Student Award Winners

Congratulations to our new and continuing undergraduate and graduate student award winners!

Haris Durrani (Applied Physics) - Undergraduate Egleston Scholar
Haris A. Durrani is an Applied Physics major. He is a two-time recipient of the American Physical Society Scholarship for Minority Undergraduate Physics Majors. His advisor, Professor Michael Mauel, has been a major help to him throughout his college career. Summer 2013, he worked at Boeing Defense, Space & Security in its El Segundo, CA satellite facility, focusing on analyzing and mitigating the effects of conditions such as orbital debris/micrometeroids and electro-static discharge which impair satellite functionality. March 2012-Spring 2013, Durrani worked in Professor Peter Allen’s Robotics Lab on a brain-controlled mobile manipulator for people with full-body disabilities, part of a five-year National Science Foundation grant project in assistive robotics. The team was named a finalist in the 2012-2013 Cornell Cup USA presented by Intel, for which Durrani and his teammates represented Columbia University at the Walt Disney World 2013 Expo, receiving Distinguished Recognition and coverage from The Huffington Post and Engadget. In 2011, his high school robotics team, for which he was captain and founder, won first place at Segway inventor Dean Kamen’s FIRST Tech Challenge World Robotics Championship.

Matthew Miecnikowski (Applied Physics & Applied Mathematics) - Undergraduate Egleston Scholar
Matthew Miecnikowski is a double major in Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics from Dix Hills, New York. After completing his undergraduate education, Matt intends to enter a doctoral program in physics and to ultimately pursue a career in academic research.

Though Matt came to Columbia as a prospective engineering major, his interests have increasingly shifted towards physics. The summer following his sophomore year, he participated in the University of Florida REU in Materials Physics, where he began a computational condensed matter physics project with mentor Professor Kevin Ingersent. He studied a variation of the Anderson model, a quantum impurity model with applications in strongly correlated electron systems, which are host to a range of rich phenomena, such as high-temperature superconductivity. This year Matt performed research involving phonons, quasiparticles which represent the quantum mechanical quantization of vibration in crystal lattices, under the supervision of Professor Chris Marianetti of Columbia's Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics. Primarily using simulation and numerical methods, he investigated the properties of intrinsic localized modes which localize vibrational energy in a lattice. In the future, Matt intends to pursue experimental research in condensed matter or atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

In his free time, Matt enjoys playing the piano and gives lessons to underprivileged elementary school students in the area through the Columbia University Musical Mentors Collaborative. Matt also learns and practices martial arts with the Columbia University Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club.

Kui Tang
(Applied Mathematics)
- Undergraduate Egleston Scholar
Machine learning aims to develop automated systems to analyze, infer from, predict, and make sense of data. It is one of the most exciting and rapidly advancing engineering fields today, and its relevance will only grow as the quantity and complexity of data, and our ambitions to make use thereof, increase without bound.

With this view, Kui develops fast, principled optimization algorithms for computationally challenging machine learning problems. He works in the Columbia Machine Learning Lab where he is advised by Prof. Tony Jebara. Previously, he has worked with Prof. Martha Kim to characterize and automatically tune the performance of massively parallel computer programs. In industry, he has worked at Hunch, a start-up which delivered recommendations using large-scale collaborative filtering algorithms.

Kui has published in top-tier journals and conferences, including Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) and International Symposium for Computer Architecture (ISCA). He was runner-up for the 2014 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher by the Computer Research Association, after receiving Honorable Mention in 2013. He has been funded by multiple NSF Research Opportunity for Undergraduates (REU) fellowships.

He is currently on the Organizing Committee of the International Conference for Machine Learning (ICML) 2014 as workflow chair. He also organizes the Machine Learning Reading Group and is treasurer for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), where he previously served as president. In addition, he was the treasurer for Beta Theta Pi and a committee member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Kui is currently a senior and will start graduate school in Fall 2014, after which he intends to seek employment as a professor. When he needs a break from machine learning, he reads philosophy for fun, particularly Schopenhauer.

Ari Turkiewicz (Applied Physics) - Undergraduate Egleston Scholar
Ari Turkiewicz is from Plainview, New York. He is pursuing a major in Applied Physics, focusing in particular on solid-state physics and organometallic chemistry. Ari hopes to unite these fields by using synthetic chemistry to build functionality into bulk materials. During his freshman and sophomore years, Ari worked in the lab of Professor Colin Nuckolls, studying the electronics of single molecular clusters. Since then, he has worked with Professor Xavier Roy, synthesizing electromagnetically active, solid-state materials using clusters as building blocks.

Aside from research, Ari is currently a contributor and content reviewer for the Columbia Science Review, as well as a member of the Columbia Ski Club. In his spare time, he enjoys going to the movies and occasionally reading a book or two. Ari intends to continue on to graduate school and ultimately pursue a career in either industry or academia.


Graduate Student Award Winners

Arun Batra, NSF Fellow (Solid State Physics)
John Dwyer, NASA Fellow (Atmospheric Science)
Eric Isaacs, DOE CSGF Fellow (Solid State Physics)
Mordechai Kornbluth, Presidential Fellow (Solid State Physics)
Peijie Ong, NSF IGERT Fellow (Solid State Physics)
Iva Vukicevic, NSF IGERT Fellow (Applied Mathematics)

Choi Wins NSERC Award
Wilkie Choi has been awarded a Postgraduate-Masters award by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). This merit-based scholarship provides one year of support towards the masters portion of the recipient’s education.

“Since NSERC’s inception in 1978, the NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships (PGS) Program has been providing financial support to high-caliber scholars who are engaged in masters or doctoral programs in the natural sciences or engineering.” - NSERC

Wilkie is currently in his first year of the M.S./Ph.D. program in Plasma Physics. He received his Bachelor’s of Science - Engineering Physics from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario in June 2013.

His research interest is in controlled fusion in plasma, with especial interest in technical challenges in energy production.


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