Today, I’m going to finish writing about my time at the Huntington, following up from last week’s post. I ended at the Chinese Garden, so I’ll pick up from there. After heading to the Chinese Garden, we made made a brief stop at the Australian Garden. This garden wasn’t that popular, and we were the only group of people visiting during our twenty minutes there. Nevertheless, we saw eucalyptus trees and a random assortment of plants that I’d never seen before. We tried to look for the plants’ names (in the other gardens, the names of plants were usually on small signs next to the plant), but this garden wasn’t labelled that well, unfortunately. So instead, here is a cool picture of a cool plant instead. I really like how the tree has a huge bulge at the bottom—it looks like it’s in a pot.
After the Australian Garden, we stopped by the Lily Ponds and Desert Garden. As someone who enjoys looking at succulents, it felt pretty awesome to see so many in one place. I really liked the barrel cacti—they look like little aliens sprouting thorns from the ground. I tried to take a picture with one of them, but they were so spike-y I had to do a hover hand. There was also a greenhouse for more vulnerable succulents (i.e. succulents that need precise temperature, sunlight, and water for optimal survival). Most of the succulents there were planted in small pots, with little placards describing their names. Some of my favorite ones included the Lithops—I own Lithops back at Tech, so I was really excited to see different kinds of Lithops in different colors / sizes. They are really interesting because they look like little butts and grow inside-out, as you can see in the picture. There was also one type that looked like intestines (Mammillaria elongata) and another one that looked like it had mold growing on top (I didn’t get the name for that one though).
Our last stops were the Huntington art galleries and library (which I hadn’t been to before). The European Art building used to be Henry and Arabella Huntington’s (the people who founded the Huntington Gardens, in case that wasn’t clear) home. Their home was absolutely huge and beautiful! There were interactive displays in each room detailing the paintings in that room, as well as what the room used to function as when Henry/Arabella lived there. The house was very white, with great pillars supporting the first story. There were two symmetric, winding staircases that led to the second floor, which contained more art. Although I did not know it at the time, some of their more famous paintings included The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough and Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence. Since my friends and I do not know too much about art, we spent a good amount of time making up funny “captions” for the paintings we saw, which I think is a form of art appreciation in its own right.
Our final destination was the Huntington Library, which contained multiple original manuscripts and cool exhibits on literature, exploration, astronomy, and medicine. They had the illuminated (meaning a manuscript contained silver / gold in its pages) Ellesmere Canterbury Tales manuscript on display. As I learned there, The Canterbury Tales was hand-copied by many scribes, so there are multiple surviving manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales. Nevertheless, the Ellesmere manuscript is considered one of the most special manuscripts because it is a) illuminated, b) highly “glossed” (lots of annotations by the scribe or Chaucer himself), and c) contains beautiful illustrations on the side and intricately-designed drop-caps. It was honestly pretty amazing that the Huntington had this item on display. In the literature / exploration section, there was also an early edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost and one of John James Audubon’s life-sized bird journals that contained detailed depictions of the birds he saw. As a pre-med, I was also fascinated by the “Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World—Medicine” exhibit. There, they had a copy of Gray’s Anatomy book, Pasteur’s manuscripts on the rabies vaccine, an exhibit detailing the history of child-bearing/giving birth, and a comprehensive collection of every Origin of Species edition ever printed. The Huntington Library seemed to contain a miscellaneous assortment of literary/historical/scientific artifacts, and it was very cool to wander around and marvel at these things that I’d only learned in class or read about before.
All in all, my experience at the Huntington was great! I enjoyed taking half a day off to stroll among some beautiful nature (albeit heavily trimmed and perfected by manpower) and marvel at some cool historical relics with my friends. It was a really relaxing day, and I felt like I became more cultured and closer to my friends through this experience. Thank you ASCIT for this free opportunity!
Vic-“I hope everyone that goes to the Huntington looks at the Ellesmere copy of the Canterbury Tales”-toria
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.