Scott Emmons, a fourth-year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been named a recipient of the prestigious Churchill Scholarship, a research-focused award that provides funding to outstanding American students for a year of master’s degree study in science, mathematics and engineering at Churchill College, based at the University of Cambridge in England.
Emmons is one of only 16 students and recent graduates selected for the award this year, which not only requires exemplary academic achievement but also seeks those with proven talent in research, extensive laboratory experience and personal activities outside of academic pursuits, especially in music, athletics and social service. He is Carolina’s 18th Churchill Scholar.
Emmons, 22, is a senior from Bloomington, Indiana, majoring in computer science and mathematics in the College of Arts & Sciences. He is a Robertson Scholar, a Goldwater Scholar and an Honors Carolina student.
At Carolina, Emmons has focused on unsupervised machine learning in the field of network science, leveraging mathematics to enable users to guide community detection algorithms. Collaborating with researchers at Duke through the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program, he has also developed artificial intelligence algorithms for robotic motion planning.
Emmons has dedicated his summers to volunteer teaching. He has taught mathematics to middle school students in the Mississippi Delta at the Sunflower County Freedom Project and he has mentored students in mathematics, physics and computer science in Tamil Nadu, India, at the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project.
At Cambridge, Emmons plans to study how to align machine intelligence with human values. His long-term goal is for society to realize the extraordinarily beneficial opportunities of machine intelligence such as safe, efficient transportation and effective, low-cost medical care while overcoming their associated challenges.
“Scott is one of the most admirable and prolific students I’ve encountered at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has already published four papers in peer-reviewed journals and is poised to become a leader at the intersection of mathematics, computer science and the ethics of artificial intelligence in the future. The UNC-Chapel Hill community can be very proud to be represented by Scott as a Churchill Scholar,” said Inger Brodey, director of Carolina’s Office of Distinguished Scholarships.
The Churchill Scholarship started in 1963 with three awards and has since grown to an average of 14 awards. The scholarship was set up at the request of Sir Winston Churchill in order to fulfill his vision of U.S.-U.K. scientific exchange with the goal of advancing science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic, helping to ensure our future prosperity and security. There have now been approximately 500 Churchill Scholars.