Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Adrian Salguero: Sloan Scholar

Adrian Salguero. Photo by David Baillot.

Adrian Salguero felt behind the curve when he started his computer science and engineering undergraduate degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was relatively new to the subject while some of his classmates had been programming for years.

But he stuck with it, and now he is earning his PhD in computer science and engineering at UC San Diego, one of the top ranked computer science programs in the country, as a Sloan Scholar. Sloan Scholars receive a four-year fellowship worth $40,000, meant to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists of outstanding promise.

 “I enjoyed writing code, even though at first I felt like I was really behind when I saw my peers, who had been coding for much longer than I had,” Salguero said. “But at the same time it was fun learning all this new material and learning how to code, so I decided to learn not only from my teachers but also from my peers who were more experienced than me.”

His focus within computer science is bioinformatics— using large amounts of data to better understand how different organisms are structured and function with the ultimate goal of better understanding human health. Bioinformatics is also a key component of genomics and cancer research.

“When I heard about the field of bioinformatics two years ago, and how you can be a computer scientist and work on cancer genomics and health and help in that cancer research setting, that resonated a lot with me,” Salguero said. “Cancer research in general is a very important cause, and I didn’t know a computer scientist could be in that field. I feel this is a field that I’m very proud to say I’m contributing to.”

One project he’s working on now is using mass spectrometry data— which measures ions to identify the molecules within a certain mixture or material—from 51 different species of bacteria. He’ll use this data to create a spectral library for each species that will be analyzed to see what proteins, if any, exist in each species. This information will help researchers better understand what functions these proteins serve.

Salguero grew up in South Gate, a city within Los Angeles County. While earning his bachelor’s degree in computer science at UC Santa Cruz, he participated in the Treehouse Cancer Initiative, which is where he first discovered the role that computer science plays in healthcare and cancer research.

He also mentored other students through the Academic Excellence (ACE) program at UC Santa Cruz. As a first generation college student, he knew how valuable mentors can be.

“I joined ACE as a student so I had these mentors and then decided to become a mentor myself,” he said. “Me being first generation, having that support network I feel was very valuable in not only keeping me on track and motivating me, but also showing me that there are a lot of students who are in a similar situation.”

Salguero is brand new to campus, but plans to find similar mentorship opportunities while he works towards his PhD.

He doesn’t have too much free time now, but when he does, chances are high that you can find him watching a movie—Star Wars is one of his favorites—or going for a jog on the beach. May the force be with you, Adrian.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Jervaughn Hunter: Sloan Scholar

Jervaughn Hunter. Photo by David Baillot

From Port Gibson, Mississippi to the bioengineering lab of Karen Christman at UC San Diego, Jervaughn Hunter said growing up he had no clue he’d one day be in graduate school. Now that he is, he makes it a priority to share the knowledge he’s gained along the way with other young students.

 “I’ll do anything to pay it forward, because I didn’t know I’d ever be in grad school,” said Hunter. “I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Not only did it happen, but it also happened at one of the top bioengineering doctoral programs in the nation, and with Hunter as a Sloan Scholar, no less. Sloan Scholars receive a four-year fellowship worth $40,000, meant to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists of outstanding promise.

Hunter graduated from the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) with a degree in biomedical engineering, and spent the following year as a post-baccalaureate researcher at UAB working on the use of stem cells to regenerate affected areas of the heart after a heart attack.

He plans to continue to focus on the heart during his time as a Ph.D. researcher, but instead of stem cells, will apply a therapy from Christman’s lab—an injectable hydrogel designed to repair damaged cardiac tissue after a heart attack.

Hunter said the collaborative and welcoming nature of Christman’s lab drew him to UC San Diego and the Jacobs School of Engineering, as did her entrepreneurial spirit. Christman co-founded Ventrix Inc., a San Diego-based startup that uses the hydrogels developed in her lab to repair heart tissue and increase cardiac muscle.

“I want to work on the translational side of medicine, because basic science is fun, but I want to have a treatment out there that I helped make and can see it be used to treat people,” Hunter said. “That was another thing that drew me to Dr. Christman’s lab was the company she started with her material. I want to be able to see treatments we make actually be able to help people.”

Hunter doesn’t leave “helping people” to treatments he develops in lab alone. In the few weeks that he’s been on campus, he’s already gotten involved with the Bioengineering Graduate Society; volunteered to serve as the graduate student liaison for the UC San Diego chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers; and plans to get involved with TRIO Student Support Services as a mentor—Hunter consistently served as a TRIO mentor throughout his undergraduate career, taking upwards of 20 students under his wing overall. 

Ultimately, Hunter plans to share his experience at UC San Diego with youth and young adults in his hometown in an effort to bring awareness to opportunities available through higher education. He wants to help Port Gibson achieve sustainable economic, social, and political growth through youth mentorship, wellness initiatives, and educational access. By paying it forward, he hopes to inspire future generations to learn how to work within the system to find the resources they need to achieve their dreams.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Reference Database Helps Scientists Estimate a Person's Genetic Repeats

There are many ways in which our genomes vary from one another, leading to differences in various traits or disease susceptibilities. Most researchers who want to uncover these differences focus on simple “spelling” mistakes in our DNA.

“Yet there are complex, repetitive parts of our genome that are also known to cause diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, and these parts of the genome are not analyzed in most large medical genetics studies,” said Melissa Gymrek, PhD, assistant professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Jacobs School of Engineering.

So Gymrek and her team built a reference database that allows researchers to estimate a person’s genome at these repetitive regions, even when they are not directly measured.

“This resource will enable analyzing the effects of repeat variation for the first time across hundreds of thousands of individuals on thousands of traits without the need to collect any additional data,” Gymrek said.

Read more about this new resource and its applications in Nature Communications, October 23:

A reference haplotype panel for genome-wide imputation of short tandem repeats. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

SD Hacks

By Kritin Karkare

Hackathon participants hard at work on their project. Photo courtesy of SD Hacks.

Rain and lightning didn’t stop nearly 800 students passionate about coding from participating in the fourth annual SD Hacks hackathon, held at UC San Diego and hosted by the Triton Engineering Student Council (TESC). The 36-hour event, which ran from October 12 to 14, is an intercollegiate hackathon where students from across the country come together to create innovative solutions to challenges or projects of their choice in a mere 36 hours. Sleep not included.

Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the Jacobs School of Enginering,
welcomes students to UC San Diego at the SD Hacks
opening ceremonies. Photo courtesy of SD Hacks.
TESC organized the event, which was sponsored by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) and featured collaborations with student clubs like the Computer Science and Engineering Society (CSES) and other partnerships with companies and organizations like the Power of Neurogaming Center in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Northrop Grumman Corporation.

This year, a total of 109 teams submitted projects to SD Hacks, ranging from a dog meme classifier to a search and rescue robot that could help emergency crews in dangerous situations. As with previous years, hackers could also participate in challenges set by SD Hacks partners, where projects can take advantage of APIs offered to win specific prizes. For example, DocuSign challenged students to create a project that made the best use of their e-signature API, with the winner taking home $2,000 and an interview for a job or internship.  Other services available included Google Cloud Platform and Domain.com. 

3, 2, 1... HACK! Photo courtesy of SD Hacks.
David Ding, a third year electrical engineering student at UC San Diego and director of SD Hacks, said that the hackathon took more than six months to plan. The most difficult part? Getting all the sponsors; their last one was confirmed in early October. His favorite part though, was the opening ceremonies because he got to see everything come together. To him, that was extremely gratifying. With the help of 135 dedicated student volunteers under his leadership, SD Hacks ran smoothly.  

Of course, coding 36 hours straight will do a number on the mind. Thankfully, UC San Diego is home to a beach just 15 minutes away, where students can go to relax if they need a break. 
Participants from other colleges liked that about UC San Diego. Kishan Sarvaiya and Kizar Cassiere from Long Beach State University both said that compared to other schools that they have gone to for hackathons, UC San Diego offered better things to do in terms of experience. 

After a long 36 hours, and almost two hours of judging, one group came out on top as the Grand Prize, Best Overall Hack winner for SD Hacks 2018: Polyglot. Polyglot’s team consisted of members Naba Rizvi, Yizhen Shi, Carla Marzari, and Jacob Perkins, all from the University of Toledo in Ohio. They developed a way for non-English speaking youth to learn how to code in their native language, since most programming languages use tags and keywords in English. Polyglot helps them both learn the English words, as well as learn how to code. 
To learn more and try out Polyglot, check out their DevPost here: PolyGlot

To check out the wide scope of project submissions, click on the link to the SD Hacks DevPost

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Engineers on the Green highlights diverse student organizations

By Kritin Karkare
More than 400 students attended TESC's Engineers on the Green.
Photos by David Baillot. 

On a cloudy afternoon on the first Monday of Fall Quarter 2018, members from all of the engineering student organizations filled Warren Mall with their project demos, sign-in sheets and informational posters waiting to recruit incoming and returning students at this year’s Engineers on the Green. The annual event is organized by the Triton Engineering Student Council (TESC), which hosts Engineers on the Green to help engineering organizations get greater visibility and recruit interested students for their club activities. The event drew nearly 800 students and continues to grow each year.

The event played host to about 50 different engineering clubs from a wide breadth of disciplines.

Are you interested in pitching your engineering project ideas and getting funding for them? Divergent Engineering has helped projects like a stair climbing robot get sponsored by Qualcomm.

Triton Racing, Tritons for Unmanned Aerial Systems (TUAS), and Design/Build/Fly (DBF) have exciting opportunities to expand mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science skills, with members working on race cars, autonomous drones and RC planes, respectively, that compete in annual competitions.

If you want to apply your engineering skills to communities outside of campus, learn more about Engineers Without Borders (EWB): some of the projects EWB works on include a water filtration system in communities in Kenya and in Tijuana.

And those are just a few of the project-based groups. Many of the engineering organizations also focus on professional development, outreach, and event planning meant to promote interest in engineering. For engineers that want to get help in soft-skill building and industry relations, they can join the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE) for their leadership rotation program and their industry mentorship program.

Want to bring STEM education to young students? Look no further than Tritons for Sally Ride Science. They host workshops for kids like “Science of Harry Potter Magic” and Ignite Talks to inspire even undergraduates to look for new opportunities in their fields.

Lastly, the Nanoengineering and Technology Society (NETS) works on events like the Nano Day Conference to develop interest in nanoengineering and hosts projects for skill development.  

The wide range of opportunities is staggering, whether it be in project-based work or professional development. For more engineering organizations not highlighted, take a look at TESC’s list of organizations here.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

ThoughtSTEM, company founded by UC San Diego alumni, receives $330k grant from National Science Foundation

ThoughtSTEM, LLC, a San Diego-based company teaching computer science skills to students ages 5 to 18, has received a $330,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation. ThoughtSTEM is most well-known for being the first company to release a Minecraft Modding software, LearnToMod, that allows kids as young as 5 to reprogram the popular video game, Minecraft.

ThoughtSTEM is led by UC San Diego computer science Ph.D. alumnus Stephen Foster and biochemistry PhD alumna Lindsey Handley.

“Thanks to the NSF, we are now going to be able to reach more students in different countries with different interests," Handley said. "The same experience students have had in our classrooms will soon be available online to both students... and adults. We're really interested in sharing our educational tools with more adults so they can help us reach more kids.”

With this new grant funding, ThoughtSTEM will able to offer more of their innovative, video game-inspired computer science curriculum to students around the world by moving online the curriculum they've been using in classes with students in San Diego. There will also be a push to develop a completely new computer science curriculum designed to meet the interests of a broader population of video game-playing students worldwide.

The mission of ThoughtSTEM is to find every student interested in understanding how computer programming works and teach them in a context they can understand - video games. ThoughtSTEM has taught over 7,000 students in San Diego and over 100,000 students online.

This grant is allowing us to accelerate our development of computer science educational products for students who we are looking for new ways to interact with their favorite video games," Foster said. "Our students in San Diego have really enjoyed our approach, and we are excited to now be able to share it with other areas.”

ThoughtSTEM also was co-founded by computer science Ph.D. alumna Sarah Guthals, who now works at GitHub.

Friday, September 14, 2018

10 Things to Know Before You Start Engineering at UC San Diego

Antonio Sanchez, a professor in the department
of mechanical and aerospace engineering,
researches chemically reacting flows.

Antonio Sanchez, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego and an alumnus of the Jacobs School of Engineering himself, gave incoming freshman in the Summer Engineering Institute some pearls of wisdom as they begin their engineering careers. He and some of the graduate students in his lab put their heads together to create a list of 10 things that new Jacobs School students should know, and the advice is too good not to share. So, without further ado:

10 Things to Know Before You Start Engineering at UC San Diego

1)      Be proud. Living in San Diego, we have the sun and weather and can take for granted that we have UC San Diego here. UCSD is one of the best universities in the entire world. The Shanghai Ranking [Academic Ranking of World Universities] lists it as No. 15 in the world. Then certain fields like mechanical engineering, my department, is ranked No. 4 in the world-- you get an idea of the place you are in.

2)      Be prepared. College is hard. It’s different than high school—you need to learn at a different depth. And the pace is different—UC San Diego is on a quarter schedule, so you only have 10 weeks. If you fall behind, there’s no way to catch up.

3)      Go to class. There are many good reasons why you should do that—your parents or you are paying for it. But there’s an even more important reason: as engineers, the rest of your life will be a nonstop process of learning. The big difference is now, here, there will be someone telling you what’s important and what’s secondary. Once you graduate you’re on your own and learning becomes much harder. You have very educated professors trying to teach you things—go to class, really.

4)      Don’t take shortcuts. The engineers who are building airplanes, bridges or computers, they don’t cheat. If they did, the airplane or whatever would fall. Please don’t cheat. Do the honest work. It’s much better to get a ‘C’ than to cheat. Be professional and you’ll be treated as a professional.

5)      Be patient. I was looking at your projects and it’s clear you will be great engineers one day. You’re here to build new cars, new engines, new computers, new software…. But the truth is you’re not going to see much of that at first. It’s all going to be math and chemistry and fundamental science. And at one point you might be wondering why it is that you’re not building airplanes? You’ll get there. Those building blocks are really necessary to make sure you learn in depth.

6)      Make the most of these resources. You’re paying a lot of money, and UCSD has these labs and computers and I think one thing students don’t use that much is office hours. An average professor charges between $500 and $1,000 an hour as a consultant—that’s free to you! You have someone waiting in their lab or office to meet with you—go ask questions. And TA’s have office hours too and are sometimes more knowledgeable on the course than the professor. Go to office hours, you’re paying for it.

7)      Who do you want to be in 10 years? That’s a key question. Take some time and think about that. Do you want to be working for SpaceX, want to be a professor, want to be a researcher in a national lab? Think about that, and then plan accordingly. You can shape your profile in these four years—be whoever you want to be. Don’t go for the easy ‘A’, go for what really interests you. It may be harder, but one day when you’re being interviewed by a company you’ll be able to tell them why you’re different and why you chose your path. Join a club to build this profile, too. And if there’s nothing that interests you, then create your own club. Think about who you want to be in 10 years.

8)      Broaden your horizons. There is life beyond engineering. For electives, most people do something easy. I say challenge yourself—take Chinese, take sign language, study medieval history, whatever. Do something out of your comfort zone. Study abroad—we’re making an effort to make those programs more accessible for you. By my accent you know I’m from Spain, but I studied abroad as well and it really changed my life. You get to challenge yourself these four years, so broaden your horizons.

9)      Embrace a professor. One day you’ll need a professor to write a letter of recommendation, so take time to develop a relationship with a professor. That’s important to your future success.

10)  Have fun! Remember that you’re here to get an education to become an engineer, but you’re surrounded by beautiful, brilliant people, so socialize. Don’t forget that. At the same time, you’re an adult—you have to be responsible. Be safe.