Student Profile: Alexander Berne BSME ’19
Alexander Berne ’19, who graduates this semester with majors in Mechanical Engineering and physics, as well as a minor in mathematics, has been involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities while maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. From reviving the astronomy club, to publishing a paper in Neural Biophysics, Berne has seemingly done it all during his time at the University of Miami College of Engineering (UMCoE).
“I came to the University of Miami to study what I love. It turns out, what I love has changed dramatically over the course of my studies, and quite frankly, it continues to change. It is a sort of dynamic process,” says Berne. “Originally, I wanted to study business, then I wanted to do physics, later Mechanical Engineering and Physics, and after that I wanted to research Biophysics. The University has had the resources to help me attain these ever-changing aspirations throughout my undergraduate education”
Berne began his undergraduate experience as a research assistant in a Biophysics lab, working with Mason Klein, assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics. His research focused on identifying fundamental components of animal behavior and exploring how they work at a neural level. For example, one of Berne’s projects involved the molecular, cellular and behavioral responses of the common fruit fly upon exposure to vibrations.
“By subjecting fruit fly larvae to external vibrations, I was able to observe their atypical behaviors, which are governed by the complex neural pathways in the central nervous system,” explains Berne. “I dug even deeper by using genetic techniques and advanced microscopic imaging to observe the active neurons regulating the larvae’s behavior. Ultimately, I was able to map the complicated neural circuitry of the fruit fly’s brain.”
Aside from his research interests, Berne has a strong passion for astronomy and space exploration. He is currently a ‘Sky Watcher’ for the UM Astronomy club (UAstronomy), keeping an eye out for occurrences in the night sky. He served as president during the Fall and Spring semesters of 2017 and played a key role in reviving the club four years ago. Since its revival, UAstronomy has grown immensely, attracting students from all disciplines. The club is known throughout campus for its unforgettable star-gazing trips, such as their trip last spring where 13 members of the club – led by Berne – embarked on a trip to Iceland for a breathtaking, yet challenging, week-long backpacking expedition to see the aurora borealis.
Berne’s dedication for space exploration doesn’t stop there, as he also founded – and currently coordinates – the UM Exoplanet Hunting society, which is part of the UM American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics chapter. Berne founded the society to observe, record, and collect scientific data related to planets outside the Solar System in an effort to detect and discover a new planet.
Berne also is a member of the UM Bioethics travelling team, travelling to annual competitions around the United States to debate on topics related to merits and foundational ethical questions associated with the proliferation of technology and its effects on society and its implications for the future.
During the summer of 2017, Berne interned at NextEra Energy, Inc., a leading wholesale power generating company that operates power plants and offers a diverse fuel mix to utilities, municipalities and large industrial companies throughout the United States. He worked at the Turkey Point Nuclear power plant designing hydroelectric tidal turbines for micro-grid consumer markets.
Berne, who is trilingual, is founder and CEO of InterLingua Ltd., a language learning software company specializing in creating chrome extensions and apps that engage users in an immersion-based format of learning. Currently, the company offers extensions for Spanish, Chinese, and French.
“During high school I spent two months in Dominican Republic with Colibri Community Center, where I led a group of colleagues on a humanitarian mission to perform construction works throughout impoverished inland communities,” explains Berne. “In the trip I used my fluency in the Spanish language and communication skills to serve as a translator, and I realized the importance of communication in different languages. Since then, I have been on a mission to improve the access to language learning software for everyone.”
As he edges closer to his Bachelor of Sciences in Mechanical Engineering and Physics, Berne is focused on his next objective: graduate school. He has been accepted to a PhD program at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which includes an industry partnership with Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the leading U.S. center for the robotic exploration of the solar system.
“I’m excited for what the future holds,” says Berne. “The University of Miami has not only been enjoyable and fulfilling, it has also propelled my career forwards and laid down the foundations for my aspirations: to become a long-term researcher and, ultimately, advance humanity’s understanding of the Universe.”