Our class got a lot of weird looks that day we demo-ed our bike projects for E88 Critical Making. We were led by our guest lecturersJen Hofer and Rob Ray, who are artists in the LA area.
One team sawed a bike in half for a “raft-cycle” by using the pedals and welded metal sheets to propel a raft suspended by large plastic bottles scavenged from recycling bins. This was the first time the raft had been put in water, and so everyone - including the group members - were amazed by the fact that it could suspenda person.
Another team made a “persistence of vision bike”, whose wheels made flower shapes when spun. It was daylight so it was hard to see the pattern, but that made it easier to see the engineering that powered the lights. The group of two used an Arduino hooked up to a breadboard and a strip of LEDs, which was turned on by insertinga loose wire into a breadboard pin.
The most money-making prototype we saw was the bike-lock. This team integrated a bike lock into the top rod of the bike frame to solve two problems: having to bring a lock/key around, and preventing theft since bikethieves will have to cut and break the bike in order to remove it from the bike rack. Because they used an old frame from Caltech’s Bike Lab without handle bars or a bike seat, we don’t know if you can actually ride this contraception. A mechanical engineer in the class conjectured that that bar probably undergoes compression forces as the bike goes over bumpy roads, so this bike will likely fall apart with such a compressible bar.
My group’s project was supposed to be a “joy/music” bike. It’s more of a “fear/noise” bike. The instruments on it are pots and pans - one can imagine how (un)harmonious those will sound. We put the thing together in Page lounge and courtyard, making use of the house machine saw to cut the PVC. It was also pretty scary riding the bike with metal parts hanging over my head, held up with PVC pipes and tape. The whole rack couldn’t hold itself up, and kept wobbling throwing the bike off balance, but it rides!
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
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.