Why become a PURE Mentor?

Application for graduate students interested in becoming mentors for Fall 2020 :  Apply!

The currently listed mentors are for the Fall 2020 semester.

David Hanley
I am a Ph.D. student in Electrical and Computer Engineering and I work with Timothy Bretl. In general, I am interested in state estimation problems and navigation systems. Some of my recent work includes research on indoor positioning systems using variations of Earth’s magnetic field that are often present in buildings. As part of another project, I am working with a local, small company to develop a new navigation system for spacecraft. I graduated with a B.S. and M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from UIUC in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

Description of Possible Projects:

Students will work on either a magnetic field-based navigation system for robots and pedestrians currently under development in the research group or on a navigation system for spacecraft currently under development in collaboration with a local, small business. The specific tasks will vary based on the capabilities of the student and how restrictions due to the pandemic evolve over time. However, these tasks may include the design of circuits using software like Eagle or OrCAD, writing software for microcontrollers used on our robots or with our sensors, writing applications for Android smartphones, or conducting experiments with our ground robots or robotic manipulators.

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

Some potentially useful skills may include any knowledge of EDA software like Eagle or OrCAD, prior experience writing Android applications or using an Arduino, and knowledge of languages like C, C++, or Java.
Zhi LiI am Zhi Li, a PhD candidate at the Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Laboratory, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, working with Prof. Marcelo H. García. My research interests include Environmental Flow Mechanics, Sediment Transport, Fluvial Geomorphology and Computational Fluid Dynamics. My dissertation is on numerical modeling of meandering rivers and cutoffs.

Prior to becoming an Illini, in 2014, I completed my M.S. degree in Environmental Engineering at Michigan State University. I was introduced to the world of geophysical flow modeling in the Groundwater Modeling Lab at MSU, where I was primarily working on the analysis of a dam removal project in Michigan. In 2012, I completed my B.S. degree in Geosciences with Geology specialization at Nanjing University, where I completed my B.S. thesis on CO2 sequestration using serpentine.

Description of Possible Projects:

1. The student will help on making computational meshes, which is the preparation step of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) studies. This project requires a laptop or PC at the student's end. The student will have theoretical training on what engineering simulations mean, why we need computational meshes when we do engineering simulations, how to distinguish different types of meshes and what determines the quality of computational meshes. Most importantly, the student will also have hands-on training on how to make meshes and how we use them in real research.

2. The student will help extract points, polylines and surfaces information from a series satellite images. This project requires a laptop or PC at the student's end. There exist semi-auto Python/Matlab packages to do this job, so the student will focus on the (1) feature recognition and (2) scientific visualization techniques, i.e. how to visualize georeferenced points, polylines and surfaces. The student will have hands-on training for both sub-tasks aforementioned.

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

+ Basic knowledge on Python or Matlab, AutoCAD, ArcGIS and the math background of Delaunay Triangulation.

Desired time commitment for applicants:

+ Willing to spend 1 hr for online meeting with the mentor per week
+ Willing to spend ~3 hr for the project per week
Patrick Lin
Patrick Lin is pursuing a PhD in Computer Science, advised by Jeff Erickson. Patrick works on problems lying at the intersection of computational geometry and graph theory; in particular, he is interested in extending structural and algorithmic results for planar graphs to graphs on other surfaces. Outside of research, Patrick is passionate about teaching, and has been rated outstanding numerous times, both in student evaluations and by the CS department.

Description of Possible Projects:

Visualization of Torus Graph Properties:
We are studying a number of properties of torus graphs, i.e., graphs that can be drawn without edge-crossings on a torus (the surface of a donut, or the Pacman world). Our understanding of these properties would be greatly improved by being able to visualize them. In particular, we want to understand "weighted Delaunay graphs" on a "flat" torus.
This project has several goals:
(1) The primary target would be to build a library (in Python or Node.js) that enables easy drawing of torus graphs for visualization purposes.
(2) As a secondary target, we would like to build a library for quickly computing weighted Delaunay graphs on a flat torus.
(3) Ambitious stretch goal: Combine (1) and (2) in an attempt to visually explore the space of weighted Delaunay graphs on flat tori.

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

Desired skills:
- Familiarity with Python or Node.js, or willingness learn one of them on the fly.
- Familiarity with data structures, preferably at least at the level of CS 225.
- Some knowledge about (planar) graphs would be helpful, but is not required.

Time commitment:
- Ideally four to eight hours a week.
Ian Ludden
I am a fourth-year PhD student in the Theory and Algorithms Group of the Department of Computer Science, advised by Prof. Sheldon Jacobson. My current research focuses on algorithmic approaches to political redistricting.

Description of Possible Projects:

Visualization of Political Redistricting Plans

In our analyses of political redistricting (the redrawing of voting district boundaries), our group often needs to assess a sequence of partitions (district plans) with respect to certain metrics, such as population balance, competitiveness, compactness, and assorted partisan fairness measures. To better compare district plans to their neighbors and the sequence as a whole, we would like to visualize the sequence of plans and their various metrics.

We are looking for 1-3 students to design a web application that takes a list of district plans (as shapefiles) and generates the desired visualization.

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

- Familiarity with Python and/or JavaScript
- Familiarity with data structures, preferably at least at the level of CS 225

Experience with Python and/or JavaScript visualization libraries (e.g., Matplotlib, D3.js) would be helpful but is not required.

We expect students to allocate 3-6 hours per week to the project.

Rucha Kulkarni
Hi! I am a soon-to-be 4th year PhD student in CS, UIUC. I work in fair division in algorithmic game theory. My research involves designing algorithms to fairly and efficiently divide indivisible resources (like rooms among roommates and assets like jewellery).

Description of Possible Projects:

1. (a) Understand fair division concepts (I will provide all related literature, and discuss (teach, if necessary) everything) -- first couple of weeks. Find a fair division concept the student likes the most. Suppose it is Nash social welfare (NSW) (b) Implement the current state-of-art algorithm(s) for finding allocations that maximize NSW, with the aim of either (i) creating a website/git repository and publishing it there, or (ii) posting these on, the popular website that simulates and finds fair allocations for real world tasks. (c) (If time and enthusiasm permits) Design a new algorithm that improves current results on NSW. I expect Part (c) to take up most of the time of the project.

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

Skills: None. Basic programming in python/java preferred. Time: As much as an advanced 400 level course. This project will most likely benefit students desiring to major in CS, ECE, ISE or related areas.
Jongwon Lee
Jongwon Lee is a PhD student in Dr. Timothy Bretl's group at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). His academic interests lie in tackling various challenges in robotics that enable autonomous operation in complex and uncertain environments.

Description of Possible Projects:

Hands-on Practices for ROS Programming: Robotics Operating System (ROS) is an open-source operating system that enables roboticists to develop tools or simulate virtual scenarios for robots in a convenient and powerful manner. In this project, participants will be able to foster their ability to utilize ROS by performing several tasks-sending and receiving messages, processing data (image, pointcloud, or some physical attributes such as acceleration or angular velocity), and visualize it.

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

Those who have experience in C/C++ programming and working in Linux are welcomed. May take an effort of equivalent or less than 10 hours per week.

Pawel StrzebonskiI am a PhD student in the ECE department and a member of professor Kent Choquette's photonic devices research group. I work on various aspects of semiconductor lasers and photonics, ranging from design and simulation to device fabrication and characterization. A general theme in my work has been laser mode control and mode/beam engineering.

Description of Possible Projects:

Descriptions of possible projects:
1) Coherent VCSEL array driver circuit design and simulation:
Arrays of VCSELs (semiconductor lasers) can be tuned into a coherently coupled regime of operation. This coherent regime shows interesting and desirable qualities. However, it can be difficult to identify this regime and tune the devices into it. Students will design and simulate analog circuits that will help in identifying and/or tuning into this coherent region.
2) Mode-conversion phase-plate design and simulation:
Phase plate structures can convert the emitted laser mode into a different, engineered beam. In coherently coupled laser arrays phase plates can be used to engineer the interaction between the elements introducing a new degree of freedom. For example, two dimensional electronic beam-steering (changing the propagation direction of the beam in 2-dimensions) can be induced in one dimensional laser arrays. Students will perform optical simulations of novel phase plates that could be integrated onto coupled VCSEL arrays and analyze the behavior and characteristics of the modes (including beam-steering).

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

1) Coherent VCSEL array driver circuit design and simulation:
* Knowledge of analog circuit elements and circuits
* Experience using analog circuit design and simulation software
2) Mode-conversion phase-plate design and simulation:
* Familiarity with Julia programming language (or willingness to learn)
* Basic theoretical knowledge on electromagnetic fields and lasers is preferable

Colin Castleberry

Colin is a bioengineering PhD student with interest in complex systems design and control. He performs computational research in systems biology and engineering education. His systems biology work involves characterizing cross-family interactions in cell signaling systems by constructing and analyzing computational models. His engineering education work involves developing and optimizing useful assessment methods for bioengineering courses with the use of tagging.

Description of Possible Projects:

Engineering education project: We are implementing a tagging method to calculate concept and skill-specific student performance in a bioengineering course. I would like a student to help with data collection and analysis. If you are interested in advancing engineering education, please apply!

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

I would like a student to work between 8 and 12 hours a week. Students who apply should be proficient in Microsoft excel and understand basic statistics. Matlab and/or Python experience would be helpful, but is not required. I would also prefer students to have taken an introductory conservation principles or systems engineering course (such as BIOE 201, or an equivalent from another engineering discipline).
Angello Astorga

I am 6th year Phd Student working at the intersection of
software testing and learning.
More precisely, I work on synthesizing program specifications.
These specification are useful to developers when writing tests.
In my down time, I enjoy netflix, reading and lately running.

Description of Possible Projects:

Background: The long term vision of my work is to help developers
write better test by automatically synthesizing
test properties (.i.e., test assumption and test assertions).
Currently, writing these properties is difficult and time consuming.
To accomplish this goal, my work automatically synthesizes
test properties.
Furthermore, I hope to contribute to important open-source project
such as .NET Core, ASP.NET Core, Powershell-Azure and Roslyn
which power the cross platform .NET ecosystem(.e.g., visual studio, powershell)
currently supporting Windows, Mac OS, and Ubuntu systems.
See this link (
for an example tests I hope to improve.

Project 1:
The goal of this project is to conduct an emperical study
of existing developer-written unit and parameterized tests.
The goal is to categorize existing test properties,
extract patterns in the form of languages(.e.g., syntax), and in the form of
semantic properties.

The main responsibility of undergrads are two fold
1) Continue the implementation of a TheoryFinder tool
that automatically collects unit and parameterized unit tests.
2) Collect the necessary data from test for categorization.

Note: part (1) is mostly done.

Desired Skills/Time Commitment:

Programming experience in Python, Java or C# (ideally C#)

Akul Goyal

Hello, I am starting the second year of my PhD in computer science under the tutelage of Prof Adam Bates. I am interested in the intersection of machine learning and compute security, particularly the efficacy of machine learning in malware detection. I can make a pretty mean grill cheese and I like to think I would be pretty good at sword fighting. This is my first time mentoring but no one I have met yet hates me so I am looking to have a good time!

Descriptions of possible projects:

We are looking to carry on work that has been conducted against Amazon Alexa. We are interested in the way words play into voice commands that are given to Amazon Alexa. We are particularly interested in homonyms, how they impact different commands given to Alexa and whether they can provide a surface for an attack against Alexa. For this project we are looking for 1-3 undergraduate researchers who would be interested in this project and are looking to make a contribution. A possible project to be worked on is scrapping Amazon Alexa for the skill tree associated to different skills. By doing so, we can create a dataset we can then use later in the project.

Desired skills/ time commitment:

-Some kind of web scrapping frame work
-Familiarity with Alexa

While these skills are looked upon favorably, they are not a requirement. It would be more important for this project to find undergraduates who are interested in the work and making significant process. This entire project should not require more than 10 hours per week from each undergraduate.
Matthew RodriguezGraduate Research Assistant with CERL. Previously employed with the EPA at the R4 office in Atlanta, GA. Interdisciplinary scientist committed to protecting human and environmental health.

Descriptions of possible projects:

COVID after Action Report - Determine the water and energy usage used by facilities during COVID. Will be used to determine the vulnerabilities of different systems.
Resilient Infrastructure Project - Determine which structures can withstand multiple disasters (either the same type or different types) that currently exist. Data can be used to build on the design of the structure to make it more resilient.
(Quick ideas, can change to fit interests of students)

Desired skills/ time commitment:

Hard skills - Word
Soft skills - Communication
Skills will be worked on, other than a want to be apart of something and being able to communicate with others, there are no disqualifying factors.
2 hours a week
Ananthan Nambiar
I am a second year PhD student in the Bioengineering Department at UIUC. I received my bachelors degree in Computer Science at Reed College, a small liberal-arts college in Portland Oregon.
At this point in time, my main academic interests are machine learning, complex networks and scientific computing. I am especially interested in biological applications of mathematics and computer science. However, I also participate in projects that involve mathematical modelling in general.

Descriptions of possible projects:

I have two potential projects students could work on:

The first involves using natural language processing to study the evolution of technology. In particular, we would use patent data to investigate the factors which contribute to the "success" of a technology. This project could potentially involve collaborators from Reed College and Oxford University.

The second project uses deep learning to study and predict the properties of proteins. One area that I am excited to focus on in 2020/21 is to study viral proteins by extending deep learning algorithms that we have developed in the past. This project could involve collaborators from Reed College.

Past PURE students working with me have been able to co-author papers with me and I'm hoping that some of the projects described above could lead to publications as well.

Desired skills/time commitment:

- Python programming
- Linear algebra
- Experience with deep learning (preferred)

No previous experience with biology or patent data is required.