Ellis Ratner ’14 Wins Goldwater Scholarship

Ellis Ratner ’14 has received a prestigious Goldwater scholarship

Ellis Ratner ’14 has received a prestigious Goldwater scholarship

Since arriving at Bowdoin in 2010, junior Ellis Ratner has dedicated himself to robots.

The summer after his first year Ratner, with other computer science students, assisted Professor of Computer Science Eric Chown develop soccer-playing robots for Bowdoin’s prize-winning 7-year-old RoboCup team — a team Ratner has belonged to since his first year. Ratner continued his work with Chown throughout sophomore year.

Last summer, Ratner received a paid internship to work for Charles River Analytics in Cambridge, Mass., helping researchers there develop autonomous robots that can navigate unknown terrain. “They can get from one point to another without collision and map a completely unknown environment,” Ratner explained, a useful trait if a rescue robot is sent into a disaster area or a hazardous building, for instance.

This summer, Ratner will join Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute as one of its summer scholars. He’ll join a team of students and researchers on “motion planning,” which Ratner describes as “like navigation but includes navigating robotic arms as well.” “It’s an exciting place for robotics,” Ratner said. “There’s hundreds of researchers doing robotics there.”

Bowdoin’s Northern Bites RoboCup team, in 2012

Bowdoin’s Northern Bites RoboCup team, in 2012

While Ratner — a computer science and physics major and math minor — is interested in artificial intelligence and robotics in general, his primary interest right now is “fields of localization and mapping,” which is fundamental to building autonomous robots. To produce robots that can act independently of humans, to explore Mars, say, or to act as a housekeeper in a new house or serve as a caretaker for a disabled person, robots must be able to use their sensors to adapt to unfamiliar environments.

The Goldwater Scholarship, which provides one- or two-year scholarships of up to $7,500 to sophomores or juniors, is given each year to highly qualified students intending to pursue careers in math, science or engineering. This year, the Goldwater foundation awarded scholarships to 272 students in the United States.

Ratner said the Goldwater scholarship holds a lot of weight in the math, science and engineering fields, and he’s grateful for Chown, Associate Professor of Computer Science Laura Toma and Senior Scientist Camille Monnier at Charles River Analytics for recommending him, and for the help of Cindy Stocks in Bowdoin’s Office of Student Fellowships and Research. This year, Adam Childs ’14 and Soichi Hirokawa ’14 also received Goldwater honorable mentions.

Ratner said eventually he will pursue a Ph.D. in robotics to continue researching “intelligent, autonomous agents.” He added, too, that he would like to teach. “I also seek a teaching position so that I may disseminate my knowledge and mentor student research in my fields of study,” he says in his Goldwater application. “I will also form close ties to industry so that I can contribute to work that will make an impact in the real world.”

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