When I mentioned in my previous post that for the underclassmen stackees, Ditch Day began at 7:45 a.m. on May 26, 2017, I left out the other half of the story: that for the senior stackers, Ditch Day began a long time ago. Technically, my friend Anjali and I knew we wanted to do an original theme sometime in our junior year. By the beginning of winter break, we had assembled our team, and by the beginning of third term this year, preparations were already on their way.
A quick refresher of the story/activities covered in the last post which will make it less confusing as I talk about the logistics that went behind making each of them:
1st hour: puzzles in Venerable involving breaking into seniors’ rooms, assemble into a prophecy at the end (8-9 a.m.)
Jousting: balloon sword making and tournament to prove valor (9:05-9:40 a.m.)
Trolls under the bridge: Zoombini-style math game of only being allowed to cross one of two bridges if your outfit fell into a specific category (9:45-10:05 a.m.)
Town market murder mystery: find the guilty merchant who killed the princess and execute them for justice (10:10-10:55 a.m.)
Magical art project: something to protect against future instabilities of time-traveling portals and dragons (11-11:50 a.m.)
Portal: build a life-size and stable-standing portal to time travel through (11:55 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.)
Town market 2: choose the right person (12:20-12:25 p.m.)
Finale: fight a dragon (12:30-1 p.m.)
The first station I had conceived was the portal section. My initial idea had been to have the stackees build a portal out of Lego-shaped frozen blocks of jello. It would be tremendously pretty, not to mention add the exciting component of time as the ice slowly melted into the equation. For this express purpose I bought 5 boxes of jello mix from Vons and ordered some Lego molds online. When the molds arrived, I tested them using different juices from open kitchen:
The juice ice cubes turned out in beautiful colors, but there were several problems. First, ice molds can only shape one side of the Lego, but in order to build anything useful with a Lego you need both the indentations and the protrusions. I had Mugdha attempt to make a clay mold of the models so I could use them as a stamp to make double-sided Legos; the clay failed dramatically to hold the shape without folding in on itself or having air bubbles. Another issue was that I hadn’t accounted for the non-zero thickness of the silicon mold itself, which would make the indented holes of the Legos of larger diameter than the protrusions–a poor fit that would definitely not hold up in the air. Yet another problem I ran into was the breaking off of the little ice protrusions. Plain water ice cubes were fine; sugared juice or jello Lego ice cubes would not stay in one piece. Eventually, when it became a pain in the rear to heat up exactly the right amount of water twice a day to make the jello ice, I gave up on the idea of this happening. We would find another material for the arch.
Eric was put in charge of figuring out how to make balloon swords, and ordering the balloon and pump. Mugdha and Bolton wrote the murder mystery, with memorable characters such as Bob the grapefruit farmer; a love triangle between the farmer’s daughter, a Jewish bard, and a Christian knight; Heloise, the vampire-hunting nun; Turpin the crusading archbishop who wins extra points for persuading the knight to join his army (borrowed straight from the Medieval Romance class Bolton and I were in); Og the village idiot; and Arthur the stable boy. Meanwhile, Anjali worked on various puzzles for the 1st hour and the costumes–felt hats and fur belts, which careful variations in color for the Troll game.
It is a Caltech tradition for each stack to also have a themed T-shirt. Lucky for us, Caltech has a silk-screening room that we can use. Mugdha was in charge of ordering the shirts and making the screens after I drew the designs for the front and back of the shirt.
Here’s the front of the shirt:
Anjali, Mugdha, Eric (and I) screening the shirts:
How they turned out!
Next up: painting set pieces for the murder mystery and painting the wallboard mural for the stack.
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.