CIRM Creativity Program: Training Tomorrow’s Stem Cell Scientists

It’s that time of year once again, when some of the brightest and most motivated high school students across California are given the opportunity to see first-hand what it’s like to perform cutting-edge stem cell research.

Scott Voulgaris, 2014 CIRM Creativity Lab Student

Scott Voulgaris, 2014 CIRM Creativity Lab Student

Called the CIRM Creativity Day Program, this is a fundamental part of our mission to train the next generation of Californian stem cell scientists. Scientists who we hope will one day advance stem cell-based therapies that relieve human suffering from chronic disease and injury.

Offered to high-caliber students of all backgrounds, one of the program’s main goals is to give those who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge biomedical research a taste of what it is like. The eight-to-ten week internship culminates with Creativity Day, an all-day event where each student showcases the results of his or her research project to senior scientists and CIRM staff.

But simply awarding these internships is not enough—just as important is communicating their value to you: policymakers, patient advocates and the public.

So who better to give an inside look into these internships than the students themselves?

Throughout the summer, students will write, photograph and/or film their experiences. You can follow along right here on the CIRM blog as we select occasional posts to share. The students are also already sharing their experiences on Instagram—log in and check out the official hashtag: #CIRMCreativityLab as they document their research progress.

And some students are busily filming creative, fun and informative videos documenting their experiences. When those are complete you’ll be able to view and share them right here on our blog! Want to see what kind of videos last year’s students created? Check out our compilation from 2013.

So stay tuned in the coming days and weeks as we discover up close and personal what it’s like to be a stem-cell scientist and to see the faces of the next generation of researchers who could one day change the world.

Through their lens: Ami Thakrar considers the result if modern biotechnololgy had tackled yellow fever

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Ami Thakrar submitted this photo of herself working in the lab to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed. She did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Joel Rothman at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Between 1840 and 1860, yellow fever was able to make a lasting impact on the antebellum American south. Yellow fever is a viral flavivirus transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Additionally, yellow fever is an RNA virus. In this case, the virion RNA is single-stranded and functions just like mRNA. Upon the infection of the host cell, this mRNA is immediately translated and replicated. As a tropical disease unable to survive in temperatures lower than fifty degrees Fahrenheit, it made its way from the Caribbean into the port cities of the American South in the summer months. The fever severely impacted the Southern economy. The first reason for the decline of the Southern economy is that, according to various articles from the time period, immigrants were more likely to catch the disease than their native Southern counterparts. As a result, more immigrants, out of fear of the yellow fever, chose to move to the North. The influx of immigrants was able to create a more productive economy in the North. Meanwhile, in the South, in addition to the lack of immigrants present on account of the virus, the prevalence of the yellow fever resulted in the deserting of towns in an attempt to escape infection, and thus the closing of shops, which led to a decline in the overall Southern economy. As a result, potential investors saw the South in a negative light, and chose instead to invest their money into the North.

My primary research project this summer was identifying if the gene CED-4, a gene essential to programmed cell death, would also play a role in the process of embryogenesis in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. I also aimed to determine which genes, if any, worked in conjunction with ced-4 in embryogenesis. I was able to knock down the function of different genes in normal as well as in ced-4 deficient worms in order to observe the role of that gene in embryogenesis. This was done by conducting RNA-interference based screens. The introduction of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) through bacterial feeding leads to the disabling of a specific, targeted mRNA. The dsRNA interferes with the natural process of the mRNA, which now is unable to create the protein for which it codes, thus knocking down the function of the target gene.

Had RNA-interference by means of bacterial feeding been present and applicable to humans in the American south in the 1800’s, it could have disabled the mRNA of the yellow fever virus, knocking down its function in the host cells. This would have prevented the spread of yellow fever, and prevented the severe depopulation of port cities, such as New Orleans, that occurred due to the exposure to yellow fever. This prevention of the yellow fever would have dramatically changed the course of our American history. One potential outcome of an elimination of the yellow fever is that the Southern economy would have been much stronger economically when entering the Civil War, which could have been enough of a factor to result in a Southern victory in the American Civil War. Had this been the case, slavery and racism would have been prevalent much longer in America, if not still prevalent in society today. Another potential outcome of the eradication of yellow fever is that the South would have received a large number of immigrants, instead of the North. This would have led to industrialization, as with immigrants, the South would have enough labor force, means of developing new technology, and would draw in more investors for capital to industrialize. If the South had industrialized it could also have changed the outcome of the Civil War.

In conclusion, if RNA-interference had been utilized to knock down the function of the viral mRNA in yellow-fever-infected cells, it would have radically changed the course of American history. The evidence shows that the eradication of yellow fever in the antebellum American South would have resulted in an economically strong South, which could have led to a Southern victory in the Civil War. Had the South won the Civil War, it may have had a negative impact on our country as a whole. Our lives today would have been entirely different in terms of the options available for immigrants and African-Americans; racism would have been more widely accepted in society, as well.

Ami Thakrar

Ami sent us these videos of her experience

Through their lens: stem cells, schizophrenia, and conversation

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Christina Tebbe using a microtome to cut extremely thin slices of brain tissue.
She submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed

For my second project, I have chosen to relate my knowledge of stem cells towards the topic of effective and ineffective communication between romantic partners under stressful circumstances.

The overall aspect of this project was to observe the verbal and nonverbal mimicry that two partners may appear to be doing, and the reasons towards why these mimicries may happen. There are two key types of mimicry that this study analyzed which included; behavioral mimicry, examples of this include touching or movement, and verbal mimicry, examples for this include speech or writing patterns. Previous research has indicated how mimicry comes about more often when one is engaging with someone that they know well or have had some sort of close-knit relationship with.

We may have this preconceived notion of how people who have a more close relationship with one another will be the ones who unconsciously mimic each other in every aspect due to their knowledge of how the other one acts. To us, this may seem like the logical reasoning, but this study’s results indicated how subjects who in fact reported more closeness to their partners showed lower instances of mimicry overall, especially under stressful circumstances. From this outcome, which is opposite to what one may have previously thought, a certain question gets brought up and that is of the role of mimicry in stressful conversations.

In terms of stem cells, my primary project dealt with the effects of ablating neural stem cells and restraint stress on behaviors relevant to animal models neuropsychiatric diseases, in specific, schizophrenia. My first thoughts in relating stem cells to this second project has to do with a person’s behavior and how it would possibly be altered if we were to ablate their neural stem cells, and how this would effect them mimicking their partner. While it has been indicated on animals how ablating the neural stem cell system alone has been shown no to effect behavior, we then add a stress component to that, and see if this produces any alterations. In terms of mimicry we see how when a person is exhibiting a great amount of stress the perceiver may unconsciously lower their amount of mimicry due to the fact that if they were to mimic the person it may negatively influence the conversation and create an awkward tension throughout the rest of the conversation. Having a person subjected to stress in general can cause their neural stem cell count to become ablated, thus altering how they may behave. I imagine that if we were to ablate person’s stem cells that if they were in a social situation and assuming that they are the perceiver, they would have zero to no mimicry with the other partner.

Christina Tebbe

Christina submitted these videos about her experience:

Through their lens: Dan Roman makes surprising connections between stem cell research and geology

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.


Over the past six weeks, I have focused on performing the tasks and experiments needed to carry out my project. However, it has become evident that my project and stem cells have applications and similarities with many other domains that I never thought of.

My project involved the identification of new cell-cycle regulators in the nematode known as C. elegans. We knocked-down, or deactivated seven candidate genes in the C. elegans and observed the rate of mitotic division and chromosomal migration in the single-cell embryos of these worms. This gave us insight on the cell-cycle regulating function of these genes. Meanwhile, a colleague of mine focused his project around stromatolites, a type of fossil. By observing the patterns and arrangement of the different laminae, or layers, in these rocks, he was able to ascertain certain characteristics about life on Earth many million years ago, such as climate, lake history, volcanic activity and oxygen records.

My project this summer was closely related to stem cells. After knocking-down the seven candidate genes in the C. elegans, I observed the chromosomal segregation of its single-cell embryo. These embryonic cells are in fact stem cells as they have not yet gone through the process of differentiating into a more specific type of cell such as a blood or skin cell. The reason we chose to examine embryonic cells is because their chromosomes can be more easily observed through a microscope and we wanted to focus our research on somatic cells, or body cells. It was previously established that these seven candidate genes suppress germ cell proliferation and now we are trying to ascertain what their effect is on somatic cells. By doing so, we hoped to expand the known roles of these genes and identify new mitotic cell-cycle regulators.

As far as my colleague’s project goes, not all rocks, or stromatolites, give us insight into every aspect of life some 30 million years ago. The patterns of laminae on some rocks may allow us to better understand climate, for instance, while those on other rocks may serve to tell us about volcanic activity during those time periods. This strikes me as very relatable to the idea of stem cells. All cells are cells, even though they have different functions in organisms. Meanwhile, all rocks are rocks, even though they all tell us something different about life on Earth millions of years ago. Stem cells start out all the same. But then, as time goes on, they each differentiate into a very specific type of cell that has a very specific function in an organism. Meanwhile, rocks also start out the same. However, as time goes on, these rocks encounter different things and the different photosynthetic bacteria will produce different laminae on each rock that will give us insight into different aspects of ancient life.

Throughout this summer program, I have learned much about the function and scientific importance of stem cells. I knocked-down genes in C. elegans and observed the effects it had as their single-cell embryos went through their first divisions. These embryonic cells were in fact stem cells as they were not yet specialized. I was able to identify new genes that alter the mitotic division of these stem cells. In doing so, we can better hope to manipulate the rate at which these stem cells divide and hopefully better understand the mechanisms and genes involved as organisms transition from a simple single-cell to the complex beings that they grow to beome.

Dan Roman

Dan sent us this video of his experience:

Through their lens: Carly Larsson writes that stem cells could benefit the LGBT community

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Carly Larsson submitted this photo of Botryllus schlosseri embryos through our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed. She worked in the lab of Anthony W. De Tamaso at UCSB

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) stigmas have dropped dramatically in the past ten years. However violence against these groups continues and in many cases goes undocumented as hate crime. In 2011 alone a national study about transgender discrimination found that 61% of transgender/gender variant participants had been physically assaulted. These acts must stop and acceptance and education proliferated throughout the public. The medical and rather offensive term for an individual who identifies as transgender is “Gender Identity Dysphoria” (GID), though gender variance is a more accepted and widely used term among researches and the transgender community. Gender variance refers to anyone who identifies outside the binary Male/Female societal norms, and this is what makes so many of the uneducated uneasy [1]. Societal norms are what hold a culture together and influence people the most, but as seen throughout history these norms are often wrong and after perceptions have changed viewed as morally unjust persecution of a group(s) of people. Those most stigmatized for their struggle are the transgender individuals who seek gender/sex reassignment surgery.

The earliest gender reassignment surgeries took place in Europe during the 1950s, but wouldn’t be performed in the U.S. until 1966; the same year Dr. Harry Benjamin published “The Transsexual Phenomenon” and founded the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Inc. (HBIGDA) an organization that would evolve into the modern, World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). Gender reassignment surgery never starts under the knife. It is a series of procedures that culminates in several surgeries that give an individual the genital appearance of the opposite sex. These are the usual steps proceeding surgery: diagnostic assessment, a two year period of GID symptoms, real-life experience immersing the individual in a life as the opposite sex, and hormone therapy (real-life experience and hormone therapy are ordered differently according to circumstances). After twelve months of real-life immersion and hormone therapy a transgender individual becomes eligible for gender reassignment surgeries. For trans-men these may include hysterectomy, salpingo-oophorectomy, vaginectomy, metoidioplasty, scrotoplasty, placement of testicular prostheses, phalloplasty (the creation of a neophallus or surgically constructed penis), and liposuction to reduce fat in hips, thighs and buttocks. A trans-women’s options include: orchiectomy, penectomy, vaginoplasty, clitoroplasty and labiaplasty reduction thyroid chondroplasty, suction-assisted lipoplasty of the waist, rhinoplasty, facial bone reconstruction (which may include hairline correction, forehead recontouring, brow lift, rhinoplasty, cheek implants, lip lift, lip filling, chin recontouring, jaw recontouring or tracheal shave) and blepharoplasty [2].

This entire process includes years of body dissatisfaction, many painful and expensive surgeries uncovered by insurance, and all forms of persecution and societal isolation. Despite the expense of theses surgeries they only provide the appearance of functioning genitalia [2]. To the transgender community functioning and sensatory genitalia is a thing of dreams and science fiction, but if health professionals and researches can begin to understand these people’s plight more advanced technology may provide these organs. The stem cell technology already being studied could eventually be used to “grow” and “print” functioning or at least sensatory genitalia. These technologies include the regrowth/new growth of organ tissue, 3D printing and scaffolding of biological agents (stem cells), reconstructing and rerouting nerves (another technology being aided by stem cell therapy), and a better understanding about genetic sequences coding for Male/Female functions [3].

With these future surgeries on the horizon and increasing acceptance the transgender communities’ quality of life will be greatly improved. The term ‘body dissatisfaction’ is an understatement for these people; they are locked inside a body of the opposite gender, and instead of being offered the compassion they deserve the transgender community is stigmatized by society as unnatural and sick [1]. One in 11,900 men and one in 30,400 women identify as transgender, and with current population numbers that is an incredibly large number society is choosing to isolating and allowing to suffer [2]. Society must evolve and learn to accept all people who identify as LBTQIA and offer them all the resources and medical attention they deserve.

Carly Larsson

References:

[1] LANGRILL-MILES, T., RAHILLY E. (2013). A Change of Heart: Outlooks on Gender
Variant Youth, Past and Present. Research Mentorship Program (unpublished).
[2] Trimarchi, M. (2008). How Gender Reassignment Works. HowStuffWorks.com.

[3] Ice,V. (2010). Total Gender Change within a Decade. Humanity+.

Through their lens: Erica Keane studies possible ways of applying a stem cell therapy for HIV in third world countries

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Erica Keane working in the lab of Ken Kosik at UCSB. She submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM’s #CIRMStemCellLab collection

My secondary project combined these topics and projects:

  • “Stem cells as a model for neurodevelopmental disorders: characterization of patient specific iPSCs which is my research project
  • “Construction of setup for turbulent convection flow visualization” which is D.J. Suto’s research project
  • Pennathur Lab located at UCSB which develop novel bio-analytical devices for third world countries
  • Owl biomedical, which is located in Santa Barbara, is an emerging company that is working to develop microchip-based disposable cell sorting technology

For many years now researchers have been working on new ways to create cheap and reliable handheld devices that can easily be used in third world counties to test for different diseases. Recently researchers, such as Dr. Sumita Pennathur in the UCSB Pennathur lab, have utilized nanofluid channels to develop novel bio-analytical devices for third world countries. Some nanofluid channels short biological material using density. These devices are have the ability to revolutionize bio-analytical devices because they will eliminate laborious optical tagging of sample and inconvenient transportation of sample from rural locations to laboratories for testing. This nanofluid technology combined with the work of OWL biomedical, an emerging company that is working to develop microchip-based disposable cell sorting technology, could create a viable device for HIV testing in third world countries.

Doctors diagnose HIV by testing for antibodies in blood or saliva to the human immunodeficiency virus. These antibodies are proteins that are produced to fight HIV. The proteins that show that a person has HIV could be sorted out of a blood sample using Rayleigh—Benard convection currents and differences in protein density. Rayleigh—Benard convection currents are created by heating the bottom of a cylinder while cooling the top. A convection current is formed when the warm water moves to the top pushing the cool water to the bottom. Once the fluids, in this case a blood sample, are flowing through nano channels on a microchip the HIV antibodies can be shorted using its difference in density.

Once a person is diagnose with HIV their doctor will try to prescribe the correct medicine to control the virus. Then the doctor can take a sample of the patient’s skin cells and send them to a stem cell lab in the United States. This lab could use induced pluripotent stem cell technology for personal regenerative medicine to help treat the patient. At the lab, the skin cells would be introduced to perfect cocktail of transcription factors (discovered by a Japanese scientist named Yamanaka in 2006) which would turn the differentiated skin cells into an undifferentiated state making them induced pluripotent stem cell. These undecided cells could then be genetically reprogrammed to model the virus. After gaining a better understanding of the patient’s specific strand of HIV, the scientist could share their knowledge with the patient’s doctor who could then figure out the best way of treatment.

(Editor’s note: Two CIRM teams led by scientists at Calimmune and City of Hope are developing stem cell-based HIV therapies.)

Erica Keane

Erica sent us this video of her experience:

Through their lens: Nancy Tran sees the scientific method at work in daily life

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Nancy Tran did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Gerhard Bauer’s 35mm film projector. Tran submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM’s #CIRMStemCellLab collection


(Nancy also submitted a blog entry about her research project, which you can read here.) 

Over the past eight weeks, my non-science related activity was a class about the history of the motion pictures. Dr. Gerhard Bauer taught us about how this “optical illusion” worked and showed us the amazing quality of film even in the 1930’s. It was astonishing that even today, we use the same 35mm film format that became the standard back in 1892 from Edison’s Kinetograph movie camera. Before this second activity class, I also had no idea that colored film existed such a long time ago; I always thought everything was in black and white until recently.

On our last 2nd activity day, we, creativity students, had the opportunity to go to Dr. Bauer’s own movie theater to experience a real movie –one projected by film. We watched cartoons by Disney such as the “Three Little Pigs” and “Moving Day” (featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy). Honestly, I was really surprised at the quality of the film because the colors were very bright and the animation moved very smoothly. Keep in mind that these are countless images each shown for a brief moment at a very fast speed from the reel. In addition to the cartoons, we watched Sherlock Holmes and a news reel. The movie was really intriguing and had a great story line compared to most movies today. There was comedy, suspense, and all sorts of feelings! Also, we got to take a really close look at the machine itself. It truly was like magic before your eyes.

Overall, the history of the motion pictures can also be related to science as most things are. The movies did not become perfect within a single try, it took many different ideas and hypotheses to make things better one step at a time. Like in science, people built off of what was already discovered. I never would have learned about the history of the motion pictures if I had not received this internship. I am very thankful to CIRM and the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures for giving me the opportunity to learn more every day and become well rounded. This was honestly the best summer I’ve ever had.

Nancy Tran

Through their lens: Ryan Fong learns the role of science and innovation in life as well as in the lab

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Ryan Fong did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Image of the 35mm film shown by Gerhard Bauer in his home studio. Fong submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

(Ryan also submitted a blog entry about her research project, which you can read here.)

For the UC Davis group, the second discipline we have been studying is the History of Film.

It has been an illuminating subject, starting with the invention of photography, sound recording, film recording, and finally a combination of these three techniques to produce color films as we know them. Finally, we learned about TV and recent digital inventions for sound and film.

To learn about the origins of a technology that many take for granted as a fixture of everyday life, it was amazing to see how science and human innovation created a revolution in entertainment – and really, in the preservation of history.

To start with, we learned how film is based on the concept of optical illusions – how the eye can be tricked to see a moving image if still images are moved fast enough. What was impressed upon us by Dr. Bauer was how little the film industry has deviated from its origins – proving the longevity and efficiency of the original system.

We also quickly learned how much digital formats sacrificed in terms of quality in the name of compatibility and ease of use. For example, although many of us use mp3 files in our daily lives, not everyone understands the significance of this file format. 90% of the original recording is lost to compress the file’s size, which is already a crude digital imitation of a true sound recording. Additionally, we learned how the movies will never be the same. Theaters have been converted to little more than glorified television. 35mm truly has no digital equal in quality.

One of the highlights of my internship experience this summer was seeing all that we learned about in action. Dr. Bauer maintains a working and professional-grade movie theater in his own home, with his training as a projectionist. While there, he also demonstrated records from the 20s, which astounded us in their high quality. He also displayed his skill as a drummer by playing along with a few of the records with his vintage drum set. We were also treated to seeing one of the first television sets, and the first color television set circa the 1950s. Using a transmitter he built himself, we were able to see modern programming displayed by the TVs all-original machinery.

But this was just the introduction. The main feature had yet to come. As we settled in with candy, popcorn, and sodas, we watched the Disney color cartoon shorts The Three Little Pigs and Moving Day. Moving Day was especially entertaining because it starred the Disney characters in their original forms. We then watched a news reel from 1939, which included events such as the coronation of Pope Pius XII, the Queen’s visit to America and meeting with the President, Lou Gehrig’s speech at his last baseball game, the Indianapolis Classic race, and the events surrounding the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Finally, we watched a Sherlock Holmes film, “The Hounds of Baskerville.”

While these pictures were playing, Dr. Bauer demonstrated the projectors’ function to us. Each film reel contained 6,000 feet of film for sixty minutes of playtime. It was truly a treat to see how the mechanisms we had learned about through lectures actually worked, such as the intermittent mechanism and vacuum tubes for sound amplification.

Through it all, the quality of the picture and sound was surprisingly exemplary, and made us all subscribers to Dr. Bauer’s teaching of “Analog Over Digital.” Having a ton of fun using the entertainment tools of a time past by taught us respect for the past and gave us an experience none of us is likely to be able to experience elsewhere.

All in all, studying a second discipline contributed to my internship experience. It provided a recreational and entertainment aspect to the program, as well as showing us, by example and in action, how scientists don’t necessarily confine their studies to just science. Thank you Dr. Bauer for opening your home and personal experience with us, and thank you CIRM for implementing the second discipline aspect to the program.

Ryan Fong

Through their lens: Yimin Yang learns about the role science plays in the arts

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Yimin Yang did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Gerhard Bauer running his film projector. Yimin Yang submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

(Yimin also submitted a blog entry about her HIV/AIDS research project, which you can read here.)

Hello, my name is Yimin Yang, and I have been interning at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures this summer. In addition to spending time in the lab, I also participated in a “second activity”, which was a class on the history of film, taught by our PI, Dr. Bauer. Even though I enjoy watching movies, I never gave much thought to the science behind how they were made, so I felt the course gave me a better understanding of what motion pictures are, how they came to be, and how they worked.

I learned that motion pictures went back as far as the late 19th century—a big shock to me, as I did not think they had come into existence until at least the 1910s. I was also astonished by how early sound and color were developed and used in movies. The techniques they used to create color in early films, such as the three-color Technicolor process, were absolutely fascinating.

Another part of the lectures that stuck out in my mind was about the digital revolution. Though we are surrounded by digital media, rarely do we contemplate or think about how it actually works. Unlike analog media which stores continuous information, digital media consists of small, discrete points. The use of film prints in motion pictures has been rendered almost obsolete by the digital revolution, as most cinemas and movie theaters now use a 2K projector. Digital media, while more easily distributed, compresses analog signals, resulting in a reduction of quality. High definition television at 1080p would not compare to 35mm film at approximately 5K. This was an interesting revelation for me, as I had previously thought filming in HD was an upgrade in quality over filming on film.

Even though I found all the lectures to be interesting, the highlight of the second activity was when we visited Dr. Bauer’s house to watch films in a vintage movie theater. I was absolutely amazed by the image quality in the movies and clips we were shown. I especially loved the short Disney animation clip we saw, which were The Three Little Pigs and Moving Day; it was hard to believe that all of the frames in these eight minute videos were hand drawn, considering how impeccably well-done they were. All of the cartoon characters’ exaggerated movements were smooth and animated perfectly on screen. Though there were visible scratches throughout the video, I felt the quality of animation was comparable to that of modern day cartoons.

In addition to seeing movies, we also got to hear authentic, vintage records from the 1920s and see an actual 35mm film projector. The whole day was just an incredible experience, and it really opened my eyes to a new world of things. By participating in this second activity, I not only learned about the history of the motion pictures but also realized what vital role science plays in making films. It was through experimentation and an understanding of optics and sound that we could enjoy movies and television the way we do now.

Yimin Yang

Through their lens: Sarah Zhang gets a dose of film studies with her HIV research

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Sarah Zang did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Gerhard Bauer working with his film projector. Sarah Zhang submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

(Sarah also submitted a blog entry about her research project, which you can read here.)

This summer, in addition to being exposed to the world of regenerative medicine, I was also exposed to the world of film, or more specifically, the history of the motion pictures. My name is Siruo Zhang, and for the past two months, I was taught about films by my lab’s PI, Dr. Gerhard Bauer. Every Thursday afternoon, all of the CIRM creativity students at UC Davis gathered in the meeting room for a lecture on the history of films by Dr. Bauer. During the past eight weeks, I learned things from how black and white films came to become colored to how sounds became possible to be shown alongside films.

In 1888, Thomas Alva Edison had the idea to invent a device that is able to record and then reproduce objects in motion; he called this invention a “Kinetoscope”. Edison’s assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, turned Edison’s idea into practical reality, and the first motion picture camera was born. The Kinetograph is a camera that creates films for the Kinetoscope. It was large and bulky, so it remained stationary. As for the kinetoscope, it enables people to watch films by looking through the lens at the top of the machine. It had its disadvantages, because only one person is allowed to watch the film at one time. Also, since the film is continuously ran through the Kinetoscope, it is often worn out very quickly. Over the next few years, better machines that were able to record and reproduce moving objects were invented. They were capable of being moved and were able to produce vibrant colors.

As a conclusion to our classes on the history of the films, we were invited to Dr. Bauer’s home to watch actual films from the nineteen hundreds in his private movie theater. We watched several short films, including Mickey Mouse, The Three Little Pigs, and Sherlock Holmes. I was astounded by the amazing image qualities and vivid colors of the films. I was also surprised that learn that for animated cartoons, each frame was hand-drawn, and to think that if a total of 24 frames were ran per second, for a cartoon that is only eight minutes, 11,520 frames needed to be hand-drawn. I’m definitely glad I got to learn so much about films and to actually watch some that were from film reels.

Sarah Zhang