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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

COSMOS program celebrates 10th anniversary

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COSMOS students wash the biofuel they have created in the Biodiesel for Renewable Resources cluster.

San Diego, Calif., Aug. 21, 2014 -- What have you accomplished over the past four weeks? Made your own biodiesel? Miniaturized a pollution particle counter? Created an app for the color-blind? No? Then you’re probably not in the COSMOS program.

The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) is a four-week residential summer program designed for talented and motivated high school students – students so motivated they’re not afraid to dream big, technologically speaking, to take on some of the world’s most difficult problems.

Hosted on four University of California campuses (Davis, Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz), COSMOS provides students the opportunity to work side-by-side with university faculty and researchers, covering topics that extend well beyond the typical high school curriculum. COSMOS at UC San Diego places a strong emphasis on technology and engineering in addition to other sciences, and is administered through the Jacobs School of Engineering.

The program celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. And just in time for the occasion, the program accepted more female students than male students. There are a total of 181 COSMOS students this year, and 50 percent are girls. The majority of the participants are from California; however out of state and international students also attend the program this summer. In all, over 600 students applied.  One third of the students are on some form of scholarship or attending for free.

“COSMOS provides high school students who are passionate about science, technology, engineering and/or math (STEM) an opportunity to work with top-rated university faculty and researchers in research labs, while at the same time getting a chance to live on a college campus and get a feel for college life,” said Becky Hames, the assistant director for the program at UC San Diego. “They also get to network with other high school students who are also excited about STEM.”

“The COSMOS leadership has created a program that really works,” said Nathan Delson, a teaching professor of mechanical engineering, and the co-founding faculty member for the San Diego program, with mechanical engineering professor Raymond de Callafon. “The faculty share their area of passion with the students, and COSMOS creates the overall environment for the students to flourish in.”

“The COSMOS students are such a pleasure to work with,” Delson added. “We have such passionate and well-rounded students who choose to take 4 weeks of their summer and commit it to academics. I am so impressed with their curiosity and energy with which they pursue their projects.”

Biodiesel and climate change

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Students in the "Computers in Everyday Life" clusfter examine each other's scribbler robots. 

Rheana Marie Robles is one of them. She signed up for the “Biodiesel for Renewable Resources” cluster in the program. The 17-year-old is from El Cajon Valley High School and is concerned about pollution. Her mother runs a gas station. “My city is really polluted,” she said, adding she hopes to lobby in favor of a shift to renewable fuel sources.

Everyone in the cluster got to make their own biodiesel and work on a related project, under the direction of Robert “Skip” Pomeroy, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC San Diego. The class allows him to teach organic chemistry concepts in an interesting way, he said.  By the end of the four weeks, COSMOS students were completing “final projects that were at a college senior level in complexity,” said Pomeroy.

Pomeroy also leads COSMOS’ “Living Oceans and Global Climate Change” cluster. In that class, students got to miniaturize a pollution particle counter, among other projects. The ultimate goal is to actually commercialize the device, Pomeroy said.

Yujane Chu, 16, of Fullerton, was one of the students working on the counter. Before coming to COSMOS, she thought scientists only studied one scientific discipline, she said. “Here we’re combining engineering, math, chemistry, environmental science,” she said. “Everything comes together in real science.”

One of the most valuable experiences in COSMOS is the lab time, on equipment that’s not available at the high school level, said Julie Baker-Conte, a high school biology teacher at San Pasqual High School in Escondido and one of this year’s COSMOS Teach Fellows. Her plan is to take the cluster’s lesson plan to her students and implement it as much as possible at her school.

Aspiring computer scientists

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Dean Albert Pisano talks to COSMOS students during the program's 10th anniversary celebration.

Meanwhile, 19 students from the “Computers in Everyday Life” cluster, which explores concepts in computer science and electrical engineering, introduced their ideas to other COSMOS students last week – some of whom asked probing questions about the apps and devices with the aplomb of academics twice their age.

The Computers in Everyday Life course focuses on the fundamentals of programming via a programming language called AppInventor, which allows students to create mobile phone applications. Students also learn to develop the artificial intelligence that will enable the Scribbler robot to perform tasks like finding objects and avoiding obstacles. They also perform experiments using Arduino microcontrollers along with touch, temperature, motion and other sensors.

UC San Diego’s Gordon Award went to COSMOS students Rachel Hong and Tiffany Chen for their project "Mobile Application for Color Vision Deficiency and Betterment of Object Distinction (LUMOS).” The mobile app has three components: 10 Ishihara tests for determining red-green color-blindness, a filter for helping those with such color-blindness better see the distinctions between colors and a ‘color identifier’ that recognizes colors in an image taken with a smartphone’s camera.

"In four short weeks, these high school students were exposed to a variety of programming environments and concepts ranging from mobile phone apps to robotics, sensors and actuators,” said COSMOS instructor and Computer Science and Engineering Professor Ryan Kastner, who is an affiliate of the Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego. Kastner co-teaches the COSMOS students with QI Principal Development Engineer Curt Schurgers, COSMOS Teacher Fellow Shirley Miranda and teaching assistants Kristoffer Wilkerson and Riley Yeakle, who was also a UC San Diego COSMOS student for the this same course five year ago. Yeakle said that his experience at COSMOS helped him to decide soon after on his future major— computer science and engineering—and university—UC San Diego.

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Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu

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