S. Shailja: Lancaster Dissertation Award

ECE Doctoral student S. Shailja receives the Winifred and Louis Lancaster Dissertation Award for her dissertation in electrical and computer engineering

graphic of shailja's reeb research

Excerpt from the The UCSB Current article "Dissertations in geography and electrical & computer engineering receive Lancaster awards for excellence"

“It is always so exciting to see the amazing research our students are doing in different fields,” said Interim Graduate Dean Leila J. Rupp. “The Lancaster Award recognizes the best of the best, showcasing the diversity of talent across campus.”

Shailja received the mathematics, physical sciences and engineering award for her dissertation, “Reeb graphs for topological connectomics of the human brain.”  Advised by B. S. Manjunath, chair of UCSB’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Shailja builds mathematical tools for modeling neuronal fibers in human brains as geometrical objects in three-dimensional space. Modeling connectivity of the human brain is critical to understanding and treating neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and strokes.

“What an honor,” said Shailja, an incoming postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University. “It added to the feeling of accomplishment, marking a spectacular finish to this long journey.” 

For Shailja, the award has additional significance because her mother will make her first trip to the U.S. to attend the commencement ceremony. “I feel so proud that I will be named a Lancaster Dissertation Award winner in front of her. This has made the commencement day very special for us. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been selected from a pool of such talented peers and I felt grateful to the award committee for deeming my thesis worthy of this award.”

The award includes a $1,000 prize to be presented at the Graduate Division commencement ceremony on June 14. The awardees will also serve as UCSB’s entrants in the national competition sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools and ProQuest.

Two Lancaster awards are given annually to doctoral degree recipients or candidates from two broad academic areas. The four fields of competition alternate each year, as specified by the National Council of Graduate Schools. 

Shailja and Reeb Graphs for Brain Connectome

Reeb Graph For Brain Connectome

Our brain is a complicated anatomical network responsible for cognition and behavior. Neurodegenerative diseases impede the associated network architecture in millions of affected people. My research aims to mathematically model the neuronal activities in the human brain using tools from computational geometry and artificial intelligence to characterize the evolution of neuronal fibers. We model the high-level topological structures of the fibers from diffusion MRI imaging data to construct graph-based mathematical objects. My research will pave the way for advanced AI methods to compare brain regions and provide pathological insights that are currently infeasible due to the complexity of the neuronal fibers.