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Two UW students named Facebook Fellows

When fourth-year Ph.D. student Jeff Huang was 7 years old, his favorite toys were Legos and a computer. Huang saw computers around his house when they were still new to the market because his father was a computer science engineer.

Adrian Sampson, a third-year Ph.D. student, became fascinated by computer science later in life, after his first class in college.

“It blew my mind,” Sampson said. “[I saw] someone take the computer to a level of circuits and showed fundamentally how a computer would work. There was no magic in it.”

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Jeff Huang, who is working toward optimizing search by tracking mouse movements, sits at his cubicle in the Roosevelt Commons Building off campus.

Huang and Sampson’s passion for computer science led them to be two of the 12 winners of the 2012-13 Facebook Fellowship Award, which the company said supports Ph.D. students who can “help solve some of the biggest challenges facing the social web and Internet technology.” The award pays for the winners’ 2012-13 tuition: $30,000 for study expenses, $5,000 for conference travel, and $2,500 for a personal computer.

“Aside from being happy and excited about it, the main thing for me is the recognition,” Sampson said. “[It’s also] a chance to connect to other people who are fellows.”

Huang, a student in the UW Information School (iSchool), began programming when he was 7 years old.

“[My computer] had a black monitor with yellow text,” Huang said. “The screen curved out, and every couple hours it would overheat, and you’d have to blow into the little vents.”

With strong family ties to computer science, focusing on the subject came naturally for Huang. It didn’t, however, lessen the amount of passion he had for the subject.

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Adrian Sampson, a third-year Ph.D. student, is working toward creating more energy-efficient computers.

“[Information science] lets you do anything,” Huang said. “It’s something that helps you make an impact. You’re improving search, algorithm, and software that millions of people will use.”

Huang focuses his studies on web search. He aims to make search prioritization better by tracking what people are clicking on, where the mouse is on the page, and which part of the page is being viewed the most.

Sampson’s focus is on creating energy-efficient computers.

Sampson said a difference in this year’s Facebook Fellowship was that the research the company judged the applicants — about 300 — upon didn’t need to relate to Facebook. The application review process also didn’t focus on one specific project, but rather what the Ph.D. student has been building with his or her research.

“[The Facebook Fellow] coming out of the UW iSchool [is] a testament to the strength of the iSchool’s Ph.D. students and the relevance of their work to technology, information, and people, the raw materials from which Facebook is built,” said Jacob Wobbrock, associate professor and Huang’s adviser in the Information School. “[He is] a testament to what can happen when you mix technical backgrounds in computer science with human-and-information-centered skills and interests at the graduate level.”

Both Sampson and Huang find ties to their research in their everyday lives.

“There’s a puzzle-like quality [in computer science],” Sampson said. “It’s an insight of something you didn’t know the day before.”

Reach reporter Joon Yi at news@dailyuw.com.

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