Am I running gels or are the gels running me?

Previous to my current experiences in the wet lab, I had envisioned the gel electrophoresis to only be a smaller part of the big picture of the paper I was reading. But after a month of lab, I would argue otherwise. The gel electrophoresis is a method used to visualize DNA based on molecular weight. Molecules with higher molecular weight travel more slowly through agarose gel than low molecular weight counterparts. The movement of DNA through the gel is powered by an electric current.

With flaviviridae (the family of viruses that are frequently carried by mosquitoes), the genome is often small enough to easily edit. This makes them an ideal candidate for a host of creative projects attempting to document their cytopathic effect. The cytopathic effect (CPE) is the resulting structural changes in a host cell brought on by a viral infection. So, we can alter the viral genome and observe the effect of induced “breakages” on CPE. But how do we even prove we made the gene editing change? In steps the gel electrophoresis.

The first step to gene editing is to isolate a gene is to clone the sequence you wish to edit on a plasmid. To determine if the plasmid we wish to replicate is pure, you run a gel to determine its purity. Then, after you’ve transformed your plasmid into your bacteria, cloned it, and reharvested it, you digest it with restriction enzymes. Then, to make sure your plasmid was cut, you then run another gel to confirm it was cut by your restriction enzymes.

Running a gel is also an important step in PCR (short for polymerase chain reaction) quality control. A PCR is a method used to clone a segment of DNA. By running a gel with your PCR product and control, you can figure out how good your primers are, if there was any contamination, and whether your PCR actually worked. But that’s not all. After running a PCR, your product often contains impurities such as primers and DNA polymerases. To purify your product, you can load the crude product into a gel. Only the DNA will move through the gel. Then you can just cut out your band, dissolve the surrounding gel, and obtain a purified DNA product.

So next time you see a gel while reading a paper, take some time to figure it out instead of moving on to the more interesting figures. After all, it’s been the backbone of modern molecular biology since 1950 and will only become more important as gene editing becomes more widespread.



A Home Away from Home

When a power outage occurs in Isla Vista and the library closes at 2 AM, there is only one option left for me – the lab. That actually happened. I did not sleep there, of course, though I desperately needed power, warmth, and speakers that can blast me awake. Interestingly enough, I was not alone. One of the graduate students working in my lab was also there. It simply felt like home, where that oh dark hundred became one of the most productive I have been in all summer.


This world also contains a direct view to the ocean and the freshman dorms!

Working in Dr. Zach Ma’s lab opened a new world for me, one that I would not have expected to be in a year ago. A world that contains one of the purest, sterile water on campus, countless bags of pipette tips, and some laboratory equipment that cost more than most luxury cars. Though a chemistry major, I have always found the field of biology intriguing, and joining a cell biology lab before even taking general biology is quite a challenge and a reward. Learning biochemical techniques and operating laboratory equipment these past months were all fascinating fun, yet the reiterated realization of the difference between doing and thinking was a defining moment of this summer. Acknowledging the fact of doing from memorizing was extremely difficult until problems began to arise sporadically. Every experiment has their own situations. Doing based on understanding the scientific concepts and their rationales adapts to those situations, and would have optimized the ideal circumstances for each experiment I ran. Boy, would that help me in organic chemistry.


A year ago, I did not know that it was possible for a freshman to get involved in research, especially cutting-edge research. Though in research, one thing to hone in on is resiliency. No matter if your hypothesis was horrendously wrong, you go back to the drawing board and patiently and logically crank it out. As a part of a research group, I have a family that is willing to come to my aid and motivate me. I can even go to other families around campus and find ways to collaborate, whether they be ideas or equipment. Simply put, we are a family, and this is my home, where I will be making life-defining memories (and scientific discoveries, hopefully) for the years to come.


Summer Research Declassified


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Beck Bennett: Gets an adrenaline rush. Parties hard until rush dissipates. Drafts. Publishes. Spams published paper. Gets invitations. Accepts invitations. Presents in conferences. Gets nominated. Wins nomination. Becomes a Nobel laureate. Finally, SLEEP.

*transition swish*

Morgan Freeman: Clinching a Nobel Prize is one of the lengthiest and arduous attempts. This may take many a lifetime, or a cleverly few, coming in clutch, with one expedited shot at the prize. Space, time, and life itself. The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Though the timeline to be the most prestigious in the science realm is enticing, saying “EUREKA!” is by no means easy. It all must start with research, and research requires resiliency, critical thinking, perseverance, concentration, self-motivation, and a great deal of time. That is why summer is the best time to get started, where Justin is on the hunt to declassify summer research in this episode of EUREKA!



Justin: Summer is the opportune time to grow as an undergraduate researcher. Not only does one experience the breadth of undergraduate research that UCSB offers, but one can also take the opportunities to communicate one’s research to the public.

As an EUREKA! scholar, I, Justin Su, have been tasked to declassify summer research here at UC Santa Barbara. Conducting research, though crucial for scientific discoveries, is meaningless when the research itself is neither shared nor critiqued by the scientific community. While I am currently working in a cell biology lab to develop my biochemical techniques, EUREKA! is equipping me with the necessary presentation skills for my future conference talks.

Presenting in front of an audience is of the arts that one must master to become a highly acclaimed scientist. It is undoubtedly frightening, especially when the faces of your audience remain expressionless as you begin. Even if you envision the ideal flow of your presentation, the detrimental “noises” in your presentation environment may majorly allocate the audience’s attention bandwidth. I and many presenters must therefore combat these “noises,” especially the personally induced ones. Continuous practice is a harsh, yet imperative, prerequisite to control these noises. Simplification and visualization of information is also essential in retaining the audience’s attention. Additionally, verbal intonation, vocal stability, and bodily expressions will assist in honing the presentation to its ideal and natural form. In the end, you get the fame, the food, the drinks, and the connections, basically all for brief moments on a stage.

Behind the scenes, conducting a personal research project is of the sciences that surprisingly encompasses the execution of many personal values and virtues. In my case, the field of cell biology is extremely logically structured that requires rigorous critical thinking sessions. The virtues of patience, resilience, and open-mindedness are vital when pondering the rationales behind specific mechanisms and pathways. Experimentally, the amount of attention to detail can make or break your experiments, setting off a good or bad domino effect. Whenever it comes to doing Western Blot, immunofluorescent staining, and even mammalian cell culture, I concentrate on being accurate and precise among all my actions to ensure quality and effective data. Despite the time reserved for the experiments, your mind would be like Einstein’s, and it is so worth it (i.e. learning upper-division biology concepts as a freshman). Gradually, however, one will begin to appreciate the science behind these biochemical techniques and analytical skills. By applying your mind, skills, and values to the cutting edge research done here at UCSB, you will be on your way to saying “EUREKA!” in no time.

With the fusion of art and science behind research, the ample space, time, and life that summer at UCSB provides is the epitome for undergraduate researchers to fulfill their potential in becoming groundbreaking, world-renowned scientists in their fields. With a laid-back, sunny Isla Vista during the summer, I could go on runs, film and edit videos, play beach volleyball, chill with my friends, and not worry about weekly exams. Although I am halfway through my first summer research experience, there is so much that I cannot wait to do in my next three years. Until next time, this is EUREKA!’s Summer Research Declassified.



TL;DR: Be cool like us and do summer research – It’s really lit, fam!

Exercise Biology

After switching from a flexible university class schedule to an 9 to 6 work day in lab, there is much less lenience when it comes planning out when one can exercise. Sure, a person could wake up in the wee hours of morning to go for a jog before making breakfast and getting ready for the day. Or he or she could head to the recreation center later at night after working on research conference applications, poster presentations, and PowerPoints. But for the STEM folk who just don’t have the same kind of motivation to stay fit as they do to excel in their field of research, I have devised a daily fitness plan for the scientist or engineer stuck in lab for the majority of the day. The workout happens to relate specifically to interns working in the Biological Sciences II building, but it can very easily be tailored to Engineering II, Chemistry, PSBN, or any other multiple-story structure.

Cardio Warm Up: Bike all the way to the Biological Sciences II building from home as quickly – and as safely – as possible. Brisk jog up three flights of stairs to drop off your items in the main lab. Jog up an additional flight of stairs to collect ice for your reagents. Jog down to the third floor to place your reagents in ice. Continue down to the first floor to get a refreshing beverage from the vending machine because you “unintentionally” forgot a drink to keep you hydrated during your lab-inspired workout routine. Jog up to the fifth floor to replace the media in your stem cell cultures.

When Researching on the Computer: Find a stable desk chair, preferably without wheels. If you only have wheeled desk chairs, make sure the back rest is against something sturdy, like a wall. Lower body such that back makes an acute angle with the top of the back rest, and elevate legs from the floor to create a position with your body resembling a V. Legs do not have to be completely straight to accommodate the laptop to be placed on your lower thighs or knees. Begin lifting up your knees to crunch your abdomen. Repeat for thirty to fifty reps. If the shaking of your laptop as you crunch is too distracting for you to effectively read scientific papers, raise your legs slightly higher than resting position so that your abdomen contracts. Hold for fifteen to thirty seconds. Release. Do at least three sets of desk chair crunches (or V-holds). To target your obligues, adjust body so that knees are pointing either to the left or the right. Proceed with aforementioned movement. Be sure to work both sides.

When Walking Down the Hall or to Another Building to Use Some Kind of Equipment Your Main Lab Does Not Have: Brisk walk. Sure, you’ll look a little foolish for keeping your legs unnaturally straight while trying to move quickly, but your calves will thank you after your eight to ten week-long research internship. Also, keep your abdomen contracted throughout the course of the walk.

Lunch Break: As inconvenient as it may seem, purposefully forget your lunch at home (if you happen to live nearby.) Or take the bicycle trip to Isla Vista to grab some food. That way, you are forced to have to slip in a little bit more cardio in your day; plus, your meal will taste that much better. If you have a busy day in lab or are a commuter, however, skip this step altogether.

Going Back and Forth from Different Floors to Access Different Labs: When going up the stairs, skip at least one step to create a lunge-like effect that will target your glutes and hind thighs. For taller folk, skip two steps.

Arm Stuff: Centrifuge containers are easily the best weights you’ll find in a biotechnology lab considering that they weigh about the same as a prepubescent child. Keep in mind not to lift aforementioned containers above your head, as they really are much heavier than they appear. If someone asks if you can help them carry samples, equipment, ice chests, or boxes to a distant location, do not hesitate to say yes. If at a desk reading articles, kick aside the desk chair and do fifty pushups against the edge of the desk while reading (Note: ensure that the desk can hold your weight.) Repeat for four sets. Mountain Climbers, planks, and other arm-related exercises can also be done in this fashion.

All exercises mentioned above can serve as a framework for a more effective lab-inspired workout that you can build yourself.

(Author’s Note: In actuality, you are far better off not engaging in any tomfoolery while in lab to prevent from equipment damage and poor experimental yields, and instead, commit to a daily exercise routine that you can complete after you finish your lab work. Just as it pays to work hard in lab to see results, working out to see results pays just as well.)