Jan 14, 2008
One Extraordinary Week, Plus Ferrets
Posted in: Academics & Research
IAP makes everything at MIT more enjoyable. The past week has pretty much been a whirlwind of activity. For once I have absolutely no problem sets and no commitments other than my UROP - which gives me quite a bit of free time to socialize, relax, and simply enjoy everything that makes MIT...well, MIT. In this entry, I wanted to not only tell you a little bit more about my UROP, but also show you a small sampling of the crazy, fun, and/or ridiculous things I've been up to this past week. To wit, I...
- Threw a late-night Diablo II LAN party with my fraternity brothers...twice.
- Almost was run over by the No. 1 bus when it decided not to stop for me as I ran across the street to catch it.
- Lost a cutthroat game of Settlers of Catan by one point, and only because the other players all ganged up on me. I was so close... (By the way, I just lost the game again. Shoot.)
- Had a quick Starbucks break with Melissa '11 (a.k.a. Piper).
- Gave myself my first zsig.
- Ate out at Uburger for a fun, delicious, and totally unhealthy dinner. I think my arteries are still clogged.
- Bought some of my course books for next semester from the Coop. (Yes, I know that's almost unforgivably nerdy, even for MIT. But it sure beats waiting in line when term actually starts.)
- Chatted for quite a while with John Cloutier (a Skullhouse alum, former student-body president, and Jessie's "partner-in-crime"), who was back in Boston for the weekend.
- Got destroyed in a game of Stratego. (I should take this opportunity to note that, no matter how good you are at any given game, at MIT, you will almost certainly find someone who will give you a run for your money.)
- Updated my résumé and started working on this whole "summer internship" thing. Should be a fun process. ;-)
- Got caught in the Boston Rain.
- Met with the Simmons Hall Mystery Hunt team (codename: Smallish Momenta. I will give something awesome to the first person who can figure out the origin of our name) to coordinate details for the Hunt,which starts this Friday. Our #1 directive? Have fun! (Works for me.)
- Celebrated my friend Caroline's birthday with the most delicious cake I have ever eaten, which Caroline personally made for all of her friends. Seriously, this cake - chocolate with some mouth-watering vanilla frosting - was amazing; apparently it was a recipe passed down from Caroline's great-grandmother. Few birthday girls would make her own cake; only Caroline could make one this delicious. =)
- Played in an Assasssins' Guild game, where I ended up trying to conquer the world with a crack squad of ninjas. Really, I'm not joking.
- Unleashed a birthday explosion in Ben's office.
- And, most amazingly of all, I got to work with ferrets as part of my UROP.
You may be wondering, did Paul really just write that he worked with ferrets? Yes, you read me right: ferrets. They're quite adorable creatures, although they also have a feisty streak a mile wide. I know this because, this past Wednesday, my lab performed surgery on a pair of ferrets we had been studying - and I got to watch.
A little background. I'm part of the Langer Lab, which is one of the largest labs on campus, encompassing various fields of research from chemical engineering, materials engineering, bioengineering, and everything in between. Although my specific lab group doesn't really have an official name, most people just call us the "vocal fold group," as our ultimate goal is to develop treatments for scarring that can sometimes occur in vocal cords (such as by fire exposure, throat cancer, or botched surgery). One of the ways we do this is by synthesizing various hydrogels. We then test the gels' mechanical properties and, on occasion, test their effectiveness using animal models - that is, ferrets.
Let me apologize in advance to any animal rights people who may be offended by this post. I certainly agree that animals deserve the most humane treatment and care possible. That being said, animals really are valuable models for scientific research, and you have to draw the line somewhere. All in all, I don't really want to turn this into a political blog, so if you really want to talk about animal rights or are curious about MIT's animal testing policies, just drop me an email; I'm always happy to chat.
As you can guess, animal surgery is a pretty big deal, so I had to don full surgical gear just to observe the proceedings. I suited up from head-to-toe in a lab coat, booties, hairnet, gloves, and a face mask; and then I followed the rest of my lab group into the actual surgery room, which happened to be located in the basement of our lab building at MIT.
It was actually a rather surreal experience. Two dedicated surgical fellows performed the actual procedure, while the rest of us helped set everything up, recorded data, handed the surgeons instruments, and recorded video of the tests. To be perfectly honest, I didn't have enough experience or expertise to be very helpful (though hopefully I'll get there someday!), but I was nonetheless pretty efficient when it came to taking down notes or handing the surgeons whatever particular instrument they needed.
Although this past week has been awesome in so many different ways, and my lab has given me the opportunity to do some pretty cool things besides animal surgeries (such as growing my own cell culture and helping to run an ELISA), watching the surgical fellows work has definitely been the highlight of my UROP experience so far. I wish I had been able to take some photos, but unfortunately that would have violated several sterilization protocols, so I hope you can use your imagination to picture what it was like. Or better yet, when you come to MIT, get a UROP yourself and experience the wonders of scientific research firsthand! I know that sounds terribly cliché, but I'm quite serious:
if when you come to MIT, you can and should avail yourself of all the tremendous research opportunities available to you. Whatever your interests and passions - from astrophysics to political science to computer science - there is a UROP for you. As an institution, MIT is incredibly dedicated to letting undergraduates participate in research in a meaningful way. The UROP program itself is one of the major reasons I chose MIT over any other school. Sure, other schools have research programs too - but none of them were quite like UROP.
Even though I've only been UROPing for a few months, I can say this with certainty: the program works. No matter how many hours I end up spending in the lab, or how many times I end up staying past five o'clock just to fix one tiny detail in my protocol or to finish a test we're working on, I can think of no better way to spend my time.
Except blogging, maybe. =)