For E88 Critical Making, we embarked on the balloon mapping unit. Balloon mapping is a grassroots technique for gathering aerial photographs. Examples of uses might be for mapping refugee camps which are often grayed out of maps for the general public, or for gathering images documenting the extent of oil spills. We had a guest lecturer who is working closely with Public Lab, a DIY citizen science collaboration, with balloon mapping.
The class was split into small teams to different segments of the LA river to do our own aerial photography. We picked up the helium tanks from one of the campus buildings, checked out the balloon kit and GoPro from the library and were ready to go. Our team was in charge of the southern Elysian valley area. To be frank, this part of the LA river isn’t exactly picturesque; it’s a concrete channel flowing with murky water. We also couldn’t get close to water since it was sandwiched by railroads and industrial areas, and the trail next to it looked completely lined with trees, which we knew were going to be quite the menace to our poor balloon.
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.