By: Leo Scholl

April 15, 2024

Graduate and Undergraduate students lead demonstrations for 6th graders

Students from Washington Middle School’s 6th grade got a hands-on demo of A3D3’s exciting research last week as part of a STEM tour of UW labs. The program included a tour of three A3D3 labs, including demos of fast machine learning, neuroscience, and particle physics. Afterwards, the 80 students also had an opportunity to visit the center for Integration of Modern Optoelectronic Materials on Demand (IMOD), the Clean Energy Institute (CEI) and the UW Molecular Engineering Materials Center (MEM-C).

“It was great to see the middle schoolers exploring beyond what the demos were showing. [I saw students] competing with each other to see who could get the largest signals [during the EMG demo].”

-Emily Sperry, 3rd year student in Amy Orsborn’s lab

The tour was coordinated by graduate student Jingyuan Li of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at UW. Assisted by undergraduate student Aryana Bhattacharyya, they gave a demo fast ML using pokemon cards. Students held the cards under a webcam which fed a downsampled image into an FPGA-based neural network set up by students in Scott Hauck’s lab. There, the images were classified in real time as one of 10 pre-trained pokemon. The middle school students took turns to test the model’s speed and accuracy, and learned about features of the images which could trick the algorithm into guessing pokemon.

Students also learned how our brains send electrical impulses to our muscles to coordinate movement, and had a chance to record electrical activity from their biceps muscles using a small electromyograph (EMG) amplifier. Researchers from Amy Orsborn’s neuroscience lab demonstrated how they use real-time signals from brain-computer interfaces like EMG to control the position of a computer cursor. The researchers also brought 3D-printed models of their non-human primates, which are used to validate and practice the surgical procedures required to study signals from the brain. The middle school students explored the different layers of the models, including skin, bone, and brain. They learned about the differences between muscle-based and brain-based electrical signals, and were very curious about the behavior and nature of the monkeys.

Together, the researchers introduced the middle school students to some fundamentals of ML, physics, and neuroscience in a fun and engaging way. The event follows the success of last quarter’s outreach event for high school students also hosted at UW.

By: Angela Tran
April 4, 2024

As marbles swirl in orbit on a dizzying checkered sheet, the elementary students point and smile. This is their first step toward understanding how gravity stretches space-time. Showcased by The University of Minnesota A3D3 Group, this exhibit is part of an event that invites scientists around the country to share their passion with hundreds of excited attendees.

This event, filled with interactive experiments and demonstrations, is Squishy Science Sunday. Hosted by the American Physical Society (APS) at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the March meeting gave academics the opportunity to provide easy and fun points of entry for the general public to enjoy what physics has to offer. The University of Minnesota A3D3 Group was represented at this event by graduate student Will Benoit, undergraduate student Katrine Kompanets, and Professor Michael Coughlin. As enthusiastic researchers in astrophysics, they had a great time teaching students how gravity affects surroundings like the formation of our Solar System.

For the UMN A3D3 group’s demo on gravitational waves and space-time, they chose marbles to demonstrate the interactions. The giant spandex sheet holding the marbles warbled and stretched as the spheres orbited around one another. To make the idea accessible to attendees, Benoit says they presented the display like a solar system, though it could have also represented other systems such as stars orbiting a central black hole. Kompanets thinks it important for children to receive recent information as early as possible. She says, “What we’re teaching them is essential for real-time applications because we’re keeping them updated with how gravitational waves work… I learned about [waves] a lot later in my life than [the kids] are.” Benoit agrees that a good foundation is key. He says, “If you ever eventually want people to be continuing research in this area, they have to understand… gravitational waves in order to do multi-messenger astrophysics.”

After being connected with A3D3 for about three years, Benoit especially appreciates how A3D3 brings people together to focus on science and data techniques and to execute them properly. As such, he praises Squishy Science Sunday for allowing families in “the community [to] come in and see what these academics are up to… With any luck, we’ll pick out some future scientists and get them involved!” Kompanets agrees, glad to share her interests with a variety of attendees. Even after just one semester of connecting with A3D3, she says, “It’s nice to be in a group of people who are interested in the same thing that I am.”

Both students express appreciation for Professor Coughlin, who invited them to participate in A3D3’s work. His enjoyment of time-domain astronomy is conveyed through this Gravity Well demo that shares science in a student-friendly way. Coughlin says, “Discovery of gravitational waves and communication about them is a key A3D3 focus in its application of data science to discovery within astronomy.”

By: Rajeev Bhavin Botadra 
November 16, 2023

Seattle, WA– Around 50 High school scholars visited the A3D3 Institute and met with students working in labs under the A3D3 project. Organized by the Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) effort at the University of Washington (UW), the event consisted of cohorts of high schoolers across 9 partnering high schools who toured multiple labs across the UW campus. 

In connecting the high schoolers with college students, GEAR UP aims to prepare them for their upcoming college applications and spark their interest in STEM disciplines.

Six researchers associated with the UW A3D3 Institute volunteered for the event: Leo Scholl (Postdoc) and Katherine Perks (PhD candidate) from Amy Osborn’s aoLab; Rajeev Botadra (Masters student) from Scott Hauck’s ACME Lab; Baker Wong, Maddox Spinelli (Undergraduate students), and Abdou Alrahman from Shih-Chieh Hsu’s Lab. Together, they were able to discuss common themes of AI for driving science explored by A3D3, with applications to both particle physics and neuroscience.

The volunteers presented a Pokémon classification demo on a Xilinx PYNQ FPGA as an analog to the research done in the lab. The demo was useful in introducing the research at a high level and inviting further questions about the lab. “Seeing graphs and equations you don’t understand can be intimidating, so instead we showed Jigglypuff.” Katherine and Leo from the aoLab also brought a model of a monkey skull reconstructed from MRI scans of a monkey in their lab and fabricated from 3D printed plastic and silicone. While the students handed the model around and explored the different materials making up the brain, skull, and skin, the volunteers explained how the models are used for training and planning the surgical procedures to implant electrodes used for collecting neuroscience data.