Layne Watson honored among 2024 class of SIAM fellows

Layne Watson. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) has named Layne Watson, a professor in three departments at Virginia Tech – computer science, mathematics, and aerospace and ocean engineering – and core faculty at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, part of the 26-member 2024 class of SIAM fellows

SIAM is an international community of more than 1,400 individual members and nearly 500 academic, manufacturing, research and development, service and consulting organizations, government, and military are institutional members. Members are nominated to the fellowship program in recognition of their outstanding research and service to the community. Through their various contributions, SIAM fellows form a crucial group of individuals helping to advance the fields of applied mathematics, computational science, and data science.

A SIAM member since 1976, Watson is being recognized particularly for pioneering the theoretical development, algorithm design, software implementation, and application of homotopy methods. Homotopy theory is part of topology, a branch of theoretical mathematics.

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Study traces an infectious language epidemic

Eugenia Rho. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,” the old adage goes. “But words will never hurt me.” 

Tell that to Eugenia Rho, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, and she will show you extensive data that prove otherwise.

Her Society + AI & Language Lab has shown that

Now, Rho’s research team in the College of Engineering has turned to another question: what effects did social media rhetoric have on COVID-19 infection and death rates across the United States, and what can policymakers and public health officials learn from that?

“A lot of studies just describe what’s happening online. Often they do not show a direct link with offline behaviors,” Rho said. “But there is a tangible way to connect online behavior with offline decision making.”

Rho is also an affiliate faculty member at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics.

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Congratulations to Sanghani Center’s 2024 Spring Graduates


Virginia Tech’s week of commencement ceremonies is underway! The Graduate School Commencement ceremony was held Wednesday, May 8; the main ceremony is being held today, Friday, May 10; and the Washington, D.C. area ceremony will be held on Sunday, May 12.  

“Graduation is always a bittersweet time for faculty as we applaud our students’ accomplishments,” said Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech and director of the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics. “We very proud of all of them but saying good-bye is not so easy and we are always happy when they stay in touch – as many of them do — to let us know where their research is leading them.”

The following Sanghani Center students are among those who are receiving degrees:

Ph.D. Graduates

Abdulaziz Alhamadani, advised by Chang-Tien Lu, has earned a Ph.D. in computer science. His research interests mainly focus on developing efficient and applicable methods of training machine learning models for real-world applications such as pandemic prediction, drug overdose crises, and crisis management in various industries. His additional research areas include natural language processing, such as text classification and building large corpora for low-resource languages, machine learning ethics, and event detection.The title of his dissertation is “Integrated Predictive Modeling and Analytics for Crisis Management.” Alhamadani has joined the Computer Science Department at Florida Polytechnic University as an assistant professor.

Lulwah AlKulaib, advised by Chang-Tien Lu, has earned a Ph.D. in computer science. Her research focuses on social media analysis, machine learning, and natural language processing with a special interest in Arabic. The title of her dissertation is “Analyzing Networks with Hypergraphs: Detection, Classification and Prediction.” AlKulaib has joined Kuwait University as an assistant professor in computer science.

Hongjie Chen, advised by Hoda Eldardiry, has earned a Ph.D. in computer science. His research lies in the areas of graph neural networks, time-series analysis, and recommendation systems. The title of his dissertation is “Graph-based Time-series Forecasting in Deep Learning.”

Jiaying Gong, advised by Hoda Eldardiry, has earned a Ph.D. in computer science. Her research focuses on multisource machine learning and natural language processing. The title of her thesis is “Few-Shot and Zero-Shot Learning for Information Extraction.” Gong will join coreAI, eBay, in New York City, as an applied researcher.

Jianfeng He, advised by Chang-Tien Lu, has earned a Ph.D. in computer science. His research focus on computer vision centers on guided image editing. He also focuses on natural language processing, studying uncertainty analysis in its applications (e.g., text classification, few-shot learning, named entity recognition, and text summarization). The title of his dissertation is “Uncertainty Estimation in Natural Language Processing,” for which he received the Department of Computer Science Achievement Award for Best Ph.D. Research. In June, He will join Amazon as an applied scientist in Seattle, Washington. 

Ola Karajehadvised by Edward Fox, earned a Ph.D. in computer science. Her research interests are graph machine learning, natural language processing, Twitter analysis, and public health. The title of her dissertation is “Improving Text Classification Using Graph-based Methods.”

Andreea Sistrunk, advised by Naren Ramakrishnan, has earned a Ph.D. in computer science. Her research interest is in human-computing Interaction with all forms that data science takes in information processing and its impact on society. She is equally interested in education and methods leveraging the state of the art in pedagogy and andragogy in computer science, advanced math, and engineering. The title of her dissertation is “Designing Human-Centered Collaborative Systems for School Redistricting.” Sistrunk will continue her work with the Geospatial Research Laboratory in the Washington, D.C. area, as a physical research scientist.

Master of Science Degree Graduates

Cho-Ting (Amanda) Lee, advised by Naren Ramakrishnan, has earned a master’s degree in computer science. Her research interests are in data mining and machine learning, with a focus on trade data analytics and anomaly detection. The title of her thesis is “Can an LLM find its way around a spreadsheet?”

Jiayue Lin, advised by Chris North, has earned a master’s degree in computer science. His research focus is on visual analytics and artificial intelligence, with a particular interest in refining deep learning-based image projections using semantic interaction methods. The title of his thesis is “ImageSI: Semantic Interaction for Deep Learning Image Projections.” 

Daniel Palamarchuk, advised by Chris North, has earned a master’s degree in computer science. His research focuses on visualizing temporal text, document, and topic data using pre-transformer embedding methods. The title of his thesis is “Temporal Topic Embeddings with a Compass.” Palamarchuk will work as a programming teacher in the Northern Virginia area and plans on pursuing a Ph.D. 

Ramaraja Ramanujanadvised by Edward Fox, has earned a master’s degree in computer science. His research focuses on data analysis of geospatial and administrative data, conducting statistical verifications and simulations, and visual analytics. The title of his thesis is “Improving Rainfall Index Insurance: Evaluating Effects of Fine-Scale Data and Interactive Tools in the PRF-RI Program.” Ramanujan will join Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, as a software engineer. 

Chia-Wei Tang, advised by Chris Thomas, has earned a master’s degree in computer science. His research focuses on the development of misinformation detection utilizing multimodal reasoning. The title of his thesis is “M3D: MultiModal MultiDocument Fine-Grained Inconsistency Detection.” Tang is joining Juniper Networks in Sunnyvale, California, as a software engineer. 

Lemara Williams, advised by Chris North, has earned a master’s degree in computer science. Her research centers around visualizing changes in projections over time. The title of her thesis is “TimeLink: Visualizing Diachronic Word Embeddings and Topics.” Williams will continue her studies and is beginning a computer science Ph.D. program in the Fall at the Washington University in St. Louis. 

Xiaona Zhou, advised by Ismini Lourentzou, has earned a master’s degree in computer science. Her research focuses on the applications of data science and machine learning. The title of her master’s thesis is “Hierarchical Bayesian Dataset Selection.” Zhou will be pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.


Layne Watson honored with emeritus status

Layne Watson. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

Layne Watson, professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has been conferred the title of professor emeritus by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

Watson is also a core faculty member at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics.

The emeritus title may be conferred on retired faculty members who are specially recommended to the board by Virginia Tech President Tim Sands in recognition of exemplary service to the university. Nominated individuals who are approved by the board receive a copy of the resolution and a certificate of appreciation.

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Class of 2024: Andreea Sistrunk graduates with a Ph.D., a life lesson, and a motto to live by

Andreea Sistrunk. Photo by Naren Ramakrishnan for Virginia Tech.

Andreea Sistrunk’s motto, “A best solution to everything is up to us to uncover,” evolved on her path to earning a Ph.D. in computer science at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia campus.

“In the beginning, I found myself overwhelmed and at times discouraged by how fast technology is advancing,” she said. “As hard as I was trying, I could not get the data I needed for my work.”

Sistrunk’s research for her dissertation is at the intersection of computer science, education policy, and geographical information systems and related to Redistrict, an online software platform built by a team of researchers at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics to help school districts with their rezoning efforts. 

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Virginia Tech to exhibit at the AI Expo for National Competitiveness

Laura Freeman, deputy director of Virginia Tech’s National Security Institute and featured speaker at the expo’s Talent Marketplace, will share how the institute is preparing the present and future U.S. workforce for the integration of artificial intelligence systems across all sectors of the economy and society. Photo by Bill Petros for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech will exhibit at the first AI Expo for National Competitiveness at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on May 7-8.

Chaired by former chief executive officer of Google Eric Schmidt, the expo serves as a forum for industry, government, and academic research entities to exhibit some of the latest technological breakthroughs in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), biotech, energy, networks, computing, microelectronics, manufacturing, and augmented reality. Leaders will discuss these advancements and their implications for U.S. and allied competitiveness.

Hosting alongside the second Ash Carter Exchange on Innovation and National Security, the event is free and open to the public but registration is recommended. For detailed information about the event, visit the expo’s online agenda.

Laura Freeman, deputy director of Virginia Tech’s National Security Institute, will be the featured speaker at the expo’s Talent Marketplace on the first day. 

Additionally, Virginia Tech organizations that lead innovative research technologies in AI will demonstrate their expertise on the following topics at the university’s booth No. 506 on May 8. Among them is the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics.

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Sanghani Center and CAIA cultivate transdisciplinary research in agriculture, AI, and data analytics

Ph.D. student scholarship recipient Sangwoo Kim (at center) with faculty mentors Anuj Karpatne (at left) and Venkat Sridhar. Photo by Tonia Moxley for Virginia Tech.

A new initiative between the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture (CAIA) and the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics has launched a Graduate Research Assistantship Program that provides scholarships for exceptional Ph.D. students conducting research that generates agricultural solutions enabled by artificial intelligence and data analytics. 

The initiative builds upon a consistent collaboration between the two centers that began with the inauguration of CAIA in 2021. Faculty from the two centers have been working on joint research projects that includes a National Science Foundation-sponsored Convergence Accelerator project and some faculty are members of both centers.

Sangwoo Kim in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering and Runing Yang in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are the first Ph.D. students to receive the Joint Graduate Scholarship.

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Six Virginia Tech faculty elected AAAS Fellows

Virginia Tech researchers elected in the 2023 class of AAAS Fellows are: (top row, from left) Eric Burger, Nancy Ross, Naren Ramakrishnan, (bottom row, from left) Barbara Ryder, Liwu Li, and Brenda Winkel. Virginia Tech photo

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the world’s largest general scientific societies and publisher of the Science family of journals, has named its 2023 class of fellows.

Six Virginia Tech researchers are named among the latest class of 502 scientists, engineers, and innovators. The newly elected AAAS Fellows represent the fields of biological sciences, chemistry, medical sciences, and engineering followed by neuroscience and physics.

“I congratulate our researchers who are being honored as lifetime fellows for their groundbreaking contributions to the scientific community,” said Dan Sui, senior vice president for research and innovation. “These highly regarded researchers are developing and improving technologies and innovations that inform new pathways in wireless communications, machine learning algorithms, mineral physics, plant metabolism, and diversifying the field of computing.”

Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering and director of the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics is one of the fellows, cited for his work in forecasting significant societal events.

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Octo CEO to deliver 2024 commencement address

Mehul Sanghani. Photo courtesy of Chuck Kennedy.

Mehul Sanghani, chief executive officer and founder of Octo, will deliver the keynote address at Virginia Tech’s University Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 10.

Octo is a technology firm focused on solving national security’s most complex problems. In the last decade, Sanghani built and grew the company around the foundational belief of meeting, exceeding, and advancing customer missions. 

Sanghani took a leap of faith founding Octo at the age of 30 with encouragement from his family and others. Since its inception in 2006, the company has experienced exponential success under his leadership. 

Octo has been repeatedly recognized, catching the attention of a number of Fortune 100 companies as an acquisition target. In January 2023, IBM announced it was acquiring the company for just under $1.3 billion.

In 2021, a gift from Mehul and his wife, Hema Sanghani, also a Virginia Tech graduate, made a historic $10 million gift to their alma mater; $1.5 million of the gift was allocated to establish The Market of Virginia Tech, a first-of-its-kind on-campus food pantry to students facing food insecurity.

The Sanghanis’ gift also endowed the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics.

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Danfeng ‘Daphne’ Yao named interim head of the Department of Computer Science

Daphne Yao. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

Danfeng “Daphne” Yao, professor in the Department of Computer Science, has been named interim department head, effective July 1. She replaces Professor Cal Ribbens, who has led the department since 2015.

Yao is also an affiliate faculty at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics.

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