Undergraduate: Explore Biological Science

Biological Sciences

Paul Yan '13

"As a junior majoring in Biological Sciences, the experiences I’ve gained in Dr. Jessica Garb’s lab are invaluable. The project I am working on with a graduate student in the lab involves finding the DNA sequence of a specific type of spider silk protein. Spiders produce a variety of silk for different functions. Dragline silk is used for the spokes of a web and thus must be tough enough to hold up the entire web structure. A spider recently discovered in Madagascar, called Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini), spins large webs that span across small rivers. The toughness of the dragline silk in these webs is the highest measured to date for any spider and is ten times tougher than Kevlar. There are a wide variety of engineering applications for spider silk with such extreme toughness. We made a cDNA library of C. darwini’s major ampullate gland, the gland that produces dragline silk. My role in the project is to screen for large cDNAs via agarose gel electrophoresis, prepare the plasmid DNA containing the silk cDNA for sequencing, and analyze the resulting DNA sequences. The molecular biology techniques I’ve acquired in Dr. Garb’s lab have supplemented my core lab classes and vice versa. I’ve gained work experience in the lab that will make me a more marketable candidate when seeking a job in the future. The co-op was a great opportunity for me, and I am grateful I was able to do it in my undergraduate career." 

Anh Vo '15

"This summer I was able to work with Prof. Thomas Shea and his team in the field of biological sciences – specifically, neurobiology. The main goal of our research is to understand more about the language of neurons. Neurons, the “thinking” cells of the brain, transmit electrical signals. Dr. Shea always compares those signals to words in our English language. For example, in any page of any novel, the word “the” would appear most frequently, followed by words like “and” and “of.” Other words can be extremely rare. Do neurons "speak" in the same way? Our team cultures embryonic mouse brain cells in petri dishes containing MEA, which allow a computer to record their signals. My job is to print out those signals as graphs, and search for and tally up different signal patterns that occur. Our hypothesis is that if the signals do contain information, signals would not occur randomly. We’ve observed that some signals do indeed occur more than others, suggesting that the signal patterns contained information (language). This Co-op experience has definitely been enlightening. I’ve learned a lot about research and how scientists really have to be patient. Although working behind a computer and looking at graphs can be tedious, I’ve learned that is exactly what it takes to produce great results in any field of research. I’ve had a wonderful time meeting and working with the team here this summer. It’s been an amazing opportunity, especially for a freshman!"