Stamps ScholarsPhoto by: Wendy Gregory

Jacob Bieker Combines Physics and Computer Science to Reach for the Stars.

Because of his family,  Jacob Bieker’s passion for science started young. Growing up, he read the physics papers his mother and grandfather wrote as undergraduates and developed an interest in astrophysics in fifth grade after reading Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe. Now a sophomore at the University of Oregon, his mother’s alma mater, Bieker is following in his family’s footsteps, double majoring in physics and computer science.

What have you been involved with as an undergraduate so far?
In December 2014, I joined the Oregon Observation Remote Control Center, or ORCC. It runs the Pine Mountain Observatory 34 miles outside of Bend in Central Oregon. I’ve been writing software to control the new robotic telescope and doing some data analysis. We also started collaborating with the Gemini Telescopes, and a poster on the research we’ve been working on since March is going to be presented at the International Astronomical Union meeting in Honolulu. I am also part of another research team working on computational astrophysics modeling super nova, specifically Type 1a. So when a dwarf star blows up, there’s sometimes a remnant left that gets enough mass to explode. That’s what the research is on, simulating that.

What have you have been doing with Myo?
In October 2014, I preordered this thing called Myo from the startup Thalmic Labs. It’s an armband that tracks electrical impulses in your arm so it can basically tell your hand movements. It’s not incredibly accurate, but I can do big movements like a fist or an open hand or pinkie to thumb. It also has an accelerometer and gyroscope, so it tracks your hand in three-dimensional motion of space. I haven’t done too much with it, but I’ve got it to control the robotic telescope. The main thing I did with it is that I have an Android powered camera, and I have it set up so I can control the camera with hand jesters because it’s over Bluetooth.

What work are you doing this summer as an intern at the Oregon Health Science University (OHSU)?
I’m working as part of the Computational Biology Department where my P.I.’s (primary investigator) focus is pancreatic cancer. His main work is with teams such as the Stand Up to Cancer Pancreatic Team and the Collaborative Cancer Cloud, which is a collaboration between Intel and OHSU to make genetic data all over the globe more accessible. But most of what I’ve been doing is building a script to make gathering combination imaging data a lot easier for pancreatic images. I added support for a specific genetic format used by OHSU so they can upload their data to this thing called the Beacon, which is an initiative by the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health group. The Beacon is a proof of concept to show that institutions are willing to share their genetic data, which previously, some were hesitant to do because it involves research, and people want to be the first to publish papers. One of the more direct research things I’ve been working on has been TCR or T Cell receptor sequencing. T Cells are part of your immune system, and they have a huge amount of genetic variability, making it hard to analyze them since there are so many different variants. Right now, I’m working on normalizing data so that it can be used for meaningful analysis on different types of T Cells and what they do. This is mostly for pancreatic cancer, but it’s pretty widely applicable.

What plans do you have for the upcoming academic year?
I’ll be one of two software developers working for the Venture Department of Emerald Media (the advertising department of the University of Oregon’s student-run media group.) I’m also working for the Research Institute for Neuroscience, which is part of the biology department at U of O. I’m going to be doing software and website development for them.

What is your career goal?
It would be cool to work for Google. I would always say yes to that. Or SpaceX. Because of this internship at OHSU, biophysics is a lot more interesting than I thought it was starting out. Research is the main thing I want to do, especially something that I can use for programming to analyze giant sets of data or to simulate physical systems, but I don’t have a specific goal.

How has the Stamps Scholarship influenced your college experience so far?
It’s been incredibly influential! Because of the scholarship, I’m not worried about the financial aspect of study abroad. Therefore, I’m going to try to study abroad my entire junior year in both Asia and Europe. I’m hopefully going to New Orleans this winter, and I’m also planning to go to a health-focused hackathon at MIT where I can use my armband.