Two Students Receive Honorable Mention in CRA Undergraduate Research Awards

Peter Zhong and Jay Zou made significant contributions to undergraduate research projects and serve as peer mentors.

Peter Zhong and Jay Zou received honorable mentions in the Computer Research Association (CRA) 2022 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards. The nationwide award program recognizes undergraduate students who demonstrate exemplary research potential in computing.

“I am delighted that Northwestern CS students have made the honorable awardee list for three years in a row now. This a testament to the amazing work our undergraduate students are engaged in and I look forward to seeing more bright minds motivated to get involved in research with faculty - both in computer science and related fields,” said Samir Khuller, Peter and Adrienne Barris Chair of Computer Science at Northwestern Engineering. “We now have twenty courtesy faculty in computer science and over fifty faculty in the department working with students at different stages in their careers.”

Nominated students made significant contributions to more than one research project; authored multiple papers; presented at major conferences; produced software, applications, or algorithms; participated in summer research or internships; served as teaching assistants, tutors, or mentors; or volunteered in community efforts.

Peter ZhongPeter Zhong

Advisers: Robby Findler and Christos Dimoulas

Zhong is a third-year student in the bachelor of science in computer science program at the McCormick School of Engineering.

Zhong’s research interests center on leveraging language design and code analysis techniques to improve the security and efficiency of software engineering. To address the pervasive issue of poorly specified, tested and verified codebases, Zhong aims to investigate: language design techniques to help programmers write correct-by-construction code; the application of static analysis and dynamic testing techniques to identify mission-critical bugs; and accessibility improvements of mechanized formal verification for industry and broader use.

“I am incredibly pleased that my work, in collaboration with other members of my lab, is recognized by the CRA,” Zhong said.

At RacketCon 2020, Zhong presented a defensive programming tool he built to automate the process of translating legacy defensive checks in Racket programs to equivalent contracts, which more cleanly and transparently express the requirements of a procedure at the interface level. The tool identifies errors, constructs contracts from their test positions, and removes residual defensive code without changing meaning or hampering reliability.

Zhong’s affinity for teaching CS concepts and his belief in the importance of outreach to students from underrepresented backgrounds led him to volunteer at Code Your Chances (CYC), an organization dedicated to introducing young women ages 9-14 to the creative applications of computer science. Zhong developed a workshop on artificial intelligence with fellow Northwestern CS undergraduates Alberta Yoo and Carina Ramos and presented to schools such as Lester Elementary in Downers Grove, Illinois, and institutions such as Christopher House, a personalized, early childhood education and family support organization. Zhong also collaborated with teams from Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin to develop apps that improve the teaching experience. In addition, he served as a supervisor and mentor on the Youth Leadership Board.

“In the future, I not only wish to continue theoretical programming languages research, but also to apply my research to real-world industry settings, and ultimately, to empower software engineers,” Zhong said.

Zhong intends to pursue a doctoral degree in computer science and plans to continue his career as an applied scientist in academia and teach at the university level.

Jay ZouJay Zou

Adviser: István Kovács

Zou is a third-year student pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in physics and astronomy, and the Integrated Science Program in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. He is also completing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Northwestern Engineering.

Zou’s research interests developed in high school when he conducted experimental and computational astrophysics research and published his findings to the International Astronomical Union.

Zou is completing an independent research project at the intersection of physics and computer science studying multipartite entanglement in the quantum Ising model. Using original research, he designed and implemented efficient, robust cluster counting algorithms in Python and bash scripts with Northwestern’s QUEST computing cluster to quantify multipartite entanglement, in particular universality and distance dependence. His computational results are further supported by analytical calculations stemming from theoretical physics. Zou presented his work at the 2021 Fall Meeting of the American Physical Society Prairie Section and is finalizing additional statistical analysis. He is preparing the manuscript for journal publication.

“Being recognized for honorable mention for the CRA award is not only a testament to my studies and dedication toward my research project, but also a starting point for my future research endeavors,” Zou said. “Most importantly though, this would not have been possible without the tireless support of my adviser and peers for thoughtful discussions.”

Zou serves as a peer adviser, residential assistant, teaching assistant for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and peer mentor for the new DATA_ENG 200: Foundations of Data Science studio course in the data science and engineering minor program. He is also a telescope operator at Northwestern’s historical Dearborn Observatory.

“The observatory allows me to not only continue my interests in observational astronomy, which was my initial introduction to computational research, but also allows me to share the passion this subject holds to visitors of all ages and backgrounds ranging from aspiring young scientists to senior citizens.”

Zou will be conducting his master’s research with Pedram Khalili, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern Engineering, on unconventional computing architecture. Zou plans to pursue a doctoral degree focusing on physics and machine learning with a particular interest in optical and magnetic computing.

McCormick News Article