photo of Michael Langford

Major

Computational Engineering

Hometown 

Plano, TX

What has been your biggest reward while pursuing your computational degree at UT?

I think the biggest reward has been figuring out exactly what I want to do with my future. I was in mechanical engineering for two years before I decided I definitely wanted to pursue something more software-related. Obviously, mechanical engineering was not the right field for that, so I switched into the brand-new computational degree to get an education in something more software-related. About the same time, I learned about machine learning and artificial intelligence, and realized that all these courses in numerical methods I loved applied directly to machine learning. The biggest reward while pursuing this degree was getting to explore all the background and applications of numerical methods and use them to develop my skills in machine learning. It was this whole process that led me to decide to pursue machine learning and artificial intelligence for my career.

Who has been your most influential COE, ASE or EM professor and why?

I think Dr. Rodin has been my most influential professor. I took his statics course back in my freshman year. I heard in advance from so many students that his course was really difficult and he was a hard grader, but I didn't hear much about how great of a professor he was. Sure, he graded pretty harshly and never curved, but I learned a great deal in his class. He would always start out every class and ask if there were any questions. He insisted that everybody was on the same page before every lecture and wanted to clarify anything that students were confused about. He genuinely cared a lot about whether or not we understood statics. He would never teach with any notes. All of his lectures came right out of his head. He wanted us to develop an intuition for how to solve the problems instead of diving into equations and searching for a solution. Sometimes for multiple lectures in a row we'd discuss a single problem: what happens if we remove a single support? What happens if we distribute a load over a surface? What happens if that surface is a shape other than a straight line? Our discussions would last all lecture and he provided us with a deep level of intuition required to solve real engineering problems.

What has been your most influential COE, ASE or EM course and why?

I think the most influential course I've taken is COE 352, or our advanced scientific computations course. It opened a lot of doors to how we apply different numerical methods to different kinds of problems. I enjoyed learning about how to apply complex matrices to problems, how to optimize functions, and how to solve some partial differential equations. This course showed that the field of computational engineering and numerical methods is much deeper than I anticipated, but I'm excited to continue learning more about it in the future.

What has been your favorite computationally based project?

Ah! Well I'm not finished with it yet, but I anticipate this one will be my favorite. As part of the honors engineering program here, I'll need to complete a thesis next school year. I'll be studying applications of ensemble machine learning methods in generating imitative musical structure in the style of J.S. Bach. I've done a bit of work in the field already, but I'm excited to dive into and complete this thesis. I really like studying this not only because of the cool music it can generate, but also because of the questions we need to ask before studying this kind of computer music. First, is it meaningful to try to represent music in any form a computer can use? How can we break down music files into numerical matrices that an algorithm can learn from? What would it mean for a computer to "learn" this music? And even if we can get a computer to generate music, how would we evaluate that music for its accuracy? I haven't encountered a project yet that's raised so many tough questions, and I'm really excited to finish it and see what music it comes up with!

List three things that most people don't know about you.

  • I lived in five different countries before my third birthday! I was born in Australia, lived in Malaysia for two years, and lived in Thailand and Canada for a few months each before moving to the US.
  • In addition to my COE major, I'm also a music major. I'll be finishing up my bachelor of arts in music soon, where I'll be focusing on viola performance and some music composition.
  • I'm a pretty big Pokemon fan. I've logged a pretty embarrassing number of hours into all my games over the years. If you catch me alone outside of doing my homework or practicing viola, you'll probably find me playing a few matches on Pokemon Showdown.