Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX computer science students gaining knowledge, experience through Ally Heaps Undergraduate Research Internship

June 16th, 2021
Ally Heaps Undergraduate Research Internship recipients are, top row from left, Gabriel Campbell and Greeshma Raju. Bottom: Jay Turnsek and Terryn MacDonell

Four StFX computer science students, Gabriel Campbell, Terryn MacDonell, Greeshma Raju and Jay Turnsek, have each received a $7,000 Ally Heaps Undergraduate Research Internship, and will spend 16 weeks this summer working on research under the supervision of StFX faculty members.

“I feel honoured to have the opportunity to work under supervisor Dr. Jacob Levman during this summer. Working on this research project has increased my enthusiasm towards bioinformatics and machine learning. I believe that this internship will help to broaden my skills in machine learning and provide me with an in-depth knowledge in the coveted field of Artificial Intelligence,” says Greeshma Raju of Kerala, India, a second year Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Artificial Intelligence student.

She is working on a research project assessing the heterogeneity of the clinical presentation of the brains of patients with schizophrenia using deep learning. 

“This work has the potential to inform the medical community as to underlying physiological conditions associated with schizophrenia, which in turn can help inspire clinician-scientists to develop new therapies,” she says.


Gabriel Campbell, a second year computer science student from New Glasgow, NS, is working with supervisor Dr. James Hughes developing a new programming language aiming to allow programmers to write programs that can run across many different types of platforms without having to change any of the program's code. 

“Notably, it will also provide its own way to write code for many of the various types of programming that there are; for example, graphics and audio programming. I strive to keep things as simple as possible without limiting capabilities in any way, and in the end, I believe this effort will result in a programming language that is both simple to learn and practical to use,” he says. 

“It's not related to the popular programming language, Java, at all. However, the reason Java programs are able to run across multiple platforms without having to change their code is essentially the same; a Java program's code gets converted into their own binary format that can then be run in a program called a virtual machine.” 

Thanks to this award, he says he’s had the opportunity to learn and discover a love for compiler design, an area of computer science that just a few years ago he never even expected to explore. 


“The knowledge I'm gaining while working on this project will not only help me in my future career but is also extremely relevant to courses I will be taking in the fall in my senior year of study,” says Terryn MacDonell of Mabou, NS.

She will be researching the development of a Progressive Web App (PWA) that will use machine learning to estimate infrared images of objects. She is supervised by Dr. Jacob Levman. 

“Having the opportunity to work on this research award over the summer is a fantastic chance to gain valuable experience relevant to my field of study and continue learning throughout the summer.” 

Jay Turnsek of North Bay, ON, supervised by Dr. Jantina Toxopeus and Dr. James Hughes, says his research is based around CRISPRs and their taxonomy. “CRISPRs are certain parts of DNA found in organisms such as bacteria, which have various potential genetic engineering uses, from creating allergy free foods to curing genetic disease. I am planning to map their genetic signature using some methods based on past research as well as some made on my own decision. I will then compare those results with their current classification system, to identify differences and similarities and how they relate to the genetic sequence of CRISPRs.

“The opportunity provided by the Ally Heaps Research Internship allows me to expand my career specific skills in computer science, as the procedures I am implementing have practical use in future job opportunities. More importantly, I'm able to contribute to an emerging, exciting area of science that could potentially have huge benefits for our world.”

This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.


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