One of the central components of a Techer's life is usually and most likelyclasses (reality check!)*.*Most commonly perhaps, this invokes images of lecture style teaching with problem sets, reading and lectures.However, one of the classes I am super excited to be taking this term is my microscopy lab class titled "*Bi/BE 227. Methods in Modern Microscopy*". It is definitely different from my lecture classes because I can get to be hands-on using million dollar equipment to gain experience in confocal microscopy. Microscopy is definitely a widely used and extremely useful technique in lab research, as the improvement and use of microscopes has been essential to the progress and development of science.
A unique aspect about Caltech, which continues to still amaze me, is that undergrads here have pretty much 24 hour access to labs and buildings 7 days a week (so bascially any time of any day). Thus, in this class, we only have to sign out the microsopes through an online calendar system and we can go in to do labs at any time and day we want. *Awesome!* This example of trust is definitely something Techers relish. Don't worry though-- before the course instructors let us play around with lasers and the 'scopes, we went through a one-on-one orientation of the confocal microscopes (Zeiss LSM410 and LSM 410 NLO if you're curious). These pieces of equipment definitely cost a pretty penny and are used by others for their research as well. Gosh, here at Caltech, we undergrads are treated like *real scientists*! The microscopes among many others across campus are managed by the Caltech Biological Imaging Center.
The first lab was focused on understanding the light pathway through a widefield microscope, viewing fluorscent samples and familiarizing ourselves with confocal laser scanning microscopy techniques.
The basic idea is that we can shine light on the sample to "excite" molecules that will emit light of different color. We use a laser as the excitation light to achieve very high intensities. The laser light reflects off a dichroic mirror, hitting two mirrors on motors so the mirrors can scan the laser across the sample. The dye in the sample fluoresces and emits light that passes through the dichroic and focused onto the pinhole and measured by a detector. The advantage of fluorescence for microscopy is that you can often attach fluorescent dye molecules to specific parts of your sample, so that only those parts are the ones seen in the microscope. You can also use more than one type of dye. By changing the excitation light, you can cause one type of dye to fluoresce, and then another, to distinguish two different parts of your sample. Sound complicated? :)
The instructors for the course guided us through many basic steps and were extremely helpful. They even let us call them on their office extension, come down to help us when we got stuck and also have office hours.
I was really fascinated by the concept that the confocal laser scanning microscopy was essentiallyscanning many thin sections through my sample which can allow us to build up a very clean three-dimensional image of the sample. Then, we can use really cool computer imaging software for further analysis like making a 3D stack of the images! For this week, we looked at mixed pollen grain samples:
Moreover, we played around with different parameters such as scan speeds of the laser and pinhole diameters. Also, we used air and oil objectives and we found that using an oil objective gave much better resolution and brightness!
There is an abundance of cool things going on here at Caltech where science happens -- even as undergrads! Anyways, I better get back to writing my lab report and preparing the oral presentation. Until next time!
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.