For those of you who attended Pre-frosh Weekend a couple days ago, congrats! It’s an exciting time for you, and I’m sure you’re choosing between many amazing universities around the country.
For those of you who missed it, last Thursday, as part of pre-frosh weekend activities, the SURF office held an short information session for incoming pre-frosh.
The info session featured four current Caltech undergrads who have done research on campus (or abroad!), so students could get a feel for the kind of stuff we do here. Here are two of the panel members in case you didn’t catch the SURF panel:
How did you go about finding a SURF?
Freshman year, I just sent out three emails to different profs at the Tectonic Observatory at Caltech, the first one replying within 5 minutes at 2 am (turns out students AND profs have unconventional sleeping schedules at tech). My PI met with me and asked me what I was interested in. He then had his postdocs propose projects for me to choose from. Sophomore year, after talking to Maria Spiropulu about my interests, she agreed to take me and four other undergraduates to CERN.
**What specific research did you do during your SURFs? **
My first SURF
was in mathematical geophysics where I derived elastostatic solutions
for realistic stress on shear cracks, basically deriving new Green’s
functions that were more accurate for modeling the stress surrounding
any fault. It was really fun since I was the only undergraduate in the
lab and everyone was paying attention to me. I also went to present at
the Southern California Earthquake Conference, where I was the only
undergraduate presenting, and I continued work throughout the year in
the same lab to finish up a paper.
My sophomore year I
worked with the CMS experiment and my project was measuring the energy
resolution for the electromagnetic calorimeter, ECAL, of the detector
which relates directly to the mass resolution of the Higgs Boson in its
decay into two photons. I really enjoyed the summer and decided to go
into Particle Physics. I am still working with the group and am working
on preparing a senior thesis with the HEP group as well as returning to
CERN this summer to work on a new project in multi-model inferencing
with applications to High Energy Particle Physics. Caltech students were the
youngest people there, since CERN usually only takes on third years and older. I arrived the week the
Higgs Boson discovery was announced and was interviewed by an Italian
news station, even though I had no clue what was going on. Working at
CERN was pretty intense but tons of fun being in an international
environment and working in a highly publicized field with the Higgs
Anything you wish you’d known about SURF as a frosh?
I wish I had known before the application
process that there are in fact research positions in any field for
freshmen, including physics, and that I should have been more
comfortable just asking within the department.
How did you go about finding a SURF?
I knew I wanted to work in Professor Harry Gray’s lab so I contacted him via email, discussed potential projects in person, and picked a project that interested me! When I was new in lab as a sophomore, the opportunity to
workcloselywith a postdoc mentor helped me learn my way around the lab
very quickly. Even my PI, Professor Gray, was accessible; it was
encouraging to me that he cared so much about how my (and other
undergraduates) projects were progressing. As a third term junior, I am much more independent and integrated into the lab.
What does your research entail?
I work with a postdoc on synthesizing and characterizing cobalt
complexes to catalyze the reaction that produces hydrogen gas. We are
interested in this reaction and the capabilities of these metal
catalysts because hydrogen is a clean, renewable fuel source.
What have you learned through SURF?
I gained a lot of valuable experience in synthesis, since I had to
spend a significant amount of time making the triphosphorus ligands for
our complexes. I also
learned about different characterization methods like electrochemistry,
mass spectrometry, and x-ray crystallography.
What opportunities has SURF provided for you?
I am very grateful to SURF for getting me started in Harry’s group. The best part about SURFing
most definitely has been all of the people I had theopportunityto get
to know and the impact it has had on me personally for my future.
Through SURF arose many other opportunities that
carried on into the year. I was able to continue with my research (and
am getting ready to publish a paper!) and I also found a joined a
chemistry outreach program
run by members of Harry’s group. These were opportunities I would have
never had without the SURF I had that summer.
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.