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CSE News

  • CSE Professor and Alumnus Win Bloomberg Data Science Grant

    The Bloomberg Data Science Research Grant Program, run by the financial giant created by billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, is a relatively new source of support for computer-science research. It began in 2015. Specifically, faculty can apply for unrestricted gifts to support research in data science, including natural-language processing, machine learning, and data mining. The latest round of grants drew hundreds of applications. Only eight projects were selected for funding, and only six of the winning teams were based at U.S. universities.

    Despite the odds, one of the winning teams consisted of computer science professors at Columbia University and UC San Diego -- one a CSE alumnus, the other a former CSE postdoctoral researcher..

    CSE Prof. Kamalika Chaudhuri (far left) was a postdoc in Calit2's Information Theory and Applications Center (2007-2009) and in CSE (2009-2010), before joining the department faculty. She teamed with CSE alumnus Daniel Hsu (Ph.D. '10), an assistant professor at Columbia, on a project titled "Spectral Learning with Prior Information with Applications to Topic Models." According to Chaudhuri, the goal of this project is to design algorithms and statistical tools to build complex probabilistic models from massive quantities of data in a computationally-efficient manner. "Recent advances in machine learning have led to the development of spectral learning, an efficient method for learning probabilistic graphical models, that can work with such massive quantities of data," said Chaudhuri. "But existing spectral-learning methods cannot utilize auxiliary information that the modeler may have, which limits their applicability."

    In their winning proposal, Hsu -- who did his Ph.D. under CSE Prof. Sanjoy Dasgupta -- and Chaudhuri proposed to address this limitation by designing a framework and algorithms for injecting prior knowledge into spectral learning through constrained optimization.

    As outlined by Bloomberg in announcing the winning projects, "Complex statistical models are challenging to fit to large, high-dimensional data sets. Although several recent developments in machine learning have led to scalable fitting methods based on simple algebraic techniques, they are unable to incorporate prior knowledge constraints into the model fitting. Professors Chaudhuri and Hsu will develop new extensions of these scalable methods that can handle such constraints, and they will apply these methods to perform comparative analyses of large document corpora."

    Columbia's Hsu is a pioneer of spectral learning for natural-language processing (NLP) applications, and he is PI on the project. Co-PI Chaudhuri has also published on spectral learning, including preliminary work on using constrained spectral learning to compare epigenetic sequences from related cell types. The two computer scientists have co-authored six publications over the past seven years. The $60,000 Bloomberg grant will fund two Ph.D. students (one at UCSD, one at Columbia) for one semester each, in addition to some summer support for Chaudhuri.

  • Director of Student Affairs Heads into Retirement

    After four-and-a-half years in CSE, and a total of 34 years of outstanding service to UC San Diego overall, Lynne Keith-McMullin is retiring as Director of Student Affairs in the department. Her last official day will be Wednesday, June 29, so two days before that, we'll celebrate her with a Happy Hour. Mark the date and time on your calendar:

    Date: Monday, June 27
    Time: 3pm - 4pm
    Location: Room 4262, CSE Building

    Lynne Keith-McMullin has become an indispensable member of our department staff leadership, recently serving as interim MSO and department business officer pending the arrival of Samira Khazai, who is now in place.  Keith-McMullin has been a true champion of CSE students, and a tireless advocate for the Student Affairs unit. "During this time, Lynne has helped guide the department through some of its most difficult challenges, including the largest growth in student population in our department's history," said CSE chair Rajesh Gupta. "She has been at the helm of managing the complex impact of this explosive growth on Student Affairs advising, enrollment management, course scheduling, and student support, among other areas.

    In addition, Keith-McMullin has provided invaluable insight and direction during the growth and restructuring of the Master's program and was instrumental in developing the Data Sciences undergraduate major (and minor), a program that was recently approved and is expected to launch as early as this fall.

    "It is with truly mixed feelings that I announce that Lynne is retiring from UC San Diego and CSE," added Gupta in an announcement. "While we are very sad to say goodbye to Lynne, we are happy that she is embarking on her well-deserved retirement."

  • 'Decoding the Microbiome' Draws 142,000 Viewers in May

    Who says computer science isn't sexy enough to grab TV viewers? Well, that was certainly not true in May for at least one program produced by the CSE department in collaboration with UCSD-TV. In the first month following the April premiere of "Decoding the Microbiome", the latest program in CSE's Computing Primetime series, the program chalked up more than 142,000 views on the TV network's website alone. That does not include viewers who watched the program on TV via cable, the DISH satellite network, or the old-fashioned way -- over-the-air. For a sense of what that number means, the network says that the microbiome program featuring a conversation between CSE professors Larry Smarr and Rob Knight (whose has appointments in both CSE and Pediatrics) was the #2 most-watched program on UCSD-TV's web portal in May.

    CSE and UCSD-TV are now building a dedicated web presence, The Computer Science Channel, to showcase videos produced by the department as well as from other University of California campuses. The tentative date for the launch of The Computer Science Channel is September 1.

    Watch "Decoding the Microbiome" online

  • Longtime Staffer Selected Among Exemplary Staff Employees of the Year

    A Computer Science and Engineering staffer is among those named UC San Diego Exemplary Staff Employees of the Year for the 2015-2016 academic year. Glenn Little (pictured below) -- a Programmer-Analyst III who has worked in CSE for more than 30 years -- made the cut. He is one of ten Professional and Support Staff members selected by the campus Review Panel.  Little is one of only three winners from Academic Affairs (the other two hailed from Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the School of Global Policy and Strategy). Little is CSE's Information Technology and Infrastructure Support Manager, and he was cited for recurring examples of "extraordinary service to the CSE community, and more than likely, to other departmental personnel connected to the CSE department."

    Among CSE faculty recommending Little for the honor, Prof. Joe Pasquale noted that "the one constant in every single one of my interactions with him is his absolutely positive, can-do attitude... [Glenn] exemplifies everything one would want in our staff and he has repeatedly demonstrated a total commitment to the university over his many years at UCSD." Prof. Alin Deutsch also wrote in support of Little, and he cited what happened after the department stopped using the software developed by CSE Help in favor of a tool created by the UC San Diego Graduate Division (to process approximately 4,000 applications annually to CSE for grad school. "It soon turned out that the Graduate Division tool did not support the scale and particulars of the CSE admissions workflow, leading to a crisis in which CSE was facing the inability to review the entire applicant pool and generate admissions offers in time to compete with its peer CS departments," noted Deutsch. "Glenn generously stepped in, continuing to maintain [CSE Help's] 'csegradapp' on the side, in addition to his official tasks... [and] Glenn still continues to take care of the application whenever there is a problem.”

    Little also oversees building operations in CSE, and he is an active participant on the Building Renovation Committee, which is responsible for the current $6 million in renovations underway this summer. He also has been instrumental in building computer labs, a dedicated machine room, and managing Linux machines and custom systems to support faculty research, instruction, and staff. The nominating letter points out Little's 'special talent' for problem-solving: "More than likely it is because he is a musician, and a very bright and talented individual. He is always trying to find that perfect note, whether it is in the computing or musical realm."  Congratulations Glenn!

  • Students Develop Games to Teach Kids ‘Cool Ways to Recycle’

    The computer animation is relatively modest – for good reason. Specifically, the 25 students taking CSE 198 with CSE Prof. Geoffrey Voelker decided that their interactive games should be designed not for college students, but for… third-graders. Why? According to project leader Danielle Tobey, it was because “research showed that the curriculum at that grade level begins to kids about habitat destruction.”

    Once they had decided to develop games for 8- to 9-year-olds, it became important to use simple animations as well as game rules and instructions that could be easily understood and followed by third-graders. Calling itself RecyCool, the team set out to teach the basics and the importance of recycling.

    San Diego County is aiming for zero waste by 2040, yet public schools do not teach kids about recycling. “Kids are sharp, keen, and fast learners, and we wanted  to convey the various cool ways for students to recycle,” said Tobey, a graduating senior in Political Science. “I was fortunate enough to meet a group of talented, like-minded people who also wanted to make a difference, and over the past 10 weeks, together we’ve made incredible progress toward our vision.”

    That vision, she added, is to “bring a fun and engaging recycling game into elementary-school classrooms in San Diego and beyond.”  After recruiting fellow students on social media with her concept for the course, Tobey (pictured at left) petitioned for official credit as a CSE 198 Directed Group Study course, and Prof. Voelker agreed to oversee the Spring 2016 teams.

    Students were divided into separate teams to work on different interactive mini-games, which were then bundled together in a single game environment. Nominally, CSE 198 is supposed to involve reading and discussion by a small group of students under the supervision of a faculty member. But given the proactive goal – to create games that third-graders would want to play and learn from – much of the class discussion focused on design and programming solutions.

    According to Jason Davies, a fourth-year Computer Science major, the team opted to use the Unity game engine, in part because he had already used it. “I did training sessions to bring CS students up to speed on using Unity, so that all of the teams could handle programming of their own gameplay,” said Davies when the teams showcased their games on June 6, before finals week. Each student in the class was also required to play one of the mini-games.

    Each team was responsible for creating a game to get third-graders interested in recycling, and they were obliged to start from scratch. Since CSE 198 was open to students of all majors, only 12 out of 25 students were enrolled in the CSE department. Other students taking the course included majors in Biological Sciences, Business, Cognitive Science, Economics, Film  and Visual Arts.

    Ten students from CSE made up the cohort of developers of the interactive games. The group included three leaders, all majoring in Computer Science:: fourth-year Jason Davies, third-year Wes Okuhara, and second-year Karen Lo. 

    Another nine students with art backgrounds designed the game graphics from scratch under leaders Madeline Hsia and Sharmaine Manalo (the design lead). Both are sophomores in Cognitive Science specializing in Human-Computer Interaction. “I worked with artists on all of the games to pull together a uniform design aesthetic,” said Manalo, who is also minoring in Computer Science. “Since the ultimate goal involved pulling together all of the mini-games into a single program, having a uniform look was not just desirable, it was critical.”

    Students interested in music took charge of creating audio effects for the games as well as the musical accompaniment for each team’s gameplay. They included fourth-year ICAM major Soo Y. Chu, CS sophomore Gabriel Rangel, and freshman Math major Takahashi Taylor.

    In one game, a player distributes pieces of trash into one of three “bins” labeled Compost, Recycle and Trash.. Another game lets players use a waste-paper basket to catch recyclables that are littering a park,  or a player can drag a piece of trash and “jump” over an obstacle to stay ahead of a landfill monster. In all, the class was split into six teams to design three sub-games, while other teams worked on pulling them together.

  • Cybersecurity Expert Named to Irwin and Joan Jacobs Chair

    Just days after he accepted the prestigious ACM-Infosys Foundation Award, University of California San Diego professor Stefan Savage received another honor: the Irwin Mark and Joan Klein Jacobs Chair in Information and Computer Science. This endowed faculty chair at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering honors the school’s namesakes: Irwin and Joan Jacobs.

    “From the moment he arrived at UC San Diego in 2001, Stefan Savage has been a star on the CSE faculty, with broad interests in systems and networking as well as security,” said Rajesh Gupta, Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at the Jacobs School of Engineering.

    “Stefan Savage is an outstanding scholar, teacher and mentor. In addition, he has done the hard work necessary to ensure that his security research makes a real and lasting impact on society. And for that, we all benefit,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering.

    The appointment of Savage to the Jacobs Chair was the second faculty chair announcement in as many weeks. Previously, CSE computer graphics and vision professor Ravi Ramamoorthi was tapped to be the inaugural holder of the Ronald L. Graham Chair of Computer Science. The Graham Chair was named for professor Ron Graham, who recently retired but maintains an emeritus faculty position in the department. Graham is the previous holder of the Jacobs Chair that is now going to Stefan Savage.

    On June 11, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) presented Savage with the ACM-Infosys Foundation Award at its annual awards banquet in San Francisco. The honor recognized the finest recent innovations by young scientists and system developers in the computing field. The Infosys Foundation provides financial support for the $175,000 annual award.

    “Keeping networks secure is an ongoing battle,” said ACM President Alexander L. Wolf. “Stefan Savage has shifted thinking and prompted us to ask ourselves how we might impede the fundamental support structure of an attacker. His frameworks will continue to significantly influence network security initiatives in the coming years.”

    “Dr. Savage is a true innovator, pursuing his curiosity and passion toward new frontiers in cybersecurity and exemplifying the kind of work that the ACM-Infosys Foundation Award is proud to support,” added Infosys CEO and Managing Director, Dr. Vishal Sikka. “Dr. Savage has dedicated his career to analyzing, protecting and strengthening the systems and networks that make our digital age possible. From network congestion control, worms and malware to wireless security, his work has helped advance a wide range of areas.”

    One day before he accepted the ACM-Infosys Foundation Award, Savage was in Seattle at his alma mater, the University of Washington (UW). The university’s Computer Science and Engineering department presented him on June 10 with its Alumni Achievement Award.

  • Staff Honored for Work with Students with Disabilities

    Undergraduate Advisor Viera Kair (pictured on left) and Intake Advisor Wendi Stephens are being honored for one part of their jobs: serving through the Office of Students with Disabilities (OSD).  They were recognized for outstanding service in providing accommodations to UC San Diego students with disabilities. Bpth were nominated for the honor by the students they helped/

    For Kair, it was her second such recognition in a row, after she received the same honor last year as well.  Both were cited because Kair is handing off responsibilities with OSD to Stephens, who is now the primary contact for any CSE students with disabilities. In announcing the news,  CSE's Director of Student Affairs, Lynne Keith-McMullin, noted that "clearly both of them have a huge heart for these students." To MSO Samira Khazai, it was a "well-deserved recognition of [their] hard work in providing exemplary service to our students with disabilities." Among the faculty, staff and students congratulating  Kair and Stephens was Julie Conner, director of the Ph.D. Graduate Program in CSE. "I know how hard you both work on coordinating the OSD accommodations for these  students  so the exams run smoothly," wrote Conner. "You are both superstars in my eyes."

  • Jacobs School and Rady School Partner on Global Program

    At an early-June event to launch the new UC San Diego Institute for the Global Entrepreneur (IGE), the campus celebrated the joint program's mission: to train students to become entrepreneurs and technology leaders. The program places graduate students from the Jacobs School of Engineering and MBA students from the Rady School of Management in the same classes, including Rady's signature Lab to Market program.

    At the launch event in Atkinson Hall, a blue-chip roster of speakers included Dan Kaufman, the director of Advanced Technologies and Projects at Google, and CSE alumnus (and donor) Taner Halicioglu (pictured second from right), previously at Facebook and eBay.  Halicioglu (BS  Computer Science '95) is currently a co-founder and partner in Seed San Diego, which invests in early-stage companies with disruptive technology -- companies that need both capital and additional business insight to achieve their next milestone.

    Through the new Institute, UC San Diego’s world-class engineering and management schools are creating new ways to work together in order to ensure the talent and research innovations coming out of UC San Diego have the maximum positive impact in San Diego, in California and around the world. According to UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, "These efforts complement the incubators we have been building across campus, each with a slightly different focus but with the same goal: creating opportunity for our students and training them to be entrepreneurs and technology leaders."

    The Lab to Market program challenges students to build a business around a real technological innovation. It is the core of a four-course pilot for IGE's new Technology Management and Entrepreneurism Fellowship Program. The pilot began in Spring 2016, and the plan is to develop it into a master's degree program for engineers. The new program will work closely with the two 'accelerators' located in the Rady School: StartR, and mystartupXX. The latter program encourages diversity in entrepreneurship, and all of the 10 teams accepted into the program each year are required to include at least one woman in a senior management role. The mystartupXX accelerator is open to UC San Diego students of any major, and it played a key role in the early development of ThoughtSTEM, whose co-founder, CSE alumna Sarah Guthals (Ph.D. '14), was invited into the program.

  • 'Commercial' Teases Longer Video about CSE 110 Web Enrollment Application

    It's not often that a computer science and engineering team of students goes to the trouble of creating a video 'trailer' to promote a new web application (pictured at right). Using movie trailers for Hollywood blockbusters as a template, students  from Team Super User Planner (SUP), one of 20 teams participating in CSE 110 in Spring 2016, edited a highly produced and cinematic one-minute video to promote their PlanIt Triton web app. Meanwhile, the team also posted a longer, seven-minute video demonstration on YouTube ahead of their final presentation on Monday, June 6:

    Click here for the PlanIt Triton videos:

    PlanIt Triton is a web application that aims to streamline the process of enrolling in courses at UC San Diego. The software was developed by students in CSE 110 Software Engineering, taught this quarter by CSE lecturer Gary Gillespie. (The course is structured metaphorically like a company -- the lecturer calls it Software Engineering Inc. -- and Gillespie is listed as the "company" Founder and CEO.)

    Team members were on hand for the final demonstrations. They included project manager Jace Chan (at left), software development lead Aamir Rasheed, user interface specialist Alex McNerney, software architect Elden Arellano, quality assurance lead Julia Len, and Karan Lala, database specialist. Four other students round out the team: business analyst Keyue Bao, senior systems analysts Qiqi Wu and Sahil Bansal, and algorithm specialist Suhas Arehalli.

    PlanIt Triton is not yet ready for market, but some team members plan to continue work on the application while targeting Winter 2017 to complete the course enrollment system. Meanwhile, they hope to interest UC San Diego or another campus to put the software through trials to determine whether it could make the enrollment process easier for students.

  • Computer Graphics and Vision Expert Appointed to Endowed Faculty Chair

    University of California San Diego professor Ravi Ramamoorthi is the inaugural holder of a new endowed faculty chair in the university’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE).

    The university has appointed Ramamoorthi to the Ronald L. Graham Chair of Computer Science. The chair is named in honor of fellow CSE professor Ron Graham, who assumes an emeritus faculty position later this year. Graham is also Chief Scientist of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), a position he has held since the institute was created in 2001.

    “This distinguished appointment is a direct reflection of the high regard in which Professor Ramamoorthi (pictured at left) is held by the UC San Diego academic community,” said CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta. “As the director of our new Center for Visual Computing, he plays an important role in bringing together the fields of computer graphics and computer vision as well as the pioneering work done by organizations such as the Qualcomm Institute in visualization and virtual reality.”

    Funds allocated through the endowed chair will be used at Prof. Ramamoorthi’s discretion for research, teaching and service activities, including support for students working in his lab or research center.

    Prof. Ramamoorthi’s research has focused on theoretical foundations, mathematical representations and computational models for the visual appearance of objects – all in service to understanding, re-creating and rendering digitally the complexity of natural appearance. 

    The graphics and vision expert received a Presidential Early Career Award at the White House in 2008 for his work in computer vision, and the ACM SIGGRAPH Significant New Researcher Award, the highest early-career recognition in computer graphics (in 2007).  He was honored with an Okawa Foundation Award in 2011.  Earlier Ramamoorthi logged both an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship and an NSF CAREER Award in 2005, and a Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research in 2007.  Most recently, in early 2016, Ramamoorthi received a Google Faculty Research Award, his second in three years.

    Ramamoorthi’s research has had significant impact on industry.  His work on spherical harmonic lighting and irradiance environment maps is now widely included in games (such as the Halo series), and is increasingly adopted in movie productions (such as Avatar) as a standard component of the industry-standard Renderman rendering software since mid-2011.  For three years he was a consultant to Pixar, and his work inspired a sampling and image-based lighting pipeline that is now standard for production rendering at Pixar and other special-effects and animation studios.

    “My goal is to build a world-leading computer graphics and computer vision group at UC San Diego,” said Ramamoorthi. “I have published in both communities, and I am happy to report that we are making real gains in our efforts to build a cohesive group at the intersection of what have been (until now) two distinct fields of academic scholarship.”

    With support from lead sponsor Sony and other industry partners, including Qualcomm, Google, Autodesk, Samsung, Cubic, Adobe, Nokia, and Pixar, Ramamoorthi succeeded in creating the Center for Visual Computing to bring together faculty from CSE, ECE, Cognitive Science, the Qualcomm Institute, and other units on campus. The department also hopes to hire more faculty at both senior and junior levels to allow Ramamoorthi and his colleagues to develop the combined field of visual computing into “the best group in the world,” as he stated upon joining the CSE faculty.

    In addition to launching new courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level, Ramamoorthi recently launched CSE 167x, an introductory massive, open online course (MOOC) on Computer Graphics over the EdX network.  It was his first MOOC produced at UC San Diego, and the first offering from UC San Diego’s new channel on EdX. Ramamoorthi also created an EdX course, the first on computer graphics, as one of the first nine courses on the EdX platform in 2012 while he was still on the faculty at UC Berkeley. The course has also been licensed and translated, including into Mandarin, as of  Fall 2014.