Student Innovator Spotlight: STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge Winners

Four U of A students competed in a national AI competition—and won!


Out of 400 students across Canada, Kevin Zhan, Ben (Xiaoyu) Wang, Rafay Osmani, and Jessica (Yutong) Li's research recently won first place in the national STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge where students had to devise a solution to combat the spread of misinformation through digital mediums using available datasets generated by researchers. Spend a few minutes learning more about this incredible team and their work!

Tell us about your research!

A pressing issue in the midst of COVID-19 is the spread of misinformation through digital mediums, known as the "infodemic." Because of the interconnected nature of the internet, misinformation spreads quickly as demonstrated by anti-mask and vaccination rhetoric that hinders our public health efforts. Some current misinformation detection campaigns focussed on using manual fact-checkers to flag misinformation online, which is inefficient in battling the infodemic. We used artificial intelligence (AI) to address this issue by identifying potential misleading information online. To build the AI tool, we accessed data sets with large quantities of data containing news articles, labeled as either reliable or unreliable, linked to Twitter posts. We then trained our AI tool on the labeled data so it can distinguish between misinformation and true information. To make our AI tool more accessible to the public we have built a website that allows for the public to input a website link, or a paragraph within a website. Our AI tool will then give a numeric rating to indicate the trustworthiness of the website.

What motivated your team to participate in the STEM Fellowship Big Data Competition 2021?

We saw this competition as a great opportunity to expand our pre-existing knowledge of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, as well as meet the prominent figures dominating this field. 

How will winning the STEM Fellowship Big Data Competition 2021 support your research and academic or career goals?

Because AI is a signature research area at the University of Alberta with world-class researchers, all members of the team have been involved with the AI community and have taken interest in furthering their knowledge within the field. Winning the STEM Fellowship Big Data Competition 2021 allows the team to further our skills and connections with the AI/Big Data community, allowing us to pursue more AI research opportunities at the U of A.

What’s one challenge you want to solve through your work?

We want to reduce the amount of misinformation present on social media through efficient and accessible means. Because current misinformation detection methods use manual fact-checking, the rate of misinformation flagging is insufficient to deter the rapid spread of misinformation. We want to build tools that allow individuals to efficiently detect misinformation to allow for better informed decisions. 

What makes the U of A a great place to do your work and research?

U of A has an outstanding reputation in AI research, ranking in the top three globally over the last thirty years. Because of our prestige in AI research, the U of A has brought many opportunities for individuals like us who want to engage in the application of AI to disciplines such as medicine in the future. 

What do you want people outside of the Big Data/AI industry to know about this field of work and research? 

The Big Data/AI industry is a very promising field that is set to greatly advance in the near future as we are living in the age of information. Because companies, healthcare services, and researchers are able to collect a variety of data on customers, patients etc., we are able to use this data to train AI to predict outcomes among many other applications. Thus, I encourage anyone that reads this article to explore the AI research we have at this amazing university!

Innovator Spotlight is a series that introduces you to students whose big ideas are making a big difference.

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This interview has been edited for clarity.

About the Team

Jessica recently graduated with a BSc in Biology. During her time at the University of Alberta, she was exposed to the concept of applying AI in medicine to guide physician treatment plans and decided to pursue the field of AI in healthcare for a MSc at U of A. She enjoys oil painting and hiking in the mountains during her free time. 

Ben is currently studying as a Computer Science student with a background in Neuroscience. His first experience in applying data science to healthcare was during his time working with local startups that provided mental health analytics to users. Outside of his studies, you can find Ben hiking in the mountains or preparing for new hackathons with my friends.

Kevin is an immunology student going into his third year at U of A. He is really interested in the applications of machine learning in solving healthcare problems and enjoys participating in new research projects and hackathons.

Rafay is heading into their last year as a Cell Biology student. They are interested in stem cell research as a form of regenerative medicine and the implications of technology therein. Rafay is involved with the AI in Medicine Student Society which jump started his interest in Artificial Intelligence.