Hello everybody! My name is Annabel Reyna Gomez. I was born and raised in Northern California. I am the oldest child in a family of four and live with my parents and younger brother in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am first-generation Mexican-American and the first female in my family to study STEM. Currently, I am a sophomore at Caltech pursuing a major in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Aerospace Engineering.
On campus, I am a member of Venerable House, Club Latino, Women Mentoring Women, an Admissions Ambassador, and a volunteer tutor helping local at-risk high school students through the Caltech Y Rise Tutoring program. Off campus, I am an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), using machine-learning to research ionospheric and atmospheric remote sensing. Geomagnetic storms, charged particle precipitation, plasma convection, and associate dynamics in the high-latitude ionosphere can produce various ionospheric disturbances depending on location, geomagnetic conditions, and presence of field-aligned currents. These disturbances, including plasma instabilities, give rise to irregular structures in ionospheric density distribution, or ionospheric irregularities. My task is to apply machine-learning techniques to develop a prediction system, using historical GPS and magnetometer data, to predict the location, time, and intensity of these irregularities. The goal is to use these predictions to eventually reduce signal reception interruptions and improve the integrity of navigation and communication technology applications that rely on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and GPS data.
My post-Caltech plan is to attend graduate school and obtain a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Subsequently, I would like to work for NASA and be involved in groundbreaking research that will help to improve the quality of life across the globe.
I’m thrilled to join the Caltech Fission team as a new blogger and look forward to sharing with you my experience, both as a Techer as well as an intern at JPL!
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.