Over the past few weeks of SURF, I have been working to purify a protein. Sounds dull? It may be pretty repetitive and tedious but it’s certainly far from boring.
Before I could purify my protein I first had to grow the E.Coli cells. A tons of them. Actually 10 liters of culture. Like I explained before, we first have to grow the E.Coli cells into which we inserted the protein before we can extract it. The first step, therefore, was to use this giant machine called a fermentor to grow the cells in a relatively short period of time. And sadly no I can’t make yogurt in it…..
Here it is! 10 liters of broth full of antibiotic resistant E.Coli cells. All this for only 100 milligrams of protein. Pretty ridiculous right?
Throughout the day, I had to monitor the air flow, pH, and other parameters to make sure the E.Coli grew up properly. As you may expect, E.Coli being a bacteria has a rather musty, not exactly pleasant smell, and let me tell you, 10 liters of E.Coli definitely smelled up the whole lab. I felt bad for all my other lab mates who had to suffer through it with me.
After I made the culture, I had to centrifuge the liquid to isolate only the cells. These centrifuges are special heavy-duty ones that can spin at speeds over 50,000 times g-force. Let me put that in context for you: Most roller coasters can reach accelerations of about 4-6 times g-force. I would feel sorry for the cells but…..
Afterward, came the purification process. Since the protein I am purifying is considered a LCST–lower critical solution temperature–protein (that is, it dissolves at 4°C but aggregates at 37°C) we alternate hot and cold cycles to purify the protein.
First, we centrifuge at 4°C to get rid of the cell membrane and other parts of the cell that we don’t need. Then we incubate the liquid in the incubator above and then centrifuge again at 37°C to get rid of more unneeded parts in the cell. Repeat two more times and the protein is purified. Though it sounds like a pretty short process, it actually took me a whole week and a half to complete due to overnight steps, three hour long centrifuging processes, etc.
Finally, after the last centrifuging process, we then dialysize the proteins to get rid of any other salts that may be in the liquid which we re-suspended the protein in.
Here are all my bottles from the centrifuging process. I feel bad for hording all of them, but my mentor wants to keep them just in case something goes wrong since it is a two week long process.
After a hard day of work, what’ s better than spending time with friends? My favorite part about the SURF program is that it’s easy to get together with friends since we’re all staying on campus. And since most students at Caltech do decide to participate in the SURF program over the summer, there’s always plenty of people to spend time with.
Another nice thing about the SURF program is that there is plenty of good, cheap food around the Caltech area. Perfect for the poor, starving and lazy student :)
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.