Saturday, April 4, 2015 to Sunday, April 5, 2015
Beckman Institute Auditorium

Amateur Radio License class, Part Two of Two & FCC Exam

Friday, April 3, 2015 to Saturday, April 4, 2015
Beckman Institute Auditorium

Amateur Radio License class, Part One of Two

Learning While Leading

Caltech's student leaders have full plates. In addition to splitting their time among responsibilities in academics, research, athletics, internships, social causes, and many other activities, they have also been elected to serve as representatives of and advocates for their peers.

However, these students say the juggling act can be a gratifying challenge. We recently spoke with Catherine Jamshidi, Connor Rosen, and Sunita Darbe about their experiences in student leadership, their goals for their organizations, and their time-management strategies.


What are your main leadership responsibilities?

Darbe: As chair of the Graduate Student Council (GSC), my job is to be the face of the graduate student body when interacting with all of the other parts of Caltech—for example, in working with the undergrads and with all of the various administrative offices and staff offices. I also try to keep an eye on what graduate students are bringing up and try to make sure that those concerns are heard by the appropriate people.

Rosen: I'm the chair of the Interhouse Committee (IHC), and the ASCIT vice president for nonacademic affairs. I deal mainly with housing, dining, issues related to how housing placements happen, and any other issues related to where people are living. IHC is also involved in the policies related to those issues, so I also serve as the intermediary between the administration and the students on these policies.

Jamshidi: As ASCIT (Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology) president, my first job is to oversee the ASCIT board of directors, which is the student government of the undergraduates. I try to be in touch with what's going on around campus, what the student body is currently concerned about, and how I can bring those concerns to the relevant administrators or members of the faculty board.


Since you are all student leaders, can you tell us what year you are and what you're studying?

Jamshidi: I'm a junior, studying computer science and business, economics, and management.

Rosen: I'm a senior majoring in chemistry. I do work on protein degradation in the biology lab of professor Alex Varshavsky.

Darbe: I'm a fourth year graduate student in materials science. I work with Harry Atwater on optics for ultrahigh-efficiency solar cells.


What were your goals when you began your term at the end of the last school year?

Darbe: Obviously the technical training at Caltech is awesome, bar none. But we also want to make sure that some of the nontechnical skills—ones that are important for professional development, but don't necessarily come through the graduate curriculum—are supported by GSC efforts. This year another one of our goals is to support and recruit a diverse student body, and we've been very pleased to see support for this at all levels in the administration.

Jamshidi: My main goal is to learn about and address what the students care about. I also went into my term expecting to be able to give good direction to the individuals on the board of directors, helping them figure out what they need to be doing in their roles.

Rosen: A lot of what the IHC works on are yearly needs that relate to the way the house system functions. The biggest of these is rotation, which is the process by which first years are assigned to a house. When I came in as IHC chair, I set goals for how efficient and effective I wanted the process to be. In the end, I wanted the students to be pleased with both with the process itself and with the outcomes. Rotation was all over and done at the beginning of the school year, and it went very well—I think we improved on the things we wanted to improve on from previous years.


How did you get involved in this leadership role, and what made you want to be a leader?

Rosen: I ended up in student government almost by accident. I love the houses, and I was very involved in my house socially, and when someone said that our house needed a president, I said, "I want to do it." As president of my house, I served on the Interhouse committee for a year before becoming chair. I like being involved because I care about the people, I care about the house, and I want to be here to help students solve their problems, so they can go back to focusing on everything else that life—and Caltech's coursework—is throwing at them.

Jamshidi: I started in student government during the third term of my freshman year. For the first two terms I was here I saw the upperclassmen who were involved, and they seemed to know everything—I wanted to be like them. And my involvement was also partially driven by boredom. I play volleyball during the fall term, and then during winter I had my first break from volleyball in a long time and I was like, "I have so much free time! What do I do now?" So I became the ASCIT secretary and I really enjoyed it.

Darbe: I was involved in GSC last year, in the capacity of organizing a professional development conference. When I see something happening and I have opinions about it, I don't like to let things sit. I like to do something about it. And fortunately, because of its small size, Caltech is an easy place to make things happen.


It sounds like these roles are time-consuming. How do you fit in time for all of the other things in your lives, like classes, research, athletics, and so on?

Jamshidi: I balance it by staying extremely organized. I schedule everything that I do, pretty much always. And if I notice that I'm spending more time on homework, I'll reschedule everything. I don't know how else I'd be able to do it.

Darbe: I can only do this role by virtue of it being a one-year commitment. It's a lot of time, but it's really rewarding, and it's really cool to see the academic institution from the other side—to sort of peek behind the curtain.

Rosen: I've always made my position in the IHC a priority. I took this on because I felt it was important, and I had a lot of things I wanted to get done in the position—things that I cared about accomplishing. It is a priority, not only in terms of when I am in class, but also when I sign up for classes. If I know I could be spending 60 hours a week on IHC commitments during a particular term, I'm not going to sign up for 60 hours of classes. For example, during rotation there was one day where I woke up at 8 a.m., went to bed at 1 a.m. the next morning, and only had a lunch break in between.


How will these leadership skills be applicable to your after-graduation plans?

Darbe: I'm interested in being a research scientist. It's not yet clear to me where the most exciting opportunity is going to be, but I think that a lot of these GSC skills are going to be very helpful. Being able to corral people, and motivate people, and run an effective meeting. And, among other things, learning how not to promise too much. So many of these skills will be very, very useful, in years to come.

Rosen: I'm applying to biology programs for graduate school right now; I definitely know that I want to stay in research. Just as Sunita said, these roles allow us to peek behind the academic curtain, and if I end up being a professor, I'll be on the inside. To know how an institution like Caltech runs at more than just the teaching level will be useful.

Jamshidi: I think the people skills I've gained as a leader will help in the future. My classes have prepared me with scientific and technical knowledge, and my leadership role has helped me develop skills like being able to work with lots of different people and learn how they're thinking. Those are important skills.


What do you think is unique about being a leader at Caltech?

Jamshidi: Caltech is so small that I feel like everyone knows me. At a larger school, people wouldn't know who I am or what I do. Often, administrators will email me random questions like, "Who do I talk to about XYZ?" and I'll redirect them. That interaction wouldn't happen at a larger school.

Rosen: It also goes the other way. Because Caltech is so small, we are able to have weekly and biweekly meetings with the vice president for student affairs. That just doesn't happen at other places. Also, I know that my job doesn't exist elsewhere because the house system is unique. That has its pros and its cons. I love the house system; it's great to be a part of. But when I'm trying to troubleshoot something, I can't ask, for example, "What did they do at MIT when something similar to this happened?" because there's no comparison to be drawn.


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Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Beckman Institute 121

Serious Amateur Radio Contesting: CQWW DX

Going Global

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Going Global
Credit: Alexandre de Beauséant

"Being a student at UCL has given me a global perspective. From day one you interact with students from all over the world. Just on my dorm floor alone we have students from France, Singapore, and all over the UK—not to mention the people we've met in our classes and outside of class who come from places as far away as India and Ecuador and as close as Serbia and Hungary. Daily interactions cause self-reflection and a heightened awareness of unique and varying viewpoints." —Bianca Lepe '16, University College London

Pictured: (Left to right) Kevin Zhao '15, Lepe, Alice Michel '16, and Ayush Gupta '16 at the Tower Bridge.

Credit: Courtesy of Kurtis Carsch

"I am using this opportunity to enroll in courses that are not offered at Caltech. I am enrolled in four chemistry courses: applied catalysis, synthetic biomolecular chemistry, the chemistry of metals in biological systems, and a PhD course on sustainable energy. Additionally, I am conducting research in organometallic chemistry." —Kurtis Carsch '16, Technical University of Denmark

Pictured: Carsch and Patrick Yu '16 overlooking the Charles Bridge and St. Vitus Cathedral.

Credit: Courtesy of Cedric Flamant

"I arrived at Polytechnique wanting to learn at the institution associated with the great minds of Fourier, Navier, Cauchy, and Lagrange. Never would I have guessed that I would eventually write a report on symmetry groups in SU(5) grand unification in the very language in which Galois first formulated group theory! Studying at Polytechnique has allowed me to reconnect with part of my heritage and meet fellow physicists, all while exploring Paris." —Cedric Flamant '15, École Polytechnique

Pictured: Flamant during a biking trip at Chamonix Mont-Blanc in France.

Credit: George Hopes

"Stepping into Cambridge, I felt as if I were transported back in time into a completely different world. I am currently staying at Corpus Christi College, which was founded in 1352 and is Cambridge's sixth-oldest college. At Corpus, I have had the chance to meet people who are not only studying STEM subjects but also classics, history, sociology, French, and more! . . . The experiences have felt so surreal that I've had to double-check to see that I am actually here in Cambridge." —Jacqueline Masehi-Lano '15, University of Cambridge

Pictured: Masehi-Lano (third from the left) poses with the other Cambridge fresher engineers.

Credit: Poonim Daya

"I've learned a lot from my classes here at Edinburgh, but many of my learning experiences have gone beyond academics. One of my favorite moments happened during a day trip to Glasgow with some friends from Caltech. While walking around the city, we spotted a bowling green. After asking a few questions, we ended up getting a free lesson in lawn bowling from some kind Glaswegians, and spent the afternoon honing our skills. It was a fantastic time—even if I'm not so good at lawn bowling!" —Emily Ellsworth '15, University of Edinburgh

Pictured: Ellsworth (front, center) with Harrison Miller '15 (left) and Caltech alumna Supriya Iyer '13 (right) hiking Arthur's Seat.


Earlier this fall, 28 Caltech sophomores and juniors ventured overseas and out of their comfort zones to spend time studying, doing research, traveling, and learning to communicate in countries far from home.

These students were the latest cohort of Caltech undergraduates to participate in the Institute's study abroad programs. Once accepted to one of the six Caltech-faculty-approved programs run each fall in partnership with peer institutions around the world, these Caltech students have the opportunity to study in England at the University of Cambridge or University College London; in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh; in Denmark at the University of Copenhagen or the Technical University of Denmark; in France at the École Polytechnique; and in Australia at the University of Melbourne.

Since Caltech's study abroad programs were established in 1999, more than 450 undergraduates have taken advantage of the chance to spend a term far from sunny Pasadena.

"The natural and engineering sciences are international arenas," says Lauren Stolper, Caltech's director of fellowships advising and study abroad. "All of our partners are top research universities. Caltech students continue to face the same rigorous academic challenges as at Caltech, while experiencing firsthand different styles of teaching and learning.

"They return to Caltech with a more sophisticated understanding of the world and academically and personally energized by the study abroad experience."

View the slideshow below to learn more about the experiences of this year's class from the students themselves.

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Senior Adam Jermyn Named Marshall Scholar

Caltech senior Adam Jermyn has been chosen as a recipient of the 2015 Marshall Scholarship to pursue graduate studies in Great Britain.

Funded by the British government, the Marshall Scholarship provides support for two years of post-bachelor's degree study—covering a student's tuition, books, living expenses, and transportation costs—at any university in the United Kingdom. Each year more than 900 students from across the nation compete for this prestigious scholarship. A maximum of 40 scholarships are awarded.

A physics major from Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Jermyn will use the award toward his pursuit of a PhD in astronomy at the University of Cambridge. "I got the call from the British Consulate, and when they told me, I couldn't believe it," Jermyn says. "After the call, I got an email from my parents about it, and it turns out that on my application I swapped my home and cell phone numbers, so they called my parents before calling me."

"My plan at Cambridge is to study how planets form around binary star systems," says Jermyn. "This will involve a collaboration I proposed between the fluid mechanics group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and the faculty researching astrophysical heat transport in the Institute of Astronomy. I'm extremely excited about the project and the scholarship as it will give me a chance to really focus on research in a field that I'm somewhat new to."

After the completion of the fellowship he hopes to pursue a career in academia and eventually obtain a faculty position in which he can both teach and do research.

Jermyn is currently completing his senior thesis—a study of how pulsars alter the atmospheres of tidally locked companion stars. More generally, his research interests fall under the field of emergent phenomena, "a broad term referring to situations where we know all of the laws on a fundamental level but where there are so many pieces working together that the consequences aren't known," he explains. Examples include protein aggregation, quantum information, and fluid mechanics.

At Caltech, Jermyn works in the lab of Harry Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, on research that could be applied to solar cells. He also collaborates on quantum information with Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics Jason Alicea in Caltech's Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, and with former Marshall Scholar and Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics Sterl Phinney (BS '80) on the impact of external deep heating on stellar atmospheres.

Although he is still finishing up his undergraduate degree, Jermyn has already had two papers accepted for journal publication, on his solar energy and quantum information research projects. He is also the principal investigator on a computing grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) for exploring symmetric protein folding. Last spring, he was recognized at the national level for his research accomplishments with a Goldwater Scholarship.

In addition to his research, Jermyn's activities on campus include involvement on the Council for Undergraduate Education, the Curriculum Committee, and the Faculty Board's Honor Code Committee. He also served as a teaching assistant for several physics classes, including first-year physics course Phys 11.

"Adam has been an outstanding source of encouragement and advice for many Caltech students, particularly through Physics 11, where he is currently a teaching assistant. He has helped to keep the course going after the passing of Professor Tombrello," says David Stevenson, Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Planetary Science.

Lauren Stolper, director of Fellowships Advising and Study Abroad, acts as Caltech's official Marshall Scholarship advisor. Stolper says, "It was a pleasure to get to know Adam well during the application and endorsement process. Adam has the kind of penetrating intellect that is a hallmark of Marshall Scholars. He is interested in the world around him and is willing to jump in to have an impact on things he cares about."

The Marshall Scholarship is named after George Marshall, chief of staff of the Army in World War II who was the creator of the Marshall Plan (also known as the European Recovery Program), which helped Europe rebuild after the war. Marshall later served as secretary of state and was a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The fellowship was established by the British government in 1953 to recognize the vital role the Marshall Plan played in Britain's post-WWII recovery.

Recent Caltech alumni winners of the Marshall Scholarship program include Emma Schmidgall (BS '07), Wei Lien Stephen Dang (BS '05), Vikram Mittal (BS '03), and Eric Tuttle (BS '01). In addition to Phinney, other former Marshall Scholars in the Caltech community include President Emeritus Thomas Everhart, Provost and William E. Leonhard Professor of Geology Edward Stolper, Bren Professor of Chemistry Jonas Peters, and Professor of Chemistry Thomas Miller.

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Using Simulation and Optimization to Cut Wait Times for Voters

No one ever likes long lines. Waiting in line may be inconvenient at the coffee shop or the bank, but it's a serious matter at voting centers, where a long wait time can discourage voters—and can be seen as an impediment to democracy.

However, with millions of Americans showing up at the polls, can long lines really be avoided on Election Day? By developing a tool to help better prepare polling places, Caltech sophomore Sean McKenna is using his Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) project as an opportunity to address that problem.

Over the summer, McKenna, an applied and computational mathematics major who works with Professor of Political Science Michael Alvarez, has been building a mathematics-informed tool that will predict busy times in precincts on Election Day and allocate voting machines in response to those predictions. This information could help election administrators minimize wait times for millions of voters.

"My project is based on a report from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which asserted that no American should ever have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote," McKenna says. "And so we're trying to see if we can help reach that goal by allocating voting machines in a new way."

McKenna's work is part of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP), which has been working on voting technology and election administration since the 2000 election. At a June workshop for the collaborative VTP project, which aims to improve the voting process through research, McKenna met with academics and election administrators who suggested how he might apply his background in mathematics to create a tool for voting administrators to use on the VTP's website.

The tool he is developing uses a branch of applied mathematics called queueing theory to quantify the formation of lines on Election Day. "Queueing theory assumes that arrivals to a system like a polling place have a random, memoryless pattern. Under this assumption, the fact that one person just showed up to the precinct doesn't tell us whether the next person will show up two seconds from now or two minutes from now," he says. "Furthermore, queueing theory predicts line lengths and wait times as long-term averages, which scientists might call a steady-state approximation."

Although queueing theory provided a good jumping off point, there were a few real-world problems that an analytical model on its own couldn't address, McKenna says. For example, voter arrival behavior is not completely random on Election Day; early morning and late afternoon spikes in arrivals are the norm. In addition, polls are usually only open for 12 or 13 hours, which is not considered to be enough time for steady-state queueing approximations to be applicable.

"These challenges led us to review the literature and determine that running a simulation with actual data from administrators, as opposed to attempting to adjust strictly analytical models, was the best way to represent what actually happens in an election," McKenna explained.

The goal of the research is to create a simulation of an entire jurisdiction, such as a county with multiple polling places. The simulation would estimate wait times on Election Day based on information election administrators enter about their jurisdiction into the web-based tool. Administrators would then receive a customized output prior to Election Day, suggesting how to allocate voting machines across the jurisdiction and detailing the anticipated crowds—information that could both predict the severity of long lines and prompt new strategies for allocating voting machines to preempt long waits.

Several other Caltech undergraduates in Alvarez's group also have been working on alternative ways to improve the voting process. Senior physics major Jacob Shenker has been developing a system for more secure and user-friendly postal voting, and recent graduates Eugene Vinitsky (BS '14, physics) and Jonathan Schor (BS '14, biology and chemistry) produced a prototype of a mobile phone app that could help voters determine if there is a long line at their polling place.

While these projects were completed separately, McKenna says there may be room for collaboration in the future. "One thing that we're hoping my tool will be able to do is to predict for administrators what times are going to be busiest, and we could also export this information to the app for voters," he says. "For example, the app could alert someone that their polling place is very likely to have long lines in the morning so they should try to go in the afternoon."

The technologies that McKenna and his student colleagues are developing could change the way that millions of Americans participate in democracy in the future—which would be an impressive accomplishment for a young student who has yet to experience the physical aspect of lining up to vote.

"So that's one kind of sticky situation about my working on this project: I've never actually been in to vote in person. I've only been able to vote once, and since I'm from Minnesota, it had to be absentee by mail," he says.

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How to Grip an Asteroid

On Saturday, October 18, hundreds of undergraduate students shared the results of their projects during SURF Seminar Day. The event provides students with the opportunity to discuss and explain their research to individuals with a wide-range of expertise and interests.

For someone like Edward Fouad, a junior at Caltech who has always been interested in robotics and mechanical engineering, it was an ideal project: help develop robotic technology that could one day fly on a NASA mission to visit and sample an asteroid.

Fouad spent 10 weeks this summer as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program working in the lab of Aaron Parness, a group leader at JPL, where researchers are designing, prototyping, and refining technology for a device called a microspine gripper. Looking something like a robotic circular foot with many toes extending radially outward, such a gripper has the ability to grab onto a rocky surface and cling to it even when hanging upside down.

That makes it a good candidate to be included in the robotic capture phase of NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission, which aims to capture an asteroid and haul it into lunar orbit where robotic and manned missions could study it more easily. One of two concepts that NASA is currently considering for that mission involves using robotic arms to grab a boulder for return from a much larger asteroid. Microspine gripper technology is being evaluated for use on these robotic arms.

Researchers at JPL have been working on this technology for almost five years. The latest version of the gripper is made entirely of metal and consists of two concentric rings of carriages—the toe-like appendages that stick out from the gripper. Each of those carriages is in turn made up of a number of "microspines" with steel hooks at their tips. When the gripper makes contact with a rocky surface, the carriages extend downward onto the rock and then pull inward toward the gripper's center. Because the carriages and microspines all move independently, the gripper is able to conform well to the rock's nooks and crannies.

For his SURF project, Fouad helped with the construction of the latest gripper prototype and worked on improving the design of the microspines for the next generation. In particular, his goal was to design a metal microspine that could conform to a rocky surface and stretch as needed toward the center of the gripper. One of the key elements in such a design is a compliant flexure, a material that can bend and flex, allowing each hook to move independently of its neighbors, to grab onto the crags of an uneven surface. In the past, elastic polymers and metal extension springs have been used for this purpose, but elastic polymers cannot stand up to the extreme temperatures of space, and the springs greatly increase the complexity of the gripper's design and complicate the manufacturing and assembly processes. A different metal option was needed.

"I started by brainstorming many different flexure designs, modeling them on the computer with CAD software, and laser cutting them out of acrylic to test their compliant properties," Fouad says. After repeating that process and improving the designs over several weeks, Fouad and Parness settled on two designs to prototype in metal and test on different rock types. In the end, one of Fouad's designs worked so well in bench-top tests that Parness's group is now incorporating it into their new gripper design.

"Edward did a great job this summer," says Parness. "The SURF program provides a great balance; it ensures an educational experience for the student but also provides a lot of value to the projects and mentors. I always try to work with the students before the summer so that the SURF projects provide some autonomy but give the students a chance to work toward something that could make a long-term contribution to the main project. Edward's project was a good example."

Fouad says he went into the SURF project with a lot of relevant experience. A statics and material mechanics course (ME 35—now ME 12) had provided him with the background he needed to understand how the microspine toes of a particular geometry would deform under different loading conditions. A mechanical design and fabrication class (ME 14) taught him important design skills. And, he says, "The experience I have gained leading the mechanical subgroup of the Caltech Robotics Team was invaluable for my work this summer. Through designing and constructing an autonomous underwater vehicle over the past year, I have acquired a great deal of design and machining techniques as well as the skills necessary to collaborate with others on a large group project."

Fouad says he loved working in Parness's lab and enjoyed having the freedom to pursue the design paths that he found most interesting and promising. And he says that he will now strongly consider pursuing a future career at JPL. "It is an incredible environment for someone looking for exciting robotics opportunities."

Kimm Fesenmaier
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Improving The View Through Tissues and Organs

On Saturday, October 18, hundreds of undergraduate students will share the results of their projects during SURF Seminar Day. The event, which is open to the public, is an opportunity for students to discuss and explain their research to individuals with a wide-range of expertise and interests.

This summer, several undergraduate students at Caltech had the opportunity to help optimize a promising technique that can make tissues and organs—even entire organisms—transparent for study. As part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, these students worked in the lab of Assistant Professor of Biology Viviana Gradinaru, where researchers are developing such so-called clearing techniques that make it possible to peer straight through normally opaque tissues rather than seeing them only as thinly sectioned slices that have been pieced back together.

Gradinaru's group recently published a paper in the journal Cell describing a new approach to tissue clearing. The method they have created builds on a technique called CLARITY that Gradinaru helped develop while she was a research associate at Stanford. CLARITY allowed researchers to, for the first time, create a transparent whole-brain specimen that could then be imaged with its structural and genetic information intact.

CLARITY was specifically developed for studying the brain. But the new approach developed in Gradinaru's lab, which the team has dubbed PARS (perfusion-assisted agent release in situ), can also clear other organs, such as the kidney, as well as tissue samples, such as tumor biopsies. It can even be applied to entire organisms.

Like CLARITY, PARS involves removing the light-scattering lipids in the tissue to make samples transparent without losing the structural integrity that lipids typically provide. First the sample is infused with acrylamide monomers that are then polymerized into a hydrogel that provides structural support. Next, this tissue–hydrogel hybrid is immersed in a detergent that removes the lipids. Then the sample can be stained, often with antibodies that specifically mark cells of interest, and then immersed in RIMS (refractive index matching solution) for imaging using various optical techniques such as confocal or lightsheet microscopy.

Over the summer, Sam Wie, a junior biology major at Caltech, spent 10 weeks in the Gradinaru lab working to find a polymer that would perform better than acrylamide, which has been used in the CLARITY hydrogel. "One of the limitations of CLARITY is that when you put the hydrogel tissue into the detergent, the higher solute concentration in the tissue causes liquid to rush into the cell. That causes the sample to swell, which could potentially damage the structure of the tissue," Wie explains. "So I tried different polymers to try to limit that swelling."

Wie was able to identify a polymer that produces, over a similar amount of time, about one-sixth of the swelling in the tissue.

"The SURF experience has been very rewarding," Wie says. "I've learned a lot of new techniques, and it's really exciting to be part of, and to try to improve, CLARITY, a method that will probably change the way that we image tissues from now on."

At another bench in Gradinaru's lab, sophomore bioengineering major Andy Kim spent the summer focusing on a different aspect of the PARS technique. While antibodies have been the most common markers used to tag cells of interest within cleared tissues, they are too large for some studies—for example, those that aim to image deeper parts of the brain, requiring them to cross the blood–brain barrier. Kim's project involved identifying smaller proteins, such as nanobodies, which target and bind to specific parts of proteins in tissues.

"While PARS is a huge improvement over CLARITY, using antibodies to stain is very expensive," Kim says. "However, some of these nanobodies can be produced easily, so if we can get them to work, it would not only help image the interior of the brain, it would also be a lot less costly."

During his SURF, Kim worked with others in the lab to identify about 30 of these smaller candidate binding proteins and tested them on PARS-cleared samples.

While Wie and Kim worked on improving the PARS technique itself, Donghun Ryu, a third SURFer in Gradinaru's lab, investigated different methods for imaging the cleared samples. Ryu is a senior electrical engineering and computer science major at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) in the Republic of Korea.

Last summer Ryu completed a SURF as part of the Caltech–GIST Summer Undergraduate Research Exchange Program in the lab of Changhuei Yang, professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering, and medical engineering at Caltech. While completing that project, Ryu became interested in optogenetics, the use of light to control genes. Since optogenetics is one of Gradinaru's specialties, Yang suggested that he try a SURF in Gradinaru's lab.

This summer, Ryu was able to work with both Yang and Gradinaru, investigating a technique called Talbot microscopy to see whether it would be better for imaging thick, cleared tissues than more common techniques. Ryu was able to work on the optical system in Yang's lab while testing the samples cleared in Gradinaru's lab.

"It was a wonderful experience," Ryu says. "It was special to have the opportunity to work for two labs this summer. I remember one day when I had a meeting with both Professor Yang and Professor Gradinaru; it was really amazing to get to meet with two Caltech professors."

Gradinaru says that the SURF projects provided a learning opportunity not only for the participating students but also for her lab. "For example," she says, "Ryu strengthened the collaboration that we have with the Yang group for the BRAIN Initiative. And my lab members benefited from the chance to serve as mentors—to see what works and what can be improved when transferring scientific knowledge. These are very important skills in addition to the experimental know-how that they master."  

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Saturday, October 18, 2014
Ramo Auditorium

Caltech Moon Festival Gala 2014


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