Angela Gao

Meet UCLA senior, Angela Gao, who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Angela is was recently selected as a Undergraduate Collegiate Rapid Fire finalist for the Women in Engineering 2020 Conference. Awarded to 10 undergraduate students nationwide to present research at the world’s largest conference for women engineers with over 10,000 attendees.

Angela is also currently a part of our UC Leadership Excellence Through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

In freshman year, one of my friends from my Chemistry class suggested that I participate in undergraduate research. I emailed a few professors whose work is in the field of robotics. When some of the professors didn’t respond to me, I personally knocked on their doors to ask for a conversation. Even though I had no previous experience in research or engineering, Prof. Ankur Mehta and graduate student mentor Wenzhong Yan were generous to allow me to start on a research project at the Laboratory for Embedded Machines and Ubiquitous Robots (LEMUR). At LEMUR, I performed controlled experiments that tested the strain of supercoiled polymer actuators, which were integrated in a novel controller manufactured using origami techniques.


How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience at UCLA is one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. As a first-generation college student, I found it challenging at first to understand the research process, as it is vastly different from taking classes and it is easy to get lost in a world full of technical terminologies. In my sophomore year, I was fortunate to be selected as a UC LEADS scholar advised by Prof. Veronica Santos at the Biomechatronics Lab. Under the direct guidance of Prof. Santos, I learned to be a researcher who can find support from my lab-mates and resolve problems associated with a novel research project. The faculty and staff from UC LEADS are incredibly helpful by allowing me to participate in journal clubs, practice my presentation skills, develop my leadership skills, and attend national conferences for undergraduate students. Those experiences gave me opportunities that I needed to grow both as a person and as an independent researcher.


What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

Place kindness above getting a research position. In academia, research is performed by people who have hearts and souls. From my experience, it is true that many people who learn to be highly skilled in research will become great researchers. However, great researchers who are also kind will become excellent researchers.


What are your future career goals?

When I had a summer research internship at UCSD advised under Prof. Mike Tolley, I realized how much I enjoy basic science, particularly biology. As a result, I decided that in graduate school, I would like to pursue a PhD in the Biomedical Sciences even though my current major is Mechanical Engineering. I am specifically interested in investigating the neurobiology of neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. In the next 50 years, I believe that the field of Neuroscience will be in great demand in order to relieve medical bills for the 1 in 6 people in the world population who will be 65 or older by 2050. I hope to expand the field of Neuroscience by enabling greater collaboration among neuroscientists and roboticists. The integration of knowledge of the human brain and artificial intelligence seems to be a promising next frontier of research that may revolutionize the way we think about intelligence.