Student Profile

Nicholas Castaneda

As the son of a botanist for the USDA, Nicholas Castaneda grew up with an interest in science. He was initially interested in physical therapy until he discovered the opportunities available in the field of nanoscience. Castaneda earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University in Biological Science. He choose UCF’s master’s program in nanotechnology because he felt it offered the best potential for growth in a new and exciting field.

For Castaneda, the greatest aspects of the nanotechnology program are the small class sizes and the professors. “The small classes allow for greater interaction between professor and students. And the professors are always willing to dedicate their time to ensure students are learning and growing,” he states. Castaneda says he has been most influenced by Professors Qun Huo, PhD, Hyeran Kang, PhD, and Andre Gesquiere, PhD, adding “These relationships have helped me grow as a student as well as a research scientist.” Castaneda is currently involved in research on the protein actin with Dr. Kang. His thesis is focused on understanding the mechanics and dynamics of cation induced actin bundles.

In 2016, Castaneda received the NanoScience Technology Center (NSTC) Graduate Student Travel Award. He will graduate in spring 2017 and plans to begin the Biomedical Science PhD program here at UCF in the fall.

Torus Washington

In the fourth grade, Torus Washington wrote a letter to his “future self” stating that he wanted to be an inventor and make an impact on the world. He found his path toward achieving that goal in high school where he became interested in nanotechnology. “That is my desire— to provide affordable nanomedicine solutions that eradicate cell-originated diseases and make a positive impact.”

Washington appreciates the many research opportunities he has encountered at UCF as well as the professors with whom he has worked closely. He participated in a project focusing on the synthesis of polymer nanoparticles for cancer therapy. On the “Zinkicide” USDA project, an agricultural nanotherapeutic for citrus greening—a bacterial disease that has devastated the Florida citrus industry, he was inspired by Swadeshmukul Santra, PhD, the UCF project leader. Andre Gesquiere, PhD and Qun Huo, PhD also played integral roles is Washington’s development as a student and researcher.

Washington is the recipient of the Delores A. Auzenne Fellowship. He served on the Nanoflorida 2016 Conference Student Organizing Committee as Technical Program Coordinator and Registration Coordinator. He also mentors middle school boys as part of the “Aftershock” volunteer program at his church, and he enjoys playing intramural basketball.

Washington expects to complete his degree in spring 2017 and intends to pursue a doctorate in a related field to garner more research experience and knowledge to make his invention ideas a reality.

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