I started my freshman year at Penn without any job or research experience, before I was turned to the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship (PURM) by a friend. As a potential physics major, I wanted to see the practical uses of my study, and so, during this summer I was able to work on a project using theories, techniques, and devices with clear real-world applications. Under the mentorship of Dr. Arjun Yodh and his graduate student, Jeff Cochran, I became a part of a research project that wished to examine the efficacy of new fluorescent agent for breast cancer imaging using an imaging technique called diffuse optical tomography (DOT). To test this, we inserted the fluorescent into capsule that was surrounded by a mixture that would mimic breast tissue; then, we would take a series of images like one would using DOT; and, after each series, we would change the depth of the capsule in the mixture. After the experiment, we set out on processing and reconstructing the images into a model using computer programs of MATLAB and NIRFAST.
By participating in this project, I was able to witness firsthand the everyday tasks and environment of a research associate, from going to weekly meetings to planning experimental days to attending outside lectures. Uniquely this project was also a collaborative effort with other researchers outside my mentor’s department; therefore, I also glimpsed into how long and potentially laborious such efforts can be, but also potentially worthwhile they are. The most direct experience I can take from this project is learning the inner mechanics of computer programming in MATLAB and Python, which were instrumental in learning the theory behind the experiment and in processing the experimental data. This summer working with PURM and Dr. Yodh was especially rewarding in my exposure to a new frontier of my life as a working research associate.