LSU student and Crowley native Benjamin Thomas was recently selected as a 2021 Astronaut Scholar by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
The scholarship recognizes students in STEM who show initiative, creativity, and excellence in their chosen field.
The scholarship, presented by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, provides up to $15,000 to promising scholars while commemorating the legacy of America’s Mercury 7 astronauts.
“We are very proud of Ben for his hard work and innovative and creative approach to STEM-related issues,” said Jonathan Earle, dean of the Ogden Honors College. “When we say Ogden students will change the world, we mean that very literally. The sky’s the limit for what he can accomplish.”
Thomas, an Ogden Honors College senior, is studying computational mathematics in the LSU College of Science with a dual degree in biological engineering in the LSU College of Engineering.
He says that his journey at LSU began with aspirations to become a doctor.
“I believed that being a doctor was the best career to pursue if I wanted to help change people’s lives. I had already shadowed a general surgeon and volunteered at local hospitals for over 100 hours,” Thomas said.
Through courses and independent research, he discovered a passion for higher-level mathematics. Thomas said he realized math would allow him to help people in other ways.
“Now, my goal is to use this knowledge of mathematics to create or optimize algorithms that can have major impacts in healthcare such as automatically detecting the presence of tumors in X-rays identifying different microbes on a slide, or AI-assisted surgeries,” he said.
Most of Thomas’s undergraduate research is focused on artificial intelligence, or AI.
According to LSU, Thomas is currently investigating whether or not there is an ordered configuration to how viral DNA is packed inside the capsid. At the outset of this AI research, he had no coding experience or knowledge of higher-level mathematics. Through this experience, Thomas has taught himself optimization, numerical linear algebra, probability, and many other topics that play a part in machine learning. He has learned how to code in Python and three other languages coding different clustering algorithms such as neural networks, self-organizing maps, and generative topographic maps.
For his senior design project in engineering Thomas’s team designed a prototype arm to aid in crawfish harvesting. As the project leader, LSU says that Thomas was responsible for developing the code that would make the arm work.
Thomas said it forced him to learn more advanced coding and learn how different systems communicate with each other to be able to connect a controller to a Raspberry Pi to tell the arm how to move.
Thomas was one of two LSU students to receive the Astronaut Scholars recognition.
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