Background and education

My name is Lincoln Ombelets. I grew up in the Boston area and attended Northeastern University in Boston. Growing up, I learned programming and a bit of software development, but in college I studied chemistry.
Now I'm a third-year graduate student in the chemistry PhD program at Caltech in Pasadena, California, where my dual interests of coding and chemistry have each found use.

I work in the lab of Long Cai in the Biology and Biological Engineering Division. In general, we are interested in using fluorescence microscopes to study biological systems at a very high resolution. The Cai Lab developed a technique known as seqFISH, which allows researchers to ascertain the position and abundance of many thousands of different biomolecules in the same sample. This contrasts with traditional imaging methods which are generally limited to visualizing fewer than ten distinct molecules in the same sample.

In 2020, I transitioned from experimental technique development to computational tool development. The data produced by experiments run in our lab is tremendously rich and complex, being three-dimensional spatial maps of up to thousands of different biomolecules in several different classes. Motivated by the conceptual and computational difficulties of extracting insight from these data, I am developing a data wrangling and 3D visualization platform. I hope to facilitate the exploration, processing and interpretation of the data produced by spatial 'omics experiments so that biologists can more fully leverage their tremendous potential to find new insights.

The challenge of biological complexity

Although I studied chemistry in college, and conducted research synthesizing new drug-like molecules, I was drawn to biological research when I learned about the incredible complexity and coordination found in living systems. Biological complexity is fundamental chemical in nature, and unlike humans, even the simplest organisms are able to manipulate highly complex molecules with astonishing precision.

Furthermore, the scale of living complexity covers many orders of magnitude - certainly from individual atoms or molecules to many-meter-scale organisms like trees or whales, and potentially to multi-individual collective systems depending on one's definitions. Understanding the principles behind this complexity, and how it adapts to challenges, is a great undertaking for humanity. How can we grapple with the nearly infinite amount of information and work it seems it would require to understand such systems?

The challenge of society

Another great challenge for humanity is learning how to build societies that are fairer, kinder and more equitable than previous generations. During the coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd protests, I have started reflecting more on sociopolitical and philosophical issues than ever before. What is the best way to govern large numbers of people? What is the role of the media? What is the role of the economic system? How can we educate future generations so that the mistakes of the past and present are not endlessly repeated? How can I even conceive of these issues which, like biology, span many scales of complexity and involve unknown effects of unknown magnitudes? I am trying to become better informed and better read on some of the philosophers and thinkers that have historically pondered these big topics.

These are some of the overarching questions which I am curious about - philosophy of science, interdisciplinary research, and political/economic philosophy. I am really at the very beginning of learning about most of these things, and I have never blogged or posted much on social media. But I hope to use this website to air some of my nascent and evolving thoughts on these issues. I welcome constructive feedback via email.