Silver Isn’t Silver, Empowerment Through Lab Goggles, and Other Lessons From Research

For six weeks of this summer, I am conducting nanoscience research in Belmont’s Physics lab through the SURFs (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program. As a Biology major, I came into this fellowship knowing next to nothing about physics. However, after my research advisor handed me a substantially thick stack of physics literature and nanoscience journals to read, and now that we are officially halfway into the research experience, I can now say that I have learned a few things about nanoscience and the research experience in general. Here are some of them:

  1. If going to the mountains is a method through which I realize I am so small and God is so infinitely magnificent, then reading scientific papers is a method through which I realize my brain is laughingly small and the knowledge in the world is so infinitely vast. Guys, I can read through a paper three times and still not know entirely what the authors are talking about. There is such an immense wealth of information packed into just a few pages of reading material that it can be hard to register all of it sometimes. What even are silicon-based metal-oxide-semiconductor electronic systems? Integrated optical devices?? Still not entirely sure….ask me again in a few weeks and maybe I’ll be able to tell you.
  2. Sonicating (cleaning) microscope slides is a very loud and obnoxious process.
  3. Carry your phone with you, because if you don’t, you will never know what time it is. No clocks or windows here.
  4. Silver nanoparticles don’t look silver. We use glass microscope slides to create these nanoparticles. The sodium ions naturally found in the glass leave and are substituted by silver ions surrounding the glass (we expose the glass to silver ions by immersing it into a piping hot liquid bath of silver and sodium nitrates). Once the ion exchange occurs, we heat the slides at around 500ºC for one or two hours so the silver ions in the glass clump together, thereby forming silver nanoparticles. The nanoparticles do not look silver, though – they look more golden-orange to me.
  5. You can only listen to an album so many times. I have exhausted Hillsong’s Wonder and Houndmouth’s Little Neon Limelight, but as many times as I listen to Lorde’s Melodrama, it never gets old.

  6. I can’t hold my breath for that long…but I can hold it long enough to change out the slides in the IR machine. Carbon dioxide interrupts readings.
  7. You will never ever ever be able to escape IR. Think you can leave behind infrared spectroscopy after Organic Chemistry? Think again. I thought it was possible (out of all the things we learned in OChem, IR was the topic that I liked the least), but I was unfortunately mistaken. In the physics lab, we run IR on our samples every day.
  8. My memory isn’t as good as I think it is, so I’m very thankful for lab notebooks where I can specify all of the procedures and protocols we follow.
  9. Time is plentiful, but that’s only a good thing if you know how to use it. There’s a lot of waiting around for things to happen in our lab, so learning how to utilize time efficiently has become crucial.
  10. All it takes is a pair of latex gloves and some lab goggles to feel like you can conquer the world.

Happy Friday!

Samantha

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