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.

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