Research – Automatic Counting of Heterogeneous Bacteria Colonies on Contact Plates

Article by Joe Linogao (Laidlaw Scholar 2021, Engineering with Management)

One of the main components of the Laidlaw Programme was the 6 weeks dedicated to the  Summer research project. This, as is for many people, was the main appeal of the programme and I was super excited to get into researching. My project was titled, “The Automatic Counting of Heterogeneous Bacteria Colonies on Contact Plates”, and provided ups and downs throughout the 6 weeks (well, 8 weeks if you include all the writing I had to do afterwards).   

If I were to describe the whole experience in a few words, it felt like a “breath of fresh air.” This project was the first time I went out of my comfort zone and applied my engineering knowledge to a problem. It felt good breaking the problem into chunks, solving each bit by bit, and seeing progress build up. The project seemed to be the opposite of traditional mechanical engineering, which added to the challenge and my enthusiasm to learn.   

I learned a lot of different skills in the technical and social aspects. However, there were some hurdles throughout the project. The main challenge I faced was working with a  completely new topic – deep learning, which the project relied heavily upon. While I was interested in the idea of deep learning and AI, I would not have been able to study it until I  was in my 5th year. So, being thrown into the project with minimal knowledge was a bit rough at first. However, I just kept at it, and after six weeks, I managed to create a robust object detector with fairly high accuracy. If “week 1” me saw “week 6” me, he would have been shocked. 

Having the 6 weeks to just focus purely on research benefited in developing my skills. I came out of the project with knowledge about deep learning and computer vision. These technical skills are beneficial for any modules I will have that involve software development or data manipulation. Additionally, I learned about professional interaction in the workspace thanks to my supervisor, Dr Conor McGinn. He gave me advice on good writing habits, how to interact with new colleagues, and how to manage my time efficiently, for which I am most grateful. Furthermore, he aided me in creating my first ever academic paper based on the project (and he liked it too, which was a complete shock to me)! 

Overall, I am happy with what I got out of my Summer research. I created a prototype algorithm for my topic, produced a research paper, and learned many skills that would benefit me even after I graduate. I am glad that I was able to do something that I am genuinely proud of and, hopefully, I get to showcase it to more people in the future. This project has made me consider if this career is right for me, but only time will tell.  

Again, I’d like to give all my thanks to Trinity College and the Laidlaw Foundation for providing us with such an amazing opportunity. Hopefully, I get to do more exciting projects like this in the future! 

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