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

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! 🙂

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.

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!

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.