Optimizing ACEP research processes through AI and ML

August 24, 2023

Image description below image in caption
Photo courtesy of Lauren Leadbetter
Lauren Leadbetter on the barge at the Nenana River test site.

This article is part of a series highlighting ACEP’s 2023 cohort of eighteen undergraduate interns. To read about other projects and learn more about the program, please visit the ACEP Internship Program website.

Every day, new technologies are being released using artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize workflows in ways we never thought possible. This summer, ACEP intern Lauren Leadbetter worked to find helpful applications of AI and ML to Cook Inlet tidal research processes happening at ACEP.

Leadbetter, from Wasilla, Alaska, is a senior at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, majoring in data science and applied mathematics. Her passion for data science and interest in contributing to the development of Alaska brought her to ACEP this summer.

During her internship, Leadbetter worked with her mentor Ben Loeffler, with additional support from Research Assistant Professor Erin Trochim, seeking to identify areas in ACEP's research processes that can be optimized using AI and ML tools. Leadbetter’s tasks mainly involved database analysis and parsing individual research documents to find accurate and reliable approaches to integrate AI and ML tools. In particular, Leadbetter worked to apply these tools to assist researchers in compiling environmental data and knowledge pertinent to permitting marine energy projects in Alaska.

Leadbetter thinks it is important for Alaskans to recognize that AI and ML tools are not intended to replace humans, but rather to assist in optimizing daily processes. She highlighted one key strength of these tools — their ability to digest text — as a powerful feature that could simplify operations at ACEP.

One application Leadbetter worked on is scraping research papers for enhanced metadata, leading to more accurate abstracts, increased metadata, and some question and answer chat capabilities with PDF’s.

Leadbetter also emphasized the importance of raising awareness about the potential, strengths, and weaknesses of these technologies. She believes that would make individuals more comfortable and supportive, potentially leading to greater use of AI and ML applications in the future at ACEP and in Alaska.

Her internship experiences have been invaluable to Leadbetter. “The data I’ve been working with is widespread and fascinating, and the people at ACEP have pushed me to prepare for the next step in my career by helping me develop thoughtful tools and ideas that could ultimately help a lot more people with their research.”

Working with Loeffler and Trochim pushed her to explore connections with other teams at ACEP and partner organizations looking to approach problems from multiple perspectives, a skill that has changed her outlook on problem-solving and project-scoping.

“It helped me develop thoughtful tools and ideas that could ultimately help a lot more people with their research,” she said.

Leadbetter considers this internship to be a crucial stepping stone in her career journey, providing hands-on experience and daily situations that cannot be replicated within a classroom setting.

This internship is funded by the State of Alaska through the ACEP Undergraduate Summer Internship program. View the final presentation for this project on ACEP’s YouTube Channel. For more information on this project, please contact Ben Loeffler at bhloeffler@alaska.edu.