A few weeks ago, I capitalized on an awesome opportunity to take a free trip to Washington D.C. with three of my close friends. My flight, housing, and food was covered, all I had to do was agree to represent USC at a conference and attend workshops. The conference is called the Grand Challenges Summit, and it focuses on the 14 engineering challenges that the National Academy of Engineering deemed most important to address in the 21st century. Most of these challenges are very difficult goals, such as reverse engineering the brain, providing energy from nuclear fusion, and securing cyberspace. The purpose of the conference was for people to present their research relevant to specific challenges, or to talk about the work they were doing related to the challenges. While neither my friends nor I presented research, we were able to attend the conference just to listen in and network with other people.

Me and 3 other young Trojans at the US Institute of Peace for one of the conference events

One of my personal favorite speakers was Christof Koch, the Chief Scientist and President of the Allen Institute of Brain Science, a leading research center in neuroscience. He spoke about the current work he is leading in mapping, analyzing, and understanding the brain. He explained how they were using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to try to map out the thousands of neuron connections in the brain. To do this, the researchers have to slice brains into thin, layered pieces and scan each layer. The AI system then analyzes each scanned picture, looking for specific neuron endings/beginnings and pieces the data together in an attempt to map out the entire brain in 3D. The AI system has proven to be much faster and more accurate than the human eye, but the technology is still developing. Check out their website here to stay up to date with the Allen Institute’s awesome, new research: https://www.alleninstitute.org/

After the conference ended, my friends and I stayed for a couple of extra days to explore the nation’s capitol, and embrace the extreme humidity. We visited all of the standard monuments and museums, which I strongly recommend to everyone that has never been to Washington D.C. A personal favorite was the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which opened about a year ago. Listen to my podcast with Rhea about my trip, coming out soon!

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