Blog Posts

Finding Meaning in Science

By Yifei Wang

 

A few years ago, my best friend was diagnosed with medullary sponge kidney, a condition which currently has no effective treatment. Medullary sponge kidney is a rare disease causing frequent kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In rare cases, like my friend’s, the patient gradually loses kidney function, ultimately resulting in kidney failure.

At the time of my friend’s diagnosis, I was an undergraduate student majoring in biochemistry. I struggled with my major because it was not what I expected. I had imagined I would only need to understand biology for my major. Instead, multiple subjects including chemistry, math, and physics, were needed to build up appropriate knowledge to fully understand biology. Some subjects were boring, or even frustrating to learn. I wasn’t enjoying my courses and considered changing my major. But, once my friend was diagnosed, I suddenly had motivation to continue studying biochemistry. I set a goal to one day find a cure for him.

I continued to push through my unexciting courses and began working in the lab where I started to enjoy science. Hands-on research made the conceptual knowledge of textbooks tangible and easier to understand. In the lab, I could solve problems incrementally, though many small jumps in understanding.

I loved science even more upon designing a prototype system in my Anatomy class to help patients such as my friend improve their quality of life. After completing the project and presenting it to the class, I felt for the first time that my science could truly help people. This gave me the courage to continue with my coursework.

Hopefully in the future I can complete [...]

July 27th, 2020|

Getting Comfortable

By Michael Meleties

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When I was first applying to graduate school, I initially wanted to remain at the institution where I completed my undergraduate degree. It was a good school, close to home, and I was comfortable there. When my professor suggested that it would be difficult to do that, I was stunned. It just didn’t make sense to me. After my professor explained that the conventional thought in the engineering field is that students shouldn’t do their graduate work at the same place they do their undergraduate degree in order to “learn a different way of thinking”, I relented in my pursuit to stay where I was comfortable.

Fast forward a couple of months and I was starting my graduate studies at NYU. I was excited as I was joining a growing department that looked poised to become a powerhouse in engineering and I was able to stay in New York. Of course, along with my excitement came an air of nervousness, natural when starting somewhere new. Eventually, with time I became more comfortable and everything was going smoothly.

At the end of my second year at NYU, I was given the opportunity to do research at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Dayton, Ohio for one month. I knew this opportunity was too good to pass up and that I would have to be well-prepared to make the most of my time there. I spent the weeks leading up to the summer testing different conditions and trying to find the ideal parameters for my experiments, eventually arriving to what I thought were ideal conditions. I had all the work [...]

July 17th, 2020|

My Scientific Summer with the Navy

By Joe Thomas

Academia or industry? This is a question that every grad student is asked at some point regarding their career plans.  As tenured academic positions become incredibly difficult for the bulk of life science graduates to obtain, industry is an attractive alternative that provides a wealth of different opportunities. These jobs are an obvious choice to apply the skills accumulated over the course of a PhD, but there are even more opportunities available outside of the traditional academia/industry dichotomy for those looking for something a little different. PhD scientists are trained to be highly technical leaders, a skill set that is in high demand in many defense/military positions. The Department of Defense (DoD) is always looking to recruit highly specialized researchers to work on projects of national importance. These roles allow researchers to be involved in cutting edge work that has a direct, near-term impact while serving your country.

Since starting graduate school, I have had an interest in working for/with the military as a researcher but was never able to interact with anyone who had direct knowledge of how to break into the field. Scholarships such as the NDSEG are widely publicized and allow graduate students to work on topics of national importance, but I was looking for something more involved with day-to-day military operations. A chance Google search revealed that the Navy uses numerous internship programs as pipelines for new hires. I applied for an NREIP internship and was fortunate enough to be selected to spend the summer at a Navy lab. NREIP internships are available to undergraduates and graduate students alike and involve working alongside [...]

July 2nd, 2020|

A Shift in Perspective

Xiaole Willy Wang

When I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, my professor at the time told me that one type of polypeptide of naked oats has a hypoglycemic effect. There is even an existing patent advocating the same conclusion. I was then challenged by my professor to conduct the same experiment.

“Check the results,” he said, “and if the results come back the same as the patent, you’ll have a chance of investigating further and write a research paper.”

I was so excited since having a published research paper is extremely helpful for an undergrad student, who plans to apply for grad school in America. It would give me more of an advantage among other applicants and be more likely to achieve my dream of being admitted to grad school. With that in mind it became the driving factor, and so I began my experiment.

First of all, I took for granted everything that happened during the experiment process including inconsistencies between my data and what was reported in the patent. My way of thinking, because the published patent is considered “right” and anything that is incongruous with it should be wrong. The right thing can be defined as something repeatable in practice, while the wrong thing is the opposite. What I did was take those inconsistencies as an operational miss, instead of the “wrong thing”. Even though I modified my experiment plan, I still could not repeat the so-called “right result”. With the increasing amount of failure, I became less and less confident and began suspecting whether the result could ever be repeated, I still insisted that it was my [...]

June 9th, 2020|

The Thing I do Outside of Research

By Matthew Moulton

I am a senior chemical engineering student at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Outside of research and school, one sport that I love to play is handball. I was inspired to start playing at the end of my freshman year in high school after I watched a game between my classmates who were on the handball team. Handball is a sport in which players use their hands to hit a small rubber ball against a wall such that their opponent cannot do the same without the ball touching the ground twice. There are three versions of the game, one-wall, three wall and four-wall. Handball can be played in singles or doubles. The first player to 21 points wins the game. One-wall handball courts have a wall that is 6.1 m wide and 4.9 m high. The court floor is 6.1 m wide and 10.4 m long. I started to practice by playing against people at a park near my school. This was the first sport that I practiced consistently.

http://personal.psu.edu/vml5084/smithpark.jpg

                                   Handball Court*

To put the ball in play, a play must execute a serve. To serve the ball, a player must strike the ball to the wall such that its first bounce is past the short line. Once the ball is in play, players rally until a player fails to properly return the ball. In singles play, more emphasis is placed on the serve because the players have more ground to cover. A well placed serve can immediately put the opponent on the defensive. In doubles, each team has two players so it is more difficult to [...]

April 27th, 2020|

A tryst with science

By Ashwitha Lakshmi

Here I am, sipping my coffee and staring out of my only real window to the outside world. It all does seem a bit too cinematic. And as a clockwork, I start to ponder on the endless rhetorical questions that we often ask ourselves.

 

Isn’t it amusing how we are so caught up in the present (or future) that we lose track of how far we have come? A typical Indian twenty-something, in New York, living a life she still finds hard to believe. A student in a renowned University and even an amazing Laboratory, I get to do everything that I ever imagined and more. Could life get any better?

 

I can see my reflection smiling away in the window and I think “Oh I know what comes next”. I’m pulled into a known reverie.

 

As cliche as it sounds, unlike most, I do not remember when or how I fell in love with science. But one memory does come to my mind. In 2007 I got to meet my grandparents after a long hiatus (isn’t that always the case?) but they were very ill and I felt utterly helpless. For a brief period of time, I wanted to become a doctor and help others who were sick. But to my dismay, I was made aware that even the doctors often felt helpless.

 

And that is when a realization hit me – the medical profession stands tall on the shoulders of thousands of scientist’s life work. And for doctors to function, we need scientists who lock themselves in labs for years together, if not decades. (More power to doctors, especially in tempestuous times like these, but we as [...]

April 13th, 2020|

3 degrees, 3 fields

By  Farbod Mahmoudinobar

 

As a kid I didn’t like to ask many questions.

I was told that scientists by nature like to ask a lot of questions.

Yet, I liked science.

Just because I didn’t like to ask many questions didn’t mean I wasn’t curious. Instead, I enjoyed problem solving independently. Asking questions is only one means to satisfy the curiosity of a scientific mind. Compared to being handed the answer, self-discovery requires a deeper understanding of the challenge. Like completing a puzzle, the enjoyment is in the problem solving process. Once solved, it becomes merely a memento of your achievement. My passion for learning originates here, I want to build towards the answers to my questions.

I have always been interested in the medical sciences. The specialized yet interdependent function of each organ is pretty amazing to me. I was curious to understand the mechanisms of a healthy body and the advancement of biotechnology to ameliorate so many medical conditions. My high school biology course may have sparked my interest in this field. By the end of high school I had developed a love for math, physics, and biology. To combine my broad scientific interests, I chose my first field, BioMedical Engineering (BME), at Amirkabir University of Tehran. BME is an amazing major which integrates my engineering problem solving skills with my interest in medical science with the goal of improving healthcare diagnostics and therapy. The courses I took covered a broad range of topics from Finite Elements Methods, Strength of Materials and Computer Programming, to Bioinstrumentation, Fluid Mechanics in Biological Systems and Tissue Mechanics. I gained hands-on research experience in a tissue engineering lab. I analyzed endothelial [...]

March 30th, 2020|

I want to be a beach bum

By Dustin Britton

What do you want to do after you graduate?

“I want to be a beach bum.”

Although that wasn’t my long-term goal, it was still my best plan after completing both undergraduate and master’s degrees.

I owe much of my current research drive to an unexpected 12 weeks that evolved my perspective on pursuing scientific research. Prior, my classes taught me thermodynamics, separations, and transport theory. My notebooks were filled with long differential equations and little understanding of the practical relevance of my newfound knowledge. My internship experiences consisted of trudging through pungent, dirty plants with steel toed boots and a hard hat to take mundane measurements and process check-ups: ‘everything is running well as usual.’ It is putting it mildly to say that I was disillusioned with the postgraduate job prospects that Chemical Engineering beheld. I had expected to ‘engineer chemicals’ for an albeit corny, ‘better world.’

Thus, I entered a 12 month Master’s program in Chemical Engineering primarily to postpone my job search and to extend the enjoyment of college. My program involved completion of graduate coursework in the first two semesters followed by a research project as a Particle Technology Intern for the Chemours Company. Because I had never set foot in the lab outside of my undergraduate core classes, I had no concept of what scientific research entailed. I learned that my research group at the Chemours Company would include one principal scientist (or Principal Investigator, P.I.) and myself. The company was based out of a research facility in Wilmington, Delaware. I was not excited.

My job consisted of carefully preparing various powder materials into stainless steel holders for various rheology devices. I was [...]

March 17th, 2020|

The New Vanguard: First-Generation Students

 By Stanley Chu

Being the first to accomplish something, especially in STEM, is an achievement. Pioneers are lauded for their contributions to the field and remembered for their triumphs. But what’s  often forgotten is the loneliness, insecurity, and oftentimes guilt associated with that journey. First-generation students, those that are the first in their family to attend college, face a similar struggle. While it is difficult to pin an exact definition of who is included in this group, what can be said about first-generation (first-gen) students is that they often “lack the critical cultural capital necessary for college success because their parents did not attend college.”1 This “cultural capital” refers to the intangibles that contribute to student success in a college setting.

As a first-gen student, perhaps one of the toughest challenges I’ve had to face in pursuing higher education was my relationship with my family. My family immigrated to America from Hong Kong in the 80’s. As is true for many immigrant families, the move was inspired with the hopes of having more opportunities in America. It’s the dream of many immigrant parents to watch their kids pursue higher education. While I was able to earn my PhD in STEM, I wasn’t able to share the entirety of this journey with my mother. For one, I simply do not have the Chinese vocabulary to describe Chemical Engineering to my mother. I lack the language to describe my research and to accurately portray the rigors of academia. While my family has been approving in my academic pursuits, they were unable to act as an effective support system during my undergraduate and graduate years when it came to academic affairs.

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March 2nd, 2020|

My Interest in Protein Engineering Research

By Xiaole Wang

In one of my undergraduate biochemistry labs, I was introduced to sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE). This is a process by which proteins are separated based on size from a protein sample with various kinds of protein. Running these experiments sparked my interest in biology research. After this experience, I joined a lab where I studied a food related polypeptide derived from naked oats. I was surprised to find that this kind of polypeptide is able to prevent blood sugar spikes after meals. Because I desired to understand proteins with greater nuance, I followed up my undergraduate study by enrolling in the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, majoring in biotechnology. In addition to my studies in the Engineering department, Dr. Montclare has given me the opportunity to volunteer in her lab where I have broadened my experience in protein related research, especially in protein engineering.

 

sds-page

Line pressed with loading buffer of samples during SDS-PAGE

 

I am amazed that proteins, composed of only 20 different building blocks, bear function in almost all of life’s activities. They play an essential role in daily exercise, cellular growth, metabolism, immunity, gene inheritance, and evolution of species. From microscopic creatures to dinosaurs with legs the size of the Parthenon’s columns, life cannot exist without proteins. However, there are many proteins that remain unknown in their function. Scientists continue to make steps in uncovering the mystery of nature by identifying new proteins. With the advances in gene manipulation, it is now possible to produce artificial “engineered” proteins. These engineered proteins can be developed to address issues in human health care. For instance, the [...]

February 16th, 2020|