Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math


Biological Sciences


Characterization of Interleukin-17 in Botryllus schlosseri: The Driver of the Innate Immune Response

Soham Ray

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Anthony De Tomaso

My name is Soham Ray and I am double majoring in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry and Environmental Studies. I have been an undergraduate researcher in Anthony De Tomaso’s Lab for three years studying phagocytes and the role they play in vascular remodeling and the function of immune cells in the model system Botryllus schlosseri. My interests lie in how biochemical applications can be used to solve environmental issues. I hope to continue my research in graduate school by studying different methods of environmental solutions and how they may be integrated to combat climate change and its effects. When I am not in school or at the lab, I love hiking locally in Santa Barbara, learning how to cook new foods, and playing basketball with my friends!

Invertebrates are strong candidates to study the innate immune response in comparison to higher-order vertebrates. Until now, interleukin-related genes have not been identified in Botryllus schlosseri. Transcriptome data reveals that Botryllus uniquely possesses only one family of pro-inflammatory cytokines– interleukin-17. Interleukin-17 has been recognized to have a role in innate immunity against infections and chronic inflammatory diseases in other model organisms. This study analyzed the evolution and diversity of IL-17 ligands and receptors (IL-17 and IL-17R) in Botryllus and throughout other invertebrates and higher order vertebrates. Using a comparative genomics approach, we mapped the position and direction of unique IL-17/17R transcripts to their corresponding genomic scaffold. Analyzing transcriptome differential expression we then compared normal expression of IL-17/17R during Botryllus’s blastogenetic cycle, and juxtaposed it with infected conditions. Additionally, Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridizations (FISH) allowed us to visualize IL-17R localization in Botryllus to understand their behavior before they recruit the interleukin-17 ligand. This localization gives insight into what cells the receptors may reside on. Characterization of interleukin-17 in Botryllus schlosseri will help elucidate the molecular mechanisms of self/non-self recognition (allorecognition) in this model organism. Further studies on the downstream signal pathways of interleukin-17 should be conducted to gain better insight into other biological roles the receptor and cytokine participate in.


Selective Elimination in Cells with Mitochondrial DNA Damage Using C.elegans as a Mode

Abhayjit Saini

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joel Rothman and Dr. Pradeep Joshi

I am a fourth year Cell and Developmental Biology major. I was born and brought up in Punjab, India and am a first generational immigrant. I am interested in stem cell biology, cancer biology and regenerative medicine. In the future I wish to help develop treatment therapies for cancer and develop ethical techniques for organ harvesting and regeneration.

Mitochondria is a special organelle since it is the only one that carries its own DNA. Its maternal pattern of inheritance also makes it distinct. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replication occurs with less fidelity than nuclear DNA hence there must exist mechanisms to ensure that mutant mtDNA is selectively eliminated. From previous research it is indicated that this mechanism could be using parts of the PCD pathway[1]. We tested the hypothesis that Mitochondrial stress due to uadf5 mutation results in elevation of germline programmed cell death.We compared the extent of cell death in two different backgrounds using a fluorescent cell death marker- ced-1. We found that mitochondrial stress causes and increase in cell death in the c elegans germline and contributes to the overall deterioration of germline and worm health.


Identifying a Sea Urchin Gamete Fusion Protein

Ruchira Krishnamurthy

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kathy Foltz

My name is Ruchira, I am a fourth year Biological Sciences major. I am an undergraduate researcher in the labs of Kathy Foltz and Joel Rothman, where I study purple sea urchins and C. elegans respectively. I am interested in quantitative biology, genetics, and cancer biology. After graduating from UCSB, I plan to work in the biotechnology industry and eventually pursue graduate school. In my free time, I love going for walks on the beach and baking! 

How gametes (sperm and egg) fuse at fertilization is not well understood. Recently, a “HAP2” protein was found to play a role in plant fertilization and is predicted to be present across the majority of eukaryotic organisms. However, the gamete fusogenic proteins lack sequence homology, making it difficult to identify them. Thus, I am implementing structurally-based bioinformatics techniques to search for a HAP2 -like fusogenic protein in a well characterized model system for fertilization, the sea urchin, which has implications regarding gamete fusion in mammals, including humans.

Exploring the Relationship Between Bisexuality & Masculinity

Isabel Sobrepera

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Tamsin German & Selina Mixner

I am a Psychological & Brain Sciences major with a minor in Applied Psychology. I am passionate about understanding how the human mind works, specifically how LGBTQIA+ people experience the world. I am also interested in how mental illness impacts adolescents, and how to better assist those struggling with mental illness.

​​The purpose of this project is to examine if and how code-switching occurs in bisexual men when they are primed with different environments. I plan to focus on bisexual men ages 18-30 using Prolific to recruit participants. They will be primed with environments that have varying levels of femininity and masculinity to see if their views on their own masculinity are altered. To implicitly prime participants I will be using different sentence unscrambling tasks for each of the three conditions: feminine, masculine, and neutral. In order to measure their responses I will utilize a masculinity scale I created which takes questions from Malahik et. al’s (2003) Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory in addition to what I believe best exemplifies attitudes or actions reflecting masculinity. This study will compare participants’ results from the first half of the masculinity scale to their results from the second half. I expect to see that bisexual mens’ opinions on their own masculinity change in accordance with the level of masculinity present in the environment they are primed with. My goal is to gain a better understanding of how the perceived acceptance or lack of acceptance of bisexual men plays a role in how they view masculinity.

Kids in Nutrition: Evaluating the Efficacy of a Nutrition Program in First and Second Graders

Caroline Gee

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Tarek Azzam

For the past four years, Caroline has been volunteering with Kids In Nutrition (KIN), a nonprofit organization that mobilizes UCSB students to teach local 1st/2nd graders about nutrition and healthy living. She worked with Naomi Dougherty and Jack Snyder, fellow KIN volunteers, to study the efficacy of the program in this current study, evaluating students’ nutrition knowledge and dietary choices before and after participation in the 6-week KIN program. Caroline hopes to build off of this research to further improve KIN’s curriculum and community impact.

Kids in Nutrition (KIN) encourages 1st and 2nd graders to lead healthier lives through interactive nutrition lessons taught by student volunteers that discuss the benefits of healthy eating. This study sought to determine if the curriculum effectively improved 1st and 2nd graders’ nutrition knowledge and increased their likelihood of opting for healthier dietary choices. Assessments were given before and after the program, and retention of nutrition knowledge was examined. Students who participated in KIN showed significantly greater improvements in both nutrition knowledge and dietary choices when compared with controls, suggesting the KIN curriculum is effective.

Biochemical characterization of a novel luciferase from a bioluminescent ostracod crustacean

Vannie Liu

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Emily Lau & Arnab Mukherjee

Vannie Liu is a third-year Pharmacology student and undergraduate researcher in Mukherjee’s ChemE lab group. They study the bioluminescence of a variety of marine organisms (including brittle stars, ostracods and pyrosomes) in hopes of expanding the repertoire of optical reporters used in BLI. Some of their academic interests include studying protein dynamics, oncogenetics, and spatial design.

Bioluminescence imaging (BLI) is a technology for visualizing biological processes in intact cells, organs, and animals by using enzymes called luciferases to produce light. However, the expansion of BLI to probe biological systems is hampered by the scarcity of well-characterized luciferases despite the prediction of several naturally-occurring luciferases. My project hopes to address this challenge by discovering new luciferases from bioluminescent marine organisms, characterizing their biochemical properties, and assessing their viability as optical reporters in mammalian cells. The proposed work enables interrogation of cellular behaviors in health and disease states as well as inspire discoveries of new and improved luciferases.

Photo acclimation of the mixotrophic nanoflagellate Ochromonas

Gina Barbaglia

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Holly Moeller

Hello! My name is Gina, I am a third year biology major at UCSB. I have been working with the Moeller Lab for about a year now, where I study plankton under different climate change conditions. My current focus is on the species Ochromonas, and how their energy systems change with light. Outside of the lab, I enjoy practicing yoga and surfing!

As human activity rapidly alters Earth’s climate, we need to understand how living organisms will respond to warmer temperatures and more acidic oceans. Understanding the response of marine microbes is particularly important because these organisms play a critical role in biogeochemical cycling and creating the food source for higher trophic levels. For example, mixotrophic nanoflagellates have the ability to gain energy through photosynthesis and heterotrophy, which means that they can act as carbon sinks (via photosynthesis) or carbon sources (via heterotrophy) depending upon environmental conditions. The purpose of this project is to understand how strains of the mixotrophic nanoflagellate Ochromonas adjust their investment in photosynthesis and heterotrophy in response to light and prey availability. I have tested the hypotheses that (1) Ochromonas will exhibit a range of photo acclimation responses depending on prey availability, and (2) Ochromonas strains will rely more on photosynthesis than heterotrophy as light level increases, through analysis of growth rates, grazing rates, photosynthetic rates, and carbon to nitrogen ratios. This research has developed my understanding of how the plasticity of mixotrophs ultimately affects large-scale ecological processes.

Olfactory Virtual Reality Simulations on Drosophila Larva Indicate that Attraction and Aversion are Not Opposite Behaviors

Ethan Chivi

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Matthieu Louis

Hello everybody! My name is Ethan and I am a 4th-year pursuing a BS in Microbiology with a minor in Science and Math Education. I am particularly interested in evolutionary biology, genetics, and the pathogenesis. After graduating, I plan on taking a gap year to work as a public health microbiologist and later continuing my studies in either a graduate or professional school. I love playing strategy-based video games and tabletop games because I can incorporate ideas from game theory!

Third-instar Drosophila melanogaster larva are model organisms for studying olfaction-induced behavioral activity. The behavior of positive chemotaxis or attraction from the activation of odorant receptors such as Or42a are well characterized through extensive prior research. However, the behavior from the activation of aversive odorant receptors like Or49a are not well understood. To characterize aversion and to test whether aversion and attraction have equal and opposite behaviors, I utilized the PiVR tracking system to simulate several odor conditions by applying light gradients on optogenetically modified third-instar larva. I have concluded that the characteristics of aversive behavior are not directly opposing the characteristics of attractive behavior through the analysis and comparison of turn rate modulation, trajectories, and preference indexes between Or42a and Or49a light-sensitive larva.



Improving Critical Thinking in Middle School Students During Covid

Briana Armas

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Norbert Reich


The purpose of this investigation was to test effectiveness of SciTrek modules in improving critical thinking skills in middle school students. Critical thinking is an essential skill for middle school students, as outlined in Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but teaching these skills is a challenge. Modules and assessments were developed and delivered to private middle school students in Santa Barbara to test the effectiveness of these modules in improving critical thinking skills. There was an overall improvement in assessment performance, with a significant effect on two areas of science and engineering practices (SEPs).


Does The SCITREK Program Improve Critical Thinking in Middle School Hispanic Students

Eli Briones-Colman

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Norbert Reich

My name is Eli Briones-Colman, I'm a second year Pre-Biology major from southern California. I got involved with Scitrek my freshman year as a volunteer for one of their modules. I really enjoyed my time as a volunteer and when I learned about their research group I knew it was something I was interested in. That gave me the opportunity to conduct this research project.

The purpose of this study is to design and conduct an accurate assessment of critical thinking, for seventh-grade students. These assessments will be used to measure the effectiveness of Scitrek modules in improving the critical thinking skills of hispanic students. In our research project, we’ll create a module designed to increase critical thinking skills in middle school students. We’ll develop a pre and post assessment that measures critical thinking. Our goal is to determine what effect Scitrek has on the critical thinking skills of middle school hispanic students. Along the way we hope to learn how to create and conduct a research project. We concluded that Scitrek was able to improve the critical thinking skills of hispanic students over the course of a module.

Are Mussels and Legumes Really Odd Bedfellows? Cross-linking Biochemical Concepts Between Mussel Foot Proteins and Proline-Rich Proteins

Maria Wangamez

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ruth Finkelstein

Maria is a fourth year Biological Sciences major with a special interest in sustainable biomimetic innovation, and is hoping to work in the field of women’s reproductive medicine as an OB-GYN while engineering biomaterials tailored to the female body. She also has a passion for mentoring, tutoring, and enacting positive change in the education system.

Marine mussels contain unique proteins that provide incredible elastic and load-bearing properties in hydrous environments, allowing them to remain adhered in tumultuous intertidal zone habitats. This project’s overarching goal is to create a physicochemical mimic of one such protein by inducing the expression of, and then modifying, a highly homologous plant protein (PRP1). We can then elucidate the biochemical interactions and crosslinking pathways that possibly parallel those of mussel proteins. This knowledge will be highly applicable in the fields of biomedical and materials engineering, not only considering the waterproof, biocompatible, adhesive properties of mussel proteins, but for other cross-classification biomimicry as well. In this portion of the project, expression of the PRP1 protein was attempted by cloning the gene into Escherichia coli with a His-tag (for ease of purification) on either the N-terminus and C-terminus of the gene. Although neither attempt yielded significant production of the protein, the next experiment will consist of removing the signal peptide from the gene before attempting to clone it into the bacteria with a C-terminal His6 epitope, which hopefully works better in this attempt to produce a eukaryotic protein through a prokaryotic system.


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Bioelectrochemistry on a Drop

Tyler Kwak

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lior Sepunaru

I am a 5th year chemistry major working in the Sepunaru Group. The group is primarily intersted in the study of electrochemistry and biosensing. I hope to continue working in this field in the future, as I plan to pursue further education.

This project aims to solve the problems that bioelectrochemistry has in regards to sample sizes and analysis. In general, biological samples are difficult to access due to high cost to access the samples and the relatively small amount of material available. Thus, this project aims to provide a simple and elegant solution by showing that the results of conducting bioelectrochemical assays on a drop are comparable to assays conducted on bulk. Ultimately, volume sizes should become 50 μL or smaller. This will help to reduce costs and increase accessibility while also being in line with the principles of green chemistry by reducing waste and overall environmental impacts.


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Creative Studies


Accelerating retinal organoid differentiation protocol by 30%

Ashley Yeh

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Britney Pennington

Ashley is a second year CCS Biology major. She is currently a research assistant at the Clegg Lab studying the differentiation of RPE cells and retinal organoids. In the past, she has also been involved in glial cell, Fragile X, and neuron excitation research. In her free time, she enjoys reading, sailing, and trying out new foods!

Vision impairments such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, blindness, or retinal detachment affect over 2.2 billion people around the world. The most developmentally and physiologically accurate model of the in vivo human retina is 3D retinal organoids, which are stem cell-derived structures containing the major cell types and layers found in the native human retina. This makes retinal organoids an immensely powerful tool for disease modeling and drug screening. However, the current protocol for deriving retinal organoids from stem cells is extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive, involving manual dissection of retinal cups, conversion between 2D and 3D cell states, and an unnecessarily long neural induction period. The purpose of this project is to investigate an alternative differentiation protocol that would eliminate the need for manual dissection and decrease the total length of the protocol by 30%. For this project, stem cells were neurally induced using information from an established differentiation protocol for RPE cells and directly differentiated into organoids without the need for manual dissection. The goal for this project is to differentiate retinal organoids at an accelerated pace with the same or better organoid yield as the current protocol. This would hopefully introduce a more efficient, less time-consuming, and significantly less labor-intensive protocol for retinal organoid differentiation to the field and ultimately alleviate some of the major issues with retinal organoid differentiation.

Investigating Distance Coding in the Primary Visual Cortex of Mice

Fiona McBride

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Michael Goard

Fiona is a Biology major in the College of Creative Studies and joined the Goard Lab fall quarter of 2018. She is interested in how neurons maintain short term memory and loves all of the cutting edge technology used to learn more about the brain and its structure and function. Outside of school and lab, Fiona enjoys boxing, reading, and anything from Trader Joe's.

Accurately understanding where objects are in the world around us involves the complex integration of many types of visual signals. Depth perception is one of those crucial yet poorly understood aspect of vision. Previous studies have focused on how binocular disparity translates to a representation of an objects location, but monocular cues are also important and have been investigated to a much lesser extent. To address this gap, we are using 2-photon imaging and a custom built stimulus presentation rig to identify the neural patterns in mouse visual cortex that process monocular vision to inform depth perception.


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Ultra-white Paint for Radiative Cooling

Connie Berdan

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elliot W. Hawkes

I am a fourth-year mechanical engineering major and Spanish minor from Glastonbury, Connecticut. I have been doing research in Professor Hawkes’s soft robotics lab since my first year, including having been first author on a paper that was published at an international conference last fall. In addition, I am a captain on UCSB’s club triathlon team; and work as a wilderness guide, surf instructor, and ranch hand. After I graduate in June, I will commission as a pilot in the United States Marine Corps.

Currently, many entities seek to reduce their energy consumption. We propose to do this via radiative cooling and heating. Radiative cooling removes heat by reflecting the sun’s rays while radiative heating adds heat by absorbing rays. We have built a device that mimics a building and is composed of an ultra-white paint to reflect sunlight and passively cool it when it is hot and an absorptive material to heat the device when temperature is cooler. We hope to create a method to keep building temperature stable by using the sun’s rays rather than energy from internal HVAC systems. Many students and faculty worked on this project, but the part I was assigned, and that which I specifically worked on was the formulation of the ultra-white paint. We have developed a paint composed of Barium Sulfate (BaSO4) particles, water, and an acrylic binder which demonstrates a high average reflectivity (>90%) and demonstrates itself capable of radiative cooling. This technology takes advantage of the immense influx of solar radiation that the Earth is already receiving, and utilizes it to reduce the energy consumption of each building. If scaled up successfully, this would reduce the strain on a building’s HVAC system, both conserving energy as well as reducing the costs to maintain a comfortable temperature in the building. Therefore, the applications are numerous and the possible impact significant in terms of building a more cost-efficient and sustainable future.


Drawing Stabilization Robot for Stroke Rehabilitation

Janna Crocker

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Glenn Beltz

Janna Crocker is an AI and Natural Language Processing Researcher at the University of Michigan Learning Clues project, which seeks to autogenerate study materials for students from lecture videos. She also teaches CAD, AI, and data science to middle school and high school students at Juni Learning. She is looking forward to a summer internship at Roche, where she will be working on hardware development and platform integration for a nanopore sequencing device. When she isn’t studying or working, Janna enjoys making homebrew kombucha, putting in hours towards her student pilot’s license, and designing her Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

Stroke recovery is a difficult process, so there are many forms of robot-assisted therapy (RAT) that seek to make physical therapy easier and less time-intensive for patients and physical therapists. However, machines designed for this type of therapy are often expensive unitaskers that limit their therapy assistance to only one part of a limb. We have created a prototype that we believe is an important step towards making an inexpensive robot that will aid the user in drawing. We have begun to integrate a system of surface electromyography (sEMG) and internal motion unit (IMU) sensors processed via machine learning to quantify limb function and location, and are currently working to use that data to assist the user in creating their drawings. We believe this robot has the potential to be incredibly useful to artists with unsteady hands and in physical therapy. The first application would allow for a large consumer market of people seeking to work with correctional software available in many digital art programs in nondigital mediums. The second group consists mostly of patients in drawing therapy for stroke rehabilitation and assessment, as drawing can engage every muscle group in the arm and is often used as a method of estimating limb and neural pathway function for stroke survivors.


Random Tessellation of Images

Anthony O'Dea


I am a third year undergraduate in Chemical Engineering. I am currently a research assistant for the Seshadri lab in the materials department and will continue this work over the summer. Outside of school, I take photos of plants and program in Java. Recently, I finished writing an image filtering program, which I have submitted for this digital colloquium.

The project goal was to write a Java program that can abstract an image into a network of triangle or polygon tiles. The program was motivated by digital art and image compression theory. The final program has two options for tiling: triangles from the Delaunay method and various sided polygons from the Voronoi diagram. The user can control the number of tiles used to represent the image. The program can open and write image files and has the option to save the output tilings as vector graphics.


Miniature, Lightweight, High-Force, Capstan Winch for Mobile Robots

William Heap

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Professor Elliot Hawkes

I am William Heap, a mechanical engineering major who has been working in Professor Hawkes' robotics research lab for three years. I greatly enjoy building physical mechanisms and robots that are able to perform useful tasks, and my most recent project has led me to develop a miniaturized capstan winch to improve the winching capabilities of small, mobile robots nominally used for exploration.

Actuators that apply tension forces are widely applicable in robotics. In many applications of tensile actuators, a large stroke length, high force, and small, light device are important. For these requirements, the best current solution is a winch, which uses a rotating shaft to pull lightweight cable. However, most winches accumulate cable in a spool on their shaft which limits maximum stroke length and force at a miniature scale. An alternative is a capstan winch, in which the cable wraps around the shaft in a single-layered spiral before passing off the shaft. Although high-force and highstroke versions exist, miniaturization has not been successfully demonstrated. We present the design, modeling, and characterization of a miniaturized capstan winch. The 16 g winch is capable of lifting 4.5 kg (280x body weight) a distance of 4.3 m (67x body length). We also demonstrate it actuating a jumping robot and pulling a remote-controlled car out of a ditch. Through its miniature design and high-force, high-stroke performance, our winch expands the potential capabilities of small-scale robots.


AJ Morrell

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Tyler Susko

The VizNet team is made up of five senior mechanical engineers and one electrical engineer who are all passionate divers and ocean lovers. Seth Casanova is the structural lead on the team. Camille Wardlaw is the electronics lead. Emma Lopez is in charge of the power systems. Lucas Etzi worked on the sensor and microcontroller. Ryan Hanson developed the communications system, and AJ Morrell is the team lead.

SCUBA divers, freedivers, snorkelers and ocean researchers currently struggle to accurately predict underwater ocean conditions, visibility being the most important aspect. This results in wasted time, money and effort when dives are ruined by unforeseen bad visibility. Our team aimed to solve this by developing low cost, easily deployable self-sustaining ocean visibility buoys which autonomously stream real time, accurate visibility data to the internet. This will allow potential divers to check and prepare for the conditions before they go.



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Environmental Science 

The calcified red alga Corallina sp.: changes in calcification and morphology between 1985 and 2022

Lena Li

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Maggie Johnson

I am passionate about global change ecology in the context of benthic ecosystems, particularly how coralline algae is impacted by changing ocean conditions.

My research investigates the change in both size and the amount of calcium carbonate in Corallina sp. since the 1980s in order to understand how fluctuations in ocean conditions and anthropogenic climate change have impacted the calcification and morphology of articulated coralline alga. This will be accomplished through the quantification of CaCO₃ in Corallina sp. herbarium specimens and analysis of morphometric data collected over the course of several decades. By having clear data showing these changes in calcification and morphology, I hope to be able to better understand and predict how ocean calcifiers will fare in future conditions.

Drivers of Community Structure in Tropical Cockroaches

Athena DiBartolo

Faculty Mentor: Dr. John McLaughlin and Hillary Young

Hi! I'm Athena DiBartolo, a first-generation college student from Modesto, California. My life changed for the better when I got accepted into UCSB as it meant I could focus on my future and goals instead of the homelessness and housing insecurity that I had faced much of high school. When I'm not sorting bugs in the Young Lab or measuring methane concentrations in the Valentine Lab, I'm either doing fieldwork at the UC Sedgwick Reserve for the NASA SHIFT Campaign or working in Home Depot's paint department. During my free time, I like to paint canvases, tie-dye teeshirts, skateboard, and go tide pooling. My primary mentor John McLaughlin has supported me endlessly and I couldn't have done it without him or amazing PI Hillary Young. While I'm not sure what or where I would want to study for graduate school, I would love to continue working with invertebrates.

The Palmyra Atoll is a small low-lying coral atoll in the central Pacific, which is comprised of 23 islands and is recognized as a near model ecosystem. As part of a larger project to quantize food webs on Palmyra, my project aims to analyze the drivers of community structure in tropical cockroaches. Specifically, my project looks at cockroach population distributions on the atoll, island, and habitat scales relative to island size, productivity, distance from the main island (Cooper), and mean distance to the three nearest islands. All data used for my analysis was collected by my mentor John McLaughlin on a sampling expedition in 2016. Sampling sites are located on each of the Atoll’s islands, stratified by canopy type, and their location was randomly selected to eliminate bias. Sampling methods from the larger data set included canopy fogging, vegetation clippings, soil cores, and blacklight surveys. Samples were then fixed in ethanol vials and brought back to the laboratory for sorting. To reduce human error, arthropod samples were sorted and quantified through two different stages: sorting to class and species. Specifications for each cockroach, in each sample, were then logged into an excel database for statistical analysis of relationships. While native and non-native canopy influences habitat partitioning among native and non-native cockroaches, data analysis has shown that island size has the overall greatest influence on population constituency, which contrasts the finding in previous articles on the Palmyra.

Changes in the stomatal conductance of chaparral species in response to drought

Michaele Dietzel

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Shane Dewees

I'm a senior Environmental Studies major and Spanish minor at UCSB working on an undergraduate thesis to inform chaparral restoration following fire disturbance. Following graduation I plan to continue working on restoration, particularly what roles - if any - AMFs play in the active restoration of chaparral.

Several plant communities are being negatively affected by changing fire regimes throughout California. The large scale goal of this project is to establish guidelines for the restoration of one plant community in particular that has faced severe degradation from increasingly frequent fires - chaparral. In order to achieve this goal, this section of the project aims to shed light on the survival strategies of several different chaparral species when exposed to drought. This information is necessary to a successful restoration because drought is one of the primary obstacles to transplant survival. We hypothesize that the survival strategies of different species will be affected by their functional group - i.e. their method of survival post fire. Based on their physiological traits, we hypothesized that facultative resprouters will fare best out of the three functional groups when deprived of water, followed by obligate seeders, and obligate resprouters will die the most quickly. The preliminary data shown here it does seem as though the facultative resprouters fare best when exposed to drought.

Environmental Leadership Incubator Project: Hydroponics UCSB

Luna Herschenfeld-Catalan, Kelyn McGuire, Sydney Arrillaga

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Simone Pulver

Hi! We set out to do this project as part of ELI. The Environmental Leadership Incubator program is designed to allow students the opportunity to collaborate with each other to address environmental issues by turning innovative ideas into creative solutions. Throughout our time at UCSB as Environmental Studies majors, we have been confronted with the realities of food insecurity and unsustainable farming practices, which has left us feeling like we had a responsibility to try and design a solution in our own community. When thinking of how best to address this problem, we thought back to the mini-aquaponic systems in our environmental labs that we made in high school. It reminded us that there were many possible solutions in the realm of agriculture. We wanted to understand how we could build a creative system to realistically feed our community and promote food sovereignty in response to environmental pressures.

Our project will be designed to combat food insecurity in Isla Vista while addressing the stress that traditional agriculture applies on available resources, and highlighting alternative methods of food cultivation. In partnership with the Student Farm at UCSB, we are managing three hydroponic towers and have begun to grow a variety of crops. By the end of the project we hope to have a permanent hydroponic system on campus and partner with the Edible Campus Program and Department of Public Worms to run workshops and educate the community.

Eco-Friendly Surfboard Ding Repair Resin

Natalie Nguyen

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Simone Pulver

My interests are in sustainability analysis, design, and education. With a background in sustainability, I view design as a means to create a better world. Environmental Studies as a major is interdisciplinary, and I have learned to design as an Art minor with empathy and attention to perspectives in many different fields. I consider problems in the bigger picture as they relate to the present as well as future generations.

We are exploring the development of a non-toxic, eco-friendly, and affordable surfboard resin for individual use with ding repairs. We have found conventional ding repair resins are very toxic and that we can develop a better alternative. We have conducted materials research with a UCSB Materials Science Ph.D. alumni and collaborated with a UCSB green chemistry professor to replicate the UV cure process of conventional ding repair resins within our own project. We have recently started product development after thorough materials research and are continuing to create our product. Some of our recent work has been determining the combination of eco-friendly components which exhibit desired properties in surfboard resin, such as clarity, adhesion, and viscosity. We have found a combination of materials that dry relatively well without the addition of a photoinitiator, which tends to contain toxic materials. This is significant as it reveals a potential opportunity for further research into this combination of materials and could lead to the successful development of an alternative to conventional surfboard resins. We are still in the process of developing a product with the help of the URCA grant, so we do not yet have any major conclusions from our work.

The Intersecting Impacts of City Characteristics and the COVID-19 Pandemic on Public Perceptions of Urban Wildlife

Kyra Nadir

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Peter Alagona


This qualitative study investigated how perceptions of urban wildlife differed during the COVID-19 pandemic in two cities with varying access to natural areas. The pandemic is thought to have provided an opportunity for citizens to establish a deeper connection with nature, but this connection may be different depending on the city’s access to greenspace. The data for this study were collected from iNaturalist and Nextdoor posts discussing urban wildlife in Chino, California and Chino Hills, California. There was a significant increase in the number of observations recorded on iNaturalist in both cities during the pandemic compared to 2019. Citizens in Chino Hills (a city with higher access to greenspace) were found to be more appreciative of urban wildlife than citizens of Chino, due to their city’s established “rural” identity based on their proximity to the hills. Citizens of Chino were more likely to discuss pest control strategies and express concern for pet safety, and citizens of Chino Hills were more likely to discuss the ecological roles of wildlife than citizens of Chino. As urban wildlife presence will only increase with the expanse of cities and loss of natural habitats, it is crucial for humans to develop appreciative attitudes towards wildlife species. This study shows that the cultivation of a city identity with nature at its core is important for establishing this appreciation for wildlife.

Are You What You Eat?: Effects of chloroplast origin and growth media on Dinophysis norvegica growth rate

Jennifer Gladstone

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Holly Moeller

Jennifer Gladstone is a fourth-year Environmental Studies major. Her project combines her two passions of marine science and environmental studies by looking at an Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology project through the lens of impacts in environmental studies. Her work was conducted in the Moeller lab under the guidance of Dr. Holly Moeller.

Dinophysis norvegica is a species of marine plankton that can gain the ability to perform photosynthesis by consuming its prey and stealing its chloroplasts and is capable of temporarily retaining this ability. As the methods D. norvegica implores in their lives to survive are quite interesting, an exploration into the factors that affect their growth was performed. Through the manipulation of growth media and prey provided to D. norvegica cultures, the growth rate of different treatments of D. norvegica was quantified. It was determined that these factors had minimal significant effects on the growth rates of D. norvegica. Only two treatments were found to have growth rates that significantly varied from the growth rate of the culture that was provided no prey and grown in pure filtered seawater. Through the experiment, D. norvegica was concluded to be particularly vulnerable to stochastic events which largely affected the growth rates observed. Therefore, further studies with larger populations must be conducted to reduce the population's vulnerability to stochasticity and enhance the effects of the treatments on the growth rates of D. norvegica.


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Psychological & Brain Sciences


Cycle Phase and Vocal Attractiveness

Sreya Dhanam

Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Roney

Hi! My name is Sreya Dhanam and I am a 4th year student majoring in Biopsychology. I've always been really interested in endocrinology (the study of hormones) which is why I was inclined to join the Roney lab my sophomore year. I pursued a senior thesis with this lab that studies the correlation between female cycle phase and vocal attractiveness. In my free time outside of research I love arranging music for my a cappella team and going on walks with my friends.

This study aims to replicate effects found in past studies indicating the presence of auditory cues of ovulation in women. Preferences have been found for vocal recordings taken during women's fertile phase of the ovulatory cycle over targets representative of the luteal (non-fertile) phase. This study will obtain ratings of equivalent stimuli with more extensive data, including hormonal values for our target faces and a third target vocal cue representative of the follicular (pre-fertile) phase, as part of a more complete within-subject sample set. We hypothesize that there will be significant preference for a woman’s voice during ovulation compared to the luteal and follicular phases. In previous literature it was noted that ovulation was viewed as concealed, however in the past few years there has been more literature that provides evidence for the theory that women’s fertility information is more available to men than what was previously known.

Examining the Link Between Mindfulness and Prosocial Behavior

Brooke Schwartzman

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jonathan W. Schooler

Brooke Schwartzman is a fourth-year undergraduate student pursuing a B.S. in Psychological and Brain Sciences. Passionate for research, she has worked under Dr. Jonathan Schooler in the META Lab and Dr. Regina Lapate in the LEAP Neuro Lab. Under Dr. Schooler’s supervision, her thesis explores the effects of mindfulness on prosociality, including measures of empathy, compassion, altruism, and willingness to donate to a charitable organization. She hopes to pursue a PhD in cognitive neuroscience following graduation.

Though mindfulness promotes many desirable intrapersonal outcomes, the impacts of mindfulness on interpersonal relations remains elusive. For instance, current literature on mindfulness’ effects on prosocial behavior is mixed — some scholars suggest a positive relationship while others do not. Motivated by this inconsistency, we seek to more clearly delineate the link between mindfulness and prosocial behavior. Specifically, our aim is to understand how individual differences in trait mindfulness relate to various measures of prosocial behavior including empathy, compassion, altruism, and willingness to make a charitable donation. Given the current theoretical framework, we hypothesize that, relative to individuals low in trait mindfulness, individuals high in trait mindfulness will be more empathetic (H1), compassionate (H2), altruistic (H3), and willing to make a charitable donation (H4). By understanding how mindfulness relates to prosociality, this research may underpin interventions aimed towards increasing prosocial behavior, which is warranted in light of our largely divided society.

How do kids use race and language to generalize cultural information?

Jackie Kalleberg

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Zoe Liberman

Music is an integral part of every human culture that is used to both define group identity and distinguish cultural groups from one another. Therefore, the music that an individual knows and likes can be used as a clue to their cultural group membership (Soley & Aldan, 2020). This project examines children’s generalizations of musical knowledge and preferences according to language and race to shed light on how different types of cultural information are mapped onto social categories. The role of individual experience is also taken into account by examining differences in generalizations made by children of different ages and with varying levels of exposure to multilingual environments. We found that, with age, kids systematically generalize both musical knowledge and preferences according to language, and their patterns of generalization differ as a function of language exposure.

Children’s generalizations of song knowledge and preferences were assessed according to the social categories of language and race. Both shared knowledge and preferences are indicative of an individual’s identity and history, however shared knowledge has been identified as the more reliable cue of a person’s cultural background. This project builds on the findings of Soley and Aldan (2020), in which both children adults privileged language over gender in their generalizations of shared song knowledge, but did not systematically generalize preferences according to either category. In comparison to gender, race is a category more closely associated with cultural groups; therefore children might also expect same-race individuals to share cultural knowledge and/or preferences. Children ages 4-11 (N=174) were asked to generalize either song knowledge or preference from a target child to one of two others who differed from the target according to either language or race. We found that, with age, kids' language-based inferences increased for both song knowledge and preference. We also found that children’s language-based generalizations differed as a function of language exposure: monolinguals made more language-based generalizations in the shared preference condition, whereas kids with multilingual exposure made more language-based inferences in the shared knowledge condition. These results suggest that multilingual exposure enhances a child's understanding of language as the category most indicative of an individual's cultural background, and, in turn, their musical knowledge and preferences.

Examining Guilt-Related Tendencies Among Asian Americans

Yenni Giang

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Heejung Kim

The project aims to examine guilt-related tendencies observed among Asian American and European Americans students.


Identifying Factors Preventing Undocumented College Students from Accessing Campus Mental Health Services

Isaac Bouchard

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jill Sharkey

Hi, I am an undergraduate psychological and brain sciences major and applied psychology minor at UC Santa Barbara interested in research and clinical psychology. I am a research assistant for Dr. Jill D. Sharkey at her lab under the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education where we study school-based youth development. I also volunteer as a crisis hotline operator for the Crisis Support Services of Alameda County. In my free time, I enjoy playing guitar, surfing, and rock climbing.

Undocumented immigrants are at a higher risk of mental health challenges (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2017; Venkataramani et al., 2017). Researchers (Enriquez et al., 2019) have demonstrated that many undocumented UC undergraduate students, who report needing mental health services, do not seek out a mental health professional. These students face complex psychosocial barriers that prevent them from accessing university mental health services (Enriquez, 2019). The project’s purpose is to achieve a better understanding of the transactional-ecological factors that prevent undocumented students from accessing their university’s mental health services. This project is intended to uncover ways universities can transform their mental health services to better serve the undocumented student population. Collaboration with the Undocumented Student Services will facilitate data collection regarding the needs and experiences of undocumented students with university mental health services. Methods are designed to identify the discrepancies between services accessed by undocumented students compared with the broader university student population. My hypothesis is that undocumented students need mental health spaces catered to their unique needs.

Scar Siblings

Connor Ding

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ljiljana Coklin/Beth Saur

Connor Ding is a third-year PBS and Math student. While his academic interest is in neuroscience and mathematics, he enjoys creative and reflective writing. He is a current Raab Writing Fellow and he is presenting his creative project "Scar Siblings", a novella that helps him explore his identity as a Chinese international student.

“Scar Siblings” is a novella about Holden and Phoebe, a brother and sister, during the twelve days of August – September 2020, the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both Holden and Phoebe are Chinese international students who got their anglicized names from J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the favorite novel of their America-loving father. With a strong passion for humanistic subjects, Holden, a rising third-year student at UCSB, enrolls in several literature classes, during one of which he rereads and reimagines The Catcher in the Rye. Phoebe, on the other hand, is teaching herself multivariable calculus as a headstart for her degree in electrical engineering. The siblings’ decisions to pursue their own interests directly conflict with their parents’ expectations. Feeling the parental pressure, Holden and Phoebe feel the angst of insisting upon their dreams but eventually respond through the tried patterns of evasion and silence. Centering on Holden and Phoebe’s conversations about their lives, tragedies, failures, and hopes that parallel those of The Catcher in the Rye, “Scar Siblings” addresses the questions that Phoebe and Holden struggle to answer: Should one live a life for oneself or for others? To what extent is one obligated to care about others’ problems? And, how does one respond to the gender and racial bias they increasingly face?


The Effect of Chemogenic Inactivation of the OFC during Hierarchical Learning

Alex Garcia

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ron Keiflin

Hello, my name is Alex Garcia and I am passionate about neuroscience research. I am a first-generation student studying Biopsychology. My interests include learning, visual neuroscience, and addiction. I also have a great appreciation for pharmacology. I hope to contribute to the understanding of these fields to better understand the brain and behavior.

Context can grow to powerfully change animal behavior in anticipation of future outcomes. This process is especially critical when the occasion setting can disambiguate when stimuli in the environment predict reward. Much like in naturalistic settings, cues on their own often have little significance without context. Thus, animals will learn to form hierarchical associations between stimuli in order to parse out what a single cue may mean in different contexts. Implicated in maintaining and developing these hierarchical associations is the orbital frontal cortex (OFC). This region of the brain is thought to maintain and update cognitive maps to accommodate new learning, enabling an animal to flexibly learn new features of its environment. To elucidate the character of the OFC’s function, a model of rodent control of context-dependent reward prediction will be utilized in conjunction with chemogenic inactivation of the OFC. Sound cues will be predictive of food reward but only within one context. The state of the chamber light (off/ on and flashing) will be the occasion setting that modulates whether a sound cue is predictive of reward. This biases the rats to discriminate between stimuli in a hierarchical and context-dependent manner. A new sound cue will be introduced to gauge how new information is integrated into these established context-dependent associations and whether the OFC is required for this process.


Effects of Metacognitive Feedback on Sequential Dependencies in Recognition Memory

Patrick Sweeney

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sara Leslie

Patrick Sweeney is a third-year Psychological and Brain Sciences student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has lived in California for his entire life and graduated from Valley Oaks Charter School in Tehachapi, California. He is currently doing research on metacognition with the Miller Memory Lab as an psychology honors student. Patrick plans on continuing his work on metacognition in the future through a graduate program in cognitive psychology/neuroscience.

Decisions made with memory evidence are accompanied by a second-order subjective confidence estimate. These confidence estimates allow for the preparation of future memory decisions. However, subjective confidence estimates do not always accurately reflect recognition memory performance. Moreover, both memory decisions and confidence judgments are not made in isolation. Previous work has shown that confidence judgments are partially dependent on confidence judgments from earlier trials. In this ongoing research project, we aim to investigate the effect of metacognitive feedback on confidence sequential dependencies. Furthermore, we aim to elucidate the relation between confidence sequential dependencies and metacognitive ability. Participants are taking part in an online recognition memory task wherein they are assigned to receive or not receive metacognitive feedback. Over the course of 10 blocks, the participants are initially shown a set of 60 faces during a study phase. Subsequently, they are tested on 120 images, half of which were on the study set. Participants are prompted to answer ‘old’ or ‘new’ to these images and evaluate their confidence in their decision as ‘high’ or ‘low’. In the group that receives metacognitive feedback, some blocks are accompanied by trial-by-trial feedback informing participants if their confidence was accurate, too high, or too low.


Awe and Attachment Pilot Study

Cynthia Street

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elliott Ihm

My name is CeCe Street and I am graduating this quarter from UCSB with my degree in psychological and brain sciences. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to work with an URCA grant in the realm of awe research with Dr.Elliott Ihm. So far this process has been an extraordinary learning experience, and I am looking forward to the results of our study. It is fascinating to learn about the human experience, encompassing awe, attachment, meaning making and self-concept. I am eager to keep learning about ways we might potentially support these components in a positive way.

The Awe and Attachment Pilot Study aims to study the effects of awe on attachment, with potential mediation by the construct of the quiet ego. Awe is an experience that entails perceived vastness and need for accommodation (Keltner, Haidt et al., 2003). Accommodation is the process of changing previously existing mental structures or views to better adapt to the current “vast” experience (Keltner and Haidt, 2020; Piaget & Inhelder, 1966/1969). While there is still much unknown about the process of accommodation, it seems as though aspects of a construct called “the quiet ego” might emerge from efforts trying to fill this need (Perlin and Li, 2020). The quiet ego is described as, “a reflexive I constructing a dialed-down Me”, an alternative description akin to the small self (Perlin and Li, 2020). The quiet ego might be the product of transformed perceptions of relationships involved with one’s self-concept (Perlin and Li, 2020). While attachment has been shown to have relative stability, it has also been shown to have room for flexibility (Davila, Burge et al. 1997; Groh, Roisman et al. 2014; Fraley,Vicary et al. 2011). Attachment is based in relationships with others, and relationships with oneself. Additionally, greater secure attachment has been associated with wellbeing (Zhang and Labouvie-Vief 2004). We hypothesize that an experience of awe will allow shifts associated with the Quiet Ego to transpire, leading to a change in our attachment variable. Our independent variable is awe, our mediator variable is the quiet ego, and our primary dependent variable is state adult attachment. In addition to the aforementioned variables, this study is curious about the downstream effects of awe on experience of meaning in life. The overall purpose of this study is to explore experiences, specifically the experience of awe, that may serve to increase one’s secure attachment. Future hopes include that awe might be implemented to boost healthy attachment, increase meaning, and positively recalibrate relationships with self and others.(Bryant and Hutanamon, 2018; Mikulincer et al. 2003).




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