ARCS Foundation scholarships support UCSC graduate students

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Sixteen UC Santa Cruz graduate students have received scholarships worth a total of $160,000 from the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation for the 2020-21 academic year. Since 1976, the ARCS Foundation's Northern California Chapter has given more than $2 million in scholarships to UCSC students.

The ARCS Foundation, founded in 1958, is a national organization that provides scholarships and fellowships for the country's most promising science, medical, and engineering students. This year's ARCS scholars at UC Santa Cruz represent the Science Communication Program and the Departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics; Biomolecular Engineering; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Computational Media; Computer Science and Engineering; Earth and Planetary Sciences; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Electrical and Computer Engineering; Environmental Studies; Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology; Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology; Ocean Sciences; and Physics. The scholars and their interests are as follows:

Isabella Backman, Science Communication: Backman is an aspiring science journalist with a lifelong interest in environmental issues. She has a B.S. in biology and has studied the effects of climate change on intertidal organisms and the impact of rising temperatures on the diets of juvenile Atlantic cod. She has also worked as a writer for the environmental education newsletter Ocean.

Oscar Cazares, Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology: Cazares is investigating the molecular pathways that regulate the fate of alveolar progenitor cells over multiple pregnancies. He hopes this research will lead to a therapeutic solution for milk insufficiency syndrome, which impacts the health of many women and children worldwide.

Xian Chang, Biomolecular Engineering: Chang is developing algorithms used to conduct genomics research. Her work aims to add genetic diversity to representations of the human genome in order to make a reference genome that is more representative of the human population. This will make the human reference genome unbiased and more useful as a reference for studying samples from diverse genetic backgrounds.

David Coulter, Astronomy and Astrophysics: Coulter’s research centers on observing and understanding the light produced in association with gravitational waves by the mergers of compact objects such as black holes and neutron stars. His team was the first to locate such a source, a flash of light produced by the merger of two neutron stars. This research addresses fundamental questions regarding the physics of such events, their effect on the synthesis of the heaviest elements, and the expansion history of the universe.

Graham Edwards, Earth and Planetary Sciences: A geochemist specializing in radioisotopic dating, Edwards approaches problems in areas ranging from climate science to planet formation by constructing timelines of past events. He uses radioisotopic dating to resolve the timescales of glacial erosion and the growth and collapse of ice sheets, as well as the thermal structure and nature of the earliest forming planetary bodies of our solar system.

Aviv Elor, Computational Media: Elor’s research explores extended reality by combining immersive environments, wearable robotics, and biofeedback for health applications. He aims to augment assistive technologies through gamification by creating interactive experiences that are both physically and emotionally intelligent in assisting users.

Spenser Everett, Physics: Everett studies how dark matter and dark energy influence the expansion of the universe and the growth of large-scale structures of galaxies. He is primarily interested in understanding the accelerating expansion of the universe thought to be caused by dark energy, as well as how dark matter and dark energy have influenced the growth of the large-scale structure of galaxies that we see today.

Hope Ianiri, Ocean Sciences: Ianiri is investigating how the deep ocean stores organic carbon and modulates climate change. Organic carbon accumulates in the ocean and persists for thousands of years, but scientists have an extremely limited understanding of the mechanisms that control this process and how it will respond to the changing climate.

Ryan Johnson, Electrical and Computer Engineering: Johnson’s research focuses on parameter estimation and system identification for hybrid dynamical systems with applications to aerospace, robotics, and power systems. His current research project proposes an estimation scheme that determines the input voltage and load resistance applied to a DC-to-DC boost converter circuit, a common component in the battery systems of electric vehicles.

Giordan Kitts, Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology: Kitts is interested in the signal transduction networks used by pathogenic bacteria to sense, respond, and adapt to environmental signals during infection and transmission. His current research focuses on a signal transduction system that regulates biofilm gene expression and virulence in the cholera bacteria, Vibrio cholerae, and the role of this system in V. cholerae’s lifecycle.

Stephanie Melchor, Science Communication: Melchor is pursuing a career in science journalism after earning her B.S. in microbiology and Ph.D. in experimental pathology. During her doctoral dissertation work, she discovered how aspects of chronic inflammation lead to chronic muscle wasting and tissue scarring during Toxoplasma gondii infection, leading to unnecessary sickness.

Lena Meyers, Chemistry and Biochemistry: Meyers studies the antibodies targeting the human astrovirus, a major cause of viral diarrhea, especially in children and immunocompromised people. Using structural biology, biochemistry, and protein engineering techniques, her efforts are laying a foundation for the development of a vaccine to prevent human astrovirus infection.

Anna Nisi, Environmental Studies: Nisi studies the puma population in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with a focus on how habitat fragmentation impacts puma movement ecology and population dynamics. Her work also considers how urban planning and land use policy impact habitat quality and connectivity in neighboring exurban and wildland areas. Through this research, Nisi hopes to inform conservation planning and management policy and shed light on how large carnivores and people can coexist in fragmented landscapes.

Megan Sabal, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology: Sabal is interested in the effects of predators on migrating prey, focusing on the non-consumptive effects (as opposed to the direct effects of predators eating prey). She is studying migrating juvenile Chinook salmon, and is also developing theory and conducting reviews that span a range of migratory taxa.

Maggie Thompson, Astronomy and Astrophysics: Thompson’s research aims to determine the connection between the interior composition of rocky planets and the composition of their atmospheres. The objective is to constrain the initial atmospheric ingredients via meteorite outgassing experiments, thermodynamic modeling, and geochemical analyses. Understanding the factors that control planetary atmospheres is a key constraint for modeling the atmospheres of exoplanets.

Pavlo Vlastos, Computer Science and Engineering: Vlastos’s research interests include designing control systems for autonomous surface vehicles, attitude and heading reference systems, path planning, trajectory generation, and system identification. His current project is an autonomous boat designed to help oceanographers study transient phenomena at less expense.