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Undergrad engineers research everything from water quality to wildfires this summer

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- Twenty-one undergraduate students in the UC Riverside Bourns College of Engineering are working with faculty mentors this summer researching everything from water quality to wildfires to materials that could lead to new medical devices.

"UCR has a lot of opportunities to get involved with research," said Erika Aragon, a sophomore, who is one of the students taking part in the Summer Bridge program. "This is the reason I choose UCR. I didn't want to sit behind a book for four years."

The students are being paid through a $3.3 million grant UC Riverside's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Pathway Project was awarded by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act and Hispanic Serving Institutions Program.

The grant aims to increase the number of students transferring into the STEM fields at UCR and to enhance support for Hispanic and low-income students who are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"The goal of the Summer Bridge program is to get them engaging in research so they are prepared for graduate school," said Jun Wang, who coordinates the program as the professional development officer at the Bourns College of Engineering.

The 10-week program started at the end June. Students work daily in faculty labs and get together weekly for workshops and seminars. The program continues through Aug. 27, when the students will present their research at a symposium. After that, the students will likely remain working with their faculty mentors.

The students include:

Aragon, who lives in West Covina, is working with David Cwiertny, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering. She is researching how ultraviolet light naturally kills bacteria water with the goal of increasing the amount of disinfection.

David Becerra, a fifth-year student from Chula Vista, is working with Shankar Mahalingam, a professor of mechanical engineering. Becerra is looking at how heat transfers from the ground to the crowns of trees during wildfires. He collects plants from the mountains and creates simulated fires in the U.S. Forest Service lab adjacent to campus.

Xorge Alanis, a junior from Ontario, is working in the lab of Hyle Park, an assistant professor of bioengineering. He is working with optical coherence tomography, a technique capable of noninvasive, high-resolution cross-sectional imaging by measuring the intensity of light reflected from within the tissue. The hope is that the research will help doctor's diagnosis nerve injuries and also help advance neurobiological research.

Daniel Stark, a senior from Riverside, is being mentored by Masaru Rao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Stark is developing a process with which to permanently bond titanium to glass. This research is driven by its potential for future medical devices.

Steven Opot, who is originally from Kenya and transferred to UCR from Riverside City College, is working with Sharon Walker, an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering. He is analyzing bacteria to determine which groups on cell surfaces contribute to their adhesion to surfaces and survival in aquatic environments.


Contact: Sean Nealon
University of California - Riverside

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