SERA Research Tracks

Program Format

Students participating in the Science & Engineering Research Academy will earn 4 university credits by taking an interdisciplinary research course that teaches fundamental concepts in the particular track they choose, leading to more specific topics current in the field. Students will learn how to compose a formal research report and gain key communication skills to effectively present findings.

During the first half of the program, students will participate in specially designed hands-on labs that demonstrate concepts and reinforce principles learned in lecture. In the second half, the focus will shift from labs to group discussions in order to allow students to develop an appropriate research question, investigate findings, and present the results in a formal capstone seminar on the last day of the program.

The general academic component of the program is as follows:

Week 1: 4 Lectures | 1 Lab | 2 Discussions | 1 GRIT talk

Week 2: 4 Lectures | 2 Labs | 3 Discussions | 2 GRIT talks

Week 3: 4 Lectures | 1 Lab | 3 Discussions | 2 GRIT talks

Week 4: 3 Lectures | 3 Discussions | 2 GRIT talks | Capstone Seminar

2019 Research Tracks

Track 1: The Invisible Power of Social Networks – Exploring Networks, Data Analysis, and Artificial Intelligence
Disciplines: Computer Science, Data Science, Machine Learning, Mathematics

We live in a connected world. Social networks pervade our lives: in our families, schools, workplaces, communities, and across the world. In fact, due to the recent interest in network science and its vast applications, it is called the science of the 21st century. An understanding of these complex social systems helps us tackle major societal issues such as election results, marketing campaigns, the spread of news, etc. In this course, we apply tools from network science to understand how certain phenomena occur as individuals make actions in social networks. We will introduce concepts from graphs theory, computer science, mathematics, and statistics and probability theory; and apply them to various projects on epidemic/gossip propagation and opinion dynamics. We will also learn about techniques from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to work with data. We will see that in contrast to traditional uses of computers, a human programmer cannot always provide an explicit, fine-detailed specification of how complex tasks should be executed; and thus we apply AI techniques that allow us to continually learn from data, detect meaningful patterns, and predict the future. The tools taught in this course will benefit students who aim to become future influencers of the tech industry.

Track 2: Marine Biology – Understanding and Solving our Ocean's Problems
Disciplines: Ecology, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Conservation

Earth’s oceans cover over 70% of its surface, support an unparalleled diversity of life, and provide invaluable services to humans. Yet, human activities that use marine and coastal resources can result in changes along coastlines that have unforeseen consequences. In this track, you will learn the techniques marine biologists use to ask research questions, set-up experiments, and collect data. We will focus on topics, such as marine biodiversity, food webs, links between marine and terrestrial systems, species and ocean conservation, and the impacts humans can have on our oceans and some practical solutions promote a more harmonious relationship between humans and marine ecosystems. Students will dissect marine organisms and learn about their biology, discover the importance of coral reef and kelp ecosystems, learn about whale migration patterns in the Santa Barbara channel, and go on local field trips to the beach and intertidal zone to collect data for their research projects. At the end of the course, students will have learned key concepts in marine biology and ecology, how human influences can alter marine ecosystems, and how to conduct original research.

Track 3: Human Population Genetics – The Causes and Consequences of Genetic Variation in Homo Sapiens
Disciplines: Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, Genomics, Genetic Engineering

With the recent advent of genome sequencing technology, scientists have declared that we are living in the post-genomic era! But, for the human population, what does this mean? In this course, we will discuss what we've learned from the variation in DNA sequence among individuals in the human population. Specifically, we will tackle two important questions: (1) Where does genetic variation come from? And (2), How does it affect the human population now and in the future? We will focus on current research conducted in the genetics of human neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Autism Spectrum Disorder, schizophrenia, and more. Students will learn about current methods in genome sequencing, analysis, and genome engineering. We will discuss these issues in light of personalized health care, genetic modification, direct to consumer genetic testing (like 23andme), and the ethical implications that result. In lab, students will extract their own DNA to test for a common genetic mutation and will get an introduction to using computer programming to analyze DNA sequence data.

Track 4: Under Pressure – Reconciling Tensions Between International Law and National Sovereignty 
Disciplines: International Law, Global Studies, International Relations, History

Perhaps the biggest tension that exists in global politics is that concerning international law and national sovereignty: when one country’s national interest and laws conflicts with international treaties and accords, which should take precedence? Do nations owe a bigger duty to their citizens or the international community? How can we reconcile the principles of national sovereignty with attempts to develop institutions of global governance? Using the broad theme of Global Studies and International Law, this course will introduce students interested in international law to the foundational framework of the modern system of international governance. It will challenge students to apply their new knowledge to devise policy solutions to some of the world’s ongoing conflicts and international legal disputes. Additionally, this course aims to provide students with training and tools needed to conduct research in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This includes exploring the different types of methods available, how to construct a strong research question, writing a thorough literature review, finding and analyzing sources, and effectively integrating findings into a research paper.

Track 5: In the Digital Age – Experiencing Architecture and Music Through STEM 
Disciplines: Architecture, Music, Media Arts, Technology

In this course, we will challenge what you think architecture and music are by examining how the intersection of these topics evolved over time through the lens of human experience and the digital age. For example, the way in which theme parks are intentionally designed or the role that a musical score plays in movies to enhance or manipulate the audience's experience. You will learn the basic concepts of digital architecture and computer music through exercises using physical and digital modeling, 3D fabrication, haptics (touch sound), and interactive design highlighting how new media technologies and fabrication tools have allowed for the integration of STEM and the fine arts. Students will attend a field recording workshop and develop a hands-on studio project to learn creative techniques in music composition and sound making. In addition, students will develop oral communication and formal presentation skills through a series of workshop project presentations. By the end of the course, you will develop the methodologies for an interdisciplinary research project. This is an excellent opportunity for participants interested in both science and art, to increase their skills and knowledge towards their college education.

Previous SERA Capstone Seminar Programs