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I Am a Researcher

student in front of poster presentationNhat Pham

Major(s): Mathematics

College: Revelle

UC San Diego graduation year: 2024

Which research programs/experiences have you been a part of? 

Research Abroad

What program are you in? I am currently participating in UCEAP's Engineering and Science program, where I am studying at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. My lab is located in Tohoku University's WPI-AIMR (Advanced Institute for Materials Research), where I am working with Professor Hiroshi Suito of the institute's Mathematical Sciences Group.

How did you learn about this program? For my last year here at UC San Diego, I was thinking about either taking math graduate courses to improve my knowledge or do a study abroad program as I have never done that before. I decided to choose a study abroad program instead, and the programs that I was researching are all through UCEAP as there is less difficulty for seniors to study abroad compared to other available programs. I then settled for Japan-based programs as I am interested in the academic and cultural opportunities there.

What interested you in applying for it? The program I'm on is the only program that is both research based and lasts an academic year that UCEAP offers, so it is pretty much the only choice that fits my goals. Tohoku University is one of the top public universities in Japan, so it is a great institution for me to be able to do research and network with. Also, not many people know about Sendai, and I want to experience living somewhere in Japan that is not one of the big cities, so this program is the perfect fit for me.

How was the application process? The application is not that bad, but I have to complete three sets of applications: one for UCEAP, another for UCSD, and after both UCSD and UCEAP approve my application, then one for Tohoku University. There are no letters of recommendation required, but I do have to prepare three statements of purpose, one for each of the Tohoku professors that I am interested in working with. I started in November 2022, and I got the official acceptance from Tohoku University in April 2023, so the process is quite long.

What do you hope to accomplish during your time at WPI-AIMR? One of my goals is to cultivate a research network here in Japan as international collaboration is very common in math research. WPI-AIMR fosters a great collaborative atmosphere, so I'm able to interact with different professors within the institute and Tohoku University as a whole. Also, being able to work on a research project that uses a lot of applied math will improve my research skills even more. Another goal of mine is to experience living in Japan as a student researcher and learn as much of Japanese as I can within the year.

What have you been researching in this program? I am working on analyzing the structures of the muscles of mastication using techniques from applied math. Specifically, I am working with MRI/CT data to incorporate optimal transport theory to model the movements of the muscles from the mouth's close to open state. This has ramifications in explaining how these muscles can affect teeth alignment, as these muscles control the opening and closing motion of the jaw and provide the force necessary for the mouth to chew food with the teeth.

What has been the most exciting/interesting thing you've discovered through this opportunity? So far, the most exciting thing that I have experienced so far is to work with medical data. I don't have much experience with them, so gaining experience working with them is quite exciting for me. I'm able to learn how to use different programs and incorporate my coding knowledge to start analyzing the data with the math techniques that I am learning for this project. They are difficult and hard at times, but there is a fun moment in knowing new theories and interacting with them.

What advice do you have for others interested in applying for this program (or other research abroad opportunities)? I would reach out to the UCSD Study Abroad Office to ask for recommendations about research opportunities abroad, as each country or program can offer different needs depending on what you are looking for. Also, doing some searching online for the programs can help narrow down the possible programs that you can participate in. The application process is long and sometimes annoying, so good planning is necessary to prevent missed deadlines.

McNair Program

Explain your research project during this program. I worked with Professor Alexis Akira Toda of the Department of Economics on analyzing economic bubbles using the overlapping generations model (OLG). Bubbles arise in economic situations where the price of a good increases significantly compared to its fundamental value, as there are historical examples to this phenomenon such as the 2008 stock market crash and the Dutch tulip mania in the 1630s. Yet, they are difficult to study and detect in their formation. There are new results with the application of general equilibrium theory, especially Hirano and Toda’s recent 2023 papers on the uniqueness of a rational bubble solution in equilibrium. I used the main theorems in those papers to induce possible bubble conditions in the overlapping generations model (OLG) by changing model parameters computationally to characterize how bubbles would form in any assumed Arrow-Debreu economy.

What has been the most exciting/interesting thing you've discovered through this research project? I was able to extract a simple condition that will force bubbles to form in the model by relating the relationship between the assets in the time periods, and then I use MATLAB to code some models that correspond to either a formed bubble or a non-bubble economy by using a set exponential growth of the assets available in the economy.

What advice would you give to students starting research? During research, that feeling of not knowing what to do to solve your problem can weigh you down, but I feel like it's a natural thing to go through. Being able to keep your motivation is a huge help in combating the "not knowing what to do" moment during the research process. Your research mentor could also help you through it also, so don't be afraid to seek out support. Time management is also a huge issue that I see as well due to the free-form nature of research, so keep a routine and a good schedule to do what you need to do. You do not want to make up research work if you leave it to the last second!

Anything else you want to share? I was awarded the Gilman Scholarship!