Research Project | 2024

Hyperspectral Imaging for California Plant Ecology

Awardee: Nikita Burger

Nikita Burger is an undergraduate student pursuing a B.S. in Computational and Systems
Biology at UCLA. He is currently a research assistant in the Alfaro Lab, where he’s working
with Dr. Michael Alfaro on studying global fish diversity as part of the image processing team.
His previous research experiences focused on machine learning theory, and he recently presented
some of his team’s research on memorization in diffusion models at the 2023 ACM SIGKDD
Conference. He’s currently interested in the intersection of computation with plant and fungus
ecology, as well as ecological engineering and agroecology as they pertain to building
sustainable communities where humans can exist with minimal ecological consequences.

This project aims to use short-range hyperspectral imaging to identify specific native or invasive
plant species within plant communities by using classification models on spectral signatures of
local plants. Results from such a study will complement previous aerial remote sensing and help
ground-truth its applications to phenotyping and community mapping. Furthermore, by recording
and attempting classification with new species whose spectra have not been analyzed in prior
works, this project will inform other researchers on the validity of using spectral imaging for
species of interest. Measuring such baselines for high-accuracy community mapping will greatly
aid conservation efforts that rely on large-scale community mapping or phenotyping.