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STARS 2019 - Research Project Descriptions

The following UC San Diego faculty members have offered to host STARS students in Summer 2019. Identify the department and three faculty mentors with whom you would like to do research with.  Describe your research interests for your selection in the online application.
***This page is subject to change. Please check for updates prior to submitting your application***


Chitra Mandyam
Associate Professor, Chitra Mandyam's research will focus on the functional significance of granule cell neurons in the hippocampus in relapse to methamphetamine seeking. Neural stem cells persist in the adult hippocampal sub-granular zone and mature into hippocampal granule cell neurons (a process known as hippocampal neurogenesis). Neurogenesis may play a significant role in brain repair and recovery from a number of insults. Withdrawal and relapse are integral parts of the addiction cycle, and withdrawal from intravenous methamphetamine self-administration (Meth SA) enhances reinstatement to Meth seeking in male and female rats. It is therefore essential to determine whether withdrawal from Meth SA alters the process of hippocampal neurogenesis and whether this alteration is required for enhanced relapse to Meth seeking in an animal model of Meth addiction. The student intern will assist the postdoctoral fellow to determine whether withdrawal and abstinence from Meth SA differentially alter the neurogenic capacity of neural progenitor cells in the granule cell layer of the hippocampus and the activity of granule cell neurons in the hippocampus. The student will use techniques such as retroviral labeling to label newly born granule cell neurons and perform 3D structural analysis on these neurons. They will use state-of-the-art software Neurolucida and Neuro-Explorer from Micro Bright Field to determine these issues. The overall goal of the summer internship will be to assess if withdrawal and abstinence from Meth SA differentially alter the structural plasticity of newly born versus preexisting granule cell neurons in the granule cell layer in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. Preclinical rodent models of intravenous Meth SA will be used.
Prerequisites: Student majoring in Biochemistry or Neuroscience preferred, should have an interest in performing animal behavior such as methamphetamine self-administration, biochemical experiments including immunohistochemistry and should be interested in performing extensive microscopic analysis, and student with experience in animal handling, pipetting, tissue handling is desired. The student must be US citizens.

Hemal Patel
Hemal Patel is a Professor and Vice-Chair for Research at UC San Diego. His laboratory aims to utilize molecular, cellular, and the whole animal approaches to understand physiology/pathophysiology in different organ systems. His laboratory utilizes cellular models such as isolated adult rat and mouse cardiac myocytes and neurons to understand the cellular and sub-cellular consequences of various pathophysiologies. These isolated cell systems are more amenable to biochemical and molecular interventions to understand in more sophisticated detail the mechanisms that are at play in disease and can be exploited to elicit protective responses. Ultimately, he uses translational models (i.e., transgenic and knockout mice, an intact and ex vivo rat model of ischemia-reperfusion injury, and in vivo pharmacologic studies) to bridge the in vitro biochemical and molecular outcomes to a better understanding of whole organ and animal function. He is interested in how cellular signaling is organized and coordinated in cells and how this is impacted by various disease processes. His laboratory is specifically interested in how membrane microdomains such as caveolae interact and communicate with intracellular organelles such as mitochondria to impact cell, organ, and animal physiology. He hopes that this multi-level approach to the study of disease will lead to fundamental discoveries related to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and aging.
Prerequisites: None


Paul Goldstein
Paul Goldstein is a professor in the Anthropology department. His teaching and research focused on Anthropological Archaeology, complex societies, Latin America and Andean South America. His research involves the study of how Tiwanaku civilization, the earliest state-level polity that emerged in the important Lake Titicaca region of the southern Andes, expanded and collapsed. His summer project will involve field research.
Prerequisites: Must have taken an Archaeology or Anthropology class. Require prior research experience, outdoor and knowledge in the Spanish language.


Biological Sciences – Cell and Developmental Biology

Stanley Lo
Assistant Teaching Professor Stanley Lo works in the Section of Cell and Developmental Biology in our Division of Biological Sciences. Stanley Lo received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University and was a senior research associate at the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching at Northwestern University. Our research centers upon two key aspects of undergraduate biology education: faculty teaching and student learning. The broad mission is to understand how faculty teaching promotes student learning, what factors support sustainable classroom innovations, and how students learn core concepts and develop core competencies in biological sciences.

Sonya Neal
Dr. Neal received her Ph.D. from U.C. Los Angeles in 2013 after working in the laboratory of Dr. Carla Koehler. She then carried out her postdoctoral studies at U.C. San Diego in the laboratory of Dr. Randolph Hampton. Her research is aimed to understand the cellular and tissue-specific roles of factors involved in protein quality control pathways, with a particular emphasis on the pathways that detect and specifically destroy these dangerous molecules. An understanding of these pathways allows us to define the mechanisms that protect the organismal proteome in health and disease, and eventually devise methods to harness cellular quality control to modify the proteome in the laboratory and the clinic.

Kimberly Prather
Professor Kimberly Prather is an Atmospheric Chemist and Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry and Distinguished Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC San Diego. She studies how humans are influencing the atmosphere and climate. Other research involves making measurements of atmospheric aerosol chemistry and developing and using new analytical methods for these measurements. Aerosols occur in the environment in a variety of forms: clouds of ice or water droplets, salt particles from ocean spray, and smoke from a variety of combustion sources. They play an enormous role in our daily lives from affecting visibility and global climate change to endangering our health. Due to applications in research, medicine, and industry, there is great scientific interest in aerosols, however relative to their gas phase counterparts, limited information exists regarding their complex chemistry.

Eric Schmelz
The Schmelz laboratory has a research focus on biochemical mechanisms that mediate crop plant defenses against insect and pathogen attack. The first step in activation of defenses is immune recognition of pests, often enabled by specific, germline-encoded receptor proteins. While many receptors for pathogens have been identified, receptors for insects (e.g. Lepidopteran caterpillar larvae) have remained unknown. Schmelz’s research has recently identified candidate receptor genes specific to legumes which are predicted to detect defense elicitors, termed inception, found in the oral secretions of insect herbivores. Using newly available crop genomes, orthologous receptor genes have been cloned from legume species in the family Phaseoleae including dry beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), black eye peas (Vigna unguiculata) and mung beans (Vigna radiata), all species which naturally ward off herbivorous pests. In the wild, induced defenses can be directly toxic or indirectly defend against herbivores, e.g. induced volatiles to serve as the plant’s ‘cry for help’ by acting as reliable host location signals for predators, parasitoids, and other natural enemies. A STARS summer student will be involved with understanding the maize disease processes instead of bean perception of caterpillars.
Prerequisites: None

Julian Schroeder
Julian Schroeder is a Distinguished Professor in Plant Sciences. His research is directed at discovering the responses of plants to drought and climate change. His focus is in discovering the signal transduction mechanisms and the underlying signaling networks that mediate resistance to environmental stresses in plants, in particular drought and CO2 responses in plants. These environmental ("abiotic") stresses have substantial negative impacts on plant growth and crop yields. These environmental stresses are also relevant in reference to climate change and maintaining crop growth and food production to meet the human needs of the growing world population. Research in Julian Schroeder's laboratory is using multidisciplinary approaches including genetics, genomics, cell signaling, physiological, proteomics, molecular biology and bioinformatics towards uncovering the signal transduction network and receptors in plants that translate drought stress hormone reception and CO2 sensing to specific resistance responses in plants. Some of the recent research advances are being used in the biotechnology industry with the goal of enhancing the stress resistance of plants and crop yields.
Prerequisites: Students are trained with laboratory techniques and the lab works with students to learn new techniques independent of previous experience.

Biological Sciences – Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution

Sergey Kryazhimskiy
Sergey Kryazhimskiy is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution. Plants have transitioned into the era when a single species (Homo-sapiens) massively alters ecosystems, genetically engineers other species and even starts to create new species. All these environmental changes exert enormously and extremely poorly understood pressures on many organisms to evolve and adapt. This is especially true for microbes, many of which adapt extremely rapidly and sometimes cause unanticipated and catastrophic situations (think of "superbugs" that are resistant to all known antibiotics). His lab is interested in understanding, predicting and, in long run, manipulating evolutionary responses of microbial populations and microbial communities. To do that, they study how bacterium Escherichia coli, yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii evolve in the lab. In one project, a STARS student will try to understand the co-evolution in a microbial community.
Prerequisites: General understanding of evolutionary theory; ability and desire to do laboratory experiments.

Biological Sciences – Neurobiology

Cory Root
Cory Root is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Neurobiology. He studies sensory systems that detect features of the external world, which are represented in the activity of ensembles of neurons in the brain. His lab seeks to understand how sensory information is represented in the brain and how internal representations acquire meaning that can be used to inform behavior. For his project students will focus on the neural control of mouse olfactory behaviors. Students who decide to participate in this project must not have a problem handling and sacrificing mice.
Prerequisites: Basic knowledge of Neurobiology and/or animal behavior.

Matthew Banghart
Matthew Banghart is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Science. He is in charge of The Banghart lab. His lab seeks to understand how neuropeptides contribute to learning and behavior in mammals. Neuropeptides comprise a unique class of neurotransmitter that activates G protein-coupled receptors in the brain, which are the targets of many clinically used drugs, including addictive opiate painkillers such as morphine and fentanyl. Students would work on one of two projects. One asks how endogenous opioid neuropeptides contribute to behavioral reinforcement and habit formation. The other seeks to uncover the neural circuits targeted by analgesics such as morphine to relieve pain.
Prerequisites: Student must be willing to handle and sacrifice mice. Must have taken a biology course, Chemistry would be helpful but not required.

Susan Ackerman
Susan Ackerman is a Professor in the Neurobiology Department. The goal of our laboratory is to define the molecular pathways necessary to maintain homeostasis in both developing and aging mammalian neurons. To do this they utilize forward genetics to identify mutations that are associated with loss of neurons in the aging mouse brain. To further dissect pathways underlying homeostatic disruption and disease, they also use forward genetics to identify genetic variants that enhance or suppress neural phenotypes. Their approach allows the identification, without a priori assumptions, of molecules critical for neuron homeostasis and survival, and indeed we have discovered disruptions in several novel pathways that were not previously associated with loss of neuronal function or survival. They are particularly interested in the role of alterations in translation elongation, translational fidelity, proteostasis, and RNA metabolism in neuronal function. Actual Project will be decided by Professor at a later time.
Prerequisites: None

Chemistry and Biochemistry

Alina Schimpf
Alina Schimpf is an Assistant Professor with a research interest in Spectroscopy, Inorganic Chemistry, Nanoscale Materials. A STARS student will study the assembly of metal oxide frameworks from molecular clusters and metal cations.
Prerequisites: None

Colleen McHugh
Colleen McHugh is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The McHugh Laboratory investigates the functions of a newly described class of biological molecules, the long non-coding RNAs, in human cells. The lab uses proteomics, genomics, biochemistry, and structural biology techniques to identify new interactions between RNA and proteins and aim to elucidate the roles of lncRNAs in controlling gene expression and cell growth in human cancers. STARS students will work on identifying the molecular basis of RNA-protein interactions using binding assays and/or structural biology.
Prerequisites: Able to work safely in a biochemistry laboratory environment. Prefer Biology, Biochemistry, or Chemistry major

Guy Bertrand
Guy Bertrand is a chemistry professor currently researching the synthesis of novel stable carbines. Phosphorus is vital not only for food production but also for other agricultural commodities such as ethanol, biofuels, and any bio-renewable chemicals. The annual worldwide production of elemental phosphorus reaches 850,000 tons, from which 18% is transformed by the addition of chlorine gas into 700,000 tons/year of PCl3, the industrial precursor to most phosphorus derivatives. Significant environmental risks are involved in the preparation and transport of PCl3; it is highly reactive to atmospheric moisture and has to be transported in lead-lined, glass-lined or nickel vessels. Lastly, its transformation into the desired chemicals produces an enormous amount of waste and is energy-inefficient. From this short analysis, it can be concluded that it is of utmost importance to discover environmentally sustainable PCl3 alternatives, which allow for the preparation of a variety of phosphorus derivatives. There has been an intense research effort towards the design of molecular catalysts, based on early and late transition metals, as well as on main group elements that could allow for the reaction of elemental phosphorus with organic substrates to form organophosphorus derivatives.  Unfortunately, decades of unsuccessful attempts indicate that the design of catalysts for the one-step transformation of elemental P into valuable organophosphorus compounds is likely unrealistic. As multi-step synthesis appears unavoidable, Bertrand proposes to develop molecular bricks, whose preparation, storage, shipping, and handling are significantly more tolerable than PCl3.The student will learn to synthesize and handle air-sensitive chemicals and will become familiar with different analytical techniques such as NMR and X-ray crystallography.
Prerequisites: Have taken organic chemistry classes.

Seth Cohen
Seth Cohen is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. His research interests are Metalloprotein Inhibitors - Bioinorganic/Medicinal Chemistry and Metal-Organic Frameworks - Inorganic/Materials Chemistry. Several metalloproteins are implicated in various diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and others. Compounds containing ligands that chelate the catalytic metal ion in these proteins can act as effective inhibitors of potential therapeutic value. Their investigation focuses on the design, synthesis, and evaluation of novel metalloprotein inhibitors based on new ligands for binding the active site metal ions. And they study the design, preparation, and properties of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). MOFs are a fascinating new class of advanced materials that may be useful in a variety of technological applications. They use organic chemistry to modify the surface and interior of MOFs in order to tune and optimize their physical and chemical properties. Opportunities to work in more biochemical projects may also be available.  See the laboratory website for more project details.
Prerequisites: General chemistry classes.


Toor Navtej
Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Toor Navtej’s research is focused on the structure and function of non-coding regions of prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes. Two genetic elements particularly abundant in these organisms are introns and retro-elements. For example, ~50% of the human genome consists of spliceosomal introns and non-LTR retro-elements. Both of these are considered to have evolved from a class of introns which originated in bacteria billions of years ago called the group II introns. Previously, he worked on determining the first crystal structure of a group II. This revealed the active site of this ribozyme to contain two catalytic metal ions coordinated by a conserved RNA structural motif called domain 5. Since the group II and spliceosomal introns both share this RNA structure, spliceosomal introns should also have the same active site arrangement. Actual project will be determined by the professor at a later time.
Prerequisites: None

Cognitive Science

Angela Yu
Associate Professor Angela Yu works in the Department of Cognitive Science. The title of her research is the Experimental and Computational Investigation of Human Face Processing. Humans excel in certain kinds of high-dimensional data processing, such as the processing of face images. Even very young children readily solve challenging computational problems such as individual recognition, emotion classification, and social trait assessment (e.g. attractiveness and trustworthiness). In this project, we use experimental and computational techniques to investigate human face processing. It enables us to examine what facial features drive the human perception of social traits, how the underlying representation and computation reconfigure depending on the behavioral context, how the process depends on the past experiences of the observer, and how the computations may be carried out in the brain. We also investigate how cognitive functions such as memory and attention may play an important role in human face processing. In contrast to simple, synthetic stimuli traditionally used in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, face images coupled with sophisticated statistical modeling tools provide a rich sensory dataset that reveals powerful representational and computational properties of complex data processing in humans. The STARS student(s) will be expected to assist in either the behavioral experiments, or the computational modeling, or the data analysis, depending on the skillset and interest of the student(s). Professor Yu wants students who are passionate and team players. Students should be willing to listen and receive critical feedback and be actively engaged in their personal growth.
Prerequisites: Knowledge of Matlab or a similar programming language; has taken at least linear algebra, calculus, and statistics courses; machine learning, machine vision, or data analysis coursework/experience are a bonus.

Bradley Voytek
Dr. Bradley Voytek is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cognitive Science. His project entails understanding the neural activity related to vocal production in songbirds. It involves analyzing data recorded in free behaving animals. This project is in collaboration with neural engineering and birdsong labs here at UCSD. This interdisciplinary collaboration will give students hands-on electrophysiology experience as well as training in neural signal processing, data science and machine learning.
Prerequisites: Must be proficient in Python and familiar with open source data science. Knowledge of PEP8 would be nice, but not necessary. Should be comfortable with working with an animal model, but not necessary for this project explicitly. Communication skills and teamwork ability are a necessity.
Website:  https://

Drew Walker
Drew Walker is an Assistant Professor in the Cognitive Science department. She is interested in Social cognition; teaching and learning. For her project students will be exploring questions in visual and/or social cognition.
Prerequisites: None
Website: None

Eran Mukamel
Eran Mukamel is an Assistant Professor in the Cognitive Science Department. Analysis of gene expression regulation in the developing brain.  Our lab’s goal is to understand how healthy brain cells develop during early life, and how the disruption of that developmental process can lead to neuropsychiatric disorders.  To do this, we are focused on the brain epigenome, a set of molecular modifications to brain cells’ genetic material that enables fine-tuned regulation of their behavior. By using statistical and computational methods to analyze large sets of genomic and epigenomic data, we test hypotheses about the roles of specific epigenetic modifications in brain function.  This project will involve the analysis of RNA-Seq and/or DNA methylation data sets collected from mammalian brain cells.  The student should have some background in computer programming and/or analysis (e.g. Matlab, Python or R); knowledge of genome biology is desirable but not necessary.
Prerequisites: None

Federico Rossano
Federico Rossano is an Assistant Professor in the Cognitive Science Department. He leads the Comparative Cognition Lab at the University of California, San Diego, and his research focuses on human sociality: How it develops through ontogeny (development), what makes human social life possible and sustainable (cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally), and how similar it is across cultures and to the social life of other animals. They study social cognition across ages, cultures, and species. Our main focus is on cooperation and pro-sociality, social norms and property/ownership, in the group - outgroup biases and on the development of communicative abilities. STARS students will be trained in conducting observational and experimental studies with children and non-human primates (all behavioral, non-invasive studies) and will learn how to do behavioral coding/labeling on the data collected. Work will include collecting data in preschools and/or at the zoo and STARS students will join a team of 20 undergraduate research assistants, 2 Ph.D. students, and 2 Postdoctoral researchers.
Prerequisites: Preference for students who can work with children or non-human primates and like working in teams. Prefer Psychology, Cognitive Science, Anthropology, Linguistics or Biology Majors. Also must have taken a class on Research Methods or similar.

Lara Rangel
Lara Rangel is an Assistant Professor who works in the Department of Cognitive Science. Her project description: Associative memory is essential for survival, enabling us to draw connections between the features of our environment and the rewards or dangers that they predict. The hippocampal network is critical for learning and memory, and its subregions are uniquely positioned to learn relevant associations and flexible index them as required in order to guide behavior. In particular, the dentate gyrus (DG) and CA3 subregions of the hippocampus receive inputs from various cortical and subcortical regions, which are thought to convey rich multimodal sensory, visuospatial, and affective information. Each of these subregions, however, exhibits unique cellular organization that allows them to differentially interact with extrinsic inputs. This observation has led investigators to posit distinct, but complementary, computational roles for DG and CA3 in associative memory processing. Flexible coordination between DG and CA3 consequently provides a platform for dynamic processing of inputs to the hippocampus, but the extent to which these subregions interact over the course of learning is not well-characterized. Through the use of electrophysiological recordings in behaving rodents, this project will simultaneously investigate the unique contributions of DG and CA3 to associative memory processing, as well as assess the degree and nature of their coordination during learning.
Prerequisites: Preference for students with some programming experience and who are comfortable working with rats.

Steven Dow
Steven Dow is an Associate Professor in the Cognitive Science department. His research interest is in human-computer interaction, social computing, and design. He focuses on understanding and creating tools to support creativity for individuals, groups, and crowds.  He is in charge of Design for San Diego (D4SD). Design for San Diego is an innovation challenge structured around the human-centered design process that seeks to solve complex civic problems. D4SD 2017 was supported by the UC San Diego Design Lab, the City of San Diego, the Port of San Diego, SANDAG, the National Science Foundation, the Design Forward Alliance, and SCALE SD. Through this "open civics" approach of discovery, ideation, prototyping and implementing solutions, D4SD seeks to create opportunities for government, academia, and industry to collaboratively innovate on civic solutions. They are looking for students to help design and develop the website, to conduct user research on civic issues, and to analyze data from the 2017 D4SD Challenge.
Prerequisites: Looking for skills in visual design, computer science, data science, interviewing, qualitative data analysis, video production.


Prashant Bharadwaj
Prashant Bharadwaj is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of California, San Diego. His research interests are in development and labor economics, focusing on the interactions between early childhood health, gender, and education. Actual project will be determined by professor later in time.
Prerequisites: None


Education Studies

Frances Contreras
Frances Contreras is an Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and an Associate Professor in the Department of Education Studies. She most recently served as co-director of the joint doctoral program in Education Leadership at UC San Diego. The STARS project will be later decided by Dr. Frances, it will be in the Education studies field.
Prerequisites: None

Jacobs School of Engineering (JSOE) - Bioengineering

Francisco Contijoch
Francisco Contijoch is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and Radiology. His research develops medical imaging techniques to improve our understanding of cardiovascular physiology, improve the diagnosis of patients, and help monitor disease progression and responses to treatments. Projects would involve working with imaging data to extract clinically-relevant measurements of cardiovascular function. The specific project/dataset will be defined at a later date. Potential areas of interest include patients with congenital heart disease, pulmonary hypertension, and heart failure. The student will be exposed to cardiovascular medical imaging techniques, computer programming, and image analysis tools.

Karen Christman
Karen Christman is a professor at UCSD IN THE Bioengineering Department. The Christman Lab focuses on developing novel biomaterials for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications. The lab has a strong translational focus with the main goal of developing minimally invasive; biomaterials based therapies for myocardial infarction, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease. Projects are highly interdisciplinary and involve collaborations with basic scientists, engineers, and physicians. Specific project will be decided at a later time by the professor.
Prerequisites: None

Robert Sah
Professor Sah's goal is to pave the way for a successful tissue-engineered total joint replacement for people who suffer cartilage damage due to injury or aging. The student will research Cartilage Tissue Engineering: Formation, Maintenance, Deterioration, Repair, Regeneration, and Restoration of the Skeleton. Has a group of Ph.D. students who are starting to move along well in their projects, and will all be ready to mentor undergraduate students in the summertime. For most, students majoring in Science or Engineering would be best. There is space for technically oriented art majors (or something like that).
Prerequisites: Majoring in Science, Engineering, and Art

Jacobs School of Engineering (JSOE) - Computer Science and Engineering

Arun Kumar
Kumar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California, San Diego. The STARS student will help build software systems, tools, and techniques to make it easier and faster to analyze large and complex datasets with machine learning algorithms
Prerequisites:  Must have basic knowledge of machine learning, databases, and computer systems. Proficiency in Python is required; proficiency in a lower-level programming language (C/C++ or Java) is also beneficial (but not required).

Debashis Sahoo
Dr. Debashis Sahoo is an Assistant Professor in the Pediatrics and Computer Science and Engineering Department. Dr. Sahoo's research is on bioinformatics and computational biology. His research deals with applying Boolean analysis to get insight into human diseases.
: Any programming language.


Nikolay A. Atanasov
Nikolay A. Atanasov is an Assistant Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering.  This project will focus on modeling the kinematics and dynamics of an ackermann-drive car robot in Gazebo and the Robot Operating System (ROS). You will also learn to estimate the position and orientation of the robot using lidar data. Finally, a trajectory tracking controller will be developed and tested in simulation and on a physical robot.
Prerequisites: Candidates are expected to have programming experience at the level of ECE141 and knowledge of linear systems and control theory at the level of ECE101 and ECE171.

Vineet Bafna
Professor Bafna is a Professor with expertise in Bioinformatics. He has many projects in 'personalized genomics', relating to the mining of genetic information to better inform about diseases (human cancer), and genetic health.
Prerequisites: The students must be comfortable in Python. If interested in web development, they should be comfortable with JavaScript. Knowledge of algorithms, machine learning is a bonus.


Jacobs School of Engineering (JSOE) - Electrical and Computer Engineering

Massimo Franceschetti
Professor Massimo Franceschetti teaches in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department within our Jacobs School of Engineering. This project would explore the security of cyber-systems using autonomous vehicles subject to security attacks. Will work close to one of my graduate students to implement a demo of state-of-the-art research.
Prerequisites: Knowledge of Python and C.

Vikash Gilja
Assistant Professor Vikash Gilja works in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in our Jacobs School of Engineering. His project entails the establishment of a novel animal model for the development of a Human Speech Prosthesis. It involves working in an interdisciplinary research team to integrate machine learning, signal processing, systems development, and a dash of neuroscience. Team members will learn and develop skills directly applicable to the neural engineering field.
Knowledge of Python and C. Some exposure to data science and linear algebra. Some Exposure to Neuroscience would be nice. Exposure to circuit design and audio signal processing would be nice, but not necessary. Communication skills and teamwork ability are a necessity. Website:

Tina Tse Nga Ng
Tina Tse Nga Ng is an Associate Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her project aims to develop short-wavelength infrared photosensors by using a new generation of narrow bandgap conjugated polymers. The polymer semiconductors are processed by solution processing techniques and allow printing deposition to bypass the limitations in conventional devices. The proposed research will involve fabrication of photosensors and device characterization to identify the fundamental constraints in the charge generation processes as polymer band gaps are reduced. The resulting knowledge will be applicable not only to infrared sensing applications but also to other areas including photovoltaics and optical communications and will be essential to theoretical efforts to rapidly predict better photo-active polymers.
Prerequisites: Must have taken classes in physics or learned about semiconductors.

Jacobs School of Engineering (JSOE) - Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

David Saintillan
David Saintillan joined the University of California San Diego in 2013 as a Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His research centers in the study of fundamental fluid mechanic problems involving complex fluids and complex flows, typically on small scales. His research group uses a combination of modeling theory and numerical simulations to study the dynamics and properties of flows involving a microstructure suspended in and interacting with a viscous fluid, as arise in many biophysical, environmental, and technological processes. The exact duties of the student will be determined by Prof Saintillan.
Prerequisites: Undergraduate calculus, and basic knowledge of Matlab

Joanna McKittrick
Professor Joanna McKittrick's research is concerned with understanding the structure and mechanical properties of biological materials (e.g. bone, teeth, mollusk shells). The student will study structural biological materials and development of bioinspired materials.
Prerequisites: Have taken general physics, math, and chemistry classes

John Hwang
John Hwang is an Assistant Professor focused on aerospace and aviation.  His current project in computational design studies for electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft concepts for air taxi operation. This project will use computational models and optimization algorithms to compute the designs of aircraft concepts that maximize aircraft efficiency and range.
Prerequisites: Must have knowledge of Python or MATLAB and intermediate to strong programming ability.



Jorge Cortes
Jorge Cortés is a Professor with the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He works on distributed robotics at the MURO Lab ( includes design, analysis, and implementation of motion planning strategies and distributed coordination algorithms on multi-robot networks performing spatially-distributed tasks. His lab focuses on the deployment of heterogeneous robots including ground vehicles and aerial vehicles. They rely on methods from graph theory, dynamics, and control combined with open source software programming.  Several project opportunities exist to enhance the range of current capabilities in the lab. These include the implementation of distributed methods for self-localization with onboard cameras, 3D formation control strategies with heterogeneous teams, human-swarm interaction mechanisms that enable rapid deployment of robot swarms, and design and instrumentation of small ground and aerial robots.
Prerequisites: Experience with open source software and programming (Python/C++) in general.

Nicholas Boechler
Nicholas Boechler is an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department studies materials and its properties. Throughout history, discoveries of materials with new properties have enabled significant technological leaps. Within this context, using a combined experimental, computational, and analytical approach, Boechler strives to uncover new understanding that enables the design of materials with extraordinary properties. Currently, he is focused on materials wherein new mechanical properties are achieved by manipulating the propagation of stress waves via designed microstructure and strong nonlinearities and has a particular interest in the dynamics of self-assembled systems. Students will study and design materials with new properties, particularly under dynamic mechanical loading.
Prerequisites: None

Jacobs School of Engineering (JSOE) – Nano engineering

Shaochen Chen
Dr. Chen is a Professor in the Nanoengineering Department at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He is also a faculty member of the Institute of Engineering in Medicine and the Clinical Translational Research Institute at UCSD. His research interests are Biomaterials and Bio fabrication, Nano-Regenerative Medicine Laser Nano manufacturing Nano photonics, Plasmonics, and Metamaterials Bio and Nano-Mechanics. Actual Project will be decided by the professor at a later time.
Prerequisites: none


Ameeth Vijay
Ameeth Vijay is an Assistant Professor of Literature, Modern and Contemporary Global Literatures in English. His research examines the intersections between literature, urban planning, and geography in order to track the persistence of colonial relationships in the development of contemporary spaces, including in global cities. Methodologically, He studies not only literature but historical materials, planning documents, environmental assessments, and urban aesthetics to theorize the development of colonial and neocolonial relations. He would like to extend the scope of his region to study the Los Angeles and San Diego/border regions as key sites of urban development and thus metonymic for all global cities.
Prerequisites: Need a student both familiar with the cultural history of Southern California and familiar with the techniques and disposition of literary studies and critical theory to aide in this research. Research in the humanities addresses critical and timely issues pertaining to culture, politics, and aesthetics.


Neurosciences - Institute for Neural Computation (INC)

Leanne Chukoskie
Leanne Chukoskie is a Neuroscientist who has worked at the interface of multiple other disciplines -- from engineering to education -- to engage technology for assessment and intervention of eye and body movement differences in children with learning and developmental disorders. The Research for Autism and Development Laboratory and the Power of NeuroGaming Center (at the Qualcomm Institute) seek to develop and test game-based therapeutics and assessments that address specific challenges that are commonly observed in different neurodevelopmental disorders.  Our gaze-driven games train attention orienting skills are the subject of an NIH-funded clinical trial. The student will help develop and test video games for assessment and intervention in different populations, such as individuals with autism.
Prerequisites: Must be able to work with children and good with technology-- coding preferred.

Political Science

Daniel Butler
Daniel Butler is an Associate Professor of Political Science. Dan Butler studies American Politics. He focuses on questions related to representation and the behavior of elites and often uses experiments to do so. The actual project will be decided at a later time by Professor Daniel Butler.
Prerequisites: None.

Erik Gartzke
Professor Gartzke studies the impact of information on the war, peace and international institutions and he is in charge of the Center for Peace and Security Studies (CPASS).  CPASS supports and monitors funded research, graduate training, and campus outreach at UCSD in the subject of peace and international security. It currently has projects on new modes of deterrence (gray zone, cross-domain) and emerging modes of conflict (cyber, space, UAVs). They are eager to integrate students into their research agenda and can offer opportunities to work on one of several projects in these substantive areas. For example, an ongoing project involving students seeks to assess the ways in which officials choose the types of actions to threaten or employ in crises and conflict situations.
Prerequisites: Preferred political science, computer science/applied mathematics background, but open to all interested students

Marisa Abrajano
Professor Marisa Abrajano is interested in American politics, particularly racial and ethnic politics, political participation, voting and campaigns, and the mass media. She is the author of several books; the most recent one entitled White Backlash: Immigration, Race and American Politics published by Princeton University Press in 2015. The project will be determined but the professor at a later time.
Prerequisites: None


Adena Schachner
Adena Schachner is an Assistant Professor whose research explores how children and adults reason about the social world, with a particular focus on links between music and social cognition. The Mind and Development Lab investigates children's social and cognitive development. They are interested in how infants and children learn about their social world, by making inferences about the hidden contents of others' minds (like goals, preferences, or beliefs). In particular, they are currently studying how infants, children, and adults understand other's intentional actions, and reason about the objects they own and create. Their work has also focused on music cognition, particularly the origins of our capacity to move in time with a beat. Student researchers may be involved with data collection (including recruiting and conducting studies with families of infants, children, and adults), data coding and analysis, weekly lab meetings and reading group.
Prerequisites: Preference for students who can program and code websites, and/or students who can work with young children.

Christina Gremel
Christina Gremel is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology department. Her focus is to understand how the brain does decision –making.  Understandings of both the behavioral and neural mechanisms are involved. She takes an integrative approach using mice, in which she can combine both simple and sophisticated quantitative behavioral measurements, with powerful molecular and genetic tools and monitoring techniques to delineate molecular mechanisms within specific cell-types in identified circuits that control decision-making processes. The project will involve neural mechanisms of disrupted decision-making in mice.
Prerequisites: Must work with animals (mice) and be accepting of animal research

David Barner
Professor David Barner is interested in language, though, and conceptual development, and studies case studies like a number, time, space, and logical reasoning. The Language and Development Lab is interested in how children learn a language and develop an understanding of objects and events in the world. Current research projects in the lab investigate a broad range of topics, from how children acquire words and concepts about logic, number, color, and time, to how children make pragmatic inferences in conversation. Summer research students will have the opportunity to work on an existing project under the supervision of a graduate student, postdoc, or lab coordinator. Students will run experiments in preschools, museums, or in the lab with children (e.g. 18-months-old to 5-years-old) or adult controls; enter and code data using various computer software; recruit families via phone, email and at external sites; design stimuli; and participate in weekly lab meetings.
Prerequisites: Students who are able to work with children, and have experience doing so is preferable; undergraduate linguistics or developmental psychology

Timothy Brady
Assistant Professor Timothy Brady aims to understand how the world is represented by the visual system, and how information is encoded and integrated into memory. His lab is interested in the precision with which people can remember information long-term memory and how much we can actively hold the information in our mind (e.g., you may have heard we have a working memory capacity of 7+/- 2). When you are asked to remember a property of a visual object (e.g., what color was that car you saw?), how much does holding it in mind for a long time hurt your memory? Does your memory get worse primarily because all of your memories get noisier and less precise or because some memories are lost completely but others are preserved almost perfectly? The STARS project will focus on examining visual memory precision -- how well we can remember what we saw and what we can do to improve our memories. You'll get to learn to do some programming in MATLAB; run people in experiments, and learn to analyze the data in Excel and MATLAB. The experiments will vary from simple examinations of memory precision to questions about what memory looks like when people have false memories.
Prerequisites: MATLAB experience is a plus but not required. Experience running psychology experiments is a plus.

Timothy Gentner

Dr. Timothy Gentner is a Professor in the Department of Psychology. The Gentner lab explores the neural mechanisms that govern the sensory, perceptual, motor, and cognitive processing of natural sounds, especially animal communication signals. Research topics address questions of neural coding, representational plasticity, high-level decision mechanisms, and motor control of natural behavior. Researchers in the lab develop skills in electrophysiology, neuroanatomy, and animal behavior to address their interests in computationally rigorous ways. The project entails understanding the neural encoding of vocalizations and communication. This project is in collaboration with a neural engineering lab here at UCSD. This interdisciplinary collaboration will give students hands-on electrophysiology experience as well as training in neural signal processing and machine learning. Applicants should be comfortable working in an animal lab.

Prerequisites: Knowledge of Python and C. Taken a biology class. (Extra Emphasis on Neuroscience). Communication skills and teamwork ability are a necessity.

Viola Stormer
Viola Stormer is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology department. Her lab is interested in understanding the cognitive and neural mechanisms of visual attention and multisensory processing. Her research is focused on the question of how attention helps us select and process information efficiently. Furthermore, she is interested in the role of attention in integrating events from different sensory modalities (sight, sound, touch). She uses both behavioral and electrophysiological methods to study these questions in healthy human participants. This summer STARS project will focus on examining how visual and auditory attentions intersect. As a student researcher, you’ll get to do some programming in Matlab, run participants in both behavioral and electrophysiological (EEG) experiments, and analyze data in Excel and Matlab. You will work closely together with the PI and a Ph.D. student.
Prerequisites: Have taken general psychology classes; great if Matlab experience (not required though).

Caren Walker
The Early Learning & Cognition Lab, under the direction of Dr. Caren Walker, seeks to understand how children build early theories and learn and reason about the causal structure of the world. They use a model of the child as a "scientist," forming implicit hypotheses and then testing and rationally revising those hypotheses based on incoming evidence. Although children are excellent at scientific reasoning in informal learning contexts, they often find explicit scientific inquiry skills in formal pedagogical contexts quite difficult. Our current line of work explores a variety of techniques in order to facilitate these early skills. All studies will take place in the context of short games, designed to be engaging for young children (between the ages of 1 and 8).
Prerequisites: Some experience with psychology, cognitive science, or a related field. The student must have experience working with children (formally or informally).


School of Medicine

Alon Goren
Alan Goren is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine. His lab focuses on epigenomic mechanisms and merges basic biology, technological innovations, and computational analyses. His major interest is in developmental-epigenomic questions. Both DNA sequence and the organization of DNA associated proteins are transmitted during cell divisions. This organization is disrupted during the cell cycle, and the original structure of chromatin must be restored after each cell division, a process termed ‘epigenetic memory’. This project, in collaboration with the Simon lab, focuses on the mechanisms that provide cellular epigenetic memory. They merge cell cycle synchronization methods, automated ChIP-seq and computational framework to model the temporal dynamics of CRs and histone modifications during the cell cycle and predict critical regulators of cell cycle epigenomic maintenance. Students will functionally evaluate these predictions using an inducible degradation system to perturb specific CRs and then follow the dynamics of the histone modifications in the perturbed cells.
Prerequisites: Knowledge of chromatin biology (e.g., ChIP-seq) and/or computational approaches for analysis of genomic datasets (command line tools and e.g. peak calling algorithms).  

Dan Kaufman
Dan Kaufman is a Professor in the Division of Regenerative Medicine. He is currently the Director of Cell Therapy at University California San Diego. His project will focus on blood and immune cell development from human pluripotent stem cells.
Prerequisites: Students must have specific interest and knowledge about the research in his lab.

Francesca Telese
Francesca Telese is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine. The Telese lab studies how the environment influences brain function in health and disease. They approach this broad question by studying epigenetic modifications that store the molecular responses of a cell to its environment. They focus on epigenetic mechanisms underlying cell-type-specific gene expression by using next-generation sequencing techniques in cellular systems or model organisms. The identification and manipulation of epigenetic processes in the brain may enhance our basic understanding of brain function and open the door to new treatments for brain diseases. Molecular and behavioral effects of cannabinoids during adolescence in heterozygous Reeler mice
Prerequisites: students will work with mice, must have taken general biology classes

John T. Chang
Dr. John Chang studies the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying Tlymphocyte fate specification. In particular, his laboratory is interested in the molecular regulation of CD8+ T cell differentiation & cell polarity as a central theme in regulating the fate and function of a wide range of cell types across many different organisms. They are interested in how rare progenitor cells continually produce terminally differentiated cells while also preserving a self-renewing lineage. The goal of their research is to understand how T cells use asymmetric cell division to balance the demands of terminal differentiation and self-renewal, using cutting-edge methods including immunofluorescence microscopy, animal models of infection and autoimmunity, multi-color flow cytometry, and single-cell RNA sequencing techniques. The importance of the work is that defining the mechanisms regulating asymmetric cell division will contribute to their understanding of a multitude of diverse processes, including embryonic patterning, organ formation and function, stem cell and tissue regeneration, immunity, and cancer.   
Prerequisites: Must be willing to work with mice; interested in immunology

Kim Barrett
Kim Barrett is a distinguished professor in the Department of Medicine. Her project is based on the study of intestinal epithelial physiology to understand the mechanistic basis of various diarrheal diseases.
Prerequisites: Life sciences or chemistry major


School of Medicine - Cellular and Molecular

Bruce Hamilton
Bruce Hamilton is a Professor of Cellular and Molecular at UCSD. We are interested in genetic architectures and genomic responses in brain development, neurological disorders, and neural control of blood pressure regulation. Recent work has focused on modifier genes and gene networks in mouse models, with particular emphasis on the therapeutic range in genetic titration experiments. Actual Project will be decided at a later time by Professor.
Prerequisites: None.

Eugene Yeo
Gene Yeo is an Associate Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. A major focus of the Yeo laboratory is an interest in understanding how gene expression is controlled at the RNA level to maintain proper functioning of cells during development and aging. The STARS student will study stem cell models of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases.
Prerequisites: Must be okay with lentiviral work; basic molecular biology and cell culture laboratory skills essential, Python desired but not required.

Huilin Zhou
Professor Zhou’s expertise is in yeast genetics, protein biochemistry, and proteomics. He is interested in deciphering the regulatory pathways that utilize post-translational protein modifications including phosphorylation, ubiquitination, and sumoylation to maintain genome integrity. Chromosomal defects including chromosomal translocations and aneuploidy contribute to the onset and progression of cancer. Genetic studies have revealed a major role of the ATR/ATM family kinase and the SUMO pathway in preventing these chromosomal defects. His team studies the way pathways are regulated, what their targets are and how their modifications regulate their activities to maintain genome stability, and how mutations of these pathways lead to cancer. Actual Project will be decided by Professor Zhou at a later time.
Prerequisites: Student applicants are expected to contact Professor Zhou in advance and submit their academic files (CV. Transcripts, etc.) for his review and potential interview.

Michael G. Rosenfeld
Professor Michael Rosenfeld investigates the molecular and architectural strategies responsible for integrating genome-wide transcriptional responses to diverse signaling systems, critical for physiological and behavioral processes in all vertebrates. In his lab, they examine the mechanisms of gene expression by nuclear receptors. In response to hormonal signaling, thousands of genes get activated or repressed. Non-coding regulatory elements, known as enhancers, play a crucial role in this co-ordinated regulation of gene expression. They examine the genetic, molecular and physicochemical components that regulate transcription and 3-dimensional chromatin architecture. Professor Michael Rosenfeld wants students who are interested in basic biomedical and molecular biology research.
Prerequisites: None.

School of Medicine – Surgery

Antonio De Maio
Dr. Antonio De Maio is a professor of Surgery and Neuroscience, a member of the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at UC San Diego, and Director of the Center for Investigations of Health and Education Disparities. The Antonio De Maio laboratory is investigating the molecular and genetic bases of the response to injury. Traumatic injury is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in the United States, particularly among children. The De Maio research group has found that the response to injury is modulated by several confounding factors including genetic background, sex, age, diet, and environment. The major factor associated with morbidity and mortality injury is an overwhelming inflammatory response. The Antonio De Maio group is using mouse genetics to identify genes that regulate the inflammatory process as potential therapeutic targets.
Prerequisites: Must be able to work with mice

School of Medicine - Pathology

Jonathan Lin
Jonathan Lin, a Professor in the Pathology department studies Tauopathies. They are devastating neurodegenerative diseases that include Alzheimer’s disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Recent studies have identified a novel gene, EIF2AK3/PERK, as being a risk factor in patients with tauopathies.  The EIF2AK3/PERK gene encodes a kinase with numerous coding and non-coding variants in the human population.  Several of these EIF2AK3/PERK variants are associated with increased risk for tauopathy, but the function of these variants and how they cause neurodegeneration are unknown.  The goal of the STARS project is to test the function of human EIF2AK3/PERK alleles in cells obtained from patients with tauopathies. The student will use stem cell, molecular, and biochemical approaches to identify differences between EIF2AK3/PERK alleles. These studies will reveal how EIF2AK3/PERK contributes to neurodegeneration and may lead to the development of novel therapies to prevent disease based on targeting this kinase. Essentially the student will research diseases of the eye and brain.
Prerequisites: None


School of Medicine – Pediatrics

Debashis Sahoo
Dr. Debashis Sahoo is an Assistant Professor in the Pediatrics and Computer Science and Engineering Department. Dr. Sahoo's research is on bioinformatics and computational biology. His research deals with applying Boolean analysis to get insight into human diseases.
: Any programming language.

School of Medicine - Psychiatry

Victoria B. Risbrough
Dr. Risbrough’s research is centered on translational mechanisms and treatments of anxiety and depression particularly trauma-related disorders. She leads a dual preclinical/clinical research program focusing on identifying mechanisms of risk and resilience to post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as the development of new pharmacological treatments for these disorders. Her clinical work examines mechanisms underlying core disruptions of fear learning and inhibition in trauma-related disorders, as well as the development of novel pharmacological treatments targeting these mechanisms.  Actual project will be determined by the professor at a later time.
Prerequisites: None


Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Lisa Levin
Dr. Levin is a marine ecologist who studies benthic ecosystems in the deep sea and shallow water. Together with her students, Dr. Levin has worked with a broad range of taxa, from microbes and microalgae to invertebrates, fishes, and whales. Her recent research has emphasized 3 major themes: the structure, function and vulnerability of continental margin ecosystems, particularly those subject to oxygen and sulfide stress, ocean acidification and deoxygenation; (2) wetland biotic interactions as they mediate marsh function, invasion and restoration; and  (3) larval ecology of coastal marine populations with emphasis on connectivity. Dr. Levin is currently at sea; therefore actual project will be determined at a later time.
Prerequisites: None


Lane Kenworthy
Lane Kenworthy is the Yankelovich Endowed Chair Professor. He studies the causes and consequences of living standards, poverty, inequality, mobility, employment, economic growth, social policy, taxes, public opinion, and politics in the United States and other affluent countries. For his current research, he is focusing on, What institutions and policies are most conducive to human flourishing in a rich society? He’s working on a book, titled "The Good Society” that attempts to answer this question by looking at how the world's affluent democratic countries have fared in achieving a wide range of desirable outcomes -- freedom, tolerance, economic growth, opportunity, education, health, happiness, and much more. The research assistant will do review the research literature, gather data, and write a draft of part or all of a chapter for this book.
Prerequisites: None