Graduate student Juliana Hernandez does research, mentors high schoolers in SaraLab project

Juliana Hernandez
High school interns Owen He and Ayush Pancholy
Erin Foley

Juliana Hernandez, an electrical engineering Ph.D. student at UC Santa Cruz, is spending her summer working with Sara Abrahamsson on a research project which involves using specially designed diffractive optics components for super-resolution microscopy.

She’s also a mentor to two high school student interns who are assisting with her research as part of the Science Internship Program, which offers high school students the opportunity to spend a summer alongside UC Santa Cruz professors, post-doctoral scholars, and graduate students.

The program provides a valuable learning experience for the interns, but Juliana is learning valuable skills as well, like how to effectively delegate assignments to her interns. “It’s fun to work with the high school students,” Juliana explained, “but sometimes it can be challenging to keep them busy because they’re so smart and they finish their tasks quickly.

”I was so impressed that Juliana was already willing to mentor these high school students during her first year in my lab,” electrical engineering professor Sara Abrahamsson said of her student. “It shows a lot of dedication to not only research, but also teaching and mentoring, which can be so rewarding.”

The interns are assisting Juliana in building a multifocal structured illumination microscope (MFSIM) by combining structured illumination microscopy (SIM) and multifocus microscopy (MFM) in order to obtain fast, super-resolution 3D images. The resulting microscope will initially be employed in research projects in UC Santa Cruz’s Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology Department. “We want to image live cells, which move around. With the multifocal aspects of the MFSIM, we’ll be able to get 3D images and with the structured illumination aspect, we’ll be able to get super-resolution images,” Juliana explained.

Juliana has enjoyed conducting research in Abrahamsson’s SaraLab and has received guidance and support from Sara. “Sara has been really helpful and I’ve enjoyed her kind of research in Fourier optics. It’s really interesting to me,” she said. 

Originally from Los Angeles, Juliana came to UC Santa Cruz as a transfer student to complete two bachelor’s of science degrees in electrical engineering and computer engineering before pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the Baskin School of Engineering. “I’ve really enjoyed my time at BSOE,” Juliana said. “I think the biggest benefit of studying here has been the interdisciplinary aspect. We’re lucky that we have a biology department that’s more than willing to collaborate with us on our research.”

When Juliana isn’t researching or mentoring students in the SaraLab, she enjoys weightlifting and Brazilian jiu jitsu. A self-described “health nut,” she also enjoys cooking and eating nutritious meals. As for her future ambitions, Juliana hasn’t decided yet whether she will work in academia or in industry, but she’s positive that she wants to continue to do research: “I’m taking things one day at a time. I’m the the kind of person who doesn’t always know exactly what they want to do, but I know for sure that I want to do research.”