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!
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.