Hello, my friends, it has been a long week but it’s the weekend now!
And that means it’s interhouse season! This is actually the second interhouse party that I’ve been to this year (I’ve been horribly busy and seemingly inevitably out of town on every Saturday they’re holding an interhouse). And I couldn’t have picked a better one to make it to!
About a year ago I posted about the very same interhouse party, Blacker interhouse (aka blinterhouse), but this year everything got shaken up a bit. Plus, I love the construction they do and so I figured it was worth a post and a few artsy pictures. This year their theme was bioluminescence, so they had all sorts of wonderful lighting effects and generally artsy exhibits around the house.
The construction was a bit different this year. Last year, they built a giant pirate ship. Unfortunately, though, due to some recent incidents the Pasadena fire department has started cracking down a bit more on Caltech affairs, so they’ve imposed a 4-foot limit on any constructed dance floor. This didn’t stop Blacker from building something awesome nevertheless! They constructed an exactly four-foot-high dance floor surrounded by Roman style wooden pillars, complete with a pseudo-moat that had water cascading in streams over the top of it. To top it all off, they ran a stream of neopixel LEDs over the top and cascaded that with color as well.
Throughout the house, the members had put together quite a few art projects. There were imitation jellyfish, caves, moss. Everything was lit up with glow-in-the-dark paint or some kind of substance that a blacklight would cause to glow. They also had an artsy assortment of mellow orange lighting. It created for an Instagram perfect combination that just the right amount of people decided to take advantage of. Some of the little trees that they had in a mini cave exhibit appeared to be made up of broccoli. Creative and cool!
In addition to that, they had the standard Caltech dance music (a weird combination between hip pop music and 2008 alternative rock music) and a nice selection of food. They even included some famous Blacker house food combinations (although as of right now I can’t remember exactly what those were). A very solid experience with some super cool people and effects.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.