Just got out of E/ME 105 which meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 2:30-4pm. Today we had some groups (including mine) present on their project goals and term objectives.
The project I am working on with my team for the term is redesigning a honey centrifuge for some beekeepers in Guatemala so that they can produce more amounts of honey and better quality honey. In addition to improving the prototype, we will also focus on creating a business plan/model that will help them sell their product to an expanded market.
When I went to Guatemala this past summer, I had initially begun work on a vertical farming project with my partner in Landivar, Sophy. After a few days of visiting workshops, we realized that we had been unsuccessful in gathering information sufficient enough to start a project and then agreed to go in a different direction. We found that there was not a need or use for a vertical farming solution and that we would be better off if we found another project. So that is how we ended up switching to this wonderful and exciting project–the HONEY CENTRIFUGE!
Now, being back in Pasadena, my group consists of Team Leader Angie (who is an art center student), Cole (a new transfer Caltech student), Sophy and Chepo (the Landivar students who we video conference/skype with) and myself. In addition to class, we meet once a week to discuss and go over assignments and make progress on our redesigning process.
This past weekend, we had a heavy-duty 3-hour brainstorming session. We first started out by throwing out all the ideas we had on how to improve the centrifuge and process, concepts we wanted to keep in mind and things we wanted to completely change. We ended up with about 70 or so post-its saying things like: hand-crank system, ergonomics, brake system, cone filter, etc etc. We stuck all of the post-its on the whiteboard and began grouping them together into related sections.
From that, we kept condensing the list and specifying the process name that would encompass all the points under the group. The main objective was to get all our ideas out, and then create specific points that we want our redesign to touch upon. From 70 random post-its we came up with 7 basic design principles: the functional features that needed to be added, simplicity/user friendly, materials, human factors, upkeep, safety and aesthetics.
As an engineer I have definitely done brainstorming sessions to better focus my design process. However, I have never had this kind of experience doing such an elaborate “process tree” as Angie calls it. This is what I love about working with other students from the Art Center and Landivar. I feel like I have learned so much about how they think as designers and industrial engineers. This activity took a long time but really put in perspective what we really want to accomplish with the centrifuge. Next our individual assignment over the next week is to come up with 20 sketches that illustrate different ideas on how to include the points from our brainstorm.
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.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.