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Announcements of Opportunity

SURF: Announcements of Opportunity

Below are Announcements of Opportunity posted by Caltech faculty and JPL technical staff for the SURF program.

Each AO indicates whether or not it is open to non-Caltech students. If an AO is NOT open to non-Caltech students, please DO NOT contact the mentor.

Announcements of Opportunity are posted as they are received. Please check back regularly for new AO submissions! Remember: This is just one way that you can go about identifying a suitable project and/or mentor. Click here for more tips on finding a mentor.

Announcements for external summer programs are listed here.

New for 2021: Students applying for JPL projects should complete a SURF@JPL application instead of a "regular" SURF application.

Students pursuing opportunities at JPL must be
U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.

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Project:  Self-Organized Macroscopic Waves in a Giant Single-Celled Organism and the Interplay with an External Driving Force
Disciplines:  Biology, Physics, Multidisciplinary
Mentor:  Elliot Meyerowitz, Professor, (BBE), meyerow@caltech.edu
Mentor URL:  http://plantlab.caltech.edu/  (opens in new window)
AO Contact:  Eldad Afik, eafik@caltech.edu
Background:  Living Systems often seem to follow, in addition to external constraints and interactions, an intrinsic predictive model of the world — a defining trait of Anticipatory Systems.

Caulerpa is a marine green alga with differentiated organs resembling leaves, stems and roots; while an individual can exceed a meter in size, it is a single multinucleated giant cell. Active transport has been hypothesized to play a key role in development. Yet, the most recent reports studying organelle transport in Caulerpa are over three decades old.

Using the affordable Raspberry-Pi cameras, we track over weeks the morphogenesis of tens of samples concurrently, while tracing at minute resolution the variation of green coverage; the latter is attributed to chloroplast redistribution at whole-organism scale, and reveals a pulse-like behavior. Our observations indicate that the initiation of these waves, in regenerating algal segments cultured under periodic illumination, precedes the external light change. The temporal spectrum shows a circadian period, which persists over days even under constant illumination.

Our experimental setup allows us to explore the system under non-circadian periods, to quantify its response — similar to quality factors of oscillators, its relaxation times — analogous to jet lag recovery, and the limits at which the system no longer follows the period of the external drive .
This line of research would expand our understanding of intrinsic biological clocks, their interaction with the environment, and their role in anticipatory behaviour.
Description:  Being a giant single cell, one wonders what parts of the behaviour can be explained by local interactions, and what aspects may have a central origin. A project is available, following student interest, computational (remotely), as well as in-lab (subject to Caltech policy), that could include:

* [computational] An image analysis algorithm to computationally dissect the organ-like regions of the alga, and quantify the development of morphology over time.

* [computational; in-lab optional] Development of a computerized reactive spatiotemporal patterned illumination system, involving image analysis and illumination pattern design to be projected on the sample. In-lab, there are optics and mechanical design related sub-projects.

* [in lab] Stress-strain measurements of blade rims to test hypotheses related to transitions in growth pattern.

* [in lab] Studying morphogenesis and the intrinsic waves under electric perturbations; this is motivated by preliminary results we have obtained using microscopy. The goal here is to transition to high-throughput exploration by introducing electrodes to the well plates where regenerating samples are cultured. Characterization of the waves and morphodynamics under a range of frequency and amplitude parameters may reveal a partitioning of the dynamics into a phase diagram.
References:  * Jacobs, William P. “Caulerpa.” Scientific American 271, no. 6 (December 1994): 100–105. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamerican1294-100.

* Winfree, Arthur T. The Geometry of Biological Time. Edited by Arthur T. Winfree. Interdisciplinary Applied Mathematics. New York, NY: Springer, 2001. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4757-3484-3.

* Mogilner, Alex, and Angelika Manhart. “Intracellular Fluid Mechanics: Coupling Cytoplasmic Flow with Active Cytoskeletal Gel.” Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics 50, no. 1 (January 2018): 347–370. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-fluid-010816-060238.

Student Requirements:  Much of the proposed project relies on programming skills, primarily Image and Data Analysis. This project would benefit from a Physics and/or Electrical Engineering inclined student, enthusiastic about Life Science.
Programs:  This AO can be done under the following programs:

  Program    Available To
       SURF    Caltech students only 

Click on a program name for program info and application requirements.

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