Gilberto Cardenas is a mathematics student who studies blind fish in underwater Mexican caves. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Cardenas works in the biomechanics lab of Dr. Matt McHenry where they focus on a sensory organ in these fish called the lateral line. Cardenas explains that the lateral line is composed of tiny receptors which the fish rely on to detect the water around them and aids in their feeding, schooling, defense mechanisms, and mate selection.
Cardenas was a bit intimated about studying in a laboratory outside his discipline, but with the help of his mentor, he has quickly learned the ropes of laboratory life. “My experience has been great so far,” Cardenas says, “and Dr. McHenry has given me indispensable guidance that has allowed me to grow not just as an individual but also as a student and a junior scientist.”
Through his experience in McHenry’s lab, Cardenas has learned not to shy away from any problem, and most importantly, ask for help if anything is beyond his scope. He marvels, “Any idea that I have is given the same level of attention as every other idea from the graduate students, and this has encouraged me to become self-motivating in seeking out answers to my questions.”
Cardenas however, is already well acquainted with self-motivation. A transfer student to UCI from Orange Coast College, Cardenas is also professional fine arts photographer specializing in portraiture and landscape. Through his work at UCI he is also branching out into science photography and his latest work has been feature on the covers of the scientific journals Zoology and The Journal of Experimental Biology. Before becoming a student, Cardenas served in the U.S. Army in Europe as a helicopter crew chief.
Cardenas hopes to bring all his experiences together as he moves towards the future. As his passion for photography has been translated into his work on fish, he also sees it connected to his goals for a degree in mathematics. “I am working towards a concentration in computational math that focuses on computational photography and pursuing a graduate program that combines various disciplines to tackle problems through a different lens.”
Who knew that when Cardenas started working with blind fish, they would lead him to graduate school? But Cardenas says, “When I began at UCI, I was unsure what I wanted to pursue after I graduated, but my experience working in a laboratory has been beyond my expectations. My goals now are focused and I am seeing graduate school and the possibility of working for a PhD as obtainable.”
Cardenas photography links:
Journal of Experimental Biology cover
Zoology Cover photograph
More about Cardenas and Mexican Cave Fish
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