I am Priscilla Saarah, a rising senior at Dillard University with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry and computer science. This summer, I am working with Dr. Nancy Amato and Dr. Marco Aguiree on a computational biology project. (See my project description and my blogs to learn more). People usually get curious about why I decided to learn computer science especially after they know I want to be a neurosurgeon. Well, I was fortunate to be born during the time technology and its devices were becoming popular in Ghana - and yes, I am a Ghanaian. And I was fortunate once more to have a dad who had lived in Canada so was more open to technology and computers compared to others his age back then - the 2000’s - as well as brothers who were open to anything computer. The result? My family became the first to own a personal computer in my neighbourhood which of course was put to good use, mainly by my brothers. I loved to watch but I guess watching for years instilled in me the desire to learn about computers, a little more than just what we see but also how it works. The road to the study of computer science was created right at that moment. There is more to this story and just me as a person but we’ll leave that for whoever gets the chance to meet me or finds me online.
About My Mentor
My mentors Dr. Nancy M. Amato and Dr. Marco M. Aguirre are both faculty members of the Computer Science Department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Dr. Amato is the Head of the Department of Computer Science and Abel Bliss Professor. She had her Ph.D degree in Computer Science at the University of Illinois and taught at Texas A&M University and is now back to teaching there. She has been working with the Parasol Lab as co-director. Her research interests are in motion plaaning, robotics, computational biology, computational geometry, animation, CAD, VR, parallel and distributed computing, parallel algorithms, performance modelling and optimization. My mentor is a very dedicated person but is also very fun to be with. For more amazing information about her, just google her.
Dr. Aguille is the Teaching Associate Professor of the Computer Science Department. His research interests are focused on algorithms for motion planning and control with applications to autonomous robots, machine learning, computational geometry, bioinformatics and computational neuroscience. He is also an amazing professor, researcher and mentor who has a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and fun. You would want to google him too.
About My Project
I am working on a computational biology research project, the applications of motion planning in bioinformatics. My team’s focus is on proteins, especially protein and ligand binding. In our case, a protein is seen as a dynamic robot (or flexible entity if that is understandable) and since proteins change conformation when binding with ligands, that change in conformation can be described in terms of motion planning. So we are trying to figure out how the protein goes from its start configuration (conformation before binding) to its final configuration (its form at or after binding). Of course, the protein goes through some series of form changes or conformations before it can bind and that series of changes can is termed its path. The path for different proteins differ and determining these paths for different proteins as well as coming up with new strategies or algorithms that can make this process more optimal is my focus for the summer.