Hello! My name is Huey-Ru, but I go by Debbie. :) I am a rising Junior, majoring in Computation and Neural Systems. It’s a fancy title for Neurobiology with some electrical enginneering, computer science, and applied math mixed in. This is my first time blogging for Caltech and my second Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at Caltech.
I am also a co-Director (with my friend Monisha) of a student club called Caltech InnoWorks. We aim to increase opportunties in science, math, and technology for local middle school students on the free or reduced lunch program. To this end, we run a free, completely hands-on, yearly summer camp. It’s a lot of prep work throughout the year, but also very rewarding. :) There’s a news article on us on the Caltech website: here.
The picture on the left was taken during last year’s camp. We had an activity where the campers constructed egg protecting capsules and dropped eggs at increasing heights. I think the max height (without cracking) was either 3 or 4 stories!
Throughout the summer, I will be covering food and desserts in the Pasadena area, our Caltech InnoWorks camp, and SURF - as well as anything I find exciting or fun. :P
Last year, I did a SURF on the Caltech iGEM team (International Genetically Engineered Machine).iGEM is a team-based competition (both regional and national levels) where
undergraduate students work together to design and construct their own
synthetic biosystem. iGEM teams get to pick their own projects every year. For our 2012 project, we worked on increasing ethanol yields from bacteria. It you are interested, you can take a look at our project details here: https://2012.igem.org/Team:Caltech.While green energy sources are cool, they aren’t exactly connected to my major and chief research interests.
So this year, I decided to do a SURF that is actually associated with my declared major. I am SURFing at the Meister lab, which focuses on various functions of neural circuits in the retina and olfactory bulb. Even though I’ve only been in lab for one week so far, I really love it! Professor Meister, my mentor Meliz, and just everyone is so friendly and nice. :) I feel that I have the support to ask questions and work on my project, even though I have the least background knowledge in the lab.
The Meister lab is a newish, modern styled facility. It’s super fancy looking inside. The following GIF was made from several snapshots (with my phone camera) of the entrance to the lab.
From outside, you can only see lights coming from a window, so it looks like someone’s having a disco party or something. For the longest time, (since it is Caltech) I thought that there were some optics-related-crazy project going on. Turns out just pretty lights. :P
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.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.