"Looking at things under a microscope is my absolute favorite thing to do. When you’re on the microscope and you’re looking at the worms as they’re moving around, it is just beautiful."
Engineering meets neuroscience
Although she works in a neuroscience lab, Franco is a mechanical engineering graduate student seeking a way to grow touch-sensitive neurons in a dish. Her hope is to open up new ways to study how touch works and why, sometimes, it doesn’t. Her desk sits by a window at the end of a long, black-topped lab bench, on top of which sit various pieces of equipment — beakers, petri dishes, microscopes and more.
Like most of her lab mates, she spends much of her time tending to her worms — keeping them warm or cold depending on the experiment, feeding them nonharmful E. coli bacteria, gingerly moving them from dish to dish with a hook purpose-built in the lab and staring at them through a microscope. She didn’t always imagine this life for herself. In addition to her research, she’s a competitive cyclist.
"When I graduated from high school, I didn’t really have any college prospects, so I moved out of the house and I started working full time and living on my own. One time I was talking to some of my cyclist friends about bike fit and how awesome it is that we can adjust someone’s position on a bicycle to optimize their power output, and they were like, 'Joy, you’re such a nerd. You have to go back to school. You have to get your degree.' I thought, 'Oh, huh. Someone believes in me. Someone thinks that I am capable of achieving something like a bachelor’s degree.'
Looking at things under a microscope is my absolute favorite thing to do. When you’re on the microscope and you’re looking at the worms as they’re moving around, it is just beautiful. If you’re looking at it under a fluorescent microscope, it’s a glow worm that’s moving around. And I just can’t get past how awesome that is and how awesome it is that that’s my job — looking at really cool stuff through a microscope."
STORY AND PHOTO COURTESY OF Stanford Medicine