LSU College of Science

Math Major Tracy Yu participated in Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program

Tracy Yu

LSU Math undergraduate student Xinyue (Tracy) Yu, currently in her second year, recently returned from participating in the competitive California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) in Pasadena, California. Yu, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science with majors in both Mathematics and Computer Science at LSU, was given the opportunity to collaborate with Caltech researchers on a project headed by Dr. Kaushik Bhattacharya, professor, and Dr. Ruobing Bai, a post-doctoral researcher, with focus on Numerical Simulations of Photo-Active Polymers.

The research to which Yu contributed at Caltech studied which direction photoactive molecules would be oriented after multiple isomerization cycles, and studying the response of the materials after embedding the photoactive molecules into a lattice network. This research will improve on the field of robotics and specifically soft robots. The goal of producing improvements in soft robots will advance both medical, scientific and industrial fields. Improving the mechanics of robotics provides greater sensitivity and dexterity for finely articulating precise tasks, such as replicating the tactile agility that a surgeon would develop to perform surgery. Tracy contributed to the project by writing numerical functions and performing mathematical derivations of the mean-field theory. “It is beneficial to have a background in coding for applied mathematics research”, Yu said. 

Prior to this experience, Yu assisted with research conducted by Dr. Blaise Bourdin of LSU studying fracture mechanics in rocks. Yu continues to assist with research under the mentorship of Dr. Bourdin in the fall 2019 semester studying the laser cutting of glass. Yu credits Dr. Bourdin as being an excellent mentor. “At first, it was overwhelming being a first-year student and conducting research which I have not done before. Dr. Bourdin was very helpful answering all of my questions, and he helped me not to feel overwhelmed. He is a good mentor in the sense both that he helps me learn more, and that he knows where my limits are and keeps me from going too far”.

Yu’s experience at Caltech allowed her to expand her knowledge in physics and statistical mechanics, fields of study with which she had limited exposure before attending the Caltech SURF but considers highly needed. She believes this experience will benefit her academically and professionally, as she has developed connections with researchers and students who participated in the summer 2019 SURF from other institutions. Yu wishes to continue her education after receiving her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science from LSU with a Ph.D. in Mathematics studying applied mathematics and pursuing an academic career. Yu is presently collaborating on a paper with other Caltech SURF program participants and Dr. Kaushik Bhattacharya and Dr. Ruobing Bai, which they plan to publish in the coming months.

(Contact: Jolie Cornay,