Feature Stories 2023: Viktoriya Balabanova '23: Seizing opportunities

Student viktoriya balabanova standing in the library
Feature Stories 2023: Viktoriya Balabanova '23: Seizing opportunities
Viktoriya Balabanova '23: Seizing opportunities

Physics major Viktoriya Balabanova has earned multiple competitive research opportunities and compiled an impressive record of accomplishments, all while raising a family.  

Viktoriya Balabanova was born in Bulgaria and lived in Greece before coming to UMass Dartmouth to study physics. During her undergraduate career, Viktoriya earned multiple competitive research opportunities and compiled an impressive record of accomplishments, all while raising a family.  

Why did you choose UMass Dartmouth?  

"I was very impressed from my first interaction with the Physics Department at UMass Dartmouth.  I received quick responses to all of my questions, and everyone I met was so welcoming from the beginning. That welcoming, supportive environment continued throughout my experience here." 

How and why did you get interested in physics as a course of study and as a career? 

"At first, I actually didn’t like physics. I entered a science program in Greece because I was interested in biology and chemistry, not realizing the program would be so physics heavy. When I realized I would need to strengthen my physics knowledge, I hired a tutor. That decision changed everything for me.  I did a 180-degree turn and started to love it. Finding the right teacher really can make all the difference."   

What do you like most about your field?  

"I find the process of solving a problem so satisfying. I love the ‘aha!’ moment when the puzzle pieces finally come together. Doing experimental physics allows me to do that kind of problem solving every day. I am especially interested in new energy sources and improving energy harvesting techniques for a more sustainable future." 

Is there a faculty member who has made a significant difference in your life?  

"All of the faculty in the College of Engineering have been wonderful. Dr. Robert Fisher goes above and beyond.  It seems like he works 24/7 to help his students. His office door is always open, and he has helped immensely in connecting me with internships and research opportunities."  

Tell us about the impact of the scholarships you earned 

"I received a few scholarships. The first one was ‘Maximize Your Potential’ sponsored by a lovely couple, Drs. Daniel & Anabell DeOliveira. For my last two semesters, I received the Charles Hoff Presidential Scholarship, which also has a matching fund. Moreover, I was awarded the Massachusetts High Demand Scholarship. Lastly, I received the ACCOMPLISH Scholarship, funded by the NSF, which offers a significant amount of funding for students in STEM. 

"These scholarships helped me attend school while also paying for my son’s daycare and my commuting expenses. I travel 120 miles round-trip each day to go to school, and I have a toddler at home.  Without these scholarships, I would not have been able to complete my degree or conduct the research that I did."  

Tell us about your research  

"I had the opportunity to participate in multiple exciting research experiences while at UMassD." 

Research Experience for Undergraduates at Boston University 

"In the summer of 2022, I was awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Boston University through a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The REU is a 10-week paid program where undergrads can conduct research alongside faculty members in experimental physics. I worked with Professor Alex Sushkov on the CASPEr-Electric Experiment, which is searching for axion-like dark matter. During this REU, I acquired new skills working with different tools and techniques. Working alongside PhDs and postdocs as an undergraduate student was very exciting."  

Research Fellowship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

"I was also awarded the 2022 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Spring Research Fellowship. There, I worked on a project titled ‘Using cloud computing and satellite observations to provide context to in situ oceanographic measurements.’ The research focuses on utilizing cloud computing tools to analyze geostrophic velocities through high resolution satellite imagery of the ocean surface. This is in direct correlation of the geostrophic balance, responsible for weather patterns, ocean currents, and the distribution of heat and nutrients from the equator to the poles. I work on this project with Dr. Tom Farrar from WHOI and Dr. Amit Tandon from the Mechanical Engineering Department at UMassD." 

UMass Dartmouth Office of Undergraduate Research 

"The same year, I won the OUR Summer Research Award for a project I worked on with Dr. Caiwei Shen from the Mechanical Engineering Department beginning in spring of 2022. The title was "Characterizing the Friction Induced Triboelectric Effect of Polymers,", and it focused on improving current methods of harvesting green energy using Triboelectric Nanogenerators (TENGs), that are designed to transform mechanical energy into electricity through friction." 

In April 2023, Viktoriya competed in the Three Minute Thesis competition, where she delivered a presentation titled, "Investigation of the Validity of the Geostrophic Balance in the North Atlantic Ocean." The following week, she presented her research at the SigmaXi Student Research Showcase, and she spoke at the Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference (MassURC) on April 28.   

How has UMass Dartmouth prepared you for your future?  

"All the support and opportunities I have received from faculty have prepared me for the next steps in my career. I’m also grateful for the encouragement I’ve gotten from fellow students. I could always count on my classmates to bolster my confidence or give me a nudge in the right direction. We all want to see each other succeed."  

What advice do you have for current or future UMassD students?  

"I wish I had started doing research earlier.  So, I would recommend taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible.  Any experience is a good experience until you figure out what you really want to do. You never know what you’ll discover until you broaden your horizons.   

"Also, I would tell future students that if you put in the effort, you can succeed here. Engineering students at UMass Dartmouth go on to do amazing things in research and in their careers. No matter how big your ambitions are, the people here can help you make it happen."  

What are your plans following graduation?   

"I plan to work in data analysis, and maybe one day pursue a master’s degree."