One of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most at The University of Melbourne is working on a brand new research project. The past few years I worked in the Agapie Group at Caltech in inorganic chemistry. I absolutely loved my project and learned more than I could have imagined. My hope was that while I am here I can jump into an entirely different kind of chemistry. And once again, I got exactly what I wished for. After reading 26 pages worth of project descriptions for the Research Project class I’m enrolled in, I picked my top four labs and submitted all my paperwork. I was assigned to work under Evan Bieske, whose research mainly focuses on using laser spectroscopy to investigate the properties of charged molecules, complexes, clusters, and nanoparticles in the gas phase. That means there’s lots of lasers in his lab, and no bubbling reactions or beakers or Erlenmeyer flasks full of the colorful and dangerous chemicals people usually associate with chemistry. Coming straight out that kind of lab, this was a really big and definitely exciting change. Here I am in my new lab next to the laser I’ll be working with.
My project is on Laser Induced Mobility Modification (LIMM) – a new form of ion spectroscopy. Let me break it down a bit. There’s something called Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS). The idea is that if you have an ion, it will drift across a voltage gradient (something negative flows toward a more positive area, or vice versa), so you have this channel down through ions are flowing. On top of that, you have a gas flowing in the direction opposite the ion flow. The gas will slow down the ions as it drifts through the path (like swimming against a current). How much the ions slow down depends on their size and shape (consider when jumping out of a plane, you’re gonna move much slower once your parachute opens) and also their electronic properties (my fellow chemists will kindly remember potential energy curves from Ch 21). You can compare the drift times of different ions, that is, the time it takes for the ions to get from one end of the voltage gradient to the other, and consider what that says about their shape.
Good? Okay. So that’s all been done before. And it’s a very well studied and understood technique. What we want to do is add a new twist to it by throwing a laser into the mix. You see, there’s certain kinds of molecules that photoisomerize, that is they change shape when you shine a certain light on them. Some good examples of these are the photoreceptor proteins in your eyes. You’ll probably know them as rods and cones. When these are hit by light, they absorb the energy and change shape. The new idea is that as these ions are moving down the drift channel, we can shine a laser on them, causing them to change shape, and that will cause them speed them up or down so we can measure their new drift time. Is that cool or what?
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.