This past term, I’ve been working in the Mazmanian Lab, which studies the relationship between the brain and the bacteria in the gut. Previously, members of the lab have discovered links between the intestinal microbiota and disorders such as Parkinson’s and Autism. Before coming to Caltech, this was a topic I had never heard about, so it was really exciting to be able to work on such novel research.
My mentor Wei-Li taught me brain immunohistochemistry, which means selectively imaging for certain proteins in the brain by using antibodies.After a few weeks of observing, training, and helping out here and there, I got my own project! The goal of the project was to determine whether vasopressin expression levels are different in the brains of germ-free (GF) and normal mice. Germ-free mice are mice that grow up completely isolated from the outside world in sterile chambers. It’s been shown that GF mice tend to present with more autistic behaviors, are more anxious in social situations, and also are more prone to gastrointestinal diseases. Vasopressin and oxytocin are two chemicals closely related to social behavior, so we wanted to see if the proteins were differentially expressed in the two groups of mice.
Here’s an example of what a section looks like after staining and imaging:
My first image!
This one is a bit slanted and has a bit of damage (oops), but I got much better, I promise :) This particular image has the cell nuclei and DNA in the brain labelled. When working on my project, I stained for vasopressin in addition to these markers and took close-up images of certain brain regions for data analysis.It was really exciting to learn and go through all the steps of the process myself and then seeing the results.
At the end of the year, my postdoc treated us and our guests to Peking duck and other delicacies! It was my first time having Peking duck <3 I was also gifted with a small brush, the kind that I used to mount sections on slides, as a sign that my training had been successfully completed! I'm sad to be leaving lab for the summer, but I'm also looking forward to starting my internship at Facebook. On to a new and entirely different experience!
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
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.