Because of all the labs on campus, Caltech has its own supply of construction materials, almost like a mini-Home Depot. For MechE’s and people wanting to build things, the most important places to get building materials on campus are the Central Warehouse, Stockroom, and Carpenter shop. The Central Warehouse has metal and plastic, like sheet metal, acrylic plastic, and various kinds of rods, tubes, and blocks. The Stockroom has screws, bolts, washers, etc. The Carpenter shop has wood (plywood, MDF, 2x4s, etc.). The best part is that everything is right on campus, so it’s extremely convenient. Additionally, the Carpenter shop and Central Warehouse sell material by the square foot (or sometimes even square inch), so you don’t have to buy the entire 4’x8’ piece of plywood if you only want a few square feet.—-These places are especially convenient because the Caltech DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) Club has funding to build two arcade-style DDR pads this summer! Since going to Home Depot requires finding someone with a (large) car, which is difficult, we’ll probably end up buying materials from the stockroom, warehouse, and carpenter shop on campus and ordering the rest of the things we need online. (We might be able to get one trip to Home Depot with some upperclassmen that are planning to build a loft.)
In the last few years, I’ve built two simpler DDR mats, but the sheet metal contacts I used get dirty easily, which makes the arrows lose sensitivity. (This is a problem with many commercial DDR pads too.) One of the typical (and easiest) methods to make DDR arrow sensors is to have two sheets of sheet metal on top of each other, separated by a small gap. When you step on the arrow, the top piece of sheet metal will bend and touch the bottom piece, completing a circuit and registering an arrow press. Unfortunately, it’s easy for dirt and moisture to get in-between the sheet metal plates, which interferes with the arrow presses, meaning we have to clean the sheet metal plates periodically.
Bottom half of an arrow - the folded paper around the edges separates the bottom layer of sheet metal from the top
Simpler DDR mat I built during winter term
So this time, we'll be using a different sensor design. Unlike the commercial DDR mats or the DDR mat in the pictures above, we'll either be using DDR floor pressure sensors (the same kind they use in arcade machines) or thin steel mending plates that contact screws when you step on an arrow. The floor pressure sensors would last for a long time, and the steel mending plates and screws would be relatively easy to replace (and/or clean).
Since finding someone with a flatbed truck is difficult, we had some trouble figuring out how to transport plywood for the DDR mats from Home Depot. But, I recently learned that the Carpenter shop on campus has plywood, so some friends and I went over there and bought the plywood we needed. It's now sitting in the dorm lounge, and hopefully we'll be able to cut it on a table saw soon.
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.
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.