Monday, December 11, 2017

Bioengineering undergraduate wins space scholarship

Kristine Khieu might be studying the spine, but she has her sights set on space.

The fourth year bioengineering undergraduate at UC San Diego was one of six students nationwide selected to receive a prestigious Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scholarship for her research on the effects of a zero-gravity environment on spinal muscles. Khieu was also commended for her science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) outreach efforts.

USRA awards scholarships to undergraduate students who tackle challenging scientific questions in the areas of space research and exploration, particularly astrophysics and astronomy, and create technologies and solutions that positively affect people’s lives.

“My primary research interest is in astronaut physiology—how our bodies change in space,” said Khieu, who works in Alan Hargens’ Clinical Physiology Lab at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. “I actually traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and got to help test some astronaut subjects.”

Khieu plans to apply to medical school, but said having an engineering background will prove useful in the medical field and beyond.

 “I love my education through bioengineering— especially through the lens of medicine— because I think most doctors don’t have that kind of engineering perspective and it’s such an advantage to have a different way of thinking to approach medicine,” she said. “I have a dream of becoming a flight surgeon—basically the doctor for astronauts—because they mesh engineering and medicine. They not only study the human body in space or in extreme environments, but they also study the engineering behind devices that keep these people alive.”

Outside of classwork and lab work, Khieu finds time to serve as president of the Tritons for Sally Ride Science club at UC San Diego, focused on STEAM outreach to engage the next generation of innovators.

“Sally Ride was the first female American astronaut, taught physics at UC San Diego and is someone I looked up to even before coming here,” Khieu said. “This foundation was started by her. She was such a role model for young girls while she was alive, and even to this day. My work is to help continue that legacy.”

Khieu was awarded the Frederick Tarantino Memorial Scholarship Award, a $4,000 scholarship in memory of Tarantino, a former USRA president and CEO. 

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