The past week was the middle school Science Fair at The Gooden School in Sierra Madre. A good friend of mine, senior physics student Valère Lambert (see his awesome blogs here!) asked me if I’d be willing to help out the next Tuesday. I didn’t have class that morning, so I said, sure! We got up real early (7 am, can you believe it?!?!) and headed out. The tri-fold boards of all three grades were lined up on tables in the gymnasium. Val with his coffee and I with my tea, we walked around as we waited for the first period to begin. Some experiments looked very impressive for middle schoolers! First up was sixth grade. Val and I got our clipboards with grading sheets and pens. The procedure was as follows. Each student would give his or her presentation in front of the entire class, their teacher, and us (the judges). All of the sixth grade projects were in the earth sciences, seventh grade projects were in the biological or chemical sciences, and eighth grade projects were in the physical sciences. Several of the students’ projects were very impressive considering their age!
I had such a good time on Tuesday that I decided to come back again on Wednesday so that I could see allof the students’ projects!!
Here’s a sampling of some very cool projects from the seventh and eight grades. Enjoy!
“The Effect of Sugar Substitutes on the Growth of Yeast” (7th grade) - A really good experiment, proving that sugar substitutes like while aspartame and saccharine might taste like real sucrose, they don’t have the same chemical / biological effect in nature.
“Milk Rock” (7th grade) - Who knew you could form solids out of milk and vinegar when you put it in the microwave? Magic, you say? Not so!
“The Chemistry of Clean” (7th grade) - By varying the degree of purification in their soap-making process, these students were able to change the pH of their final soap bar products, proving how important standardization is for soap makers to make non-toxic products!
“Does Electromagnetic Radiation Have a Harmful Effect on the Growth of Green Lentil Plants?” (8th grade) - Super impressive!! Not only was this experiment extremely detailed, with multiple studies, testing for multiple variables, and extensive controls within a single project, it was beautifully presented. This student, like many others, gave an incredibly professional presentation and comfortably handled cross-examination. Kudos to her!
“Which Antacid Works Best For Your Heartburn?” (8th grade) - An experiment with immediate individual implications, this student varied his testing by using red cabbage instead of pH strips or chemical indicator as a detector of acidity/basicity.
“Does Trajectory Really Matter?” (8th grade) - Ahh, memories of Physics 1a (Newtonian Kinematics) come rushing back! This was a classic physics experiment studying angle and distance.
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.
This summer, from the confines of my Brooklyn apartment, you could find me typing away on a tiny 13-inch laptop screen. At times I was looking for answers on countless Stack Exchange pages, editing a Jupyter notebook, or making blood flow measurements on a software called Arterys. This was my 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURF) experience.