My project this summer was the characterization of motor and sensory neurite outgrowth with optogenetic stimulation. The hypothesis was that optogenetic activation of motor and sensory neurons will increase neurite outgrowth of motor and sensory aggregates. In order to accomplish this, three major components of the project had to be brought together. The first was the LED stimulation array that was used to optogenetically activate the aggregates. Second, a custom MATLAB image analysis script that I wrote to quantify the results from my experiments. And lastly, the cell culture techniques required to plate motor neurons in a 12-well plate.
The most notable lesson I learned from this summer project is the value of planning. Everything must be planned for ahead of time, down to the smallest of details. This ensures that experiments can be replicated and go as smoothly as possible without introducing unwanted variables. The amount of planning that must go into a study such as this was much greater than what I expected. This is due to a couple of factors, including days that necessary resources are available for use, total duration of experiments, time that must be waited within procedures to allow for various biological processes to take place, etc. As a result, I have learned to plan out and organize each and every experiment I intend to conduct well in advance of the actual experiment day.
A lot of the skills that I had to utilize to complete this summer project expanded on things I had learned in the classroom. For example, both the Arduino and MATLAB components of this project built upon the knowledge base I had built in the classroom but required me to delve much deeper into specific areas and skillsets than I had before. This enriched my educational experience as it allowed me to follow my passions, while giving me a solid foundation to begin on. It also opened my eyes to the depth of all the subject areas that we only are able to touch on in the classroom. This has excited me to experiment and try out concepts/skills that I learn in the classroom on my own time.