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Quick understanding helps grad researcher secure internship

A man stands with his arm set on an open computer tower.

Xiang Wang, an electrical engineering master’s degree student, stands next to a computer tower housing one of the GPU units involved in his research.

A man of few words, graduate student Xiang Wang isn’t shy on skills. The electrical and computer engineering student who participates in MU Engineering’s Collaborative Academic Program, completed his bachelor’s degree at Shanghai University in 2011, and now is a master’s degree candidate at Mizzou.

Wang works in the lab of Michela Becchi, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, on parallel computing. He is currently working on accelerating regular expression matching on Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). Regular expressions are patterns that contain metacharacters and are used to concisely encode large sets of text strings. Looking for the occurrence of these patterns in an input may be computationally challenging, especially in the presence of large and complex pattern-sets. Xiang takes advantage of a branch of automata theory known as deterministic finite automata, and is putting them to practice on GPUs.

“This would be used in network security to detect any malicious activity,” he said.

Wang joined Becchi’s lab about a year ago when exploring her classes.

“She teaches parallel computing, which is very interesting to me,” he said. “So I talked to her about that and registered for one of her classes, and that led to working in her lab.”

Originally from Wenzhou, China, Xiang didn’t take long to make an impression.

“As class project, I asked him to implement something that we needed for an ongoing project in the lab. His contribution was very valuable, and helped us submit a paper in a premier conference in high performance computing his very first semester in the lab. The paper was on the use of GPU in cluster environments ,” Becchi said.

Xiang’s ability to pick up a topic after a little self-research has made him a valuable asset as a research assistant.

Such also was the case for an internship with Micron Technology in Silicon Valley. The company is designing a chip efficient at regular expression matching, called an Automata Processor, and sought Becchi’s recommendation for an intern. She suggested Wang, who in turn read Becchi’s previous papers on the subject and secured the internship.

“Dr. Becchi has a very good relationship with people in industry,” Wang said, adding that he thought working in an industrial setting gave him access to new and different information he hadn’t yet learned.

“A company is very different from school,” he said. “What you do there is very practical, and it applies to the real world.”

Becchi said Wang’s work ethic sets him apart.

“He stands out for his capability to work independently and seriously,” she said. “We meet. He shows me his progress, asks a few questions and goes back into the lab. A week later, he shows up with the results.”