Unyime Usua and Santiago Borrego stand in front of MIT Sea Grant

Unyime Usua and Santiago Borrego win 2024 Dean A. Horn Award for Undergraduate Study in Marine Research

MIT Sea Grant is happy to announce the winners of the 2024 Dean A. Horn Award for Undergraduate Study in Marine Research. This year’s award goes to rising second-year Unyime Usua (MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) and rising junior Santiago Borrego (MIT Mathematics). 

Unyime and Santiago worked with Robert Vincent, MIT Sea Grant Assistant Director, Advisory Services, through MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) on a collaborative project with MIT researchers, the Northeastern University Institute for Experiential Robotics, the Aquaculture Research Corporation (A.R.C.), and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, with funding from MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS). The students used microscopy images of shellfish seed from the A.R.C. to train machine learning algorithms that will help automate the identification and counting process. The resulting user-friendly image recognition tool aims to aid aquaculturists in differentiating and counting healthy, unhealthy, and dead shellfish larvae. By automating the current manual process, this technology will improve accuracy, increase production rates, and provide time and cost benefits for the aquaculture industry.

>>More about the project (MIT News)

In the students’ nomination, Vincent describes their initiative and impactful results in helping to advance technology in the aquaculture industry:

“In traditional MIT spirit, Unyime and Santiago have done an outstanding job meeting this challenge. They began the UROP project with little knowledge of applying machine learning to image processing…Their results were impressive during this period, achieving over 80% accuracy and precision. Their initiative, drive, and determination has enabled substantial progress in the development of this technology in support of the marine aquaculture industry.”

Unyime Usua (MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)

“During my freshman year at MIT this past fall, I came in with a keen interest in exploring how artificial intelligence can be used to help people and solve problems…This led me to seek out research opportunities where I could work with these technologies and make a meaningful impact…The experience was challenging, as I had minimal background in computer vision and image processing within the context of machine learning, as well as limited knowledge of the aquaculture industry. However, through extensive collaboration…I gained substantial knowledge in these areas. This allowed me to develop innovative solutions for the challenges of specimen counting and mortality assessment.”

Santiago Borrego (MIT Mathematics)

“I came to MIT with no prior experience in computer science. After taking the introductory courses, I realized that this was something I wanted to pursue…I was particularly drawn to the subject of computer vision. I then sought out to find research which would allow me to apply what I had learned about programming and convolutional neural networks to a real-world problem…I found this project where we used machine learning to assist in aquaculture hatchery production. I had no prior knowledge of aquaculture but was able to understand the necessity for automation and technological advancement in this field. [I] have learned a tremendous amount not only about machine learning but about the trial and error that happens in research.”

About the Dean Horn Award

Dean A. Horn was Director of MIT Sea Grant from 1975 to 1982. The Dean A. Horn Award for Undergraduate Study in Marine Research originated upon his retirement, established by friends and colleagues to honor his ideals: service, creativity, pursuit of excellence and tireless application to research. An award of $1000 is presented yearly to selected MIT undergraduate students for marine-related projects that demonstrate excellence in design and execution of the research project, and clear communication of results. Students from any MIT department are eligible.

For a complete list of past winners and for more information about the Dean Horn Award, visit seagrant.mit.edu/dean-horn-award/.