Student Spotlight: Shane Stringfellow

Shane Stringfellow was admitted to UCSB as a Psychology major, but after taking a Feminist Studies course, found a passion for LGBTQ studies. Now, as a double major in Psychology and Feminist Studies, Shane performs research and work that he thoroughly enjoys. “Next thing I know, it’s my senior year and I’m applying for an URCA grant and conducting my own research,” Shane said.

With the help of an URCA grant and his grad student mentor Carly Thomsen, Shane undertook a research project on redefining the concept masculinity. “The best part about my research was being able to conduct all of the interviews that I did…it really allowed me to centralize the voices of my participants as people who are actively producing knowledge in their everyday lives.”

By pursuing his interests in psychology and LGBTQ Shane honed valuable researcher skills he’ll take with him to graduate school, including the logistics of researching, drafting proposals for grants, navigating the human subjects process, and so much more. “I’ve learned how engaging and fun conducting interviews can be, but also how draining the subsequent transcribing process can be as well,” he explained. “I’ve had to navigate my own mental health as a researcher with a topic that is very personal to myself and I’ve learned from my mentor how to show up on days to work/write even when I feel like I can’t.”

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Summer in the Bay

This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to do research in a condensed matter physics lab at UC Berkeley. To write a comprehensive blog post of my experience there would be too long, I could almost write a book. So I’ve decided to keep this post somewhat short and sweet by telling my story through pictures! You know what they say – a picture’s worth 1,000 words… well here’s 14,000!

UC Berkeley: Day 1

Arriving on campus was somewhat overwhelming! I didn’t know the details of my lab project, and I had yet to meet my PI I’d be working for, Dr. Alex Zettl. Luckily I got to sit down and talk with him, as well as my graduate student mentor (Gabe), later in the week.

Learning how to use the Atomic Force Microscope

A great deal of my project required imaging single molecules of DNA with an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). I spent a good amount of time in lab learning to use the AFM. Mastering the AFM is tricky, but once I got it down I had an amazing tool at my fingertips for taking images of very small molecules – down to nanometers!

 

Taking a break from lab: My first baseball game!

My summer wasn’t spent working all the time! I managed to have some fun, too. My internship (UC LEADS/UC Berkeley’s SROP) took all the interns to a San Francisco Giants game at AT&T park in San Francisco. Here I am at the game with my friend Julianne, an environmental engineering major and fellow UC LEADS intern from UCR. This was my first baseball game. The Giants played the St. Louis Cardinals that night and won. They later went on to win the 2014 World Series… Go Giants!

 

Straightening DNA

The overall goal of my research project is to image DNA using a polarization light microscopy technique. In order to do this, the DNA must first be straightened (DNA in its natural state is very tightly coiled and tangled). One way to straighten DNA is by spinning a droplet of it very quickly – unwinding it from its tangled state. When this didn’t work, my mentor and I came up with a different way to straighten the DNA – by dragging a droplet of it with a pipette tip (shown above)!

Happy 4th of July!

I was so excited to spend the 4th of July in San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, 4th of July is pretty cool in Santa Barbara, but being in The City was something else – the fireworks glowed through the classic mist and fog of the bay. It was magical! This is a picture of the fireworks over Fisherman’s Wharf.

Taking that data

Now that we had a new way to straighten the DNA, it was a matter of getting a good image of the DNA to confirm that we indeed had straightened DNA. Here I am one evening in the basement of Birge Hall (one of 3 physics buildings at UCB), taking images with the AFM.

 

Biking over Golden Gate Bridge

One of the coolest experiences I had in the bay was acting like a complete tourist and biking over Golden Gate Bridge. I was surprised at how windy it was on the bridge! You can probably tell by the video (and the wind makes biking 10x more difficult!). I went with a group of interns from my research program. We posed for a picture after successfully making it across the bridge.

Success! Straightened DNA

After many weeks of unclear images… I finally got a nice image of straightened DNA. In the picture above, you can see three strands of DNA. This was the first of many AFM images of straightened DNA that I took! We later went on to try optically imaging the DNA.

Hiking at Muir Woods

Before I knew it, my time in the bay was almost over. For my last weekend there, my friend and I went Hiking at Muir Woods. It was absolutely beautiful there. Standing under the very tall, majestic Redwood Trees was breathtaking. After many hours of hiking, we made it to the top! Here I am overlooking Marin County (and part of San Francisco). Check out the multitude of fluffy clouds behind/below me! That view at the top was exhilarating.

One Huge Birthday Party!

Who says physicists don’t like to have a little fun and party? While I was in Berkeley, the entire physics department celebrated the 99th birthday of Charles Townes, the man who invented the laser! The picture above is the huge “party” the department put on for Dr. Townes… complete with cake and balloons!

The Final Presentation

My final presentation was the culmination of my research work over the past 8 weeks. I was excited to share my work with the other interns, grad students, faculty, and friends!

Last but not Least, My Mentor: Gabe Dunn

My summer research experience at UC Berkeley would have been very different if it were not for my graduate student mentor, Gabe. He was always willing to answer any questions I had – about research, applying to grad school, grad school experiences, and much more. I learned so much from him – I am very lucky to have had such a great, kind, and helpful mentor. Here we are on the last day of my internship. But the story doesn’t end here… there was still more research to do and I actually went back to UCB in September to continue working on my project. But alas, that story is for another blog post!

 

Overall the experience I had at UC Berkeley this summer was fantastic – I learned invaluable research skills that will help me succeed when I become a graduate student in physics. I made great connections and relationships with the people in my lab, and got to talk to other physics professors who are doing ground-breaking research in other realms of physics. In addition to all of this, I got to explore one of the coolest, most dynamic, diverse, and beautiful places in the US – the Bay Area.

 

 

 

Student Spotlight: Dilpreet Kaur

Dilpreet Kaur, 2016
Chemical Engineering a
UC Santa Barbara has many opportunities to get involved in research, as chemical engineering major Dilpreet Kaur found out before she even stepped foot onto campus. She joined CNSI’s Summer Institute in Mathematics and Science (SIMS), a two-week residential program that informs newly admitted students about academic preparation, professional development, educational presentations, and research projects. At the conclusion of SIMS, Dilpreet joined EUREKA, a program that introduces students in their first year to the broader science community on campus and provides exposure to research through academic year internships. Needless to say, Dilpreet was able to get a running start in research at UC Santa Barbara.

Participating in these programs gave Dilpreet the opportunity to network early on and land her a position in the Mitragotri Lab. “I got into the Mitragotri lab by communicating with others and being persistent. This is what prospective research students should do,” Dilpreet explained. In the lab, she helps research engineering nanoparticle shape for drug delivery specifically targeting breast cancer cells. “Many times experiments do not always work out the way you want them to, but in the end it is really rewarding when you get it right. It was thrilling to see the different nanoparticle shapes I made for the first time,” Dilpreet said.

As she gains experience with research here at UC Santa Barbara, Dilpreet intends to pursue different research programs at other universities. Ultimately, she hopes to get her PhD in Bioengineering or her MBA. Dilpreet added, “I’ve learned what it takes to be a researcher, and by working with grad students, I’ve got to see what grad school is all about.”

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Student Spotlight: Emilio Codecido

Emilio Codecido, 2014
Electrical and Computer Engineering

Entering UCSB, Emilio Codecido always wanted to acquire hands-on experience as an undergraduate researcher. Once he discovered the research programs available to him, Emilio wasted no time and applied for a Center for Energy Efficient Materials (CEEM) Internship, a program where students train under CEEM researchers to develop solutions for critical energy challenges. For this internship Emilio persisted in reaching out to Professor John E. Bowers, whom he still works with today. “I didn’t want to give up so I knew I had to show him [Bowers] that I really wanted to do research,” says Emilio.

Working in Bowers’ lab, Emilio studies thermoelectrics–devices that convert temperature differences to electricity–which is useful for recovering wasted energy. “We started from scratch, and we had to develop measurements. But the moment everything was working the way it was meant to be, I was excited to see that my work can help improve thermoelectric efficiency,” states Emilio.

Emilio has received research funding from both CEEM and UC LEADS, which allowed him to attend several conferences and present his research. He won 3rd place with his poster presentation at the Ivy Plus Symposium, where judges from IVY league schools and students from all over the country attended. One of his greatest achievements yet!

Emilio recommends that students get involved as early as possible and develop a professional relationship and network with their mentors. “While I don’t always work with Dr. Bowers, I became close with other members of the lab” says Emilio. “I still keep in touch with them about my research.” Emilio plans to do a Bridge to PhD program and continue his research as he moves on to the next step of his academic career.

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A Necessary but not Sufficient Lab Lesson

For the past year and a half, I have had a tremendous opportunity to study the dynamics of mitochondrial DNA mutation inheritance and clearing, in a developmental biology lab at UCSB. When I started, my professor explained to me, “as a young scientist, you will have countless failures, however, eventually when you are successful, the result will be worth the effort.” I began with a drug selection condition project comparing two strains of C. elegans’ growth rates and sensitivity to various antibiotics. After ten repeated trials in order to replicate one promising lead, months of confusion, frustration and great uncertainty, the results we found about drug selection in the two strains were inconclusive. We decided to stop the experiment indefinitely – the experiment had failed.

Following that project, I’ve worked on crosses and a genetic engineering project in hopes to someday help piece together answers about mitochondrial DNA inheritance. As a Beckman scholar, I have presented at national conferences, won poster awards and improved my understanding of science – a challenging and stimulating exploration for answers. In my “second home,” I’ve been fortunate to develop meaningful relationships with dedicated postdocs, graduate students and researchers who work in science’s steady pace, to unleash novel ideas about cell fate acquisition, apoptosis and mtDNA transmission. The research experience has been an extremely didactic one that has instilled in me the maturity to carefully think through problems, and persistence to achieve a goal. I’ve failed numerous times – my gels sometimes showed surprising restriction fragment sizes, and my transformations were not effective with certain types of cells, I also experienced times when the tiny C. elegans simply did not behave as I desired. However, through such failures I was challenged to think deeply about creative solutions, strengthen my fluency with the concepts, and research through the dynamic, convoluted network of mtDNA and nematode genetics. I succeeded in my growth as a critical thinker, young scientist and mentally strong student.

So, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from science is that of failure. And this failure, arguably, is the obscure success of a lab journey because it challenged me to learn and grow. Before I immerse myself into the lifestyle of a physician, I have lived the similar one of a science problem solver, where solutions are often slow, uncertain and not straightforward paths. And I understand that the limitations of medicine are just as frustrating at times as those of basic biological sciences – treatments may fail just like experiments; when a treatment succeeds, another problem may result, just like unanticipated side results in experiments. However, through the research struggles, I have persisted to grow into an even stronger scholar. I can appreciative of the important implication even the smallest nematode lives have towards larger, human life and am curious and ready to learn these implications through studying medicine in the future.