Thank you Dr. Arnold O. Beckman, for putting your faith in the young

May 9th, 2011. 3:02:27 PM

Disbelief: My state of mind as I clicked on the awaited email titled Beckman Scholars Program Award.

Same day. 3:02:28 PM

One yelp-jump-in-the-air-call-your-mother-butterflies-fluttering-under-your-skin kind of Joy.

It amazes me that one single opportunity in college can lead to another and another and before you realize where you have been your career is underway. Through the SIMS program as a pre-freshman I was introduced to research and met the educators at CNSI. Through the mentorship of these individuals at CNSI, the EUREKA! Internship became a reality. And finally, after two years of dedicated research and diligent study, these sought-after experiences defined me as a qualified applicant for a nationwide scholarship program.

I am so grateful for the privilege of attending an educational institution at which success is within my reach, but I am even more appreciative that UCSB does not do the reaching for me. What I value most about UCSB is that it is the kind of school where you must first earn the opportunities that you are given. There aren’t any handouts around here. I think I like that the most. – Aside from the ocean of course.

This past summer the Beckman Scholarship enabled me to stay at UCSB to work full time in the research lab. I was putting in forty-plus hours a week and began to really get a feeling for the life of a scientist. It was a such a unique opportunity as an undergrad to focus solely on research without the stress of classes.

So far the most rewarding advantage of the Beckman Scholarship has been the opportunity to travel to different research conferences. The foundation provided the funding to attend the 2011 Beckman Scholars and Beckman Young Investigators Symposium at UC Irvine in August and I will have the chance to present my own research at the symposium next year. This past fall was a busy quarter of poster editing and printing for the SACNAS Conference in October, CNSI’s 10 year review at UCLA, and the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The first three conference experiences were intimate affairs at which students were given ample time and opportunity to meet one another, talk with more experienced scientists, network with admissions directors at other universities, and become introduced to a handful of recent research endeavors. However, at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in D.C., the sheer hugeness of the event – 32,357 in attendance at a giant convention center at the heart of the nation’s capital – completely redefined a scientific conference for me. I was astonished by the breadth of topics covered by mini-symposiums, special lectures, and a open hall (equivalent to at least six UCSB Thunderdomes) absolutely full of posters. There were so many different talks going on simultaneously that it was difficult to chose which ones to attend! However, I found that my favorite approach was to go through the schedule and pick the talks that sounded the most interesting – regardless of their relevance to my project – and see what there was to learn.

I have to say that last quarter was absolutely the busiest I have ever been. Preparing for a presentation at a conference first of all takes a lot of thought and time, and then attending the conferences usually meant missing classes. Missing lectures and a few midterms made getting those top grades even more difficult, but I think that in the long run, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present your research to well-known scientists in your field far is more than worth the price of a few sleepless nights of catching up.

Posted in Beckman Scholars

The Start of a New Quarter

Winter break was such a blessing. After a hectic schedule, demanding courses, and research last quarter, it was a much needed escape from stress. It had been about a year and a half since I spent more than one consecutive night back home. Being able to see my family and spend time with them was so refreshing. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to be able to push past the stress of fall quarter, but winter break really allowed me to reset my brain and prepare for another round of new classes.

This next quarter should be a much needed improvement from last quarter. Genetics appears to be about the same intensity from genetics last quarter, but biochem actually is much more interesting than last quarter. Although I really enjoyed the material from the first class in the year-long series, I’d be stretching the truth if I said it was an easy class.

Even more so than my class schedule, I am very excited for my research this quarter. My past experiments seem to be narrowing in on really important components of ADPKD. Without being too specific, my graduate student mentor and I have been sorting through a number of different experimental results as well as data from other published papers to identify key proteins and transcription factors in the disease. Surprisingly, classes that I have taken in which I studied a different aspect of biology than what is specifically studied inWeimbs lab continue to show up in ADPKD. Concepts I have learned in biochemistry, genetics, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and developmental neurobiology seem to keep coming up in my research. I really enjoy how all different areas of my classroom learning are coming together to support my very specific research. I feel even more blessed to have an opportunity to conduct research because I believe that it is a part of an undergraduate experience that is lacking for most undergrads. Sometimes classroom learning seems confusing or even pointless. For example, concepts such as enzyme kinetics in biochemistry seem abstract unless they are practically applied. I believe that research is the practical aplication of those concepts. It unites and makes sense of all the confusing concepts that undergrads just accept as something the must memorize to receive a good grade. Without research experience, I feel that undergrads may get frustrated or loose sight of the big picture. I can’t wait to continue applying my new knowledge from this quarter to my research.

Posted in EUREKA

Optical Properties of Cephalopod Skin

As my first post on this blog, I want to give some background into what I’m researching here at UCSB. The title of my project is a bit of a mouthful: “Optical Properties of Cephalopod Skin.” But what is a cephalopod, and why are its skin’s interactions with light so interesting? What applications could research into this area yield?

Cephalopods are the family of animals that include octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid; a group of sea animals with tentacles that tastes good in sushi and may be able to predict the outcome of soccer matches, to common knowledge. But one of the most interesting yet oft-forgotten traits of cephalopods is their unique capacity for disguise. Forget about chameleons! Cephalopods change their coloration and pattern within a few seconds to blend into any oceanic backdrop with an ease and efficiency that is unmatched. How well can they do it? Check out this linked video, taken by Roger Hanlon at MBL, which demonstrates their uncanny skill:

So how do they do it? Cephalopods utilize a variety of techniques to blend in with their environments, but the one that my research is focused on is the chromatophore system. Chromatophores are sacs filled with pigment which are controlled muscularly; the muscles connected to the sac can contract to pull the sac taut into a sheet that is over an order of magnitude in size larger and thus gives the appearance of coloration. Through a mere twitch of a few muscles, a cephalopod can go from translucent to fully-colored in seconds. The beauty of this system lies in its simplicity: a noncomplex mechanically-controlled set of pigment sacs provides some of the most versatile and adept camouflage in nature. Studying this rapid, simple yet effective biological mechanism could inspire a variety of human-made adaptive optical technologies: anything from display screens to dynamic camouflage could be devised using a cephalopod model.

The question that my research is trying to address is, do these chromatophores possess unique or intriguing optical properties; that is, do they react to light in interesting and unusual ways that might reveal more about how the system as a whole is so effective? Essentially, we are addressing a biological issue from a physics-oriented point of view, treating the chromatophores and skin as a material to characterize. By applying optical techniques to an open-ended biological question, we may discover new and exciting information that may be used to inspire astounding technological advances.

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Posted in EUREKA

Two more weeks to go :)

Hi, everyone! We got only two more weeks to finish the quarter :)  It has been a pretty intense one. I have been spending a lot of time on my grad school applications and my ChE classes keep me pretty busy too. I worked full time in the lab over the summer. We got a lot done in our project involving polymers with very low band-gap based on strong donor and strong acceptor.

Next quarter will be fun to work in the lab, since I will be done with the grad school applications and will have a few classes left. My work in the lab involves  synthesis and characterization of compounds that can be used in organic solar cells. For those who enjoy organic chemistry, this is a really cool area of studies. Besides, organic photovoltaics have the potential to become an inexpensive and clean source of energy.

Posted in UC LEADS

One Year Later

So it’s been a year since I started working on Polycystic Kidney Disease in Weimbs lab . When I first started, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never performed biological research techniques such as mutagenic PCR, ChIP, luciferase, western blotting, or cell culture. To be honest, I could barely find my way around the lab, and I had to constantly ask where we kept everything. When my graduate student mentor attempted to explain the current research being done in the lab, I really didn’t understand a lot of it. I can’t believe that was only a year ago.

Now I conduct experiments by myself, and am in constant conversation with my graduate student mentor in order to decide what experiment we should do next. It is so rewarding to actually discuss cell biology on that level. Although it has been a lot of hard work, I feel like I have learned so much more from my research lab than I have learned from my textbook based classes. When I come across processes that I physically perform in my lab, the concepts taught in class make more sense and I am able to ask questions that I would never ask if I didn’t work in a lab.

I have to thank my graduate student mentor and Dr. Weimbs for being patient with me, and giving me room to grow. My graduate student mentor explained processes to me, and then released my to do experiments pretty much on my own without too much prior instruction. This style of teaching really helped me to learn by making mistakes. Although I try my best to do everything correctly, the few mistakes that I do make actually are very beneficial. It helps me understand why what I did was wrong. As long as I correct my technique, I usually learn how not to make the same mistake twice.

This quarter specifically has been going really well, and I am now able to go into lab, even when my graduate student mentor is not there, and perform experiments as necessary. I feel like I am now really part of the lab, and it feels awesome. This past year has been amazing, and I can only hope that the next year is equally as rewarding.

 

Posted in EUREKA

A Very Busy Quarter

I am super busy this quarter.  Along with my continuing research into increasing the length of DNA nanotubes, I am taking four biology classes and doing some volunteer work with a local medical organization.  As far as my research is going I have an awesome internship with RISE and will presenting some of my data at the SCCUR conference in November.  I am super excited for the latter.  I have a couple of successful ways of increasing the average length of the nanotubes but nothing that gets me to the 100 micron range that I want.  Currently, I am working on a temperature cycling method (slightly hard to explain) and a neat way to increase the frequency of end-to-end joining.  Like all research things are moving slowly but I will eventually get there. Hopefully.

 

~Alex

Posted in Uncategorized

Welcome to the 2011-2012 School Year!

The fall quarter at UC Santa Barbara is off to a running start and we will have a new crop of Undergraduate Research bloggers starting in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, you can get information about getting involved with undergraduate research at the UCSB Undergraduate Research page or read through last year’s archives to learn more about the day-to-day research experience.

Posted in General Information
Student Contributors
Alex Iteen is a second year student majoring in Biology. He is interested in bioengineering and synthetic biology. He is currently working in Dr. Fygenson's lab on DNA nanotubes.
See all his posts

David Wallace is a third year student majoring in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology. He is currently working in Professor Weimbs's lab studying the pathogenic mechanisms of Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease (ADPKD).
See all his posts

Eneida Chesnut is a senior majoring in chemical engineering. She transferred from SBCC, where she studied chemistry. She works with organic materials for solar cells and is very interested in renewable energy research.
See all her posts

Erzsebet is a second year chemical engineering major. She is interested in biotechnology and biophysics, and is working in Professor David Awschalom's lab investigating how cephalopod skin responds to different types of stimulation by light.
See all her posts

Madison Cornwell is a second year student majoring in Biochemistry and Spanish. She is a EUREKA intern through the California NanoSystems Institute and the Resident Assistant of the Women in Science and Technology House in Manzanita Village. She will be working closely with Dr. Kosik and graduate student Israel Hernandez for the remainder of her time at UCSB.
See all her posts
Participate
Are you interested in contributing to the UCSB Undergraduate Research blog? Email Kelly Pillsbury for more information.

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