Tag Archives: RF2017-Week1

Printing Things and Poking Stuff

When I found out that I had been placed in Dr. Sheila Patek’s lab for BSURF, I almost burst with excitement. As a scuba diver who has grown up swimming around the islands of the Philippines, I’ve fallen in love with marine life, and with animals in general! The Patek Lab is one of the few labs on Duke’s main campus that studies marine animals, studying things such as the acoustics and fast-movement systems of the amazing mantis shrimp, as well as other organisms like fungi and trap-jaw ants. Coming in this summer I already had a broad idea of what I might be doing for my research project: studying the spines* of mantis shrimp and other animals, and seeing how the structures of these spines affect their puncture mechanics. In other words, printing model spines out and poking ballistic gel.

One of the things I hope to do this summer is gain more technical knowledge on the procedures I use in my project. For example, my project involves a fair amount of 3D modeling and printing, neither of which I had ever done before. However, for the past week I’ve had the good fortune of being able to practice operating the Patek Lab’s Makerbot 3D Printer, and try my hand at a few different modeling programs. This meant that by Friday afternoon, I was grinning down stupidly at a 2-inch lionfish spine that I had isolated from a CT scan and printed out myself, and my initial doubts about my ability to handle my project had been sizably quelled. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to make progress in learning different scientific and technical techniques; and in the end, I hope to come out not only with a toolkit of skills that I can use in future projects, but also with more confidence in my ability to conduct research.

Left: my work at the lab’s computer.  On the display you can see a lionfish skeleton and an isolated lionfish spine ready for printing. Right: The spine has been printed!

I also hope to gain a better idea about what life is like in the lab, both in terms of working with other lab members and in terms of workload. The discovery of new knowledge about the natural world is an inherent part of research, and this enticing prospect is what causes me to seriously consider research as a career path. However, I don’t believe that I can dive into research without at least making an effort to learn about how it may (or may not) change my work habits, work-life balance and other aspects of life. By interacting with/observing my fellow lab members and asking lots of questions, hopefully I can gain a more accurate picture of what it means to be a research scientist, and decide whether that is truly the life for me.

Overall, through BSURF I hope to learn more about methods for exploring science, learn more about a living a life dedicated to research, and in the process, learn more about myself and my capabilities as a scientist. And no matter what I discover or decide by the end, I hope that this summer will be a fun and eye-opening one!

The Patek Lab members (+ the two Patek kids) over at Dr. Patek’s for dinner last Friday!


*The stabby bits, not the backbone 😀

Trust, but verify

I started in my lab only midway through the week, and by then, the imposter syndrome had set in. Hearing about all the things that my fellow BSURFers were doing and learning, I felt incredibly incompetent. However, when I finally met Dr. Williamson (my primary mentor) on Wednesday afternoon, he assured me that mistakes and misunderstandings were to be expected and that his motto was always to “trust, but verify”. I still feel like I’ve been thrown into the deep end, but at least I have a life vest! I’ve realized that being a budding scientist involves living in almost constant and see-sawing states of confusion and exhilaration.

The Williamson lab studies the bidirectional role of gut microbiota on depression in preclinical mouse models (among other projects). In my first few days during my first real lab experience, a couple of things have quickly become apparent: 1) science involves a lot more waiting around than one would think – for example, the Illumina HiSeq DNA sequencer that we use takes 65+ hours to run! This leads to 2) how incredible the equipment and technology that exists today is, and 3) how single sentences in published papers often represent extremely elaborate and laborious protocols. Science requires patience and perseverance, and it demands knowledge and experience.

This summer I expect to get a glimpse of life as a researcher, I anticipate failing often while learning how to ask for help, I wish to feel the rush of an unexpected discovery, and, most importantly, I hope to foster relationships with my lab that I can build on in the future. I know that research often involves time-consuming lit review and data analysis, but I’m really looking forward to getting my hands dirty!

At our weekly lab meeting!

Shoutout to Tulay for giving me the coolest pen!!

CT Scans Aren’t Just for Doctors

A textbook can give me the equation for principal stresses and the Young’s Modulus for a 6061-Aluminum shaft, but it can’t give me the experience of working with cervical spines and human brains. Joining Dr. Bass’ Injury and Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory, I was at first apprehensive of what I would exactly be doing, but excitement and fascination quickly consumed any nerves as I witnessed Micro CT scanning in action and learned the basics of the LS-DYNA finite element analysis modeling program.

The optimist residing in me hopes to reap results that will be new, fresh, and add to the ongoing scientific conversation in this biomechanics field. There is always the exciting dream of discovering the true mechanism behind concussions, or designing a program that can take individual measurements and parameters and custom-make football and military helmets. The realist in me doesn’t expect to even come close to those long-term goals by the end of my BSURF summer, but definitely wants a deeper understanding of the parameters that affect head injury; be immersed in several new terms, tools, methods, and skills that will allow me to fathom how linear and angular velocity and acceleration play into mild traumatic brain injury. And of course the pessimist exists, though ever so tiny, always the fear that I don’t have enough knowledge to experiment, program, and actually gain results and make even the slightest difference. Already, I have experienced the frustration of modelling and switching up the slightest of parameters just to have the program fail again. All three bodies of mind comprise my expectations and aspirations for my summer research, and ideally their balance will mold an eventful summer.

After this first week, I think I’m finally getting my head wrapped around how much failure or stagnation in research can be constant and prevalent, and I think I understand what the meaning of research entails. There is no step-by-step lab manual given, no known value to try and match, no black and white; there is simply the unknown, the questions, and the scientists brave and vulnerable enough to chase after answers.

On a less technical note, I want to find as much joy as I can. This is my first real college research experience, and I want to make the most of it, regardless of the results I get. I want to make connections with lab and Fellowship members and  gain life advice and experience from coworkers, mentors, faculty, and friends. Having fun, crafting timeless memories, and making lifelong friends are always at the top of my agenda!

Using LS-DYNA and LS-PrePost to analyze a brain model for head injury!