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.

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


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

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.