Lucky for this biology major, on my walk to class everyday I pass the Grant Museum of Zoology, home to 67,000 animal specimens. It’s a curious, curious place. I popped in the other day and this is what I saw:
I’ve learned so much about these animals while at Tech. It was very satisfying to see their bodies up close. Books and lectures kept cropping up in my mind, reminding me of all sorts of amazing phenomena I’ve had the privilege to study. This is just cool: a cheetah can accept a skin graft from any other cheetah! Crazy. It’s true that a lot of the animals at the zoology museum could be seen at a zoo, but there are some glaring exceptions: the museum has preserved the recently extinct quagga and thylacine. I can read about the aye-aye’s bizarre hands all day long, but the awe sinks in when I get to see those hands in person!
I’ve been learning about the brain, spinal cord, and nerves in my neuroscience course. In the same way that the zoology museum made my animal behavior and evolution courses come to life, anatomy lab for neuroscience was electrifying. At UCL the second year biology students don lab coats and invade the medical school’s dissection room. We spent an afternoon, surrounded by cadavers, examining real human brains! We investigated the various protective membranes (your brain has three), lobes (more than three), and fissures (way more than three). We located the optic chiasm (where some of the neurons from your left eye cross over to the right side of your brain and vice versa), where the facial nerves separate from the brain, and the brain’s ventricles. These brains were about five year old and heavy with the weight of chemical preservative. The consistency reminded me of white button mushrooms soaked in water. Finally touching the brain made weeks of lecture suddenly click. It is that “ah ha” moment in the lab and the expressions of “that’s so amazing!” in the zoology museum that keep me pumped about my classes. What gets you pumped?
Almost a year ago now, I was just about to start my first Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at JPL. NASA had sent out an email to all of their summer interns containing a social media template to announce that we had been selected as NASA interns. Excited to show my NASA pride, I posted it on my Instagram story, unaware of what would come out of this small action.
Hey hey! We’re starting a series where I walk you through my best finds for food and drinks in the Pasadena region, and in the LA metropolitan area. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, if you will (although, for copyright reasons we can’t call it that). As you explore your college options, I firmly believe that food and location are more important than your high school guidance counselor may lead you to believe. And I’m here to share my best finds from my time at Caltech with you.
Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under the mentorship of senior research technologist Dr. Xiaoqing Pi. Dr. Pi’s guidance and mentorship has been instrumental to the development and success of my internship at JPL, where I use machine-learning to enhance the accuracy and integrity of navigation and communication signals. In addition to helping me develop an understanding of atmospheric and ionospheric remote sensing and machine-learning, Dr. Pi has often offered his insights on how to improve my researching skills. Dr. Pi was generous enough to take the time to answer a few questions regarding his research and advice for future student interns. I believe many students can benefit from some of the lessons that he has taught me:
The transition period to remote learning was a very uncertain time, especially for research and the Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program. Many hands-on projects had to pivot at the last minute to facilitate off-campus contributions. However, many Techers were able to take advantage of the research opportunities offered at Caltech and JPL to make the best out of remote learning and research. To paint a picture, I’ve interviewed a few talented Techers for some insight on what researching from home looks like for them.