Martin, Fred: March 2012 Archives

On March 14, 2012, Google held a “Pi Day Open House” event at their Kendall Square offices in Cambridge, MA.  Six faculty nominated their best undergraduate and graduate students for the event, and a total of 15 UMass Lowell Computer Science students were accepted.  Including these UML students, there were about 70 students in attendance, from universities including BU, BC, Wentworth, UMass Boston, MIT and others.

The program was held in the early evening. The Google Cambridge campus manager welcomed the students, and told them that Google has about 1000 employees in Cambridge (spread out across three buildings, all near the Kendall T stop).  Students asked a few questions, and some basic facts about Google were clarified; e.g., that most of their revenue is from ads.

There were then five talks and demos:

  • A mobile publishing platform which took existing RSS feeds (or other feed types) and generated a mobile-friendly rendering of it which can be customized by publishers was presented.
  • A visualization tool showing the sharing of links through the Google Plus social network was demonstrated.
  • A talk on search quality and features highlighted a few subtle search parsing tricks (like “picture of sunset” vs. “picture of dorian gray”), and live visual iterative refinement of search results.
  • A “symtom search” feature for detecting when a user is searching for a disease was discussed. The speaker related a story about when he was observing live Google search logs of a person searching for “chest pain,” then “chest pain right arm,” which are the characteristic symptoms of a heart attack. He said that the experience humbled him, and gave him a strong sense of responsibility for his product.
  • The SPDY protocol, which optimizes many aspects of HTTP, was presented.  SPDY is in production use in Google Chrome and Firefox, and is being proposed as the new HTTP2 standard.

Following these talks, a set of breakout sessions were offered. Topics included software engineering best practices, how to interview at Google, and information for PhD students.

In the talk for PhD students, Jon Orwant talked about how research in Google works and how it differs from research in academia. At Google, projects always originate from a product idea which could impact millions of people, and that many of the research projects actually do become products which impact millions of people.

Assoc. Prof. Fred Martin, who encouraged faculty to nominate their students for this opportunity, was delighted at the great response from UMass Lowell students, and their success in being accepted to the program.

The Pi Day event was organized by Caitlin Cooke, University Programs Coordinator at Google Cambridge.

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UMass Lowell Computer Science students receiving parting gift bags after Google 3/14 Pi Day program. Front row (L-R): Chris Adoretti, Shawna Oneal, Jing Xu, Xian Pan, Mikhail Medvedev, Karen Uttecht, and Swathi Kurunji. Back row (L-R): John Huston, Chunyao Song, Brigit Schroeder, and Curran Kelleher. Also attending, but not in photo: Yinjie Chen, Simone Hill, Bo Yan, and Jie Yang. 

Thanks to Curran Kelleher for authoring this article.
A research paper by Computer Science Department doctoral student Harshavardhan Achrekar and co-authors Avinash Gandhe, Ross Lazarus, Ssu-Hsin Yu, and Benyuan Liu, Twitter improves Seasonal Influenza Prediction, has been selected as the Best Student Paper at the Fifth International Conference on Health Informatics (HEALTHINF 2012) held February 1 to 4, 2012 in Vilamoura, Algarve, Portugal. Fewer than 9 percent of submitted manuscripts were accepted as full papers.

The purpose of the International Conference on Health Informatics was to bring together researchers and practitioners interested in the application of information and communication technologies (ICT) to healthcare and medicine in general and to the specialized support to persons with special needs in particular. Databases, networking, graphical interfaces, intelligent decision support systems and specialized programming languages were just a few of the technologies currently used in medical informatics.

Achrekar is utilizing information posted on Online Social Networks (OSNs) such as Twitter and Facebook to help improve the prediction of influenza levels within United States population and keep track of its spread. He has designed and implemented a framework called the Social Network-Enabled Flu Trends (SNEFT), which is used to continuously monitor flu-related messages, extract relevant location and user demographic information, track and predict the flu conditions in real time.

Since 2009, Achrekar has tapped into Twitter and extracted millions of influenza-related user posts to date, providing an almost-instantaneous snapshot of current epidemic conditions. Using comprehensive mathematical models, the framework can estimate nationwide as well as regional and age based flu activity with high accuracy.

This research is supported by a $200,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health under a Small Business Innovation Research Award. Results presented in this scientific publication show that these posts on Twitter closely match the number of flu-like cases reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and can significantly enhance public health preparedness against influenza and other large-scale pandemics.

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Harsh Achrekar (left) and faculty adviser Prof. Benyuan Liu showcasing HEALTHINF 2012 best paper award.

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