Ugrad Student Profile: Sophia Cui

From the Fall 2009 issue of Threads

Sophia Cui

Sophia Cui had a plan: study economics, become an investment banker, make millions. But during her first semester at Duke, sitting miserably in an introductory economics class, Cui had a revelation. “If you’re going to spend four years studying something, you might as well enjoy it,” she thought. Drawn to the problem-solving challenges of CS—“You have to get the cogs turning,” she says with a smile—Cui switched her major to computer science.

Right after freshman year, Cui began her first CS project with Rachael Brady, director of Duke’s Visualization Technology group. At the soundSpace exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, an interactive room that translates movement into sound, Cui undertook the challenge of additionally translating the movement into images of birds fluttering across a screen. “From there, I started to develop an interest in visualization and design," says Cui.

Cui continued to work with Brady into her sophomore year and was accepted into the C-SURF program. As part of the program, Cui began a research project with Brady and mentor Eric Monson last summer developing a tool for organization and visualization of massive data sets. Ambitious, Cui crammed a full nine weeks of research into six weeks so she could spend the rest of the summer doing research and development at a start-up in Silicon Valley. “I tend to do a lot of things,” laughs Cui, bright-eyed and enthusiastic despite her busy lifestyle.

A Canadian-American with a talent for graphic design, Cui is Duke’s resident T-shirt designer, winner of three campus design competitions, including the Last Day of Classes shirt. She is also the design talent behind the wall of screens in the Link!, a studying and teaching facility in the lower level of the Perkins library. Looking into the future, Cui hopes she can keep combining her many interests and talents in graduate school. “I want to continue to be creative and still do programming,” she says. Sophia Cui

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