Undergraduate Research in Computer Science

The Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) enables students to conduct extended, focused research in close cooperation with a Pomona faculty member. Below are recent summer research projects in the Computer Science Department.

Text Simplification

Justin Long ’24, Advisor: David Kauchak

I worked with Professor Kauchak to write a program that builds an original corpus containing subtitles from over 45,000 different movies in multiple languages with the goal of constructing a large synonym bank for text simplification applications. Text simplification is a subfield of computer science and natural language processing that focuses on, as the name suggests, making text simpler.

I wrote the program using Python and MySQL over the course of about two months. It works as follows: after downloading a script for each movie in English and a foreign language, it translates the foreign script into English and performs word alignment between the now-both English scripts. If a pair of corresponding words differ, the script adds it to a database of synonyms, and the word from the translated script is often the simpler word. The more entries in the database a synonym has, the higher chance it is truly a simpler synonym for that word.

The preliminary corpus analysis we conducted on what we have collected thus far has shown that our corpus has fewer syllables per word, a higher percentage of simple words, lower syntactic tree heights, fewer noun phrases and verb phrases per sentence, and more common words on average than text from Wikipedia and Simple Wikipedia. Previous literature has found each of these metrics to be effective measures of textual simplicity, suggesting that our corpus can be a useful resource for generating simple text. Additionally, we have found few significant differences in simplicity metrics across text from different MPAA ratings of movies, suggesting that G-rated and R-rated movies largely do not differ in the complexity of their language.

Sim-to-Real Transferability

Christy Marchese ’24; Advisor: Anthony Clark

For the past 2.5 years, I’ve worked with Professor Clark in the Autonomous Robotics and Complex Systems (ARCS) Lab, researching methods to bridge the sim-to-real transferability gap for mobile robots.

I first began researching with the ARCS lab the summer after my freshman year at Pomona. That summer, the group and I explored various neural network architectures and data collection techniques for autonomous navigation in simulated environments, looking at what architectures and methods we could utilize to best enable a robotic agent to learn the task of navigation through a simulated maze. For that project, I developed novel neural network architectures that explored varying uses of state (memory), one of my architectures being a hybrid convolutional neural network that took inputs of an image and categorical data (the previous output) to inform its navigational decision making. I was also able to take on a variety of tasks in the lab from writing python automation scripts for the training of all our different models to soldering wires for the electronics of our mobile robots to designing robot parts with CAD. We ultimately published our work from that summer, titled Investigating Neural Network Architectures for Navigation in Simulated Environments, at the IEEE’s SSCI conference in 2021.

These days in the lab, I have taken a much more active role in driving new research questions, proposing new methodology to approach these questions, and exploring more novel ideas of sim-to-real transferability. I am also driving the exploration of adversarial robustness in the lab, looking to bridge my research interests and experiences in security and the security of machine learning to approach improving model robustness and sim-to-real transferability in novel ways. I feel incredibly blessed and grateful that the lab has supported and empowered me with the freedom to explore my many different research interests, projects and opportunities. My experiences in the lab have really helped me find a passion for research and the approach of difficult questions. So much so that now I intend to pursue my interests of security and the security of ML in graduate school through a Ph.D. in computer science, and I move onto this next part of my research journey with hope and excitement for the future.

Animating Asterism

Katiana Wieser ’24; Advisor: Joseph Osborn

Starting my freshman year, I have worked with Professor Osborn on Asterism, exploring the idea of how to create a game engine engine and lowering the barrier to entry when designing video games. Asterism is a library implemented in the Rust programming language and has been used to implement two different game engines. When I first began researching, I focused on orienting myself with the existing work and Asterism library because everything was completely new to me–the idea of Operational Logics (the basic features used to create games), the Rust programming language, and what it looks like to conduct computer science research! However, over time and with the help of Professor Osborn and a more senior researcher, who always took the time to answer my many questions, I found my footing.

At first, I worked more on understanding and exploring the flexibility and uses of game engines. Then I transitioned to demonstrating how some of the theoretical ideas I had explored could be implemented through the existing Asterism library by making games in a game engine made by previous student researchers, which brings me to my personal pride, which was adding more advanced animation capability to the library. It was my interest in animation and the intersection of art and computer science that led me to Professor Osborn’s lab. I was excited when the opportunity arose to combine an area of personal study with my research. Most of the games in Asterism used simple graphics, where all visuals were single-colored geometric shapes; my contribution was to implement the basis of a sprite-based animation system. Using my animation components, I was able to add flip-book style sprite sheet animations in two of the games I had previously made in the engine. I enjoyed having the opportunity to do a little digital drawing when making the sprites.

The lab’s work on Asterism resulted in “Asterism: Operational Logics as a Game Engine Engine,” a paper that I coauthored alongside Professor Osborn and another Pomona student researcher. We presented the Programming Languages in Entertainment (PLIE) 2021 workshop at Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE). In my time conducting research at Pomona with Professor Osborn, I have learned so much and know I have also only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. My experiences helped and empowered me: seeing how I can contribute, giving me the confidence to speak up more and not be afraid to share my ideas and perspectives in all areas of my life.