As the College of Natural Sciences' Freshman Research Initiative celebrates its 10th anniversary, we speak to students and scientists about how doing research as freshmen and sophomores impacted them.
In FRI's Autonomous Robots research stream, Patricio "Pato" Lankenau built a "telepresence" system that let users anywhere drive a robot around one of UT Austin's buildings and see what it sees. His experience as a freshman and sophomore helped him land internships at Google and Apple. He's graduating next month after only three years in college. In the fall, he'll go back to work for Apple full time on a distributed computing project. He says the FRI was the conversation-starter that got him an in with companies he might want to work for one day.
Changing the World
Sophomore Jessica Popoola worked on a project in the DIY Diagnostics research stream where students used a 3D printer to build an inexpensive platform for detecting mosquito borne diseases such as malaria and Zika. She's now part of a biotech startup that plans to commercialize the platform they developed. Instead of her original plan to be a doctor, she found a passion for saving lives by getting research innovations out into the real world.
Finding a Path
Kate Thackrey's original major was neuroscience, but she also loved writing. In FRI, she was invited to write articles about her fellow students and their research for the official FRI blog. That writing experience helped her decide she wanted to be a science writer. It also helped her land a science writing internship at Argonne National Laboratory this summer.
In FRI, Ajay Mohan Narayanan and his lab mates searched for naturally occurring antibiotics produced by microbes in the soil to fight the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The skills and experience he acquired as a freshman and sophomore made him a good candidate to do research in the lab of professor Marvin Whiteley as an upperclassman. After graduation next month, he heads to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he plans to train to become a surgeon.
Following a Star
Zili Shen was born in Beijing, China and moved with her family to Georgia in high school. When she came to UT, she wasn't sure what she wanted to major in. She was curious about psychology, linguistics and astronomy. By getting to walk in the shoes of an astronomer, through doing real research in the White Dwarf Stars research stream for FRI, she discovered her passion in astronomy and chose her major.
Becoming a Scientist
Cristy Portales couldn't believe the opportunities she got as a freshman in the Biofuels research stream back in 2010. She would tell her family back home about the opportunities she was getting to delve into science and see their tremendous pride in her. Cristy went on to join the Antibiotics research stream as a mentor, before graduating in 2014 with degrees in biology and biochemistry. Today she is a graduate student in plant biology at the University of Minnesota. Learn more in the video below.
About Point of Discovery
Point of Discovery is a production of the University of Texas at Austin's College of Natural Sciences. You can listen via iTunes, iTunes U, RSS or Stitcher. Questions or comments about this episode or our series in general? Email Marc Airhart.