Research opportunities are prized by undergraduate students. Mackenzie Leake ’15 already has two major projects on her resume.
For 10 weeks last summer, Leake participanted in the prestigious Amgen Scholars Program, which engages outstanding undergraduate students in hands-on summer research at leading institutions around the world.
Amgen paired Leake with Dr. Rafael Yuste, a Columbia University biologist working on the Brain Activity Map Project. “When I first read about Dr. Yuste’s lab, I was really excited about their work categorizing neurons and understanding cortical circuits,” says Leake, a physics major from Memphis, Tenn.
“My project involved using unsupervised clustering methods to categorize neurons based on their morphological properties. I learned how to stain mouse brain slices, create neuron reconstructions, and perform cluster analysis.”
Leake spent the previous summer identifying motifs within neural networks with W.M. Keck Science Department of Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges professor Adam Landsberg. The experience helped her develop critical computational skills and inspired her to pursue more research opportunities.
Scripps emphasizes experiential as well as classroom learning, and students generally participate in two or three internships during their time at the College. Leake’s experience in Dr. Yuste’s lab was not only an extraordinary opportunity for research, it was also an opportunity for personal growth.
“During our weekly lab meetings, it was fascinating to hear people from different backgrounds in neuroscience, chemistry, and physics discussing cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques and bouncing ideas off one another,” Leake says. “Our lab had collaborators from all over the world so I really became aware of the international nature of the scientific community.
“I really enjoyed the balance of intense lab work and time to explore New York. Whether I was in a lab learning about two-photon optogenetics or navigating my way through Chelsea Market, I was constantly absorbing new knowledge