Researchers search for collaboration at STEM-NET Virtual Cafe

In September, researchers from across the CSU system met to discuss their upcoming projects and find possible collaborations.
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The STEM-NET Virtual Cafe is a monthly event that brings together researchers from different CSU schools and helps them find the collaborations that will help them to progress in their work. This month the speakers included professor of chemical and material engineering Dr. Santosh KC from CSU San Jose, psychology professor Dr. Liz Kyonka from CSU East Bay, and experimental particle physicist from CSU Stanislaus Dr. Wing To.

The first presenters were Dr. KC and Dr. Kyonka. KC’s research focused on 2D material interactions and how they interact with technology, and how to change the way that they interact with one another. The method used was called Twistronics, and involves altering the angle of materials to change their molecular structure and change their interactions with other materials. Research like this can have huge implications when it comes to technology, and Dr. KC was searching for collaboration with experimental and theoretical groups.

Dr. Kyonka’s research was focused on the experimental analysis of behavior, specifically in the field of gambling and technology interaction. Her main research utilized pigeons to test their reasoning around different reward systems with different near wins and near losses, similar to a slot machine. Her hopes were to see how the pigeons, and later mice and human psych students, made decisions when it came to gambling behavior.

This connects to her other research around human behavior with technology, specifically how to break people away from constant attention to technology.

“The other project i’m focusing on is modifying technology use, the plan was to do a direct observation and play naturalist to build ethograms that study gaming and internet use,” Kyonka said. “With the idea that their answers would provide answers to change their behavior.”

The research that affects Humboldt the most however is Dr. To’s research into the effects of wildfires and using satellite imagery to predict where they may go. By following the atmospheric effects of wildfires and using satellite imagery to take constant pictures of places susceptible to them, To intends to plot out the locations of things like dry grass and dead foliage. At the present, Dr. To’s research team is plotting out the topography of wildfire zones themselves, but he hopes to work with AI and machine learning researchers to do it automatically.

Wildfires, of course, have become much more common in recent years, and Humboldt county is no different from the rest of California. According to California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, wildfires are already increasing in quantity in the north coast region.

“A changing climate combined with anthropogenic factors have already contributed to more frequent and more severe forest fires in the western US as a whole. Westerling et al predicts that increases in area burned in northern California forests will exceed 100% in both lower and higher emissions scenarios,” To said.

While they can predict that wildfires will increase, Dr. To says the long term effects of what this means are still unknown.

“The wildfires burn down forests which are hundreds and some thousands of years old. So if they are left alone, it might return to normal after hundreds of years,” To said. “But due to climate change, these forests will have to evolve differently than before. So we actually don’t know what they will become in the future.”

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