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Hajim Highlights 0523

May 23, 2022

Left to right: Lunabotics team members Christopher Piatek, Lianming Hu, and Francesca Daszak, mechanical engineering, and Rachael He, computer science, work on their automated mining robot in the Fabrication Studio at Rettner Hall.

Dear members of the Hajim School community,

Several Hajim School students are part of a team competing this week at Kennedy Space Center. The students will send their automated mining robot into a replica lunar landscape, testing it against 47 university teams from across the country, during the annual NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Lunabotics competition. This year’s competition simulates the space agency’s upcoming Artemis mission to the moon.

“We have been aiming high to have a fully autonomous robot,” says team co-captain Francesca Daszak ’23, a mechanical engineering major and president of the UR Robotics student organization. “It’s not required, but it’s very highly encouraged.” Read more here about the challenges these students have overcome, the invaluable experience they’ve gained, and the outstanding support they’ve received from Thomas Howard, their faculty advisor, and other Hajim School faculty and staff members.

Speaking of student competitions, our Baja SAE student team overcame flat tires, new car bugs, thunderstorms, and broken components to finish 35th of 92 teams in the 4-hour endurance race at a recent competition in Tennessee. Unlike many of the teams—who did not even finish the race—the team drove their off-road vehicle off the track at the end, says the team’s faculty advisor Chris Muir.  Special thanks to Christine Pratt, recent winner of the Dottie Welch award, who traveled with the team in Chris’ place for this graduation weekend competition. Next up: A June 2-5 competition in our own back yard, hosted by RIT at Hogback Hill in Palmyra, NY.


Scientists rely increasingly on models trained with machine learning to provide solutions to complex problems. But how do we know the solutions are trustworthy when the complex algorithms the models use are not easily interrogated or able to explain their decisions to humans?

That trust is especially crucial in drug discovery, for example, where machine learning is used to sort through millions of potentially toxic compounds to determine which might be safe candidates for pharmaceutical drugs.

Andrew White, associate professor of chemical engineering, and his lab have developed a new “counterfactual” method, described in Chemical Science, that can be used with any molecular structure-based machine learning model to better understand how the model arrived at a conclusion.

Counterfactuals can tell researchers “the smallest change to the features that would alter the prediction,” says lead author Geemi Wellawatte, a PhD student in Andrew’s lab. “In other words, a counterfactual is an example as close to the original, but with a different outcome.” Learn more.


  • Christie Massie, a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering, working in the lab of Andrew Berger, professor of optics. Christie has received a Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health to support her research using spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS) to improve our ability to detect fracture risk as a result of osteoporosis. Using mouse models, the lab has developed an algorithm to suppress the overlapping spectral spikes from soft tissue that occur during SORS in order to accurately characterize bone health. Christie’s award will support her work to scale up and translate the new approach for bone measurement in humans. Learn more. Christie last year received a University Donald M. and Janet C. Barnard Fellowship for her research.
  • Alec Salminen, PhD student in biomedical engineering, who has received an Outstanding Dissertation Award from the AS&E Office of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs, for Microvascular Mimetics for the Advanced Study of Endothelial Dysfunction and Leukocyte Extravasation in Inflammation. Alec was advised by James McGrath, professor of biomedical engineering. He is now a postdoctoral fellow at the National Center for Toxicological Research at the Food and Drug Administration.


PhD students from multiple departments, including electrical and computer engineering, optics, biomedical engineering, brain and cognitive sciences, computer science, and neuroscience, are invited to apply for extra training in augmented and virtual reality, through a University National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Program.

Participants will receive instruction and hands-on experience with high-tech equipment used across industries today. They also will have the opportunity to participate in industrial internships at companies such as Meta-Facebook, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Vuzix, which support this program.

The deadline for paid fellowship applications, offered to US citizens and permanent residents only, is July 25. The deadline for the general trainee program is August 15.

Apply online and find more information here. Contact Kathleen DeFazio with questions.


The deadline to register for this year’s annual summer short course series at The Institute of Optics is this Friday, May 27. The program is geared towards grad students, alumni, and industry professionals. The courses, which will be conducted remotely, include Fundamental Concepts, Optical Thin Films, Integrated Photonics Circuits, Applied Concepts, Optical Systems Design, Modern Optical Engineering, Computational Imaging, and Ultrafast Optics & Petawatt Laser Systems. Contact Tal Haring for more information.


Due to Memorial Day, the next issue of Hajim Highlights will be June 6. Enjoy the holiday!

Your dean,
Wendi Heinzelman

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