This past Tuesday I watched the lunar eclipse! A bunch of us sat in the Fleming Hovse courtyard watching the Moon. The house provided snacks and we sat on our artificial turf. I imagine the atmosphere would be similar to an outdoor movie, though I have never actually been.
Turns out, when you try and take photos of the Moon with your iPhone camera, everything comes out as a generic white blob with black background. There was a lot of ambient light too, but like Techers we figured out a way to capture the lunar eclipse! My friend had a pair of binoculars, and with a collaborative effort of three people we aligned the camera with the binoculars that were focused at the Moon; it actually took a lot of not laughing to hold stuff still so I wanted to show you too!
For a couple minutes, we had someone convinced that they were actually looking at Mars, and that’s why it was red. And then that the Moon was being eclipsed by Mars and therefore also red. A much better prank (if you even consider this one) was for the prefrosh weekend equivalent at MIT last weekend; Caltech students handed out this mug that when cool says MIT on it then when heated turns into a Caltech mug, ‘The HOTTER Institute of Technology’. You can read more about it in this article. Also, if you’re interested in buying one like I am, here’s the link for that too.
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.