by Jack Peck, PWIS 2019 Scholar
When I first started my EPQ, I never imagined that it would lead me to visiting Washington DC. But after an application and a presentation in Cambridge, I won this great opportunity.
I particularly enjoyed meeting several principal investigators, and discussing their work with them. These all were fascinating, and I feel I gained an insight into how research works that I would otherwise not have gained. In many ways, these meetings were the highlight of the trip. We also met several NIH-OxCam scholars over lunch, and I really enjoyed talking with them about their experiences of study and research at the earlier stages of their lives, as well as their current work.
Meeting postdocs from the Hattar Lab was fascinating, talking with them about their research and how the brain is affected by light was very interesting, and showed me how the brain is more differentiated than I thought. I also enjoyed seeing the equipment used to help study the response of mice brains to different light/darkness patterns. I also enjoyed meeting Abhishek Sengupta, who showed us his research into the response of retina cells to light patterns being projected onto them, and the surprisingly complex equipment used to do this and stabilise the entire system. Shadowing Mary Mattapallil for a morning was also very interesting; she showed us some of the work on immunology she does, and seeing an example of how they had engineered a mouse to have a light sensitive colour changing gene from maple trees was great.
Seeing how research and development works in industry, by visiting an AstraZeneca site, was great. I enjoyed seeing how different models were used to help discover and test the efficacy of different compounds and other agents, and the different stages involved in both drug discovery and scaling of production. We also talked with some of the people there about their work, and the differences of working in industry and public research. I found this very interesting, and it gave me an insight into how research works in the pharmaceutical industry.
We also visited the NIH library, which is almost a misleading name - it offers so much more than I expected. In addition to usual library features, it also serves as a hub for other centralised equipment and information. We were shown a virtual reality system, and how it has been used to help researchers ‘see’ and edit different molecules using specialised software, as well a 3D printing demonstration. It was very interesting to hear about the different ways 3D printing has been used, from models of different biological structures to replacement or new functional parts. The NEI had also developed a virtual reality app that allowed users to see what having AMD or cataracts might look like (NEI - What I See).
A visit to the Advanced Imaging and Microscopy Resource was very interesting, and a highlight of the trip for me. It was fascinating to see the non-commercial optical imaging systems, and to learn a bit about how they worked. The resolutions they could work at, for example allowing imaging individual neurones in a mouse brain in 3D, was incredible. I also presented my EPQ project again, this time to researchers from the NIH. I think it went well, and I got some very interesting questions and ideas for potential biomedical applications for the technology. I also enjoyed visiting and talking to students at the NIH poster day, which was where students who had been at the NIH over the summer presented their work.
A visit to NCATS (the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences) was great, and it was very interesting to see how they were using new technology to help automate and scale many different processes. The scale that assays could be done at, and the robotics used to do so, was very impressive.
Our afternoons and evenings were often spent in central DC, visiting the monuments and museums. We visited most of the amazing monuments, although we only had time to visit a few of the museums. I think the highlight for me was the National Air and Space Museum, and seeing the original 1903 Wright Flyer was great, as well as the spaceflight artefacts and other exhibits. The Natural History museum was also brilliant.
Overall, the trip was brilliant, and gave me an insight into how research works in a way I would otherwise not have the opportunity to do so for many years. It was also inspiring to see everyone’s enthusiasm for their work, and seeing what a future career in research might be like. I would like to thank the Cambridge Eye Trust, AstraZeneca, Biomedical Research Alliance, the National Eye Institute, Craig Pearson, Tasneem Khatib, Christie Campla, and everyone else who helped make this opportunity possible.