A quick word about my experience in the summer of 2011. I had the privilege of being assigned to work with students under Dr. Bau at the University of Pennsylvania (Go Quakers!). Dr. Bau specializes in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM) in Towne building. Just outside his lab the wall is adorned with posters of research from numerous students affectionately termed "Bau Study Group". All of them are currently pursuing their Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph. D.) and with his encouragement, they will surely succeed. With his reach ever-widening into these fields of engineering, Dr. Bau assigned one of his students, Jinzhou Yuan, to be my lab mentor. Jinzhou already completed a degree in mechanical engineering and has just finished his first year in advanced studies. He took me under his tutelage and instructed me on what I would need to be successful during my short experience here at UPenn.
The basic project assigned to me dealt with the "worm", known as C. elegans. Work with this worm has become a hot topic because it parallels human genes fairly well. Under his mentorship, Jinzhou showed me how to use an inverted microscope and video capture camera, pour molds of channels using a silicone elastomer (polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS for short), and construct small electric circuits using copper tape. All of these skills would be necessary for me to tackle my assignment: to manipulate a worm through "the Racetrack". The Racetrack is a mold of PDMS that has 1 channel, ranging from 3 mm at the widest to the narrowest of 100 microns (yep, you read that right!). The channel by itself is only about 35 mm long, and could easily be giftwrapped with a postage stamp! By "flowing" an electric field through the PDMS, the worm should follow the switchback turns according to the electric field based on polarity. In addition to completing this task, other goals included being able to measure the speed of the worm at boundaries (walls or curves, as something unexpected appears to happen when they get close!), and possibly the orientation of the worm based on the intensity of the electric field. With all of this on my plate, I jumped into the background research of my assigned tasks, and away we go!