When researchers develop new computing applications or processes for scientific inquiry, these tools often require subsequent enhancements to improve accessibility, functionality and robustness. But it can be difficult for researchers to undertake these tasks due to a lack of manpower, time or expertise.
The Center for Statistics and Machine Learning (CSML) can help facilitate a leap forward in these projects with the assistance of Vineet Bansal, a senior research software engineer, who is jointly appointed to the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering (PICSciE). Since his arrival to Princeton University in 2017, Bansal has built a successful track record in helping scholars build complex computational tools that enhance their data science research.
His most recent projects include contributions to MagNet, a large-scale dataset that allows researchers to model how materials react to electromagnetic excitation, and OSQP, a software program that solves quadratic systems with linear constraints.
“Part of CSML’s mission is to foster the application of modern tools in interdisciplinary data science research,” said Peter Ramadge, CSML director. “Vineet’s presence certainly adds to the success of that mission with his experience and knowledge in research software engineering. He helps lay a firm foundation for the further advancement of scientific knowledge within ongoing projects.
To start working with Bansal, faculty members can submit project ideas in response to a CSML call for software engineering proposals. Bansal and Ian Cosden, director of Research Software Engineering for Computational & Data Science at PICSciE, go over the proposals and meet with faculty members. Ramadge, CSML staff, Bansal and Cosden then make a determination on which projects are best suited to get help from Bansal.
The next window for proposals to be submitted is coming up in late July or early August, said Bansal.
Currently, Bansal has been working with Marina Rustow, the Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and professor of Near Eastern studies and history, on the Cairo Geniza, roughly 400,000 fragments of paper and parchment taken from a medieval Egyptian synagogue. He is also working with Emmanuel Kreike, professor of history, who wants an intelligent approach for analyzing aerial photos of African landscapes over time.
One project that is nearing release under Vineet’s watch is OSQP, a software program that can solve constrained quadratic systems more efficiently than other solvers. Bartolomeo Stellato, assistant professor of operations research and financial engineering, is one of the main investigators of the project.
“This has been a really successful collaboration because the investigators haven't been able to release the 1.0 version of their software in the past few years because they didn't have a dedicated software engineer on their team,” said Bansal.
Another recently deployed project is MagNet, “a large-scale dataset designed to enable researchers modeling power magnetics with real measurement data,” according to the researchers leading the project.
The MagNet database contains vast amounts of information on magnetic materials along with an integrated machine learning model for core loss calculations. Researchers can access MagNet via a web application. Minjie Chen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, is one of the main principals of the project.
“Vineet has played very important roles in our team and has really pushed the quality of our website to the next level,” said Chen. “During the six-month period with us, we had bi-weekly meetings and Vineet helped us to completely reorganize our website infrastructure and set it up on the Princeton server for long-term service.”
“Our project couldn't have had its impact without Vineet's support. Vineet stayed engaged with us after the six-month period and is always helpful on all types of technical issues. He is still our ‘go-to’ person when facing issues with the website and the MagNet platform,” added Chen.
Bansal’s past projects include modeling groundwater data throughout the United States, a performance-critical component for software that analyzes tumor samples, a web application for protein sequences, and a computer program to study electron microscope images of molecules held in ice. Bansal is also recently assisted Ben Raphael, professor of computer science, on the release of HATCHet or Holistic Allele-specific Tumor Copy-number Heterogeneity, an algorithm that can find and analyze genes that have been duplicated or deleted in tumor samples. More on that project can be read here.
“All these projects are different and that adds to the challenge and excitement of working here,” said Bansal.