Highlights from BYU colleges: Stronger identify verification developed, family history center helps prevent cancer


Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering

A BYU professor’s facial recognition technology pairs a face with an expression to heighten device security. (BYU Photo)

A BYU professor has developed a more secure facial recognition software. Electrical and computer engineering professor D.J. Lee created the Concurrent Two-Factor Identity Verification, which requires users to not only show their face but also make specific facial motions. Users set up the verification by recording a short clip of them performing a unique facial motion or lip-reading. The device then stores these motion features for later verification.

“The biggest problem we are trying to solve is to make sure the identity verification process is intentional,” Lee said. “We’re pretty excited with the technology because it’s pretty unique to add another level of protection that doesn’t cause more trouble for the user.”

Lee and his Ph.D. student Zheng Sun recorded and tested 8,000 video clips of subjects during a preliminary study. The network they developed verifies identities with more than 90% accuracy with further developments in the works. Lee has filed a patent on the technology and said he hopes his system will be used to restrict workplace areas, online banking services, ATM usage and more.

Marriott School of Business

The Tanner Building, home of the BYU Marriott School of Business, is photographed in August 2020. A team of BYU Marriott information systems students won the University of Utah Game Day Analytics Challenge. (Addie Blacker)

A team of BYU information systems students won the University of Utah Game Day Analytics Challenge. This competition invites student teams from Utah colleges to analyze tweets to determine the effectiveness of Super Bowl ads. Juniors Carter Beck, Parker Mecham, Benjamin Sierra and Scott Young won $1,000 cash for taking first place in the undergraduate division. The team created an infographic with insights they gained from their analysis of which ads did and did not do well.

Beck said the team found that winning Super Bowl commercials needed three factors: celebrities, an entertaining angle instead of an inspiring one, and a brand ambassador willing to tweet about the company during the game. Mark Keith, a BYU information systems professor, helped prepare the winning team by teaching them how to analyze and compile data. 

“The students were incredible,” Keith said. “They found their own creative solutions using only their existing business knowledge, technology skills and statistical reasoning. The students on this team exemplify the type of people that we hope all our students will become.”

College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences

The BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy is collaborating with the University of Washington on an initiative to trace cancer-causing genes back to common ancestors to prevent hereditary cancer. (Tyler Richardson)

BYU’s Center for Family History and Genealogy and the University of Washington are collaborating on a public health initiative to prevent hereditary cancer. The Connect My Variant project is headed by Brian Shirts, a University of Washington professor of laboratory medicine and pathology. Shirts identifies subjects with gene variants that indicate a risk for cancer. The BYU genealogy team, directed by professor Jill Crandell, then researches those patients’ family lines to identify which ancestor might have had the same gene mutation.

“Once we’ve identified the ancestor, we can do research and find relatives that the participant can contact and tell them of their potential increased chance of cancer,” Crandell said. “This is helpful because most people don’t know their relatives beyond first cousins.”

BYU family history students also play a major role in the project.

“BYU has the best genealogy program in the world, so it made sense for a partnership on this project,” Shirts said. “Knowing your family history is important, but knowing how you might be impacted by your heritage and using that information to help save the life of one of your cousins is impactful.”

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