Of Robots and Cyanobacteria
What to do during sophomore summer is a question on every international student's mind. While our classmates stay on campus, our visa status means that we must decide on what to do. Of course, taking classes is an option, but it does require some complicated visa processes. More popular options include taking an internship elsewhere, doing voluntary work or, as I decided, doing research with a Dartmouth professor.
Under regular circumstances, this would mean enjoying sophomore summer with my classmates while doing research full-time. However, these are not regular times, are they? Despite this, my summer has turned out quite great. I got a research grant to work with Professor Quattrini-Li on a robotics project, which we quickly adapted to an online format. With the help of weekly meetings and the wondrous Slack, we have been making steady progress!
Professor Quattrini-Li is a member of RLAB, the reality and robotics lab at Dartmouth. Members of the lab work on many different projects, spanning all different areas of robotics and other disciplines. The main project I came in to help at is the EPSCOR lake monitoring project. The project consists of building a team of robots that can monitor the growth and development of cyanobacterial blooms on lakes. The idea is limnologists can use the gathered data to inform their predictions and actions regarding bodies of water.
The project has many fronts: robot building, data management and collecting, algorithm building…quite expansive! I am working on developing a simulated environment in which the robots can be tested. The hope is this will speed up research since we won't have to risk expensive equipment on a real lake before it's ready! I also get to learn a lot, especially from the graduate students we work with. We have covered everything from machine learning to how to read a scientific paper during our discussions. Despite the barriers posed by the online format, I feel we are doing great!
All in all, doing research is a great way to spend an off term, especially if you find a position where you are truly passionate about your work. This has been one such position to me, and my summer would not be the same without it.