Professor Aravind Srinivasan and Assistant Professor John Dickerson mentor award winning high school student

Naveen Durvasula headed to Intel ISEF
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Professor Aravind Srinivasan and Assistant Professor John Dickerson mentor Naveen Durvasula, a Montgomery Blair Magnet High School student, who conducts research on improved kidney exchange methodologies.  Durvasula has recently been selected to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in May.

“The purpose of my project is to compute, for a given donor-patient pair who wishes to enter a kidney-paired donation system, the expected quality of the kidney they would receive, and how long it would take for them to receive that kidney,” said Durvasula. 

In order to do this, he used published probability distributions that describe demographic trends in a U.S. national kidney exchange to simulate his own version of a kidney exchange. “I then created and compared different methods of sampling across donor-patient pairs, so that patients can see expected quality and wait time instantaneously," he continued.  “The best sampling method with a very limited number of assumptions did not perform well.  However, trend data in testing this sampling method shows positive signs that stronger assumptions can be made about the function, thus a more sophisticated sampling technique (specifically Bayesian optimization) can be used.”

According to the Intel ISEF, the competition selects “[o]nly the best and brightest— approximately 1,750 winners of local, regional, state, and national competitions—[who] are invited to participate in this week-long celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math. At the event, these young innovators share ideas, showcase cutting-edge research, and compete for more than USD 4 million in awards and scholarships.”

When asked about their experiences working with Durvasula, Srinivasan and Dickerson praised his abilities and talents. 

“Naveen has the unique ability to quickly and deeply understand a diverse array of topics in pure mathematics, statistics, and computer science,” said Dickerson.  “This is especially powerful when combined with his ability to translate abstract ideas into concrete code, as well as his strong drive to work on a problem with societal impact.  I'm consistently impressed by his intellectual maturity and creativity--not to mention the results he's gotten so far in this project!”

Srinivasan noted Durvasula’s maturity and strong work ethic.  “Naveen is a very bright and highly motivated student with whom it's a pleasure to work. He is very willing to pick up new things, and indeed our work spans algorithms, probability, the real-world working of kidney exchanges, and software development--many aspects of which he had to learn quickly. He is always eager to learn new skills (often without much supervision) and move the project forward. It's inspiring to see such maturity.”

The admiration goes both ways between mentors and mentee. Durvasula also had high praise for his computer science mentors. “Working with Professor Srinivasan and Professor Dickerson has really given me an opportunity to do something with practical significance. I'm able to make something that can potentially cause an increase in a patient's lifespan. And with the help of their guidance, and their connections, this system can actually be implemented and used in real life. Even though they are both really busy people, they put aside time for me so that I am able to make something useful, and learn a lot in doing so.”

The science fair surely marks the beginning of a long and successful career for Durvasula, a continued research relationship with his mentors, and perhaps a prize at the Intel ISEF competition.

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