My research project has been a blast. Like I said before, my graduate student mentor, Brian, has already done most of the hard work of building an ion mobility spectrometer. I walked in just in time for the final touches and testing! Here’s a diagram I made of it…
The point of this machine is to make ions flow through a chamber against a current of gas before they move into the mass spectrometer, where you can measure their mass. You start out by generating ions at the ESI – electrospray ionization. What it basically does is repel either positive or negative ions so that they shoot off in a stream. I’ve used ESI before, but it’s usually hidden inside a machine. Here I could actually see a stream of ions flowing from a needle towards a brass cap that captured them and passed them along into the ion chamber. This is a picture taken with a special camera. The cap is no bigger than a couple of centimeters in diameter at the widest end.
One of the first problems we ran into was that the ions dissipated off the cap because it had such a big surface area. Our answer was to replace it with aluminum foil. This was one of my contributions to the machine. :)
It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as soon as we made the change, we were able to measure a huge increase in ion flow into the chamber. Brian was really excited because he’s been looking forward to this moment for a couple of years. We also needed to set up the mass spectrometer at the other end of the ion chamber. Again this is the kind of thing that chemists use all the time, but it’s usually inside a big box to which you insert your sample and come back an hour later to see the results on a computer. I was able to see the inner workings of it, such as this part, the octopole ion guide.
We had a lot of structural work to do. Like setting up a cooling system for the vacuum pumps and building frames to hold parts of the laser. For me this meant a return to my high school days of using power tools in the engineering team.
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.