The Leadership Alliance

Potential Research Projects

Please see below for a description of potential research projects for summer 2021. Please check often as we will continue to post potential projects!

Smart Museum of Art – Permanent Collection & Exhibition Research

The selected student will provide academic research and curatorial support for projects involving the Smart Museum of Art’s permanent collection and future exhibition projects, including “The Transpacific: Charting Artistic Exchanges between Asia and the Americas,” focusing on investigating evidence of communication, contact, and interconnection across the Pacific region. Gaining in-depth experience of collections review and early exhibition processes, the selected student will conduct research on artists and artworks and liaise with multiple museum departments. This student may also have the opportunity to provide curatorial support for and academic research on additional exhibition projects depending on the selected student’s area of interest. The mentor will be Orianna Cacchione, Curator of Global Contemporary Art, with assistance from other staff at the Smart Museum of Art, as applicable.

Court Theatre

The Court Theatre is unique in that it is a classic theatre company that exists as part of a leading research university and in a largely African American community. Uniquely, Court works at the intersection of research and pedagogy, an expansive understanding of classic theatre, and community engagement. For more information, you can find more information on our website: https://www.courttheatre.org/.

STAGE — Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration

STAGE — Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration — is a full-scale laboratory embedded within a science and engineering school devoted to collaborations among scientists and artists. Specifically, it is at the helm of one of six core research themes, that of “Arts, Sciences and Technology,” at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME).

The disciplinary backgrounds best suited to our work are one or more of the following: science, film, theatre, and/or the arts. “Hybrid” students with multiple interests are well-suited, although being a hybrid is by no means a requirement.

 The final products include research presentations, written and visual documentation, and/or artistic prototypes/projects related to science and technology. There is always a serious research component and overarching question in all our lab’s endeavors.

To learn more visit https://stage.pme.uchicago.edu/

Chemistry - Chemical Reactions

The Levin laboratory is interested in the discovery of new chemical reactions, and the understanding of their underlying mechanisms. We aim to provide chemical tools that can aid in the design and discovery of new medicines, materials, and transformative molecules, and we employ a wide range of laboratory and computational techniques towards that end. Interested students are encouraged to read more at our group website: https://voices.uchicago.edu/levingroup/

Chemistry - Aromatic Compounds

Aromatic compounds are highly important for drug discovery. Our research will focus on how to introduce functional groups to aromatic compounds through direct activation of inert carbon-hydrogen bonds. In this research, students will learn state-of-art knowledge of such type of chemistry and get trained on the concept of catalysis.

Climate Change - Arctic Amplification

The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth. Climate models, which are systems of differential equations based on the laws of physics, predicted in the 1970s that there would be Arctic Amplification of surface warming in response to increased carbon dioxide from anthropogenic emissions. However, we still do not fully understand the implications of Arctic Amplification for other latitudinal regions, in particular the middle latitudes where low- and high-pressure weather systems dominate. The student will contribute to ongoing work that is using new approaches to quantify the impact of Arctic sea ice loss and Arctic Amplification on low- and high-pressure weather systems. For more information: https://geosci.uchicago.edu/people/tiffany-shaw/

Volcanic Processes in the Southern Cascades

Stable isotopes of rock-forming elements have been shown to trace the histories of magmas beneath volcanoes – thus providing insight into processes that are otherwise difficult to directly observe. This project will involve analyzing stable isotope compositions of volcanic rocks from the southern Cascades to better understand the compositional variability within and between different magmatic systems of a single volcanic arc. The faculty mentor will be Prof. Nicolas Dauphas, with assistance from his postdoc, Dr. Aleisha Johnson.

Climate Change - Ocean Circulation

Deep ocean circulation changes are believed to have played a major role in modulating past climatic changes, and are likely to again play an important role in the future. To better understand the ocean’s role in climate change we hence need to understand how the deep ocean circulation responds to changes in the surface climate on time-scales from decades to millennia. The student will contribute to this effort by analyzing the results of numerical ocean model simulations. For more information: https://geosci.uchicago.edu/people/malte-jansen/

Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory and Decision Making
The Bakkour Memory and Decision Lab, directed by Dr. Akram Bakkour, focuses on understanding how we use memory of the past to make decisions for the future. We use the tools of cognitive neuroscience, namely fMRI, eye tracking, and computational modeling to elucidate the computations that the brain performs when humans draw on their experience to make everyday decisions. 
 
We are seeking a research assistant who is enthusiastic about investigating the intersection of memory and decision making. The student will have the opportunity to conduct data analysis, read and discuss relevant papers, and help set up experiments. Prior coding experience (e.g., Python, Javascript, R, MATLAB) preferred but not required. For more information, please visit the lab’s website at bakkourlab.uchicago.edu
Decision Research

The Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business seeks conscientious research assistants to conduct behavioral science and social psychology experiments through the Virtual PIMCO Decision Research Laboratories during Summer 2021. Each research assistant will have an opportunity to facilitate behavioral science experiments led by faculty and graduate student researchers of the Center. These studies involve interfacing with real participants, guiding them through precise study protocols in order to learn about how humans understand ourselves and each other. Each research assistant will also have opportunities to be mentored by members of the CDR’s academic community, including but not limited to faculty members, principal researchers, and graduate students. Workshops and presentations of original and emergent research by behavioral scientists around the world are offered by the Center, and assistants are welcome to attending as they deepen their understanding and interest in the field of behavioral science.

Chicago Center for HIV Elimination

The Chicago Center for HIV Elimination at the University of Chicago is seeking Research Assistants for Summer 2021. Each Research Assistant will have an opportunity to participate in CCHE’s approach to research using a paradigm which starts at the network level and moves to the community and other larger social levels to strategically eliminate HIV transmission events that are critical to onward HIV transmission. CCHE hybridizes network science, next-generation testing and notification, integrated prevention, and community mobilization to eliminate new transmission events. We are seeking a Research Assistant who possesses culturally humility and enthusiasm about investigating HIV prevention and surrounding topic areas such as Opioid Use Disorder, incarceration, PrEP, and more.

Communication through non-verbal gestures
The Goldin-Meadow Lab at the University of Chicago is looking for enthusiastic and diligent research assistants to conduct studies on the implicit communication of social thought through non-verbal gestures. Illustrative gestures that often accompany and illustrate speech are part of an intentional act, but rarely come under conscious control. We know from previous research that our gestures can convey different information from our speech.  Our current work asks whether this is also the case for socially sensitive attitudes and reasoning relating to status inequalities, marginalization, dehumanization and inter-group conflict.  Research assistants on the project will participate in the design and development of a research protocol for studying social psychological content from non-verbal behavior, in particular, they will conduct experiments with participants in an in-person or zoom format, learn to code participant data (verb and non-verbal), and learn how to do analyses. They will work directly with, and be mentored by, graduate students involved in the project, and will be invited to attend weekly meetings at the Goldin-Meadow lab, where ongoing research in diverse fields are presented and discussed. Applicants with a deep interest in social psychology and non-verbal gestures will thoroughly enjoy being a part of this project!
The Experience, Memory and Knowledge Lab

The Experience, Memory and Knowledge Lab in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago aims to understand the neurophysiological mechanisms that enable the formation of knowledge from individual experiences. We ask how neural activity in multiple brain regions create experience, memory and knowledge across the life span. Specifically, we want to understand how coordinated activity of multiple brain regions across different time scales enables these processes.

A summer research experience in the lab will expose you to computational and experimental approaches to answer these questions. This position is ideal if you are curious about neuroscience, data science and engineering. You will learn about working with animal models to study cognition, and how to manage and analyze data. You will get the most out this experience if you are studying a biological science discipline and have basic programming skills (Python). Visit the lab website for more information: https://voices.uchicago.edu/jaiyu/

Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence

New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform

Amid growing national appetite for reform, New Jersey has emerged as a leader in reimagining how pretrial justice can work. Starting in 2017, New Jersey launched sweeping changes that include virtually eliminating cash bail and introducing a risk assessment tool to help judges to prioritize pretrial detention only for those defendants who truly pose a risk—and to release the thousands of people who do not. New Jersey’s bold experiment is an attempt to create a safer and more equitable criminal justice system, but the reforms remain a work in progress with critical challenges related to racial justice remaining. If New Jersey succeeds, its bold reforms will serve as a model for others. But the persistence of any serious problems that arise in New Jersey could undermine momentum for reform for decades to come.

Through a partnership between New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts and UChicago’s Crime Lab New York, we are excited to offer Summer Research applicants the opportunity to work directly toward reducing the state’s persistent racial disparities in pretrial outcomes. Using tools from social science, economics, and computer science, we are working to better understand what gives rise to these disparities in order to address them most effectively. Much of our research centers around using machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to detect potential bias within the decision-making pipeline in New Jersey. As a part of the team, you will have the chance to tackle important research questions yourself, while also working closely with UChicago researchers and faculty. We hope this experience will help you learn the skills and strategies needed to perform rigorous research that creates social good.

Integrating Business and Medical Perspectives

The Chicago Booth Healthcare Initiative seeks a motivated research assistant to conduct research focused on integrating business and medical perspectives on the complex challenges facing the healthcare sector, such as: the impact and management of telehealth; the prioritization of patients in emergency departments; and various randomized evaluations, including studies of public health insurance delivery and online mental health therapy.  This is an opportunity to learn healthcare data analysis skills and work with healthcare data that touches on financial, operational, clinical, and policy questions. The assistant will be trained on concepts in healthcare operations and economics.  The assistant will be mentored by Prof. Dan Adelman and Prof. Matt Notowidigdo, and will be a member of the Initiative’s academic community of principal researchers and graduate students.

Measuring Corporate Transparency Around the World

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business is conducting a large-scale international survey of corporate transparency during summer 2021. We are seeking highly motivated research associates to design and run in-depth phone interviews with a range of high-level managers in firms across a number of developed and developing countries. The research associates will also assist faculty in developing novel survey instruments, and each research associate will be responsible for a set of interviews in a particular country and for the analysis of the resulting data. Research associates will also have opportunities to be mentored by members of the Booth academic community, including but not limited to faculty members, research professionals, and graduate students. Workshops and presentations of original research by economists around the world are offered by the Booth School of Business, and research associates are welcome to attend as they deepen their understanding and interest in the fields of finance and accounting. Faculty mentors: Emanuele Colonnelli and Thomas Rauter.

Exoplanets
Planets Orbiting Two Stars — In the last decade, we have found planets orbiting and transiting across the face of two stars at once. In this proposed project, we will use both observations and theoretical calculations to understand planet formation, migration, and scattering in this population of exoplanets. Successful student projects on this topic have already come out from our active group, which is embedded in a larger group of exoplanet researchers here on campus. For more information view Prof. Fabrycky’s page
Distant Galaxies

Prof. Chen’s research group focuses on the astrophysics that regulates star formation and galaxy growth.  We use large ground-based and space-based telescopes to collect imaging and spectroscopic data of distant galaxies and quasars powered by super massive black holes to study the recycling of baryonic matter between star-forming regions and dark intergalactic medium. Interested students are encouraged to find out more at Prof. Chen’s website, https://lambda.uchicago.edu/

Algorithms for statistical ranking from pairwise comparisons
The project involves studying algorithms for statistical ranking (such as MLE, rank centrality and divide-and-conquer) in various settings. Applications include collaborative filtering, web search and competitive sports. The students will read literature on the topic and will be assigned open problem or applied projects to work on. Interested students are encouraged to find out more at https://statistics.uchicago.edu/~chaogao/
Algorithms for graph optimization problems
The project involves studying algorithms for graph optimization problems (such as bipartite matching and graph partitioning) in various settings, such as classical, online, streaming and dynamic. The students will read literature on the topic and discuss it with us in group meetings, and they will also be assigned an open problem to work on. The group is interested in mentoring up to 3 students; each will be assigned a specific mentor among the three faculty: Prof. Julia Chuzhoy, Prof. Yury Makarychev and Prof. Madhur Tulsiani.
Natural Language Processing for Novels
How well do computers understand novels? While artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) technologies have seen tremendous progress in recent years, novels provide a challenging testbed due to their long length, their use of entirely crafted/fictional worlds and characters, and their complex event trajectories. This project will explore how well current NLP technologies can understand novels using hands-on experimentation and analysis with standard NLP tools. The goal is to gain expertise in applying NLP technologies while assessing their strengths and weaknesses on a challenging text domain. For more information, please view Prof. Kevin Gimpel’s website.
Visualization of spoken word embeddings
Word embeddings are vector representations of words.  They are ubiquitous throughout natural language processing (NLP), where they are typically learned from large amounts of text data and are intended to represent the meanings of words.  For example, the embedding vectors of words with similar meanings or functions tend to be near each other.  This Leadership Alliance project is related to a newer research effort, in which we are automatically learning vector embeddings of *spoken* words.  For spoken words we may want to represent their meaning, as for written words, but we also want their embedding vectors to represent how they sound.  Spoken word embeddings have been used to search for queries in spoken archives, as well as to improve the performance of automatic speech recognition systems.  Spoken word embeddings are less thoroughly understood than written word embeddings, and the goal of this project is to develop a software tool for exploring and understanding them.  In this project, the intern will work together with the faculty advisor and graduate students to build a visualization and analysis tool to help us analyze and demonstrate the properties of spoken word embeddings.  The outcome of the project will be a software package hosted on a web site that can be used by anyone to explore the space of words in a variety of languages.  The prerequisites for this project are a basic understanding of vectors and vector distances (e.g. from an introductory linear algebra or multivariate calculus course), good programming skills (ideally in python), and an adventurous spirit for experimentation and exploration! For more information please view Prof. Karen Livescu’s website.
Automatic sign language recognition
We have been working on methods for automatic recognition of American Sign Language (ASL) from video. Most of our effort so far has been on recognizing fingerspelling, a small but important component of ASL. We are now moving towards a more general ASL recognition framework. Students participating in this research will help design and conduct evaluation methods for ASL recognition, read and discuss papers in the area, and help set up experiments to test pilot ideas aimed at advancing the state of the art in ASL recognition. Faculty mentors: Karen Livescu and Greg Shakhnarovich.
Miniature self-driving cars
We are looking for students to help us develop and implement algorithms that enable small self-driving cars (Duckiebots) to autonomously navigate a model town (Duckietown), complete with roads, intersections, signage, traffic lights, and pedestrians. You will have the opportunity to work on a variety of problems that are fundamental to self-driving and robotics more generally, including localization and mapping, obstacle detection, planning under uncertainty, reinforcement learning, and multi-vehicle coordination, using a combination of classic architectures and modern machine learning-based approaches. Students will use modern software architectures built with Python, the Robot Operating System (ROS), and Docker as they deploy algorithms that run entirely on board the Duckiebots. Students will be part of the Duckietown initiative (http://duckietown.org), a rapidly growing international effort to make robotics and autonomy accessible to everyone.  
Molecular Simulations

The Ferguson Lab uses molecular simulation, machine learning, and statistical thermodynamics to understand and engineer proteins, molecules, colloids, and small molecules with applications in optical science, energy harvesting and transport, and prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines. Students will work to design and deploy molecular simulations and/or data-driven algorithms in support of one of these molecular engineering activities. Interested students can find out more at https://ferglab.com/.

Quantum Technologies

The Awschalom lab creates and studies quantum bits (“qubits”) in semiconductors to develop quantum technologies for computing, communication, and sensing. This requires a deep understanding of how these qubits interact with their environment, and how we can engineer these interactions to build robust atomic-scale sensors and memories for quantum information processing. Student researchers will build computational models to guide the measurements and predict qubit behavior, as well as participate in ongoing cryogenic experimental efforts. For more information, see our research group website here.

Quantum Material Fabrication

The Yang lab has developed a complete quantum material production line, where layer-by-layer materials synthesis and state-of-the-art photoemission spectroscopy are directly connected. The Yang group is fabricating some of the most exotic two-dimensional high temperature superconductors for quantum applications. The student researcher will work with the Yang group members and focus on the preparation of atomically flat substrates for thin film growth. This project will involve the operation of chemical and thermal treatments of oxide materials, as well as using atomic force microscopy to characterize the surface morphology. It is expected that the student will have mastered these materials science techniques, and will also participate in the thin film growth while being supervised by a postdoc researcher.

Quantum Information Experiment
The BernienLab builds quantum systems from individual atoms using laser light. These systems can serve as quantum information processors as well as quantum nodes in a network. Student researchers will join these efforts and develop control systems involving lasers, electronics and computer programming. For more information: bernienlab.uchicago.edu
Quantum Material Fabrication
The Yang lab has developed a complete quantum material production line, where layer-by-layer materials synthesis and state-of-the-art photoemission spectroscopy are directly connected. The Yang group is fabricating some of the most exotic two-dimensional high temperature superconductors for quantum applications. The student researcher will work with the Yang group members and focus on the preparation of atomically flat substrates for thin film growth. This project will involve the operation of chemical and thermal treatments of oxide materials, as well as using atomic force microscopy to characterize the surface morphology. It is expected that the student will have mastered these materials science techniques, and will also participate in the thin film growth while being supervised by a postdoc researcher.