Tuesday, August 24, 2021

A University of Iowa PhD candidate working as a research assistant at the Iowa Technology Institute has been selected for the National Defense Science and Engineering (NDSEG) Fellowship Program.

Bernice Kubicek was awarded the fellowship to continue work born out of her time with the Ananya Sen Gupta Research Group, which is directed by Sen Gupta, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. Kubicek conducts research on sonar autonomous target recognition through the development of feature extraction algorithms that aim to improve the classification and recognition of objects deep underwater.

Bernice Kubicek
Bernice Kubicek

“This research directly aligns with some of the Department of Defense mission-related research areas,” Kubicek said. “During the fellowship I plan on continuing my research and developing a feature extraction technique using domain knowledge to improve sonar target classification.”

One of the main applications of Kubicek’s research is in mine counter measures and unexploded ordinance (UXO) removal in underwater environments. If an object is detected on the seafloor, it could be biological matter, geophysical, or a UXO, but it must be classified before potentially wasting resources on a non-UXO or leaving a UXO on the seafloor.

“The classifier relies on features unique to an object class to make a prediction of the object type,” Kubicek said. “My research is focused on developing an algorithm for feature extraction and to determine what type of classifier would be best for different scenarios.”

Kubicek found out about the NDSEG fellowship program through a course she took at the UI. Instructors in the course “Writing for National Fellowships” encouraged her to start the application process early and provided her with feedback on essays and application materials. Kubicek also sought one-on-one feedback through the Grad Success Center, an organization at the UI dedicated to supporting graduate students in all fields.

“The mentorship I have received is responsible for a lot of my success,” Kubicek said. “[Dr. Sen Gupta] challenged me to pursue my own research ideas, and she gives the students freedom into looking at research through their own eyes. Her mentorship and feedback have been invaluable, for the fellowship and research.”

Sen Gupta has also been instrumental in the development of Kubicek’s thesis, which she says has evolved over her graduate career after a transition from environmental to sonar research.

“The idea originally stemmed from Dr. Sen Gupta, and I’ve been in collaboration with naval scientists with years of experience who help morph and guide the development of it,” Kubicek said. “This summer I’ve had had an amazing opportunity to work on a Naval base through the Naval Research Enterprise Program, and during this time I’ve been able to see different aspects and applications of where my thesis research could be deployed.”

The NDSEG program pays full tuition and provides health insurance, a stipend, and a travel fund for professional development.