From San Diego to Brooklyn: My Summer 2021 SURF Experience

From San Diego to Brooklyn: My Summer 2021 SURF Experience

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.

This image shows how we label vessels using the Arterys software. The measurement shown is the blood flow through this particular vessel, which is the aorta.

Over the past few months, I’ve been doing research remotely for Dr. Albert Hsiao’s lab at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Hsiao is a Caltech alum– and a current MD/PhD and practicing radiologist– who offers SURFs in his lab to current Caltech undergrads every summer. His lab focuses on using deep learning techniques to automate radiological analyses. My SURF project focused on analysis of a particular type of MRI images called 4D Flow, which provides both 3D anatomical information as well as blood flow velocity information (the fourth dimension). In the context of cardiology, this technology provides key diagnostic information for patients with congenital heart disease. Radiologists typically use 4D Flow MRI to generate images that they then use to manually perform blood flow measurements.

But why do something manually when a computer can just do it, right? That’s where I came in. My work involved using machine learning to develop a model that looks at a 4D Flow image, finds the blood vessel to make the measurement on, and spits out the desired blood flow data. The project went swimmingly, and I’m now in the process of writing a paper to (hopefully) be published within the next year. Even more importantly, this model and process is likely to become clinically relevant, helping radiologists and patients in real life settings.

All in all, I loved my SURF summer. Being able to do remote research from anywhere in the country allowed me to live in and explore NYC while still working for a lab in California. I developed real world machine learning experience and got to apply what I’ve learned in my Caltech coursework. I made connections with professionals at new institutions in my field of interest. And of course, the paper and the SURF stipend were the cherry on top. SURF has been an invaluable experience to me that facilitated huge professional and personal growth. So, big ups to Caltech for providing this opportunity.