Modeling 3-D Molecules, Fighting Hate Speech, and Addressing Social Problems Using AI: USC Viterbi Faculty and Students Committed to Okay-12 Outreach – USC Viterbi

Even in the face of remote learning, Professor Vayanos, Professor Ren, and Professor Sharada have taken the opportunity to make an impact on high schoolers through various outreach projects and programs. (Images Courtesy of Vayanos, Ren, and Sharada)

Even within the face of distant studying, Professor Vayanos, Professor Ren, and Professor Sharada have taken the chance to make an affect on excessive schoolers by way of varied outreach tasks and applications. (Images Courtesy of Vayanos, Ren, and Sharada)

It’s been over a 12 months because the COVID-19 pandemic modified how we reside, how we talk, and the way we study.

In the case of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, professors have taken the restrictions of on-line studying and turned them into positives by participating in tasks with excessive schoolers each locally and past.

“Remote learning can make it really hard for teachers to engage their students,” stated Katie Mills, the co-director of USC Viterbi’s K-12 STEM Center. “We had to adapt, and it was so great to see these Viterbi professors actually take advantage of these circumstances. They were able to reach out to and work pretty closely with these high school students. Their deep level of engagement may not have been possible if schools weren’t online.”

Artificial Intelligence for Social Good

Phebe Vayanos, a WiSE Gabilan assistant professor of business and programs engineering and laptop science and the affiliate director of the USC CAIS Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society, labored to develop a reside, digital workshop occasion, known as ExplOR, the place highschool college students discovered in regards to the real-world functions of synthetic intelligence.

The workshop, which came about Nov. 7, linked college students with professors, researchers, and Ph.D. college students from throughout the nation. Vayanos organized the workshop collectively with USC Viterbi college students Aida Rahmattalabi, a Ph.D. scholar learning laptop science, and Caroline Johnston, a Ph.D. scholar learning industrial and programs engineering.

“The goal of ExplOR was to familiarize students, specifically those from underserved communities, with operations research and artificial intelligence and their applications to social good,” Rahmattalabi stated. “We wanted to achieve this by having the students get hands-on experience in solving different, real-world problems that can benefit from artificial intelligence or operations research solutions.”

The occasion was funded by the INFORMS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ambassador Initiative, which offers grants to help tasks that enhance range, fairness, and inclusion in areas together with office practices, instructing, and analysis. Rahmattalabi, Johnston, and Vayanos obtained the INFORMS DEI Program Award in 2020 for his or her proposal “Bringing STEM Education to Underserved Communities.”

During the workshop, college students have been divided into smaller teams with an assigned mentor. Vayanos served as one of many mentors in the course of the occasion, and different mentors included college and college students from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and Harvard University. Many of the attending college students have been part of Code in the Schools, a Baltimore-based nonprofit group that works to increase entry to laptop science training to youth within the space. High college college students from the STEM Academy of Hollywood in Los Angeles additionally attended the occasion.

Each group of scholars was assigned to a real-world concern, with examples together with issues associated to wildlife conservation, homelessness, and concrete planning. Student teams labored with their mentor to draft an answer to the issue utilizing ideas that have been taught earlier within the workshop, which included matters like recreation idea, optimization, and simulation. The occasion concluded with a ultimate presentation the place college students shared their approaches to their assigned drawback.

The ExplOR occasion came about in, an online conferencing software program that enables members to maneuver an avatar by way of a digital world and work together with others.

The occasion occurred reside by way of a software program known as, a web-based video game-esque setting the place customers management a digital avatar and might work together with others in real-time in a enjoyable and simple method.

“ includes a map, which we designed according to our needs for the event,” Rahmattalabi stated. “For example, on the map, we set up different rooms for the groups to have discussions with a virtual whiteboard and Google Slides presentation for brainstorming. We also had a room where all the attendees gathered for the final presentations.”

According to scholar suggestions from a post-event survey, ExplOR was successful. All of the scholars reported that they’re “more interested in one or more specific fields of engineering and/or computer science, such as operations research or artificial intelligence.”

“During the workshop, students not only learned technical and mathematical concepts, but they also learned about their applications to real-world problems,” Vayanos stated. “We hoped that this would be valuable in facilitating the students’ understanding of these topics, but also in incentivizing students to pursue these relevant fields by seeing the potential for real, social impact.”

Although the workshop was a single, one-day occasion, Vayanos, Rahmattalabi, and Johnston hope to proceed to host comparable ones sooner or later.

“Repeated exposure to how powerful (and cool!) AI and OR can be is super important in getting high schoolers to think that this is something they might want to learn more about in college,” Johnston stated. “In a one-day workshop, of course, we couldn’t teach these students everything, but if there is enough to spark the “I want to learn more about this”, then I consider our occasion and our future endeavors are successful!”

Building Chemical Understanding by way of Computer Software

Shaama Sharada, a WISE Gabilan Assistant Professor of chemical engineering and supplies science and chemistry at USC Viterbi, helps excessive schoolers higher perceive chemistry by introducing them to a free software program program often known as IQmol. The software program, which fashions the three-dimensional construction of molecules, helps college students at Hawthorne Math and Science Academy to raised perceive local weather change.

This IQmol-generated picture is an instance of the capabilities of the free software program, which permits customers to visualise molecules, bonds, orbitals, and different properties of molecules and chemical compounds. (Image Credit: IQmol Website Gallery)

Sharada, who makes use of IQmol every day in her personal analysis, felt that the software program could be useful for highschool college students. She remembered again to her personal training, when she typically felt the visible element of chemistry was lacking from her studying.

“High schoolers learning chemistry are used to seeing molecules two-dimensionally on paper or on a whiteboard, which can make the subject difficult to grasp and understand,” Sharada stated. IQmol maps out the precise construction of those molecules, so college students can visualize the place atoms and electrons are positioned and higher perceive how they work together.”

Initially, Sharada reached out to the USC Viterbi Okay-12 STEM Center within the fall of 2019 to speak about how she may deliver this program to excessive faculties within the space. Mills helped her join with Meredith Brandon, the environmental science trainer on the Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, who was eager about integrating this program into her curriculum.

“IQmol has a really simple interface and it’s pretty intuitive,” Sharada stated. “High schoolers today are generally pretty technologically adept, so I really felt like this software would be easy for them to use and make a huge difference in their chemical understanding.”

In January 2020, Sharada gave a presentation about IQmol in Brandon’s environmental science courses. During the presentation, Sharada talked about how her personal analysis group makes use of the software program to check chemical reactions by visualizing the interactions between electrons and atoms. She then gave a tutorial and following this demonstration, college students have been inspired to mess around with the software program. At the top of the session, college students created their very own fashions of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.

“In a normal school year, I would have my students building 3-D models of different molecules in class, but when we are learning virtually it’s hard to do any hands-on modeling,” Brandon stated. “IQmol has been a great tool to get students building and manipulating models on the computer.”

Over the summer season of 2020, Brandon labored with Kareesa Kron, a Ph.D. scholar in chemical engineering learning underneath Sharada, to create content material for a lesson plan designed to show college students extra about greenhouse gases utilizing the IQmol software program.

“Modeling greenhouse gases can help us understand the fundamental chemical properties that explain global warming processes,” Kron stated. “This lesson plan facilitates this understanding by giving students a hands-on opportunity to look at the molecular properties of different gases.”

The lesson plan, which incorporates actions and workouts for college kids, together with reply keys and extra supplies for lecturers, is available for free online on the Women in Chemical Engineering webpage. Kron, who serves because the outreach coordinator for WChE, and Sharada, the college advisor of the group, hope to proceed to construct out new lesson plans that lecturers and college students can use.

“The capabilities of IQmol go way beyond just visualizing greenhouse gases. The software could also give students a three-dimensional representation of amino acids, proteins, sugars, enzymes, and more,” Sharada stated. “In the future, I would love to expand beyond just environmental science classes and help to integrate IQmol into other high school science classes, like chemistry and biology.”

Artificial Intelligence for Detecting Online Hate Speech

Xiang Ren, a USC Viterbi assistant professor of laptop science, labored to show highschool college students in regards to the functions of synthetic intelligence, with a deal with detecting and moderating on-line hate speech.

“Artificial intelligence has many, many exciting applications in the real world,” Ren stated. “Technology is changing and advancing very quickly, and I want students to be excited about the possible careers they can pursue in these fields.”

This previous December, Ren gave displays to college students at two native excessive faculties: Roosevelt High School and the STEM Academy of Hollywood. During the presentation, he talked about how synthetic intelligence and machine studying algorithms can be utilized to detect hate speech on on-line platforms like Facebook. He additionally spoke on his personal analysis in pure language processing and the important thing function this matter performs in speech recognition and language evaluation expertise like Siri.

“I think students found Professor Ren’s presentation to be really valuable and interesting,” stated Sarah Thomas, an assistant director within the Okay-12 STEM Center who labored to coordinate the undertaking by facilitating and organizing communication between Ren and workers on the excessive faculties. “They asked a lot of questions and were really engaged.”

Computer science lecturers, Ed Kim from Roosevelt High School and Jennifer Stone from the STEM Academy of Hollywood, have been impressed to additional pursue the teachings from Ren’s workshop. They every labored to develop a undertaking for his or her college students primarily based on the functions of synthetic intelligence for social good.

Students at Roosevelt High School, as an illustration, have been assigned to create bots and design code with the power to detect hateful or discriminatory language within the chat characteristic of a fictional software program firm. USC college students from the National Society of Black Engineers volunteered with these excessive schoolers to function mentors and assist them write their code. Students offered their ultimate tasks in March.

A bunch of Ph.D college students from Professor Ren’s lab supplied suggestions to STEM Academy of Hollywood college students on their undertaking proposal on offering help for the homeless utilizing AI.

By distinction, college students on the STEM Academy of Hollywood have been assigned a broader undertaking. They got the chance to decide on a real-world drawback with a possible AI-based answer. One scholar proposed utilizing AI to observe the motion of animals round city areas to maintain them secure. Another scholar urged utilizing AI for optimizing useful resource allocation and distribution to homeless people and households. In early March, college students met with Ren and a bunch of USC Viterbi laptop science Ph.D. college students, who listened to their concepts and supplied suggestions.

“Seeing how engaged and interested my students were during Professor Ren’s presentation was really rewarding,” Stone stated. “When he spoke about hate speech and social media, I think many of them connected on a personal level, and they’ve been really excited and outspoken throughout the project that followed.”

The USC Viterbi Okay-12 STEM Center is dedicated to offering alternatives for youth, household, and faculties by way of applications aimed to construct data, abilities, self-efficacy, and management. To join and study extra, go to or ship an electronic mail to


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