Undergraduate Past Competitions


First place ($300 award):  Penalized Information-relaxation Bounds for Airline Recovery, by Bingyu Zhou

Large-scale airline recovery management is a near-real time dynamic programming problem that designed to manage the airline flight networks.  Our research focus is on the algorithm improvement for the minimum cost route selection for airlines’ disruption management. The image presented is an abstract artistic illustration on the research focus. The airplane’s choice consists of many interconnected routes, but an algorithm needs to decide the optimal path with the help of data and computational technologies. Another message behind this artistic illustration is that we, often faced with the inadequate information and numerous uncertainties during our research, and even in our life, need to find the optimal path to our own destination, hopefully with the help of these technology improvements.

Second place ($200 award): Visualization of isosurfaces of electron density, by Zixuan Chen

I built this visualization of isosurfaces of electron density in Blender. The image is a snapshot of electron density that is ejected from a thin piece of aluminum after an energetic proton impacted the material. These processes happen in radiation environments, including nuclear reactors and outer space, but are also used in research labs to manipulate and characterize materials. From visualizations like this, we learn how the radiation affects the material and the time scales following ion impact.

Honorable Mention ($50 award): in clenches, by Isabel Hughes

in clenches by Isabel HughesI am fabricating Platinum nanoelectrodes capable of detecting minuscule amounts of reactive oxygen species in cancer cells. The cutting edge aspect of my work is that I am working to be able to detect smaller amounts of these species than ever before by plating my electrodes with Prussian Blue complexes. This image depicts the cyclic voltammetry set up in a Faraday cage for plating my electrode with Prussian Blue and detecting the reactive species. Because this research has to do so much with cancer treatment, a disease that has evaded scientist’s curing, the pictured alligator clips clench onto a potential cure.

Honorable Mention ($50 award): Compound Bubble Dynamics, by Amrit Singh

Compound Bubble Dynamics by Amrit SinghGas bubble dispersions in liquid media are ubiquitous in nature and industry. Often, such gas bubbles are enclosed within a layer of particulate matter or within a liquid that is different from the surrounding media, resulting in a three-phase compound bubble interface. Shown here is the underwater formation of a gas bubble within a droplet of silicone oil. This process, too quick and small to discern with the naked eye, is revealed through the wonders of high speed photography. Captured at 2000 frames per second, the bubble pinch-off dynamics can be carefully analyzed and quantified. Through our research, we hope to enrich the theory of compound bubble dynamics, resulting in better models that can be applied to a wide range of fields such as power generation or water desalination. So the next time you’re sipping a glass of champagne or enjoying a foam bath, spare a thought for the humble bubble – there’s much more going on than meets the eye!

The 2020 competition was canceled due to COVID.


First place ($300 award): Miranda Gurra

A fenestrated view into the world of the hepatocyte

A fenestrated view into the world of the hepatocyte

Hepatocytes, the parenchymal cells that proliferate in the fetal liver, constitute 80% of the liver and are an integral part of liver function, shape, and size. This is an immunofluorescence stain showing the composition of liver tissue: the teal reveals the nuclei of hepatocytes, red is the outline of the cell membrane, and the dark blue shows the nuclei of non-hepatocyte cells. This image, just like a stained glass window, tells a story. A story so complex and fascinating of how the liver works to detoxify your system, control metabolism, and keep you alive. These relatively large cells, invisible to the naked eye, are paramount during the first pass effect, where the liver metabolizes xenobiotics to protect the rest of the body. Without hepatocytes, medications and food normally consumed will not be broken down into the smaller components that your body is able to use. Hepatocytes are windows to your soul… and survival.

Second place ($200 award): Mary Kate Ford

move shift

move shift

My research investigates choreography that uses the kinesthetic experience of making visual art to inform the way I move, assemble movements, and create atmospheres. One practice that I engage with when intersecting a curiosity for visual art making and dance is to blind contour draw movement that I see. From there, I spend time embellishing what is on the paper to understand the priorities that came to light when transposing an ephemeral movement onto a flat picture plane. I aim to not capture exactly what I saw and instead depict a phenomenological experience of witnessing dance, which feels closer to the totality of what live dance spaces contain. This practice is a rich way for me to research my own aesthetic observations, a unique way of looking at the moving body, and a way of beginning a process of making dance phrases for choreographic research.

Honorable Mention ($50 award): YoungJoo Yoon

LED Farming

LED Farming

Over 6 billion people will live in urbanized metropolitan areas in 2050. Food shortage and overpopulation will be inevitable. This photo shows basil plants grown with LED farming technology. They have been observed in different heights under the same condition to find out the effect of the position of LED lighting on the plant growth. If LED farming is properly implemented, not only would it increase the crop yield but also it can be grown in a well-controlled environment without pesticides. Furthermore, LED farming requires less use of water and land, which will positively help the environment.  We have chosen LED lights as a light source because it has the longest lifespan and it is much more energy efficient than any other lighting system. Also, LED lighting can emit an optimal wavelength for the plants to accelerate their growth. Since this is such modern technology, finding out the impact of the position of the LED lighting could help the future of agriculture.

Honorable Mention ($50 award): Than C. Huynh

Ancestors and Astronomy to Scientists and Cancer

Ancestors and Astronomy to Scientists and Cancer

Astronomy is the oldest science. Even records of the earliest cave paintings depict prehistoric humans gazing at the stars and tracking their positions. Across cultures, the interpretation of the darkness and its stars provided insight into all aspects of life and has guided humanity for thousands of years. Connections between what was seen looking up and how the world changed around them, derived into a reliance on the stars for navigation and as predictors of weather for agriculture.

In the field of cancer biology, instead of looking up for answers, we look down into a microscope. Like our ancestors, we look for signs as we gaze into the unknown. We look for patterns and connect these patterns to health and disease. The image is of a Melanoma tumor slice. With the advance of imaging technologies, we can see and track the position of cells (blue) and other structures within tissue such as blood vessels (red). In doing so, we hope to make a connection between what we see looking down and how these markers change when diseased. In a sense, imaging is our guide for navigating and predicting the unknowns of cancer.



First place ($300 award): John Rossi

Fassi Tanner

This image, taken in the tanneries of Fes, was captured during my semester abroad in the kingdom of Morocco during Fall 2017. Despite departing to research political and economic effects of North Africa’s Arab Spring, I also embarked on a journey to capture a glimpse of a hidden Morocco through my camera and to reflect the areas of my studies into my images. A visit to these tanneries will highlight the cross between the changing economics and cultures in the Maghreb, to those who look carefully. While Fes and its tanneries have operated as a knowledge hub and economic center for over 1,000 years, today they serve primarily as a tourist attraction, where visitors like those from Europe, America, and China can watch the workers and purchase souvenirs. As unemployment rises, especially among the Moroccan youth, more and more citizens take jobs serving tourists, both in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. NGOs, co-ops, and organizations such as the UN Economic Commission for Africa are working to spur sustainable, youth-centric development not only in Morocco but across North Africa and the rest of the continent. This image is a part of my “Morocco in Light” photo essay.

Second place ($200 award): Heer Majithia

Masquerading Jelly

Jellies, 97% water, are little more than pulsating bells with trailing tentacles. Yet, these creatures are remarkably varied in appearance and found in waters across the globe. The photograph depicts an SEM image of a ruptured microcapsule as the bell shaped body of the jelly as it releases the core material, which has been embellished with the tentacles along with the color for enhanced impact. Much like jellies, microcapsules are found in diverse environments and can have a wide range of applications from drug delivery and phase changing materials to cosmetics and cleaning supplies. Microencapsulation of materials is beneficial as it increases their stability and allows for controlled release of the encapsulated material. My work is focused on the fabrication of multi-responsive microcapsules which can be triggered to release the core material by multiple mechanisms while maintaining stability under ambient conditions.

Honorable Mention ($50 award): Nicole Jugovich

A Happy Accident

In the words of Bob Ross, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” The organic semiconductor crystals pictured in this image were the result of a “happy accident” in which I prepared a solution using the wrong solvent. I placed a drop of solution on a substrate, and this crystalline structure formed as the solvent evaporated. My research aims to deepen our understanding of how single crystals form and what causes crystals to adopt different characteristics. These organic semiconductor crystals may one day be used in many electronic devices. However, the crystal formation process must be studied more in-depth before these organic crystals can be used on a large scale. Some advantages of organic electronics over their traditional inorganic counterparts include their low cost and flexibility. Crystal research could not only potentially improve the overall quality of organic electronics, but it could also lead to the discovery of inexpensive, efficient ways to create these materials. With enough patience, optimism, and methodical research, perhaps the findings will be a happy “non-accident!”

Honorable Mention ($50 award): Elena Wilson

Kidney Kaleidoscope

This image represents the beauty and complexity of science, giving just a glimpse into the intricacies of the human body. Kidney stones are common, occurring in roughly 1 in 11 individuals, and are renowned for their excruciating pain and high costs to the healthcare industry. Each is a unique geologic record of development and dissolution, change and stability, art and science. Kidneys are responsible for ridding waste products from the body by making urine. Sometimes, minerals aggregate inside the kidney, making a stone and  blocking urine flow. The exact mechanism of kidney stone growth is still unknown. The multidisciplinary approach based on analysis of images like these gives information on crystallization patterns, allowing for a creation of a minute to minute record of stone development. This information has the potential to be applied to other mineralization pathologies in the body, such as gallstones, osteoarthritis and cholesterol plaques on blood vessels.



First place ($300 award): Rebecca Boehning

A Semiconductor Rose by Any Other Name

To quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”- however, the “roses” in my photo are not true roses at all. These miniature roses are made from organic semiconductor crystals. They are approximately 100 microns in diameter, which is the width of a human hair. While these crystals can reflect any color of light, I have colored them red to increase the contrast and enhance the imagination. My research focuses on understanding the crystal growth of organic semiconductors. While most semiconductor materials are inorganic, such as silicon, the compounds I work with offer an organic alternative. Organic semiconductors, if used effectively, offer several benefits such as flexible electronic applications and low energy manufacturing compared to silicon wafers. Before organic semiconductors can be used industrially, the underlying crystallization mechanism must be understood. While the image shown here would not make an effective electronic device, the rose-shape of these crystals abstractly portray their organic character. In the future, organic semiconductors can provide a viable alternative for commonly used semiconductors today– or, in other words, an organic semiconductor by any other name would work as well.

A Semiconductor Rose by Any Other Name by Rebecca Boehning


Second place ($200 award): Andrew Tran

Colorful Emotions

Roses are red, violets are blue, and octopuses are green, yellow, and brown. Colors are important representations of emotions, whether in poems or in octopuses. Remarkably, the octopus already displays mastery in controlling its chromatophores – the cells in its skin that gives it the unique ability to change color – despite being only two days old. Our research studies memory integration in the peripheral nervous system of the octopus – can the octopus store memory in its eight arms? However, it would also be interesting to examine if the pigments themselves can store memory and display emotion without the need of a brain. Interestingly enough, we have already witnessed learning behavior through color change in the octopus. When threatened or angry, the octopuses would turn red, much like how our cheeks turn red when we are feeling frustrated. When communication from the brain to the arm is severed, the arm still retains the ability to change colors and interact with its surroundings. Understanding the meanings of these colors could shed light on how these organisms use color to communicate, and maybe if the green polka dots on the heart shaped tentacles of the octopus in the picture means ‘love’ or ‘back off’.

Colorful Emotions by Andrew Tran


Honorable Mention ($50 award): Jesse Han

Encouraging Excellence in Planning and Design Processes and Practices in Underserved Communities

The original image was taken from a design-build project in Arusha, Tanzania. I, along with 20 other students, partnered with a local orphanage, Neema Village, to design and build a permanent home for the unadoptable children, where they could grow up with a family until adulthood. The project was a successful case study of what architecture can do when it considers the public’s interest from the beginning, throughout construction, and to occupancy. When designing, we considered the vernacular architecture along with the desires of the orphanage and learned building techniques from local craftsmen. The home is almost completely furnished and ready to house up to twelve children and a host family. Public Interest Design is a relatively new field within architecture which engages designers to use their skills to improve environments of underserved communities. Literature emerged in the form of websites, guidebooks, project analyses, and critical reflection, providing specific recommendations for practice and documenting case studies and methodologies. This paper presents the results of a comprehensive review of this literature to evaluate the breadth of existing resources for Public Interest Design and will explore how effectively the resources inform the public and train the next generation of public interest designers.

Encouraging Excellence in Planning and Design Processes and Practices in Underserved Communities by Jesse Han



First place ($300 award): Alexander Duman and Andrew Tran

Contributor: Rhanor Gillette

The Octopus: Eight Arms or Eight Minds?

Abstract: Octopuses expertly coordinate eight arms that contain as much as two-thirds of their entire nervous system. In fact, the arms are very sensitive and are capable of distinguishing between different textures in their environment. Our research aims to determine if learning and memory can be stored in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) of Octopus rubescens. In the picture, the octopus is using its eight arms to feel and learn how to unscrew the cap and reach the shrimp inside. We hypothesize that the arms are able to store tactile information in the PNS. To test our hypothesis, each octopus is conditioned to associate food with a roughtextured die and an electric shock with a soft-textured die. After training each arm, Lidocaine is used to block neural signaling between the PNS and central nervous system. Each die is then introduced to the arms and grasp time will be measured to determine if the PNS can store tactile information. This research has the potential to explain both the functions of the octopus nervous system as well as provide insight as to how our nervous system functions.


Second place ($200 award): Rebecca Boehning

Contributor: Ying Diao

Crystal Confetti

Abstract: My research focuses on growing organic semiconductor crystals. Due to the increasing popularity of computers and smart phones, semiconductors now power our world. In recent years, organic semiconductors have emerged as a potential alternative to traditional semiconductor materials, such as silicon. These organic compounds offer several benefits such as flexible electronic applications and low energy production processes (compared to silicon wafers). One common way to produce high quality organic semiconductors is via crystallization. In my research, I aim to grow large (1 mm), monochromatic crystals with defined edges. The fun (and challenging) part of growing crystals is the outcome is random! Sometimes I end up with Crystal Confetti, and other times I achieve the large, monochromatic crystals I desire. By determining favorable conditions, I hope to see the desired outcome more often. However, my undesirable samples still make great abstract art.

Crystal Confetti by Rebecca Boehning


Honorable mention ($50 award): Keerthana Hogirala

Contributor: Susan Fowler

Navigating Autism During Early Childhood

Abstract: To understand how culture and income affects how parents seek medical and academic resources for their autistic children during early childhood, I travelled to Visakhapatnam, India to conduct field research for my thesis. That’s where I observed the child in this image, Keerthana. After meeting with parents, teachers, and medical professionals, I began to understand what little networked support was available for autistic children. Dealing with autism is undoubtedly complicated. Learning your young child has it in a country that doesn’t fully understand and accept neurological conditions nor support comprehensive research and education through efficient policy and funding is even more so. Solutions parents implemented were patched together from various, typically conflicting sources and mostly their own experiences. Keerthana’s mother, for instance, was highly adaptive, but that wasn’t always sufficient to help her daughter’s often hyper and indiscernible behavior, such as energetically clinging to the television for stretches of time, as shown in the image. But I saw great resilience where there was resolute familial support. Families pushed through and found a sort of isolated happiness focusing on the positive in their child. Ultimately, parents needed to feel a connection with their child as much as their child needed them.

Navigating Autism During Early Childhood by Keerthana Hogirala



First place ($300 award): Sean McLaughlin, Physics

Contributors: Robert J. Brunner, Anupreeta More, Kavli IPMU

Statistical Computing for Galaxy Modeling and Gravitational Lens Detection

Abstract: Strong gravitational lenses are a directly observable consequence of general relativity and one of the most exotic phenomena in the sky. However, they are extremely difficult to detect in survey images; though thousands are predicted to be visible from Earth, scientists only know of a few hundred. I’ve written a program that rapidly models the lensing galaxy and subtracts it away. It then looks at residuals in the image and analyses them for lens-like properties. This is an example of one of nearly a thousand simulated strong lenses the program was tested against. It shows the original image, the residuals after model subtraction, and the final result after the residuals have been analyzed. My advisor and I believe this technique shows promise as a strong lens detection technique in current and upcoming large scale surveys.

Statistical Computing for Galaxy Modeling and Gravitational Lens Detection by Sean McLaughlin


Second place ($200 award): Colin Anderson, Linguistics

Contributor: Rakesh Bhatt

The Linguistic Complexities of Complexion: Spanish and ethnicity in the United States

Abstract: Knowing nothing about the pictured people other than how they look, which of them do you think speaks Spanish? The answer may surprise you. My research is a sociolinguistic investigation on the intersection of ethnicity and second language learning in the United States. In our culture, Spanish has been racialized as Latino. This has produced a multi-faceted ideology that goes something like this: if you’re Latino you must speak Spanish, and if you speak Spanish you must be Latino; likewise, if you’re white, you probably don’t speak Spanish, or if you do, its probably bad Spanish. In light of these ideologies, it should be highly interesting to investigate the attitudes of English monolinguals toward white people who have learned Spanish as a second language and speak it with an authentic-sounding accent. I study how these speakers are evaluated socially in dimensions of solidarity and status, perceptions of their legitimacy in speaking a language associated with an ethnicity they do not belong to, as well as how second language accent and ethnicity act as warrants in being perceived as a legitimate Spanish speaker. If you’re still wondering which people in the picture speaks Spanish, the answer is everyone.

The Linguistic Complexities of Complexion: Spanish and ethnicity in the United States by Colin Anderson


Honorable mention ($50 award): Andrew Tran, Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Contributor: Jeffrey W. Brown

Thinking Like an Octopus

Abstract: The goal of the research project is to better understand the development and organization of the peripheral nervous system of the octopus. These creatures have large ganglion in each of their arms; two thirds of the octopuss neurons are actually located in the arms nerve cords. Illustrated in the picture, the cluster of Octopus bimaculoides embryos shows early signs of intelligence. The baby octopi rapidly change color and texture using their specialized, color changing cells known as chromatophores. The minute the larvae hatched, they immediately were able to use their highly organized arms to see and mimic their surroundings. The arms also appear to work independently from one another and even serve different purposes. One arm may specialize in capturing food while the other is used for locomotion. In essence, each arm appears to have a mind of its own. Octopuses are intelligent animals, rivaling the brainpower of vertebrates such as dolphins and monkeys. Unlike these animals, octopuses are invertebrates. Understanding their intelligence may give clues to what features of the mind are universal and which are unique for different species.

Thinking Like an Octopus by Andrew Tran



First place ($300 award): JunYoung Gwak, Computer Science

Vision based construction site surveillance for efficient utilization of resources and safety monitoring

Abstract: My passion lies in computer vision, a field of study which makes computer see and understand what people can. Since humans heavily rely on visual information, building a computer system which has the same visual sense has a significant meaning. With computer vision, computers can smartly interact with the environment and perform various tasks that could only be done by humans before.

The goal of my project is to automatically detect and track workers and equipments from video cameras and localize their position in 3D purely based on computer vision techniques. In this image, 3D position of the workers are displayed on the point cloud model of the construction site. Based on this information, computer can automatically alarm workers walking into a dangerous area. Also, managers can make better decisions about utilization of workers and equipments. I hope small gains in efficiency through my research could lead to an enormous cost savings on the $900 billion construction industry.

Second place ($200 award): Aimee Gottlieb, Recreation, Sport, and Tourism

Inclusivity through Sport

Abstract: I took this picture at a wheelchair track practice last fall. It tied in perfectly with the research I had been doing on sport and inclusion. Previously, people with disabilities have been excluded from mainstream society and sports, with a mindset where sports were a tool primarily for rehabilitation. Recently, there has been a global push to be more inclusive through sport in order to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals laid out by the United Nations. To be more inclusive through sport, a greater effort needs to be made to not only include people with disabilities in adaptive sports, but also through mainstream sports. Sport has this unique power of uniting people and making differences in ability seem nonexistent. Being inclusive through sport can create awareness of different disabilities, make participation have meaning for everyone, and encourage opportunities to play together. This picture encompasses the power of inclusivity through sport. The disability appears nonexistent and the competitive drive and love for the sport is central to the image.


Honorable mention ($50 award): Le Wang, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Reading Physiological Signals from Faces

Abstract: My research is on non-contact heart rate detection using temporal analysis of face video captured by ubiquitous RGB webcams. The cyclical movement of blood causes the color variations on the face, and the pulse via abdominal aorta and the carotid arteries. Heart rate is a critical vital sign of physical condition in medical diagnosis. There are also emerging needs for non-contact, low-term and accessible cardiac pulse estimation with wide applications in health monitoring, emotion assessment, and human computer interaction.

To investigate the relationship between temporal color signals on the face regions, I use cross-correlation to measure the similarity between color variations on different face regions. The image on the left is the cross-correlation coefficient map with respect to the signal extracted at the forehead. The image on the right is the overlaid result of a single face video frame and the correlation coefficient map. We temporally band-pass filter each signal to reduce noises. From the resultant map, we could see high similarity between color signals on skin regions and the spatial pattern emerged as caused by the underlying blood flow. Our main research goal is to develop robust heart rate detection in unconstrained environments.

Honorable mention ($50 award): Tayana Panova, Psychology

Set It Down

This image is a combination of drawings I have done that reflect what I see on campus every day. I have observed that students on campus are constantly looking down at their phones and engaging with them, and my hypothesis is that this behavior can have negative social and psychological consequences. I am currently doing research on this topic as part of the psychology honors program, and my results have shown high correlations between maladaptive phone and Internet use with anxiety and depression. Previous research has shown that cell phone and Internet use is also associated with lower GPAs, unsatisfactory interpersonal interactions, sleep issues, and general psychological distress. This image attempts to convey some of the problems related with technology usage and propose a solution to set the phone down a little more often and look up, thereby engaging more with the world around us.