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Trent Green Wins The Randy F. Pausch Computer Science Undergraduate Summer Research Award

The presentation of the first Randy F. Pausch '82 Computer Science Undergraduate Summer Research Award, given this year to Trent Green, honors a remarkable computer scientist, recognizes strong achievement from a young student, and represents a milestone in the continued growth of the Brown CS undergraduate research program. Filled with teamwork, responsibility, intercontinental travel, and the comradeship of Nobel laureates, Trent's story makes a compelling case for the opportunities that computer science offers to students of all backgrounds.  

The Award

A generous gift from Peter Norvig '78 (a Director of Research at Google and a thought leader in the areas of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, information retrieval, and software engineering) established the award, which provides $10,000 annually to support an undergraduate engaged in an intensive faculty-student summer research partnership. The gift honors the life and work of Randy F. Pausch '82, a renowned expert in computer science, human-computer interaction, and design who died of complications from pancreatic cancer in 2008. "His story is inspiring," Peter says, "and this is an opportunity to remember him."

Trent Green

"Though still a sophomore," says Associate Professor (Research) and Vice Chair Tom Doeppner, "Trent is already the co-author of a conference paper and has a solid research track record, having worked with Andy van Dam's group since his first semester at Brown. He's the current team leader of the Touch Art Gallery (TAG) project, and he'll be working this summer as one of three team leaders of Andy's latest project, NuSys. Andy says he's one of the hardest-working undergraduates he's ever had (a comparison group that includes Randy)."

From Programming A Calculator In BASIC To Installing A Museum Exhibit In Singapore

Trent's first encounter with computing was in middle school, where a mandatory class taught students to program in TI BASIC on graphing calculators. He remembers that keeping track of the only twenty-six variables that were available was a fun, tedious, and old-style approach to learning CS. By the time he graduated high school, Trent had taught himself Python, and in his own words, "came to Brown with a desire to learn computer science".

Trent's father was a Brown graduate, and when he found out that his son wanted to study CS, he remembered a faculty member that had been here back when he was getting his degree, someone who was "famous" even then. It was Professor Andy van Dam.

"I ended up with Andy as my advisor," says Trent. "What are the odds of that?" After taking van Dam's CSCI0150 Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science and loving it, he asked Andy if there was an entry-level research position available. There was, and he got it. "It was a series of OMG moments," Trent explains. "'OMG, I got into Brown....OMG, I have Andy as an advisor....OMG, I'm doing well in his course....OMG, I'm a researcher.'"

It wasn't easy: "At the first TAG meeting, one hundred percent of what I heard was over my head. I spent two to three months listening." But over time, it all started to make sense. The culmination was over winter break, when Trent was given the project of building a version of popular platform game Doodle Jump in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. "I gave myself about an hour to really enjoy Christmas," he says, "and then I went back to work."

Rising through the ranks of Andy's researchers, Trent became team lead and was "overjoyed" at the opportunity to travel to Singapore for the installation of the Nobel Museum exhibit that the TAG group had been working on for months. "I hadn't been out of the country," he says. "It was a crazy opportunity. But we had to make sure that I was installing, not fixing. My team [Miranda Chao, Tiffany Citra, Carlene Niguidula, and Lucy van Klunen] was thirteen hours away, and we were running the exhibit offline on a big, emulated server, with a five-hour install for a single machine. We pulled non-stop all-nighters for two weeks before I left."

Impressively, it worked as planned: for most of a week, he installed and tested by day, and spent nights wandering the city and enjoying the company of the many luminaries who were attending the exhibit's launch, even making a trip to Chinatown for drinks and savory noodles with colleagues from the Nobel Prize Foundation and Nobel Museum. If the thought of being treated as an intellectual equal by seasoned professionals in an atmosphere of lavish banquets, the company of Nobel laureates, and being able to explore one of the world's great cities doesn't inspire prospective college students and future researchers, nothing will.

Looking Ahead

"I'm thrilled at the honor," Trent says, "and I really want to recognize my team. I got a first-hand look at people going through the exhibit and falling in love with what we built together. I couldn't have done it without them. This summer is going to be great: I hope I can have a big impact on NuSys and that NuSys will keep having a big impact on pen-and-touch computing." 

That impact is exactly what Peter Norvig is looking for. He sees this award as a "multiplier" that will amplify the value of his gift and extend it through time. "In the past," he says, "we had to build all our own tools, and we didn't have time to combine computer science with other fields. Now, there are so many opportunities to do so. I think it's a wise choice: you invest in things that you think will do good, and educating a student allows them to help add to the things that you're already trying to accomplish." 

For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communications Outreach Specialist Jesse C. Polhemus