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Maryam Tebyani: Graduate Student

What brought you to UC Santa Cruz?

The Robotics Engineering program. I knew I wanted to do some sort of engineering, and robotics seemed like the perfect fit for me, given my love for physics. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve definitely gotten a lot out of it. I also knew there were a lot of research opportunities here, and that was another big factor in choosing UC Santa Cruz.

I love redwoods, so the fact that I get to walk past these gorgeous trees over these beautiful bridges that connect the campus has really enhanced my experience here. Whenever I feel stressed about a lab, homework, or my research, I can step outside and meditate in the forest.

What are you researching now?

I’ve always been interested in integrating flexible and compliant materials into robotic systems. I was working with this subclass of metamaterials, where you have individual voxel elements that you kind of screw together, like lego pieces. You can put these little actuators in it to deform these structures and when you do this, you get this really complex movement that you wouldn’t get with traditional robotic elements. You can use that to create bio-inspired, locomotive gaits, or different ways of walking. I created a quadruped robot that lifts one foot at a time. It’s cute. It kind of looks like it’s crawling forward. An autonomous robot like this could be used for traversing difficult environments autonomously for emergency situations. Understanding the material is important because a lot of it could be used to create large-scale space structures.

Next, I want to start a new project developing a new design for robotic obstetrical forceps as a continuation of my work with flexible and compliant robotics.

What have you liked about BSOE?

I’ve really enjoyed working with my PI, Mircea Teodorescu. He’s very hands on and has so much experience that every piece of advice that you get from him has at least a decade of backing and that’s been really helpful for me in trying to create a career in engineering and academia. His understanding of dynamics of robotics systems has really helped me design and model the systems that I’m researching now.

What’s your dream job?

I would love to be a professor, eventually. There’s a lot of really great women engineering professors, but I think that the more diverse an engineering faculty is, the more it will help alleviate the lack of diversity in STEM. It’s important to have diversity in engineering because everyone has a unique perspective on life and it’s a culmination of all your experiences and interests. Diversity brings different experiences and ways of thinking to a project, allowing for new and different approaches to problems.

What are some challenges you’ve experienced in your studies?

There can be a stigma that only the elite, smartest of the smart people can achieve success in engineering and I think that’s a dangerous way to view it. It’s become so interdisciplinary and we’ve even done collaborations with the Arts Center on campus, so I’m hoping that engineering is becoming more accessible to people with broader interests. It is very stressful because it’s such an academically intense environment that you’re always in, but I think collaborating with my peers on different projects and research and in labs has been really great in alleviating some of that stress.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I really enjoy figure skating. It’s something I grew up doing and trying to understand the mechanics of figure skating actually led to my love for physics, which led me to this engineering career. By looking at figure skating through an engineering lens, I was actually able to improve my skating.

Electrical and Computer Engineering
Degree Program: 
Ph.D., Computer Engineering
Place of Birth: 
Lima, Peru
Undergraduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Graduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Mircea Teodorescu