I enjoy the camaraderie shared by L&C students, their curiosity, problem-solving skills, tenacity, and courage to face challenges and find creative solutions.
What three words would you use to describe Lewis & Clark?
Rogers Summer Science Research, July 2023
Tell us about your summer research.
Our group is fascinated at how small single-celled organisms navigate through the microscopic world in which they live. In particular, what forces do these cells use to move around? To investigate this question, we use a technique called optical tweezers: we use (infrared) light to hold the cells in place and measure how much force the cells exert as they try to push their way out of the tweezers.
How did you become interested in your research topic? What sort of real-world implications does your research have?
In graduate school, I took a course on bio-locomotion and learned about how the physics of swimming at the microscale is very different from the swimming at the macroscale. The intuition we have about swimming completely breaks down. If we wanted to experience swimming in a fluid dynamical environment akin to that experienced by a microorganism, we would need to fill our swimming pools with a fluid as thick as molasses. As you can imagine, the strategies needed to propel yourself through molasses are quite different to the strategies you typically employ when swimming in a much thinner fluid. Understanding this is crucial for understanding the environment that microorganisms inhabit.
How are students involved?
I have two wonderful students, Lily Johnson BA ’24 and Hugh Pettitt-Kenney BA ’25, who have been instrumental this summer in setting up, aligning, and developing many needed components for the optical tweezer setup. They are starting to gather data on live, swimming algae cells.
What would prospective students find most interesting about this research?
The project has many intellectual and technical challenges to tackle, and contains a good balance of theory, instrumentation development, and experiment.
What do you enjoy most about collaborating with Lewis & Clark students?
I enjoy the camaraderie shared by the students, their curiosity, problem-solving skills, tenacity, and courage to face challenges and find creative solutions.
How does Lewis & Clark/this summer research experience prepare your students for a career and/or advanced studies after graduation?
This summer research has allowed students to experience what scientific research is like. In the classroom, we typically teach things which we know, and when we give the students problems to solve there are (somewhat) clear paths toward the answer. In research, however, a lot of our time is spent in the fog, having an idea where we want to go, but not knowing exactly whether it can be done, and not knowing what obstacles we might encounter. Finding the path through the fog can be frustrating, but also quite rewarding.