Students from Abroad Find Fertile Ground for Research at Calit2

By Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

San Diego, Calif., Oct. 12, 2010 — To say that academic researchers are ‘always on the clock’ has become somewhat of a truism. But for researcher Ewelina Szymanska, even a day trip to a glamorous spa wasn’t enough to turn off her ‘inner designer.’
Ewelina Szymanska, a Master’s student in industrial design at the University of Technology in Eindhoven, Netherlands, created this video while conducting research at Calit2 into the effect of pulsating ambient light on the human psychological state. Length: 3:41.

A Master’s student in industrial design at the University of Technology in Eindhoven, Netherlands, Szymanska recently spent a quarter at the University of California, San Diego, studying the effect of pulsating ambient light on the human psychological state.

Szymanska is among a growing number of foreign graduate and undergraduate students who have flocked to the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at UC San Diego, traveling thousands of miles to take advantage of the institute’s cutting-edge facilities and multidisciplinary approach to research.

Szymanska said she became curious about the cognitive effects of light while at a spa in Holland, where she noticed that she and others became especially relaxed in one particular room lit by a lamp that moved across the color spectrum.
“I spent more than an hour there and it felt like 20 minutes,” she recalled. “In other rooms, people would talk or read newspapers, but in this room, everyone was sleeping.”

Working under the direction of UCSD Professor of Cognitive Science David Kirsh, Szymanska spent a quarter in a makeshift research tent at the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, where she tested nine human subjects for their physical and emotional response to a series of either calming or disturbing images, followed by a rhythmic succession of lights alternating between blue and purple. Ultimately, research into light design might translate into a reduction of stress and anxiety among patients in hospital environments, Szymanska said.

“I think it can have a lot of applications not only in healthcare, but also in any other place where people need to relax,” she added. She and Kirsh discussed several possible applications of the research with doctors at San Diego’s Alvarado Hospital, such as manipulating light design in intensive care units to reduce the amount of tranquilizing medication that patients might require.

“Light design can also be used in rooms where patients wait before undergoing some sort of medical procedure. Waiting can make people stressed and anxious. Research shows that cancer treatments, for example, aren’t as effective if people are under acute stress," she noted.

Although Szymanska’s experiment proved to have design faults (it attempted to measure too many variables, for one), she says that her experience testing subjects at Calit2 “brings the research much closer to being meaningful” in a field that is relatively unexplored.

Sara Maubourguet
Sara Maubourguet is an undergraduate at École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture in Toulouse, France. She conducted research this summer at Calit2 for Research Scientist Maurizio Seracini, who believes a mural by Leonardo da Vinci is hidden behind a brick wall in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio.
French undergraduate Sara Maubourguet is another foreign student who traded the chance to spend the summer at the beach for an opportunity to conduct research at Calit2 with research scientist Maurizio Seracini. During the academic year, Maubourguet studies physics and materials science at École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture (ENSA), a school of engineering in Toulouse, France.

“It’s really interesting to adapt physics to the arts, as we are doing here,” Maubourguet said. Her summer research focused on using an electron microscope with an optical lens to analyze the structure and content of bricks and mortar taken from a wall in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, behind which Seracini believes Leonardo da Vinci’s “Battle of Anghiari” mural is hidden. By studying the morphological elements of the bricks, as well as three samples of paint taken from other Leonardo works, Maubourguet helped Seracini move his search a bit closer to fruition – and made it possible for her to combine two of her passions.

“In my school,” she explained, “the applications are usually industrial, which doesn’t interest me. I originally hesitated between architecture and engineering because I’m interested in art, so this is the perfect mix between the two.”

Also involved in multidisciplinary research at Calit2 this summer was Bob Danani, a graduate student in computer science at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. Originally from Indonesia, Danani earned his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wollongo in Australia before studying at KAUST, where he earned a KAUST Discovery Scholarship to study abroad for one quarter at Calit2.

While at the institute, Danani worked under the direction of Calit2 Research Scientist Jürgen Schulze to develop a new plug-in for the OpenCover-based Cytoscape pathway network browser for use in Calit2’s 3-D virtual reality NexCAVE. The software transforms the traditionally two-dimensional pathway networks into three-dimensional graphics, enabling biological researchers to better understand, for example, how proteins interact with DNA.

KAUST graduate student Ronell Sicat, also working under the direction of Schulze, ported a software library developed at KAUST to the StarCAVE. This library allows viewing large image stacks acquired by high-resolution microscopes, such as confocal images or brain scans.

Sicat earned hisundergraduate degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering and Communications at the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines before enrolling at KAUST, where he is earning his Master’s in electrical engineering. He said he foresees that the visualization technologies being developed at Calit2 will become widespread, and not just within the research community.
Bob Danani, Miguel Galicia and Ronell Sicat
Bob Danani, Miguel Galicia and Ronell Sicat spend the academic year studying at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. But they spent the summer at Calit2 developing new technologies for data visualization and wireless sensor networks.

“I can see these kinds of technologies becoming popular among gamers,” he said, “especially since the experience is so much different. Imagine yourself playing a video game where you are actually in the game.”

 KAUST sent a third student to conduct research at Calit2 over the summer quarter: Miguel Galicia, who is earning his Master’s in electrical engineering after graduating with undergraduate degrees in telecommunications and industrial engineering from the National University of Mexico. Galicia is assisting Tajana Simunic Rosing, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at UCSD, with a project to conduct simulations based on wireless sensor networks. The networks are used to measure environmental data, such as pollutants in the air, as well as personal health data, such as heart rate, and then analyze those statistics to make personalized recommendations (in other words, “Don’t go for your morning jog in this neighborhood because the air quality is poor.”)

Galicia is helping to create new protocols for optimizing energy consumption so that the sensor networks can be used for long periods of time without needing to be charged.

“We want these types of technologies to spread around the world,” he explained, “so that people everywhere – both in the U.S. and abroad – can improve the quality of their lives.”

Media Contacts

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

Related Links

University of Technology Eindhoven, Netherlands

École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture Toulouse, France

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia