Doctoral student Brenda Lopez awarded UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship

Author: Malinn Loeung
May 1, 2024

Brenda Lopez-Reyna
Brenda Lopez-Reyna

UC Riverside graduate student researcher and first-gen, immigrant Latina Brenda Lopez has been awarded the University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, or UCPPFP, to pursue a postdoc at UC Davis in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department. 

Only the top-ranked candidates are selected to participate in UCPPFP. Lopez went up against approximately 1,000 applicants this year and is one of only five engineering students chosen for the two-year program.

UCPPFP offers postdoctoral research fellowships to outstanding women and minority scholars in all fields whose research, teaching, and service will contribute to diversity and equal opportunity at the University of California. The PPFP accepts fellows based on the quality of their proposed research, potential contribution to the program’s mission, and letters of support.  

“All smart Ph.D. students apply for this nationwide. I was dumbstruck after hearing the following statistics for PPFP awards,” said Heejung Jung, a mechanical engineering professor at UCR and Lopez’s advisor at CE-CERT. “The total applications were 984 and 45 applicants were selected, meaning a 4.6% success rate. Within the STEM departments, eight awards were given out of 200 applicants, meaning a 4% success rate. And for engineering, it was five awards out of 189 applicants, meaning a 2.6% success rate. She is the first to receive this award at BCOE, so it is a great achievement and honor.”  

With roots as a California Community College transfer from Norco College, Lopez obtained a bachelor’s degree from UCR before starting her doctoral journey in 2020 at UCR's Bourns College of Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.  

Her work with the UCR’s Environmental Aerosols Research Lab at CE-CERT includes research on vehicle emissions originating from non-tailpipe sources, specifically brake and tire wear. Lopez studies the real-world impact of non-tailpipe particulate matter, or PM, in near-road environments across Southern California.

Brenda Lopez-Reyna Bus Cabin Air Quality
Evan Renck, left, watches Brenda Lopez Reyna (right), turn on a machine that mimics a person breathing inside a bus at CE-CERT. The research team, led by professor Heejung Jung at E.A.R.L., Environmental Aerosol Research Lab, studies the air quality inside bus cabins. (UCR/Stan Lim)

Another of Lopez’s projects investigates bus cabin air quality control systems to examine strategies to mitigate the airborne transmission of diseases in public buses, in response to the pandemic and potential epidemics.

Lopez attributes her professional mission to her personal experience as a first-generation immigrant from a low-income background.  

“I have learned and observed that many underrepresented communities from low-income groups have been disproportionately exposed to poor air quality due to systematic disparities,” Lopez said. “My goal is to positively impact the communities where I came from through research and by encouraging more students to pursue careers in STEM. Having benefited from support programs such as Norco College’s STEM Scholars Program and TRIO Student Support Services, I want to build a network that provides opportunities to underrepresented students and encourages higher education.”

Approximately 75% of UCPPFP participants have received tenure track faculty appointments, with over 100 former fellows receiving faculty appointments at University of California campuses.

Upon graduating with a doctorate in spring 2024, Lopez will continue her education as a postdoctoral scholar at UC Davis, with hopes of expanding her research knowledge and work experience before returning to academia as a professor.

▶️ Press play to watch Brenda's research in action.

Lopez's other awards:

  • UC President’s Pre-Professoriate Fellowship 2023 (an HSI award)
  • Hackett Graduate Research Award 2023
  • Southern California Edison Scholar 2020
  • Jim Guthrie Research Award 2019