Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 14

I could honestly say that participating in the DIY Diagnostics stream of the FRI (Freshman Research Initiative) program has been one of the best decisions of my college career. Even though I didn’t know too much about the program when I first applied, I am extremely grateful that I did it anyway and gained experiences that I would have never had at any other college. In a general sense, the FRI program is a set of ‘classes’ that put you in a lab with mentors as you work on research with real-world applications. For your first semester, you are placed in a classroom setting where you learn the basics of research, both in-lab and field work. You are also taught how to collect, analyze, and apply data gained through your research. For your second semester in the FRI program, you are allowed to pick a specific ‘stream’ that you’d like to be sorted into and work in for your next several semesters in the program. There are dozens of streams to choose from, each with a new topic and field of research.

     For my second semester in the FRI program, I chose the DIY Diagnostics stream for my focus on research. Given my interests in becoming an orthopedic surgeon, I believed that this steam would provide me with experiences that I carry forward in my future career, and it has done so thus far. My interest in the stream peaked when we began our research on the Zika diagnostic tool that could be used to identify Zika in a set of DNA. Over the past several years, Zika has become a rising threat around the world, especially the United States. The work we completed through this research had the potential of becoming a major break-through in terms of the Zika virus and finding ways to treat it, and or prevent against it.

    If it weren’t for the FRI program at UT, I would not have been able to gain the lab experience I am gaining as an undergraduate student in any other school or program. In most other schools, students usually aren’t given a chance to work in the lab until the reach graduate school, or maybe even senior year of undergrad. There are so many benefits from gaining these experiences at such an early age, that you could eventually carry on with you no matter what field of study you choose. The lab skills you learn simply from trial and error in the lab are vital for upper division research and will eventually pave your way towards what you want to do. Rather than a typical ‘classroom’ setting, students in the DIY Diagnostics stream are given the chance to work on these research projects without the direction from a professor, allowing you to learn through trial and error than simply through lecture. Overall, choosing the FRI program and the DIY Diagnostics stream for my venture in research has been one of my greatest choices here at UT Austin and I’m so excited for the research and continued projects to come.

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PCR samples of a single synthetic strand of the Zika virus, to be placed in a water-bath incubator

 

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 13

I chose the DIY Diagnostics FRI stream because I liked the freedom the lab offered. There are many different projects going on at all times. Some projects would be more computer-based, while others’ main focus would be wet work. This diversity allowed my to do different kinds of lab work to find what I enjoyed the most. I really enjoyed working on making apps by coding, and I really enjoyed wet work with DNA and chemicals. DIY allows me to work on both.

One of my favorite projects was working with Waller Creek. The creek runs through UT and downtown Austin. The lab wanted to test the waters and try to find where the creek was getting polluted. I loved how relevant this research was. I felt that this research could do a lot of good for the community. My lab mates and I had to wake up before sunrise to take samples, but getting the best results we could made the early mornings worth it. As I did not work on the Waller Creek project over the summer, I am eager to find out how far the project progressed.

Over summer, I worked on a new experiment: the creation of microscope lenses from epoxy. My lab partner and I replicated an experiment that aimed to make cheaper microscope lenses. The project fit the DIY’s purpose since the lenses can be made with easily accessible materials. We bought the epoxy from Amazon and used a toaster oven to cook the lenses. My lab partner and I were allowed to decide where we wanted to take this project. The independence we had helped me learn many important lab and life skills. While I was working with this lab, I began to realize how much I enjoyed doing research. I had not considered lab work as a possible career option before I started the DIY stream. Getting involved with lab and research opened my eyes. I had worked in a lab before, but I had never done real research before.

While I had worked in a lab before, I had never worked on programming apps and coding. Despite coming from a family of software engineers, I did not even know what JavaScript was. Coding apps was rocky work at first; a lot of trial and error was involved. In fact, coding is still difficult for me, but I love the feeling of finally getting the app to work. The rush of pride and joy is the reason I spend hours debugging my code.

Overall, DIY is a diverse stream that truly has something for anyone. We do wet work, computer work, and we even have a 3D printer! DIY was my favorite class last semester, and I can’t wait to start doing lab work again this semester.

This is a photo of the lenses I worked on over summer. We were cooking the epoxy in an old toaster oven so the silicon-based.

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Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 12

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Coming in as a transfer student with no research experience, I thought it will take me a while to adjust. In addition, owing to the dynamic nature of the stream and with a lot of people working on different things, I thought I might be a little lost at first. However, after meeting Dr. Tim and getting to talk with other students, I immediately felt I was part of the team. Everyone was accommodating and happy to help me when I had questions. The area of research I decided to work on was the ZIKA pH Lamp Diagnostic in mosquitos.  Working in this stream has allowed me to acquire new skills. I have become rather competent in communicating in a scientific community, handling large data, qPCR and pH lamp technique and working with a diagnostic system.

Do it yourself Diagnostic was the answer to utilizing my summer in a productive, informative and beneficial way. When I decided to do research in the summer, one of the things that was always on my mind was how free I’ll be in the lab. However, with an emphasis on “Yourself” in DIY, this exact worry of mine was put to rest. Not only did I get the freedom to work on what interests me out of many research areas offered, I practically got to choose how I wanted to approach it. To my pleasant surprise, in addition to the hands-on lab experience, I also gained skills in a variety of disciplines. Simply put, joining DIY Diagnostic has given me an opportunity to broaden my skillset while having fun as I do it.

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 11

I picked the DIY Diagnostics stream because I like the idea of people taking the initiative when it comes to their health. The simple diagnostics reach conclusions quickly and allow people to take appropriate medical action if necessary. DIY Diagnostics aims to give people more responsibility when it comes to their health, and as someone who hopes to go into the medical field, I think that it is a great way to encourage public health and to promote individual health awareness.

Right now, an emerging problem is the ZIKA virus, and I am excited that we are getting the opportunity to work on a cost-efficient and effective diagnostic for the ZIKA virus.

At first, I did not consider myself a scientist because during the first semester of DIY, I did not realize the importance of the assignments we were doing. I thought they were just designed to teach us basic lab techniques. But I thought that it was really cool that Dr. Riedel compiled our experimental data and used it to help improve the Waller Creek study. I was amazed at all that could be done to analyze the data and how that data could be used to improve future experiments. After that, I realized that each thing in lab had a purpose and that with every experiment, we were in fact contributing to science as a whole.

Doing research has caused me to start thinking in a different way. It has led me to question the world around me more and more, and as a result I have felt more engaged in the other courses I have taken at UT. I can even use what I have done in DIY to help me understand other concepts in biology and chemistry because I have actually done hands-on activities to help me learn about them.

The lab itself is a nice and collaborative environment, and I have made many friends while participating in this stream. Everyone is basically in the same position as you, so it’s nice to be able to work with others on experiments and bounce ideas off each other for future projects. Even when we are doing serious projects in lab, we manage to have fun.

I think that the greatest I have felt during my time in DIY was when I finally started to figure out how to code. It was a completely foreign language to me when I started DIY, and I had no idea why my code worked and didn’t work half of the time. But after a while, it finally clicked, and now I know some basic coding that can help me make apps in the future. I just remember feeling extremely accomplished when I was able to tell the computer program to make a blue rectangle appear on the screen when you pressed a button (it’s more complicated than you think).

FRI has definitely been a great experience for me because it has helped open doors to new possibilities and new research topics. I know that some other people have struggled in labs because they really want to do research but sometimes they’re restricted by what they can do in their assignments whereas in DIY Diagnostics you have the freedom to explore. I would definitely recommend this stream to others because it fosters creativity, teaches lab techniques and coding, improves your scientific writing and communication skills, and allows you to do your own research.

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Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 10

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DIY Diagnostics has definitely impacted my career here at UT. Being in this lab has not only furthered my knowledge in laboratory science but also given me more confidence in lab procedure. A lot of the people in this stream are pre-health professional students and it’s really awesome to know that we are all passionate about the same things. I have made a lot of friends by working on lab assignments with the people in this lab. The things that we work on in this lab are not only fun but really cool too. We have been creating diagnostic devices for the water in Waller Creek, mosquitos that have the ZIKA virus, and mobile apps for several heath issues. This semester I am coding an app that will help diagnose colorblindness! I am Pre-Optometry so I am very excited to be working on something that is relevant to my future. I would say that the FRI program itself is such a great way to do undergrad research and I am very thankful to be in this program. All of my friends that aren’t in FRI are jealous of me and all the cool labs that we do. They are in general chemistry and biology lab doing regular labs and I’m in DIY extracting DNA and learning how to code apps. I really enjoy having both wet lab and computer coding assignments in this stream. I never thought that I would learn to code an app as a science major. DIY Diagnostics has definitely made research fun for me and is a great way for me to participate in undergraduate research.

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 9

As a CS major interested in applications of CS in the healthcare field, DIY was the perfect fit for me. When I was choosing streams, I didn’t want to pick a stream that was purely CS but I also wanted to be able to use my CS knowledge. DIY was the only stream that fit these criteria. Picking DIY turned out to be a really good decision. The work that we do is both interesting and relevant. The work that we do isn’t too focused and there’s some variety to it compared to other streams.

Throughout the semester, I gained a lot of experience and learned so many things. This was my first time working in an actual lab. Before this, I had very minimal experience in a laboratory setting so DIY was a great opportunity to gain some experience. The thing that I really enjoyed about DIY was that we got to do a wide variety of things. When I talked to some of my friends in other streams, they were essentially doing the same experiment over and over again. Whereas with DIY, we got to do many different things and gain experience in many different lab techniques. We even got to do field research. The best part about DIY is that it’s a little more broad and allows you to pick what you’re interested in under the umbrella of point-of-care diagnostics. In addition to learning about doing research and being in a lab, it’s also allowed me to gain better time management skills. At the beginning of the semester, I found it extremely difficult to manage doing 6 hours of lab work in addition to all my other classes. By the end of the semester, I was so much better at managing to do everything. Overall, DIY has been an extremely rewarding experience and I’ve learned a lot of things, lab related and otherwise.

Ultimately, when it comes to research, you get out of it what you put into it. The FRI experience is truly what you make of it. You can’t breeze your way through it and expect to come out of it having learned tons of new things. That being said, if you do put in the work and the effort, you’ll definitely come out with at least some new knowledge and experience.

 

Here’s a picture of me on the news. How cool!!

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Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 8

DIY Diagnostics is an awesome stream where you can work on fascinating and relevant projects that most people just don’t have the opportunity to do in their freshman year. I chose to do DIY Diagnostics because there were so many different areas to work in. In addition to the fact that we get to dabble in 3D printing, we also got some experience with computer science. It was very often difficult to do figure out how to code things I didn’t really know about but I learned so much from it.

For me, the most exciting diagnostic idea is finding a LAMP protocol for Zika virus. We have been talking about working on Zika since day one and have made incredible amounts of progress in finding a way to create a diagnostic. However, we still have so much work ahead of us and are working hard every day in lab to see what new results we can get.

What we are working with is not the same as what you do in a lab course or in high school. The experiments we come up with are not standardized or found in a science textbook and we never know what our outcome will be. Because of this I like to consider myself a researcher. This is what makes FRI such a great program. While the students who do research are most often near graduation or grad students, FRI allows freshmen with no experience to gain that hands-on knowledge that everyone wishes they had.

Being a part of the research community has helped me most in time management. The required hours might seem overwhelming for people at first but it’s really a matter of making sure you block out enough time to go to lab and get work done and stick to your schedule. I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that my “free time” that showed up on my schedule was actually my pre-determined lab time. I’m not gonna lie, every time I had to show up for lab I dreaded it. But once I was here I would get lost in my work and accidentally stay an extra hour just working on my notebook or coding.

Coding is not my forte. I realized this every time we had an app assignment. It was fun but it was a struggle for me. I liked being able to say that I was making a mobile app. And when something I did worked I would get so excited. I don’t hate doing coding, I just never want to do it again. However, doing the coding stuff I really learned just how helpful it is to work with people. I used to take for granted the times I would collaborate with someone on a difficult task but it really is life-saving to be able to work through problems with another person.

Overall, it’s a very fun experience and I would recommend anyone to do it. I never once saw myself being in a lab and doing research and being able to talk to someone and say “hey so my research lab is doing this…”. I realize now why so many people were trying to convince me to do it. You meet people, you do science, you learn a lot and you find something you love here.

 

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 7

I wanted to be involved at UT before entering college and through the school e-mails I was able to learn about FRI. At first I believed that one had to be a junior or senior in order to be involved in research, so when this opportunity came I immediately signed up for this program. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made since coming to UT. DIY diagnostics was actually my first choice stream and I am grateful that I am able to be a part of it. A huge reason why I chose the DIY diagnostic stream was the incorporation of computer science/technology with biology. I was also intrigued about the innovation in the stream and the ongoing work to better the health of our society.

Through DIY diagnostics, the student is able to learn science and technology through independent research opportunities. This program allows the student to do research about areas they are interested in. The program is freelance and allows the student to learn from trial and error. Personally, I consider myself more a scientist rather than just a student when I am in lab. There is no formal structure to how to perform experiments. Rather, the instructor is there to teach the student basic skill for them to use in experiments that they are interested in. Being in this environment allowed me to grow as a student, I had to be able to organize and manage my time so I can finish task at a timely manner. This was a skill that I was able to bring into my coursework. I felt less overwhelmed and was able to handle the college workload better.

One major lesson that I learned from DIY was how to program mobile apps. I had no computer science background at all but Tim made lessons that I was able to follow and learn quickly. Knowing how to code is a great skill and I feel like it puts me ahead of many students. The mobile apps helped us create simple diagnostic test. With further knowledge, I believe that we can create test that everyone can use on a daily basis. Through this course, I was able to program an app to determine if one had a cold or an allergy. I had no idea that I would enjoy coding, DIY really opened up something that I would’ve never experienced at all.

Aside from all the research that one can do as a freshman, DIY allows one to meet new people and to find friends that have similar interests. The great thing is that each stream has a small number of students which allows for a closer bond between all the students in the particular stream. Tim also stresses that we help each other out. DIY has a friendly and open environment. I recommend that every student should sign up for this stream or if this doesn’t interest you, to look for another stream that sparks your interest.

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Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 6

As a transfer student and a senior, the prospect of a research assistantship was something I was still seeking out, but my opportunities were increasingly few. However, after taking a biochemistry course focused largely on understanding and researching scientific literature, I was determined to join a research team and begin my own independent study in molecular biosciences here at UT. The opportunity I found was the DIY Diagnostics stream in the Freshman Research Initiative. Even though I am not a freshman, I was encouraged by my former professor to contact Dr. Riedel and inquire about joining his team. After following the news about the Zika virus and the developments in the scientific community, both academic and industry, I was already aware of the work the DIY stream was doing with a viral detection device. I was anxious to meet with Dr. Riedel and find out more about what his stream was working on and where I could fit in to his current team.

The project that appealed to me the most happened to not be the Zika research, but the FRIome project. This project is focused on finding correlations between general health and the oral microbiome. Following after the goals and continuing work of the Human Microbiome Project, started in 2008, the FRIome researchers have taken samples of the oral microbiome specifically, through saliva donations, and asked the same participants to answer a general health survey. As a part of this team, I have spent this summer sifting through the metagenomics sequencing results of these oral samples and the accompanying survey responses to glean what possible correlation of diversity there may be with respect to type of bacteria and a certain response. As we learn more about just how much influence our microbiota has on so many aspects of our health and everyday lives, I believe this kind of research is marking a new pathway into the future of healthcare. As a part of the DIY stream, one intriguing goal is to be able to isolate a particular bacteria for its significance, create a biomolecular detection test, and use an app to run and display the test and results on a cell phone. This will enable real-time access to health information, once we can make these correlations.

Working in the lab to extract the DNA from the saliva samples, test them for concentration, and prepare them to be sequenced, I have been able to use the skills I learned both in my Biochemistry lab course and my previous work experience as a lab assistant. The real challenge for me this summer has been analyzing the data using statistical methods and programming, some of which I’ve found have been specifically written to accompany metagenomics studies. As I continue into my last year here at UT, I look forward to pursuing this project to delineate a significant link between the oral microbiota and either a general health aspect or even a self-identifying personality trait. I hope that the work I have started this summer will continue to drive my development both as a student and as a future contributor to the scientific community in my career in Biochemistry.

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Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 5

Computer science is not my forte- in fact, I would say it is my least favorite subject to study in any academic setting. Yet the most rewarding experience of my previous semester at DIY Diagnostics came about after laboring for 7 hours in lab slaving away at a 3D printer.

I was one of the first students to take on the enigmatic 3D printing project in which we had to print something- anything- of our choice. Being the design freak that I am, I immediately jumped on it and wanted to have my 2D creation brought to life. The only problem was that the printer wasn’t configured and the instructions written by other students and online forums were very vague. The design software was also foreign to me, as putting shapes together became increasingly difficult. I went through about 3 misprinted, amorphous blobs before I finally figured out exactly how to use the design software effectively, (as in, NOT accidentally placing a hole in the middle of the object), transfer the files using the right file type, (embarrassing, but true), and use glue sticks to prevent the printout from sticking to the plate. I eventually got to hold my first 3D printout: a house keychain I made for my mom to show her the up-and-coming technology we had available to us in our lab! I had finally conquered the machine.

I realized this was what it meant to be a researcher: own up to your endeavor, work tirelessly to achieve your goals despite the many failures that will inevitably come along your way, and be humbled by what you have created at the end of the day. At DIY Diagnostics, I have felt excited and motivated about every varied project I have been put on. The long hours spent in lab can be hard, but there’s something new everyday.

That’s what I love about DIY Diagnostics- you’ll never be bored! With ongoing projects ranging from testing the water quality of our Waller Creek to devising a device for Zika virus detection to identifying sulfur-reducing bacteria in industrial frack water, there are both comforts and challenges for everyone. People ask me about my lab and what kind of projects we can do, but I think the better question is: “What can’t we do?”.

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