U.Va. Students Recognized for Computing Research

March 21, 2012 — The Computing Research Association recently recognized four University of Virginia undergraduate computer science students for their research.

Each year, the association chooses winners from North America for its Outstanding Undergraduate Research Awards; at least one male and one female student are named the winners. Several other strong candidates are recognized as runners-up and finalists, and all nominees whose work is considered exemplary receive honorable mention. They must be nominated by two faculty members and recommended by the chair of their department.

U.Va. student Peter Chapman was named one of three runners-up, and three other students garnered honorable mentions: Jiamin Chen, Virginia "Ginger" Smith and Matthew Manley.

"The CRA awards are among the most prestigious awards nationally for undergraduate computer science research," said Kevin Sullivan, associate professor of computer science in U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Even students designated as runners-up or honorable mention recipients typically can go to top graduate programs in computer science if they choose, he said.

At U.Va., students can pursue a bachelor of arts in computer science as an interdisciplinary major in the College of Arts & Sciences or either a bachelor of science in computer science or a B.S. in computer engineering from the Engineering School.

Chapman, a fourth-year student from Ashburn, is majoring in computer science and cognitive science in the College. His research analyzes problems in computer security and privacy in different settings and proposes solutions.

Under adviser David Evans, associate professor of computer science, Chapman developed a method for automatically searching Web applications to find side-channel vulnerabilities. He applied new statistical tools to better describe these vulnerabilities and determined that 88 percent of queries to Google Health could be recovered by an eavesdropping adversary.

"Computer security and privacy is a critical concern, especially when medical issues are involved," Chapman noted in his research statement.

He also has proposed novel applications of secure computation in smartphones and is working on an improved approach to mobile secure computation.

Chen, a fourth-year student from Beijing, is majoring in computer science in the College. In her research, she used secure two-party computation to enable parties to jointly compute a function using inputs from both parties while preserving data privacy.

To explain how it would be applied, she wrote in her research statement, "For example, it would be unethical for email service providers to share their clients' email with another email provider, even if that would enable them to improve spam detection accuracy. My research aims to solve this problem by allowing two parties to collaborate to produce a shared neural network without sacrificing data privacy."

Smith, a fourth-year student from Blacksburg, is also majoring in computer science in the College. She conducted research at the High Performance Computing Facility at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, exploring simulated models of pancreatic beta cells, which are vitally important in the study of diabetes. She also went to the University of California, Berkeley and helped develop a mathematical model of building-wide heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, used to create a new control scheme for the HVAC units that aimed to improve the overall energy efficiency of the system.

Working with her adviser, assistant computer science professor Kamin Whitehouse of the Engineering School, Smith is back at U.Va., researching "smart buildings" for energy conservation in the new field of computational sustainability.

"The ultimate goal will be to give users access to information about the effectiveness of their HVAC units, as well as improve overall energy efficiency," she said.

Manley, a fourth-year student from Centreville, will graduate with a degree in computer engineering from the Engineering School.

His research began with a scholarly investigation on improving data collection for a prototype system being developed by his research adviser, Malathi Veeraraghavan, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. After conducting statistical analysis of the characteristics of a subset of data products, the statistical results were then evaluated with respect to the network protocols used to transmit the data products.