A Day at the Lab

What might an undergraduate intern do on a day-to-day basis? Well, it certainly differs by field, and differs still by individual lab and project–so here’s a look at what I do as a mechanical engineer working in Sumita Pennathur’s lab separating particles using microfluidics.

Some activities that I find myself doing often are:

  • making solutions
  • use syringe pumps
  • taking long exposure images
  • analyzing images with Matlab

Making a Solution (How to Use an Eppendorf Pipette)

How to Use an Eppendorf pipette

  1. Set the pipette to the correct volume, attach pipette tip.
  2. Depress the top button to about halfway, insert pipette into substance.
  3. Release the button and take it out of substance.
  4. Insert pipette into desired location and depress the button all the way down.
  5. Discard the pipette tip in a waste bin and shake up your solution.

How to Use Syringe Pumps


  1. Insert infuse syringe and refill syringe
  2. Set diameter of syringe (26.7 mm)
  3. Set infuse rate (mL/hr)
  4. Set refill rate (mL/hr)
  5. Press run

Taking Long Exposure Images (How to Use Andor Solis)


  1. Using bright field, position your subject in the desired location relative to the camera
  2. Make sure that the camera is focused
  3. In the “Setup Acquisition” menu “Setup Camera” tab, change exposure time and number of accumulations (Example: In the “Setup Acquisition” menu “Auto-Save” tab set your file stem and save location
  4. Click “Video” to see your subject in real time
  5. Click “Take Signal” to capture the image

Analyzing Images with Matlab

  1. Have your images organized and labeled well
  2. Create code to run through each image (for loops)
  3. Create code to extract the data you want (in my case, equilibrium distances)
  4. Plot your data10and15logReB
  5. Understand that you will experience errorsErrors


This has been a journey through a day in my lab. Note that labs differ greatly. Although you probably won’t use syringe pumps or Andor Solis, it’s likely that at some point in your lab career you will make solutions and do some form of programming to analyze your data. Regardless, you will learn a lot of new skills in lab that you might not learn in class.

A New Research Experience as a Freshman Mechanical Engineer

I have been asked how I got into research so early in my undergraduate career, so I’ll break it down.

Summer 2015: The Summer Institute of Mathematics and Science

The summer before my Freshman year I got an email inviting me to apply to the Summer Institute of Mathematics and science (SIMS). I didn’t know it when I applied, but SIMS was a two week intensive program that introduced research and introductory classes in a condensed and fast-paced way. These short few weeks was my first research experience. Working with Ryan Need and other SIMS students, I melted together iron and germanium to make crystals that have a square shape in their lattice structure. These exhibit a phenomenon called skirmions, which may one day lead to a more efficient way of storing data. What does any of that mean and how do you communicate it in a way that other people can understand? Welcome to research.

Fall 2016: Finding Another Opportunity for Research

I knew after SIMS that I wanted to continue down the research path, but I wasn’t sure what to do next. I went to a couple of seminars that had been advertised, and learned a bit about what research others were doing. I found a couple of projects that I was interested in and emailed the professors. Unfortunately I did not have the experience that they were looking for (understandably). After some other attempts, I emailed Sumita Pennathur essentially asking if I could sit in a corner of lab to observe. She kindly replied that I could attend the weekly group meetings. Yay, I got an in! And after the first few minutes of the first meeting I attended, where one of the lab members presented on their research, I realized that I knew very little as a freshman. All the more reason to pay attention and learn what I could.

Winter 2015-Summer 2016: Gorman Scholar Internship

In winter quarter, the SIMS alumni were recommended to apply to the EUREKA! program, which rewards a stipend to students during 8 weeks of research–in a lab of your choice–over the summer. What a great deal! I applied and got in, actually as a Gorman Scholar, which is a similar program that differs a little when it comes to funding. I emailed my acceptance to Sumita and she was happy to make me an offical part of the lab. So here I am now, a Gorman Scholar Intern, working in Sumita Pennathur’s lab, with Mike Garcia as my graduate student mentor.

The morale of the story is keep trying. Keep emailing professors and graduate students and go to showcases and seminars. Put yourself out there and grow out of your comfort zone. Keep persevering and you’ll make it.