Summer so far…

It has only been a week of summer work and so far I have put in more hours in the lab than I would normally in a month during the school year.  I absolutely love it. Spending my time actually working and practicing science as been so much more fun, rewarding, and educational than some of my classes!  I am still taking one class over summer, but a lot of my efforts have been focused on my two research projects.  I am still working on the DNA nanotube project from last year.  Finally, after starting this project in February, I have finally got it to work!  I won’t go into details but the actual procedure is quite easy, but just one or two degrees off can mess up the whole thing. Turns out we were more like 10-15 degrees off when we were last working on the project.  My second project I am really excited about.  It is a huge project involving UMass, MIT, and UCSB.  We are trying to create a liposome that presents glycans which can bind to influenza virus and competitively inhibit the virus from infecting real cells.  This is super exciting.  Currently, I am figuring out at what ratio liposomes to virus we can accurately measure the size of the virus.  Besides that, I am taking an English class which is a refreshing change from all my science classes.  I am also attempting to read all three Lord of the Rings books which is turning out to be a bigger task than I had anticipated.

~Alex

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Posted in 2010-2011

Membrane Formation with Microfluidics

The school year is over! It’s amazing to think that I’m half way done with college; time passes by so quickly.

This summer I will continue my research with my new mentor with the UC LEADS program. Our project is currently on membrane formation. We are testing out two methods of membrane formation and combining them to create a membrane that suits our needs. We are in the process of making a mold for the channel that the membrane will form in; oil and aqueous solution will be injected into the channels to form layers that join together to forma bilayer membrane.

We have created the mold with the channels, but we still need to stick it on to glass plating and test the injecting of the fluids. We will be using various solutions to figure out if they will create a membrane and if they do, what properties the membrane will have with measurements. As for long term uses for the membrane, we are unsure. We’re taking things one step at a time, so this is what most of my summer will be dedicated to.

Hope everyone has a fabulous summer! 🙂

Posted in 2010-2011, EUREKA

Time for summer research

A whole weekend of summer vacation? Sweet!…. Seriously though, I already start work tomorrow? I feel like I just got out of my last final.

My summer research project is in a chemistry lab at Caltech. The project is to build a novel chemical reactor that can take samples of a solution in real-time to study time-dependent species of a reaction. To do this, we have constructed an acoustic levitation chamber to float micro-droplets of our sample. The floating drops are subjected to a pulsed electric field which ionizes them, creating tiny charged progeny droplets that a mass spectrometer can detect. Imagine the most futuristic piece of equipment for the kind of chemistry done in sci-fi movies and that’s what we are building.

Its gonna be a good summer.

Posted in 2010-2011, EUREKA

Summertime

Another school year has culminated, and the core of my upper division biochemistry major course have been completed.  Some of the classes I took were way more rigorous than I ever expected (Even though I had been warned about the terrors of the upper division biochemistry lab, I only thought people were over-the-top complaining.).  A few courses seemed to pass by at a snail’s pace, but now I have finished my junior year of college and it feels great.  I think that doing research helped me make it through the school-work because I was able to learn about science in an interactive way outside of studying textbooks.  Working in a lab and being able to figure out things for yourself allows more freedom for creativity than regular classwork.  I have always been the type of person that learns better by doing things on my own and designing my own way to go about the process.  My faculty adviser worked perfectly with me because he started me off on my own project under graduate supervision.  Although I worked closely with my graduate mentor at the beginning of sophomore year in order to learn the different laboratory techniques, eventually by the end of the school year I was working nearly autonomously.  I always discuss my results with my mentor and adviser, but I was devising my own ways to solve problems when an experiment didn’t work out.  I was especially happy when I figured out a mismatch dimer test to discover why I was unable to form a self-programmable RNA cube.  From my experiment I was able to see that some of the eight pieces that were intended to make a cubic molecule were mispairing and the cubic structure was unable to form.  I found that discovering things on my own in the laboratory was more satisfying than getting a good grade on a test and the excitement I got from biochemistry research has helped me make it through the tough classes.

Now that I am done with the majority of my biochem school work I am going to start taking classes in Evolution and Ecology in pursuit of a double major.  I am hoping that my future research will incorporate biochemistry and evolution….I will keep posting on my progress.  Happy summertime!

Posted in 2010-2011, EUREKA

Hectic Spring

Finally I am sitting down to write about my research work this quarter.  Unfortunately I was unexposed to the rays of sunshine in Santa Barbara this spring because all of my time was consumed by studying, research projects, and organizational work with WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering).  My studying mainly involved writing one or two 40 page lab reports a week for an upper division biophysical analytical lab course that included several long in class experiments followed by days of computer programming to fit experimental data with Mathematica and protein amino acids into electron density maps with Coot.  Although I have learned an immense amount from this lab course, including how to create cool three-dimensional pictures of enzymes, the class left me with little spare time to study for other classes.  My research work was also put on the back burner during some weeks when I was scrambling to finish lab reports in the midst of midterms.  However, I continued doing my right angle motif characterization and it will not take me too long to discuss the results I obtained from the first few weeks of the quarter.  I only radioactively labeled two molecules because I wanted to focus on getting good gel electrophoresis results for a few molecules before moving on to other molecules, rather than trying to balance multiple experiments at a time.  Thus the first molecules that I labeled were two different right angle motifs.  I was testing the stability of the right angle structures by their binding strength to a probe molecule.  The more strongly the molecule binds the probe, the less rigid and more floppy the right angle because binding to the probe involves the right angle straightening out (ie, the 90 degree bend changes to a 180 degree line).  Unfortunately, the gel electrophoresis results I obtained were not the best quality; although I could see the titration curve of a probe-right-angle molecule complex forming at high concentrations of the probe and right angle.  Anyways, I am most likely going to have to re-label my molecules with radioactive phosphate and re-do the experiments for better results, but it should be more easy to deal with this summer when I do not have to worry about the hardest class I have ever experienced anymore.  Even though there were several times I thought I was having a severe mental breakdown when a misplaced comma would destroy my entire Matematica program, and I often regretted the amount of time my biochemistry lab class was taking away from me doing research, I am glad that I had the opportunity to go to a school where the biochemistry lab covered such a great extent of material and experimental methods.  I can now say that after three quarters of upper division biochemistry lab I understand a wide range of experimental techniques, from mass spectrometry to x-ray crystallography, to NMR, and how each of the techniques can be applied specifically to biochemistry.  And on top of that I can say that I know how to navigate a number of computational databases for biochemical experimental analysis, and I can definitely handle Mathematica.  So I its a good thing I spent a ton of time studying all the experimental methods employed by biochemists because I never know if any of these techniques may or may not be important to me in my future research, and I have also been introduced to methodologies that I find pretty cool and have sparked my interest in working with them in the future.  That being said I am quite happy that I now have all of that knowledge and can leave the stress of the class behind me.

Posted in 2010-2011, EUREKA

Usual finals stress and ect.

I have had a very small amount of time to do research this week but, I think we found a temperature where we can try to get the results we want on Friday which, ironically, is the last day of this DNA nanotube nucleation growth project for a while.  Starting in late June I’ll be working on another project in the same lab, trying to trap influenza viruses on “decoy” cells.  It’s a massive project involving UCSB, MIT, and UMass and I am ridiculously excited!  Hopefully, if we aren’t successful on friday I’ll get a chance to revisit this project later.  If it doesn’t go the way we plan it’s going to bug me till I do get it to work.  Anyways, sophomore year has far exceeded freshman year.  I have been so luck to get to do the work that I do.  I can’t wait for next year when I will be taking genetics, biochemistry, pharmacology, and microbiology. Sounds like a lot, but it’s actually classes in my major (finally) that I really REALLY want to learn, and therefore I won’t mind putting in the work.  Have a good summer. =)

~Alex

Posted in 2010-2011

Time is Tricky

For one thing, I keep losing track of when I’m supposed to be posting! For another, dead week looked a lot longer on the other side of Wednesday. In 12 verrrry short hours I’ve gone from “Oh, I practically have a week until my first final!” to “OH NOOOO!”

It’s just the usual final stresses though, I’m actually surprisingly on track with my workload. My writing class is done – I ROCKED my presentation on Anaerobic Microbes (145/150), which was the oral half of the [11 page single spaced] paper I wrote based on the background to my lab work. Today I presented and submitted my proposal to Dave for the work I’ll be doing over summer and on the research cruise, so I’m done with that class too. I had some issues writing the research proposal – I’ve never done anything like it before so I got stuck a lot, but Blair has been great about walking me through the steps and helping me outline everything. It was scary presenting too, I mean, how intimidating is it to explain and justify a research project to someone who knows more than you ever will about the subject? I agonized for a week, but it paid off! Blair found me after and told me he was impressed with my grasp of the material – victory dance! Now, I just need to spend the next week and a half reading for my African History and Bio Diversity classes, preferably out in that one thing, I think it’s called sunshine. Maybe even find time to go into lab to do labwork instead of picking Blair’s brain for proposal work? I’m getting a little burned out but I have a plan to get me through this last week and a half.

On another note, there’s only a week and a half of school left! I cannot believe how fast the last two have flown. I’m so glad that I got involved with research early, and can look back at all these amazing experiences, instead of just trying to get started. Life changing, to say the least. The more I learn and the more I do with Dave’s lab, the more I consider sticking with it. Today, I was excited to explain to a friend why hand sanitizer only kills 99% percent of bacteria. It made me realize I not only like the research, I know more than I give myself credit for 😛

Here’s the summer plan, because this may be my last post! Saturday the 11th, I drive home to Lodi. My aunt and I will celebrate our birthday (June 28th) early because Tuesday the 14th… I fly to England! I’m spending 2 weeks in Manchester, London, Wales, Scotland?… wherever else Dan takes me, and 2 weeks in Rome with his family. YES I am excited. I haven’t seen Dan in 5 months (incidentally, it’s our 1 year anniversary) and I’ve never been out of the country before so I start bouncing off the walls whenever I think about it. Since I’m flying out of Sacramento to see my parents, instead of LAX, I have gloriously long 13 /20 hour flights going and returning. I will be catching up on my leisure reading, and appreciate any suggestions 😉 THEN as soon as I get back in Santa Barbara, research starts at full steam! Blair and I will be doing a bunch of sequencing on samples we already have, and getting ready like crazy for the research cruise. I also talked to Stephen Gosnell, who I worked for my freshman year, and I’ll be helping him on some early morning/weekend field work and lab stuff. I know Blair, lab work with him won’t be starting til 11 at the earliest ;P Then September 11th we’ll all be driving up together to SF to get to our SHIP – Atlantis. 2+ weeks of sampling and research on a ship, then months and months of labwork to figure out what all our samples mean!

So basically what I’m saying is that finals week and plane rides are the only relaxation I’ll be getting until Christmas. Just the way I like my life 😉 And so my dear readers, I think our time has come to an end. I hope that you’ve enjoyed the last year, and maybe even got some advice or insight. Or smiled. I’m happy with that too. I leave you with this: Time is tricky. It goes faster than you think. Always. So if it’s ever wandered into your head to do research or study abroad or learn to walk a tightrope then stop stalling and do it. You aren’t waiting to get more experience, or until you learn a skill, or until you have more time, you’re just losing time. Throw yourself in, make it up til you get it, and learn as you go. And then when you’re 80 and still running marathons, you’ll have epic stories. That’s my plan at least. Cheers 🙂

“You live and you learn. At any rate, you live.” Douglas Adams

Posted in 2010-2011, EUREKA
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
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