For his President's Summer Fellowship, Abrar Abidi ’16, physics major is working in a lab at McGill University in Canada, helping to develop new nanofluid technology to improve DNA mapping methods. Read on for his third and final blog installment:
Since leaving Montreal at the end of August, I’ve thought back many times to that day I walked through the old city and down to the port. There, in the Fleuve Saint-Laurent, which flows down to the Great Lakes, lies the small Île Sainte-Hélène. And on the other side of this island, half-concealed by a line of trees, is a structure that looks like it came from another planet. Two hundred feet high, and webbed with steel beams and acrylic panels in the shape of a globe, this exotic building disorients anyone that sees it. It is, of course, the Montreal Biosphere, built a half-century ago by Buckminster Fuller for Expo 67, the most successful world’s fair of the 20th century. In its time, when so many countries were riven by wars and paranoia, Expo 67 offered the world a brief remove from the painful past and shameful present—it offered what the world most craved: an optimistic vision for the future.
My grandfather, who died three years ago, was among the 50 million people who attended Expo 67. The son of a radio repairman in India, he grew up in modest circumstances and struggled to secure himself an education at the only university for Muslims in India. He rose, quickly, to the top of his class, and won a scholarship to come to the US where he began graduate studies in civil engineering at Harvard. Soon after his degree my grandfather returned to what was by then Pakistan, where six of his ten siblings shared two small, adjacent rooms. He worked intensely so he could support and provide a good education to his brothers and sisters. That generation of the Abidi family, though small in number now, all went on to find success in their individual careers, and passed on my grandfather’s tradition of hard work and education to the Abidis of my parents’ generation.
For his President's Summer Fellowship, Abrar Abidi ’16, physics major is working in a lab at McGill University in Canada, helping to develop new nanofluid technology to improve DNA mapping methods. Read on for his second blog installment:
On so many warm summer evenings here, red and white flares shoot up on the horizon, hissing as they go, before exploding with a deafening pop, forming a lavish spectacle in the Montreal sky. Often as I sit in my little Victorian-era apartment, sudden bangs and crackles send me rushing out to the roof of my building, so I can look toward the harbor, where on an otherwise forlorn stretch of land, six thousand rockets now fire heavenward in a single night. Yearly, the largest firework festival in the world—a kind of pyrotechnic Olympics—takes place in Montreal throughout the month of July. Groups from countries across the world, with their eyes set on prestigious awards, collect in this city to show off their talents in front of three million people. This year, England won the gold medal, while France took home silver and China, bronze. All this amid a procession of other festivities celebrating jazz and African cultures and circus arts and film and comedy. On the few nights not occupied by these events (and we’re still talking only of July), there are huge live music shows, free to the public, many taking place a two-minute walk from my front door.
The lab is a far quieter and colder place. With vents constantly blowing dry, chilly air on every floor of the building, I’ve taken to swaddling myself in at least three layers. Fortunately, the work I do expunges all my guilt for staying indoors. The opportunity to participate in this lab’s experimental efforts is what lured me to McGill in the first place, and in the previous month, my project has taken on a more experimental flavor. Sara, a good friend and researcher with whom I’ve been working closely since June, gave me the task of analyzing thousands of fluorescence microscopy images, zoomed in so close that a fraction of the width of a single human hair could easily eclipse the viewfinder. Fluorescence microscopy is a remarkable technique, where special dyes are used to stain the object of interest, causing it, when illuminated by a powerful lamp, to cast a vivid, luminous glow, no less dazzling to the eyes than the firework displays I can sometimes see from the lab window. Our microscopes are trained on minuscule nano-devices that Sara very cleverly designed and fabricated. Below the glass cover slip, and within these tiny devices, anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred strands of DNA can be seen drifting here and there, tossed about by Brownian motion, flashing like fireflies in the night. Then, with the flip of a switch, the strands rush toward the centers of a series of equidistant spaces, where they accumulate and extend, resembling a phalanx poised for battle. A dial that controls the frequency of a current sent through the device can manipulate their movement, alternately dispersing and concentrating the DNA. The potential applications for this invention are dizzyingly exciting: nothing less than the technology future generations might use to map entire genomes, at speeds and with accuracies far beyond anything currently possible.
"The Financial Services Fellowship is a prestigious award that gives students who are interested in financial services a hands-on experience through an intensive trip to New York City during spring break. Students will meet with people representing a wide range of roles in this industry, including journalists, sales and trading analysts, investment professionals, hedge fund managers, financial analysts and more. All expenses are paid through the generosity of a Reed trustee"
Read on to learn about the experience of Morgan Vague, a science major in the world of finance.
This March, a group of eight Reedies including myself, received the opportunity to travel to the mecca of finance, the big apple itself: New York City. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous during the first night, when our generous trip leader initiated an open questions and answer session about finance over a steak dinner in an iconic New York restaurant. Finance had always interested me, and I could hold a decent conversation about it. But, as the only science major among a group dominated by economics majors, I felt a little out of place. When it was my turn to ask a question, I inhaled deeply, and spouted off a fairly basic question that was answered without the slightest trace of condescension. This set the tone for the next 4 days.
Michelle Drumm, class of '95, wrote an engaging article on women's involvement (or more accurately, lack of involvement) in technology. Read her article here: http://www.commercekitchen.com/2014/02/women-in-tech/
Michelle is the moderator of Women in Tech at Reed's Working Weekend 2014.
Bailey Boatsman, Class of 2016
Biology Outreach Lead Teacher
Bailey is a volunteer lead teacher with the Biology Outreach program. The Biology Outreach program creates partnerships with local schools to provide science lessons to students who would not otherwise have access. Although not pursuing the sciences in her own academics, Bailey cultivates her love of teaching and evident reverence for all learning by bringing science to local elementary school students. Her thoughtful perspective reminds us not to forget that enthusiasm and true curiosity are all that is needed to reveal the joy and discovery in life’s smallest moments.