As the University of Washington’s computer science program has grown, so too has the breadth of problems that its students are trying to solve. That variety was on full display Thursday evening on campus, as projects focused on healthcare, cloud computing, augmented and virtual reality and much more were honored.
A project called Embarker, which focuses on identifying genes that can be used as markers that could predict Alzheimer’s Disease, took home the 13th annual Madrona Prize for the project with the most commercial potential at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering’s Poster and Demo Session as part of the 2018 Industry Affiliates Annual Research Day Thursday night.
Led by Safiye Celik, who recently got her PhD and is headed to New York City to work at Benevolent AI, Embarker aims to provide a better understanding and path to treatment for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Celik saw the impact of the disease first hand — her grandmother had Alzheimers — and that inspired her to try and tackle the disorder that has no treatment at the moment.
“We want to know which mechanisms are making some people get older with dementia and while some others do not get dementia,” Celik told GeekWire after she won the Madrona Prize.
Tim Porter, Managing Director at Seattle venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group, presented the prizes at the event. Madrona and the university have a deep relationship, with the VC firm funding 17 spinouts from UW’s computer science school.
Porter said Madrona saw the huge potential impact of Embarker in battling Alzheimer’s and other complex diseases, and that’s why the group chose it as the winner this year.
“We were impressed with the work at the intersection of machine learning and life science, making progress on this awful disease Alzheimer’s, that has some promise of creating a therapy that helps suppress as well as potentially early detection,” Porter said.
Here are the runners up for the Madrona Prize and the teams that worked on them:
- Puddle: A System for High-Level Microfluidic Programming: Max Willsey, Ashley Stephenson, Chris Takahashi, Pranav Vaid, Bichlien Nguyen, Michal Piszczek, Christine Betts, Sharon Newman, Sarang Joshi, Karin Strauss and Luis Ceze.
Slim: OS Kernel Support for a Low-Overhead Container Overlay Network: Danyang Zhuo, Kaiyuan Zhang, Yibo Zhu, Hongqiang Harry Liu, Matthew Rockett, Arvind Krishnamurthy, Tom Anderson.
- Implantable wireless brain-computer interface: Jared Nakahara, Joshua Smith, Vaishnavi Ranganathan, Soshi Samejima, Nicholas Tolley. and Chet Moritz
As in past years, there was a People’s Choice award voted on by attendees at the event. If the votes are any indication, tech observers are interested in virtual and augmented reality and some unique ways to take advantage of the technology.
- Winner: Exploring Augmented Reality Approaches to Real-Time Captioning: An Autoethnographic Study: Dhruv Jain, Bonnie Chinh, Raja Kushalnagar, Leah Findlater, Jon Froehlich.
- Runner-up: Photo Wake-Up: 3D Character Animation from a Single Photo: Chung-Yi Weng, Brian Curless, Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman
Thursday’s comes just a couple of weeks after the school’s namesake, Paul Allen, passed away. The continued success of the school is an important part of Allen’s legacy.
Last year, Allen donated $40 million to the program, helping build a $50 million endowment. The donation also helped elevated the program from a department to a full school, an important distinction that recognizes the success and stature of the UW’s growing computer science program.
Allen previously donated $14 million to help build the 15-year-old, 85,000 square-foot Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, where Thursday’s event was held.
An image of Allen served as a backdrop to the Madrona Prize ceremony. Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates chair of the department, led a moment of silence for the Microsoft co-founder. He said Allen “changed the world multiple times, changed Seattle multiple times, and he’s changed us multiple times.”
Going forward, Lazowska said, Allen’s death “makes us more committed to fulfilling the expectations he had for us, to use the advantages that he and many others in the community have given us to become one of the top computer science programs in the nation.”