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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Eddie Tapia: Graduate Road Map founder

Eddie Tapia is a UC San Diego mathematics- computer science alumnus currently working on dual master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering and technology ventures at Carnegie Mellon University. When he was president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) at UC San Diego, he created the Graduate Road Map (GRM) event to increase the number of underrepresented students applying to graduate school. Here’s why:

“I grew up in a low-income household, so my goal for the longest time was to go work after my bachelor’s degree so I could help provide for my family. As a result, grad school was not in my plans throughout most of my undergraduate career. Yet, through the help of some amazing friends, staff members, and faculty, I learned about the benefits of obtaining an advanced degree and they provided me with the insight I needed to craft a strong application. 

However, not everyone is lucky enough to have the help I had and I noticed that many students, especially underrepresented minorities, were not applying to graduate school because they had a lot of misconceptions about the whole process. I was bothered by this realization so I began to think of ways where I could give students the opportunity to connect with faculty, current graduate students, and university representatives to demystify the graduate school application process. I created GRM to increase the number of underrepresented students applying to graduate school and support students who might otherwise not apply to graduate school.”

This year, SHPE will host GRM on February 9. If you’re not sure if graduate school is a good fit for you, or don’t really know what the application process is like, come learn from the experiences of current graduate students and professors. Thanks to SHPE, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers at UC San Diego for organizing this event. Details here:

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

ARMOR Lab Soft Robotics

Han-Joo Lee, a graduate student in Professor Kenneth Loh's ARMOR Lab, is working on a new way to make soft robots move. The method he's developing uses ultrasonic atomization — similar to how humidifiers work— to get soft, biomimetic tissues to expand and move. The research was published in Soft Materials and Structures on January 19.

Lee's talk about this research at Lab Expo 2019's Graduate Showcase won 2nd place from the judges panel, and third place in the popular vote.