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5 Concordia math and stats undergrads who bring numbers to life

From extreme weather to obesity, these students tackle inspiring research
February 19, 2018
By Cristina Sanza

Back row, from left: Lucila Puig, Emilia Alvarez, Stephanie Marchione and Kenzy Abdel Malek. Front: Philippe Boileau. From left: Lucila Puig, Emilia Alvarez, Philippe Boileau (front), Stephanie Marchione and Kenzy Abdel Malek.

From analyzing extreme weather patterns to visualizing Canada’s obesity epidemic, undergraduates in Concordia’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics show math is about more than just crunching numbers.

‘I love how statistics can answer real questions’

Under the direction of assistant professor Frédéric Godin, math and stats student Lucila Puig analyzed North American data from the Actuaries Climate Index (ACI) from 1961 to 2016 to predict future weather patterns.

“I love how statistics can help answer real questions and provide direction in a decision-making process,” she says. “I am impressed by how theoretical models can be applied in real data to unravel a secret.”

Through her research, Puig confirmed we are seeing more extreme weather phenomena now than in the past. “It was amazing to work under Dr. Godin's guidance and expertise to apply many of the concepts seen in class and learn new ones.”

‘We get a lot of support’

Emilia Alvarez worked under the supervision of professor Chantal David on a project about p-adic analysis, a branch of number theory.

In November, Alvarez presented her research at a graduate workshop at the University of Illinois.

“Being an undergraduate, I thought my poster would be way too introductory, or even trivial to the graduate students and postdocs,” she says. “But since it's a subject that's not necessarily covered in most undergraduate programs, people were very happy to learn about it.”

Alvarez says one of her favourite parts of being a student in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics is the professors.

“They're brilliant and inspiring, and in general very supportive,” she says. “I think since we are a smaller cohort of students in pure mathematics, we get a lot more support than in most undergraduate programs. For example, if we're really interested in a math topic that isn't offered as a course, we can ask for a reading course.”

‘I enjoy trying to grasp abstract concepts’

Kenzy Abdel Malek analyzed the applications that wavelets — a tool often used in the field of harmonic analysis — can have on image and signal processing. Working alongside associate professor Galia Dafni, she investigates connections between wavelets and Dafni’s current research on atomic decomposition.

“I enjoy learning and trying to grasp abstract concepts, while sharing my thoughts and working on problems or proofs with other students and researchers,” Malek says.

“I consider this research project and experience to be the main factor in my decision to pursue graduate studies in mathematics.”

Malek also had the opportunity to speak to Dafni’s graduate students, who she says were encouraging and deeply interested in her work.

“It was especially enriching to see that the presentation ended up resembling a conversation between Dr. Dafni, her students and me, as opposed to a lecture,” she says, adding it was the highlight of her project.

‘I’m getting experience in my field’

Stefanie Marchione is working to improve our understanding of dieting and eating by determining how certain eating behaviours are related to physical body characteristics. The project is a collaboration with the PERFORM Centre, supervised by assistant professor Lisa Kakinami.

The data collection process involves gathering basic physical measurements from volunteer participants, such as height and weight. A DEXA, or bone density scan, follows to measure overall body composition. Finally, participants fill in a survey about their attitudes and thoughts on health and lifestyle.

“This project has been really important to me, as it is one of the first steps I have taken into getting experience in my field,” Marchione says. “I have been exposed to SAS, a popular statistical software, I learned how to collaborate on project management responsibilities, and so much more.”

In the fall, Marchione presented her project at the Concordia Undergraduate Research Showcase, an event aimed to highlight investigations by students from all faculties.

The research team’s next goals include conducting a follow-up study, increasing the sample size and expanding on their research questions.

‘It’s easy to get involved in rewarding projects’

Philippe Boileau also worked with Kakinami and associate professor Lea Popovic to design a new visual aid for exploring complex data collected by the Quebec Adipose and Lifestyle Investigation in Youth (QUALITY) study on childhood obesity and its relationship to social networks. Boileau also created open-source software that allows the visualization method to be used for other projects that use intricate data.

“The visualization method highlighted many of the variables that have been described within the childhood obesity and social network literature, validating the usefulness of this new method as an exploratory analysis tool,” Boileau explains.

For example, he demonstrated that the eating habits and activity levels of the members of a person’s social network correlate to the individual’s body fat percentage.

His project was considered one of the best projects of Summer 2017, as sponsored by the Institut des sciences mathématiques (ISM).

“Given the low student-to-professor ratio in our program, the passion the professors have for their research, and the encouragement they give to their students, it's easy to get involved in interesting and rewarding projects,” he says.

“Coupled with the many scholarships available to math students at Concordia, there is no better environment to be initiated to research.”

Learn more about Concordia's Department of Mathematics and Statistics.




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