Erica Castillo, Goldwater Scholar

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As UT Arlington’s first Goldwater Scholar, how do you plan to use the scholarship?

I’d like to continue doing research in biomechanics. In engineering we deal with stress and strain with metals, but our bodies feel stresses and strains, too. When I was introduced to this idea, I liked it because it combined engineering and nature. Little by little, we’re trying to understand ourselves. We are a complex machine.

What are some of your research projects?

My summer research project at Cornell (in 2011) was with the biomechanics group. We calculated the forces of cells on other cells. But biomaterials are soft and squishy, not hard like metal. The traditional ways of measuring properties are not very applicable to these materials. I was in charge of fabricating some of the materials. There are tools out there to measure this, but they are not accessible to all the labs around the country. We tried to do what the average biolab could do.

Aren’t you also researching sensors?

Last spring in Dr. (Haiying) Huang’s advanced sensor lab, I worked on a sensor for structural monitoring. We are trying to make a sensor to detect defects from a distance. We want to make it wireless with a photocell that can send a signal on measurements. It’s still in the developmental stages.

Double majoring in aerospace engineering and physics and minoring in mechanical engineering seems like a heavy load.

I thought I wanted to do engineering, then I took physics and really liked it. The first month I struggled, but with Dr. (Barry) Spurlock’s help and his motivation, I became confident that I could do it. I completed the minor and wanted to keep going. In today’s world, I think if you broaden your area and combine different perspectives, it can help solve complex problems.

What’s the secret to succeeding as a first-generation college student?

I’ve been very lucky. Some parents push their kids to get a job after high school or after a bachelor’s degree. My parents are able to see the value in education. Through their support, I am motivated more. They’ve never said “you can’t do that.” I also have a brother at UNT, another at North Lake College in Irving, and one in high school.

What do you want to do with all this?

I always wanted to be a teacher and an astronaut. Those are two of my greatest passions. I know one day I’ll be a professor. I see graduate school and research in my future. How I get there, I don’t know. I like the journey. I also like looking into space and looking at airplanes and asking, “How can we fly?” I’m a very curious person. This is our world, and I think we should explore it.

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