A University of Tulsa professor and his Bioinformatics Toolsmith Research Laboratory of undergraduate researchers have earned a second place funding award from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology. Assistant Professor of Computer Science Hani Girgis received recognition in the competitive Plant Science category.
The two-year grant supports TU’s bioinformatics objective to develop intelligent tools that analyze plant genomes, or DNA sequences in a species.
“Studying plant genomes is important because of Oklahoma’s dependency on agriculture,” he said. “Our analyses can enhance crop productivity.”
Girgis established the Bioinformatics Toolsmith Lab in the Tandy School of Computer Science as a new TU faculty member in 2014. He mentors a group of students involved in the newly funded OCAST project along with several other large-scale initiatives that involve artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced algorithms and data structures.
“Each student works on his/her own project, building a specific software tool for a specific purpose,” Girgis said. “Our goal is to build intelligent, efficient tools to help biologists mine enormous amounts of DNA, RNA and proteins.”
The Bioinformatics Toolsmith Lab includes undergraduate students who have varied experience in computer science coursework. Girgis said the skills and knowledge students obtain are helpful in publishing their research.
“I see potential for all of these students not only to become good engineers but also to become good scientists and publish in well-respected, high impact journals that thousands of scientists will find useful,” he said.
Computer science and mathematics junior Ben James was recruited by Girgis in a data structures course to participate in the Bioinformatics Toolsmith Lab where he focuses on data analysis. James said each week brings new advancements in speed and scalability.
“The amount of data people collect is outpacing computers’ ability to process it,” he said. “With new developments in algorithms and applications, analysis that I would have to wait over the weekend to finish now finishes in seconds.”
Math junior Brian Luczak is earning a minor in computer science. The lab is providing him an opportunity to publish his first paper while exploring interdisciplinary career opportunities.
“I’m planning to maybe go to graduate school and pursue a doctorate, so having this experience with computer science programming and statistics is really helpful for me in going forward,” he said.
To learn more about the Bioinformatics Toolsmith Lab and the Plant Science OCAST award, contact Professor Girgis at email@example.com.