Selected Students Experience Intensive Summer Research Program at Illinois Tech



By Casey Moffitt
Yuhan Ding

A dozen students from across the country have converged at Illinois Institute of Technology to dive into the intensive 10-week Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program.

The College of Computing’s SURE program offers insight and learning into some of the hottest topics in data science and computational mathematics through hands-on research experience. Students will work in teams on one of five Illinois Tech faculty-led research projects.

“We’re excited to provide these excellent research opportunities with our faculty,” says Lance Fortnow, dean of the College of Computing. “By the end of the summer, we hope these students will be convinced to continue working on research.”

This is the first year that SURE received a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which boosts funding for the research projects and helps recruit students to visit Illinois Tech for the summer.

“I hope these students can see what we offer here, and think about coming back to pursue an advanced degree,” says Yuhan Ding, associate teaching professor of applied mathematics and head of the SURE program. “I hope they are comfortable here for the summer exploring the campus and the city.”

The students say they are excited to get a taste of experiential research opportunities, and to see if that is a path they want to pursue.

“I am interested in math research, and there are no opportunities for me to do that at school,” says Irene Caracioni, who attends University of Kansas.

“I want to learn more about what I can do with a math degree,” says Mariah Taylor, who attends SUNY Geneseo. “I want to find out if research is the right career path for me.”

Other say they are excited to spend the summer in Chicago, and that they are looking forward to finding treasures throughout the city.

“I’m involved in the theater program at my school,” says Emily Willis, who attends Hillsdale College. “So I really hope to get to visit some of the theaters here in Chicago.”

Each visiting student will participate in one of the following research projects:

  • Sou-Cheng Choi, research associate professor of applied mathematics, and Fred Hickernell, professor of applied mathematics and Illinois Tech’s vice provost for research, are exploring “speedier simulations” to develop and implement algorithms in an open source Python package called QMCPy that speeds up Monte Carlo simulations. Students will contribute to QMCPy by exploring new use cases, by implementing new algorithms, and/or by improving performance through parallel processing.
  • Students working with Shuwang Li, professor of applied mathematics, will examine crystal growth as a classic example of a phase transformation from the liquid phase to the solid phase via heat transfer. In “From the Formation of Snowflakes to Crystal Growth,” students will learn the underlying physics of snowflake formation and evolution, particularly the general concepts of mathematical modeling and hands-on scientific computing.
  • In “Learning and Modeling Collective Behaviors,” led by Yubin Lu, postdoctoral researcher, and Ming Zhong, assistant professor of applied mathematics, students will learn how to model collective behaviors with the help of proper machine-learning tools and to possibly validate the learning method on experimental data.
  • Binghui Wang, assistant professor of computer science, and Ren Wang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, are leading students through “Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence” to investigate the robustness of different machine-learning algorithms against various types of attacks by developing trustworthy artificial intelligence through robustness and privacy.
  • “Virtual Tudor from CHAT GPT” is guided by Fortnow, who will work with students to create a virtual tutor that can help students understand mathematical concepts related to high school and college pre-calculus and introductory college courses. 

NSF funds a large number of research opportunities for undergraduate students through its REU Sites program. An REU Site consists of a group of around 10 undergraduate students who work in the research programs of the host institution. Each student is associated with a specific research project where they work closely with the faculty and other researchers. Students are granted stipends and, in many cases, assistance with housing and travel.

Disclaimer: “Research reported in this publication is supported by the National Science Foundation. This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Science Foundation.”