Undergraduate Researcher Spotlight: Abraham Castaneda Jr.

Headshot of Abraham
Aug. 19, 2021

Abraham Castaneda is a senior studying electrical engineering in the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering. Over the summer, he conducted research under Dr. Sarah Harris, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as a member of the inaugural cohort of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU): Smart Cities program. Castaneda presented his research poster titled, Benchmarking the Wally RISC-V Processor, alongside 25 other undergraduate researchers during the OUR Summer 2021 REU Showcase.

What are your research interests and future career goals?

My research interests primarily revolve around developing/engineering solutions that have the potential to make people's lives easier and/or environmentally friendly. At the moment, I am an active participant of the REU Smart Cities summer research program led by Dr. Brendan Morris and Dr. Saraj Harris, a program that aims to build "intelligent, safe, and secure Smart Cities with a focus on mobility". I am also conducting research as an assistant in Dr. R. Jacob Baker's laboratory, which specializes in PCB and chip design. As for my future career goals, I hope to someday work within the field of renewable energy.

Please describe the impact of research involvement on your personal and professional development.

Getting involved with research here at UNLV has taught me the importance of networking with professionals within my field and has equipped me with technical experience that would have been difficult to gain from classes alone. Personally, research has also helped me garner confidence when it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone, which is a huge part of the research experience, where oftentimes you are trying to solve and study issues no one has ever tackled before!

What is one piece of advice you would give to future researchers?

One piece of advice I would give to future researchers is to never be afraid to ask for help. If I have learned anything from being involved in research, it is that the pursuit of knowledge is done on the shoulders of giants. Any progress you make will always build off of the work of the ambitious scholars that came before you. That said, you won't always have all the answers, but fortunately there are many professionals out there who will often be more than eager to share their expertise and research findings with you to help with your journey. So always remain humble, be open to others' ideas, and ask questions!

Please describe the impact of COVID-19 on your research and the role of the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) at UNLV on your research development.

Although COVID-19 has certainly prevented us from experimenting with the usual in-person lab experience (for the most part), I have found virtual research to be very versatile in the sense that your research colleagues can be from, quite literally, anywhere. Just to paint a picture of what I mean, as a part of the REU program this summer I have been collaborating very closely with the RISC-V Wally team, a research team composed of teachers and students all the way from Harvey Mudd College of California and Oklahoma State University. In addition, many of my fellow REU participants also happened to be working from out of state for the majority of the program! It is this kind of diversity that has made the virtual workplace very interesting and dynamic, despite its limitations.

One thing that has made research with COVID-19 that much easier for me, however, is the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), which has hosted a plethora of interesting and insightful workshops. These workshops have helped me hone many of the skills essential for conducting research such as collecting and organizing data, designing professional research posters, writing abstracts, interpreting research papers, and much, much more. I am thankful for the guidance that they have provided and the availability to help that they have demonstrated over the course of this summer.

Do you have anything you would like to add about your REU opportunity?

Dear Dr. Morris and Dr. Harris,

I wish to express my gratitude for your hard work in managing a research opportunity as extensive and innovative as the REU Smart Cities program. It has been thrilling to have had the chance to collaborate with you and the rest of the REU participants this summer. Research at such a high level has always seemed alien to me, but through the resources and mentorship you have provided, I have developed a newfound appreciation for the research process and the dedication it takes to succeed in the field. I am confident that the skills I have acquired over the course of my involvement in this project will prove to be invaluable in my career, and I thank you for your kind support. It has truly been a rewarding experience.

Sincerely, Abraham Castaneda Jr.