Undergraduate Research Experience Helps Launch Recent Grad’s Career


Sydney Truong

Sydney Truong

By Jeanne Leong

As an intern in a Rutgers University‒Camden mathematics lab, Sydney Truong became passionate about research while working on a federally funded study on ways autonomous vehicles can help improve traffic flow and reduce travel time, fuel consumption, and carbon emissions.

Since graduating in May 2020, her Rutgers–Camden experience has led to a position conducting research at Lockheed Martin.

For one year, beginning in the summer after Truong’s junior year, she worked with Benedetto Piccoli, the Joseph and Loretta Lopez Chair in Mathematics at Rutgers University–Camden, where he also serves as vice chancellor for research. Truong wrote a simulation code for the collaborative project involving Piccoli and researchers from four other universities.

As every driver experiences in traffic, people are continuously braking and accelerating, which causes a chain reaction of vehicles stopping and going, causing what researchers call a “stop-and-go wave.”

Researchers of the collaborative project are using Truong’s code to study traffic waves, with the aim of designing controls for autonomous vehicles capable of dissipating the stop-and-go waves.

Using MATLAB software, Truong, a math major and a computer science minor, created graphs, video simulations, and animation for the traffic study.

In addition to sharpening her technical skills, Truong learned valuable lessons working with lab colleagues. “Before this experience, I wasn’t someone who would ask questions,” says Truong, a Sicklerville resident. “I would always try to find out the answer by myself, but now I understand it’s OK to ask questions about things you don’t understand. Everyone in the lab was very helpful in answering questions.”

Benedetto Piccoli

Benedetto Piccoli

The researchers continue using Truong’s code on the project. “One of the controls we designed using Sydney’s code is still having the best performance in the project,” says Piccoli.

When the study is completed and published, Truong will appear as one of its co-authors.

An added benefit to working in Piccoli’s lab was the opportunity to work on a project that aligns with her interest in saving the planet.

“When traffic is dissipated, fuel usage and carbon emissions would be lowered,” says Truong. “I like being involved with something that would benefit the environment in the long run.”

Truong attributes her career choice in research to Piccoli and Rutgers–Camden Interim Chancellor Margaret Marsh, who was Truong’s honors seminar professor.

Truong mentioned to Marsh that she was not sure what jobs she could pursue with a degree in applied mathematics and a minor in computer science, so Marsh introduced her to Piccoli, who offered Truong an internship in his lab through a Rutgers Global grant.

“One of Rutgers’ missions is to drive more students toward a career in the STEM fields, where there is a high need of qualified workforce now, and even more in the near future,” Piccoli says. “Sydney is a perfect example of the benefit of such experience: she worked in team on a high-value project, achieving great results. This pushed her even more toward a career in STEM.”

“I knew conducting research was a possible career choice beforehand,” says Truong. “But I only realized after working with Dr. Piccoli how vast the research field is for someone who wants to conduct research as a career choice.”

Truong received the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Prize and the Mathematical Sciences Scholarship Award for her work on Piccoli’s traffic-flow study.

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, the project is a collaboration involving Rutgers–Camden and researchers from the University of Arizona, University of California at Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Vanderbilt University.

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