Hello Again!

Hello Again!

It’s been a while since I last blogged, and it feels good to be back! First off, I’d like to congratulate the regular decision admitted students. If admissions accepts you, that means you can handle the workload. So don’t worry about it! I was intimidated by the academic rigor of this school before I came as well. Hopefully you all come to PFW; it’s a ton of fun!

The pass/fail career of mine ended with the term. Third term will be on grades though I’m not too worried. My favorite class this past term was my frosh physics lab. This class is a pretty much a low structure lab class where we make circuits. At the beginning of term we got a box of materials that we would use to complete all our experiments. We would meet once a week with a TA to go over the labs and turn in our notebook. It was nice because my lab partner and I would pick a time, usually over the weekend, once a week to do the lab. The first lab was primarily soldering a bunch of connections to make them better, and I had a hard time with this one. While my partner was soldering away, my solder would get onto the iron and it’s supposed to be one the wires. Then I’d finally get the solder onto the wires but it would be floating on top of them in a ball. Wow, great. Thankfully I got the hang of it and our labs got more complicated as well. At first our circuits were connected with banana clips, then with a circuit board. A lot of the plastic of the board was melted from me trying to solder, but at the end of the term, here is what it looks like!

And here’s the back.

Our final was a no collaboration lab. The task was to build a circuit that converted AC to DC power to light up an LED, plus capacitors and other things.

The other classes that I took include practical math, practical physics, molecular biology, chemistry, and chemistry lab. I’ve passed all my classes so far and am not too worried, but fingers crossed as the rest of my grades come in!

In addition to that P, I’m waiting for the approval of my SURF proposal. SURF, standing for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a relatively accessible research opportunity. About half of the frosh here SURF over their first summer. Basically the process is to find a mentor who will sponsor you and give you a project. That’s the hardest part. Then you write up a proposal which is usually 3-4 pages paper persuading the SURF committee to approve and fund your project.

There are a couple different ways to find a mentor. The SURF website has a page called Announcements of Opportunity, where people post research projects they want students for. Sometimes they have some requirements like programming background, and you just email the mentors of the projects that sound interesting. The way I found my SURF project was walking around talking to upper classmen and I was referred to Richard Murray’s lab. Professor Murray funds and oversees the project, but I’m working mostly with another member in the group. After emails and two interviews with researchers in the lab, I landed a project: Investigating physical methods of protecting linear DNA fragments in cell-free expression systems. So, the project is to make the process of creating protein from DNA have a higher yield. The synthetic system consists of the transcription and translational machinery extracted from E. coli cells. Unfortunately, in that mix there are also exonucleases that destroy linear DNA starting at the ends.

These exonucleases are good in a living cell because it rids the cell of foreign DNA and potential viruses, but in the system they destroy the DNA we have intentionally inserted into the system. Using two main methods, circularizing the DNA and attaching DNA origami to the ends, the efficiency of the system will be higher. I’d say that’s a watered down version of my proposal. I really like my mentor and am looking forward to working with her on this project.

I’d say that it is much easier to get involved with research at Caltech compared to other schools. After all, it is often referred to as a research institute. I don’t have any prior research experience, and was able to get a SURF project. Even more so, Richard Murray is what I’d consider a rockstar in science. His work was recently recognized by the NAE as well; the full article is here: https://www.caltech.edu/content/murray-and-ortiz-elected-national-academy-engineering.

The SURF awards will be announced early April, so I’m waiting for those to come out.

So that’s what I’ve been up to recently. Stay tuned for more about non-academic related campus life!