Research, Within and Outside of the Lab


Over my summers, I've performed research at Princeton through internships funded by the High Meadows Environmental Institute. I've really liked both experiences so far, but they've been incredibly different, not only being in different departments but requiring very different skill sets. Two summers ago, I worked remotely from home with the Interfacial Water Group in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department running simulations of contaminants in water and air. I connected to the Princeton computing clusters from my laptop, and Professor Bourg taught me over Zoom how to create files to run and submit to the supercomputer. This past summer, I worked in the Rand Lab in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department to try to create energy-efficient OLEDs. This work required using specialized equipment like the spin coater and thermal evaporator located only in lab B427. The two internships have been useful in allowing me to reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of coding lab work and manual lab work.

For both types of research, there was a steep learning curve at the beginning. For molecular dynamics simulations, I had to become familiar with the coding language of the software LAMMPS, in order to create input files to run, and with the scheduling language "slurm" as well as the Linux command line for submitting files to the supercomputer. In the Rand lab, a different set of abilities are required. The lab demands physical dexterity that is not required for running simulations, such as being able to insert my hands into the gloves that enter the nitrogen glovebox (easier said than done) and handling the fragile glass substrates with tweezers through the thick glovebox gloves. It also demands a certain vigilance, as one wrong move could spill an acid onto the floor or disturb someone's multi-day experiment.

I like the convenience of running simulations, in that I can work at it whenever I choose and from any location with a VPN connection. And at an earlier point in my OLED internship, I'm was much more familiar with running simulations than working in the lab, therefore simulations felt much more comfortable to me than the newness of the Rand lab. But there is something rewarding about seeing tangible and physical results that I achieve in the lab, like handling a shiny and finished OLED or viewing the color transformation of a compound I synthesize. I don't get quite the same feeling from seeing a display on a computer screen of a simulation I run as when I can hold the physical result of my work.

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a gloved hand holding a glass OLED device emitting a green light
Observing the light emitted by a fabricated OLED device
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a tri-panel figure showing a glass vial containing a frothy white liquid, a dark blue powder in a filter paper, and a gloved hand holding a small glass vial of a dark blue liquid

One of the solutions to be deposited on an OLED in various stages of synthesis, from a) the initial mixture to b) the powder after drying in the vacuum oven to c) the final solution dispersed in ethanol

There are other similarities between the two types of research aside from the learning curves. For instance, both lab groups hold weekly group meetings where a few members of the group give updates on their projects, asking the Head Principal Investigator (PI) and the other group members for feedback. There is a strong sense of community among the different graduate and undergraduate students in each group, revealed in the thoughtful advice they offer to one another. For instance, at a group meeting I spoke about my attempt with my mentor, Jesse, to synthesize a certain solution to use as one of the layers of our OLEDs. I described our problem getting the powder to fully disperse in alcohol. One of the graduate students mentioned that she knows several researchers from a group in France who work specifically on synthesizing solutions like the one we're attempting to create, and she offered to put me in contact with them. I'm really grateful to have had the chance to work in two very different fields.


Princeton for the Summer: High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) Internship


This summer, I'm working on a sustainable energy project creating OLEDs to power photocatalysis through a High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) internship. This means I'm living in Princeton, and I was initially worried that it would feel a little lonely to be on campus when classes aren't in session. When I was speaking with friends about their summer plans, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how many would also be in Princeton this summer. A few of my friends have other HMEI internships that take place in labs, while others have research internships through the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment (ACEE). Contrary to my worries, campus is still humming with activity in over the summer.

There's a community of about 50 HMEI interns on campus, and we recently had a group dinner where I caught up with friends and was introduced to several new ones. We had Nomad Pizza (restaurant that serves brick oven pizza) in Guyot Hall, and I got to hear about one friend's fieldwork at the nearby Watershed Institute and about another's work at the Plasma Physics Lab.

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Students serving themselves pizza and soft drinks at a table inside Guyot Hall
HMEI interns meeting for dinner

There are also around 20 ACEE interns on campus, one of whom, John, works in the same lab as I do with a different graduate student mentor. It's nice that I'm not the only undergrad in the lab, because I'm reminded that it's normal to face a steep learning curve when adapting to operating the specialized instruments! While the graduate students make operating a thermal evaporator with three pairs of gloves on seem effortless, John and I still have practice to do to achieve that level of dexterity.

Being on campus in the summer is nice because it gives me a chance to explore the Princeton area at a time when I'm not overwhelmed with coursework. On weekends I like to visit the shops on Nassau Street, like Nearly New thrift shop or Labyrinth Books, or explore the area by running on the towpath or biking around town. Another perk of Princeton in the summer is the farmers' market, which is held every Thursday. New Jersey summer fruit absolutely cannot be beat!

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A checkered tablecloth with teal berry pint containers holding cherries on top
Cherries at the Princeton Farmers Market

When I was applying for HMEI internships for the summer, I initially considered several of the offerings with international travel. There were opportunities to study grasslands in Madagascar of Mozambique, for example, which would certainly have made for a unique and memorable summer of travel. I decided against it, though, when I realized that I'd really prefer to gain more wet lab experience and spend time with my Princeton community. I'm truly enjoying spending summer on campus, and I would recommend it to any student as a way to appreciate the lovely area during a calmer time of year.


Exploring Pathology Over Break Through a Princeternship


Content warning: mention of autopsy and graphic images of human anatomy

One cool opportunity I didn’t know about before coming to Princeton was the Princeternship program. Princeternships are a unique chance to get insight into a career of interest through one or more Princeton alumni. They take place over winter break and can range from a few days of shadowing to a few weeks of working on a project. This past year, more than 180 in-person and virtual Princeternships were available in the fields of Arts, Culture, Media & Entertainment; Engineering, Science & Technology; Business; Healthcare; Social Impact; and Law. I had the privilege of participating in a two-day virtual Princeternship at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, hosted by Dr. Alice Werner. Together with four other Princeterns, I learned about Dr. Werner’s specialty, pediatric pathology, and got a glimpse into the operation of the hospital’s numerous departments. 

Prior to the Princeternship, Dr. Werner assigned each of us a topic to prepare a 10-15 minute presentation on, and we each gave our presentation when it was relevant to what we were discussing. I presented on the heel stick, a type of newborn screening, and the differences in screening in different states.

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Presentation slide. Title: Newborn Screening; on the left: the three types of newborn screening: heel stick, pulse oximetry and hearing screening; on the right: an illustration of a baby with a Band-Aid on his heel and five spots of blood on a piece of paper (a screening card)
Tests included in newborn screenings
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Presentation slide. Title: Differences Between States; on the left: factors which influence which conditions each state screens newborns for (funding, national recommendations, population genetics); on the right: a color-coded map of the United States demonstrating how many conditions each state screens for
How does newborn screening vary across the United States?

We were first introduced to some of the equipment and analytical techniques used in the hospital’s medical laboratory. One of my fellow Princeterns presented on the MALDI Biotyper, which identifies microorganisms using mass spectrometry. We spent the majority of our time observing slides of all kinds of samples under the microscope, including blood, cerebrospinal fluid and tumor biopsies. The virtual format was convenient because I could join from the comfort of my home and did not need to arrange travel or accommodation for during and after the Princeternship. Since I would have had to leave home several weeks earlier if the Princeternship were in-person, I was also able to enjoy some more time with my family. In addition, since Dr. Werner does a lot of work on the microscope and the computer, it was easy to see what she was looking at, as opposed to having six people crowded around one computer screen. 

On the first day, Dr. Werner “brought us to work” and took us through a normal morning as a clinical pathologist. She brought up the medical history and lab results of the patient whose sample she was tasked with analyzing, then showed us the slide under the microscope and explained what she saw. For example, I learned that reactive lymphocytes in the blood, identified by their large size and turquoise cytoplasm, are an indication of viral infection. We sometimes went back to the doctor’s note or lab results to piece together an explanation of what we were seeing. It was fascinating to participate in Dr. Werner’s thought process in real time, and I was impressed by all the types of body fluids we can observe under the microscope and the variety of clues they can give about one’s health and the potential cause of their disease. It felt like going behind the scenes of a normal doctor’s visit: literally, because Dr. Werner entered notes which the doctor interacting with the patient would use to develop their treatment plan, and metaphorically, because we could dive right into the cells at the root of the problem. 

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Photo of a slide of blood cells with many small red blood cells and a group of larger purple cells on the right
A blood smear under the microscope: the red cells are red blood cells and the amalgamation of purple cells is a metastatic tumor

On the second day, we attended the hospital’s Daily Safety Briefing where representatives from each department reported any concerns from the last 24 hours. For the remainder of the day, Dr. Werner showed us anatomical pathology slides she had been collecting as well as the corresponding MRI and ultrasound scans to give us more context to the cases. As an anatomical pathologist, Dr. Werner sometimes performs autopsies and she showed us an image of a deceased newborn baby with gastroschisis, a defect where some of the baby’s intestines are not enclosed in the body. She then showed us the autopsy picture exposing the baby’s internal organs, and I must admit, I was both shocked and mesmerized. Part of me was desperate to look away because it felt wrong to see a baby like this, but another part of me still wanted to learn what Dr. Werner had to share. As a pre-medicine student, I will likely have to face this conflict often in the future. I hope to always hold a deep respect for the patient and their family and gratitude for their willingness to allow us to learn everything we can from their loss. I believe that image will stick with me for years to come because I was reminded of the fragility of life which I usually take for granted.

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Photo of a slide of lung tissue (purple) under the microscope with large white spaces in the tissue
A slide of newborn lung tissue with abnormally large spaces
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Photo of a cross-section of the lung with large spaces in the tissue
Autopsy photo of the same long from which the tissue sample (above) was taken
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 Photo of a slide of the appendix (small purple cells) with a noticeable circle separate from the tissue (the pinworm)
 A slide of the appendix with a pinworm (the circle with two pointed ends)

This Princeternship taught me about a specialty that I knew almost nothing about and gave me an appreciation for medical labs and the technicians, chemists, engineers and pathologists who make it possible for us to analyze specimens and thereby understand illnesses much better. Although I realized that I am probably not interested in pursuing pathology because I would like to interact with patients and do a bit more with my hands, I learned that pathology is a fascinating and extremely important specialty which also allows providers to have a regular work schedule.

A huge thank you to the Center for Career Development for this enlightening opportunity, and I hope to participate in another Princeternship in the future!

 


Water Quality Laboratory


By the midpoint of the semester, I usually have a sense of what to expect in my courses, and I start to find which topics I'm really enjoying. This semester, my favorite course is probably CEE308: Environmental Engineering Laboratory. When I first enrolled, I wasn't sure exactly what the course would entail—environmental engineering is a broad field, after all, with many possible laboratory experiments. It turns out that we experimentally show many of the concepts I learned about last semester in CEE207: Introduction to Environmental Engineering, which is a really satisfying progression of my studies. For instance, in the first lab we measured the soil partition coefficient of a contaminant, and partition coefficients is a topic Professor Bourg covered and assigned a problem set on last semester in CEE207. I also really like the weekly workflow of this lab course. On Monday, we meet in a classroom with Professor Jaffé, where he discusses the theoretical concepts behind the lab we'll be doing on Wednesday by writing equations and diagrams on the blackboard. On Wednesday, we meet in Professor Jaffé's laboratory to carry out the lab. Sometimes the lab requires measurements on multiple days, in which case we'll also come to the lab over the following days to take readings. Each lab is building towards the final report, which is going to be an Environmental Impact Statement of a hypothetical plan to use golf course pesticides on the Princeton lawns and athletic fields. 

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author and Professor Jaffe operating the BODTrak machine for six sample bottles

I was nervous about the course at the beginning, because I had not-so-fond memories of my previous lab courses, which were remote (holding my breadboard up to a Zoom camera to try to understand why my circuit wasn't working was a bit of a challenge). But in person, I've found that I really love laboratory work, even the problem-solving and explanation-finding of experiments that don't go as planned. During our first lab, for instance, the data showed a mostly horizontal line when we were expecting a linear trend. At first, I thought that maybe my lab group had made an error in the experiment—why doesn't this look how I'm expecting it to look? I showed the results to Professor Jaffé, though, and he helped me realize an explanation for why the trend appeared as it did. We might have carried out the experiment correctly, but the concentrations used may simply have been too high to see the linear trend we expect at low concentrations. In my report, I simply showed the unexpected results and gave my best explanation for what could possibly have caused them. This skill, accepting unexpected results and working to understand them, is likely just as important as understanding the chemical and physical concepts behind the results we expect to get. 

As the weather gets nicer, Professor Jaffé is planning to assign experiments that require soil and water samples from around campus. I'm looking forward to this, as an afternoon spent outdoors in the sunshine will be a nice treat midweek as the semester gets more hectic. I have my fingers crossed for nice-weather Wednesdays during the second half of the semester.


A Prospective Path


I have recently taken to walking all over campus, even off-campus get out of the orange bubble, and I have noticed just how many walking paths there are. I have gone on hour-long walks down by Carnegie Lake and walked all the way until I have reached miles and miles of farmland. Some paths lead to cozy neighborhoods and others lead to peaceful and quiet scenery. I have walked in so many directions and for entire mornings. There is an abundance of greenery just outside the campus, and I have come to depend on these excursions to clear my mind when things get inevitably stressful. My most recent and pressing source of stress is settling on my plans for after graduation.

 

As a senior, I have been consumed by the thoughts of life after graduation. I know I definitely want to go to graduate school and get a doctorate degree in Latinx/Chicanx studies, but I am on the fence as to whether I should take a year off from school or not. I keep getting advice from so many people about all the different paths I could take as soon as May comes around. The Scholars Institute for Fellows Program has been the community on campus that I know I can depend on to support me in considering my options to make an informed decision on my future. I just want to be sure that I’m making the right decision. 

 

On one hand, I am excited to do more research and travel again in graduate school, especially after not being able to because of the pandemic. I feel that I still want to improve my research skills because I learned so many valuable things about time management and research techniques from my junior paper on the way that Latinx immigrants were represented in the media following the immigration act of 1990. I am working on applying my newfound knowledge on my senior thesis on the way that Hispanic women on college campuses develop their identities and decide their romantic and sexual partners, but I want more opportunities to truly put into practice and execute on what I have learned. 

 

On the other hand, pursuing a doctoral degree will take a number of years, and I might turn thirty before I get to my goal of getting my PhD in Chicanx studies. I’m worried that if I’m too focused on my research, I’ll be missing out on some fun adventures and outings with friends. If 2020 taught me anything, it is that in the blink of an eye, everything you took for granted can be swiped right from underneath you. I want my twenties to be filled with adventure, risk, and excitement, so I’m considering taking a gap year (or maybe a few) before I jump back into school. 

 

Another option to consider is getting a job abroad, where I learn more about the world before I put my head down to work. Perhaps I will go back to my mom’s hometown in Degollado, Jalisco to reconnect with my Mexican roots. There is still so much I want to experience, and I do not want to wait until later in life to do so because of school or work. My greatest fear is to have regrets about what I could have done or should have done differently. That is why I want to take some time to myself and grow as a person first. 


Transitioning from a Community College to Princeton


Transferring from the Miami Dade Honors College to Princeton University has been one of the best experiences of my life and attending Princeton has been a lifelong dream come true. However, at first, I didn’t know what to expect of  Ivy League coursework. I questioned if my educational background as a community college student was enough to succeed at Princeton. As you prepare to make this transition, you might also have these concerns, but as a senior and after two years at Princeton, I can assure you that you are in great hands. 

As part of Princeton’s second transfer cohort since the program’s relaunching in 2018, I’ve come to appreciate this University’s transfer program because it’s unlike any other in the country. With each cohort amounting to just a handful of students, we all receive personalized advising resources from the program’s director, Dr. Keith Shaw. By taking a transfer-based writing seminar course during our first semester with Dr. Shaw, the program offers opportunities to have regular check-ins with our adviser. Moreover, the program also integrates resources provided by the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP) , which assists first-generation  and/or lower income students in their transition to Princeton. The transfer program also introduces students to the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and Writing Center, which offer tutoring and essay advising sessions.

Taking advantage of these resources has made the transition to a major four-year institution so much easier.  Rather than being thrown into a large transfer cohort, we’re guided each and every step of the way as we take on challenging classes and begin to engage in unique extracurricular opportunities. In a way, the transition is almost seamless. The program equips you with the necessary resources to easily integrate into Princeton’s broader student body, while adapting to the academic rigor.

 

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Alejandro wearing a Princeton University shirt

 If it were not for the program’s one-on-one guidance and countless resources, I would not have been able to take advantage of Princeton’s many extracurricular opportunities.  A week into my very first semester, I began volunteering for the PACE Center’s ESL El Centro program, in which I taught several weekly English classes to Spanish-speaking members of our community. I felt as though I was able to balance my extracurricular commitments with a challenging set of courses. However, a few weeks into my second semester, the COVID-19 pandemic upended my plans and routine, as it did for countless other people. I struggled to find worthwhile summer internships and fellowships after evacuating campus and self-isolating at home in Miami, Florida. Yet, after having engaged for at least a full semester’s worth of coursework and having built connections with several faculty members, I found myself working for two different professors as a research assistant. Throughout the summer, I helped curate research data and built several coding data frames.

During that time, I also led the founding of the Princeton Transfer Association as the club’s president. Through the group, we have worked to further facilitate incoming transfer students’ transition by offering experienced transfer students’ insights during the orientation process and fostering a sense of community between each transfer cohort with community-building events. Additionally, Princeton's opportunities are available to all of its students, including transfers. At the start of my second year, I was also selected by one of Princeton’s most selective public policy fellowship programs, Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative (SINSI). The program offers about six students every year the opportunity to partake in an internship with a federal government agency. SINSI helps students interested in public service and policy find a way to begin engaging with the federal government. 

Princeton’s transfer program offers a unique opportunity for students to not only make a transition from  community college to a four-year university, but it also helps students thrive in the process. The transfer program has created an environment in which students from any academic discipline and background can expect to overcome the academic obstacles within the classrooms of a world-class institution, while also benefiting from unmatched professional development opportunities. 


Conducting Summer Research at the Environmental Institute


You're likely familiar with Princeton's senior thesis, where each student works closely with a faculty advisor to conduct original research, and you might have even heard of the "JP" or an "independent study," which are earlier opportunities for research. But there are also so many ways to get involved in research during the summer months, which offers you the chance to explore a research field at a time when you're not juggling your coursework. This summer, for instance, I got to work on an amazing molecular dynamics project with Professor Bourg through an internship with Princeton's High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI).


Each summer HMEI offers paid internships for Princeton students, many involving international travel! Some of the ones this year included studying rock dissolution in the French Alps, studying dinosaur extinction in the Andes mountains, and conducting X-ray diffraction experiments at Princeton. When Covid-19 travel restrictions led to my HMEI internship being transferred to an online format, I was initially disappointed (sadly no French Alps this year). But I found the new project, which studied organic contaminants via molecular dynamics simulations, to be incredibly fascinating and its findings applicable to the real world. I even decided to continue it this fall as an independent study with Professor Bourg, which will allow me to see the project through more of its phases.


The best part of research at Princeton, in my opinion, is getting to work closely with your professors. You see how they approach challenges and problem-solve in the quest to uncover new information and develop solutions, and they get to know your strengths, weaknesses and working style as well. For me, getting to know Professor Bourg was particularly rewarding because he is one of my professors this fall! When I walked into his class on my first day of Introduction to Environmental Engineering I was a little overwhelmed by seeing live people in the classroom! But Professor Bourg immediately recognized me and welcomed me to the class, which made me feel much less nervous and more comfortable.


My summer research brought me into a community on campus this fall, which has opened the door to meeting even more environmental researchers on campus. Each week at lab meetings I'll get to hear what the other graduate and undergraduate students in Professor Bourg's lab group are working on, and they can tell me about projects they've worked on with other professors in other departments. I'm really looking forward to continuing my project this fall and meeting more of the brilliant and welcoming people here at Princeton.

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Rust-colored sculpture outside of Engineering building


Revisiting WWII: My Senior Thesis


One of the most important milestones of the Princeton undergraduate experience is the senior thesis. Almost all departments require a thesis or some type of independent work. Writing a total of 28,000 words and 110 pages was definitely challenging, but extremely rewarding. I was able to embark on my own research project, choose a topic I was passionate about and put into practice all of the historical methods I had learned in class.

My senior thesis, ““Americanos Todos”: Redefining U.S. Latino and Latina Identity during the Second World War”, investigates the wartime experiences of Latinos who served in both the homefront and battlefront during World War II. Despite posing significant contributions to the war, Latinos remain neglected in dominant narratives of WWII. My work attempts to address this historical silencing and uncover the Latino wartime experience. I ultimately argue that the war influenced the emergence of new forms of identity by confounding what it meant to be “Latino” and “American” and catalyzed movements for inclusion that formed a Latino civil rights consciousness.

My research was based primarily on 47 interviews of Latinos and Latinas who participated in the war. Listening to their wartime experiences and how they championed sacrifice and patriotism despite encountering discrimination was extremely inspiring. They were constantly treated as second-class citizens and had to fight for their own inclusion and future in the country, motifs that resonate in modern discussions over Latino immigration. 

The overall process of crafting my own arguments and contributing to the historiography really helped strengthen my writing and critical thinking skills. Moreover, turning in this thesis, the longest research project I have worked on, demonstrated that I could do anything I set my mind to. There were many times that I was stuck with my topic or didn’t know how to approach the primary source, but my adviser was always extremely supportive. Everyone is paired with an adviser for the thesis and my adviser was extremely generous with her time and provided instrumental feedback.

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Rob standing with his bound senior thesis

For prospective students, don't be afraid of the senior thesis! I know it seems daunting but Princeton prepares you and provides you with all of the resources and support you need to succeed. All of the papers I had written in other classes and previous independent work played a huge role in helping me navigate and complete my senior thesis. Looking back on my undergraduate career, writing my senior thesis is probably my proudest accomplishment.


Independent Work in Its Full Glory


You might’ve heard of this thing called independent work. At Princeton, most students will experience at least one year of independent work: Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) students will write at least one junior paper (JP) and a full senior thesis, while Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E.) students typically have a senior thesis and the opportunity to conduct junior independent work as well. 

I’m in the Economics department, so I write one paper over two semesters. It’ll clock in around 30 pages. (If that seems long to you, wait ‘till you hear about our thesis!) In some concentrations, students write two, shorter length papers, one each semester. 

I spent the fall semester working on what we call a prospectus, which is basically a proposal for the JP. In an economics prospectus, once you’ve decided on a topic, you review existing relevant literature (studies and experiments), introduce the data sources you’ll be analyzing, and provide an overview of your methodology (econometrics, regressions, etc). 

I’m writing my paper about the impact of work from home policies on energy consumption, so I’m looking at government data on state monthly energy numbers combined with Google mobility data on time spent in the workplace.

Right now I’m working on refining my methodology and performing data analysis. I’m doing that work in STATA, but you can also use other software like R and Python.   

The Economics department, and Princeton overall, offer a lot of resources for doing independent work. Each semester, we have multiple workshops for data analysis and conducting research. Each student also works with a professor and grad student advising team, so if you ever feel lost about how to do a difference-in-difference regression or linear discontinuity like me, you can just hit them up! The University also has data consultants who anyone can schedule an advising session with.

So - not only have I learned a lot about economics and research this year, but I also got the chance to apply my classroom knowledge to an environmental topic I’m passionate about. I’m excited to finally see my paper finished in its full glory - and looking forward to a full-fledged senior thesis next year.


My Engineering Course Recommendation: Biomechanics and Biomaterials


One of the toughest choices to make every semester as a Princeton student is course selection. This may not seem immediately apparent once you set foot on campus (especially as an engineering concentrator) as our first-year schedules are often congested with mandatory prerequisite courses. However, once you declare your concentration and move past the introductory courses, you have more availability to delve much deeper into specific interests and even explore courses outside of your comfort zone. Thus far, I have really enjoyed my classes this spring semester as a sophomore, and one in particular has changed my approach to understanding molecular biology and bioengineering -- Biomechanics and Biomaterials: From Cells to Organisms (MAE344).  While I am taking this course initially to fulfill one of my requirements for the Engineering Biology certificate, it's turning out to be an amazing class experience that I would recommend to any engineering concentrator.  

First of all, the instructor for the course, Professor Daniel Cohen, is extremely knowledgeable and is currently spearheading research in controlling group behaviors in tissues. His lectures, which never fail to spark my interest, strike a healthy balance between teaching important biology concepts and establishing mathematical intuition necessary for engineering. For example, one of the lectures dealt with one of the most groundbreaking methods employed in this field for cell imaging: atomic force microscopy (AFM). AFM relies on a tiny cantilever to detect specific features on the surface of a cell by measuring deflection forces that result from interaction with the cell. While Professor Cohen emphasized the cantilever equations that are pivotal for AFM, he also carefully explained the advantages of using different cantilever tips for certain applications. He ensured that we did not simply memorize the material, but that we were able to think critically and synthesize from the scientific techniques that we learned.

In addition to the lectures, the class also meets every other week for “journal club,” in which we read an assigned scientific journal article so that we can discuss anything we find interesting. This has been tremendously helpful because these sessions have trained me to skim through an article in order to parse through specific information. At times, academic writing can often be very dense, cluttered with jargon and indecipherable figures, and it used to take me hours to get the general gist of a paper. However, I can now take this newfound skill with me through the rest of college and even graduate school.

I’m also looking forward to the final project, where we will take all that we've learned and will individually attempt to solve a bioengineering problem by designing a biointerface, allowing us to fully embrace our creativity.

I have really enjoyed this class so far and encourage anyone interested in the physics of cells and tissues to take it!