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Costa Rican Students & Alumni at Rice

 Luis Diego Gene Antillon

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Luis Diego Gene Antillon, Graduate Student of Bioengineering, Global Medical Innovation.

My name is Luis Diego Gene Antillon and I am from a small suburb town called Santa Ana, about 20 minutes west from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose.

I am currently a graduate student in the Master of Bioengineering program, specifically in the Global Medical Innovation (GMI) track. Initially I pursued an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the University of Costa Rica but after realizing I had a strong passion for medical devices and healthcare, I transferred to the medical technology engineering program at Universidad Latina de Costa Rica where I graduated from last year.

During my senior year in high school I was invited to Rice University for a prospective visit and since that 3-day experience I had back then, I have always wanted to come back. For many reasons I could not consider studying abroad for my undergraduate degree, but last summer something unexpected happened: I attended a presentation sponsored by the Costa Rican Investment and Development Initiative (CINDE) on medical technology programs where Dr. Richardson (BIOE-GMI) was one of the presenters. At first, I had no idea Rice University was involved -In fact, I was just attending because my boss asked me to go in his place! When I heard about the GMI program I fell in love with it; I attended a short course about GMI and applied for the program as soon as I finished my undergraduate degree. Fast forward a few months and here I am.

What I love about Rice is that it is not JUST about the learning, it is an integral experience that has managed to prioritize personal growth and leadership within the highest quality of education one could ever imagine. My vision is to learn to innovate and pioneer in a field that has yet to be explored too much in my country and hopefully someday help contribute to our development as well as our global society as a whole. This is precisely why I fell in love with Rice on that short visit, 6 years ago.

Click here to check out Luis’s blog to learn more about his experience at Rice!
Click here to read Universidad Latina de Costa Rica’s article about Luis’ experience in the GMI program!

Dr. Jose Castro Nieto

Dr. Jose Castro Nieto-Received his PhD from Applied Physics in 2011

1. Why did you choose to come to Rice University to do your doctorate?

Prior to going to grad school I did an internship at NASA’s Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory. My mentor was a former Rice grad and he had a strong influence on where I should apply for grad school. I also applied and was admitted to another large state university in Texas, which was a big contrast because that school is very big, and Rice is very small . . . maybe less than 5000 students at the time. I did my Bachelors at the University of Costa Rica, which is a very big school, so I wanted to experience of a small campus, where interactions would be more personal, and I could have closer connections.

2. How can students, scholars and researchers benefit from Rice?

I think Rice is very well placed as an academic and research institution. Both geographically and academically. For people from Central America moving to a country that has seasons can be challenging because we don’t really have them. The weather in Texas is a good way to ease into having seasons. It’s also a short flight, so for me it was easy to go back to Costa Rica every year, and very easy for family to visit. Rice is also academically and technically very well placed with good options all around, and it’s in the middle of the country, not too limited by being on the East Coast or the West Coast. Now with multiple direct flights between Costa Rica and Houston, it is very close for anyone.

3. What makes Rice unique from other places?

Rice has a quirky, nerdy personality. Back in the day it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, but these days it’s become sort of fashionable to be that way . It is okay and fashionable nowadays to be nerdy! Rice has a very unique personality. It’s not a party campus, yet it’s not really a super nerdy campus. Rice has a lot of history, and the campus is beautiful. The neighborhood around the campus is also beautiful and the proximity to the Museum District is great, and allows for so many opportunities. Rice has a close connection to Houston, and in some ways, they have grown up together.

4. What’s your favorite thing about Rice?

I like the size and the campus. I think it is very nice when you can walk around the campus and see that there are a lot of people, but at the same time not be overwhelmed by the number of people. During the summer as a grad student, it was nice because you almost had the campus to yourself, but during the semester it becomes so active and is full of life. Also, the beautiful campus has so many places where you can go to study and to meet people. The location of Rice is also quite advantageous because of the neighborhood, and especially Rice Village, which was one of my favorite places.


Dr. Castro Nieto has over 13 years of experience in experimental plasma physics and engineering. He currently directs the scientific research initiatives of Ad Astra Rocket Company Costa Rica, the international subsidiary in the city of Liberia, Guanacaste that is wholly owned by Ad Astra Rocket Company domiciled in the city of Webster nearby the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Dr. Castro Nieto leads the laboratory’s flagship experiment the VX-CR, which focuses on long term duration thermal management and plasma surface interactions for space applications. He also manages all renewable energy developments, including Costa Rica’s first hydrogen-based transportation ecosystem due to launch in June.

In 2016, Dr. Castro Nieto served as Co-Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee and Programme Committee for the United Nations/Costa Rica Workshop on Human Space Technology. This workshop organized jointly by United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, the Government of Costa Rica, and the International Academy of Astronautics.

Prior to his work at Ad Astra Rocket Company Costa Rica, Dr. Castro Nieto managed the Transfer of Knowledge and Data Collection Program for Energy Services at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This involved forecasting, collecting, analyzing, and reporting of energy consumption data for all Olympic and Paralympic Venues. Additionally, he supervised a group of Energy Managers as part of the Data Collection Program including remote and in-situ metering, and developed the demand and consumption models to forecast energy and water consumption for London 2012. As part of the Local Organizing Committee for the London 2012 Olympics, he acted as liaison with the International Olympic Committee and future Organizing Committees, coordinated the Observers Program for Energy Services and co-authored the Energy Transfer of Knowledge report to the International Olympic Committee.

During his Ph.D studies, Dr. Castro Nieto was part of the team of researchers that developed and implemented the experimental setup to measure various properties of ultracold strontium ions. This team collected, analyzed, and modelled data as well as assembly and maintenance of ultra high vacuum, electronics, feedback circuitry, and optical setup of various cooling lasers for Rice University.

Dr. Castro Nieto has taught physics at the University of Costa Rica. He has also authored multiple peer reviewed publications and has been a speaker at international conferences in the USA, Germany, Canada and Brazil.

Dr. Luis Leopoldo Pérez

Dr. Luis Leopoldo Pérez-Received his PhD from Computer Science in 2014

1. Why did you choose to come to Rice University to do your doctorate?

Prior to joining Rice, I was a graduate student in Computer Engineering at the University of Florida. While working on my masters thesis, my advisor, Dr. Chris Jermaine, accepted a faculty position at the Rice CS department. My goal at the time was to do my Ph.D. research under his supervision, so he encouraged me to apply.

2. How can students, scholars and researchers benefit from Rice?

For students and scholars from Costa Rica, Rice offers the perfect combination of academic quality and geographic location. There are multiple daily flights to/from Houston from/to San José and Liberia and the time zone is the same during a good chunk of the year, which makes collaboration easier.

Moreover, Rice has very strong research programs in areas that are key to Costa Rica, such as computing and bioengineering.

3. What makes Rice unique from other places?

Its strong emphasis on quality over quantity. During my studies at the CS department, I found myself surrounded by relatively few but excellent students, all of them supervised by world-class scholars. In my opinion, this is the best environment for a graduate student and young scholar to be in.

(Actually, isn’t it funny that such a small school is located in a state known for bigger everything?)

4. What’s your favorite thing about Rice?

The people. Everyone: students, staff, and faculty.


Dr. Luis L. Pérez is a data scientist and engineer from San José, Costa Rica, where he works as a consultant in machine learning and big data management with clients from Latin America and the Caribbean. He is also the head of data science at Singularities, a local startup that develops AI and machine learning solutions for logistics, finance and marketing applications.

Luis received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Rice in 2014. During his studies, he was part of a team that developed techniques for efficient and scalable distributed machine learning on big data. He has published multiple research papers in world-class venues such as ICDE, ACM SIGMOD and VLDB and is the recipient of the IEEE ICDE 2017 Best Paper Award.

During his spare time, Luis enjoys weightlifting and gardening.

Pamela Zuñiga Fallas

Pamela Zuñiga Fallas, a visiting researcher at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

1. Why did you choose to come to Rice University to do research?

During my undergraduate physics lessons and as part of nanotechnology’s history, I heard of Rice University as the place where in 1985 the fullerenes (novel arrangement of carbon) were discovered. By that moment I did not know that Rice was located in Houston, a city that back in 2005 generated a long lasting change in my worldview. After some years during a visit to Houston in 2014, I had the opportunity to closely interact with current Rice scientists and students. I was impressed by their unique approach towards environmental applications of nanotechnology and felt strongly motivated to apply for opportunities that allowed me to join them.

2. How can students, scholars and researchers benefit from Rice?

Rice’s ecosystem is full of a collaborative spirit that will allow endless ways of being benefited from it. As a very well placed private research university, Rice stimulates excellence with an environment that is competitive and open to innovation and change. For someone from Latin America, I would say that the main general benefit could be to learn an efficient working based on trust, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, and a strong direct communication style.

3. What makes Rice unique from other places?

Rice stimulates you to excellence and unconventional thinking while it makes you part of an exceptional team. Also, as it has a small community the interdisciplinary interaction and collaboration is favored. Its location is perfect for traveling to Costa Rica or other strategic US cities for conferences or business.

4. What’s your favorite thing about Rice?

The multicultural environment and its beautiful campus surrounded by trees and squirrels.


Pamela Zuñiga Fallas (Born in San José, Costa Rica) is currently conducting applied and globally relevant research on nanotechnology-enabled water treatment in Dr. Alvarez’s Lab. Pamela has experience in the development of socially oriented projects for drinking water and clean energy access in Latin America. Also serves as consultant to innovation, conservancy, and educational projects worldwide. Her background degrees are in nanotechnology (2011) and environmental health (2015) achieved in two prestigious public universities in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Science and Technology Ministry recognized her as innovation champion (2014). Pamela has taught nanotechnology at Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica. She has authored several peer-reviewed publications and has been a speaker at international conferences in the USA on chemistry, public health, microbiology, and nanotechnology.

Neethi Nayak

Neethi Nayak, Undergraduate Student

Neethi Nayak (Martel ’17) is currently working as a Wagoner Fellow at Universidad de Costa Rica San Pedro (UCR) in the Department of Civil Engineering. She is investigating an interdisciplinary project on environmental policy in Costa Rica. Her research is a case study in the country, focusing on green building certification systems as a mechanism for sustainable development policy.

She chose to research in Costa Rica due to the country’s rich biodiversity resulting in the need for sound environmental legislation. She hopes to research the implications and practical application of policy in the day to day operations of energy efficient buildings in developing economies. She is working under the guidance of Professor Erick Centeno in the CIEDES institute of UCR.

Click here to read Neethi’s Alumni Spotlight article in the Rice University Journal of Public Policy.




David Brenes

David Brenes, Visiting Undergraduate Research Student.

My name is David Brenes, and I am a senior studying Biomedical and Electrical Engineering at Duke University. In 2017, I was a Rice University summer scholar. Having lived in Costa Rica all my life, it ‘s hard for me to find a place as beautiful and welcoming. However, Rice was certainly different. From the moment I made the decision to come to Rice, I was regularly engaged by attentive individuals that wanted to help me succeed. Rice is a multicultural environment that challenged and inspired me to make the most out of my opportunities. Even in a social setting, it’s always amazing to see how ideas constantly flow among individuals at Rice creating unexpected yet effective collaborations.

I had the privilege to work with Dr. Richards-Kortum in the bioengineering department. My project involved improving a high-resolution microendoscopy image processing software for oral cancer diagnosis at the point of care. I had to acquire many new skills not taught in my major to fulfill this project. Thankfully, Rice’s interdisciplinary approach to research allowed me to contact individuals across multiple departments that were willing to help me. This not only helped me push my project forward but exceeded my own expectations and deadlines.

Being part of a laboratory in one of the top bioengineering schools in the United States was an incredibly enriching opportunity. I got to work with leaders in my field that gave me feedback that will develop me as a researcher. I am very grateful to have shared my perspective and cultural heritage with this fantastic community. This adventure has helped me grow as an individual and will open new opportunities in the future.

Guiselle Esquivel


Guiselle Esquivel-Fall 2016 Visiting Student at Rice University

My name is Guiselle Esquivel, 21 years old. I come from Costa Rica a small country known for its biodiversity, majestic volcanoes, forests, and stunning beaches.

I am currently in my last year of a five year program in Industrial Production Engeneering at Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica.

Two years ago, I awoke an interest in the medical device industry, after assisting to The DMD conference. After this I started looking for courses that could give me this forming, this is when I registered for the Engineering Design in Medical Device Innovation course taught by Dr. Eric Richardson in Costa Rica.

It was a very enriching experience because we worked in multidisciplinary teams to propose solutions to unmet need in the health sector by using brainstorming and low fidelity prototypes. After the short course ended I knew that the project had started to develop had a lot of potential and a great social impact since it consists in improving the of enteral feeding process with premature neonates, so we decided to continue with it.  This is why the opportunity to carry out my graduation project to work on the medical device design and validation with Rice University in collaboration with the National Children’s Hospital in Costa Rica was presented.

I am extremely excited about this hands-on experience and grateful for this opportunity of the exchange program. My expectations are really high and I know this will be an experience of personal and academic growth in this amazing leader research Institution.

Jorge Andrés Lizano Pereira

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Jorge Andrés Lizano Pereira, Fall 2016 Visiting Student

My name is Jorge Andrés Lizano Pereira. I am 21 years old and I live in the beautiful country of Costa Rica, a place full of nature and biodiversity. I study Mechatronics Engineering at the Institute of Technology of Costa Rica. A couple of years ago I started to get interest in the medical device industry, so I began looking for courses and academic experiences out of college. On 2015 I had the opportunity to assist an innovation summer course given at Costa Rica by Dr. Eric Richardson from Rice University. It was a great experience for me and I was impressed by its forward-thinking approach. After the course, me and my partner committed to develop one of the projects we started at the course. We have been working since then on the design of a medical device that improves the enteral feeding process for premature neonates in collaboration with Dr. Eric Richardson. Right now I am on my last year of a 5 year program, so for my graduation project I decided to work on that medical device design. I am really excited to go to Rice to work on this project, as I know it is a leading research university with a high standards, specially in the Bioengineering field; which makes it perfect for the development of our project. I expect this to be an incredible experience for my academic growth, but also a chance to share my culture and learn from others.