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The Best and the Brightest Shine Through in IACS

The Best and the Brightest Shine Through in IACS

By Jessica Rojahn

September 5, 2018

Once again, the stars of IACS showed off their brilliance with this year’s group of students selected for the IACS Junior Researcher Award being the largest to date: Eight students from five different departments were chosen as winners. “The IACS Fellowship candidates were uniformly terrific, and the projects spanned an amazing array of topics. Sitting on this committee is by far the most enjoyable ‘service’ I do all year. It hardly even seems like service, really, because I get to learn about so many exciting projects, and I am inspired by the next generation of computational science researchers,” said IACS Associate Professor and award committee member Heather Lynch. 

Ten applicants were invited to move to round two of the competition, which required each student to give a short research presentation to the awards committee highlighting his/her on-going research. Of those selected from round two, Maria Barrios Sazo, Alena Aksenova, and Bento Goncalves are return winners from 2017. The departments represented by all eight winners are: Linguistics, Physics and Astronomy, Computer Science, Ecology and Evolution, and Applied Mathematics and Statistics. The diversity of the applicants and winners for this award highlights how widespread research is at SBU that involves data and computational science.

The IACS Junior Researcher Award is given to PhD students who are recognized as outstanding researchers by our faculty. Students are awarded a stipend topper up to $34,000 and an extra $4,000 for travel and supplies. Winners of this award are PhD students who are able to demonstrate strong contributions to computational research through originality, innovations, application, and enthusiasm. As expressed by committee member Lynch, “We're very lucky to have so many promising young students associated with IACS. I look forward to seeing their thesis research projects develop over the next year.”

Winners for 2018:

Alena Aksenova, Linguistics: I am very grateful to IACS for continuing my award for one more year! I will keep working on the package KIST implementing subregular functions and subsequential transductions. This toolkit is intended to be used by linguists, formal language theorists and NLP community. Prior to working on computational linguistics at SBU, I was a student at Moscow State University working on theoretical linguistics and doing lots of fun fieldwork.


Rawski Jonathan Rawski, Linguistics: I'm very honored to accept this award. Human knowledge is expressed in language, so computational work like mine, on how systems learn properties of language from extremely sparse data, is very important to understand the knowledge we and the machines we create possess. I came to computational linguistics after a master's in cognitive neuroscience from HSE in Russia, and a bachelor's in linguistics from the University of Minnesota. I also love the arts and music, I play jazz drums and piano, and I write political and activist articles from time to time.


Bhavya Ghai, Computer Science : Glad to receive this honor. I believe my research on tackling Algorithmic bias will lead Artificial Intelligence towards a more inclusive & equitable future. I am a PhD student at Computer science department primarily interested in Human-Centered AI & Social computing.


J Ye Junting Ye, Computer Science: I am a final year PhD student from Computer Science Department, working with Prof. Steven Skiena. My primary research interests are in the fields of data mining, machine learning, and analysis of online news and social media. Part of my research effort is devoted to name embeddings and nationality classification. We released our research product, NamePrism (, as an open API for academic use. It has been supporting more than 100 research projects around the world. Many of the research teams use our name-based nationality classifier to study racial representation and fight against discrimination. Currently, I am working on large-scale quality analysis of online news media (, motivated by growing discussion on news quality after 2016. Our system, MediaRank, is tracking more than 70,000 online news media from major countries. We plan to release our findings and research products to inspire and support related research projects in near future. It is such an honor to win Junior Researcher Award. It will encourage and support me to continue exploring and advancing our knowledge in the fields.


Bento Bento Goncalves, Ecology and Evolution : The IACS junior research award was a game changer for my thesis work, providing the means to move forward with the ambitious computational ends of my work. Holding the fellowship for one more year is not only fundamental to solidify this work but also a great honor to me.  My research combines remote sensing, computer vision, seal ecology, and HPC to provide automated tools to monitor pack-ice seal populations in Antarctica from space. An automated seal detection pipeline will provide key information for Antarctic ecology and also advocate for the ever-growing benefits of incorporating AI into ecological sampling designs. Growing up in Southern Brazil, I received a bachelor’s degree in biology working on birds in the Amazon. As I matured as a researcher, I gradually shifted my focus towards the quantitative end of Ecology and now I have Deep Learning as a central piece of my thesis work.



Mikhail Ignatov, Applied Mathematics and Statistics: I am proud to be one the winners. The opportunity to collaborate with IACS will be extremely helpful for my research. It provides a chance to communicate with professionals in a broad range of computational fields and not to mention financial support. Two years ago I finished my bachelor’s in Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) and came to Stony Brook to advance to PhD in Computational Biology at AMS department. My research at Dima Kozakov's lab includes application of Machine Learning methods to the problems of structural biology, such as molecular docking, binding affinity prediction and drug design. Apart from the scientific activity I enjoy sports, languages, and nagging the housemates with my guitar.


Barrios Sazo

Maria Barrios Sazo, Physics and Astronomy : It is a great opportunity to have been selected for the IACS Jr. Researcher award, as it provides great resources and support to achieve academic goals. I am a graduate student in the Physics and Astronomy department, with interests in high-performance computing, mathematics, and science in general. My research is in computational astrophysics, using the hydrodynamics code Castro to simulate white dwarfs merging as a model of Type Ia super novae progenitor.



Sebastian Dick

Sebastian Dick, Physics and Astronomy: I am extremely honored to receive the Junior Researcher Award and am deeply grateful for the recognition I have received for my work. I believe that the IACS is a unique place for interdepartmental collaboration, and I am thankful for the support it has provided me throughout my research. After receiving my BSc in Physics from the University of Wurzburg in Germany and my MA from Stony Brook University I joined Prof. Marivi Ferandez-Serra's group in the Physics and Astronomy department at Stony Brook. My work focuses on electronic structure calculations from first-principles using Density Functional Theory (DFT), and recently I have proposed a method that utilizes machine learning to make these calculations both faster and more accurate. If successful, this new approach would allow for simulations at much longer time-scales than currently possible. This could provide important new insights not only in the field of Physics but in Chemistry and Materials Science as well.




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