Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Coming back to Cambridge

“Actually, I’m not a particle physicist anymore. I’m an un-particle physicist now”

Getting a laugh out of his audience, Professor Howard Georgi described his current research as part of his remarks to the PRISE (Program for Research in Science and Engineering) Class of 2008. Our inaugural dinner Monday night also featured Director Greg Llacer and (now the official!) Dean of Harvard College Evelyn Hammonds. Over 100 students chomped down on some pretty delicious food as we kicked off what will be an awesome summer.

The days before I spent shopping at Target and CVS for all those little things I’d forgotten to pack, frequenting Berryline, Chipotle, and abp, and of course, moving all my stuff from storage to my new suite with my roommate Veronica ’11. This was by no means an easy task, but we have pretty sweet rooms in Leverett G Tower along with the rest of the PRISE fellows.

How did I get here? Well, on one hand, after finals I flew down to Washington, D.C. to help out my brother’s Science Olympiad Team at Nationals, and got to spend time with my parents (they were chaperones) and the team touring the Smithsonian museums, national monuments, and meeting my Senator and Representative. After the competition I flew home to Tucson, Arizona and basked in the over one hundred degree weather for another week, and then flew back to Boston Friday night – luckily, the day before the Red Line started using shuttles between Park and Kendall.

On the other hand, I started working in a Biophysics research lab at the end of my sophomore year of high school. My work focused on convection cell patterns, a kind of “bacterial ballet”, in Bacillus subtilis, a bacterium closely related to anthrax. My PI accepted a professorship at Cambridge University while I was still in high school, and in one of those moments that’s makes you realize “It’s a small world after all”, my next door neighbor in Leverett happens to be the Harvard student who worked at his lab in Cambridge over last summer while I was at the partner lab at the University of Arizona.

This summer, I am working in the lab of Dr. Josh Sanes, a Professor of MCB. His lab focuses on synaptogenesis, the process by which neurons, or nerve cells, form synapses. I will be working with a postdoctoral student on a project studying two kinases – SAD-A and SAD-B – which are enzymes that might play a role in the way neurons polarize, or form processes called axons and dendrites that help pass signals along. Without these signals, we would not be able to walk, talk, think, speak…you get the point.

Since PRISE just started this week, everyone is still getting into the swing of things – it’s weird to be on campus working in a lab without the flurry of other extra-curriculars, problem sets, and looming midterms – but I’m looking forward to having the time to run along the Charles and spend hours talking with other undergrads about our research projects over meals in Dudley House.