Veteran finds meaning in UCSB summer research

Coming from a small town, I had nothing but big dreams. Not really understanding the value of education during high school I neglected my academics. Infatuated with sports and leadership, I enlisted in the United States Marines Corps infantry, where I matured rapidly and gained invaluable skills that are forever-instilled in me. After being honorably discharged I found myself lacking goals and ambitions, which was reflected in my mindset at college. I was astonished to feel this way; having no drive to excel was something I had not experienced before. I decided to take a break from school for a year to rediscover lost ambitions. Physically and mentally I worked and grew, and in return, I was clear minded and regained a feeling of ease and confidence. I returned to school with that hungry attitude to be great. I now see my schooling in a different, clearer light and I immerse myself in it, striving to reach my maximum potential, so I can have a large and positive effect on the world.

So you might be thinking, why did I pick such a rigorous major? During my time of reflection and struggled transition out of the Marines I thought deeply about my current and past passions, which have remained with me over the years. I found myself thinking back to when I was a little kid, building intricate forts and tree houses and again in more advanced applications as a Marine, building mud machine-gun towers and bridges. I’ve connected to engineering throughout my youth and into my adulthood, and I felt a calling to this major, driven by the same emotions that lead me to the Marine Corp Recruit Depot, Paris Island, South Carolina. Fulfilling my outgoing spirit, now I have an outlet for my past transitioning struggles.

I enjoy doing this research opportunity because it diversifies my academic and professional experiences and will provide me with a unique skill or edge in my career. Besides suffering from the typically struggles of military transitioning: PTSD, tinnitus, and physical injuries, I think one of the biggest struggles were no longer having a mission and purpose. Getting out of the Marine Corps I was no longer around an elite team that overcame tremendous challenges and important missions. Being in Professor Mostofi’s lab, surrounded by a new team, working on exciting projects that are significant to our country, which is similarly to my military missions, makes me feel inspired and complete again.

Seeing is believing!

Seeing is believing!

Hi my name is Robert Williams I’m a first year Chemical Engineering major at Santa Barbara City College. I am doing research with the INSET program here at UCSB. This program is a summer research opportunity that gives undergrads exposure to research. I am in my third week so far of project INSET. During week one I was introduced to Maria and Erika our program directors. During this first meeting they told us what to expect and what we should learn from our research here over the summer.

During week one I was focused on what will be expected from me as a researcher. During this time I also got to meet my mentor and most of the lab team. From talking to them I got a better sense of my role in the lab and my part over all research goals. I noticed that my lab members are very nice and helpful. When I have a problem they are eager to help me figure it out or refer me to someone who could. I also did a lot of background reading for my project during week one. My project is focused on building an optical system tailor made for microfluidic devices. I don’t have much of a background in optics and I haven’t taken physics yet so I had to read a lot.

Once Week two came around I was fairly comfortable in my lab environment and with asking the people around me for help. During this week I also had to continue doing background research. The reason why I need to read this much is because my system must be able to work 100% on paper way before I pick up a tool and start building my optical system. So week 2 and week 3 so far have consisted of a lot of reading and also finding the proper equations needed to predict how my optical system will behave when fully built.

Finally To whoever reads this and plans on doing research asking questions is very important and will not make you look bad, especially if you have been working hard but became stuck. So don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Back to wearing shorts and sandals…

…  If that is my biggest complaint with this internship then I would say the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.  For a review to those who attended the safety workshop in first week,  when working in a chemistry lab (which ours is) it is required to wear closed toed shoes and pants (of course safety goggles and a lab coat also) in the case of a chemical accident.  Well, better safe than sorry. Now that I have gotten that large concern off of my chest, lets hear the good news.

Well, I will start by asking a question.  Has this internship changed me?  Am I a different person now then who I was eight weeks ago?  I would say so.  I now have eight weeks of research under my belt.  As for how that has changed my skills and goals,  I now know how to make a scientific poster, write an abstract, present a power point in front of a very large camera and the most qualified professors, and a better grasp on what I want out of academia.  I guess overall, a large increase in my scientific “confidence.”  Yet, when I look back at what was the most important to me, it was the people.

It is kind of funny,  when I used to think of professional researchers, I would think of these very serious people in white lab coats.  Now that I have spent many hours in labs with these folks, I have found the only true stereotype is the lab coat thing but ours are blue.  These people have great senses of humor, are extremely intelligent, hardworking, and are down to earth.  Educationally speaking they are very different, electrical engineering, physics, neuroscience, polymer chemistry. I guess, our group needs to be in order to solve such a difficult interdisciplinary problem.  Yet, what I have observed to be very similar in all the researchers is their sense of curiosity.  I hypothesize this huge curiosity is what makes the lab I worked in so special.  It was the source of energy that pushed my mentor to spend many long nights in the clean room designing something new.  Yet, as I said before, it was in everyone I worked with. In our post doctoral polymer chemist, it was curiosity that helped him design a new type of functional polymer.  I even found curiosity building up in myself.

So to conclude, what INSET program has taught me is how to use my curiosity to push myself to explore research and I hope that anyone reading this unlocks their own curiosity because it is curiosity that will change this world for the better.  Ask the question, “how does this that work and how can I make it work better?”  Better yet, do it!!  It seemed to work for me. 🙂  Thank you INSET for helping me learn so much more about myself in eight short weeks.

All good things must come to an end, at least now I can wear my sandals

Have you ever wondered if the effects of blindness could be reversed?
This summer I worked on a biomimetic device to restore vision to the blind. Yes, that was my project. The minute I realized what it was we were working on, I thought it was the coolest thing to be a part of. Not only was I able to see how research like this is done in a lab, or talk to the master mind behind this plan, but I was able to be apart of this amazing research project. So here is my project summed up into a few sentences. They are going to build an interface (which is kind of like a chip) that will be implanted behind the retina (back of the eye). It will basically mimic a biological channel in the eye that plays a key role in vision. The way vision will be restored to the blind is by using potassium ions that are already found in the fluid within the eye. Yup, that was the project I worked on for 8 weeks. Pretty cool, huh?
Comparing the first day I walked into the lab and now, I would say this was one of the best experiences I have ever had. The first day I was not only intimidated,  I was scared, but that faded away real fast. Everyone in my lab is super nice and my mentor is probably the most patient person I have met yet. He made my time here a lot easier because if I did not understand something he would clarify it for me, even if I made him explain it in 10 different ways, he didn’t show frustration. on a side note, one of the things I had to give up this summer to work in the lab was sandals, shorts, dresses, anything that made our legs vulnerable to spills was cut out of my wardrobe. I am a barefoot, sandals kind of girl so, yes, that was the hardest thing I had to do this summer! On the Brightside, I finally learned how to walk in sneakers. I learned a lot in my short 8 weeks here as an intern. The internship had us do these workshops, which may seem silly at first, but in reality they helped out a lot. Also, the presentation we had to give is a lot of work, but I improved in my presentation skills dramatically so it was worth every ounce of stress. Now I know how to give a scientific presentation, and take something complicated, my project, and make is as simple as possible so people who know nothing about the science aspect can understand it. This internship helps shape you in different ways. Not only are you here doing research, but you are also doing other things on the side. The other good thing about this internship is I got to live on campus and that was AWESOME! All the interns were a blast too. I definitely have many memories with them. This was definitely one of the best summers I have had so far.

How I got involved in research …

Hi everybody,

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you my experience before I applied for INSET and how it has transformed my life.  Before I was selected to be part of INSET, I had a rough idea of what to expect for the program even though I had never done research in the past.  Some people who have known me for years at Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) would often times tell me how beneficial it would be for me to do research and internships; “You are definitely suited to do research, ” they would say.  What they did not know is that I could not apply for INSET because of certain circumstances that prevented me from doing so.  When I finally got the opportunity to apply for INSET, I had a conversation with a faculty member from SBCC, who more than my ex-organic chemistry professor is my friend and confidant, namely Jens Kuhn.  He encouraged me to not hesitate to apply for INSET as well as for other internships.  I did, and within a couple months, I was notified of my selection for INSET.  As I was reading the e-mail Maria Napoli sent about my selection in my car, after a long but productive day of school, a lot of emotions fused into one and tears started to roll down my face as I kept reading the e-mail.  I then preceded to accept the INSET offer right away.  It has been indeed an honor and a privilege to be part of the INSET program this summer 2013.  Over the past seven weeks, I have met and worked with people who are so passionate about what they do and willing to cooperate.  Specifically, at The Read Lab, everybody is always willing to go out of their way to help me run experiments effectively, and, by doing so, they have made me feel very special.  I feel extremely fortunate to be part of The Read Lab and to be working on the nitroso project because of its applications in various reactions, which, by the way, have a small environmental impact.  I never thought I would learn so much in such a small period of time and run so many reactions, which will be illustrated on my poster.  Thanks again Read Group for the fantastic collaborative team work atmosphere you have built and let me be part of it. Thanks Charles Frazier and Javier Read de Alaniz too; you two have shown me what it means to be a true team leader.  INSET just could not get any better and am glad I applied. Now I know what to do next: more research!


Francisco J Mancillas

PS thanks for everything Jens and everybody who has helped me along the way 🙂

INSET Lab Photos, 2013 (72)