What I've been up to since my last blog post
A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the mountains are beautiful, and mysterious sounds echo between our walls while we don’t even pretend to sleep.
A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the mountains are beautiful, and mysterious sounds echo between our walls while we don’t even pretend to sleep.
1. What’s your favorite place to go to study or hang out at Caltech?
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
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.
Like many students, I came into Caltech with a vision in mind. I had planned to major in bioengineering, do research in a bioengineering lab, and then eventually apply for medical school during my senior year. While some people manage to follow their four-year plans, I definitely did not. Within three weeks of my first term, I had decided to completely change my initial plans, from bioengineering to chemistry. The chemistry research interested me more, but a not-so-insignificant part of this decision was a desire to do less math. Ma1a was intimidating, what can I say?
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.
This summer, from the confines of my Brooklyn apartment, you could find me typing away on a tiny 13-inch laptop screen. At times I was looking for answers on countless Stack Exchange pages, editing a Jupyter notebook, or making blood flow measurements on a software called Arterys. This was my 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURF) experience.
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.
Have you ever gotten lost trying to find an address? Have you ever been annoyed by the voice on your phone telling you to “Turn left in 100 ft.” when in reality there is no street to turn into? When you find an address using your phone, have you ever wondered where that information comes from? I think we all have. GPS (Global Positioning System) is a system composed of a fleet of about 24 satellites put into orbit and maintained by the U.S. Department of defense. This technology is used to find a position on Earth by using a mathematical technique, called trilateration. Trilateration uses about 3 satellites, at any given time, to determine an object’s speed, elevation, and position. Most electronic devices come with a built-in GPS chip and use Wi-Fi networks and cellphone towers to enhance location accuracy and calculate its position. Even though GPS is a highly sophisticated system, it is far from perfect! It is not uncommon for it to malfunction when a navigator cannot receive sufficient satellite data or when signals move too slowly due to atmospheric irregularities in the troposphere and ionosphere. This, in turn, can output inaccuracies in location calculations which can cause serious problems in navigation and aviation in addition to unnecessary stress and frustration.
The research opportunities, offered to all students at Caltech, are second to none! There are many labs on campus, and I am constantly amazed by the ground-breaking research being conducted by professors, graduates, and undergraduates in each of these labs on a daily basis. The best part is that Caltech undergraduates have the opportunity to apply for and obtain internships in many of these labs. They get to participate and be an integral part of ingenious research. From what I’ve heard, this is not the case in other undergraduate programs. Students elsewhere are usually not given such tremendous opportunities and respect, especially so early in their college career. Instead, they are usually tasked with cleaning beakers or secretarial work; not getting the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in class to study a discipline they’re passionate about, firsthand.
Hello everybody! My name is Annabel Reyna Gomez. I was born and raised in Northern California. I am the oldest child in a family of four and live with my parents and younger brother in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am first-generation Mexican-American and the first female in my family to study STEM. Currently, I am a sophomore at Caltech pursuing a major in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Aerospace Engineering.
Happy Friday y’all! In all my abundant free time (which obviously exists) I’ve started volunteering with the Pasadena Unified School District. I’ve been working assisting their after-school program LEARNS, specifically helping with the Chemistry Olympiad and also running experiments for the kids to keep them engaged in science.
The CaltechY hosts a Friends Dinner once every quarter to thank its supporters and provide them with an opportunity to network with the Y’s student leaders. Each event features one special speaker. In the past, there have been artists, professors, film makers and more. This time, it was one of Caltech’s chemistry professors, Peter Jonas, who spoke about the vision surrounding the new Resnick gift.
Hello all! My name is Lexy LeMar. I’m a rising junior studying chemical engineering in the environmental track (ChE ESE for short). I am currently writing to you from Boston, Massachusetts where I am doing research this summer through Caltech’s SURF program. For those of you who are unfamiliar with SURF, it is a ten week research program over the summer that allows students to conduct research in a lab on campus, at the Jet Propulsion Lab, or in any other institute research lab in the world! Last summer, I did a SURF in the Seinfeld group on campus, studying volatile organic compounds and characterizing the fluid dynamics of the Caltech photochemical oxidation flow tube reactor. I had a really great experience both in the lab and going on weekend adventures around the Los Angeles area; however, being on campus for such a long period of time made me realize how much I wanted a change of scenery.
And I’ll be Mozart.
16 hours of airtime, more of just sitting in airports. And well, we’re definitely not in Pasadena. Exactly where am I though?
Hello, my friends, it has been a long week but it’s the weekend now!
The Caltech Techlab gives members of the Caltech community free access to 3D printing. It is located in the Sherman Fairchild Library, and any registered user can use it when the library is open. There are currently 4 working printers that can be used for personal projects, and additional printers that can be used for school-related projects.
In Blacker Hovse, we have the tradition of waited dinner - we are one of seven houses who do have this tradition. Each night, we have student waiters who serve food platters (we eat family style) and get drinks, carry messages, and do other miscellaneous errands. Although houses will let any member wait, they must be trained before they are allowed to, and are paid by Caltech Dining Services for their work.
Ok now for the FUN! Geology post. And the post where I talk a bit about the logistics of going on a 3.5-day Caltech GPS trip. The trip started on a Thursday night. I spent most of the 4-ish hour car ride working on my CS midterm. We ate in Barstow. 3/5 for the Barstow burger place, it was kinda funky. My friend Molly and I actually packed most of our food for the trip besides the planned dinners out. Lots of chunky PB&J (blueberry jelly!).
Perhaps others cannot understand, but as a college convert to boba, I absolutely adore the chewy balls of tapioca. I have a very specific consistency that I like: not too soft that there’s no bite to the balls, but not too hard that I get an uncooked tapioca center. However, I would rather get squishy boba than undercooked boba. Getting that perfect goldilocks consistency is typically about cooking time - and depending on the place, it’s really hit or miss. Even my favorite places in the San Gabriel valley - which has the highest frequency of boba places ever - can sometimes disappoint. Although, take this with a grain of salt, because I will sometimes go near closing time - when it’s more likely that boba has been sitting around for longer.
Got my first ever parking ticket this week. And second. Yikes. The first was for parking in an (unmarked) street sweeping zone next to a park. The other was for parking overnight on property that I thought Caltech owned (obviously they did not). Either way that wasn’t exactly a fun start to the week.
Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) features exhibits everything related to pop culture, from rock n’ roll to video games to science fiction, fantasy, horror, and more. It is a bit expensive, with student tickets costing $23. However, if you’re staying in Seattle for the summer like me and have a local mailing address, you can sign up for a Seattle Public Library card. With this card, you have free access to select museums on certain days. Free tickets are released each day, so you need to click fast to get one you want! Tickets for the more popular museums like the MoPOP go quickly, while others like the zoo are pretty open.
When my parents visited Seattle, we also went to the Future of Flight Aviation Museum and Boeing Tour! Included in the $25 ticket is a 1.5 hr guided tour of the Boeing factory, where all the planes are constructed, and admission to the Future of Flight Museum. When we arrived, there happened to be a free tour of the museum portion just about to start, so we got to listen in on the tour and learn more in depth about all the planes and exhibits there.
I made a couple of really good friends last year during FBU, whom I have featured in at least one blog post before. We all decided to take our return offers from FBU for the full internship in MPK (Menlo Park). So we have gathered once again!
This summer, I’m interning at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. They aim to create an open database of information about the brain, one of their most well-known projects is trying to make a map of the brain, or a connectome. The connectome would have all the neurons of the brain and their synapses (connections) mapped out. Currently, the only organism whose connectome is fully reconstructed is the roundworm C. elegans. Parts of the mouse brain have also been mapped out, which is what some people at Allen are working on. We have a long way to go!
It’s been over three months since my trip to the Galapagos, and I am still thinking about it. For seven days, we all woke up at 5:30 am on the boat, ate breakfast together, and went out as the sun was rising on our morning hike to catch frigatebirds mating or iguanas spewing salt from their nostrils. Our days were spent snorkeling with turtles, sea lions, and schools of fish, and our nights were spent sitting on the bow of the ship, talking all together under the stars. It was truly a spring break I will never forget.
Caltech may be a small campus, but it has a large variety of food options. There are three main dining locations on campus — The Lee F. Browne Dining Hall, the Hameetman Center (which houses our beloved Red Door Cafe), and the Broad Café.
Midterms kept up its unrelenting attack on my sanity this week – at least a little bit. And how did I solve this? Two words.
Although there are a lot of smaller things, such as midterm smoothies and milkshakes (Blacker does something similar to this) and some larger things like Faculty Dessert Night, the soc team usually agrees that beach trip is the most work.