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MIT student blogger Linh V. '13

Summer Magic by Linh V. '13

Of fluorescent cells and robots

Hey y’all,

My god I can’t believe it! It has been almost 2 months since I arrived in Boston. I have been up to my ears in work, dance practices and MCAT. No kidding. I sleep like a baby every night cuz I am so tired by the end of the day! But I am really happy though since I am doing all the things I love. I will also be back at MGH soon to volunteer so it’s just a lot of exciting things going on!!!

First up, my work this summer! This summer, I am doing research in synthetic biology as a member of the MIT iGEM team. What is iGEM, you may wonder:

“The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation is dedicated to education and competition, advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of open community and collaboration. In 2012, iGEM spun out of MIT and became an independent nonprofit organization located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. The iGEM Foundation fosters scientific research and education through organizing and operating the iGEM Competition, the premier student synthetic biology competition. It also fosters scientific research and education by establishing and operating the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, a community collection of biological components.”

Taken from iGEM website (URL: )

More specifically, I work on the tissue culture (TC)/ transfection part of the project with some amazingly driven and hardworking individuals! Even before I arrived in Boston, Kristjan Eerik Kaseniit ’14 made an effort to update me on the project via Skype when I was in England and has been working tirelessly on the system’s designs. Nathan Kipniss ’14, also a member of tissue culture team, has helped me so much with catching up with the team’s progress (since I came back from England after the start of the project), while always being on top of his experiments and data analysis!! We also danced around in the lab when we got good data and celebrated by nomming the delicious macaroons that Nathan baked!
Another person I would like to give a shout-out is Katie Bodner ’15 (whom I called my lab baby bear). Despite this being her first research experience, Katie has been working really hard to learn new techniques and how to design her experiments and now she is a pro! Good job to all my baby bears (I am so proud!)

A note to freshmen entering this fall: When you are doing your UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) this fall or the coming spring, don’t hesitate to ask your supervisors or colleagues in the lab a lot of questions and take a lot of notes. Never be afraid that you will “sound stupid” because everyone has to start somewhere and freshman year is the time to build your foundational research skills. At the start, you might not know a lot of things but I guarantee after 2-3 months of hard work, you will be a whiz! Also, it’s important to maintain your experimental techniques because believe it or not, they might be lost!

Sneak peek of iGEM project

Magical power of fluorescence proteins:


Magical power of inducible genetic circuit:

First you see yellow fluorescence:

Add another plasmid, now you don’t!! :)

And last but not least, magical power of robots that do mundane pipetting procedures for you (brought to you by Felix Sun ’15 and Chelsea Voss’15 who did most of the coding). That was Chelsea right there next to the robot!:)

What else happened this summer? Yes, dance!!! I have been a member of MIT Ballroom Dance team for the past 3 years, oh, may be two, since I was away for a year (I did ballroom with the Cambridge team though!) Anyway, apart from the regular trainings we have, this summer, I am also involved in a concert that the team is organizing this fall! Ballroom is one of my greatest passions, so I am gonna need a separate post for this but in short, it has been nothing short of amazing training with our brilliant and experienced coaches this summer! I wish I had 48 hours a day so that I can train and dance more!

And lastly MCAT: Ooooh MCAT, the nightmare of most pre-meds. Well.. at the beginning, it was somewhat enjoyable because I was reviewing a lot of the things I learnt during my freshman/sophomore years. I went: “ Oooooh, I knew this!” so many times ! MCAT materials also overlap with my classes in Cambridge! There are also brand new materials, which are quite exciting to learn! BUT. now that I only have like a week left to my exam, I am feeling some butterflies in my tummy :( I need to keep up a positive attitude though!