you~,” placed fourth, with fellow UW teams “+1s” and “scottai” coming in fifth and sixth, respectively. The regional competition took place simultaneously across six sites: Puget Sound (including UW), Northeast (Spokane and environs), Northwest (Oregon), Northern California, Hawaii, and Canada.

Principal Lecturer Stuart Reges, who teaches the Allen School’s popular introductory programming courses and served as the teams’ faculty sponsor, was impressed with the strong showing made by the UW students.

“We swept the top five spots out of the 14 teams at the Puget Sound site,” Reges noted. “And we had more teams in the top 10 than any other school in the overall region.”

Members of "May the bugs be with you"

Members of “May the bugs be with you~” at the Puget Sound competition site

Fourth and fifth places at the Puget Sound site went to “WeGods” and “fsociety,” respectively, with the final UW team, “MATLAB Indexers,” coming in seventh. The group of undergraduate and first-year graduate students was coached by Allen School Ph.D. students Daniel Epstein of the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) group and Martin Kellogg of the Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group. Kellogg is already looking forward to seeing how the students build on this year’s outcome.

“‘May the bugs be with you~’ was all freshmen, and a freshman and two sophomores were part of ‘+1s,’ ” said Kellogg. “These teams are young, so we’re looking forward to even stronger results in the coming years.”

Way to go, teams! And thanks to Google for supporting UW students!

December 27, 2017

The FLIP Alliance: Diversifying the Computer Science Professoriate

The Paul G. Allen School is proud to be one of 11 leading computer science programs in the FLIP Alliance: Diversifying Future Leadership in the Professoriate.

The problem that we address in the FLIP Alliance is stark and straightforward: only 4.3% of the current tenure-track faculty in computing at research-oriented universities are from underrepresented groups.

The FLIP Alliance approach is equally stark and straightforward: we intentionally bring together the very small number of programs responsible for producing the majority of the professoriate in the field with individuals and organizations that understand how to recruit, retain, and develop students from underrepresented groups, in order to create a network that can quickly and radically change the demographic diversity of the professoriate across the entire field.

The challenge is important because diverse faculty contribute to academia in a number of critical ways:

  • Serve as excellent role models for a diverse study body
  • Bring diverse backgrounds to the student programs and policies.
  • Bring diverse perspectives to research projects and programs.

The FLIP Alliance is funded by an NSF INCLUDES grant awarded in 2017 that provides funding to launch and demonstrate the effectiveness of strategies focused on recruiting and retaining diverse doctoral students at the FLIP institutions.

The Allen School’s partners in the FLIP Alliance are the computer science programs at UC Berkeley, Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the University of Illinois, MIT, Princeton University, Stanford University, and the University of Texas.

For further information, contact the Allen School’s FLIP Advocates: Raven Alexander, Elise Dorough, and Ed Lazowska.

December 23, 2017

Professor Steve Seitz, alumni Gail Murphy and Geoff Voelker named Fellows of the ACM

Steve SeitzAllen School professor Steve Seitz and Ph.D. alumni Gail Murphy and Geoffrey Voelker have been named Fellows of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). They are among just 54 computer science educators, researchers and practitioners to be recognized as 2017 Fellows based on their outstanding technical accomplishments and service to the computing community.

“To be selected as a Fellow is to join our most renowned member grade and an elite group,” said ACM President Vicki L. Hanson in a press release. “The Fellows program allows us to shine a light on landmark contributions to computing, as well as the men and women whose tireless efforts, dedication, and inspiration are responsible for groundbreaking work that improves our lives in so many ways.”

Steve Seitz was recognized by the ACM for his “contributions to computer vision and computer graphics.” As a member of the Allen School’s Graphics & Imaging Laboratory (GRAIL), Seitz has made a number of important technical contributions to advance the state of the art in computer graphics and vision and enable new capabilities in augmented and virtual reality. These include DynamicFusion, the first dense simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) system capable of real-time reconstruction of dynamic scenes that feature subjects in motion. The project represented a major leap forward in both SLAM and 3-D reconstruction, earning Seitz and his collaborators — former Allen School postdoc Richard Newcombe and professor Dieter Fox — the Best Paper Award at the 2015 International Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR).

Seitz worked with Allen School Ph.D. alumnus Ricardo Martin Brualla and Google’s David Gallup to pioneer a new method for creating videos from photos. Using a process called time-lapse mining, the team was able to compensate for variations in camera angle and lighting to create videos depicting changes to important ecological and historical sites over time. In addition, Seitz has contributed to a line of research spearheaded by Ph.D. alumnus Supasorn Suwajanakorn and professor Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman aimed at developing new tools for creating realistic digital personas, including total moving face reconstruction, creation of 3-D digital personas, and photorealistic audio-to-video conversion.

“I’m really excited about the field of virtual and augmented reality and putting a lot of my energy into this area,” Seitz said. “I mean, how often do you get a chance to help define the next computing platform?”

Seitz is particularly excited about inspiring students in this burgeoning field. He and Kemelmacher-Shlizerman developed the curriculum for the Allen School’s Virtual and Augmented Reality Capstone to give students a chance to experiment with the latest technology and software. Students in the course worked in teams to build a variety of apps, from holographic chess, to virtual painting, to cooking and music lessons.

Seitz splits his time between the Allen School and Google Seattle, where he leads a 3-D vision team responsible for developing the Google Jump professional VR video system and Cardboard Camera, which turns an Android smartphone into a virtual reality device to bring VR to the masses. His enthusiasm for using virtual reality as a means of transporting people somewhere they are not earned him the title “teleportation director.”

In a way, his recent recognition from the ACM has transported Seitz back in time; the news of his selection has enabled him to reconnect with people who have been important throughout his career.

“The best part is getting these warm emails from so many friends and colleagues that I’ve worked with over the years,” he said.

Seitz is the 21st Allen School faculty member to be named a Fellow of the ACM. He is joined in the class of 2017 by Allen School alumni Gail Murphy (Ph.D., ‘96) and Geoffrey Voelker (Ph.D., ‘00).

Gail MurphyMurphy is a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Vice President for Research & Innovation at the University of British Columbia. She was recognized by the ACM for “contributions to recommenders for software engineering and to program comprehension.”

Murphy has devoted her research career to helping software developers and other knowledge workers to work smarter and better, inspired by her own experience as a software developer before she came to the University of Washington to earn her Ph.D. working with the late David Notkin. To that end, she and her team at UBC study how software is developed and design and evaluate tools for developers to manage large, complex software systems. Murphy’s approach has been described as one that puts people first and tools second. It is an ethos she put into practice at Tasktop Technologies, a company she co-founded a decade ago with Ph.D. student Mik Kersten and researcher Rob Elves. Together, they set out to streamline software development and delivery at the enterprise level through a suite of integrated tools for enhancing communication and collaboration.

“A big challenge today is connecting the people involved in large software developments,” Murphy explained when she was recognized with the Allen School’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2014. “When people are not connected, software development lags and problems get introduced into the software.”

Voelker completed his Ph.D. working with professors Anna Karlin and Hank Levy before joining the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, where he is a member of the Systems & Networking and Security & Cryptography research groups. He was selected as an ACM Fellow based on his “contributions to empirical measurement and analysis in systems, networking and security.”

Geoff VoelkerFor one of his early contributions, Voelker collaborated with another Allen School alumnus, Stefan Savage, and Ph.D. student David Moore on a study of denial-of-service attacks — the process by which attackers overload servers connected to the internet with messages. The team’s work, which represented the first time anyone had publicly measured the extent of DoS activity on the internet, earned the Best Paper Award at the 2001 USENIX Security Symposium. The enduring relevance of Voelker’s and his colleagues’ research to the field of network security was recognized with the USENIX Test of Time Award earlier this year.

Since that pioneering research, Voelker has made contributions in a variety of areas, including cellular networks, machine virtualization, cloud storage, and cybercrime. Roughly a decade after the landmark DoS study, Voelker worked with Savage and a group of colleagues at UCSD, University of California, Berkeley, the International Computer Science Institute, and the Budapest University of Technology and Economics on an ambitious project to map the spam value chain. Voelker and his colleagues discovered that 95 percent of spam-advertised pharmaceutical and software purchases are funneled through just a handful of banks and credit card processors — a bottleneck that could be used by financial institutions and regulators to shut spammers down.

With more than 100,000 members worldwide, the ACM is the world’s largest computing society devoted to advancing computing’s technical, educational, and social impact. Fellows are selected by their peers and represent the top one percent of ACM’s overall membership.

Read the ACM’s announcement here, and view the full list of 2017 Fellows here.

Congratulations to Steve, Gail, and Geoff on this well-deserved recognition!


December 15, 2017

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