Since it’s summer, we don’t have to do any homework sets or work on the weekends, so we have a lot more free time to do things like cook, work on projects, go off campus, relax, etc. Because I didn’t have to do anything else last Saturday, I walked over to Lake Avenue to eat dinner and go grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, and then decided to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Fortunately there’s really easy recipes online (I’m still trying to learn how to cook/bake). They turned out to be more chocolate chip cookies than oatmeal chocolate chip cookies since I didn’t have enough oatmeal though.
Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (one is missing...)
We didn't exactly follow all the instructions, but they turned out pretty tasty! After making (and eating) cookies, I started to work on cutting the plywood for DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) pads (see my previous blog post). One of the dorms has a table saw, so I went over there and got help from an upperclassman to cut the plywood.
Plywood laid out in the shape of a DDR mat (still some cutting to do)
I ended up with lots of wood chips and sawdust all over my shirt, but I shouldn't need to cut much more wood for the DDR mats. The arrow panels will be made out of acrylic (lucite) plastic, while the rest of the DDR mat pieces will be plywood. Unfortunately, I'm really bad at measuring wood on a table saw, so some of the square pieces aren't exactly square. It should still be fine though, and we can make some adjustments later. Each "square" wood panel is supposed to be 11"x11", and will be covered with sheet metal before being attached to the plywood base. The acrylic arrows will sit on top of high density weatherstripping foam, which will compress slightly when someone steps on the arrow. Now we just have to wait for the rest of the parts to arrive in the mail! (The local Home Depot, according to the inventory online, actually does not have enough of the corner brackets that we need in stock, so we have to order those online anyway.) For people interested in building DDR mats, this thread has been very useful for design ideas.
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.