USRA | Undergraduate Student Research Awards

NSERC & VPR Awards

The Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA) give students hands-on research experience while working on actual  projects. These awards prepare students to pursue graduate studies and encourage interest in research careers. 

The awards are supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and SFU's Vice-President, Research (VPR). More information can be found on the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website.

The application procedures for USRA's hosted in the Department of Mathematics can be found in the links below.

NSERC Awards

VPR Awards


Eligibility Quick Summary

Can International Students apply? NO YES
Can non-SFU students apply? YES NO
Does funding held by the Supervisor have to be an NSERC grant? YES NO
Can the student take courses while holding the award? YES

Interdisciplinary Students (i.e., students who have not yet declared their major, or who are applying to a department that is not the department of their major) are permitted to apply. If a student is considering working with more than one supervisor on different research projects, they can submit two applications.

Students with a supervisor who holds a joint faculty appointment can apply to both of the departments in which the faculty member holds the joint appointment. Students can only hold one USRA in a competition year.

Working on a USRA project can be counted toward a co-op practicum semester. Consult the SFU Website on Co-operative Education for more details.

Current Research Projects (Summer 2020)

Below are the available research projects in mathematics from faculty members who are taking on qualified undergraduate students. Unless otherwise specified, each project is available to one student only.

David Sun | Supervisor: Dr. Imin Chen | Project: The Hidden Subgroup Problem

The hidden subgroup problem involves finding a subgroup, given evaluations of a function which is distinctly constant on its cosets. The abelian case can be solved by a quantum computer and results in a quantum algorithm to factor integers efficiently. The objective of this project is to study the explicit representation theory involved in generalizations to non-abelian groups.

Jonah Wahed | Supervisor: Dr. Marni Mishna | Project: Enumerating Walks on Cayley Graphs

A Cayley graph is a visualization of a group paired with a finite set that generates the group. The vertices are the elements of the group, and an edge connects two group elements if one is equal to the product of the other and a generator from the set.  For example: A finite, multiplicative  cyclic group generated by x and its inverse has a cycle as its Cayley graph. Because of the high number of symmetries coming from the group, they are often very beautiful graphs. At the same time, they permit one to use graph theoretic tools to study groups. In this project we consider the problem of enumerating walks along the edges of Cayley graphs, and try to determine formulas for the number of walks of a given length that start, and end at the vertex that represents 1. This is related to the problem of trying to identify whether a given product of arbitrary generators is equal to 1 or not, the so-called “word problem” of group theory.

Aisosa Efemwonkieke & Calvin Fletcher | Supervisor: Dr. Nathan Ilten | Project: Problems arising in algebraic and toric geometry

Algebraic geometry, at its most fundamental level, is the study of solution sets of systems of polynomial equations. These solution sets, called varieties, are often very challenging to understand. However, a special class of these objects, toric varieties, can be understood explicitly using tools from combinatorics. This project will involve studying problems in algebraic geometry using tools from toric geometry. Specific problems could include: degenerations to toric varieties, conics contained in toric varieties, or projections of rational normal curves. 

Sohrab Ganjian | Supervisors: Dr. Razvan Fetecau & Dr. Patricia Brantingham | Project: Mathematical Models of Crime

This is a joint project with Prof. Patricia Brantingham from the SFU School of Criminology. The goal is to advance our mathematical model used in prior research to understand and predict crime patterns in cities. A significant amount of crime data is available from the Vancouver Police Department and other police departments. There is an opportunity to test the models against real data in multiple cities. The modelling will involve difference and/or differential equations, with agent based simulations on street networks.

The topics for a project include:

  • How crime attractors and crime generators are formed
  • Metro stations as specific generators of crime
  • The impact of road capacity on crime clustering (like the peaking at intersections along major arteries)
  • The time flow of different crime types through the court system in BC based on the seriousness and/ or the complexity of the legal case
  • The impact of city growth and concentrations of shopping and entertainment facilities on crime concentrations

Oliver Fujiki | Supervisors: Dr. Sandy Rutherford & Dr. Tamon Stephen | Project: Modelling Hospital Admissions in British Columbia

This project will use mathematical modelling and data analytics to improve access to care for emergency hospital admissions in British Columbia. Patients admitted to hospitals often wait an unacceptably long period of time in the emergency department before they receive a hospital bed. This has significant consequences both for the quality of health care and the efficient functioning of the emergency department. The British Columbia Ministry of Health will provide data for this project, which is part of a wider collaboration to improve health care in BC.

This project will involve developing a queue network model for hospital admissions. Discrete event simulation will be used to analyze this model. Statistical methods will be used to calibrate and validate the model using data. The student will be encouraged to investigate innovative approaches to combining machine learning with simulation. The ultimate goal of the project is to determine the number and type of hospital beds required to meet quality of care targets for emergency department admissions.

Hunt Feng | Supervisor: Dr. Weiran Sun | Project: Behaviour of Gas-Solid Interacting Systems

In this project we are interested in investigating the behaviour of solids immerse in a gas. We will apply coupled equations of the gas and solid to model their motion. In particular, kinetic equations will be used to describe the evolution of the gas and equations derived from Newton's Second Law will be for the solid. Their interaction is through the moving boundary conditions for the gas together with the formulation of the drag force generated on the solid due to exchange of momentum. We are interested in studying existence, uniqueness and long-time behaviour of such a system. In particular, we want to rigorously justify the decay rate that has been observed in numerics.

Zhe Xu | Supervisor: Dr. Nils Bruin | Project: Problems in computational arithmetic geometry

Arithmetic geometry studies the interplay between geometry and number theory (arithmetic) -- the solutions of polynomial equations in several variables that take values in the rational numbers, for instance. It is a field that has time and again exposed deep and intricate connections within mathematics. Due to the nature of the objects studied, it is also a field that is particularly suited to computational exploration.

Effie Gao | Supervisor: Dr. Nils Bruin | Project: Certified computations of periods of algebraic Riemann surfaces

This project consists of adapting code for computing periods of Riemann surfaces [1] to use a certified numerical integrator [2]. The project can possibly be extended to compute integrals over non-closed paths.

[1] Nils Bruin, Jeroen Sijsling, Alexandre Zotine, Numerical computation of endomorphism rings, ANTS XIII: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Algorithmic Number Theory Symposium, The Open Book Series 2-1 (2019), 155-171.

[2] Frederic Johannsen, "ARB" library. See

Jason Ding | Supervisor: Dr. JF Williams | Project: Pattern formation on irregular domains using Frames

Be it the spots on butterfly wings, microscale structure in materials or clouds in the sky; pattern formation is ubiquitous in systems governed by differential equations.

The Ohta-Kawasaki energy is a model from material science whose minimization leads to a fourth-order partial differential equation. Solving it on periodic domains gives a rich class of distinct solutions such as stripes, spots, spheres of different packings and double gyroids.

This project will look at numerical methods to find patterns in irregular domains which are not amenable to simple descriptions. We will use approximations based on Frames to find non-periodic solutions using a Fourier series description.

Kevin He | Supervisor: Dr. Paul Tupper | Project: Assessing when Political Content is a "Gateway Drug" to Other Political Content

Recently a study by Finkelstein, Stevens, al-Gharbi claimed, using records of comments on various political websites, that psychologist Jordan Peterson is a "gateway drug" to extremist alt right content. The student taking on this project will examine this study and others like it and develop a mathematical model of ideological development and content consumption. Such a model can then be used to study other examples of gateways in content consumption, not necessarily in the political context.

Zenith Yurkovich | Supervisor: Dr. Weiran Sun | Project: Hypocoercivity of a non-classical kinetic equation

In this project we will explore possible hypocoercivity of a kinetic equation with internal state (KEIS) used to model bacteria motion. Although a rather general framework has established by Dolbeault-Mouhot- Schmeiser to show hypocoercivity for transport equations without smoothing effect, such framework does not apply to the equation that we are studying. The aim of this project to identify hidden structures of the KEIS which can lead to hypocoercivity.