Listing of SIMS projects grouped by year. You can search by project title or year. You can find past and present Scholars on the Scholars page.


The world is full of diverse and complex traits (those controlled by multiple genes) including camera-like eyes and glowing organisms. Since thousands of organisms produce light, understanding how individual animals produce light and how they evolved this ability remains an open research area. This glow is often studied at the molecular level, but we can also study it at other levels of biological organization such as the cell, tissue, and organ level. By using these different levels, we can better understand how complex traits evolve.

Superconductors are fascinating materials used in technologies ranging from MRIs to Maglev trains to particle colliders. Beneath a materials-specific critical temperature, a superconductor exhibits two observable properties that are borne entirely of quantum mechanics: perfect electrical conductivity and perfect magnetic repulsion.

Existing robots are precise and powerful, perfect for doing things like building a car. To achieve such precision, force, and speed requires high stiffness (e.g., metal parts). However, such power poses a risk in situations like medicine and search and rescue. No one likes being crushed by a malfunctioning robot. You want something soft like Baymax from Big Hero 6 for those situations.To create such robots, researchers in the Hawkes lab are developing “soft robots,” robots made from compliant materials like rubbers and plastics.

The average human blinks between 10,000 –20,000 times a day. The ocular tear film, an extremely thin, watery mucin-rich film, coats the surface of your cornea and acts as a low friction interface between your eye and eyelid, allowing you to blink pain-free all day. However, these mucin-rich layers are not just confined to your eyes but are found throughoutthe body coating all epithelial surfaces (e.g. ears, digestive tract, respiratory tract, etc...) and act as lubricating layers to reduce friction between sliding interfaces.

Eukaryotic cells are like miniature factories that produce the macromolecules (such asproteins and lipids) that make up every organism. This cellular factory has compartments called organelles that can perform specialized functions. One such compartment is the peroxisome, an organelle that metabolizes lipids, and detoxifies damaging oxidative molecules.  Defects in peroxisome formation can be caused by mutations in genes encoding peroxisomal proteins, and result in a group of severe developmental disorders called Peroxisome Biogenesis Disorders.

Groundwater is a limited yet critical resource for life on planet Earth, providing drinking water to billions of people and sustaining ecosystems all over the world. Groundwater is contained in rocks underneath Earth's surface, which can make it difficult to study—but there are methods we can utilize to understand groundwater and its interactions with surface ecosystems. In this project, we will examine groundwater and surface streams at the North Campus Open Space (Santa Barbara, California) to understand their connection.


Whether used for auto-pilot in planes, walking robots, medical devices, industrial chemical processes, or just getting your room to the right temperature, control algorithms are vital to an array of applications. Just like human operators, autonomous systems (processes that regulate themselves) require feedback in order to adjust and adapt.

Our goal is to introduce students to the field of microbial ecology by having them learn how microbes are affected by their environment and vice versa.

The goal of this project is to introduce students to water data science &analysis by developing coding skills in R/RStudio.The subject matter of our analysis will be groundwater! Groundwater is contained in rocks underneath Earth's surface; aquifers are areas where lots of groundwater exists underneath the surface.Aquifers all over the world are used by humans for drinking water and agriculture, and in California, groundwater provides 40% of all water used in the state.

The magnetic properties of some materials are employed in many applications for our daily lives. We use ferrites(containing Fe3O4) to stick a memory from our last vacation to the fridge, small magnets in the speakers of our phones, and much stronger neodymium-based magnets in electric motors. There are different types of magnetic materials;for example, some are called ferromagnetic and some antiferromagnetic. The ferromagnetic ones will stick to the fridge, the antiferromagnetic ones won’t, and some might have to be cooled down below room temperature to show magnetic behavior.

How do simple embryos develop into a complex organism?How do cells “know” to transform into different types of organ systems? Development in the embryo is tightly orchestrated by many interacting genetic factors forming a gene regulatory network (GRN).In the lab, we study the GRN that mediates the development of gut in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. In this research project, we will first learn the cell lineage of C. elegans and how different cell types are generated through asymmetric cell division.


The retina is an important tissue found in the back of the eye responsible for converting light into an electrical signal, which eventually your brain will interpret, resulting in vision. Unfortunately, when the retina does not develop properly or degrades, it results in blinding diseases. In order to design successful therapies to combat this, the steps in development must be critically observed and analyzed. Our lab is interested in determining genes that are critical in this development, and we utilize the mouse as a model organism.

Whether used for auto-pilot in planes, walking robots, medical devices, industrial chemical processes, or just getting your room to the right temperature, control algorithms are vital to an array of applications. Just like human operators, autonomous systems (processes that regulate themselves) require feedback in order to adjust and adapt.

Digital Image Correlation, or “DIC”, is a widely used and very versatile method for digitally measuring displacement and strain for mechanical tests. These mechanical tests can be done on metals, plastics, and anything in between. The samples can be large enough to hold in your hand or so small that they can be loaded in a nano-mechanical testing setup. What makes DIC so useful is the ability to measure how much a sample has distorted/stretched/moved/etc. without ever having to touch the sample.

Our goal is to introduce students to the field of microbial ecology by having them learn how microbes are affected by their environment and vice versa. We want them to have the ability to make this project their own by having them select an unidentified microbial genome of their choice from an online database, figure out the potential taxonomy of that organism by reconstructing its evolutionary history, and then figuring out what it is capable of doing in the environment by examining the function of its genes.



Superconductors, materials with zero electrical resistance, have many applications, from Magnetic Levitation trains to electronic devices. One fascinating phenomenon of superconductors is called the Meissner effect: they completely expel magnetic fields, so they float when placed over magnets. In a modern materials science laboratory this is the definitive test of superconductivity and the best way to determine obustness in devices.

Microtubules are ubiquitous protein structures found in all eukaryotic cell types, where they serve a variety of functional roles from separating chromosomes during mitosis to supporting the transport of cargo through the axons of neurons. The diversity of microtubule function stems in large part from their ability to grow and shrink in response to their chemical environment. This "dynamic instability" is highly regulated, depending on cell type, stage in the cell cycle, and compartmentalization within the cell.

Categorization decisions can be a matter of life or death. For example, animals must learn the categories of plants that are dangerous in order to avoid being poisoned. Humans can learn categories using at least two different brain systems; a rule-based system and a procedural system. The rule-based system categorizes objects according to simple verbalizable rules and relies on working memory, executive attention, and logical reasoning.

Our opinions and judgments are increasingly shaped by what we read on social media. Understanding how users in a network update opinions is important in the context of viral marketing, information dissemination, and targeting messages to users in the network. In this project I would like to apply network science concepts to show the students how our perception of the world is shaped by the way we are connected in a network. We model people as the nodes of a graph and see how the topology of this graph affects the opinion dynamics.

Investigation of cancer growth is a heavily researched subject, one which a multitude of research labs focus on. Until about the 1970s, most of these researchers studied only biochemical cues of cancers to develop drugs and modalities of treatment. However, with the advent of advanced imaging and measurement techniques, the biophysical and mechanical cues have been proven to play important roles in cancer growth. They hold great potential to un-ravel the mysteries of cancer in the future.

Microalgae have long been considered a promising platform for the sustainable farming of biofuels, due to their natural ability to produce hydrocarbons. Most biosynthetic pathways for producing hydrocarbons involve multiple steps and are energetically expensive to carry out. Recently, however, a novel photoenzyme was discovered in Chlorella variabilis which produces alkanes from fatty acids in a single reaction step using energy derived from light, known as fatty acid photodecarboxylase (FAP).

The activation and functionalization of robust carbon-hydrogen (C-H) bonds in alkanes remains an active field of study due to its promise to yield valuable chemicals from relatively inexpensive sources. Ultimately, gaining a mechanistic understanding of this type of reactivity will have implications for better catalyst design as it pertains to the renewable production of common chemicals. Our approach to do this involved studying an iron-based system that has shown a similar type of reactivity.


We focus on the construction of new carbon-­nitrogen bonds, specifically heterocycles containing amino alcohols due to their presence in a variety of biologically active compounds. Current methodologies for nitrogen containing compounds require the use of strong acids and bases, high temperatures, complex procedures, and toxic reagents that are harmful to the environment. We utilize a general, environmentally friendly method that utilizes mild reaction conditions, abundant Cu catalysts and high functional group tolerance.

In this project I would like to show the students how epidemics (which refers to any phenomena that propagates in a population including infectious diseases, flow of information, spread of wildfires, etc.) are modeled as differential equations and how they run and spread through a group of individuals. We would see how the connectivity and interactions among individuals can speed up or slow down the process and come up with effective strategies to prevent the propagation or to facilitate it.

Making category judgments is an essential part of the human condition. Is the dog hungry or not? Is this person friend or foe? Our ability to categorize things allows us to respond appropriately for the situation and is an essential survival trait (responding to a mountain lion the same way you would a cat is not a viable long-­term strategy). One of the most mysterious aspects of human categorization is how we learn to generalize knowledge to new environments and situations.

C-­H bond activation is an attractive avenue to explore for its wide applicability in many fields including energy storage. The mechanism behind the activation of robust C-­H bonds remains of great interest due to the myriad of benefits it promises to bring to these fields once it is better understood. With this in mind, the goal of this project is to investigate this phenomenon in a well-­defined bimetallic iron complex. To study this system, a series of model compounds will be synthesized and subsequently characterized via NMR, Mössbauer spectroscopy, and X-­ray crystallography.


Making category judgments is an essential part of the human condition. Is the dog hungry or not? Am I hungry or not? Is Trump a serious candidate or is this some sort of publicity stunt? Our ability to categorize things allows us to respond appropriately for the situation and has been an essential survival trait (responding to a mountain lion the same way you would a cat is not a viable long-term strategy).

Nano-particles, carriers, and crystals have been explored widely in the field of drug delivery not just in cancer research but also for other varied disease models such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis. Many of these formulations follow the same canonical route of characterization and validation. They are synthesized, characterized at the chemical level to confirm the presence of polymers, targeting ligands, or successful surface chemistry conjugation.

Urate oxidase (UOx) is an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of uric acid to 5-hydroxyisourate with the aid of molecular oxygen and water. One of the most unique features about this enzyme is that the oxidation of uric acid can occur without a metal cofactor such as Fe, Cu or Zn. Most enzymes of this class need to utilize a metal cofactor for the reaction to occur. Another key importance of this enzyme is that recombinant UOx is used medicinally for the treatment of gout, which is a painful arthritis caused by build-up of uric acid.

Deposited oxide thin films are used in many advanced electronic applications such as logic and memory devices, III–V power and high frequency devices, optoelectronics, tunnel junctions, and spintronic. Oxides are thermodynamically stable but there are obstacles like poor mechanical properties and conductivity. The Holy Grail is the capability to tune electronic properties of oxides to reach an all oxide solid state device. This would be specially interesting for power device applications as power devices are expected withstand high current, voltage and power.

Within our bodies there is an ecosystem called the microbiome, consisting of microbes that compete with each other and interacting with the body. Recent discoveries have found that the microbiome is associated with a myriad of diseases including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and autism. Accordingly, there is a growing body of research attempting to better understand the microbiome, so that medical treatments- inspired by research- can be applied to ameliorate the aforementioned conditions.


The pervasive use of electricity-powered devices have increased the electricity consumption at a rapid rate. This places a strain on the non-renewable sources of electric power. Even though renewable resources are now being utilised to generate power but still a large percentage of electricity requirement is dependent on the non-renewable sources. Therefore, conserving electricity is of paramount importance. The process of power transmission from the grid to its use in consumer electronics involves multiple power conversion processes. These power conversion processes incurs energy loss.

This project is dedicated to gravity or turbidity currents. A gravity current propagated above the floor of the ocean, namely, turbidity current, is a main source of fossil fuels, and for this reason tracking them there, and finding their exact locations is one of the major interests of oil companies these days. In order to reach to this goal, studying the physical properties of gravity currents, such as their density distribution, their height and their velocity looks necessary.

The Wilson lab grows crystals of materials that have unique electronic or magnetic behavior that might make them good candidates for future electronic devices. For example, we currently have a project working to grow two-dimensional materials, similar to graphene, because these types of materials could be used in flexible electronic circuits and enable wearable devices. This summer, interns working with me will produce and analyze materials that may have application in solid state memory.

How does the autopilot keep an airplane on course without the pilot adjusting the rudders and engines? How does the thermostat keep a room at a specified temperature without anyone turning the radiator and/or A/C on and off? How do Segways transport people instead of planting them on their faces? The answer to all these questions is "mathematical modeling and feedback." Control Engineers use knowledge of the behavior of airplanes, room temperatures, two-wheeled platforms, and other engineering systems to write programs that react in the right way: Is it too hot? Turn on the fan.

The Mitragotri group engages in the research field of drug delivery and biomaterials. The group's research has advanced fundamental understanding of transport processes in biological systems and has led to the development of new materials as well as technologies for diagnosis and treatment of various ailments including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and infectious diseases. Some particularly impactful areas have been : Transdermal drug delivery, Oral drug delivery, Micro and nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery and Synthetic Cells.

The objective of the lab is to tackle various problems using reinforcement learning and deep learning techniques. We are working on a problem called 'Multi Armed Bandits' in which the task is to be maximize the reward obtained in an unknown environment. We are also working on a project based on Optical Character Recognition(OCR).

Categorization plays an important role in our day-to-day lives. Friend or foe? Food or poison? A person's ability to categorize allows them to respond differently, for example, to predators and prey. Categorization is essential for survival. I am interested in how people learn to categorize, and specifically what makes this categorization easier or more difficult. Through this summer's project, I (along with my interns!), will investigate the role that feedback plays in category learning and what neurobiological mechanisms are involved. What type of feedback facilitates learning?

The Gaines Lab conducts research on a wide variety of marine ecology, fisheries, and biological conservation topics. Researchers use experiments and models to help understand past and current environmental conditions, and forecast future events. Our overarching objective is to produce science that supports the sustainable use of shared natural resources. Sometimes our research is finding an answer to an unknown ecology question, for example how a predator and a prey species interact with one another.