Scholar of the Week

Gabriela Bran-Abreu
University of California, Los Angeles

As a mechanical engineering undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Gabriela A. Bran Anleu became conscious of the disadvantages of nonrenewable power generation technologies, such as the negative environmental impact and energy dependency in the U.S. She was offered a great future in the nuclear industry, but realized that the nuclear energy industry offered little room for professional development and innovation, so she decided to attend graduate school.

Gabriela is currently pursuing a combined MS/PhD degree in mechanical engineering at UCLA. She is a 2014 HENAAC Scholar, who receive a $1,000 scholarship sponsored by Southern California Edison.

As an undergraduate student, Gabriela held a part-time job at Southern California Edison at the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS), which influenced her choice of pursuing studies in green energy. Her career goal is to push solar power generation to the point where it is cost-competitive with fossil fuels. She is convinced that the U.S. can become an energy independent country if more effort is invested into research on renewable energy sources such as wind, biofuels, and solar. Gabriela believes that solar energy, in particular, has the potential to meet our energy needs if we could only find an innovative way to store it in a more efficient and cost effective manner.

Gabriela participated in the SONGS program first as a Professional Trainee 1(Design Group) and Professional Trainee 2(Primary Systems Engineering Group). In the Design Group, she performed incorporations of the changes made on the nuclear power plant drawings in Catia V5 and AutoCAD. In the Primary Systems Engineering Group, she generated notifications to clearly state a potential technical problem, and ensured that the problem was promptly communicated and understood for action, and created nuclear Sampling System Life Cycle Management (LCM) through the establishment of high quality, comprehensive LCM plans that are driven to success by obtaining planned funding.

Gabriela was also a Center of Academic and Research Excellence (CARE) Scholar and Maximizing Student Diversity Scholar (MSD) and conducted research at UCLA Boiling and Heat Transfer Laboratory. She analyzed the dynamics of a single bubble of a working fluid to fully understand the physics of the phase change phenomena by using imaging method. She built an amplifier that controls the voltage output required to maintain a specific temperature on the system. She was also a research intern at the UCI Wind Tunnel Laboratory, where she created lab documentation for the LabVIEW software program used to analyze data gathered from the wind tunnel.

Since March 2013, Gabriela has worked at the UCLA Energy Innovation Laboratory as a Graduate Student Researcher. She joined the UCLA-led team that is developing a thermal energy storage system which will significantly reduce the cost and increase the energy storage of a solar power plant. She has developed an experimental system and data reduction methodology for obtaining thermal properties of fluids using the hot wire method. She has also developed a numerical model using MATLAB to analyze the behavior of transient heat exchangers to optimize energy consumption of air conditioning systems.

Gabriela is a member of the UCLA Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) student chapter, where she provides mentorship. She co-founded the UCLA graduate student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE), in which she fosters a unique place and voice for women in STEM fields. She also dedicates most of her time to the Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity (CEED), a UCLA organization that promotes diversity in the engineering school by providing resources and mentorship to underrepresented students in the field. Within CEED, she is the most active member and serves many roles. She travels to middle schools to teach after-school STEM programs and shares her story on how she emigrated from Guatemala as a 17-year-old girl, and her eventual arrival to the Ph.D. program at the UCLA Engineering School. She is determined to bring science closer to young minds, who may not receive an equal chance to discover an interest in STEM.

Gabriela is a brilliant, mature researcher. As a Hispanic female in engineering, she has learned to be determined in pursuing her ideas. She aspires to join a national laboratory and become a leader in renewable energy, where her main focus will be to develop new technology to make solar energy one of the main sources of the world’s energy. She wants to be able to introduce new technology to third world countries, such as her home country of Guatemala, where the technology would help that economy by creating more jobs and reducing the price of electricity.

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