AI-themed research symposium draws crowds


Rose Guan

A parent tests a virtual reality headset in the Nichols atrium.

by Farah Hosseini and Rose Guan

The Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math club (WiSTEM), along with parent outreach volunteers, Harker staff and other clubs including Research Club, held the 13th annual Research Symposium, themed after artificial intelligence, across campus on April 14.

Over 900 people attended the conference, which featured student, faculty and corporate presenters, as well as keynote speakers with experience in the computer science industry, in order to reflect the proceedings of a professional science conference.

Last year’s Symposium was also centered on computer science, but this year’s event focused on the “AI revolution”: how AI can influence daily life.

“The purpose of Symposium is to showcase the research that our students have done in a noncompetitive setting,” upper school science department head and WiSTEM club adviser Anita Chetty said. “If we were to just pick whatever theme we felt like picking, I don’t think we would be doing justice to [Silicon] Valley. Last year, we did predictive analytics and data science, but this year, we really said, ‘No, artificial intelligence is where it’s at.’”

In the morning keynote, Dr. Jeff Dean, who leads the Brain Team at Google, discussed his experience working with machine learning. In the afternoon keynote, Dr. Andrew Beck, CEO of artificial intelligence development company PathAI, addressed how artificial intelligence can improve cancer diagnosis.

“This year’s topic of artificial intelligence is really up-to-date with what students are interested in, and it’s also just relevant to society as a whole right now,” WiSTEM publicity officer Shania Wang (11) said. “I think that Symposium’s really great because it shows you what other students are doing and what your classmates might be involved in outside of the academic sphere.”

The Symposium also included two panel discussions. In the morning, students and industry professionals spoke on diversity in the STEM workforce. In the afternoon, students, teachers and a parent involved in research discussed science opportunities at the upper school. Ramya Rangan (‘12), who participated in the first panel, also gave an address on the function of macromolecules like proteins.

Students could also participate in smaller pre-registered workshops to improve their skills. A workshop hosted by Somnath Banerjee focused on neural style transfer, a specific technique applicable to artificial neural networks, while middle and lower school students benefited from AI workshops held throughout the day. Upper school chemistry teachers Dr. David Casso and Andrew Irvine performed chemical demos in a magic show during lunch.

Rose Guan
Chemistry teacher Andrew Irvine demonstrates during his chemistry magic show.

Throughout the day, middle and upper school students presented posters about their research in the auxiliary gym. Companies such as Nvidia and Google displayed products in Nichols Atrium, and student-led booths including Green Team, robotics, Horizon and the aquarium presented to visitors. Also in Nichols Hall, upper school students gave formal talks, and WiSTEM members dressed in white lab coats held activities for younger students throughout the day.

“I have all the WiSTEM girls wear a lab coat because [for] people of my generation, when we thought about a scientist and imagined them in a white lab coat, it was always a man. Commercials on TV, it was always a man,” Chetty said. “Women are scientists, and women can wear a white lab coat, and women can put together an event this massive.”

Next year’s Symposium will be themed “Our Survival: Saving the Planet and Healing Ourselves”, with Dr. Max Holmes and Dr. David Haussler — the deputy director of a leading climate change research institute and the leader of the Human Genome Project — giving the two keynote speeches.

This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on May 7, 2018.