IACS’ first Research Experience for Undergrads is a resounding success

Monday, August 7, 2017

Nine undergraduate students from across the country spent eight weeks at the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at SBU performing computational research. Here they accept their certificates of completion at the Research Symposium held on August 4 at the Wang Center.

Photo by Constance Brukin Photography


The Institute for Advanced Computational Science (IACS) held its first Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) this summer, and by all accounts the program was a huge success. “It has been a total joy and privilege to have these talented young scientists here,” said IACS Director Robert Harrison. “They brought a vibrancy and energy that reminded us all of why we entered science in the first place.”  

(Left) Jonathan Vazquez, Yakov Pichkar, and Colin Bunner at the IACS-sponsored Python workshop during the first week of the REU

The nine undergraduates from across the country began the 8-week Data + Computing = Discovery (DCD) program on June 12 and ended by presenting their posters at the Research Symposium held at the Wang Center on August 4. The symposium was the culmination of many REU programs on campus and was attended by 220 people. Students stood next to the posters they created that detailed the results of their research and explained those results to the many onlookers who stopped by. “I definitely would not have had this opportunity in Arkansas!” said DCD undergraduate Emily Gentles.

The students started the program by taking a week-long, IACS-sponsored Python course so they could be well-versed in the programming language most commonly used by their faculty mentors. The faculty involved work in a wide variety of scientific fields from Ecology & Evolution to Physics to Neurobiology, and the projects assigned to the students varied from simulating thermonuclear supernovae to analyzing neural activity datasets from mice to formulating algorithms applicable to quantum chemistry. “I like to interact with computers and algorithms to make science,” said DCD student Jonathan Vazquez from Puerto Rico. “I’m working with Professor Predrag Krstic on quantum chemistry; I never thought I would be working on this topic, but it’s really interesting.”

Students enjoy dinner together in downtown Port Jefferson. Starting at the left front: Sofya Pugach from SBU; Colin Bunner from University of Minnesota; Andreas Lietzau from SBU; Yakov Pichkar from SBU; Carlyn Augustine from University of Alabama; Emily Gentles from University of Arkansas; Isabel Siergiej from Cornell University; Jonathan Vazques from Universidad Metropolitana; Robert Harrison, IACS Director; and Desmond Shangase from SBU.

Although the work undertaken by the students was a serious endeavor, not all elements of the program were strictly research. Students ventured down the Nissequogue River in kayaks, donned their alley shoes for a night at Port Jeff Bowl, and dined out as a group in Port Jeff Village. Other events that were part of the program were organized to help the students sharpen their soft skills, such as the Distilling Your Message workshop where Professor Christine O’Connell from SBU’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science taught students the importance of communicating their science in layman’s terms.

Emily Gentles (foreground) and Isabel Siergiej kayak down the Nissequogue River.


Financing of the program was a team effort: Funds were received from the Office of the Vice President for Research, the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Provost’s Office, IACS, and through supplemental funding requests to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored grants AST-1211563 White Dwarf Mergers as Progenitors of Type Ia Supernovae and TESSE #1450344. Efforts are underway to submit a new proposal to NSF for funds to bootstrap future REU programs to be held at the Institute for Advanced Computational Science starting next summer.

The Institute for Advanced Computational Science engages faculty, students and postdocs from a wide variety of academic backgrounds, all of whom have research interests that involve the use of high-performance and data-intensive computing. To find out more about IACS and the schedule of events, see http://iacs.stonybrook.edu/.