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Computer Science Ph.D. students Michael Hughes and Layla Oesper recently received fellowships from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, a prestigious and highly competitive program. In addition, two other Ph.D. students, Andrew Ferguson and Brian Thomas, received honorable mentions.

Michael Hughes investigates machine learning algorithms for processing multimedia such as text documents and video clips. His research develops hierarchical Bayesian models for supervised tasks as well as inference procedures for these models via Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods. His current project attempts to automatically classify human activities such as running, eating, or answering the phone in short video clips from Hollywood movies. Mike conducts his research as part of the Learning, Inference, and Vision group advised by Erik Sudderth.

Layla Oesper designs algorithms to identify and analyze genetic variants associated with complex human diseases. Individuals are susceptible to particular diseases due to genetic variation in their genome. Identification of these causal genetic variants provides vital information for the development of new and more effective forms of treatment and prevention for these disorders. Layla presented recent work on “Reconstructing Cancer Genome Organization” at the RECOMB Satellite Workshop on Computational Cancer Biology in March 2011. She is a member of Ben Raphael's research group.

Andrew Ferguson received an honorable mention for his research in computer networks. His proposed plan of research is to develop new methods for applications to collaboratively configure datacenter and enterprise networks. He is currently developing a technique for network traffic measurement using the IP Timestamps option, and presented initial results from the technique at the CoNEXT Student Workshop in November 2010. Andrew is advised by Rodrigo Fonseca.

Brian Thomas’s proposed research aims to facilitate user interaction with robots through dialog. He plans to explore the question of grounding verbs in robot actions, with consideration to the future scalability of the approach. Additionally, he plans to develop an interface which uses an expressive subset of natural language for this interaction. Brian is advised by Chad Jenkins.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowships provide three years of support leading to research-based master’s or doctoral degrees and are intended for individuals in the early stages of their graduate study in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Awards are granted based on previous research experience, the proposed plan of research, and the student’s ability to make a “broader impact” in their program of study in terms of educational, industrial, and societal relevance. NSF Fellows are expected to become experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.

Since 1952, NSF has funded 43,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants.