Siri Bohacek ’22

University of Vermont, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Burlington, VT

This summer I worked with a Yves Dubief, a professor from the University of Vermont on his research in snow storage and Covid-19 (two unrelated projects). Yves’ projects were really engineering challenges founded on physics, but there was an opportunity to apply computer science in his work. I spent the first part of the summer researching genetic algorithms which was a new concept for me in computer science. Genetic algorithms can be used to optimize complex engineering problems with many variables. They are especially useful when there isn’t one clear optimized solution, but rather a set of solutions. I worked with one of Yves’ grad students to apply a genetic algorithm to reverse engineer constants in an already run experiment in snow storage. By finding better approximations for these constants, Yves can now better predict the effects of different changes to his snow storage experiment. Snow storage has applications in an athletic and recreational sense, but it can also be used to cool buildings during the summer in lieu of energy-costly air conditioning.

An even more topical application of genetic algorithms is the simulation of aerosols. Yves’ program can be used to predict how aerosols will travel in different environments and be applied to establishing safe social distancing protocols in the time of a pandemic. Even though I didn’t work directly on the Covid-19 research, it was an exciting experience to hear about Yves’ research and see the applications of computer science in our current health crisis.

Because I finished my work with Yves a little earlier than expected, I also spent a little bit of time working on mobile app development for the WSO app run by Williams students. This project was a very different application of computer science and was more similar to the skill sets that I’ve begun to learn in the classroom. One added bonus of this project was that I was able to collaborate with my peers, and I was able to work a little more independently.

I’ve only recently begun to explore computer science as a potential career, so this summer was an amazing opportunity to be introduced to both computer science research and app development. I realized that I work a lot more effectively when I have a peer to problem-solve with. I also realized that I’m much more motivated when I’m excited about the end-goal of my project. For example, the app development projects and introduction to Covid-19 research were a lot more exciting than the snow storage project. I enjoyed using computer science as one tool towards solving a problem, and this will influence what future classes I take and how I approach research and problem-solving opportunities.

I’m so grateful to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and to the Kraft Family for affording me this opportunity. It has been an invaluable introduction into the “real-world” of computer science and one that would not have been possible without their support.