Megan Bui, a junior studying Digital Signal and Image Processing in the University of Washington’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE), was one of just three students at the UW to be awarded a Thomas Sedlock Icon Scholarship for the academic year 2019-2020. The Endowment for the Thomas Sedlock Icon Scholarships was created to provide financial assistance to undergraduate students at the University of Washington who are pursuing degrees in any of the following areas of study: Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics, and/or other areas of national need as determined by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This year’s Thomas Sedlock Icon Scholars are Megan Bui, Jakub Filipek and Marium Raza.
“Receiving the Thomas Sedlock Icon Scholarship is a great achievement and it is a tremendous honor for me,” said Bui.
It was Thomas Joseph Sedlock’s philosophy that the future will be dominated by the best ideas, not the most ideas. Recipients awarded this scholarship break the mold. The scholarship supports self-motivated individuals who demonstrate academic achievement, persistence and follow-through, as well as objectively manifested initiative shown through activities such as (but not limited to): notable self-created experiments in a scientific endeavor, demonstrated leadership in an activity, exceptional writing and others.
Bui exemplifies Sedlocks’ philosophy. Before transferring to the University of Washington, Megan was a community college student with great interest in science and technology for sustainability. While she admits this wasn’t the easiest of transitions, she was able to earn a summer internship during her sophomore year with the Department of Energy and interned at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). After an intensive, thrilling summer where Megan worked with leading experts to make America’s power grid more reliable and resilient, she fell in love with the research environment.
Two years later, Megan still works at PNNL as a part-time junior engineer and research assistant contributing original work in renewable energy penetration projects. That experience shaped Megan’s interest in optimizing and implementing energy-efficient systems on the nano and granular levels – from integrating renewable energy into the world’s power grids to use machine learning as a tool for sustainability.
In the summer of 2019, Megan had the opportunity to do research at the UW Molecular Engineering Materials Center (MEM-C) through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Summer REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program in collaboration with the UW Clean Energy Institute (CEI). Working under UW ECE Professor Scott Dunham, Megan developed a convolutional neural network, a machine learning (ML) algorithm, for analyzing a promising photovoltaic absorber. This research explored methodologies to accelerate the design, synthesis, and characterization of various materials with the aid of artificial intelligence.
“Instead of enjoying the beautiful sun of the Pacific Northwest during the summer, I was perfectly happy reading articles and journals in a dark, closed room – I took that as a good sign that I had found my calling! I continue to be captivated by Machine Learning (the mathematical foundation and its capabilities and potential). Professor Dunham and the excellent graduate students in the Nanotechnology Modeling Laboratory, David Sommer and Aaron Gehrke in particular, were all very supportive and helpful on topics pertaining to the research and my future goals.”
Following that transformative experience, Megan now sees a future where ML plays a significant role in sustainability. She believes in the future of energy-efficient devices will be the Internet of Things and smart devices, such as smart buildings, where technologies are interconnected and self-regulating.
“I cannot say enough about the students and staff at the University of Washington,” added Megan on her education at ECE thus far. “It is quite humbling to be able to learn from top researchers and experts in the field. In addition to establishing the technical foundation I need for my future aspirations, I’ve been able to seek the advice of many professors regarding graduate school and industry. The UW community has tremendously been supportive.”
Megan will continue her involvement in scientific research throughout her undergraduate years, and after graduation plans to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with a focus on trying to answer tough environmental concerns.
Story adapted by Ryan Hoover from the UW Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships & Awards. Read about the other scholarship awardees here.