Computer science students win Marshall scholarships

December 06, 2006

Computer science major Tianhui (Michael) Li is one of four students at Princeton, and 43 across the nation, who have been awarded 2007 Marshall Scholarships for graduate study in England.

The Marshall Scholarships were established in 1953 as a British gesture to the United States for the assistance received after World War II under the Marshall Plan. The scholarships are awarded to American students who have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership potential.

A native of Portland, Ore., Li will enroll in a one-year master's program in mathematics at Cambridge, and then plans to pursue doctoral research in mathematics, focusing on information theory. In addition to his degree in computer science, Li is earning a certificate in mathematics. He plans to study Part III of the Mathematicas Tripos, the oldest and most famous mathematics examination in the world, during his time in England.

Li, whose research interests also include mathematical finance and physics, hopes to a build a career focusing on "fundamental and foundational questions that can be tackled with interdisciplinary approaches like the ones I have pursued conducting research at Princeton. … Math is ideal for such work as it sits at the intersection of these fields and because of my philosophical inclinations. Despite a penchant for the theoretical, I ultimately want to apply theory to problems that affect the real world," he said.

Li has held internships with the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Google, Intel and Bloomberg's quantitative financial research division, which have "helped ground theoretical aspiration in practical application." He also has pursued interdisciplinary research in his independent work at Princeton, including a software development project that incorporated mathematical proofs.

For a junior project, Li analyzed PageRank and other web search ranking algorithms with Kevin Wayne, senior lecturer in computer science.

"Michael is an amazingly creative, intelligent, and hard-working Individual," Wayne said. "Because of his thirst for new knowledge in a wide range of disciplines, Michael's work has a distinctively interdisciplinary flavor, weaving ideas from computer science, physics, mathematics and economics. His wonderful creativity enables him to formulate original research questions, view problems from entirely new perspectives, and solve them with elegant and novel techniques."

Li is co-chair of the Undergraduate Research Symposium's steering committee. He has been an undergraduate fellow and peer adviser at Rockefeller College and a peer adviser for incoming students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Mathematics major Tamara Broderick, a native of Parma, Ohio, who also is pursuing certificates through the Program in Applications of Computing and in applied and computational mathematics, also was among Princeton’s fellowship recipients.

She will also enroll in a one-year master's program in mathematics at Cambridge and then pursue research in probability theory. She ultimately hopes to become a professor of mathematics and to serve as a role model for other women in the field.

"Tamara's academic abilities are truly superb," said Robert Schapire, professor of computer science, who taught Broderick in three courses and worked with her on an independent project to study the use of various algorithms for tracking the movements of animals equipped with radio transmitters.

"Tamara helped make a huge success of this project using her intelligence, knowledge, hard work, persistence, enthusiasm and creativity," Schapire said. "Tamara is truly exceptional, with limitless energy and academic strength. Her appetite for new knowledge seems without bound. Refreshingly, she is driven by a genuine desire to learn about the wide range of topics that interest her."

Broderick also has received a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize, the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence, the Quin Morton '36 Writing Seminar Essay Prize, the Manfred Pyka Memorial Physics Prize and the Eugene Taylor Prize in Physics.

She is co-president of the Math Club and has been active in Princeton Engineering Education for Kids, a program through which undergraduates visit elementary schools and teach children basic principles of engineering using Lego toys. She has been an undergraduate fellow and peer adviser at Mathey College and has served as an Outdoor Action leader.