Faculty Focus: Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

Learn about the research and achievements of faculty in the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics.

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Sam Behseta, Professor, Center for the Computational and Applied Mathematics
Photo of Cal State Fullerton's faculty Derdei Bichara
Derdei Bichara, Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics

While the two cultures of statistical and mathematical modeling have historically been separate in the context of modeling contagious diseases, Sam Behseta and Derdei Bichara from the Center for Computational and Applied Mathematics are working together to create a new math approach to gauge the effects of human behavior and mobility restrictions on the spread of COVID-19. The mathematicians say their goal is to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of the disease, as well as a clearer prediction of future trends. Click here to learn more.

In the spring of 2019, a Mach-effect gravitational assist (MEGA) impulse engine – a propulsion system designed to produce thrust without propellant – developed by Jim Woodward, professor emeritus of history and adjunct professor of physics, and Hal Fearn, professor of physics, started to regularly produce more than 100 micronewtons of thrust, more movement than any device Woodward or the pair have produced so far. Researchers from other institutions will now attempt to replicate their results. If the electrically powered device works, it would be the first propulsion system with the potential to reach another solar system within an astronaut’s lifespan. Click here to learn more.

James F. Woodward works on the space propulsion research.
Space scientist James F. Woodward works on the space propulsion research for future human exploration missions inside the physics lab on campus.

Antibiotic-resistance researchers María Soledad Ramírez, associate professor of biological science, and Marcelo E. Tolmasky, professor of biological science and director for the Center for Applied Biotechnology Studies, authored a peer-reviewed article that compiled the genetics, structure, and physiology of all the superbug Acinetobacter baumannii’s enzymes. These enzymes cause antibiotic resistance to this life-threatening pathogen. The paper, published in the open-access journal Biomolecules in the summer of 2020, had 2,300 downloads in the first 20 days after publication, which demonstrates the immediate impact it had on the scientific community. Click here to learn more.

Cal State Fullerton researchers María Soledad Ramírez and Marcelo E. Tolmasky.
Cal State Fullerton antibiotic-resistance researchers María Soledad Ramírez and Marcelo E. Tolmasky.

Directed by Merri Lynn Casem, chair and professor of biological science, a new $962,361 National Science Foundation grant-funded project will expand the unique multidisciplinary “Think Like Einstein” introductory course at the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics and further develop a novel lower-division curriculum to increase retention and graduation rates among students underrepresented in STEM. Faculty co-directors for the “Establishing Roots to Grow STEMs: Affirming STEM Identity, Building Community, and Improving Graduation Rates Through a Multidisciplinary Lower-Division Curriculum” project include Joel K. Abraham, associate professor of biological science; William “Bill” Hoese, professor of biological science; Marcos Ortega, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry; and Sean Walker, associate dean and professor of biological science. Additional faculty members supporting the project are Joe Carlin, associate professor of geological sciences; Leigh Hargreaves, associate professor of physics; and Laura Smith Chowdhury, associate professor of mathematics. Click here to learn more.

Darren R. Sandquist, professor of biological science and director of the California Desert Studies Consortium, co-authored a study on the resilience of brittlebush populations in the Mojave Desert that was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Based on decades-long research examining long-term physiological changes in response to climate variability, researchers predicted how the species will survive with changing climate conditions in the future. Click here to learn more.

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CSUF ecologist Darren R. Sandquist and his students, in collaboration with University of Utah researchers, are studying the brittlebush, a common desert shrub with silvery leaves and showy small yellow flowers.

Roberto Soto, assistant professor of mathematics, received a California State University 2020 Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award for his efforts to support students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. His work includes the development of innovative teaching practices in precalculus and calculus courses with traditionally low success rates and persistent equity gaps to help students succeed in college mathematics. He also leads statewide professional training programs for faculty members in novel, student-centered teaching techniques. Click here to learn more.

Photo of Cal State Fullerton faculty Matthew Rathbun
Matthew Rathbun, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics

A team of Titan mathematicians recently received the 2020 George Pólya Award from the Mathematical Association of America for exceptional mathematics writing. Bogdan Suceavă, professor of mathematics; Matthew Rathbun, associate professor of mathematics; Adam Glesser, associate professor of mathematics; and mathematics alumna Isabel Serrano co-authored the article “Eclectic Illuminism: Applications of Affine Geometry,” published in The College Mathematics Journal. Click here to learn more.

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