The MIT-Pillar AI Collective has announced six fellows for the spring 2024 semester. With support from the program, the graduate students, who are in their final year of a master’s or PhD program, will conduct research in the areas of AI, machine learning, and data science with the aim of commercializing their innovations.
Launched by MIT’s School of Engineering and Pillar VC in 2022, the MIT-Pillar AI Collective supports faculty, postdocs, and students conducting research on AI, machine learning, and data science. Supported by a gift from Pillar VC and administered by the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, the mission of the program is to advance research toward commercialization.
The spring 2024 MIT-Pillar AI Collective Fellows are:
Yasmeen AlFaraj is a PhD candidate in chemistry whose interest is in the application of data science and machine learning to soft materials design to enable next-generation, sustainable plastics, rubber, and composite materials. More specifically, she is applying machine learning to the design of novel molecular additives to enable the low-cost manufacturing of chemically deconstructable thermosets and composites. AlFaraj’s work has led to the discovery of scalable, translatable new materials that could address thermoset plastic waste. As a Pillar Fellow, she will pursue bringing this technology to market, initially focusing on wind turbine blade manufacturing and conformal coatings. Through the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, AlFaraj serves as a lead for a team developing a spinout focused on recyclable versions of existing high-performance thermosets by incorporating small quantities of a degradable co-monomer. In addition, she participated in the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program and recently graduated from the Clean Tech Open, where she focused on enhancing her business plan, analyzing potential markets, ensuring a complete IP portfolio, and connecting with potential funders. AlFaraj earned a BS in chemistry from University of California at Berkeley.
Ruben Castro Ornelas
Ruben Castro Ornelas is a PhD student in mechanical engineering who is passionate about the future of multipurpose robots and designing the hardware to use them with AI control solutions. Combining his expertise in programming, embedded systems, machine design, reinforcement learning, and AI, he designed a dexterous robotic hand capable of carrying out useful everyday tasks without sacrificing size, durability, complexity, or simulatability. Ornelas’s innovative design holds significant commercial potential in domestic, industrial, and health-care applications because it could be adapted to hold everything from kitchenware to delicate objects. As a Pillar Fellow, he will focus on identifying potential commercial markets, determining the optimal approach for business-to-business sales, and identifying critical advisors. Ornelas served as co-director of StartLabs, an undergraduate entrepreneurship club at MIT, where he earned an BS in mechanical engineering.
Keeley Erhardt is a PhD candidate in media arts and sciences whose research interests lie in the transformative potential of AI in network analysis, particularly for entity correlation and hidden link detection within and across domains. She has designed machine learning algorithms to identify and track temporal correlations and hidden signals in large-scale networks, uncovering online influence campaigns originating from multiple countries. She has similarly demonstrated the use of graph neural networks to identify coordinated cryptocurrency accounts by analyzing financial time series data and transaction dynamics. As a Pillar Fellow, Erhardt will pursue the potential commercial applications of her work, such as detecting fraud, propaganda, money laundering, and other covert activity in the finance, energy, and national security sectors. She has had internships at Google, Facebook, and Apple and held software engineering roles at multiple tech unicorns. Erhardt earned an MEng in electrical engineering and computer science and a BS in computer science, both from MIT.
Vineet Jagadeesan Nair
Vineet Jagadeesan Nair is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering whose research focuses on modeling power grids and designing electricity markets to integrate renewables, batteries, and electric vehicles. He is broadly interested in developing computational tools to tackle climate change. As a Pillar Fellow, Nair will explore the application of machine learning and data science to power systems. Specifically, he will experiment with approaches to improve the accuracy of forecasting electricity demand and supply with high spatial-temporal resolution. In collaboration with Project Tapestry @ Google X, he is also working on fusing physics-informed machine learning with conventional numerical methods to increase the speed and accuracy of high-fidelity simulations. Nair’s work could help realize future grids with high penetrations of renewables and other clean, distributed energy resources. Outside academics, Nair is active in entrepreneurship, most recently helping to organize the 2023 MIT Global Startup Workshop in Greece. He earned an MS in computational science and engineering from MIT, an MPhil in energy technologies from Cambridge University as a Gates Scholar, and a BS in mechanical engineering and a BA in economics from University of California at Berkeley.
Mahdi Ramadan is a PhD candidate in brain and cognitive sciences whose research interests lie at the intersection of cognitive science, computational modeling, and neural technologies. His work uses novel unsupervised methods for learning and generating interpretable representations of neural dynamics, capitalizing on recent advances in AI, specifically contrastive and geometric deep learning techniques capable of uncovering the latent dynamics underlying neural processes with high fidelity. As a Pillar Fellow, he will leverage these methods to gain a better understanding of dynamical models of muscle signals for generative motor control. By supplementing current spinal prosthetics with generative AI motor models that can streamline, speed up, and correct limb muscle activations in real time, as well as potentially using multimodal vision-language models to infer the patients’ high-level intentions, Ramadan aspires to build truly scalable, accessible, and capable commercial neuroprosthetics. Ramadan’s entrepreneurial experience includes being the co-founder of UltraNeuro, a neurotechnology startup, and co-founder of Presizely, a computer vision startup. He earned a BS in neurobiology from University of Washington.
Rui (Raymond) Zhou
Rui (Raymond) Zhou is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering whose research focuses on multimodal AI for engineering design. As a Pillar Fellow, he will advance models that could enable designers to translate information in any modality or combination of modalities into comprehensive 2D and 3D designs, including parametric data, component visuals, assembly graphs, and sketches. These models could also optimize existing human designs to accomplish goals such as improving ergonomics or reducing drag coefficient. Ultimately, Zhou aims to translate his work into a software-as-a-service platform that redefines product design across various sectors, from automotive to consumer electronics. His efforts have the potential to not only accelerate the design process but also reduce costs, opening the door to unprecedented levels of customization, idea generation, and rapid prototyping. Beyond his academic pursuits, Zhou founded UrsaTech, a startup that integrates AI into education and engineering design. He earned a BS in electrical engineering and computer sciences from University of California at Berkeley.