SRP Research Experience Leads to Science Breakthrough, Acceptance at SC17, a Highly Competitive Research Conference, and New Pathways for Students and Faculty

Dr. Xinlian Liu is a professor of Computer Science at Hood College, a small liberal arts college in Maryland. Like most professors, Dr. Liu has always had high expectations for himself, balancing his responsibilities as a professor with his endless effort to help find opportunities for his students, all while also trying to complete research and build collaborations. For more than a decade, Dr. Liu worked hard to accomplish his goals, despite the limited resources available to him and his lack of time for such tasks. Then one day in the fall of 2016, Dr. Liu received an email announcement that caught his eye: “Research Opportunity for Faculty and Students: Sustainable Research Pathways Workshop”.

Dr. Crivelli and Dr. Liu discuss a 3D to 2D mapping scheme designed for utilizing the power of deep learning.

Of course, Dr. Liu was instantly interested. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity for him. After some further research on the Sustainable Research Pathways (SRP) Program, Dr. Liu took a chance and decided to apply. A few weeks later, Dr. Liu learned that he was selected to attend the SRP workshop! He was flooded with excitement and hope for the possibilities ahead.

The SRP Workshop quickly came, and Dr. Liu was pleasantly surprised by his experience. “It was amazing to have the opportunity to meet with researchers and lab leaders in person. I also enjoyed mingling with other faculty attendees” he shared. Dr. Liu was thoroughly impressed with every aspect of the workshop, but the most exciting part was learning he had been matched with a Berkeley scientist. “I was thrilled. . . I felt very lucky” he said.

Dr. Silvia Crivelli was the Berkeley Lab scientist who matched with Dr. Liu. She had interest in collaborating with Dr. Liu for a number of reasons, including his expertise in Machine Learning and Convolutional Neural Networks. But, something else about Dr. Liu caught Dr. Crivelli’s eye: “[Dr. Liu] seemed to have a passion for research, and he doesn’t have many opportunities to pursue it as a professor in a small liberal arts college. I thought the lab internship would be a great opportunity for him to get back to research” she shared.

Corcoran and Zamora enjoying their experience at Berkeley Lab this past summer.

After the fast-paced workshop came to an end, Dr. Liu went back to Maryland to share the exciting news with his colleagues and students. Since one of the major goals of the SRP Program is to provide opportunities for students from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds, Dr. Liu was able to involve two of his students to participate in the summer research experience with him. Of course, both students were thrilled to take part in such an exciting opportunity. “I was very excited when Dr. Liu asked me to participate in the [summer research experience] with him, and I was eager to learn more about the project” shared Rafael Zamora, one of Dr. Liu’s students.


It wasn’t long before the three set off to spend their summer at Berkeley Lab. They arrived with eagerness and excitement, hopeful that the summer would be valuable and enriching. Tom Corcoran, one of Dr. Liu’s students, shared that his experience at the lab was difficult, but transformative for him:

From the outset, our goals were very ambitious, and in order to reach them we invested a tremendous amount of time and energy. The process was a transformative one for me; my technical abilities improved more rapidly than at any other time in my education to date. Without question, the most amazing part of this experience for me was discovering how much I was capable of accomplishing.

Eventually, the intensive summer research experience came to an end, but the benefits for the collaborators were far from over. The group’s research findings were groundbreaking: “The algorithm we proposed charted a new course to use deep learning on 3D structures.  We were super excited about the summer work so we shopped for a conference to submit to before our two months’ summer program ended” shared Liu.

Zamora and Corcoran stand in front of their poster.

The group decided to submit their poster to the 2017 Supercomputing Conference. The Supercomputing (SC) Conference is an annual conference sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing (ACM SIGHPC), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society. The conference is known to be highly competitive and prestigious, so the stakes were high.

A few weeks later, the group’s hard work and innovation paid off, as they learned their poster was accepted to SC! The news came as a wonderful surprise to the group, and also served as a reminder of all the hard work put in over the summer. Zamora shared his reaction to learning their poster had been accepted: “I was surprised when I received the email confirmation for our poster being accepted to SC . . . I am very proud our work as a whole, and I hope our project communicates that students from smaller institutions, like Hood, are very capable of producing competitive work” he shared.

Dr. Liu, Dr. Crivelli, Zamora, and Corcoran all recognize the profound impacts this accomplishment has on their future abilities. “Having my hard work publicly validated and recognized by being accepted into such a prestigious conference will undoubtedly improve my chances of being able to conduct similar work in the future, and to be accepted into a strong graduate program at a good school” shared Corcoran.

Dr. Crivelli and Zamora pose in front of their poster.

This amazing experience will forever have an impact on everyone involved. But, imagine if Dr. Liu hadn’t taken a chance and applied for the SRP Workshop? These dramatic, life-altering opportunities wouldn’t have taken place. Neither Zamora nor Corcoran would have had such an amazing opportunity to visualize themselves as researchers and scientists. Dr. Liu and Dr. Crivelli would never had met and grown together as collaborators. The groundbreaking research the group completed wouldn’t have existed. There would be no SC Poster acceptance. None of these opportunities and experiences would have been possible if Dr. Liu hadn’t taken a chance when he applied for the SRP Workshop.

SHI and Berkeley lab want to extend the valuable impacts of the SRP Program to as many people as possible. We understand the demanding and busy lives that you all lead. Therefore, we are extending the deadline to apply for the 2017 SRP Workshop to Friday, October 6th, 2017. Do not miss the opportunity to develop your research collaborations, support your student’s growth, and make unprecedented research discoveries! APPLY TODAY! You can access the SRP Workshop application here!