Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Shirley Meng among finalists of the prestigious Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists

University of California San Diego nanoengineering professor Ying Shirley Meng is among the Finalists of the 2019 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists. She is one of 31 of the nation’s rising stars in science who will compete for three Blavatnik National Laureate Awards in the categories of Chemistry, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Life Sciences. Each of the three 2019 National Laureates will win $250,000—the world’s largest unrestricted prize for early-career scientists.

Ying Shirley Meng
Ying Shirley Meng
Shirley Meng, a materials scientist and engineering professor at UC San Diego, utilizes her pioneering research in creating novel techniques to measure, control and optimize energy storage materials from the atomic scale to the system level. Dr. Meng’s work manipulating the functional interfaces in energy storage devices has led to higher energy, more powerful, safer and longer life batteries. Her work aims to provide solutions to humankind’s grand challenge for abundant, clean and sustainable energy.

Meng is faculty director of the UC San Diego Sustainable Power and Energy Center. She directs the Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion in the Department of NanoEngineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Read the full press release from The Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences.  

Now in its 13th year, the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists recognize the past accomplishments and the future promise of the most-talented faculty-rank scientists and engineers aged 42 years and younger at America’s top academic and research institutions. This year, the Blavatnik National Awards received an unprecedented 343 nominations from 169 academic and research centers across 44 states – a record in all three categories. The three 2019 National Laureates, chosen from the 31 Finalists, will be announced June 26.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Computer Science PhD student earns 2019 Google PhD Fellowship

Congratulations to UC San Diego computer science PhD student Tiancheng (Kevin) Sun, who has been awarded a 2019 Google PhD Fellowship.

Sun’s research interests include computer graphics and computational photography. He is advised by UC San Diego computerscience professor Ravi Ramamoorthi, who directs the UC San Diego Center for Visual Computing.

In 2017, Sun was named winner in the undergraduate category of the ACM Student Research Competition at the 44th SIGGRAPH Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. He also won first place in the undergraduate category of the 2018 ACM Student Research Competition.

Statement from Google: Google is pleased to announce the recipients of the Google PhD Fellowships for 2019. These awards have been presented to exemplary PhD students in computer science and related disciplines. We have given these students unique fellowships to acknowledge their contributions to their areas of specialty and provide funding for their education and research. We look forward to working closely with them as they continue to become leaders in their respective fields.

At UC San Diego, Sun is the recipient of a Jacobs Fellowship, a prestigious fellowship for incoming Ph.D. students to the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

HackXX 2019: code – the future of women in STEM

By Xochitl Rojas-Rocha

Students swing into gear an hour into the hackathon.
Photos by Xochitl Rojas-Rocha
On Saturday, April 6th, young coders from universities across southern California gathered for the third annual HackXX, a 24-hour, women-centric hackathon at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. HackXX has doubled in size each year since its inaugural event in 2017. This year, more than 200 students bundled themselves into the university’s Price Center, clustered around their laptops, and got to work.

Striving for Change

Jiazhen Rong, a fourth-year bioengineering and biotechnology student, said that while no one ever actively discouraged her from pursuing computer science, the way the field was portrayed left her with the impression that coding was “for boys.” That lack of representation took its toll, at least for a while; Rong didn’t explore programming until her junior year in college.

At HackXX, she has sensed none of that former pressure. “I really feel like this event values women,” she said. She and her two teammates, Haihao Sun and Sid Limaye, created an application that allows the user to combine an original photo file with a famous art piece for a fun, new image. Their idea, they said, was to build on what Snapchat achieves with simple filters.

Rong’s teammates, Sun and Limaye, were two of many young men who participated in the hackathon. The event is open to students of all gender identities, backgrounds and disciplines. Attendees traveled from multiple universities throughout California, some with project ideas and teams, some without. The only requirement was that they treat their fellow coders with respect.

“The goal of TESC is to empower engineering students to grow and succeed throughout their college lives and careers. We constantly seek new opportunities and ways to achieve that goal, and celebrating womxn in STEM at HackXX fits perfectly with our mission,” said Colin Feeney, president of UC San Diego’s Triton Engineering Student Council (TESC). TESC hosted the 2019 HackXX.

C: \>code -- The History and Future of Women in STEM

Students present their project, "Safehouse," to the judges.
After what was literally a sleepless night for some, the hackers had their projects judged according to general performance and presentation. In first place were cognitive science freshman Yana Pyryalina (UC San Diego) and computer science senior Sara Kazemi (CSU Monterey Bay), with a project called “The Callout.” The two coders designed a virtual reality simulation to train and prepare women to respond to misogynistic microaggressions in the work place. In one simulation, a male supervisor encouraged the viewer to “wear [her] hair down” and “wear something tight” for an upcoming meeting with potential investors. The simulation then offered the viewer a series of responses, all focused on drawing the supervisor’s attention to how his comments made his employee feel.

In second place, a team of coders created a role-playing game called “Maze Rescue.” With cute, Undertale-esque graphics, the game challenges the player to save their friend, a female researcher who has been kidnapped, along with her work, by a mad scientist. The player must solve a maze filled with trivia questions on notable women in STEM to save their friend.

The third place winner was “Safehouse,” an application that sends out a call for assistance when a woman feels like she’s in an unsafe situation. The application is volunteer-based, with the team sending out requests for people to sign their homes or apartments up as “safehouses” where a woman can take shelter until help arrives. The team was inspired by UC San Diego’s safety escort system, which calls a Community Service Officer (CSO) to a student’s location from sunset to 4:00 a.m. daily if they feel unsafe.

HackXX sponsor Northrop Grumman challenged students to find a
way to program a small robot car and successfully remove a hair tie
 from its stand without knocking the stand over, and transport
it through a maze.
While not every team placed, others did reach the final round of judging or took home awards from HackXX sponsors such as Northrop Grumman and iTradeNetwork. One such team won “Best Women in Hack” for devising an application that helps pregnant women identify foods that they can eat, and assists them in planning meals in advance. Another finalist team created a virtual reality simulation of a women’s history museum. By using the virtual reality headset to interact with different exhibits, a visitor can travel to the moon to learn about Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, or transport to the cockpit of aviator Amelia Earhart to listen to a recording describing her life and achievements.

For HackXX co-directors Alice Lee, a fourth-year cognitive science student, and Bilguun Bulgan, a graduating computer science student, that moment was more than half a year in the making.

“It’s been really rewarding to see everything come to life, and to see how involved all of our team members are,” said Lee. Some students, she said, see hackathons as just a way to connect with corporations and find a job. With HackXX, it’s different. “Everyone on this team actually cares about what HackXX stands for, and I thought that was really cool.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Student-run research symposium draws big crowd

By Kritin Karkare

Undergraduate student Lucas Patel presents his
 research. Photos courtesy of Lab Expo. 

The UC San Diego Biomedical Engineering Society hosted its seventh annual Lab Expo in January, drawing upwards of 800 attendees and featuring research from more than 60 labs from a variety of disciplines across campus, including anthropology, electrical and computer engineering, bioengineering and more.

Lab Expo chairs and bioengineering students Daibo Zhang and Jessica Ma spent eight months planning the all-day student-run research symposium meant to develop scientific literacy, promote interdisciplinary collaboration and encourage scientific advocacy.

Keynote speaker Grant Sanderson.
Keynote speaker Grant Sanderson, a math educational Youtuber with 1.6 million subscribers, drew a large crowd while talking about his approach to communicating math more clearly. Sanderson, better known by his Youtube channel’s name, 3Blue1Brown, developed his own mathematics visualization programming library to help viewers get a more intuitive grasp on abstract math concepts like neural networks and the Fourier Transform. He thinks that his visualization-first approach has merit.

“By focusing on clarity of communication, it makes you think more clearly about what it is you’re doing,” Sanderson said. “Whatever piece it might be, if you think about how you present this to an audience, it will shape your own understanding of the context, rather than letting communication be an afterthought.”
A research poster presentation and the keynote speech were just the tip of the iceberg. What better way to practice communicating science than to have graduate students pitch their research in only five minutes?

The second annual Lab Expo Graduate Showdown (LEGS) featured seven students from different departments including cognitive science and mechanical and aerospace engineering, competing to best condense and communicate their research projects.

Lab Expo chairs and bioengineering students
Jessica Ma and Daibo Zhang.
Only one could come out on top: judges picked Andrew Shibata, a first year cognitive science graduate student, as the winner. Based on his experiences listening to the myriad accents and voices in California, Shibata’s research aims to develop a database of voices characterizing the San Diego region, and study how people’s voices change the longer they live in San Diego.

Next up, the Biomedical Engineering Society is hosting their annual Translational Medicine Day on March 6. This event aims to bring together the research and healthcare communities-- including students, faculty and industry-- to bridge the gap between bench and bedside. More information can be found here:

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Jackie Villalobos: UC Engineer

Jackie Villalobos, a fourth year electrical engineering student at UC San Diego, has some advice for future engineering students: get involved on campus! She learned this the hard way.

“My first year, I wasn’t involved in anything at all,” she said. “I came in and thought I’m just going to get on top of studying and get used to school. That was the worst decision I could have made and I really regret it.”

It’s hard to image that, since Villalobos is now the president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at UC San Diego, helped found the Anita Borg Leadership and Engagement (ABLE) outreach program, is a student worker organizing educational camps at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and is an undergraduate researcher in Professor Tara Javidi’s lab.

“I met so many new friends through SWE and I felt so much more supported than when I was alone trying to figure out college by myself,” Villalobos said. “You just have to take that first step. If you’re just going to class and going home, there’s not much growth that will happen because you’re not getting out of your comfort zone.”

Villalobos grew up in Chula Vista, twenty miles south of UC San Diego. Her mother and father—who is also an electrical engineer-- immigrated to the United States from Mexico for her father’s job before she was born. The engineering mentality that she saw in her father convinced her that this was a field she was interested in.

“What appealed to me about engineering is if something would break around the house, or the garage stopped working, he would never call anyone to come fix it-- he’d be the one to fix it, and he’d ask if I wanted to help. That’s what got me into engineering, was seeing how applicable it was to everything. That if anything broke, he’d say ‘Oh I can fix it.’ I really liked that mindset and that’s what appealed to me with engineering.”

Her decision to choose electrical engineering for her major wasn’t so decisive. That’s why she enjoys devoting time to outreach efforts that help high school students learn more about what specific majors entail.

“I ended up really liking electrical engineering, but going in I know I didn’t know what I was getting into. That’s why now through SWE, outreach is my favorite part of what we do because we’re able to talk to high school girls about what we do in our majors, what goes on in our classes, and they can explore different majors.”

In addition to her role with SWE, Villalobos is an undergraduate researcher in Javidi’s electrical engineering lab, working on path optimization for drones. The goal is to be able to give a drone a starting point and end point, and have it figure out the most optimized travel path. Their current application is for farmers who use drones to check on their livestock and crops—instead of the drone finding the target object and then landing, the team is working to be able to dispatch the drone, have it check on the object of interest, and then return to its home destination, all on its own.

In addition to finding a group or community to get involved with, Villalobos has one other piece of advice for current and future engineering students: find time for yourself.

“That’s something I always try to work on, because you have a lot of things in your day but there’s also a time where you need to breathe and relax and take a step back,” she said. “Take a moment. I would say for me at least it was about not going for everything all at once and piling a bunch of stuff on. Little by little you take steps, but you just have to make that first one.”

Friday, February 15, 2019

Rebecca Kandell: Sloan Scholar

Rebecca Kandell is a bioengineering graduate student and Sloan Scholar.
Photos by David Baillot/ UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
Rebecca Kandell knew she wanted to work in a STEM field from a young age. Her mom was a first-generation college student and electrical engineer, and her dad studied mechanical engineering, so engineering had always appealed to her. But she also was interested in biology and had dreams of becoming a medical physician in her youth. It wasn’t until applying for college that she realized she could meld the two into one field: bioengineering.

“I grew up in a family of engineering and science,” Kandell said. “I knew I wanted to get into a technical field.  When I attended a high school outreach event and learned about biomedical engineering, I thought that was a great way to combine engineering and biology.”

Kandell, who grew up in Ridgecrest, California, is now pursuing a Ph.D. in bioengineering at UC San Diego as a Sloan Scholar. Sloan Scholars receive a four-year fellowship worth $40,000 to stimulate fundamental research by early career scientists of outstanding promise.

She’s working in the lab of Ester Kwon, a professor of bioengineering at UC San Diego, designing nanoparticles with an emphasis on treating traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her research focuses on brain and nanoparticle therapy, working to develop tiny sub-cellular particles that could be used to more effectively transport drugs to the brain and help treat TBI and other neurodegenerative diseases. The carried drugs can help with treating complications that come with TBI such as brain swelling and cell death.

Kandell earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering at California Polytechnic State University and conducted research while working towards her degrees. There, she used bioimaging and cell culture to investigate natural therapies to prevent the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation (UV) on skin cells.

While at Cal Poly, Kandell also held several officer positions with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).  As president of SWE, one of the largest clubs on campus, she spearheaded multiple large-scale outreach events attended by thousands of K-12 students, and visited local schools to teach engineering principles to underrepresented minority students.  With her outreach and volunteering, Kandell hopes to inspire students to study engineering in college and reach their full potential.  She has continued to volunteer in San Diego by mentoring students in the Jacobs Undergraduate Mentorship Program (JUMP).

“I value mentoring students, both through scientific research and outreach programs like JUMP,” she said. “Mentorship provides a support system among students so that knowledge and positive experiences can be shared. I am committed to encouraging others to achieve their educational goals.”
Kandell is considering her research career goals, but said there are two components she knows her future endeavors will involve: research and mentorship.

“I am incredibly grateful to the Sloan foundation for their generous award which will allow me to conduct research and also give back to the community.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Seeing at a different scale

When he was in high school and building robots, Marquez Balingit couldn't help but wonder: How do these parts work and how do circuits communicate with each other?

He realized is questions could be answered in one word: nanoengineering. So when it came time to pick a college major, that's what he chose. He wanted to understand what things at the nanoscale or submicron level look like.

Now an undergraduate the Jacobs School, Balingit tackles this question at the Nano3 lab. In the future, Balingit sees himself creating a nonprofit company specializing in a form of energy conversion, battery or generator that is efficient in every aspect: cost, power conversion and practicality. He hopes that it can be free and practical for developing countries, giving them more autonomy so that they can power themselves.

Balingit says he is inspired by the works of Nikola Tesla. From his perspective, Tesla's main desire was to create free energy by harnessing and manipulating existing energy on earth and within the air so that everyone can access it.

Balingit teaches  users unfamiliar with the scanning electron microscope, or SEM, how to use it independently. Unlike regular optical microscopes, SEM does not use photons. Instead, it uses electrons, which allows the device to capture smaller features at the 1 micron scale, approximately ⅕ the size of a human red blood cell.

"I like the idea of being the bridge of information by gathering some knowledge, filtering out the details and explaining it to someone clearly," Balingit said. "I learn how to use high tech equipment and understand the standard operating procedures to be able to articulate that to other people so that they can use it on their own."

Outside of training users, Balingit also works on service measurements of sample materials, in order to to figure out the features that users want. He says he feels challenged to get a clear, high resolution images and excited to see something he's never seen before.

"Sometimes things I see in textbooks, I end up actually imaging which is pretty amazing because I never thought I'd be able to. In my textbooks, a lot of things are in the 10 microns and 5 microns and I wondered how they even get these images. Now, years later, I'm getting images that are roughly similar to that," Balingit said.

The Nano3 lab is also looking to increase outreach with the SEM by remotely connecting with high schools and community colleges to show them the SEM's  full capabilities of the and what it can provide from an educational standpoint. Balingit feels like this will help bridge the gap between college and high school curricula in nanotechnology by bringing this information to them. By magnifying everyday objects like pennies and ballpoint pens, Balingit also hopes that using SEM will inspire young students to pursue an  education/career in a STEM field.