Feminism Rediscovered

The quintessential Victorian woman was dedicated to her home and husband, and focused solely on raising children. She was respectable and she was not involved in the public sphere. Although this ideology is characteristic of Western women of the Victorian Era, undergraduate researcher Holly Nelson found evidence of American women breaking these gender norms in the late 1800s.

In her senior thesis, Nelson discusses the representation of American women in the 1876 Centennial Exposition and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. These were the first world’s fairs to be held in the United States, and they were a chance for America to demonstrate its industrial power to the world.

In the 1876 Centennial, women were not given a space to present their work with their male counterparts. Undeterred, the women— led by President of the Women’s Centennial Committee Elizabeth Duane Gillespie— organized and fundraised to create their own building, the Women’s Pavilion, that showcased inventions by women. Their actions were controversial at the time because women were not considered a part of the public sphere.

The 1876 Centennial set the precedent for American women to have their own building in the world’s fair, so in the 1893 Exposition, Sophia Hayden, the first female graduate of architecture at MIT, designed the Woman’s Building. 

Nelson argues that despite maintaining a conservative image, in these instances, women were fighting for their right to participate in society. Primary sources that include letters of internal correspondence and speeches revealed how these women wanted to help solve the social and economic problems that plagued American society. They may not have known it at the time, but these women demonstrated feminism in its earliest beginnings.  

The Highs and Lows of a Research Project

One of the enticing facts that drew me to UC Santa Barbara was that it was one of the top schools for research. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t have a great idea of what you actually do in research. When I imagined what a research project was like, I imagined a “grown-up” version of my fourth grade science fair project where I compared mung bean plant growth in sunlight and in shade. It wasn’t until I completed my own small research project that I learned how difficult but rewarding research actually is.

During the summer of 2016 I took EEMB 170: Biology of the Marine- Land Interface. This was the most challenging and the most fun science course of my undergraduate career so far. I experienced firsthand what it’s like to do fieldwork and conduct a research project. This class had lectures with set material that we had to learn, but in the labs I had the opportunity to be creative and learn independently by designing and conducting an independent research project. Compared to previous classes, I never felt as much responsibility for my learning than when I was working on the research project.

Soda Bottle on Clam Gun

Something as simple as a 2L soda bottle can become a cutting-edge research tool!

The final project was a research paper about some aspect of the beach food web. I wanted to study something I had no experience with, so I studied blood worm abundance and distribution. The experiment was conducted with a partner, while the analysis of the data was done individually. We would use clam gun to take a few cores at a site at different times for a few days, and count the number of blood worms found in each core, as well as the depth each blood worm was found. However, when we tried sampling the sites, we found that this project would be much harder to accomplish.

I thought that sampling would be easy because we had planned it out well, but it required a lot more problem solving. I learned that the provided tools may not be enough, so I had to make my own. When we released the cores into a dish pan, the sand would crumble instead of holding the cylinder shape of the clam gun.

The solution? Find a container the exact diameter of the clam gun. We would place the clam gun in the container, shake out the core into this container, and this would allow us to dig out the blood worms and note their location. We brainstormed different ideas, like cutting a PVC pipe, or shaping a sheet of plastic. I spent a few hours at the Home Depot trying out different cylinder-shaped items, but I couldn’t find anything that really worked. Luckily, I found that a 2-liter soda bottle is the perfect fit for a clam gun.

I asked many questions throughout this research project and I had the advice of two research professors, a graduate student, and a lab assistant to brainstorm with and answer all of my questions. I also had help from the members of the lab I intern. I thought research projects were more of a solo effort, only involving the researchers. It was a nice surprise to realize how collaborative the process really is, and the support was encouraging. I learned so much from asking questions, and this helped me the most when writing the paper.

The hardest part was figuring out how to use Excel and how to understand my data. The most interesting part was reading about other research projects that people have done on blood worms. From one of the papers, I learned that blood worms have practical use as biological indicators for environmental management. I had no prior knowledge of or experience with blood worms, but after reading through many research papers, I ended up learning more about blood worms than I needed to write my paper.

Blood Worm

A sandy beach blood worm. It gets the red color because the molecule it uses to transport oxygen, known as hemoglobin, turns red in the presence of oxygen. Sound familiar? We have hemoglobin in our red blood cells!

I’ve learned that research is about repeatable results that can be clearly interpreted, so it was interesting to see how my partner and I drew different conclusions from the same data. I thought that we could neither prove nor deny our hypothesis, while she thought that our hypothesis was correct. I thought that data was made of solid facts, so there was only one way to understand it. It seems that data doesn’t always speak for itself, and that research projects won’t always have simple answers.

I hypothesized that blood worms burrow vertically into the sand when the tidal level rose. After sampling and analyzing the data, I didn’t have a definitive answer. It only led to more questions that led to ideas for future research, which I found to be exciting. I wondered how researchers find so many topics to research about. It seems that, while the purpose of a research project is to answer a question, it often leads to more questions. There’s always more to learn, and I think that’s something to look forward to.

My experience in this class, and especially with this research project, has validated my decision to pursue a science degree. I thoroughly enjoyed the learning and the challenges I faced in this class. Finishing this research project felt like more of an accomplishment than any success in a more traditional class setting.

My summer experience

This summer so far has been a valuable learning experience in which I finally obtained some clarity on my future.

As an engineering student entering my fourth year, the concept of planning my next step after college is now starting to hit me hard. I have loved my 3 years of engineering classes up to this point. Although challenging, I never had any doubt once I took my first engineering class that this is what I wanted to do. However, I have taken courses covering such a wide breadth of engineering fields such that my specific career path has appeared very fuzzy in my mind.

This was my first time doing summer research, under AIM Photonics, and the cliché of “better late than never” has certainly held true thus far. Both the panels and especially the two dinners have greatly assisted in the processes of planning out my next chapter in my career. These events have given me some key lessons on how to be successful, including the main takeaways of the importance of communication, networking, and simply being easy to work with. From the industry dinner I learned that a master’s degree or higher is not a requirement if you want to be a leader in a company, which was a huge question that I had been itching to find the answer to.

At the very same dinner, I experienced the power of networking as I met one of the CAPSTONE project leaders from FLIR, and had a lengthy discussion that got me deeply interested in that project and the opportunities that it can bring me. Furthermore, my specific research project which is focused mainly on design has helped give me a glimpse into what I can expect if I enter an industry position.

I still have a few months to help clear up my vision for the next few years, but this summer has helped me tremendously in doing so.

Learning from an Internship

Aim Photonics is my first internship where I do real research; I was surprised of the abilities and qualities that someone needs to have in order to explore new fields and discover new ways to make life easier by building new devices. I believe that is very difficult to do research because the people who are doing research are working in something that nobody worked before. Sometimes there are not a lot of reference or papers similar to what they are doing; therefore, there is a lot of fails every day in the labs. I am having a very good time working in my research cleaning and preparing silicon surfaces to grow III-V epitaxy with my mentor Dan Pennachio; I am learning a lot from him because he always helps me and explains things in a way that I can understand. Also, all the members of the Palmstrom’s group helps me by giving their opinion about my research and suggest me things to do to improve results.  Palmstrom’s lab is super interesting because is hard to believe that such technology can exist. I am performing several methods to clean the surface of the silicon and I am using several equipment to analyze how good the procedure is. Using these devices makes me to feel lucky because I am using apparatus of millions of dollars that not everybody can have the opportunity to use. Also, all members of the Palmstrom’s group motivated me to continue my education and I started to think that maybe I would like to become a research scientist.

A Different Perspective on Research

Before this internship, I honestly had no idea what research meant. The idea of being a researcher didn’t seem exciting. I am the type of person that likes to be hands on. Whether I am working on a project or even studying. Hands on studying to me is achieved by getting up and using whiteboards and organizing study groups. This is one of the reasons I believed that I wasn’t the right type of person to fit into the research field. Thankfully, my mind has opened up to the idea. My perspective on my future has changed in positive and exciting ways.

Research is much more team oriented than I expected. My colleagues and I tend to have similar questions as we use and learn very similar simulation programs to carry out our experiments. In most cases, it isn’t ideal to ask the mentors questions for every minor road block. This is when our small office conversations allowed us to learn from each other. A majority of the time, the learning was reciprocal. Progress achieved independently is so rewarding.

Cutting edge technology comes from universities with these programs. I didn’t know this was true. I believed it was all industry that was responsible for this. This internship has given me a new found inspiration to pursue research. I will pursue a undergraduate research program in hydrogen technology thanks this experience at my new school because of this internship.