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Leif R

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at Northwestern University


Machine Learning, Evolutionary Computing, Genetic Algorithms, Agent-based Modeling, Mechanism Design, NLP Data Science


I am very interested in evolutionary processes in general and I study them from a computational perspective. Evolutionary computing is a field that employs concepts from biological evolution and uses them to solve or study computational problems. Genetic algorithms are a related concept which lets us encode computer programs in a way that we can allow them to reproduce, and also mutate from generation to generation, like biological organisms, so that they can progressively adapt to a given task. We can start with random algorithms that don't do anything particularly interesting or useful and end up with algorithms that have interesting behavior and/or perform useful tasks through this processes. My hobbies include playing video games, woodworking, making electronic music with computers and synthesizers, designing 3D objects and 3D printing, bike riding, swimming, boxing and comedy.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Evolving Algorithms to Play Classic Video Games

Some techniques from deep reinforcement learning have already been used to train neural networks to play classic Atari video games at above human level proficiency. I could advise a student in developing a platform for training evolutionary algorithms or classical reinforcement learning agents to attempt to learn to play a video game that they are familiar with.

Investigating Potential Slowdowns in Scientific Progress

Some prominent scientists and innovators have recently suggested the possibility that we have become less efficient at generating new scientific ideas. There are many factors that are claimed to be contributing to this. A recent study has shown that our language (used in books) has been becoming progressively less rational since the 1970s. I could advise a student in using natural language processing tools and data visualization to investigate these claims and perhaps develop new metrics for measuring scientific progress in a given field of interest they have.

Developing a Web-based Educational Game or Interactive Curriculum

I could advise a student in developing a web-based educational game or a related form of interactive curriculum that helps demonstrate and reinforce a particular subject matter to other students.

Coding skills

Python, C++, Java, JS, PyTorch, CUDA, NetLogo

Teaching experience

I have served as an instructor and teaching assistant for university level computer science courses. I have mentored and taught graduate and undergraduate students on computer science research projects. I have worked professionally as a tutor both remotely and in-person for AP physics, AP calculus, AP computer science, and other related subjects.


Work experience

Bob's Apps (2013 - 2016)
Software Developer
Varsity Tutors/Tutor.com/Huntington Learning Center (2016 - 2019)


Northeastern University
BS Bachelor of Science (2016)
Computer Science Major, Minors in Applied Math and Physics
Northwestern University
MS Master of Science (2021)
Computer Science: AI/ML
Northwestern University
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Computer Science: Agent-based Modeling, Algorithmic Game Theory, Evolutionary Computing and Genetic Algorithms, Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology.

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