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Russ College graduate students take top prizes in international Wikipedia competition

Anna Hartenbach | Jul 26, 2018
Yichao Li

Russ College graduate students take top prizes in international Wikipedia competition

Anna Hartenbach | Jul 26, 2018

Three Russ College graduate students received top prizes at the International Society for Computational Biology’s (ISCB) Wikipedia Competition, part of the 26th Annual Conference for Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) in Chicago earlier this month.

Electrical engineering and computer science doctoral student Yichao Li, MS ‘16, MS ‘17, won first place in the 2017 competition; and computer science graduate student John Huff, BSCS ‘17, and biomedical engineering graduate student Kayla Steen, BS ‘17, earned second and third place, respectively, in the 2018 competition. Because organizers synced the competition’s entry dates with the academic year, winners from the last two years were honored at the conference with cash prizes – $500 for first, $250 for second and $150 for third place – and a one-year ISCB membership.

Stuckey Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Lonnie Welch, director of Ohio University’s Bioinformatics Laboratory, said the ISCB, a scholarly society that advances the understanding of living systems through computation, is the field of bioinformatics and computational biology’s premier society.

“It’s a very high recognition and honor to receive awards from this society,” he said. “I’m really proud of our students for doing so well and being recognized by this community of people from around the world.”

ISCB Wikipedia Competition steering committee co-chair and judge Alastair Kilpatrick, a bioinformatician at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, said entrants improve their communications skills and gain the chance to share their work with the world.

“Some of the best entries we have seen explain bioinformatics concepts in a way that is understandable even to a layman,” he said. “Through Wikipedia, their work is instantly available to their peers, other scientists and the general public, increasing the amount of knowledge available for future researchers.”

Competition participants must improve or write a new Wikipedia article within the scope of computational biology, then are judged on clarity of writing, depth of subject knowledge, and the quality of figures and photos.

Welch, who has advised Li’s bioinformatics research, asked him to use his dissertation research to update an entry on “Chromosome conformation capture,” which explains 3D genome organization study methods, and translate it to Chinese.

“By participating in this competition, I get recognized by my peers. That’s a good thing for me,” said Li, who aspires to be a professor.

Steen and Huff, both former students in Welch’s bioinformatics tools course, participated in the competition as a final project.

Steen edited “Molecular phylogenetics,” which analyzes genetic, molecular differences in DNA sequences.

“The project was a great learning experience, and I was able to delve deeper into my understanding of an area of interest within the bioinformatics realm,” she said.

Rather than edit an existing article, Huff created an entry for “Ruzzo-Tompa algorithm,” a technique used in DNA analysis. He said his experience motivated him to pursue other contests.

“I found this project pretty enjoyable,” Huff said. “I would encourage others to participate – the worst that can happen is that you learn something new.”