Alcatel-Lucent at Chicago’s Science Fair

“This year’s Science Fair proudly welcomes approximately 300 select students from various schools through Chicago. With the theme Bringing Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Home the Fair will showcase a variety of scientific research projects from our city’s best and brightest students […] This fair will not only present the students the opportunity to display their knowledge of substantial developments in the areas of aerospace science, physics and mathematics […] but will also make room for the development of crucial analytical and critical skills. Additionally, the process from the beginning of research to the culminating presentation builds confidence and experience that will be beneficial throughout their burgeoning academic and professional careers.” – “Greetings from the Mayor of the City of Chicago” by Rahm Emmanuel.


This past Friday Alcatel-Lucent was present at the Museum of Science and Industry with a small team of five judges. Given my background, I have been asked to alternate between behavioral and computer science projects over the past five years. I would like to take this chance to congratulate these four students, who happen to be the minds behind the following computer science projects:

  • Katia Villevald – “Optimizing Traffic Lights”
  • Guochuan Zhang – “Evolving Quantum Gomoku Engines”
  • Tyler Portis –“Hiding in Plain Sight”
  • Isabel Raymundo – “The Changing Computer Mind”

Katia has a vision for how to tackle and effectively downsize the amount of insufferable downtime that most of us experience when stuck in traffic. Zhang’s intellectual curiosity drives him to develop an educational tool that can help others better understand how quantum computing works, a project involving game theory which can be furthered to address financial transactions. Tyler was intrigued by stenography and how that could eventually translate into more secure communications. Isabel’s neural networks project was driven by looking for ways for computer vision to recognize American Sign Language.

These were “Design Projects” as the science fair now differentiates between “Design” and “Experimental Research Projects.” This update acknowledges the fact that today’s discoveries and innovations do not necessarily fit a standard cookie cutter approach subject to a unique and conventional scientific method. This was welcomed news. That alone lets me to think that it would also make sense to encourage the students to take down silos and explore how things connect. As an example, I discussed with them:

  • what it would take to go from their computer models to a real life trial given more resources and time
  • what working with a multi-disciplinary team could bring to the project
  • how to open source and even crowdsourcing the project, thinking of reaping network effects in the research
  • defining specific use cases and personas portraying how users can benefit from the outcome
  • a demonstration that could be featured as one of the Museum’s exhibits to best experience the project’s insights and impact

The fair’s organizers do a very good job at getting a number of industry professionals in the judging process, which helps build bridges between the enterprise world, students and teachers. This is precisely what drove me add the above topics to my discussions with the students beyond what’s outlined in the evaluation forms.

Moreover, I was listening to the news while driving to MSCI. NPR aired an interview on “Does Diversity On Research Team Improve Quality of Science?” Richard Freeman, and economist at Harvard University, claimed that for scientists working “largely with people of their own group, it’s likely the paper gets less citations than if you write it with a broader group of people […] ethnic diversity is an indication of ideas’ diversity […] and avoiding group think is essentially good for science.”

That reminded me of Alcatel-Lucent’s environment where diversity happens in terms of backgrounds, expertise, experiences and geographies as part of our everyday workstyle, which is easy to take for granted as we happen to be accustomed to it. Driving back home, I couldn’t help thinking that Katia, Gouchuan, Tyler and Isabel also were good examples of what science’s diverse nature brings to the table in the context of Chicago’s vibrant digital economy.

Last but not least, I would like to thank the science fair’s Luba Johnson and Yolanda del Rio for all their help, and I look forward to 2015’s event already ; )

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ By giving just a little bit of our time, our skills or our experience, we can make a huge difference. The Alcatel-Lucent Foundation and its beneficiaries are counting on you and wish you great fun volunteering.” – Volunteer Handbook, Message from Elisabeth Eude, Executive Director at Alcatel-Lucent Foundation.

“Many of you are already volunteering regularly all over the world to make a lasting difference and the ongoing activities are a sure indicator of that. However, we still need more of our colleagues to join the movement and invest with their time so that we can achieve our goals worldwide quickly and set an example in philanthropy.”Volunteer Handbook, Message from Janet Davidson, Chairperson at Alcatel-Lucent Foundation.

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