Presenting engineering undergraduate research to legislators: A Q&A with Ahhyun Lee

April 11, 2024

Ahhyun Lee at Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol 2024

Ahhyun Lee, a senior studying computer science, is engineering a better world by harnessing the power of emerging technologies to improve medical treatments. She was one of 13 Mizzou students selected to present her research at Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol last week.

Read on for a Q&A with Lee about her research, which focuses on using artificial intelligence to enhance protein function prediction.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Ahhyun Lee, a senior majoring in computer science. I am from Busan, South Korea, and I have been actively participating in research projects and various student organizations at Mizzou.

Through the Undergraduate Research Fellowship program within the College of Engineering, I have been able to gain valuable research experiences and in-depth understanding of computer science, particularly in artificial intelligence and its application to bioinformatics. Also, I am currently involved in student organizations such as Mizzou Engineering Student Council, Mizzou Computing Association, Upsilon Pi Epsilon and the College of Engineering Student Ambassadors.

What is your research focus?

My current research focuses on utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) techniques for enhancing protein function prediction. AI is gaining popularity because of its great potential for various applications. I am studying and researching deep learning algorithms, a subfield of AI, to explore various ways of improving precision in protein function prediction in the field of bioinformatics.

How did you become interested in this topic?

As a computer science major, I have become deeply interested in the field of artificial intelligence. With the increasing attention to AI today, the field is being applied to a number of other areas. Since I have also been quite interested in life sciences and health care, learning that the field of computer science, especially AI, can intersect with these domains sparked great motivation in me. The research into protein function prediction that I am currently involved in contributes to advancements in biomedical research and new drug discovery. As an undergraduate student, I still have much to learn to strengthen my knowledge, but being able to do research at the intersection of computer science and bioinformatics gives me a great sense of academic accomplishment.

Are you working with any faculty on the project?

I am currently working with Dr. Jianlin Cheng within the electrical engineering and computer science department. His research interests are in artificial intelligence, bioinformatics and machine learning. I have been working with him since fall 2023 through the Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, and I am gaining valuable research experiences and substantial field knowledge under his guidance.

Can you explain your experiment/project process?

My research aims to enhance protein function prediction using artificial intelligence technology. I am particularly engaged in research on models utilizing deep learning, focusing on protein language models and graph neural networks, which leverage both protein sequences and structural data. I am exploring ways to develop more accurate models by studying and researching various algorithms in collaboration with Dr. Cheng and a graduate student mentor.

What were your findings?

I was able to learn and discover that we can attain improved prediction of protein function through deep learning techniques with protein language models and graph neural networks. Currently, there are various computational methods with different approaches to predict protein functions. However, we have explored ways to utilize both protein sequences and structures, as opposed to conventional methods that primarily rely on protein sequences. This approach resulted in improved and more accurate predictions compared to other deep learning-based methods.

What do you hope people take away from this project?

My research falls within the specific field of protein function prediction. However, to understand this field, it requires knowledge not only in computer science but also some understanding of bioinformatics, biology and artificial intelligence. Through my research, I hope that people will be able to see how current technological advancements can progress through the convergence of various disciplines.

As I integrate my background knowledge into learning about other fields for my research, I want to encourage other students and individuals to utilize their knowledge in various areas to make meaningful contributions to a better life and society.

Why did you want to present your research at the capitol and what did you take away from the experience?

I wanted to share my research experience and show my progress to a wider audience. Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol was a great opportunity for me to demonstrate my research activity and interact with state legislators and people from different academic backgrounds.

During the event, by presenting my work, I was able to improve my presentation skills and learn how to convey my ideas more effectively to the audience. I was also able to learn about various research studies conducted by other students and witness how vibrant the research community is across the UM System. This research day was an invaluable experience for me to be better prepared for my future career and academic path.

Thank you for sharing!

Get involved in research that can change the world as an undergraduate. Choose Mizzou Engineering!