HP Labs

Summer 2018 Interns at HP Labs – Alex Jung

By Simon Firth, HP Labs Correspondent — August 10, 2018

Most HP Labs summer interns work for an extended period in one lab. But thanks to scheduling issues, Alex Jung, a rising high school senior at Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills, ended up splitting his internship into two discrete parts. That worked out well, allowing Jung to pursue his interests in both chemistry and virtual reality. HP Labs’ molecular biologist Caitlin DeJong is a scientist on the small life sciences team in HP’s Print Adjacencies and 3D Lab and was grateful for Jung’s help in testing chemical nanosensors. “We’re only a small group, so having interns like Alex allows us to go full steam on some pretty exciting but more exploratory and sometimes riskier projects that otherwise might take a little longer to get to,” she notes. “In this case, Alex did a great job helping me leverage our SERS nanosensors to explore the molecular profile of disease biomarkers as well as small molecules that we isolated from human blood serum and plasma. I had a lot of fun working together; it’s always energizing to discuss science with a curious and thoughtful young scientist like Alex.”

HP Immersive Experiences Lab researcher Mithra Vankipuram reports that Jung’s investigation into VR design tools was “very well received and much appreciated by the team.” Interns, she notes, “are invaluable because their point of view is unique and their questions give us a moment to look at our research in new ways.”

Preparing for blood fractionation and downstream isolation of small molecules.

Photo courtesy of HP

Preparing for blood fractionation and downstream isolation of small molecules.

HP: Alex, tell us about the projects you worked on this summer.

For the first part of my internship, I worked in the bio lab where I did some experiments with HP’s SERS nanosensors. I first used them to detect melamine dissolved in water. We discovered that it is most easily detected in low concentrations. Then I did the same thing with lactate, which is a biomarker for sepsis. If you're able to identify lactate within a specific, chemically relevant range, it could be useful for determining whether someone has sepsis or not. What we discovered was that, with this sensor at least, lactate is only a good biomarker for sepsis that’s fairly advanced. Lastly, I worked with different dilutions and filtrations of blood serum and blood plasma to see which gave clearer sensor readings.  

In the VR lab.

Photo courtesy of HP

In the VR lab.

HP: How about in the VR lab?

There I worked on trying out eight different VR software design programs to see which features and tools in the programs were most useful for creating a specific VR design. I first designed a test object – a desk – that I wanted to create in each program. Then I tried them all out and gave a presentation to the VR team on which tools proved the most valuable to me. That led me to do some additional work on how to implement grabbing tools in VR.

HP: What was the challenge there?

These are hardware devices that you physically control to do jobs like move virtual objects around and in that sense can be used to do design within the VR experience. My job was to explore a new prototype grabbing tool and ask how it might be useful for carrying out specific tasks in VR design. It turned out to be useful for a variety of tasks, such as object manipulation, dragging straight lines out through virtual space, and ensuring that objects are placed completely parallel with each other.

HP: What particularly struck you about the experience of working in an industrial lab?

It was interesting to be working in a real physical science lab rather than a high school lab and to see how they are so different. It was also great to be doing something that interests you rather than what your course requires you to do. And it was fun to be working on experiments where nothing much is known yet about the subject that you are researching. In the VR lab, it was great to have access to so many different programs and tools – more than you’d get to try out anywhere else.

HP: Has working at HP Labs changed your sense of what you’d like to study in college?

Yes. Before this I was thinking of doing straight chemistry. Now I'm thinking that biochemistry could be really interesting – I’m definitely interested in thinking more about how we can use nanosensors to identify diseases in a less invasive way.