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.



Friday, September 7, 2018

Summer Engineering Institute final projects

More than 100 incoming freshman participated in the five-week residential Summer Engineering Instititue at the Jacobs School of Engineering this summer. The students took courses that count toward their degree, received support in transitioning from high school to college-level curriculum, familiarized themselves with the UC San Diego campus, and made friends, all in short order.

The second part of the Institute, run by the IDEA Engineering Student Center, included designing a hands-on final project in teams. The students demonstrated their projects to family, friends and peers at a closing ceremony on Sept. 7.

Here are just a few samples of the projects the incoming freshman students were able to conceptualize, design and build in less than three weeks.







Project: Sleep Apnea Tracker
Team: Clare Zhang, Jane Earley, Aileena Wen, Dora Ogbonne

The sleep apnea tracker uses an accelerometer inside a small case worn around the chest to monitor the user's breathing. If motion exceeds a certain threshold, it registers as breath. If no breath is taken within a 10 second period, the device alarms and buzzes, waking the user and alerting them that they stopped breathing normally.





Project: Directional Sound System
Team: Steven Rojas, Joel Yow, Branson Beihl

Microphones attached to small wrist and back straps monitor noise, and buzz when they register noise over a set level. This lets the user know that they need to pay attention in the direction of the buzz. The system is useful for anyone hard of hearing, or for those listening to music or wearing headphones who may not hear ambient sounds they need to react to.





Project: LED Bed
Team: Jonathan Trang, Matthew Gao, Isabelle Del Rio, Mayci Marquardt, Michelle Singer


The LED Bed is a night light that shines from under the user's bed, triggered by a pressure sensor. Instead of disturbing roommates or children by plugging in and turning on lights, this night light knows when the user is in or out of bed based on weight. It can be timed to go on for a certain number of minutes-- if the user gets up to go to the bathroom at night, for example, it will stay lit for 10 minutes, and automatically turn off after that. A light sensor in the Arduino will shut off the device during the day.





Project: Guitar Tuner
Team: Julianna, Rafael, Jake, Kyra, Eden


The guitar tuner listens for the selected frequency, and LED lights glow the indicated color when the correct frequency is detected.







Project: Iron Man hands-on kit
Team: Samuel Figueroa, Carl Villegas,
Guillermo Nogueira, Daniel Aguirre


These students built two glowing Iron Man hands and a face mask as part of a do-it-yourself kit. The 3D-printed components have accelerometers inside, so the embedded lights glow when the hands or face move. Buttons-- programmable in Python-- allow for different pulses and colors of light to shoot from the hands and eyes. The students created this kit to be a hands-on activity to help children engage with engineering principles.



Project: Anxiety Detector and Reliever
Team: Alex Lazaroiu, Joseph Liu, Marcus Milton, Ryan Wing

This wearable device monitors the user's heart rate, calibrating to his or her average beats per minute. The LED lights glow red if the heartbeat exceeds a certain threshold, since elevated heart rate is one sign of anxiety. The lights on the device then blink in time with a slower breathing pattern-- the user tries to sync their breath with the lights to calm down. The device turns green when they've returned to their normal heart rate.    


Friday, August 31, 2018

COSMOS Week 4: final projects

COSMOS is a four week summer science and engineering program focused on teaching motivated high school students topics rarely seen in high school curriculums. My name is Kritin Karkare and I’m a bioengineering undergraduate student at UC San Diego, a former COSMOS Cluster 8 (Tissue Engineering) alumnus, and current Cluster 7 (Synthetic Biology) teaching assistant.  


For the four weeks of the program, I covered COSMOS life as a teaching assistant through this blog.  In the first post, I covered an introduction to COSMOS and interviewed Dr. Charles Tu, the UC San Diego COSMOS director. In the second I interviewed several students and shared some of my thoughts as a cluster assistant. The third week focused on the professors’ perspectives, and this week I am putting the spotlight back on the students through their final projects. In addition, I have some thoughts on my work in COSMOS. 


Cluster 6 final project:


Project: Volatile Gas Formation in Algae Formation
Members: Ricardo Ozuna, Brian Fang, Rosa Golchin and Bavan Rajan.  


Cluster 10 final project:


Project: Humanoid-Surveillance Robot
Members: Margaret Peterson, Skyler Stetson, Aishwarya Gunaseelan


Afterword: 

For anyone who read through all four articles, thank you! Teaching for COSMOS is one thing,
but writing about it for others to experience is another. I am glad I could provide some insight
about this program through my unique lens. When I first came into COSMOS as a TA last year,
I was frightened; it was my first time helping to teach, and there’s nothing scarier to a new teacher
than being asked a question that you can’t answer! 

Students, and in particular high school students, asked insightful questions outside of lecture
material that often would push me do outside research to find answers. Maybe it was just me,
but I think starting my teaching experience in COSMOS and not in the college classroom was
the best choice. If it weren’t for the students’ smart, novel - sometimes ludicrous - questions,
I’m not sure if I would be as motivated to learn how to teach more effectively.
In his interview, Charles Tu, director of COSMOS at UC San Diego, referenced the sheer
curiosity high school students have compared to college students -  they ask more questions,
and more importantly, more “impossible” questions. From my personal experience in a college
classroom, I believe this as well. The COSMOS students showed me that there’s still this great
potential from curious students like them that just needs to be nurtured with the right environment.
As an example, I think COSMOS’ mix of science communication practice, hands on experience,
mentorship from professors and its commitment to encouraging failure is a paradigm to model -
particularly because I gained an appreciation for the rigor of the scientific method after going
through the lab process. 
Admittedly, this job shows me just how little biology I know, even after studying it for two years.
For their final project, one group asked if it was possible to make glowing yogurt, which made
my head turn. It’s not a scientific inquiry that most people normally ask at the undergraduate level
and above. However, it is the silly, and ultimately ambitious questions like these that drive science
and engineering advancement. Why not be bold? You might fail, but then you have more things to
experiment on, and that’s the beauty of science. The process never fails to entertain the mind of the
curious. 

For these reasons, I’m glad that programs like COSMOS exist in order to let these young minds go wild. It’s not just the exposure to high level content; you can get that online easily without setting foot in a classroom. It’s empowering them with the tools to run their creative experiments, letting them feel disappointed when their hypothesis was wrong, and pushing them to keep going.  
As for me, I also gained something important from the students’ willingness to ask questions: a drive to motivate young scientists to keep asking good questions and to keep them coming fast. 
I want to thank the Jacobs School of Engineering for allowing me write and publish these blog posts. In addition, thank you to COSMOS for giving me the chance to be involved as a participant and teaching assistant, and finally, to Cluster 7 (Synthetic Biology) for the opportunity to be part of their community and engage the next generation in scientific discovery!

P.S. If you’re curious, there’s no consensus on glowing yogurt yet. While it seemed like the yogurt glowed, analysis of the sample a day later showed no glowing. Maybe that’s a final project to investigate next year?

Monday, August 27, 2018

COSMOS Week 3: the professors’ perspectives


COSMOS is a four-week summer science and engineering program focused on teaching motivated high school students topics rarely seen in high school curriculums. My name is Kritin Karkare and I’m a bioengineering undergraduate at UC San Diego, a former COSMOS Cluster 8 (Tissue Engineering) alumnus, and current Cluster 7 (Synthetic Biology) teaching assistant.  

For the four weeks of the program, I covered COSMOS life as a teaching assistant through this blog. In the first post, I provided an introduction to COSMOS and interviewed Charles Tu, UC San Diego COSMOS director. In the second, I interviewed several students and gave some of my thoughts as a cluster assistant. For Week 3 I am highlighting the professors that work to create and teach the COSMOS cluster courses; the three I interviewed are the professors from Cluster 2: Engineering Design and Control of Kinetic Sculptures.

Meet Veronica Eliasson, Associate Professor in the Structural Engineering Department; Raymond de Callafon, Professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Department; and Nathan Delson, Associate Teaching Professor in the MAE Department. Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity.



What is Cluster 2?

Delson: We teach mechanical design and control of kinetic sculptures, so we introduce students to what it’s like to be a mechanical engineer. A key part is that they’re not just doing assignments, but that they’re creating something.  Since students come in with a different range of skills, we start with an individual project. For week 1, students work individually to build a mechanical clock. They choose any shape of clock pendulum that they want, write a clock report, and are able to take it home. In the process of doing that, they learn how to create Computer-Aided Design (CAD) models, which they use to laser cut and to 3D print their clock parts. Students also use our shop facility for drilling, reaming, press fitting, tapping, all the tools they need to use. They simulate their pendulum using a computer program, which is one way engineers use computers. We have a challenge to see who can predict the timing of their clock most accurately. We then transition to a team project. And teamwork can be a hard thing to learn, and Veronica has led a unique teambuilding exercise.  

Eliasson: They have to drop water balloons on a bed of nails and make the water balloons survive from certain heights; they have straws, tape, and a few other parts they can use for packaging. We use high-speed cameras so students can see how the balloons pop or survive. Each individual creates design concepts on their own over the weekend, then they form teams and create a risk chart and determine what to do. Then the team builds their devices and perform drops increasing in two-foot increments.

Delson: A lot of people have done a similar project but with an egg—but the problem with egg drops is that you get one egg, drop it off, and see if it survives or not. For some people it survives, some people it doesn’t. But even the people whose egg survives don’t know why it survives. There’s no data collection. It’s not like the teacher gives you two dozen eggs to keep on iterating and learning. Water balloons allow students to learn the scientific method: you try something, you observe, you adapt. By bringing in these high-end, high-speed cameras and using water balloons, you can do this experiment again and again and again. We change it into a recursive process and teach them about the design process.


Has the cluster gone on any field trips?

De Callafon: We did an off-campus tour of Solar Turbines, but in addition this year we added tours of labs at UC San Diego. We toured research labs at UC San Diego so the students get to see what actually goes on there. For instance I talk to them about controls, so I took them to the controls laboratory where both mechanical and aerospace students perform experiments in control. In addition, we showed them the wind tunnel, water channel, materials testing experiments used in senior year.

Eliasson: We took them to three different labs in the structural engineering department, two of them with more dynamic experiments. So it connects to the mechanical engineering concepts. But then also the really big labs that we have here at UC San Diego like the seismic research labs. Students get to wear hard hats and walk around. I heard them comment afterwards ‘I had no idea structural engineering could be so interesting!’

De Callafon: But that’s exactly why we do this. We want them to see what’s going on. I noticed in previous years that we didn’t do that, so I wanted to do that this year— take them into the lab and see what we’re doing and what they will be working on as students at UCSD. 


How did you get involved with COSMOS?


De Callafon: Nate pulled me into this 13 years ago and I have enjoyed it ever since. On a personal note, no one in my family went to college. I was the first one, and I noticed that it was very hard for me to get into college. I didn’t have the references or have anyone motivating me. It would have been nice if there was someone I could have looked up to. That’s why I love doing this. Maybe there are several kids who might really benefit from this program—that makes all the work worth it. I love the fact that we mix kids from really good schools and kids who have a lot of potential from not so good schools.


What are your favorite parts of teaching high school students?


Eliasson: Their curiosity. They have really good imaginations. They come up with crazy ideas.

It’s really interesting to see how the students come up with their projects and how they incorporate them with their printed parts or their CAD parts along with the parts we’ve given them and try to make them. They’re all laughing because they don’t know if it works. You can feel the tension, like the excitement. I think that’s really unique.



Delson Another thing that I really like is that the students are doing stuff above and beyond. First of all, nobody’s doing it for a grade. You give them an assignment with X, Y and Z criteria, and somebody tries to do a little bit extra. That’s what we want to encourage in people, and that’s being self-driven. We’ve been engraved since kindergarten through high school and beyond that teachers are telling you to do this to get this grade—it’s not about exploring things you’re interested in. So if you remove the grades the kids start becoming more curious.

De Callafon: When I started studying I had no idea what to do. I wanted to do so many different types of engineering. I did electrical for two years, was disappointed by it and went on to study mechanical engineering. I remember there were one or two professors that inspired me to do that. I hope to play that role too for our students. The other thing I enjoy is that I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses. I do consulting, I teach professionals. And it’s nice to add to my teaching that I teach high school students—it’s adding to the whole range of teaching I get to do. You learn that teaching is about targeting different audiences. It’s a good reality check for yourself and hopefully an inspiration for others.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Clip from NanoXpo 2018: Rory Runser

Rory Runser, a grad student in Prof. Darren Lipomi's lab, is developing a stretchable, flexible solar tarp. His approach involves coating flexible plastic substrates with electronic materials called semiconducting polymers.

Runser describes his project in this video, taken at NanoXpo 2018 this past May:


Poster title: "Interfacial drawing of ultra-thin polymer films for solar tarps"

NanoXpo is an annual event held by the Graduate Society of Nanoengineers to showcase graduate research in the UC San Diego Department of NanoEngineering.

Monday, July 30, 2018

COSMOS Week 2: Tissue engineering, synthetic biology and science communication


By Kritin Karkare

COSMOS students use electrical circuits to model genetic mechanisms in biological systems.
COSMOS, the California State Summer School for Math and Science, is a four-week summer science and engineering program focused on teaching motivated high school students topics rarely seen in high school curriculums. My name is Kritin Karkare and I’m a bioengineering undergraduate at UC San Diego, COSMOS Cluster 8 alumnus, and current Cluster 7 teaching assistant. For the four weeks of the program, I’ll be covering COSMOS life as a teaching assistant through this blog. In the first post, I provided an introduction to COSMOS and interviewed Charles Tu, the UC San Diego COSMOS director.

Week 2 of COSMOS is wrapped up, and this week I am joined by two students from clusters 7 and 8: Synthetic Biology, and Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, respectively. Read on for their thoughts on the program, and my experience so far as a cluster assistant!

The following are interviews with Joyita Bhattacharjee from Cluster 8: Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, and Lea Twicken and Julia Picker from Cluster 7: Synthetic Biology.

Why did you choose your cluster?
Joyita: I chose the cluster because I was very interested in biology. I'm very interested in regenerative medicine because that's a huge field right now and a lot of people are in need of it because of sports injuries, etc.
Lea: I went to a talk by J. Craig Venter, a synthetic biologist famous for sequencing the human genome and creating synthetic bacterial DNA. He came to a school in our district. My science teacher also suggested I check out summer science stuff so I looked into it.
Julia: My aunt sent me a link to COSMOS. I saw synthetic biology and thought it would be perfect because my friend and I were working on this club in school for genetic engineering and medicineI really wanted to learn about this stuff since it sounded like something fun to do.
Cluster 7 students visit the J. Craig Venter Institute to hear about synthetic biology research.

What have you worked on so far, and what is your final project?
Joyita: So far we've learned culturing, making dilution basic laboratory procedures. My project is seeing if inserting an extracellular matrix (ECM) prevents cells from dying due to hydrogen peroxide damage.

How did you get interested in biology?
Lea: When I was in middle school I thought I hated biology. I had a really bad biology teacher in 7th grade that made it all about memorization. I thought I really liked physics since my dad did physics. We had a required science fair project every year, and every single year, I ended up doing a biology topic-- I thought it was interesting. By eighth grade I did this project where I grew bacteria in my kitchen. Growing it in the kitchen was a terrible idea, but I was like that seems really cool.  
Julia: For me it's a funny story. In middle school we did Punnett squares. We did a lab where you have to make a baby with your partner. You have a bag of genes and then you combine them together and then draw it. This genetics unit made me like biology.  I could get a sense for why I am the way I am with biology, or maybe it was my vain middle school foolishness.


Any favorite memories so far?
Joyita: Recently we went on a field trip to BioMatrix and they showed us a bio printer. I thought that was pretty cool because we saw the bio printer print out a scaffold just using cartilage. 
  

What do you like about your cluster?
Joyita: Everything is very hands on and the stuff we learn is very high level, so I feel like it's a very good bonding ground  because everyone has to work together to get the homework done or explain the concepts to each other. It's definitely a good learning experience.

Cluster Assistant Thoughts

This is my second year helping with Cluster 7, and do you know what the hardest thing for me still is? Science communication! For those of you in outreach, you know that translating dense college research into sizeable chunks for high school, middle school, and elementary school students is hard. I’ve tried explaining my own major bioinformatics to elementary school students, and I struggle figuring out how to talk about coding and biology without producing confused looks on their faces within thirty seconds.  
The same line of thinking applies to COSMOS. In our Synthetic Biology cluster, many students have only taken one year of high school biology, yet through the program we need to expose them to electrical circuit design, recombinant DNA techniques, and more. My role as a TA is to translate the research-heavy facts into topics the students can explore and learn more about.
Cluster 7 students prepare an agarose gel electrophoresis to determine fragment sizes of DNA.
Motivating students to ask their own open-ended questions is my favorite part of outreach. Their eyes light up when they get the chance to design their own experiment; sometimes it requires push and shove to get them to think of multiple hypotheses and potential outcomes but the effort is worth it, especially at the end when they can call their completed projects their own.  

An integral part of the COSMOS curriculum is science communication. It is a skill relatively unseen in high school (and undergraduate!) curriculums and for the students to practice it now, will be a boon to their future as potential scientists and engineers. During weeks 1 and 2, they wrote essays on different ethical considerations for synthetic biology applications, such as bioterrorism, designer babies, GMOs and more. In addition, teams start preparing their projects to present the final two days of COSMOS. It is exciting that in just four weeks, they get so much exposure and a glimpse of the work that researchers do on a daily basis.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Clip from NanoXpo 2018: Yao Jiang

Yao Jiang, a grad student in Prof. Liangfang Zhang’s lab, is making nanoparticles that can “train the immune system to fight cancer.” These nanoparticles are coated in the membranes of cancer cells and have shown promise in mice.

Jiang describes her project in this video, taken at NanoXpo 2018 this past May:



Poster title: "Cancer cell membrane-coated nanoparticles for anticancer vaccination"

NanoXpo is an annual event held by the Graduate Society of Nanoengineers to showcase graduate research in the UC San Diego Department of NanoEngineering.

Friday, July 20, 2018

COSMOS 2018: Week 1


Kritin Karkare, a UC San Diego
bioengineering student, COSMOS TA
and former COSMOS student.
Welcome to the summer 2018 edition of COSMOS, the California State Summer School for Math and Science. I'm Kritin Karkare, a bioengineering undergraduate student here at the Jacobs School of Engineering, and a COSMOS teaching assistant this summer. Over the next four weeks of the program, I'll be giving an inside look at COSMOS, a summer science and engineering high school program that is spread across four of the University of California campuses: UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside and UC Davis. I participated in COSMOS as a high school student, and this summer I'm working as a teaching assistant in a cluster focused on synthetic biology. I'll be sharing my experiences, as well as interviewing students and professors to give more insight into the program. As a COSMOS 2014 alumnus, I was part of Cluster 8: Tissue Engineering, and I largely credit this program with motivating me to pursue bioengineering my freshman year at UC San Diego.

COSMOS is organized into clusters, which focus on fields that are largely unexplored in great detail in typical high school curriculums: earthquake engineering, synthetic biology, biodiesel fuel engineering and more. Students focus on one cluster during COSMOS. Aside from lecture and lab time, students go on field trips to places related to their field; last summer, Cluster 7 (Synthetic Biology) visited Illumina, the pioneering genome sequencing company, and Cluster 3 (Living Oceans and Global Climate Change) visited the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Students also practice their science communication skillssomething not typically taught in high schools—by learning how to write a technical report and an ethics essay that is submitted to the COSMOS Ethics Science and Technology Contest. In the last two weeks, students produce a final project to showcase the knowledge they have learned and present it to parents, professors and peers.

Charles Tu, UC San Diego COSMOS program director
The following is an interview with Professor Charles Tu, UC San Diego COSMOS Program Director and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Emeritus. At UC San Diego, COSMOS is run by the Jacobs School of Engineering. The responses have been lightly edited for clarity.


How did you get involved with COSMOS?
About 12 years ago, I was associate dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering. There were three COSMOS faculty directors in different departments: one in biology, one in chemical engineering, and one in engineering. The program was run out of the School of Engineering from the Dean's office, and I was assigned to be in charge. Little did I know it would become a very important part of my life at UC San Diego.

What do you do for COSMOS outside of the summer program itself?
As director, during the school year I try to interact with other directors of COSMOS because there are three other sites: Davis, Santa Cruz and Irvine. I also talk to faculty who might be interested in starting new clusters here at UC San Diego. If instructors take a sabbatical for a year or have to take a break for other reasons, it is up to me to find an instructor for that cluster. I also try to expand to more clusters to improve the program for students. This year we had 800 applicants but can only accept 200 since we’re limited by budget and the number of beds in the dorm. Twelve years ago, we only had seven clusters, and now we have 10. I’m always looking for ways to expand student access to the program to meet that need.

What have been some of your favorite memories from COSMOS?
These usually come from the students themselves. For example, I see students maybe a block or a building away waving at me saying ‘Good morning, Dr. Tu’.  That makes me feel very good. I scuba dive regularly, and one time I didn't know that the students were at La Jolla Shores. I went diving, and when I came out I saw the COSMOS students there and we had fun talking in a different environment. So that was a great opportune moment.

What takeaways should students get from COSMOS?
One important takeaway is teamwork, because here we emphasize team projects. In real life projects are very complex and require multi-disciplinary teams of people.

What have been some of your favorite team projects?
COSMOS students learn about biodiesel from renewable sources
I remember a Cluster 1 team project developed a robot that had an arm that picked up trash, like crumpled up paper. Then the arm would pick it up and move it to a trash can. In Cluster 4 we have students who build structures with glue, sugar or some sticks and then put them on a shake table so they shake and fall apart, then have them build a similar one with reinforcement. In my own cluster 5 I was impressed with a couple of students who proposed their own projects, since we usually suggest projects for students to work on, though students can propose their own. One thing a group proposed and actually did was build a laser keyboard, which was a very impressive project.

What would you say is your favorite part of COSMOS?
My favorite part would be the students, especially meeting with them. Another favorite part is actually teaching COSMOS students, who are eager to learn and all very good students.  They ask great questions! Yesterday, the Discovery Lecture speaker told me at the end that all the COSMOS students asked more questions than the students in her class. I think that's my favorite part is that there's more interaction. It's good to know that the students are curious.

Anything for the students to look forward to in COSMOS?
They should look forward to finishing their project. The projects are open ended so they need to work hard to the very end. With projects it's always amazing to see the difference between the initial concept and the end product. You don't know what's going to happen since there are obstacles. Students get to feel this sense of achievement and accomplishment. I don't think they will look forward to departing at the end from their friends.

Favorite subject in high school?
My favorite subject in high school was math. I liked to solve puzzles.        

How did you get interested in science and engineering?
I grew up in Taiwan and moved to this country in Grade 10, but my English was not very good. I could not study biology since the names were so long and hard to pronounce. Math was a universal language and much easier for me, and physics used a lot of math.

What about electrical engineering? You're now in EE.
I did my Ph.D. in applied science. Then I was hired by ATT/ Bell Labs. I was doing something called service science and used a technique called spectroscopy to measure the property of metal surfaces and used similar techniques to study semiconductors and the surface of devices. Then I was hired into Bell Labs and was assigned to take over a lab which grows semi-conductors in thin films and transistors. At that time, transistors was electrical engineering. I was in a very good position in the company and well supported. However, my company wanted to move my department from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to be close to the factory. I thought if I have to move, I might as well look around. So I ended up here at UC San Diego.

Do you find that you like research better than industry?
I find that I made the right decision to come to academia. We are a research university and we have to get grants to hire graduate students. Each professor is an entrepreneurwe are basically a small company. I'm always interacting with bright Ph.D. students, so I learn a lot from my students. Research is generating new knowledge. Through this interaction with students it enriches my life. I think that I made the right choice.

Tissue engineering at UC San Diego: a summer to remember


This summer, there is a group of about 20 high school students who are immersed in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine at UC San Diego. The students are part of the state-wide COSMOS program, which is a four-week, sleep-in-the-dorms, engineering-science-and-technology camp for high school students.

COSMOS stands for California State Summer School in Mathematics and Science, and at UC San Diego, COSMOS is run by the Jacobs School of Engineering. COSMOS students attend clusters – like tissue engineering and regenerative medicine – that are designed to introduce students to STEM subjects not traditionally offered in high school.

UC San Diego COSMOS Cluster 8 on a field trip to Advanced BioMatrix in July 2018.

In addition to getting a crash course on the foundations of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, this lucky group is also learning to use some of the latest tools and techniques of the trade.

As a part of their learning, the students got to spend a day at Advanced BioMatrix, which is a San Diego company that is working and developing new products in this area. The students got to see first-hand cutting edge 3D bioprinting (for printing living tissues and potentially organs), 3D cell culture, and tissue engineering. This is the third year COSMOS students have taken a field trip to Advanced BioMatrix.

In the second half of their COSMOS month, the students will get to work on teams in a real research project. They’ll get to experience what it’s like to brainstorm about research questions, approaches and hypotheses. They’ll then design and conduct experiments, analyze results, and create and deliver presentations in paper, oral, and poster forms.

Advanced BioMatrix donated collagen products that the students use in their own 3D cell culture projects as part of the COSMOS program.

“We are extremely impressed by the caliber of students in the COSMOS program. They ask high level questions, far above their grade. You can see that they truly want to learn,” said David Bagley, President, Advanced BioMatrix.

Advanced MioMatrix posted this photo in this post on their own LinkedIn feed.

Cluster 8 which is Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine. It’s co-taught by Roberto Gaetani and Robert Sah. Robert Gaetani is a Research Scientist, Department of Bioengineering at UC San Diego and the  Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine; and Robert Sah is a professor of bioengineering and orthopedic surgery at UC San Diego. The bioengineering department at the Jacobs School of Engineering is consistently ranked among the top 2 or 3 in the nation, according to the US News rankings of bioengineering graduate programs.

Last summer, Cluster 8 was featured in a story in the San Diego Union Tribune: "High school students explore tissue engineering at UCSD."

Learn more about the COSMOS UC San Diego program here. Each year, COSMOS applications are accepted during the month of January for the upcoming summer.