Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Week 1

Process of assimilation:
The assimilation process has been somewhat difficult because the initial amount of information is exorbitant. However, most everyone in the lab has been very helpful and friendly. I greatly appreciate having the two orientation days to become accustomed to the parts of the BU campus in which we will be working. My only complaint would be that we didn't get to meet our PI until our 3rd day because she was unavailable and, at first, difficult to track down. Overall it has been a fairly smooth process transitioning in to the laboratory setting. My brain is still spinning around all the possibilities of research within photonics and what our PI specificially researches, optogenetics.

Environment & Equipment:
The overall environment is fairly friendly. Everyone in our lab seems to get along well with each and works together with a certain goal in mind. My lab partner and I are currently working with a postdoctoral researcher that is trying to duplicate a published study that involves training mice to perform certain tasks. They have had some difficulty duplicating the study due to design limitations of their current cages for the mouse experiments. Jessica and I have decided to help design a new cage based on specifications given by the postdoc. We have been in a rush to figure our measurements of this new cage, develop a material list so that we can get materials ordered and constructed within our 6 week time frame.

Jessica Leach and I are working under Dr. Xua Han in her biomedical engineering lab studying neurophysics. Her lab is occupied by a number of undergraduate, graduate, and post-doc students that work together to research an up and coming branch of biophysics known as optogenetics. We are helping a postdoc named Jiamin with  his research.

Essence of Research:Dr. Han's lab focuses on an up and coming branch of science dubbed optogenetics. The explanations given to us for what exactly they research sounds like something out of a science fiction book. Dr. Han directed us to her website which has links to her various research articles as well as to a TED talk that would help us form a foundation of  understanding for her research.

The TED talk gave a basic understanding of what optogenetics is and many reasons as to how this new field of science can benefit humanity.

My narrow understanding of optogenetics is that they want to use light to trigger certain brain cells to be turned on or off. The ability to activate certain brain cells and see how they respond when given a certain stimulus will help us better map and understand the many functions within the brain. Down the road, information obtained through the study of optogenetics could be used to treat brain disorders such as depression, and Parkinson's disease. If we could target the brain cells that are either overactive or underactive  and causing a brain disorder, then through optogenetics, we could use optical fibers implanted in the brain to act as a sort of pacemaker for these malfunctioning cells. 

The initial challenged we faced was trying to figure out what we are doing. My lab partner and I did not meet our PI until Tuesday afternoon so we felt a little behind in understanding our project. After meeting with her we soon realized that she did not have a set project in mind for us to help with. Instead, she gave us a general overview of her lab and gave us the opportunity to choose our own direction of research. I do appreciate the open-endedness but it was a little overwhelming at first knowing we had to find where our knowledge and skills could best be used.

For me, one of the hardest parts has been getting the graduate researchers to understand that we are not just "dumb teachers." In asking questions, some gave too basic of an answer. For example, I asked one researcher what he was working on and he replied "neurophysics" and walked away. At the time I didn't press further because I was frustrated and felt any response I made would be rude. Over the next few days I did press further and have been able to share that I have a stronger background in biomedical physics than they thought which in turn has lengthened the responses and descriptions the researchers provide. Overall, Dr. Han has been very helpful and welcoming of us in her lab and the undergraduate students have seemed a little more receptive of us being there. Everyone now seems receptive to working with us and I anticipate the coming weeks will go smoothly.

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