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2021 Dean's Undergraduate Excellence Awards

Chemistry/Biochemistry Department Awardees

  • Alberto Castanedo

    Alberto Castanedo

    Specializing in organic chemistry, Alberto is from Norwalk, Calif. Having worked at four different labs throughout his undergraduate career, his research in synthetic organic methodology and total synthesis is extensive. Persistent, determined and resourceful, he is the only one in his family to pursue a career in science. This award reassures him that he has what it takes to become a great scientist.
  • Andres De la Rosa

    Andres De la Rosa

    A senior from Napa, Calif., Andres’ primary interest lies in pharmacology and drug synthesis and design, as well as researching neurodegenerative diseases. His work at the Godula Research Lab is focused on the synthesis of complex organic molecules and structural biology. His faculty advisor commends his “excellence as a researcher and student,” as well as his extracurricular dedication to music.

  • Calvin Huang

    Calvin Huang

    Calvin is from San Francisco and studies pharmacological chemistry. His research is focused on finding the functions of long non-coding RNAs. According to his nominator, he is “engaged and enthusiastic” and “is in the lab whenever he has free time.” Hardworking and persistent, he eventually hopes to create medicines for people in need and make the world a better place for everyone.

  • Tommy Le

    Tommy Le

    Tommy is from San Diego and majors in biochemistry. His research is focused on studying the protein structure of a bacteriophage called PhiKZ and expressing an RNA polymerase that is packaged with the phage’s genome. Outside of the lab, Tommy is a high school chemistry tutor and member of UC San Diego’s lion dance team. Someday he hopes to become a biochemistry professor.

  • Alina Luk

    Alina Luk

    A student specializing in pharmaceutical sciences, Alina’s hometown is San Diego. Her research in the McHugh Lab focuses on a long non-coding RNA that is highly expressed in cancer cells. Influenced by her academics as well as her personal experiences back home, she is pursuing a career that will help advance patient healthcare and maximize health benefits.

  • Jori Mills

    Jori Mills

    A biochemistry major from Nevada City, Calif., Jori has a particular interest in the interactions between hosts and pathogens, focusing his study on the interactions of Group A Streptococcus M-proteins and human immune molecules. His nominator calls him a “born researcher.” He plans to pursue a PhD in biochemistry in the fall, continuing his scientific pursuits in whatever capacity he finds most fulfilling.

  • Anthony Rodriguez

    Anthony Rodriguez

    Anthony is from Bakersfield, Calif., and his studies focus on chemical synthesis and methodology. At the Tor Laboratory, he works with the synthesis and photophysical evaluation of modified nucleosides. His nominator thinks he has the “motivation, dedication and talent needed” to pursue a career in Medicinal Chemistry or work towards becoming a professor and having his own lab.

  • Kunyang Sun

    Kunyang Sun

    Studying theoretical chemistry, Kunyang is from Changchun, China. His work in the Yuen-Zhou Laboratory is focused on exploring the effects of putting a large amount of molecules into microcavities. His faculty mentor says that he “can do algebraic manipulations way faster than I can.” In the future, he hopes to have his own startup and discover creative ways to pass his knowledge onto more people.

  • Vanessa Tian

    Vanessa Tian

    Vanessa of Vancouver, Canada, studies biophysics and physical chemistry. In the Kim Lab, she elucidates the mechanisms of long-range electron transfer through radical intermediates in biological systems. She also founded Chempions, the peer mentorship program for chemistry and biochemistry undergraduates that helps build a sense of community in the current digital landscape. Her nominator says she is “the type of student who will succeed in whatever she pursues.”

  • Nga (Swan) Van

    Nga (Swan) Van

    Swan is from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In only two years of undergraduate studies, she has made remarkable accomplishments. Her graduate student-level research is focused on base editing, a revolutionary technique of genome alteration that allows for precise installation of a site-specific mutation on DNA. In the future, her goal is to develop new biochemical technology that will have both industrial and medical implications.

  • Amalia Villagran-Suarez

    Amalia Villagran-Suarez

    Amalia is from Guayaquil, Ecuador, and studies biochemistry and biophysics. In Elizabeth Komives’ Lab, she studies the kinetics and dynamics of protein-protein interactions by utilizing biophysical methods such as anisotropy and HDX. Her nominator says that “she is very driven and mature, combining unusual brilliance with unusual abilities in the lab.” Amalia wants to pursue a PhD in preparation for educational outreach in Ecuador.

Math Department Awardees

  • Ricardo Arruda

    Ricardo Arruda

    A senior from São Paulo, Brazil, with a genuine love for mathematics, Ricardo studies probability theory, stochastic processes and economic theory. Recently, much of his research has been dedicated to health economics, in which he investigates the current circumstances in Brazil. He also has several years of experience as a math tutor. In his free time, Ricardo collects vinyl and delves into mathematical philosophy.

  • Samuel Babichenko

    Samuel Babichenko

    From Costa Mesa, Calif., Sam came to UC San Diego for the strong mathematics courses. He is interested in the study of decision making, and uses applied math to find answers to problems. When it comes to achieving academic excellence, Sam understands failure as an intrinsic part of success, and does not give up when faced with challenges. In the future, Sam will attend graduate school and could see himself in academia or industry.
  • Yiwei Cao

    Yiwei Cao

    Yiwei studies mathematics and economics and is from Nanchang, China. Her faculty advisor states that she shows “great initiative and eagerness to learn.” After graduation, she will be a full-time investment banking analyst at Jefferies. This award inspires her to continue exploring statistics and econometrics as she enters a career in the finance industry.

  • Brian Chao

    Brian Chao

    Brian is from Orange County, Calif., and studies probability theory, statistics and mathematical analysis, with “an outstanding overall academic record” to his name, according to his advisor. Having previously worked as a teaching assistant for calculus and linear algebra, his current research is focused on spatial evolution models inspired by cancer cell spreading. His goal is to become a math professor.

  • Amanda Huynh

    Amanda Huynh

    Amanda is from San Diego and majors in applied mathematics. Owing her academic excellence to her perseverance and curiosity, she hopes to become a high school math teacher someday, making the subject more inclusive for all students. She’s a math tutor for the Teaching + Learning Commons, where she works with students to break down abstract and complex concepts. She owes her academic excellence to her perseverance and curiosity, which have pushed her to understand math at a deeper level.

  • Michael Jaber

    Michael Jaber

    Michael is from San Ramon, Calif., and majors in mathematics and computer science. One of the problems he investigates is the way in which computers operate with limited amounts of resources. He’s especially grateful for the strong support and mentorship he has received among the computer science communities at UC San Diego, and he hopes to become a professor at a research university someday.

  • Jiazheng Liu

    Jiazheng Liu

    Jiazheng is from Beijing, China, and studies mathematics with a specialty in algebra. Recently he’s worked with Brendon Rhoades on irreducible representations of the wreath product of cyclic groups. This award helps him realize that the work he’s doing really is important, and it encourages him to keep pursuing his studies as he looks toward graduate school and becoming a math professor someday.

  • Tomoki Oda

    Tomoki Oda

    Tomoki studies algebraic geometry and is from Kyoto, Japan. After transferring to UC San Diego, his genuine love for studying mathematics helped him achieve top grades in a number of advanced undergraduate courses. Self-disciplined, curious and innovative, his faculty mentor writes that he “is a very strong student with an excellent work ethic.”

  • Yixuan Peng

    Yixuan Peng

    From Jiangxi, China, Yixuan is specializing in statistics and has been a TA in the math department for several quarters. Along with her “exceptional coursework,” her nominator says “she is strongly motivated in research.” Receiving this award encourages her to further explore her interests as she seeks out a career related to statistical analysis, likely in the insurance industry. 

  • Yueyan Tang

    Yueyan Tang

    Yueyan is from China and studies probability and statistics, with special interest in child cognitive development. Her current project investigates the effect of maternal sensitivity on infants’ responsiveness to joint attention cues. With the help of her remarkable perseverance, one day she plans to work in an academic setting involving clinical research and teaching.

  • Yining Wang

    Yining Wang

    Yining, from Hangzhou, China, is interested in exploring the possible synergies between data science and graph theory. Her recent research is focused on agricultural remote sensing and informatization, developing a prediction model for leaf spots of apples. After graduation, she plans to become a data scientist while she works toward a data science/business analytics graduate program.

  • Thurman Ye

    Thurman Ye

    Thurman is a mathematics and computer science major from Chino, Calif. Under Professor Kiran Kedlaya, his independent study honors thesis explores the relationship between Mordell-Weil groups of elliptic curves and class groups of number fields. In graduate school, he plans to focus on number theory and eventually become a professor.

  • Jiyue Zeng

    Jiyue Zeng

    Jiyue is a mathematics major from Wuhan, China, with a particular interest in probability theory. Her honors program is focused on developing and applying multiple methods to convex optimization problems with PDE constraints. Her nominator writes that she is “a gifted writer who approaches this challenging topic with remarkable maturity and creativity.”

  • Kaiqi (Cathy) Zhang

    Kaiqi (Cathy) Zhang

    A mathematics major from Wuhan, China, Cathy finds innovative ways to apply her mathematical knowledge to cognitive science. She ranked in the top 10% of what her nominator believes are the two most challenging undergraduate math courses. She wants to dedicate her future research to exploring the effectiveness of educational strategies, unpacking the ways in which students learn and remember.

Physics Department Awardees

  • Julian Beas-Gonzalez

    Julian Beas-Gonzalez

    Julian is from Tijuana, Mexico, and studies astrophysics. He is a member of a research project studying the composition of an exoplanet’s atmosphere with spectroscopy. His nominator writes that he “demonstrates a fundamental depth of understanding” and is “an extremely quick learner.” Receiving this award motivates Julian to keep working toward his career goal of becoming a professor.

  • Peter Carlip

    Peter Carlip

    Peter is a physics student from Davis, Calif., who specializes in astrophysics/cosmology and fluid dynamics. He’s the current lead analysis engineer in UC San Diego’s Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, where he works with complex simulation software and researches a wide variety of problems related to aerospace design. His nominator says that he shows “a great deal of maturity, thoughtfulness and appreciation for teamwork.”

  • Keyu Chen

    Keyu Chen

    Keyu is from Jiangsu, China, and studies high-energy physics and machine learning. His faculty advisor writes that he was “the top student in both my upper-division classes, with essentially perfect scores on everything.” Keyu aspires to become a physics professor someday. He enjoys calligraphy and playing guitar.

  • Connor Vancil

    Connor Vancil

    Connor is from Stockton, Calif. He studies astrophysics and astronomy, with a special interest in stellar formation and modelling, as well as galaxy formation. His laboratory experience includes designing telescope receiver parts, determining the mass of young binary stars, and rewriting simulation packages. Ultimately, he hopes to become a physics professor, inspiring young students to pursue research.

  • Zexi Yu

    Zexi Yu

    Zexi is a physics major from Beijing, China. His nominator writes that “he received near perfect scores in Physics 100A and 100B, far and away the top student for each,” all the while “extremely humble in his knowledge of the material.” He’s also a research assistant in a cosmology lab and a biophysics lab, where among other things he studies the embedding of the hyper-dimension torus into four-dimensional space.

  • Zhehao Zhang

    Zhehao Zhang

    Zhehao is a physics major from Shenzhen, China, whose research with Professor Grover is focused on condensed matter theory. His faculty mentor writes that he is “one of the strongest undergraduates we’ve had in our department.” A hardworking, patient and motivated student, this award gives him the confidence he needs to continue down the path towards earning a PhD.

  • Yuan Zhu

    Yuan Zhu

    A senior from Jiangyin, China, Yuan studies condensed matter physics. Her focus is on correlated electron systems, which she believes will further our overall understanding of entangled phases of matter. Her nominator says that she is “an outstanding student – very intelligent, highly motivated and eager to learn, reliable and responsible, and a pleasure to work with.” She plans to pursue a PhD in Physics.

Selma and Robert Silagi Award for Undergraduate Excellence Awardees

  • Aashay Arora

    Aashay Arora

    Aashay is from Charlotte, North Carolina and studies physics with a specialization in computational physics. His undergraduate research involves analyzing data from the Large Hadron Collider. Aashay is fascinated by the way the universe operates and his favorite part about research is studying novel problems and the possibility of discovering something new. Aashay plans to pursue a doctorate in physics.
  • Keller Jordan

    Keller Jordan

    A major in mathematics and computer science, Keller is from Berkeley, Calif., and has a wide range of interests. His work in labs has included studying computer networking, cancer biostatistics, machine learning, behavioral economics and applied mathematics. His nominator regards him “to be in the top 1% of all the math undergrads I have seen for more than 15 years of my career.”

  • Sarah Schwab

    Sarah Schwab

    Sarah is from Cardiff by the Sea and studies analytical and physical chemistry. Since the summer of 2017, she has worked in the Grassian Lab on atomic force microscopy and its development as an analytical technique for investigating indoor surfaces. She sees this as an award not just for herself but for all the teachers and faculty who have believed in her and lifted her up to success.