Intellectual curiosity on display at UC Davis undergrad research conference

Applying Neuroscience and Music to Landscape Design

About 540 University of California, Davis, undergraduates will present their discoveries and artistic creations May 1 and 2 at a campus event that is the hallmark of the undergraduate research experience.

The 26th annual Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference highlights the intellectual curiosity of participants — among the 5,000 plus undergraduates who conduct research each year at UC Davis.

The public is invited to attend the free event, which will include oral and poster presentations and an arts exhibit. Undergraduate Research Week, through May 8, will feature other activities to highlight undergraduate research and programs.

'A great learning experience'

Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor at UC Davis, said the conference demonstrates the enormous amount of student talent and achievement from across the campus and is a great learning experience for undergraduates.

"It gives students a rare opportunity to present their research or creative work in a professional setting — the type of experience that can be key to securing admission to graduate school or successfully launching a career."

Opportunities for undergraduates

About 5,000 undergraduates conduct research in any given year, typically working directly with faculty, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students.

Angie Louie, professor of biomedical engineering and faculty director of the Undergraduate Research Center, says the experience is invaluable for exploring potential careers. "Undergraduate research can help students figure out their interests and strengths, provide competitive skills for the job market, enhance communication abilities, build self-confidence, and allow them to contribute to the research of the university."

Senior entomology major Jadrian Ejercito of Los Angeles will be presenting research on factors that could decrease the ability of mosquitoes to transmit the parasites that cause malaria in humans. He described working in the research setting. "We don't get a textbook," he said. "We rely on our colleagues and mentors to address problems we run into.

"We are forced to be independent yet cooperative in a professional setting," he added. "I am treated as an individual scientist rather than a student."

Wide variety of research topics

Get to know three other students and their research through videos:

  • Junior Kristi Lin of San Diego combined her study of landscape architecture with her love of piano to create landscape design. Using neuroscience, she assigned forms to the musical phrases of Debussy's "Clare de Lune" and used the structure of the composition to place those forms in landscape design.
  • Senior Ayala Berger of Palo Alto, who is double majoring in music and wildlife, fish and conservation biology, explored the best ways to measure different bird vocalizations against the backdrop of urban noise.
  • Senior Manuel Cisneros of Winton, who is studying biomedical engineering, built a heart-rate monitor for cyclists. A cyclist can view the information in real time with just a shift in eye position and, therefore, without compromising the aerodynamics of body position.

Faculty mentors

Each participating student works under a sponsoring faculty, who mentors the student and provides entrée into intellectual investigation at the highest level.

Shirley Luckhart, a professor in the School of Medicine's medical microbiology and immunology department, is mentoring Ejercito. She said the talented undergraduates in her lab have all enjoyed and benefited from participating in the conference. "They've been able to apply for scholarships, training opportunities and support to attend scientific meetings."

Poster presentations, in which students discuss their work with circulating conference-goers, and the arts exhibit will be held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, May 1, in the ARC Pavilion. Oral presentations will be held from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, in Wellman Hall.

Media Resources

Julia Ann Easley, General news (emphasis: business, K-12 outreach, education, law, government and student affairs), 530-752-8248,

Angie Louie, Undergraduate Research Center, 530-752-7134,

Tammy Hoyer, Undergraduate Research Center, (530) 752-6016,