Category Archives: Week 1

A Year in the Making

It’s a simple answer but, my expectation from this research experience is to learn A LOT. I’m feeling fortunate for the opportunity to get involved in genetic engineering; something that I am truly passionate about and that I think is absolutely fascinating. Over a year ago now I applied to the BSURF program and although a lot has changed since the end of my freshman year, my scientific interests have stayed consistent. The top three labs in my preference list were the same and in the same order as they were last year so it’s safe to say that I’d been waiting a long time for Summer 2021 and I’m excited it’s finally here.

As I previously expressed, I want to learn as much as I can this Summer. More specifically, I want to learn how to do proper science, both in theory and in practice. Learning the theory of the techniques used in a molecular biology lab will be my job behind the scenes (aka a lot of reading outside the lab). But alongside knowledge and a deeper understanding of the theory, I would like to build a strong foundation of practical laboratory skills. In these next 7 weeks, I hope to learn the laboratory techniques necessary to build my competence and independence in a genetic engineering lab. Designing a relevant experiment and being able to understand it and its difficulties from both a theoretical and technical standpoint is my ultimate goal. 

In the following weeks, I’d also like to learn more about myself. I’ve known I wanted to pursue a career in science since I was little. I was a particularly curious child and asked a lot of questions. “Where do volcanoes come from?”, “What’s the biggest number?”, “Why is the sky blue?”. Although simple and often poorly stated, I remember my parents and teachers encouraging my daily flurry of curious questions. In elementary school, many children dressed as superheroes or cowboys for Halloween; I put on a white lab coat and glasses. I loved that in science class, when a question was asked that didn’t yet have an answer, the knowledge gap was admitted and the topic was labeled as one that required further investigation so that maybe one day we might find an answer. I love science and the way it allows us to engage with what we do and do not know in a way that fosters a deeper understanding and a desire to pursue new knowledge, but I still don’t know what it really means to be a scientist. Only experience in the lab can teach you that. Without a doubt, my interests naturally attract me to research and this Summer I will find out what it really means to follow my childhood dreams. Soon enough I’ll be answering questions that previously had no answer.

Sherlock Holmes, Disease Detective

Even before the pandemic cast its looming shadow over society as we knew it, diseases had always piqued my interest; first in middle school, where I first formulated my intense fascination with pathogens and the spread of disease (solidifying my early career goals of becoming an epidemiologist), to intriguing high school classes about the biotechnology techniques that can be used to investigate such diseases, to my college general microbiology course, which allowed me to culture, transform, and experience first-hand these pathogens with my own two gloved hands.

While this curiosity that I harbored was always omnipresent in my future academic and career goals, I likewise always felt a barrier between me and the incredible scientists I read about, the heroes developing vaccines, or discovering novel strains of various pathogens. Even in class, or in my beginning work with Dr. Tenor at the Perfect lab, I felt somewhat removed and distant from the research itself, and not just thanks to the Zoom format of our meetings. My whole life I’ve dreamed of being a “disease detective,” of exploring the origin of deadly pathogens and stopping the spread before they cause an outbreak, or worse, but if my dream was to be a Sherlock Holmes in the scientific community, I was his bumbling, newly acquired assistant Watson, unsure and still figuring out my role in the sleuthing process.

Despite a hesitant start last semester, being physically in the lab has already made a world of a difference. Asking questions comes more easily, visualizing processes and protocols makes more sense in context, and I am spending less time playing catch-up, and more time being only half a step behind my wonderful mentor Julia, the Sherlock to my Watson. The first three days in the lab have already exceeded my most ambitious expectations; in terms of learning, I feel as though my brain is already overflowing with useful knowledge to be applied down the road, additional tools to go into my scientific detective tool belt for future use. My hopes for this summer is to become a more active participant in these disease detective endeavors — to come up with my own theories about why Cryptococcus neoformans survives so well in the brain environment while other pathogens tend to fail, to investigate more deeply into the role of nitrogen catabolism and hypothesize how that can be utilized in antifungal treatments of C. neoformans infections. While I have always considered Watson to be an adorable sidekick in Sir Arthur Conan Doyles’ fast-paced adventures, my highest hopes for this summer is to grow as a scientist in terms of critical thinking, asking good and interesting questions, formulating exciting hypotheses, and making useful mistakes, all in the name of facilitating good scientific research; I aspire to become my own Sherlock Holmes, disease detective.


Diving into the Realm of Quantum Simulation

     Nanoparticles, quantum mechanics, molecular dynamics, supercomputers, and machine learning. All five of these topics sound like things that Tony Stark and Bruce Banner work on in their free time. However, with modern advances in computing technology these fields are actually able to exist and coexist in a beautiful way giving rise to the real-life field of nanomedicine. 

   I’m coming into the Reker lab as a rising sophomore BME student still trying to figure out what I actually want to study. My interests are spread over multiple disciplines, and it’s hard to pin down exactly one thing that I like. Growing up I loved playing with computers. Not building them like Jimmy Neutron, but simply playing video games like Minecraft. I loved how the computer was able to generate an environment that had similar rules to reality. You have objects in the world, collision rules, like when you jump on slime blocks, gravity, and a day-night cycle. Each of these parts of the simulation combine in a unique way to create the “world” and give a fun experience while playing the game. The combining of multiple processes to generate a real-life simulation is basically what Dr. Reker and other computational chemists are doing with Molecular Dynamics.        

 Before the B-SURF program I had no idea that computational chemistry even existed. After reading through some papers and meeting with Dr. Reker and my mentor Zilu, I’ve learned that computational chemistry could revolutionize the field of drug development. Through simulating interactions of molecules with the Molecular Dynamics software, we’re able to predict what the resulting body would be if we combined the reactants in real life. Specifically, I’m going to spend my Summer researching the potential formation of nanoparticle complexes between different drug and excipient molecules. While most of the chemistry is flying a bit over my head, I hope that as the Summer goes on, and as I finally get around to taking Organic Chemistry, I will understand more about the chemical details of why and how our simulations of molecules form. I’m also excited to learn more about optimizing the parameters of the simulation to perform more accurate predictions. For now though, I’m happy with this past week’s work and my little knowledge in how to generate simple simulations. I might just be a big nerd, but I find it magical that we’re able to take a simple string of letters and pass through a coding pipeline and out comes a visual model of molecules interacting with each other.

     While I don’t get to go to an in-person lab like my fellow B-SURFer’s, I wouldn’t want to change anything about my experience so far. I’m a learn-by-doing kind of guy, and the flexibility of working in a computational lab fits that perfectly. I also know that as time goes on, and as Dr. Reker’s lab gets established in the new engineering building, we’ll eventually get to translate our simulations into real-life. Overall, I’m very excited for what the future holds, and am extremely grateful for Dr. Reker and Zilu for giving me the chance to study underneath them. Here’s to the start of a great summer!

Here is one of my first simulations. In this example, I simulated the interactions between the anti-cancer drug Sorafenib and Cholic Acid. I’m still working on finding the best way to make a movie to upload, so stay tuned for more cool gifs.


Goals of Growth

Initially, I wasn’t quite sure how to verbalize my goals and expectations for the summer. I had so many responses running through my head; to learn about the science of my lab, to make friends, to get a head start on what could possibly be my future career field. After revisiting my application, I realized that my overall goal is to grow, whether it be personal, professional, social, or academic growth. I hope to grow in my confidence, explore my curiosities, gain footing in the world of research, and better understand the science of my lab to eventually arrive at questions of my own. As long as I grow and learn throughout the obstacles, I will have reached my summer goals! 

Even though it has only been two days, I’m loving my lab and have already begun working at my goals of growth. I’m studying in the lab of Nina Tang Sherwood, which uses fruit flies as model organisms to study the spastin gene. The spastin gene plays a role in microtubule severing, and humans with mutated spastin suffer from a neurodegenerative disease called Autosomal-Dominant Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia. Although spastin is exciting, we first have to learn how to handle the fruit flies! On the first day, we learned how to transfer them to new tubes, identify the sex, sedate them with carbon dioxide, identify mutations based on the phenotype, and look at them under microscopes. On the second day, we worked through one of Dr. Sherwood’s papers on fly spastin; it’s not everyday you get to read a paper, have the author explain it to you, and ask any questions you want! I’ve learned so much already and I can’t wait to see where I’m at when the summer ends. As my fly maintenance skills improve, I am excited to begin exploring the spastin gene and its neurological implications. I’ve been having fun learning with Dr. Sherwood, Shibani, and the flies, and am excited to see where this summer takes us!

Jayden and Shibani transfer their first fruit flies

How to Ask Questions

As I’m sure is very common for students new to research and lab work, it is difficult to verbalize what exactly about research makes us excited to do it. Perhaps what is appealing about it is the idea of exploring the unknown, or the potential that we may discover something groundbreaking, or the renown of having your work published,  or maybe it’s simply the fun of using cutting edge technology. I would be lying if I said that these never crossed my mind but they are certainly not what I expect to get out of my experience working in the Volkan Lab. My primary expectation to get out of my research experience is to help me learn how to ask and answer scientific questions. I believe that hands on experience and observing others in the lab with much more research experience than me will help learn how exactly a researcher goes about asking and answering questions that they find interesting. I hope that a change in my formulation of and approach to questions will not only make me a better researcher/biologist but also will make me a more well-rounded critical thinker in many other arenas as well.

The focus of the research I’m helping with is to analyze the relationship between   the regulation of chromatin around specific genes and the courtship behaviors of the flies. So far in my time at the Volkan Lab I’ve been learning how to go about dissecting the fruit flies that we study. I expected removing the heads and antenna off of these tiny flies using really sharp tweezers and a microscope to be difficult and I was very correct. I’m still learning the basic techniques and procedures I’ll need in the coming weeks but I really look forward to what is to come.


B-SURF 2020(+1)

If there’s one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it’s to be amenable to change.

When I first came to Duke in August of 2019, I had three big goals in mind: to act in a play, to find a close group of friends, and to start working in a research lab in the spring. No part of my imagination would have thought that a far, far away virus in Wuhan would so fundamentally change my reality just eight months later.  I still remember getting a phone call from my parents in January,  informing me about how they had bought masks for family members in the mainland and telling me to be careful about Chinese New Year celebrations on campus.

At the time, I was meeting with some PIs across Duke who had been gracious enough to respond to my initial cold emails, selling myself as a slightly awkward germ nerd with no prior lab experience outside of being a complete klutz in organic chemistry lab. I learnt a great deal about the interesting work being done to understand the human microbiome, fight antibiotic resistance, and engineer microbes to synthesize useful products such as biofuels. Despite going into this search process anticipating a wet lab position, I ended up at Prof. Xiling Shen’s lab, working in the computational biology space to analyze 16S RNA sequences and put together a new analysis tool for microbiome data. Lucky for me, the pandemic did not put a stop on my work there, and I have learned a lot since.

One of my favorite things about Duke is the multitude of opportunities to explore, challenge, and build upon your research interests. This summer, I hope to ask many questions, learn from my (hopefully not too many) mistakes, and gain experience with many of the basic wet lab techniques used to address abstract scientific questions, and I am grateful to the Lynch Lab for  giving me the opportunity to continue growing as a student and scientist. I also want to gain some insight into the day-to-day life of an independent scientist (which will help inform some big career decisions in the near future), and hope that the experience will be a good complement to my computational background. Sure, it’ll take some time to get used to troubleshooting experimental set-ups as opposed to debugging Python code, but to borrow a quote from the late Chadwick Boseman, “the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose”.

Papers, Papers and the Gap in knowledge

The first time when I was exposed to what neuroscience research really was, I was only in tenth grade and yet to learn University level Biology. I did not know what a PCR is, nor how each neuron was connected to each other in various different types ways(via neurotransmitters like glutamate-excitatory- and GABA-inhibitory) and in such a temporally sensitive manner. From start to finish, I was at lost of what was going on, and my kind, super-smart bench mentor had to teach me everything from the basics. That was my tenth grade summer.

Fast forward four years and I have dedicated much time into learning Biology and Neuroscience. At this point in time, I considered myself to be much more prepared for lab (“I got this!”). However, although I was able to understand some basic procedures and general knowledge related to the brain, I quickly noticed a lot of the knowledge that was specific about lab’s research topic pouring in, and was ready to read to get started. Two days in, I observed one of the postdoc members of the lab giving a presentation for his seminar next week. He talked about how some GABAergic neurons could actually function as excitatory in the striatum, depending on the type of stimulation. Already on the first week, new research was shown that challenged my previous notion of how neurons were connected.

What I expect this summer is not to understand every single detail of what we are doing in the lab, but to contribute to Calakos lab’s efforts to reveal circuit level changes as striatum adjusts from goal-direct to habitual behavior. I will be learning how to analyze and use confocal microscopes to help me get going, and probably have a ton of learning before me. Does this intimidate me? Yes, probably. A little bit. But I also know that this is the start of a long journey ahead. My goals for the summer is to understand the group dynamics in lab, and perhaps identify a gap in knowledge about this topic that I can fill in during my independent study in the future. Most importantly, I want to learn a really crucial skill in the Sciences: how to ask the right questions. I think I can have plenty of practice doing that this summer.

Community and Connection in Research

Although I’ve always been certain that I want to study something in the sciences, I wasn’t always interested in research. I had never met anyone who did scientific research before coming to Duke, so the specifics of what happens in research labs were a bit of a mystery to me. Over time I became more and more curious about what a career working in a lab would actually consist of, and started to look for ways to get involved, which ended up leading me to BSURF! Since arriving at Duke, and even this first week, I’ve been able to strip away some of that mystery as I have met so many people who do research as a career, as well as other students interested in pursuing a career in research.

I’m definitely looking forward to getting some hands-on experience this summer, and hopefully learning some technical skills that I can put to use during my research experience at Duke and in the future. Although I had already worked with my research mentor before this summer, I am really excited to work on a plan that I will be involved in from the very start! Working in Dr. Ru-Rong Ji’s lab has been an amazing experience so far, and I’m thrilled to be able to work there on a daily basis. Beyond the actual research that I’ll be doing, I’m also particularly interested in meeting more researchers and learning more about the various labs at Duke, in order to make connections and really explore the research community as a whole.

A Chilly Start to Summer

I’ve always looked forward to applying the knowledge I’ve gained regarding Biomedical Engineering towards research, and this past week I was finally given the opportunity to do so! At first I was very nervous; was anything I learned in class useful or relevant? However, as I walked in on my first day to the Bursac Lab and began talking with one of my mentors, Ethan, it was like the gears fell into place. Knowledge from classes I’d taken before helped me understand the concepts and topics that I was tasked with knowing, ranging from BIO 221 to BME 221, I realized that many aspects of the classes I’d been spending two years taking were applicable towards the research I would be immersing myself in this Summer. This revelation was both exciting and encouraging to me, as it motivated me to continue on my path to become a Biomedical researcher.

Another aspiration I had for this Summer was to gain hands-on experience with laboratory techniques that I never would in class, and I can definitely say that this first week has more than sufficed. This week I was tasked with creating thin cuts of frozen tissue on a machine called a Cryostat. For about 8 hours this week, my left hand was perpetually maintained at about -20 degrees Celsius, while my right hand turned the wheel to make cuts (I should clarify: I was not cutting my own tissue, just had to handle some within the machine). I quickly learned how difficult it was to work some samples and what techniques to employ to acquire the best imaging results. From starting as a complete rookie, I can now confidently say I’m proficient in the ways of the Cryostat. I surely didn’t expect my first week of Summer to involve sticking my hand into a literal freezer, but it’s definitely better than the sweltering heat of the outdoors, and I’m looking forwards to the other techniques and machines I’ll be exposed to this Summer.

A Whole New (Microscopic) World

When first entering the Chilkoti Lab, you’ll take notice of the giant flasks around the room filled with dark golden liquids and covered in foil. Like most other things in the lab, these flasks are one of the many tools used to grow and collect bacteria. The Chilkoti Lab focuses on working in the microscopic world as they try to collect ELPs, proteins that are soluble and insoluble under certain temperatures and can be created by bacteria. These are then studied to see how to best use ELPs to improve drug delivery and therapy as a whole. To collect these proteins, a variety of instruments and procedures must be employed. 

I have not had much research experience in my past. I have never officially worked in a lab or carried out complex experiments, and so my knowledge on how a lab functions was minimal. Entering the Chilkoti Lab, I felt slightly nervous and intimidated by what I was about to begin working on. Thankfully, my mentor greeted me with plenty of advice and support as she began to teach me more about mini preps, creating petri dishes, and other essential skills. Over the summer, I hope to continue learning more about the bacterial and molecular world, as well as increase my knowledge of drug therapy. I also hope to gain more experience carrying out common protocols and remembering important information that is relevant to the lab. Finally, I hope that I will be able to gain some form of independence over the summer and allow myself to get used to the usual responsibilities of the lab on my own. 

I expect this summer to be difficult at first, especially when having to keep track of all the steps in a protocol or learning where everything is located around the lab. Yet, I also expect I will learn first-hand how to conduct scientific research and the challenges that come along with it. 

Mice and Cool Suits

The brain is an amazing enigma. We as humans use the brain to do everything, but we are unaware of how it controls much of the body. This summer, I am working in Dr. Tadross’ lab, which studies the connection between the activity of specific cell types of the brain and various behaviors. Through working in this lab, I have the great opportunity to work with two mentors, one specializing in biomedical engineering and one specializing in neurobiology. Through this, I envision myself learning more about how to build tools that detect the activity of specific cell types and use these tools in order to make discoveries about the functions of these cell types.

This past week, I was faced with a lot of different trainings focusing on topics from general lab safety and chemical safety to animal handling. My mentor focusing in neurobiology, Sasha, is working with mice to see how dopamine affects movement and learning, so I needed to learn how to properly handle these mice in order to use them in experiments. On my first day, she led me to a room full of mice in cages. Throughout the day, she would carry them out of the cages, at times perching them on her arm, and she told me that I would be doing the same sometime soon. I’ve never worked with animals. In fact, I’ve never even had a pet, so I have no experience actually taking care of animals. I expect to become a lot more comfortable with working with animals and hopefully become less scared to hold them. My other mentor, Zack, is creating a product that can measure the electrical activity of cells in the brain, and in order to build and test this product, I will need to learn how to use equipment in a cleanroom. As a part of my training, I watched a video detailing how to put on a cleanroom suit. The suit looks somewhat like the suits you see in movies when people are handling radioactive materials. I will not lie, I am very intimidated, but I anticipate eventually mastering the use of the equipment and gaining more experience with actually building a medical device (which I really haven’t done much in my classes, I will add).

Overall, I expect to learn a lot about the brain and the functions of different parts of the brain. I’ve known that I have been interested in the brain for about a year now, but I had never taken an actual class focusing solely on neuroscience, so I believe that this hands-on  experience will help me further look into my interests. In addition, I anticipate developing a great relationship with Dr. Tadross and my bench mentors Sasha and Zack. They all seem to be very kind so far, and they show that they believe that there is no such thing as a dumb question and greatly encourage me to ask questions and research what I am not familiar with. I hope that I can adopt this mindset and use this mindset to become a better scientist by becoming more comfortable with exploring and investigating new topics and new research questions. Furthermore, I anticipate making some mistakes. I am sure that I will not do everything perfectly the first time, and it may take a few attempts to effectively understand what I need to do. I am prepared for this, and I hope that this experience will further help me understand that success does not equal perfection.

Also, to be completely honest, I hope this summer can help me figure out what biomedical engineering (and engineering in general) is, as I just declared it as a major and I still don’t really know.


The Unfamiliar World of Plants

For my entire life, I have been interested in all things related to biology. I grew up fascinated by animals, the environment, the relationships that exist between different organisms, and the human body, along with a variety of other topics related to life on Earth. One particular branch of biology that I never became well aquatinted with, however, is that regarding plants. This made me all the more excited to join the Wright Lab and help with a research project dedicated to studying a particular species of plant.

Because my knowledge of plants is not very extensive, I am entering this project almost as a blank slate, ready to learn everything I can from those I am working with and from conducting some work myself. I don’t have any experience working in a research lab setting, but I was always drawn to the idea of conducting field work. When I found out this project involves collecting samples and data directly from the field, my excitement intensified. I honestly don’t know what to expect from these trips, but I think that is part of the fun. I just plan to absorb everything I can and make the most of this hands-on experience. That being said, I do hope to learn about various methods of sample/data collection as well as the proper way to analyze these samples back in the lab.

While the world of plants is mostly foreign to me, I can’t help but face this research project with a sense of excitement. Everything about this experience is very new and I can’t wait to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me.

Let’s Hit The Ground Running!

I just finished my first week at the Segura Lab, a Biomedical Engineering Lab interested in the impact of hydrogels on diseased sites of the body. My project focuses on the stroke response to hydrogels, and on Friday, I did my first animal test where I administered strokes to a couple of mice. I didn’t imagined to be so involved in the first “surgery” I watched, and it was definetely a surreal experience for me! My bench mentor said that we’d hit the ground running with these surgeries, and she wasn’t joking at all XD. Afterwards, we plan to analyze the impact of the hydrogels (a medium for drug delivery) on stroke sites and look for tissue and neuronal growth.

I’m really looking forward to contributing to the lab, be that making hydrogels, handling animals, studying tissue samples, building community with fellow undergrads, and becoming more like a scientist. I’m also looking to get my feet wet and observing behavioral studies in mice with strokes and the impact of hydrogels on the animals in rehabilitation and neuronal growth.

Furthermore, I hear that the Segura lab is also known to be very social, where students meet in their free time to play board games, go on runs together, and GET BOBA! You can tell that I’m really excited about the later. I’m excited to be here, and can’t wait to see what the summer has in store for me!

One Step Closer to My Dreams Thanks to Caterpillars

There has been a lot of change for me lately: moving from west campus to east campus, being away from home (and thus away from my amazing cat, Oreo) for the summer AND fall semester, working through a long-distance relationship for these next couple months, and finally getting experience in a research lab for the first time. Sometimes I become sad thinking about all of that distance, but then I remind myself of all of the new people I am meeting this summer and all of my friends that I can continue to see and hang out with when I’m down. I remind myself that, every time I step into my new lab, I am one step closer to actually obtaining my dream job, and I know that I am very lucky to be able to make such a statement of comfort.

I have always loved animals, but being a veterinarian was not in the cards for me. Over the years, my desire to combine my love for animals and learning has multiplied, so entering the research industry seemed to make the most sense to me. This summer I will be working in the Nijhout Lab, where we’re studying growth of wings developing inside caterpillars. I have not met everyone yet, but the people I have met so far are very kind and welcoming. I was afraid of my first caterpillar dissections, but with Dr. Nijhout’s help, I was finally able to remove the imaginal discs from each side of the insect (unfortunately, I tore some of them). I can’t wait to learn more lab techniques and to assist this lab team with their goals. My main goal for this summer is to make new connections and get lots of hands-on experience in the lab!

Part of Your World

Ever since I can remember, people have been asking me variations of the question “what do you want to do with your life?”  When I was as young as 4 years old, it manifested itself in the ever-so-popular “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  Now, it’s evolved into a more mature “what is your area of study?” or “future career path.”  Regardless of how it’s phrased, it’s all the same question.  When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to become a Disney princess.  13 years and some minor adjustments later,  I’m considering a career in research neuroscience.  But likewise, I have minimal experience actually doing it.  I was first introduced to the world of research and scientific literature in the latter part of high school and have since become somewhat well versed in the products of research.  I’ve also shadowed in the lab I’ll be working in for the last couple of months, so I’m starting to get a better idea of the process as well.  

This summer, I’m most looking forward to learning how to actually do research. Especially after a year of virtual learning, I’m eager to get some hands-on experience.  I’m excited to become familiar with various techniques and hopefully gain more independence.  The transition from discussing research to becoming a working member of the lab will teach me new skills that will be invaluable. I also hope that the experience will be rewarding and propel my desire to pursue a career in neuroscience. 


Finding Familiarity in Uncertainty

What did I expect from my summer research experience? The only thing expected was uncertainty. Uncertainty in what working in a lab would consist of, in the expectations in what life would entail, and if I would even like working in a lab.

I was taking the first step into the unknown for me. I haven’t worked in a college research lab before and have only worked on research in high school. My previous research was in environmental science, which is unrelated to biomolecular and biochemistry lab. While doing my previous research, I was the person in charge, and I choose how much I worked, and everything was my project design. One of my hopes for this summer was that working in a lab would help clarify that. For most of my time in college, I was looking to find a lab that I could join, and I am excited to start researching in a lab.

I found familiarity in uncertainty was through the process of getting the concentration of DNA in solution. Part of my day on Thursday was getting the concentration of DNA in using the intensity at the peak absorbances of the DNA. While getting the concentration of DNA was repetitive, I found the connection to one of my physical chemistry labs. The objective of the experiment was to calculate the change in concentration of a substrate as is catalyzed by an enzyme. I found it interesting how I found a connection to a physical chemistry lab in a biomolecular process. It made me realize how interdisciplinary science research can be and that while there are defined research areas ideas from other fields can be used.

With my first week done in the Tadross lab, I’ve learned to embrace the uncertainty. That uncertainty and unknown is just part of the process. I have two hopes for the rest of the summer that eventually, there is less uncertainty and That I will become more confident in the lab. With my first days being over in the Tadross lab I am sure that there are great things on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to the uncertainty.

The Perfect Lab: The Perfect Lab

Cryptococcus neoformans = something I had no clue about until I came here and became entirely flooded with interest in it

Coming into the lab the first time, I had no expectations. I knew a bit about the fungi I’d be researching and had already spoken with my project manager before then, but I also had never really done any research to have a sense of what it’s like to work in a lab. Ultimately, I feel it turned out to be a perfect fit. My project manager explains everything thoroughly and the research I’m doing easily keeps me super engaged. The readings I was given… are actually fun to read? This whole realization really soothed the uncertainty and skepticism I had about research, so it’s really nice to say I know this is what I want to do.

Because of the pretty quick and communicative relationship I formed with my project manager and mentor, I expect there to be a lot of comfortable bursts of passion in conversation, that much of my series of questions will be answered, and that I’ll obtain valuable advice. Just in the first day, I learned so much. I can’t imagine the kind of knowledge I’ll leave with on July 3rd. I also feel like there will be a much greater level of confidence and understanding of the scientific world. In my application, I wrote about desperately wanting to become an insider to this world. I’ve only been given two days of a taste of what it’s like, and I already feel so, so eager to know more.

Since my lab is solely on discovering more about C. neoformans, there are so many questions to ask. For example, the fungi is able to live in several unrelated environments that aren’t suitable for a living organism. It is unsure what makes it able to do this. The 7ish weeks that I’ll be here will be dedicated to measuring C. neoformans drug resistance and tolerance towards different concentrations of an antifungal agent, or drug, fluconazole (FCN). Still, I think that I’ll be captivated in finding out more about C. neoformans even after that time and will likely ask to continue working in Dr. Perfect, my principal investigator’s, lab.

Nothing But Birdbrains

I think all of us know someone who we would describe as a birdbrain. You know, that one friend or distant cousin who’s just not completely there all the time. I’m not quite sure how this saying came to be, but regardless, we may have to reconsider our use of this term. Turns out, birdbrains are quite complex – go figure – and share many similarities to the human brain. Song birds, and in my specific case zebra finches, are one of the only non-human species who learn to vocalize, and are thus an ideal model to help elucidate the mechanisms that control vocal learning in humans. This summer, I’ll be devoted to studying the neural mechanisms and brains of zebra finches with the Mooney Lab. 

I’ve only been in-lab a few times so far, but here are a few key takeaways: 1). Make sure to close the doors when handling the birds (they WILL try to escape) 2). The brain is remarkably complex. Referring to that second point – while attempting to understand the intricacies of the brain can be quite daunting, it is something that I expect from this summer. I expect to be confused – thrown into the deep end of neurobiology and scientific jargon. Yet, I don’t believe this to be a negative thing. Confusion leads to questions, and questions serve as the foundation for new discovery and innovation. Thus, while I expect to be confused, maybe even overwhelmed by the breadth of new material presented before me, I also expect myself to start asking questions – questions that have answers to them and possibly questions that have yet to be asked. 

Finally, I expect and am very excited to form new relationships this summer. The opportunity to be mentored by and work alongside individuals who are at the forefront of innovation and science is something I do not take for granted. I’m truly thrilled to meet and forge connections with faculty and fellow students who are so passionate about their research, and I am hopeful that some of their passion influences my work as a scientist and individual.