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Marigold Malinao works to design new materials for space

Malinao participated virtually in Stanford School of Engineering’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program.
Marigold Malinao

Marigold Malinao had always liked science and known she was good at it, but only after she was admitted to the University of California, San Diego, did she begin to imagine the discoveries and inventions going on around her and dream of becoming a scientist herself.

Malinao, whose family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, spent the summer of 2020 in the Stanford Undergraduate Research Fellowship program (SURF), working with professor Michael Lepech and graduate student Andrea Coto in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering on a joint project with the NASA Ames Research Center.

The goal of this research project is to develop new materials for extraterrestrial construction purposes by using biopolymer agents combined with soil or regolith. The final product is called biopolymer-bound soil composite, or BSC. Malinao’s contributions helped to identify potential biopolymers that could enhance some mechanical properties and make BSC strong enough for the harsh environments of the moon or Mars.

Malinao, who hopes to get a PhD in materials science, said her SURF project was especially relevant to learning how to engineer a material to fit a defined application. The skills she learned designing materials meant for far-off places have helped her fix her career aspirations closer to home. She hopes to design new materials and tools for mental health.

“My research interests are at the intersection of materials science and neuroscience,” Malinao explains. “I’d like to invent new therapeutic, diagnostic and biosensor devices that function as neural interfaces.”

She says SURF was a great experience. She came in expecting an immersive research experience, but there was a large focus on diversity and inclusion, as well. Malinao learned a lot about herself, she says, while gaining confidence in her skills and her personal goals.

“I learned just how important it is for students like myself, not from the mainstream, to be represented in science,” Malinao says. As she continues her college career, she’d like to serve in an outreach role to attract others like her to the exciting world of engineering.