Undergraduate Admissions

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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

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

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


Monica Li