|For Cal State L.A. student Maira Soto, it's all about the
On Saturday, the 21-year-old senior joined more than 550 other students from 90
institutions who presented their undergraduate research projects at UC Irvine.
titled: "The Influence of Dietary Jojoba Oil on Cholesterol Metabolism in
The idea behind the conference was to encourage undergraduates to become involved with
academic research, "something that ultimately may promote a passion," said Said
M. Shokair, director of UC Irvine's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, which
funds the projects and organized the conference.
"We encourage all types of research, and it doesn't have to be in their field of
study. A science major can study dance, for example," he said.
Soto's findings on the dietary habits of rabbits and jojoba oil were offered during a
15-minute presentation that allowed her to flex her communication skills while giving her
research skills a break.
Don't worry. The rabbits lived, she said.
She chose them as lab animals because, next to primates, they are closest to humans in
terms of cholesterol metabolism. "Primates are too expensive," she said.
She was trying to show that rabbits could regulate enzymes by changing their diets, and
her data showed she succeeded.
Her mentor, Raymond Garcia, a professor of biochemistry at Cal State L.A., said he was
adamant that she attend the conference because it gives students presentation experience.
"And it also gives them a chance to see what other students are doing," he said.
|Research ranged from the natural sciences to the arts, and
included topics such as making robotic fish float and determining the meaning behind
religious bumper stickers.
One of the hot topics at the conference was MEMS short for microelectromechanical
systems which are tiny mechanical devices made with integrated-circuit technology.
The term "MEMS" joined the lexicon of academia only 15 years ago, said William
C. Tang, UC Irvine's professor of biomedical engineering. Tang led a discussion that
captivated Karan Kumar, 19, a UC Irvine sophomore from the Bay Area city of Martinez.
Kumar said he was helping another UC Irvine physics professor do research on detecting how
particles collide. But he said he may want to study MEMS, because they have applications
that go beyond lab research.
Vehicle air bags, microwave ovens, inkjet printers and new toys using pressure sensors are
just a few of the items that employ the tiny mechanical devices, Tang said.
The halls of the student center were filled with posters explaining dozens of other
projects. Christine M. Rodrigue, chairwoman of the Cal State Long Beach geography
department, was the mentor for a project on the Oakland hills firestorm in 1991.
Rodrigue's three students Leslie Edwards, Doreen Jeffrey and Leeta Latham
said their project was timely, given California's recent spate of fires.
Jeffrey, 44, a senior geography major, said some of their recommendations matched those
offered by fire officials more than a decade ago: reduced housing density and wider roads.
The students said they learned a valuable lesson in human nature. "They rebuilt their
homes anyway with the same street width and also the same number of homes," Jeffrey
said, adding that the public's interest in safety seems "brief, like it only lasts a