Sharon To got involved in research in her third year at UC Irvine, and has been an enthusiastic participant ever since. Rather than seeking out a project related to her Computer Engineering major, she has been working with Professor Jackson in the Studio Art department. Sharon is grateful for this opportunity to broaden her horizons, realizing that she’ll be able to use the expertise she has gained to stand out among others in her field. UROP is pleased to recognize Sharon for the passion she has brought to her undergraduate research.

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

My area of research lies at an intersection of art and engineering by using engineering practices to pursue artistic and creative objectives. I work with Professor Jesse Jackson at the Speculative Prototyping Lab in Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

At the start of my third year at UCI, I was recruited by a peer to help with Professor Jackson’s Marching Cubes project, an interactive art exhibit in which the Marching Cubes algorithm, a method used to mathematically divide objects into three-dimensional pixels (voxels), was physically manifested to allow exhibit participants to experience the algorithm in a tangible form. I was intrigued by the project itself as well as the way in which it was being undertaken. The team spent months 3D printing the Marching Cubes cube configurations, refining them, and assembling them into an exhibit-ready state. Through working on this project, I was exposed to 3D printing, and I was able to see the ways in which typical tools can be used to foster innovative and creative ideas. It was also a very rewarding feeling to see the result of the hard work that I and my peers had dedicated to reaching the culmination of this project. After Marching Cubes, I chose to continue working with Professor Jackson in the Speculative Prototyping Lab in order to pursue more of these exciting and inventive projects.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Partaking in research has provided me an avenue through which I been able to apply the concepts I learned in my courses to real-world applications that do not yet have coherent solutions. By being able to put these ideas into action and seeing the results, I am better able to internalize the knowledge I’ve gained. Additionally, research has provided me with experience that I had not attained within a traditional classroom setting. I was able to develop an ability to map out my objectives and structure my own timeline early on in a project rather than follow a set of predetermined checkpoints. I have also refined the way in which I conduct iterative modification processes on my projects.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity of traveling up to Hay River, Northwest Territories in Canada for my Spring UROP project, “Improving and Field Testing Remotely Controllable and Monitorable Time-Lapse Cameras for Extreme Cold Weather using a Cyclapse Assembly Modified with a Raspberry Pi.” This was an extension of a previous UROP project that I had pursued in the past academic year, “Remotely Controllable and Monitorable Time-Lapse Cameras for Extreme Cold Weather using a Cyclapse Assembly Modified with a Raspberry Pi,” in which my team and I developed a network of Raspberry Pi-controlled DSLR cameras arranged in a 360-degree orientation for long-term collection of time-lapse photographic data in extreme cold weather conditions. The trip was intended to update the system that had been installed by the team in December 2016 with new equipment, as well as implement remote access capabilities and application of other data-collection modules like a real-time clock and temperature sensor. It was an extremely invigorating experience being able to travel to the Subarctic to conduct research, physically assemble and refine a system that I had been developing remotely and mostly in theory for the past year, and be there to witness the results of the work that I had done. It was also very humbling to recognize that I had a unique opportunity to see a part of the world that isn’t fully visible to the rest of the world but that is still affected by the way we all choose to live.

I am also exceedingly grateful and appreciative that I get to work with Professor Jackson, who is such an inspiring and supportive mentor, as well as the rest of the team at the Speculative Prototyping Lab—Aldrin Lupisan; Will Amos; Ivette Morales; and Tucker Moody. Our combined efforts are what make any of our projects possible.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

After I graduate, I will continue working with a start-up company, Closed Loop Plastics, where I will help them further enhance their plastic recycling technology. Because their goals involve developing new technology, I will be able to apply the practices and methodologies have I developed while pursuing UROP projects on this particular project as well. Conducting research in my time at UCI has given me experience with estimating project timelines, budgets, etc. that will be effective and useful to the research process in place now at Closed Loop Plastics. Also, because of the nature of research projects, I am aware that situations and plans may change based on developments that occur in the midst of a project, and I have thus become more flexible and receptive to those impending changes.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

I would advise students to pursue research for the project itself regardless of the field of study it lies in or the expertise it may seem to require. Though I major in Computer Engineering, the initial project that had me interested in research didn’t involve Computer Engineering at all but, because it was an intriguing project in and of itself, I chose to take part in it and it has brought me so many exceptional and unparalleled opportunities I would not have had if I had pigeonholed myself too early on in my undergraduate career. Pursuing extracurricular projects outside of my own domain has given me the chance to learn as much as I can from different fields, which has made me more tolerant and conscious of varying schools of thought. One of my favorite pieces of advice from Professor Jackson is that because we are undergraduate students, we have not developed expertise in anything, which gives us a chance to be experts at anything.

Past Researchers of the Month

Aug. '17 Sharon To
Jul. '17 Samantha Ku
Jun. '17 Zachary Valley
May. '17 Julianna Cressman
Apr. '17 Navid Reza Ghaffari
Mar. '17 Martha Arhemi Morales
Feb. '17 Jafar Al Souz
Jan. '17 Joseph Mehrabi