Grad Slam 2023 Finalists

Grad Slam is a systemwide competition that showcases and awards the best three-minute research presentations by graduate scholars. This competition not only highlights the excellence, importance and relevance of UCI graduate scholars and their research, but it is also designed to increase graduate students’ communication skills and their capacity to effectively present their work with poise and confidence. It is an opportunity to share accomplishments with the campus, friends of UCI, the local community, and the broader public. This year’s edition of Grad Slam will be virtual, from the semifinals all the way through UC Systemwide Finals. See below to meet the 10 finalists of the 2023 UCI Grad Slam.

2023 Finalists

Jeevika Bhat


Still Defining Still

British poet T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets is a series of four poems which abstractly explores themes of time, life, love, and spirituality. The first poem, Burnt Norton, laments the unintelligible nature of time, and darkly notes that despite time’s circular nature, we must all inevitably die. East Coker portrays time more linearly, and laments the futility of rituals, especially in defining love. The Dry Salvages compares life to the cycle of water, and directly inquires into the existence, purpose, and definition of God. Little Gidding is detached, and follows a weary traveler who has reached a stage of enlightenment (or detachment) after living through their life of pessimism.

As an Indian Classical dancer, I am keenly interested in Eliot because of his lifelong connections with both early Modern dance and Indian spirituality, and am eager to investigate the manifestation of these connections in his writings. Specifically, I recontextualize the motif of spirituality in Indian Classical dance forms, particularly Odissi, and seek to define Eliot’s “still point” through multiple contexts, including linguistics, dance, and mysticism. Through my research and choreography, I explore the themes of dance and spirituality which are embedded in Eliot’s work and visualize them through the media of Indian Classical and Contemporary dance.

Chris Clark

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

The Mechanics of Early Organ Development

Stem cell differentiation has been a well-studied and essential aspect of cellular biology over the last several decades; however, while significant advancements have been made in the study of soluble cues, not all effects of the mechanical environment in and outside of the cell have been thoroughly investigated at this point. In specific, the stem-to-endoderm and endoderm-to-hepatocyte cell transitions have not been studied for their mechanical dependencies. This work focuses on understanding the systems by which stem cells differentiate optimally by mimicking the natural cellular niche.

To a cell, the measurement of its outside world can be manipulated in two main ways: change the environment of the cell or change the way a cell perceives its environment. The first modulator, that is, the exterior cellular environment, can be modulated by culturing cells on substrates of different stiffnesses during differentiation and monitoring the effect that outside mechanical forces have on cellular differentiation. To adjust how a cell perceives its environment, we will control cytoskeletal stiffness to make cells think they are in a softer or stiffer environment. While both avenues of research should have the same effect, they both are worthy of study as they each could lead to different advantages.

Emani Dotch


Stop Making That Noise!

Noise-sensitive people can experience discomfort, annoyance, difficulty concentrating, and even pain in the presence of various noises. While noise sensitivity is a challenge for a wide variety of people, it is particularly prevalent for autistic people. Furthermore, emotion dysregulation, particularly when co-occurring with painful or unpleasant auditory experiences, can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. Researchers have aimed to support noise sensitivity and emotion regulation separately with many interventions. My work builds on those efforts to simultaneously address noise sensitivity and emotion regulation, with a particular emphasis on autistic self-advocacy and support for autistic people to be empowered to take control of their auditory environments. Applying a community-partnered participatory design approach, I am conducting collaborative design sessions with autism stakeholders, specifically autistic people and caregivers, to develop an app to support noise sensitivity and emotion regulation.

Twaha Ibrahim

Computer Science

Lights, Camera, Surgery!

Remote collaboration during live surgeries remains a challenge for surgeons. Typically, a remote consultant annotates a digital model of the surgical site with information such as incision lines and blood vessels. These annotations are displayed to the surgical team in the OR. However, surgeons in the OR struggle with understanding the annotations because of the way they are displayed. For example, displaying them on a large monitor distracts surgeons from the patient, while using VR headsets are bulky, uncomfortable and inconvenient to use. Thus, surgeons in the OR want an intuitive and immersive way to visualize the annotations without any headsets. Therefore, in collaboration with surgeons, I researched and designed a system that uses projectors to illuminate the surgical site with the annotations directly. A camera tracks the shape and position of the surgical site in real-time, and aligns the projection with the surgical site perfectly, even if the site moves. Surgeons find this approach very promising as it let’s them collaborate with their remote peers in an intuitive and immersive way.

James Ilgenfritz


Ambigram Series: Aphasia and Empathy

I will talk about how my two benign brain tumors have informed my creative and professional work. The Ambigram Series includes 17 musical works that are central to my dissertation. I take an artistic, musical perspective on my neurological and cognitive situation. These experiences have brought empathy, compassion, and resilience to the foreground in my research and my creative output.

Karen Lopez

Biomedical Engineering

A Microscopic Solution to a Macroscopic Problem

Measuring the viscosities of high-value materials at the microscale with minimal waste is essential for increasing turnaround times during drug development. Currently, viscometers on the market fail to meet these needs as they can only process 1-10 samples at a time and require large (40-100μL) loading volumes for accurate readings. Previously, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) has been used to predict viscosities using micro-volumes. Unfortunately, this sensitive laser-based microscopy technique cannot be automated for multi-sample processing, the hardware is expensive, and it requires expert training to learn. To solve this problem, we use a low-cost camera-based microscope, tracers, and a particle tracking system to measure the viscosities of multiple solutions using a 10μL working volume. Using a camera keeps the cost low, the system can be easily automated and implemented into an industrial workflow, and the finalized device will be simple enough to be used with minimal training. Viscosity readouts obtained using this method will allow for multi-sample imaging on a single chip using small (10μL) volumes, revolutionizing the efficiency of sample selection during drug development.

Stuart Love


Computing at the Speed of Light

With the increase in demand for stronger computing power, there is a looming necessity for the next generation computers. Optical computing, that is running computations with light, has been proposed and research has begun on its architecture. My proposed research here will help design one of the critical components for its functionality, the all-optical switch. By combining two technologies in the field of optics, zero-refractive materials, and ring resonators, we can form the basis to replace the electrical transistor with our new optical transistor. Zero-refractive materials are a special type of materials that can react strongly with certain interactions with light. Their permittivity goes to zero at certain wavelengths and thus their index of refraction, which means there are unique optically driven properties in these materials. To observe this reaction, we need a strong field of light which our resonator will provide. A ring resonator is a device that can contain certain frequencies of light. Just by coating our resonator in our zero-refractive material, we can use that contained light to generate our response, making our transistor completely optical. By building this device it will unlock one of the key components in the field of optical computing.

Jack Lubin


Is Our Solar System Unique?

“In our best theory of how planetary systems form, host star and all the planets all born out of the same spinning cloud of gas and dust. This leads to a natural outcome where all planets in the system will move through their circular orbits around their host star in the same direction that the host star spins. We call this an aligned configuration. Recent observations have found many exoplanet systems are not arranged like this; they have planets that orbit in different directions than their host stars’ spins, that is to say they are misaligned. While we may think this doesn’t spell well for our best formation theory, it turns out these observations are biased. Most of the planets for which we have made an alignment measurement are in systems that look nothing like our own Solar System. My research aims to fill in the gaps of this bias by specifically performing this alignment measurement for planets in systems like our own. But how do we make this alignment measurement? Unlike nearly all other astronomy experiments, this one works by measuring the light that we *cannot* see!”

Audrey Odwuor

Earth System Science

Fighting Fire With Fire

Wildfires in California are getting more intense each year, which negatively impacts society, the economy, and ecosystems. One potential solution to manage these intensifying wildfires is prescribed fire, or the intentional application of fire to a landscape to manage fuels: fighting fire with fire. However, to implement prescribed fire at the pace and scale needed to protect California’s communities and ecosystems, we need to improve regulatory efficiency, create and fund a robust workforce, enhance our scientific understanding of prescribed fire, and develop methods to track and evaluate prescribed fires. In this work, I measured the chemical composition of fire emissions in smoke to evaluate prescribed fires. With the planned expansion of prescribed fires over the next decade in California to manage wildfires, these methods have the potential to help us implement this solution fast and far.

Jacob Sutherland

Political Science

Who participates in local elections?

Municipal elections, those which take place from the county-level down, have had historically low participation rates in the United States. Knowing who does and does not participate in local elections is important because it will allow us to better understand whose interests are being represented in local governing bodies and to explain how and why local governing bodies make the decisions that they do. Through logistic regression analysis on survey responses from the U.S. Census Bureau’s September 2019 Current Population Survey Volunteering and Civic Life Supplement, I analyze self-reported participation in local elections in terms of the demographic characteristics of voters and pertinent state-level election laws.