Student Researchers Explore Power of Artificial Intelligence
A SURE project involving AI and edge computing offers undergraduate students a competitive advantage in a fast-growing field.
As sophomore year came to a close for Christian Leonard ’25, the world had suddenly become transfixed by the power and promise of artificial intelligence (AI). Leonard, a physics major, had always been interested in AI and now saw career potential in a field poised to explode. He needed a way in — and it didn’t take long to find one.
Physics professor Ruby Gu, who knew of his interest, recruited him for a Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) project she was leading. This summer, through the SURE program, Leonard — and dozens of other Stonehill undergrads — engaged in professional-level research led by expert faculty members, emerging from their projects with hands-on experiences that offer them competitive advantages in their chosen field.
Leonard’s project — conducted with photonics major Charlie Dwyer ’25 — taps the power of AI and edge computing technology to detect objects and faces using ultra-small computers. Once a familiar sight is on camera, the computer accesses a database of programmed information and displays that information to the user.
The simplicity of this idea — familiar to anyone with Face ID on an iPhone or a Nest camera outside their home — belies its boundless potential. “It could be used in health care for checking in at a crowded doctor’s office, or in security, or in monitoring traffic, or tracking vehicles,” Dwyer said. Once infrared cameras are integrated, identification can occur at night — or even in space. “We don’t even know the limits of what it can do,” he added.
In a way, the same could be said of the pair’s SURE experiences. Their summer research has all the practical, experiential benefits of a more traditional internship and the individual attention and personalized learning students come to Stonehill to find.
“My goal is not only to train students in valuable research skills,” Gu said. “It’s also to broaden their knowledge and get them to learn different things than they would in class and inspire a passion for further exploration in the field. They are encouraged to learn by themselves.”
“Among the reasons I came to Stonehill were the faculty and the class sizes,” Dwyer said. “Professors here help you one-on-one. They really do care about you.” Leonard has also experienced this commitment. “Professor Gu knows my strengths and my weaknesses,” he said. “If I don’t know how to use a machine, she makes time to teach me how to use it.”
The two students spent eight weeks working on their SURE project — at Stonehill’s state-of-the-art photonics lab, one of three such undergraduate facilities in the state — while living on campus and being paid a stipend. On Wednesdays, all the students in the SURE program have lunch and discuss their research. The SURE projects range widely across disciplines and interests, incorporating not only science but also business and humanities.
“It’s a great opportunity to meet with students and professors who have all these different specialties and see how the projects could work together,” Dwyer said. “Being able to learn research methods and how people conduct research in groups is valuable for life after college.” Equally important is that it’s a way to “ease your way into what you want to do for your career,” he added.
The research conducted by Dwyer and Leonard doesn’t end with the close of this summer’s SURE program. Alongside all other SURE students, they’ll give a presentation this fall on their progress — and next year, other students will pick it up and keep it going.
“When I’m asked what I did in college, I’ll talk about this program and the exciting research we did,” Leonard said. “It’s a great experience — as it will be for all the students who build on our project in the future too.”