Hello all, my name is Alex Iteen. I am a second year majoring in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (one major). Currently I work in Dr. Fygenson’s lab in the Physics department, but let’s start from the beginning. When I first came to UCSB I was very interested in ecology and environmental studies, but that all changed when two things happened. First, I had an internship at CCBER working with another undergraduate studying the effects of fire on local invasive plant species. I was very lucky to have the opportunity, but it made me realize one thing…I don’t like ecology. That sent me into a whirlwind of trying to figure out what exactly I like. Then the second thing happened. I was reading Michael Specter’s book “Denialism” and came across a chapter on synthetic biology. Bang! I knew exactly what I wanted to do. For those that don’t know, synthetic biology is fairly new field that aligns with bioengineering, in that, it’s aim is to build life that can perform some task. Currently this is limited to tasks that can be performed by bacteria (e.g. Producing insulin or storing information like a hard drive), but the possibilities are endless. You might be familiar with Craig Venter’s “synthetic cell”. Whether or not that really is the first synthetic cell or not is up for debate, but that is generally what synthetic biology is. So, why am I in a physics lab? Well, currently we are working on characterizing structural features of DNA nanotubes (e.g. Stiffness and length). To me this is bioengineering/synthetic biology. We are taking a biological molecule that took millions, if not billions, of years to be perfected and repurposing it. Isn’t that a great “hacking” approach to biology? However, the point I wanted to make with this is that undergrads, particularly here at UCSB, should be looking outside their department for research opportunities. I think the point of undergraduate research is to get wrist deep in the scientific method and process. Sure, it’s a plus when it’s in your department, but the point remains that whether your a geologist in a chemistry lab or a biologist in a physics lab, the scientific process is all the same and is there for you to really dig deep and learn about.
P.S. Here is the inspiration for this http://www.sciencecartoonsplus.com/gallery/academia/index.php#