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The 2024 Dean’s Awards highlight outstanding Baskin Engineering undergraduate research

The annual Baskin Engineering Dean’s Awards celebrate achievements in engineering research, honoring 10 distinguished undergraduate projects for their outstanding contributions. This year’s projects demonstrate excellence in a range of fields, including biomedical research, bias in artificial intelligence, environmental conservation, genetic engineering, and predictive modeling.

Award recipients are determined by a committee of Baskin Engineering faculty led by Jim Whitehead, Professor of Computational Media and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Experience, who take into consideration the quality, innovation, and creativity of students’ senior capstone or research projects. An award reception for the 2024 recipients will be held on Thursday, May 30 at 12 p.m. at UCSC’s Westside Research Park campus.

2024 Baskin Engineering Dean’s Award recipients:

*Connectivity-Based Heuristic Algorithms for Restoration Prioritization

Student: Natalie May Vallett

Vallett developed the EcoLinker tool to identify areas for ecological restoration with the goal of maximizing habitat connectivity and biodiversity, which are crucial for long-term species viability in an environment of global warming.

*Fair Augmentation of Decision Trees Through Selective Node Retraining

Student: Coen Timothy Adler

Adler proposed a novel method for removing bias in machine learning by modifying discriminative nodes or subtrees, while retaining high accuracy. This addresses the need for accurate, interpretable, and fair machine learning models that users can trust.

*Structure and Antigenicity of the Porcine Astrovirus 4 Capsid Spike

Student: Danielle J. Haley

Haley designed and produced the Porcine Astrovirus 4 (PoAstV4) capsid spike protein, for use as an indicator in research on PoAstV4 infections, laying the foundation for future vaccine development. 

Automated Tools for Accurate and Precise Dosing of Granular Solids

Student: John Richard Minnick

Minnick developed and tested a pumping and dispensing prototype for precise dosing of granular solids, achieving decigram accuracy and introducing an accessible dosing technology.

Automatic Vectorization of Architectural Floor Plans

Student: Luqman Zaceria 

Zaceria introduced an innovative method to transform architectural floor plans into simplified digital maps, overcoming existing wall extraction limitations and enhancing spatial orientation assistive technology.

Can Large Language Models Explain Themselves? A Study of LLM-Generated Self-Explanations

Students: Siddarth P. Mamidanna, Shiyuan Huang, Shreedhar Anil Jangam

The team studied how well the Large Language Model (LLM) ChatGPT explains its decision-making using sentiment analysis. Their findings could change how we approach making LLM models more transparent and understandable.

Embers, Wind, and Fire: An Investigation of the Effects of Embers and Wind on Wildfire Propagation 

Students: Ananthajit Srikanth, Jasmine Tai

The team developed a numerical model to examine how ember density, cooling rates, and wind magnitudes affect wildfire spread. Their research highlights the important role that embers play in spreading fire when scattered by wind, which could inform preventative measures in the future.

Knowledge Distillation Through Time For Future Event Prediction 

Student: Akhil Gunasekaran

Gunasekaran explored the concept of teaching neural networks to learn from future data using a technique called “knowledge distillation through time” (KDTT). Demonstrating a 20% improvement in forecasting future events, such as seizures, this work could enhance predictive capabilities.

TABI: Toxic Algal Bloom Interference

Students: Varun Chandra Kodur, Jordan Anthony Nichols, Allison Claire Jaballas, Julia Joanne Saltz, Nikita Rajesh, James Kane Larbalestier, Zokhira Mukhammadyunusova, Tyler Alan Gaw, Srikar Bevara, McKenna Elizabeth Smith, Ashlyn Nhu-Ngoc Huynh, Blanca Davila Gil, Katie Nicole Warren, Daniel Li, Edgar Daniel Cruz Vasquez

The UCSC 2023 iGEM team’s project, called the Toxic Algal Bloom Interference (TABI), developed a computational approach to engineer genetic constructs for addressing harmful algal blooms in Watsonville’s Pinto Lake, offering a solution for both local and national water systems.

*Denotes a team project that also received a Chancellor’s Award, which is given to the three most outstanding Dean’s Awards projects from each division. Chancellor’s Awardees receive $500, in addition to the $100 prize given to all Dean’s Awardees.