Monday, April 20, 2020

Jessica Sandoval: graduate student, ROV pilot, researcher

Filming: Erin Ranney. Editing: Daniel Sosa-Cobo

When Jessica Sandoval isn’t building robot components and microplastic detectors at the University of California San Diego, she drives a remotely operated underwater vehicle for an organization founded by Robert Ballard--the man who discovered the Titanic’s wreck.

This spring, Sandoval was part of a team of scientists working to understand plastic degradation in the ocean whose research was featured in The New York Times. The team of engineers and marine biologists at the UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography is studying how microplastics and microfibers enter and spread in the environment, particularly the ocean. Sandoval developed an instrument called the Automated Microplastics Identifier that gets these microfibers to fluoresce, making it easier to detect them and study them. She also developed software to quantify the amount of plastic in each sample and generate information on the features of the plastics using image recognition.

“It is an exciting first step, using automation technologies to assist with the monitoring of this prevalent marine pollutant,” said Sandoval, who began developing this technology as an undergraduate student at MIT. “With such technologies, we can more easily process samples from across the globe and generate a better understanding of microplastic distribution.”

Sandoval is also a PhD student in the Bioinspired Robotics and Design Lab of Professor Mike Tolley, developing new robotic technologies inspired by insects, animals and nature. In October, she was part of a team that developed a better suction cup inspired by a fish with extraordinary gripping capabilities, called a clingfish. By studying how the clingfish is able to strongly yet gently stick to both smooth and rough surfaces, Sandoval and other engineers in Tolley’s lab were able to develop an innovative suctioncup capable of delicately lifting objects like eggs or shells. Sandoval was the first author of the paper published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

Because she pilots an ROV on the research ship Exploration Vessel Nautilus, she got to test a prototype of her suction cup in the field during one of the ship’s missions. The job is an ideal combination for Sandoval.

“I am fascinated by marine biology and the technology that allows us to observe and measure it,” she said in an interview on the Nautilus’ website. “The ocean provides an imagination’s playground in which there is much to be explored and discovered. This excitement of the not yet known definitely sparked my interest in ocean exploration. That and the incredible plethora of marine biodiversity that exists in our oceans.”

Monday, April 13, 2020

Mechanical engineer recognized by Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

Jorge Cortes, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering has been inducted as a 2020 Fellow by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mechanics.
Cortes is being recognized for contributions to the control and optimization of network systems.

The fellows were nominated for their exemplary research as well as outstanding service to the community. Through their contributions, SIAM Fellows help advance the fields of applied mathematics and computational science.

Cort├ęs' research interests are on distributed coordination algorithms, autonomous robotic networks, adversarial networked systems, mathematical control theory, geometric mechanics and geometric integration. The recent emergence of low-cost, highly-autonomous vehicles with control, communication, sensing, and computing capabilities has paved the way for the deployment of robotic sensor networks in a wide range of applications. Controlled motion coordination of these networks will have far-reaching implications in the monitoring of natural phenomena and the enhancement of human capabilities in hazardous and unknown environments. Motivated by these scenarios, Professor Cortes' research program is developing systematic methodologies to control autonomous, reliable, and adaptive mobile networks capable of operating in unknown and dynamic environments.

Ruth J. Williams, from the UC San Diego Department of Mathematics, is also being recognized for contributions to the study of stochastic processes and their applications.

Full SIAM release here: