(STEM)2 Fall Research Symposium Showcases Student Research, Astrophysicist

Cypress College’s (STEM)2 program hosted its sixth annual Fall Research Symposium on Friday, November 17. The event, which was held at the Old Ranch Country Club in Seal Beach, featured a student summer research showcase and guest speaker Dr. Farisa Morales, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Farisa Morales, Ph.D., Astrophysicist, CSUN/Moorpark College Professor

A professor at UCLA asked his physics class if anyone was interested in applying for a summer internship at JPL. Then-student-turned Jet Propulsion Laboratory astrophysicist Farisa Morales raised her hand. “What is JPL,” she asked.

Her question answered, the math major thought the physics internship sounded interesting, and applied. Once hired, she worked on the Rover mission and was later offered a part-time job checking coordinates. The experience led her to change her major to astrophysics, and she ended up receiving a masters in physics and then a Ph.D. Her experiences – and the professors and employers along the way – shaped her path to becoming a full-time employee working on robotics space exploration at JPL and a professor at California State University, Northridge and Moorpark College.

“You don’t do this by yourself,” she told the (STEM)2 students. “There’s always people around you helping you along the way.”

Morales advised of the importance of having more than one mentor and of not giving up. The hardest moment in her academic career, she said, was when she failed her Ph.D. candidacy attempt. Though devastated that she had invested so much, she decided to study what she failed and take the exam again. As it turned out, none of what she studied was on the exam the second time around, but she was triumphant.

Morales said she enjoyed every step of her education from community college through USC and advised the (STEM)2 students to do the same.

Student Summer Research Showcases

Eight (STEM)2 students enthusiastically spoke on a panel at the symposium during which they discussed their research experiences. They all clearly enjoyed their education and experiences, and were pleased to share their knowledge with fellow STEM students. Here are some highlights.

Luis Ramirez, Mechanical Engineering

Ramirez conducted his summer research at University of California, San Diego as part of the university’s Summer Training Academy for Research Success (STARS). Under the supervision of Professor Michael T. Tolley, Ramirez worked in the Bioinspired Robotics and Design Lab, where he was “involved in creating a soft robotic fish.

“I was specifically responsible for using computer-aided design programs to design semi-rigid, flexible, 3D-printed spinal columns that we would attach artificial muscles to in order to replicate natural movements in specific marine life,” he said.

Of the experience, Ramirez added that he became “a more rounded student who knows exactly what field of engineering I want to apply myself to. Additionally, I now have a stronger resume that makes me a more competitive applicant for future research opportunities in well-renowned universities as well as internships in the field of industry.”

Brooke Blandino, Environmental Science

Blandino studied fertility rates of the parasitoid Tamarixia radiata and the potential biological significance in reducing Huanglongbing (greening citrus disease) at Cal Poly Pomona. For her, the summer research opportunity “created connections with staff at Cal Poly Pomona, enhanced my experience in the entomology/environmental science field as an undergraduate student, and motivated me to continue my education with an environmental science major.”

She added, “This created a positive impact because I am now applying to research experiences for this coming summer and will be transferring with completed research experience.”

Bryan Igboke, Civil Engineering

Like Ramirez, Igboke was also part of the STARS program. Igboke’s research involved identifying the components aiding in the bioluminescence of organisms — such as jellyfish, bacteria, and fungi — that are used in a wide set of practical applications today, from biomarkers to bioluminescent imaging to locate tumors.

Igboke admitted that being offered a summer research program that was not related to his major was a “little bit of a shock.” He assumed he would get engineering. When he learned he got biology, he was at first “salty”; however, after going through the program, he says it was worth the time and he would do it again.

Dei Gomez, Applied Mathematics

At California State University, Fullerton, Gomez “examined the Van der Pol (VDP) equation and its applications to biological oscillations.

“We used the VDP equation to model the left and right ventricle action potential duration (APD) and the action recovery intervals (ARI) of the heart from previously published experimental findings,” she said. “The computational analysis was accomplished by examining both the linear and nonlinear cases of the VDP equation. Analyzing the linear case allowed us to predict the behavior of the solutions based off different initial conditions and parameters. The nonlinear analysis was used to fit more realistic changes in the dynamics of the APD oscillation amplitude. We found that the APD and ARI ventricular oscillations were approximately modeled with the VDP equation.”

Ricky Kim, Computer Science

Kim went to Cal Poly Pomona for his summer research. It was there that he studied facial privacy and the function of blurring upon face recognition from smartphones using IoT technology such as Hexiware.

For Kim, taking on this research was scary. He was worried that others would see he didn’t know what he was doing, he said during the panel session. However, he enjoyed the experience and wishes it had been longer.

Aliyah Clayton, Computer Science

Clayton, who was also part of the STARS program, worked on a project there called Gut Instinct: Discovering Scientists for Accelerating Microbiome Research. The research looked at the role of microbial communities in our bodies and how they influence our health. Similarly to Igboke, Clayton’s research program was not directly related to her major.

“Although I’m a computer science major, my internship consisted of me making tutorial videos to improve public engagement with scientific websites… Besides making three different tutorial videos for Gut Instinct, I also had the opportunity to design my personal webpage, learned how to construct a scientific abstract, and received insight on how graduate school is like at UC San Diego.”

Clayton added that the experience was not without its challenges.

“The most challenging aspect I faced during my time there was figuring out exactly how to create these videos and design my webpage without guidance. Even though I was assigned to Professor Scott Klemmer as my PI, I worked every day with third-year Ph.D. student Vineet Pandey. Vineet provided guidance only when I asked, leaving me to explore whatever pathway I wanted to attain the desired product, which proved to be a refreshing challenge.”

Despite the challenges, Clayton felt that “this was an amazing first summer internship experience.”

She continued, “The thing I am most appreciative of is how this opportunity broadened my perspective. I have been so tunnel-visioned on the classes I need to take at Cypress and which UC campuses I want to apply to that I never thought about graduate school and never bothered being very social, making a change at Cypress’s campus and other opportunities around me. This internship made me realize just how big the world is. I met people I never thought I would meet from places I never recognized, such as a woman from Howard University, another from William and Mary College, and a gentleman from Rwanda, Africa. In all, the people and the relationships I established with those people are what made the internship experience worthwhile.”

The (STEM)2 program at Cypress College provides numerous opportunities to students interested in and committed to studying in the STEM fields. The program has grown to more than 300 students under the direction of Program Director Yanet Garcia. For more information, please visit the (STEM)2 website.

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