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Asael Papour is one of 12 UCLA students who are headed to China next month thanks to the UCLA-PKU Joint Research Institute in Science and Engineering (Photo by Rebecca Kendall)

Young scientists earn summer scholarships to Peking University

Ten-week program offers valuable research opportunities and cultural experiences

UCLA Today

Air quality just isn’t a scientific interest for fourth-year chemical engineering student Regan Patterson; it’s also a personal one. As the older sister of a brother with asthma, Patterson knows the types of challenges that air pollution poses to the estimated 22 million Americans who live with this chronic lung disease.

This summer, she’s hoping to deepen her understanding of the effects of air pollution on human health as part of an annual summer research scholarship program offered by the the UCLA-Peking University Joint Research Institute in Science and Engineering (JRI), one of 18 multidisciplinary centers at the UCLA International Institute. She, along with 11 other undergraduate and graduate students from UCLA will spend 10 weeks at Peking University (PKU) in Beijing contributing to research projects and learning about life in China.

“China is the place to go for air pollution research,” says Patterson, who will be working in Professor Mei Zheng’s lab and taking air pollution measurements. “I’m really trying to expand my worldview and perspective.”

Zheng was recently at UCLA for the third annual JRI symposium, held May 2-3 at the California Nanosystems Institute. Her current research interest is in air pollution, especially applying multiple tools to identify various sources of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the atmosphere, PM exposure and its potential health impacts. Patterson’s ultimate goal is to meld her understanding of air pollution, exposure assessment, atmospheric chemistry and aerosol science to influence policy that can mitigate the health impacts.

Like Patterson, graduate student Asael Papour wants to make his mark in the field of health sciences. The second-year master’s student in electrical engineering will spend the summer at PKU working with  Professor Qiushi Ren, Department of Biomedical Engineering. Ren’s specialty is developing optics and photonomics for medical solutions. 

This builds upon Papour’s work with UCLA Professors Oscar Stafsudd and Warren Grundfest; colleagues in the Department of Bio-Engineering; and doctors at the Jonsson Cancer Center and Brain Research Institute at the David Geffen School of Medicine, who are developing a optics and bioimaging device that uses nanosecond-long UV pulses on brain tissue to create images that doctors and surgeons can use to better detect cancer cells. Papour has already contributed significantly to this effort by discovering a method to increase the quality of the image by 20 percent. His name was recently added to the provisional patent that was filed on this imaging system.

He is excited by this opportunity to travel to China and advance his research skills. Papour says that spending the summer at Peking University will undoubtedly result in strong personal and professional growth.

“I can really benefit from another perspective,” he says. “The world is a global village…. and it’s important to throw myself into the water and meet new people, and the opportunity to be involved with new research is very appealing.”

The JRI is the one of the largest research collaborations between any UC campus and an overseas university, with more than 150 faculty members from UCLA and PKU. Founded in 2009, its goal is to train future science and engineering leaders who will have global perspective and to promote joint collaborative research. It also secures joint funding and facilitates technology transfer of collaborate research results. This is the third year that UCLA students have had an opportunity to participate in this summer program.

“We’re in the business of training future leaders, and it’s important that these leaders have international experience and an understanding of international perspectives,” says JRI co-director Professor Jason Cong, a faculty member in UCLA’s Computer Science Department. “Having that exposure will really be beneficial in multiple ways. Students will understand how their peers work, they’ll meet people who may become future colleagues or business partners and they’ll gain an understanding of a new language and culture.”