Dual Degree Student Hind Zahour: Summer research on COVID-19

Author: Goulding, Robert

The Reilly Center provides summer research support for students in the five-year Arts and Letters/Engineering program. This past summer, the Center was very pleased to sponsor the research of Hind Zahour, a senior majoring in Computer Science and Industrial Design. She wrote the following report on her research:

Hind Zahour

In the summer of 2020, amidst challenging and unprecedented times, I had the opportunity to work on a research project that was directly linked to my course of study and interests. I had always been interested in the intersection between my major in computer science and the world of biology. Today, more than ever, computers can save lives by processing a multitude of numbers and statistics that can play a huge difference in speeding up procedures and delivering results proactively. By the same token, I had also been intrigued by how design thinking can work hand in hand with the two to provide a human centric approach that would maximize the potential of both fields. My research this summer provided me with answers on the ways in which different fields can come together and work homogeneously to reach the same end, especially during periods of uncertainty.

Thanks to the Reilly Undergraduate Research Fellowship, I had the immense privilege of working on a research project, with Professor Tijana Milenkovic, related to predicting COVID-19 genes through network computing. I was first trained by one of the research assistants on reproducing similar results from one of their research papers. This first step enabled me to get a sense of the programs to run, the codes to write, and most importantly, the data that was most relevant to the research. Simultaneously, I worked on reading papers about gene prediction/ finding in biology and network computing which Professor Anna Geltzer in the Reilly Center helped with. 

Then the fun part of the summer began when I was introduced to the COVID-19 data and had to work of the following: 

  1. Predicting COVID-19 related genes by running 11 features on a network of 649 genes using python
  2. Producing 200+ files for each feature and classified the data in terms of Precision, recall, F-score and AUPR
  3. Working with data scientists on the team to visualize data and benchmark the results with similar research

The results were helpful in understanding what features to run and focus on next in future research. My design thinking skills were also very helpful throughout this process especially when the time came to automate everything and write code that will make running the features much easier. Defining the need, ideating different ways of tackling it and then testing the code was definitely a time-saving and efficient strategy to have my results ready for discussion.

The learning curve this summer was steep and so rewarding once everything unveiled itself and became more familiar. I am really thankful to the Reilly Center for providing me with a lifetime chance to explore my passion for computer science and design in the field of biology. This research project has enabled me to decipher my career path choices and opened up the prospects of network science in computational biology as an extremely enriching and fulfilling field.

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