Friday, May 31, 2019

URSP Student Westhoven Develops Theoretical Reasoning Behind Algorithms for Computers Making Decisions

About a year ago, I participated in the EXTREEMS-QED program at GMU. EXTREEMS is an NSF funded math summer research program where I was paired with a faculty mentor in the math department and I worked on a project with them for the summer. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to continue the project I started that summer until now with support from OSCAR. I’ve been working with Dr. Tyrus Berry doing research on supervised dimensionality reduction. In essence, finding ways to take high dimensionality data and crunch it down to a smaller dimension while retaining information about features we want to analyze.
            Machine learning has been an interesting topic to me for a long time. The linear algebra course I took at mason has been one of my favorite classes I took here, and that class is the core area I work in with my research. Along with that, I’ve always found it fascinating to try and make computers learn. When programming a computer to make choices, the systems always learn in strange and distinctive ways that are nothing like how we could ever intend them to learn. With that background, I was hooked once I talked with Dr. Berry about potential research projects.
            With the amount of time I’ve spent on this project, my typical day-to-day work has changed considerably over time. Right now, I spend a lot of my time working on developing the theoretical reasoning behind the algorithm we’ve developed as part of the research as well as running tests to verify the results I’ve gotten. Along with that, I’ve been working on writing our results up to be published. That writing has been a great opportunity to really explore the ideas and concepts I’ve been working with from an outsider perspective as I’ve worked to actually write out what I’ve been working on in an understandable way. In the future, I want to apply what I’ve learned in my research to a postgraduate math program and continue to work in this field.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

URSP Student Ellen Carlson Conducts Ethnographic Study on Public Spaces in Washington D.C.

My project, “Food for Thought: Street Vendors Navigating Public Space in Washington, D.C.” originated during a sociology course, The Urban World (which I highly recommend), where we had to conduct an ethnographic study on public space in Washington, D.C.  Out of equal parts nostalgia and insatiable hunger, I decided to investigate how street vendors shape public space. What I didn’t realize, however, was how this question would change and evolve into this project.
During those initial interviews with several vendors on the National Mall, they shared their thoughts, feelings, and stories.  They told me they were struggling to support themselves due to the rapid growth of food trucks in D.C. and the introduction of the lottery system, a blanket approach to regulation, which only permits them to work two days a week.  Two days are not enough to support themselves and their families back home.  So, many of the vendors resort to working informally.  As a result, some vendors are arrested, ticketed, and criminalized.  One vendor exclaimed to me, “What am I selling, drugs? Cocaine? For 2,000 dollars? I’m not even selling ice cream for 3 dollars!” As I reflected on my experience, I realized my question of how street vendors shape public space has changed to, how does public space and those who govern it, shape them? Therefore, I decided to conduct a cross-sectional analysis of mobile food vendors in D.C. to draw comparisons among different types of vendors, such as gourmet food trucks, to better understand why some vendors are struggling to achieve upward mobility.
Throughout this process, I spent time canvassing food truck hotspots in D.C., recruiting participants and conducting interviews, and of course, eating delicious food.  I also gained skills in research design and qualitative methods such as coding, categorizing, and data analysis. What appealed to me most about qualitative research was its exploratory nature. It utilizes a systematic framework to find answers to challenging or unresolved problems, yet, still fosters my passion for creativity through the use of different methods of coding and data interpretation. As a social work major, qualitative research also complements the profession’s values of social justice and inherent dignity and worth of the individual.  Therefore, the vendors are embraced as the experts. By working collaboratively with the vending population, this study unites their voices to advance an agenda for reform and change to improve their lives.  Overall, their stories and this project had a profound impact on me.  They inspired me to ask questions, dig deep, and think critically.

Friday, May 17, 2019

URSP Student Manuel Martinez Garay Conducts Tribological Study on 3D Printing Polymers

My research work focuses on conducting a tribological study of 3d printed polymers, specifically on the wear that they undergo and to how to reduced it. In order to do so, two 3D printed polymer gears will be put together for a given amount of time under a certain rotational speed and torque to simulate as close as possible real life working conditions, and to study which parameters affect such wear the most. I became interested in the research project, thanks to the help of my mentor Dr. Ali Beheshti, the moment I came up to him with the idea of conducting an independent research study that would allow me to apply the knowledge that I have acquired throughout all the years of studying my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He suggested me the idea of conducting a tribological study on 3D printing polymers, a field of great innovation in engineering and a future technology that will be helpful in the future. I loved the idea, so I decided to jump straight in.
I believe this project to be not only important step in general research, but a key process in my professional and personal growth for the upcoming years. It will allow me to enter in the research world, which until this time was in my personal experience unknown to me. During this project I have conducted many different tasks which were unfamiliar to me until the opportunity to apply them was offered. I have dealt on a weekly basis with cases of research through various different topics, in the fields of mechanical engineering, data acquisition, material science and other disciplines related to my project. I have also dealt with many aspects of CAD design, coming up with alternative designs that were involved in the making of the main tool we used to conduct our research, as well as parts acquisition dealing with budget and physical limitations of the nature related to the measurements.
All of these used skills have provided me with the ability to obtain a deeper knowledge in the field of conducting research, but most importantly it has taught me a great amount of project planning which involves taking things into account; until this moment I haven’t previously thought about as well as being able to participate in the in the schools research system, for which I will be forever grateful.