Ricardo Alamillo grew up in the small agricultural community of Santa Paula, California, where there was only one high school and little cultural support for attending a university. But he was lucky to be involved since middle school with the Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program.
“From there, every year I visited UCSB for Science and Technology Day and just loved science for simply being able to ask ‘why?’ And perhaps being the person that discovers that. In addition, I loved engineering because the hands-on experience made learning fun. It exposed me to important critical-thinking skills with fun engineering-oriented projects.
“MESA also helped me become part of SIMS (Summer Institute in Math and Science) under the California Nanosystems Institute, where I spent two weeks before my freshman year doing a group research project in the chemistry department through Dr. Martin Moskovits making tin oxide nanowires,” Ricardo explains. “It introduced me to a whole new world, not just of the possibility of research, but the nano-scaled world, which continues to be one of my biggest interests.”
The first in his family to attend college, Ricardo entered UCSB as a mechanical engineering student, but switched to chemical engineering at the end of his freshman year. “It was greatly due to my EPSEM (Expanding Pathways to Science, Engineering, and Mathematics) freshman research program and working in the chemical engineering department,” Ricardo says. “I really enjoy any research with a goal defined as making people’s lives better. I am interested in biomedical research, but now my involvement in polymers and catalysts research has redefined and opened my eyes to endless possibilities of research areas.”
Ricardo worked with Dr. Samir Mitragotri of the chemical engineering department on transdermal drug delivery systems research from the winter quarter of his freshman year through his sophomore year.
“I enjoy looking back and reflecting how much I have grown and learned working in the lab as well as strengthening my academics, since many times I have to review my math, physics and chemistry to truly understand a subject to put it in practice. Only when putting something into practice in the lab does one really learn. In addition, reading research papers has strengthened my critical-reading skills, expanded my vocabulary, and is a wonderful tool for seeking and sharing knowledge.”
In summer 2008, Ricardo worked at La Universidad de Chile in Santiago, Chile, in the chemical engineering and biotechnology department under Dr. Raul Quijada. His research focused on synthesizing copper-based, silica-based, and double-layered nanospheres. The program is sponsored by the UCSB Materials Research Lab through the Cooperative International Science and Engineering Internship program.
“I look up past papers on how they synthesized nanoparticles, create my own procedure, and use my campus resources to try to make and ensure I made what I desired,” Ricardo says. “I hope to integrate this into polymers and study the changes in the physical properties of polyethylene and polypropylene. This project is very independent, limited on resources, but I have learned to improvise and also to take the initiative. Collaborating internationally has also been tremendous.”