Graduate Division

2019 Grad Slam Finalists

2019 Gradslam Finalists

Congratulations to our 2019 Grad Slam Top Ten Finalists!  Join us on March 8th to cheer them on as they go head-to-head in our campus finals.  

Mohammad Aghaamoo

Degree Program

Biomedical Engineering Ph.D.

Research

Single cell analysis is a rapidly developing approach to characterize living organisms at individual cell level. In recent years, there have been many reports that demonstrate there is a heterogenous populations of cells within any single tissue. Thus, single cell analysis plays a key role in understanding different diseases such as cancer, developing effective drugs, analysis of stem cell differentiation, etc. One of the pivotal steps in single cell analysis is sample preparation: to isolate specific types of cells from a heterogenous populations of cells with high accuracy and precisely manipulate and organize them individually to be studied one by one. However, the single cell analysis research field still faces major challenges to address these needs. My research is focused on providing researchers and scientists with a technology to isolate the cells they are interested in from population of cells and precisely organize them to be placed in specific positions to be studied one by one.

Karen Arcos

Degree Program

Cognitive Neuroscience Ph.D.

Research

We investigate whether and how different senses impact blind and sighted humans’ memory. People who are blind have superior short-term memory relative to the sighted. Braille’s influence on memory in blind individuals is less clear. Braille is a written code for the blind, in which raised dot patterns felt with the fingertips represent characters. Sighted participants and legally blind participants were recruited. Blind participants varied in terms of how well they read braille. All participants answered a questionnaire about themselves. They also memorized and manipulated digits presented visually, auditorily, and in braille. We measured task accuracy. Sighted participants remembered more items visually compared to auditorily. Blind participants recalled more than the sighted when listening to digits. The difference was even higher among blind braille readers compared to the sighted using the same sense. Findings indicate modality’s role in memory is important. They will better explain how senses differentially influence memory performance in both groups to design more effective products for all.

Why are you passionate about your research?

I am passionate about neuroscience because I am curious and would like to create knowledge about our brains' potential. Oftentimes, individuals from non-marginalized groups conduct research on under-represented minorities, such as myself. Leading a research project by and for such populations, I can not only contribute my first-hand experiences to justify its importance, but I may also pose relevant questions based on what has already been found. Throughout my education, I've faced and overcome academic and societal obstacles because I am totally blind. Therefore, I'd like to make learning as fun and fair as possible for everyone.

What made you want to enter Grad Slam?

I value strong communication skills. Speaking about my research, I will hone my persuasion and marketing abilities.

Why do you think you can be the next Grad Slam Champion?

I explain science to the general public via the nationally broadcast show, the Loh Down on Science. Using my English and Spanish fluency, I simplify and normalize complex topics like disability on a daily basis. For example, please say your name and role when speaking with me. Finally, I have previous media-related experiences, including airing on television.

Stephanie Hachey

Degree Program

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Ph.D.

Research

Anti-cancer drug development is a costly, time-consuming process that fails more often than it succeeds. Not only do patients have limited treatment options as a result, they are treated as an 'average' patient instead of an individual, which often leads to poor clinical outcomes. To address the need for drug screening platforms that more accurately model a tumor inside the human body, we have created tumor on a chip. Tumor on a chip is an advanced microfluidic device that allows us to quickly test a variety of drugs on a patient’s actual tumor cells in conditions that more accurately mimic their biology than the standard drug screening methods used today. Our platform is the only one of its kind to incorporate living blood vessels that feed the growing tumor just as it occurs inside the human body. Most importantly, the conditions required for drug testing form within days and allow for rapid testing of anti-cancer drugs to inform drug development and clinical decision-making in a timely manner. This represents a major breakthrough in drug screening and has the potential to change the way patient treatments are prescribed.

Why are you passionate about your research?

I'm passionate about biomedical research because it holds the secrets to preventative measures, better treatments, and, ultimately, cures for disease. I enjoy finding creative ways to unlock those secrets as I strive to improve human health through my discoveries.

What made you want to enter Grad Slam?

Grad Slam is such an excellent opportunity to tailor your research talk to a general audience, get essential feedback on your communication style, and engage the community in your work. I want to share my research with others to inspire a sense of awe at the power and promise of research.

Why do you think you can be the next Grad Slam Champion?

This is my final year in my program and I've had many opportunities to present my research to diverse audiences, so I'm feeling well-prepared. I'm looking forward to sharing the findings from my work, and getting people excited about it!

Irene Martinez Josemaria

Degree Program

Civil Engineering Ph.D.

Research

Queues in freeways and roads usually occur at bottlenecks, which are sections of the road that have some geometric changes. Capacity drop is a phenomenon that occurs when the bottleneck get congested and this phenomenon further reduces the capacity of the bottleneck. The capacity drop is caused by the way that drivers accelerate away from the bottleneck queue. Fortunately, it has been proven that accelerating away from queues at other locations does not trigger capacity drop. Variable speed limits are used to generate an artificial queue at a less harmful location to allow vehicles to reach the bottleneck without generating a queue there. This allows to reduce congestion and shorten the total travel time of the users!

Michael Milgie

Degree Program

Physics Ph.D. - Chemical and Materials Physics

Research

The Quartz Crystal Microbalance (QCM) was invented 60 years ago, and has since become commonplace in many experiments. It has found use in thousands of varied applications from vacuums, to liquids, and is even on Mars. More recently work has been done to further increase the sensitivity of these extremely precise detectors by modifying the surface structure. In this study we fabricate porous gold QCM allowing us to increase the sensitivity by more than three orders of magnitude. We find we have successfully increased the sensitivity of the QCM beyond that of any currently published result.
In the presentation we discuss the use of our porous gold QCM as a smelling detector and compare the sensitivity to human noses, current commercially available sensors, and dog noses. We discuss the use of the device as a real time, on-site medical diagnostics tool. Using biomarkers found in human breath, this device could detect breast cancer, Parkinson's disease, liver failure, and many more conditions. Our sensor is further capable of detecting biomarkers found in blood or urine. We hope to provide humanity with the next generation of smelling technology, to keep us safe and healthy.

Rachel Rosenzweig

Degree Program

Materials Science and Engineering Ph.D.

Research

Life threatening bacteria and fungi often populate environments where nutrient rich fluid is present such as medical devices. There are almost 2 million annual cases of hospital-acquired infections due to contaminated medical devices leading to 100,000 deaths and $20 billion in health care costs in the US alone. Current overused solutions of chemicals and antimicrobial drugs applied to medical devices have led to the rise in antimicrobial resistance. The World Health Organization declared AMR as 'a dominant threat to global health' with annual death rates predicted to surpass Cancer by 2050.  Natural nano-spiked surfaces on insect wings have been found to cause bacterial cell rupture and death. My work aims to engineer nature-inspired surface coatings for medical devices that can be both antimicrobial without chemicals or drugs. I utilize a low-cost technique called Nanoimprint Lithography that heats up a material surface and stamps physically tailored nano-scale structures on the material's own surface without additional materials or chemicals. I have demonstrated that these nature-inspired engineered surfaces kill both infectious bacteria and fungi on medical device materials.

Ronald Sahyouni

Degree Program

M.D./Ph.D.

Research

My research is focused on diagnosing traumatic brain injuries (TBI). More specifically, our lab is focused on identifying blood-based biosignatures/biomarkers for concussion, or mild TBI (mTBI). The development of blood-based metabolomic biosignatures for acute mTBI has proven challenging. Such a blood test could revolutionize the diagnosis, rapid triage, and effective management of head injuries worldwide.

 A recent human investigation provided six plasma metabolites, confirmed via tandem mass spectrometry, which accurately classify acute mTBI subjects within 6 hours (≤6h) of injury. We investigated whether the murine plasma metabolome provided similar metabolites for classification of sham-injured animals from those sustaining single or repeated mTBI, in the ≤6h interval. Using a validated murine mTBI model, single (n=18), five-repeated (n=20), or sham (n=12) injuries were produced. Unique murine plasma metabolite panels were discovered, in addition to preliminary matching to the six human metabolites, both of which permitted accurate classification of the murine experimental groups. The murine plasma metabolome provides preliminary metabolite annotations that accurately classify the acute single or repeat TBI groups from sham groups, and contains metabolites matching those of human acute mTBI biosignatures.

 In short, we were able to identify a blood-based biomarker panel that could accurately diagnose concussion. We hope to translate this to the clinic, and develop a portable hand-held device that can diagnose concussion at the bedside.

Why are you passionate about your research?

I am passionate about expanding our ability to diagnose and treat TBI. Every year, over 1.8 million people suffer from a concussion. To put that in perspective, every 20 seconds, 1 person suffers from a concussion in the United States alone! In addition to the monumental socioeconomic impact of TBI (it costs the United States over $60 billion each year), the aftermath of a TBI wreaks havoc in the lives of the patient and their family members. Unfortunately, very little progress has been made in our ability to diagnose and treat TBI. As such, I hope to help advance how we diagnose, manage, and prevent TBI.

What made you want to enter Grad Slam?

I believe that explaining scientific concepts to the public in an understandable manner is essential to the widespread adoption of novel scientific advancements. Grad Slam offers an incredible opportunity to explain some of the remarkable work being conducted in the University of California system to a broad audience.

Why do you think you can be the next Grad Slam Champion?

I believe that the work we have done in the field of mTBI can significantly improve how we diagnose head injury. This work is extremely relevant in the modern era of NFL contention around head injury, high rates of TBI in the military, and the ubiquitous nature of concussion. I want to share our work with a broad audience and raise awareness about the importance of head injury. Grad Slam is an incredible platform that enables researchers to share their work, and I am honored to have the chance to present my work at the UC Irvine Finals!

Will Thrift

Degree Program

Materials Science & Engineering Ph.D.

Research

Antibiotic resistant bacteria are an important threat to the future health of society. In my research, I have developed new chemical sensors that enable the early detection of bacteria, and new methods for antibiotic stewardship. I have invented a new scalable nanomanufacturing technique for surface enhanced Raman scattering sensors. With these sensors I have shown that bacterial biofilms can be detected within hours of contaminating a surface, much faster than other methods. This is achieved by monitoring the small molecules that the bacteria produce. I have shown that with the aid of artificial intelligence (AI), the sensor performance can be dramatically improved. With AI, the sensors can not just detect and identify bacteria, it can be used to identify what antibiotics the bacteria are resistant to. This method can empower healthcare workers to better implement antibiotics to cure infections without developing new, resistant strains.

Why are you passionate about your research?

I want to bring the sense of smell to robotics.

What made you want to enter Grad Slam?

The chance to tell people about my research.

Why do you think you can be the next Grad Slam Champion?

I spend a lot of time thinking about science communication.

Jenny Woo

Degree Program

Education Ph.D.

Research

Compelling research demonstrates that developing students’ social and emotional skills improves a wide range of benefits in academics and in life. Social and emotional skills were found to predict academic achievement and more so than IQ (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005). It was also found to decrease problems in mental health and behavioral issues, such as drug use, bullying, criminal behavior and dropout rates (Kautz, Heckman, Diris, Bas ter Weel, & Borghans, 2014). Yet, a national teachers’ survey found that four in five teachers need more support in students’ social and emotional development (Bridgeland, Bruce, & Hariharan, 2013).

52 Essential Conversations is a tool designed to embed and bridge social-emotional vocabulary and skill competencies in a child’s ecological environment, including school and home settings. It aims to maximize learning experiences for both children and facilitating adults through personally- and culturally-responsive prompts that foster mutual respect, self-reflection, and perspective-taking.

Why are you passionate about your research?

I'm passionate about facilitating and fostering an inclusive environment that promotes social and emotional connectedness. I believe that every child (and adult) deserve to have champions and supportive relationships in their lives. My mission for children and adults alike: empower people to become self-motivated, inspired, and compassionate citizens of the world.

What made you want to enter Grad Slam?

I believe that it's very important to be able to translate research into applicable, practical, and realistic solutions that can truly benefit society in a timely manner. Grad Slam offers a great supportive venue to practice communicating the big picture, the why, and test the market's interest in my research interventions.

Why do you think you can be the next Grad Slam Champion?

I'm passionate about what I do and I deeply believe that my research can have a profound impact on the world. As an educational neuroscientist and social entrepreneur, I have already demonstrated a reputable track record of inventiveness, scalability, and most importantly, social impact through my research. You can count on me to continue furthering the mission, brand, and impact of my research.

Jessica Yaros

Degree Program

Neurobiology & Behavior Ph.D.

Research

People tend to recognize faces of their own race better than those of other races. While behavioral research suggests this so-called Other-Race Effect (ORE) is due to extensive experience with one’s own race group, the neural mechanisms underlying the effect remain unclear. We employed a novel ‘mnemonic discrimination’ task to hone in on the memory-processing mechanisms employed for same- and other-race face recognition. Our findings demonstrate distinct responses modulated by race of face and similarity between faces. This suggests that the ORE is caused by differences in the ability to process interference between faces for same- and other-race stimuli. This research has strong implications for the criminal justice system, given the dire consequences of the ORE in the context of eye-witness testimon.