“The ability to work with people from different cultures and experiences is crucial”: Lejia Zhao talks global connects with GRIP

Lejia Zhao

Rising junior Lejia Zhao is helping to strengthen CIS’s global connections: virtually working with professor Tang Kuk Zuea from the National University of Singapore on a project titled “Using Machine Learning for Medication Recognition” via Penn’s Global Research & Internship Program (GRIP).

Lejia says applying to GRIP was important to her because of her interest in examining computer science through a global lens, and discovering what’s on the forefront in the field, all over the world.

“What further propelled me to move forward with the program after being accepted was the opportunity to practice my intercultural skills,” said Lejia. “I believe that in this increasingly globalized world the ability to work with people from different cultures and experiences is crucial – both on a personal level and a societal level.”

In addition to the program’s noted flexibility, allowing her to pursue other interests and maintain balance, Lejia says the program also provides an opportunity to connect with a computer science student community outside of Penn.

“Another aspect of the program I’ve really enjoyed is getting to know my peers who are also in the GRIP program and even students from other schools who are also doing research at NUS,” said Lejia. “I’ve gotten in touch with Jennifer, a rising sophomore at Johns Hopkins University who is in the same research project as me working under the supervision of Professor Tang.”

To read more about Lejia’s experience, click here to view her full post at the Penn Engineering Blog.


Professor Joe Devietti steps into the role of CIS Undergrad Chair

When Associate Professor Joseph Devietti was an undergrad in the Department of Computer and Information Science almost 20 years ago, the pace and scale of the department was drastically different.

“Everything has just gotten so professionalized and competitive. Computing has kind of exploded, across campus,” said Devietti. “Things like the second major from the college is really exciting. To be able to give people other ways into computer science, without having to be an engineer and take physics. Follow that kind of rigid path.”

Now the coding aficionado has come full circle as he takes on the role of CIS Undergrad Chair.

“I think the undergrads that we have at Penn, even back when I was here a long time ago, were really strong,” said Devietti. “I’m glad I don’t have to compete with the undergrads that are here now.”

After majoring in both English and Computer and Information Science at Penn, Professor Devietti went on to get both his Master’s and his Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. With a slew of honors, awards and publications under his belt, CIS Department Chair Zack Ives also notes he is “renowned for his research in using both hardware and software techniques to simplify multiprocessor programming, [and] has also been a successful entrepreneur and an amazing mentor to many undergraduate, Master’s, and PhD students.”

Professor Andreas Haeberlen, whose shoes Professor Devietti will be stepping into, did wonders while serving as chair.

“One of the things I found inspiring about what Andreas had done in his time as undergrad chair was that he had helped a lot with kind of smoothing out these internal business processes,” said Devietti.

In addition to digitizing many paper processes, Professor Ives says Haeberlen also “led curriculum reform across our multiple degree programs [and] personally developed important infrastructure, including the waitlist system that allows us to manage student demand in a fair way.”

With returning to campus and the subsequent readjustment as a top priority, and the nearly 1,000 undergrad students currently enrolled in CIS, Professor Devietti believes the key lies in continuing to focus on efficiency.

“We need to try to streamline things as much as possible,” said Devietti. “I’ve been talking with the advising staff. There are other kinds of opportunities to just help things work more smoothly.”


Prof. Tal Rabin receives ACM’s 30-year STOC Test of Time Award

Professor Tal Rabin is one of the latest researchers to receive ACM’s 2021 STOC Test of Time Award. Co-published with her then Ph.D. advisor, Michael Ben-Or, Professor Rabin’s “Verifiable secret-sharing and multiparty protocols with honest majority” (STOC 1989) was one of three papers to be recognized for its groundbreaking contributions 30 years later. 

This year marks the inaugural issuing of the award by ACM’s Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT), which recognizes papers published in the Proceedings of the Annual ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing. 

Described by Forbes as “a genius for working relationships, which she applies to algorithms as well as team building,” Professor Rabin used a shared attribute of working society to describe the paper’s thesis. 

“Let’s say there are three people and together we want to find out what is the sum of all our salaries, but I don’t want to tell you my salary,” said Rabin. “You don’t want to tell me your salary and we don’t want to tell the third person our salary, but still we want to know the sum of all three salaries. How do we compute functions here?” 

With the function representing the sum of all individual salaries, Professor Rabin’s hypothetical asserts that previous research before her paper could account for 3 faulty parties out of 11, and still provide accurate computations. Professor Rabin’s paper proves that one could get accurate computations with up to 5 faulty parties. One could still calculate the sum of all the salaries, “even if some of the people are trying to foil the computation, or to learn more than what is supposed to be learned,” said Rabin. 

Professor Rabin credits this research, in combination with the works of the other two teams awarded with 30-year honor, with opening up the field of information theoretic multi-party computations. 

“It opened so many interesting questions of how fast can we compute, how efficient can we be? Can we do some things better?” said Rabin. “These results proved to be fundamental and enabled a lot of growth afterwards.” 

According to Professor Rabin, the paper is not only responsible for laying crucial foundations in the computational theory field, but also in her own professional and private life. 

“I’m so honored and happy to be in this group,” said Rabin. “I wrote to Michael, ‘thank you really for suggesting this problem to me.’ I wrote to him, ‘it really defined my life. It impacts my life in a very profound way.’” 


Minchen Li receives ACM SIGGRAPH Outstanding Dissertation Award

Minchen Li

Graduating Ph.D. student Minchen Li has received the ACM SIGGRAPH 2021 Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for his thesis titled “Robust and Accurate Simulation of Elastodynamics and Contact.” ACM SIGGRAPH, with its mission “to nurture, champion, and connect researchers and practitioners of Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques” is one of the foremost special interest groups in the field of computer graphics.

According to their site, “Minchen’s dissertation presents a breakthrough in the notoriously challenging and long-standing problem of robust frictional contact simulation in nonlinear solid dynamics with guarantees of non-intersection.”

Minchen describes his project in more practical terms.

“My thesis is about solid simulation: simulating solid interactions,” said Li. “For example, when we want to simulate how a garment will look and feel when dressed up on a person for virtual try-on or digital fashion design applications, we need to model the interactions between the garment and the body, and also the self-contact of the cloth in the knots and pleats regions.”

Screenshot taken from one of two main research projects in Minchen’s dissertation

The proposed framework is not only beneficial in the world of visual effects and animation, but also “essential for industrial design, robotics, mechanical engineering analysis, etc.,” as stated in Minchen’s abstract. ACM SIGGRAPH has recognized the work as particularly exceptional because while past research has offered mere trade-offs between efficiency and physical correctness, “[Minchen’s] approach combines a geometrically exact formulation for collision gap functions, a smoothed friction formulation making it possible to cast it in variational form, and the use of a barrier-based interior point method for optimization.”

Professor Norman Badler, who is set to retire this year after almost 5 decades with CIS, also received a prestigious ACM recognition: he was elected into the 2021 ACM SIGGRAPH Academy Class. Professor Badler was also on the thesis committee for Minchen.

”Norm is very friendly and kind, and also very inspiring,” said Minchen. “ When I showed him the simulation I got from my method, he was very excited and encouraged me forward, and also provided me [with] very constructive ideas.”


To read more about our graduating postdocs and Ph.D. students, including Minchen’s full abstract and plans for after graduation, visit our “Graduating Ph.D.s + Postdocs” site.