Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our first round of testing didn't go exactly as we had planned

Marvin and I had been planning and coordinating for days all leading up to our first round of testing.  When we were done, our results were not what we had expected.  I can see why people would get frustrated working in research because their experiments don't work the way they had expected.  Speaking with some of the other members of the Reinhard Lab, they have come to expect that things might not work out the first time.  Also, I was aware that the prep time we had spent on our experiment was nothing compared to other experiments that were being conducted in the Reinhard Lab.

I felt stressed during our experiment.  I was responsible for placing our exposed sensor chip in the upright microscope.  Once I placed it on the microscope I had to bring the image into focus, then change to a higher power lens, refocus, change locations on a section of the chip, turn off the light, turn on the laser, open/close certain mirrors, etc. in order to take the measurements.  I needed to do all this set up quickly because the liquid we sprayed on to the surface of the chip that had "captured" our explosive material's vapor molecules was evaporating away.  As I was focusing the microscope, I could see the liquid evaporating  Based on our literature review, once this liquid evaporates, then you basically can't take any more SERS readings.

What we had expected to see were large "spikes" on the SERS measurements that would allow us to demonstrate the chip was able to detect the explosive material.  After our first couple of measurements, we weren't seeing the results we had expected.  At this point we stopped and spoke with the grad students asking for their comment and advice.  Adjustments to our original testing plan had to be made on the spot and we had to go in another direction.  This idea of being flexible is a very important concept in research - as well as in being a teacher.  If your original plan doesn't work - try something else.

It was very helpful to speak with several different people in the lab to obtain multiple points of view.  Marvin and I also spent some time with Jing, who had done the original research that we are building upon.  After her review of the results, they were not as bad as we had originally thought.  She was able to take our SERS readings and "subtract" our original background measurement to create a new graph that showed some "spikes" in our measurements.  The issue we faced was because the concentration of the explosive material was so low, the "spikes" we saw from our SERS measurement, we much lower than anything Jing had experienced in her previous experiments.  Thus, after speaking with Jing, Marvin and I had to develop a revised testing plan for our next round of testing.

Today's activities have demonstrated to me that you need to be
  • Objective
  • Willing to listen to another person's ideas/suggestions
  • Know when to ask for help
  • Good at coordinating with others
  • Flexible 
  • Determined
while working in research.  These skills are also very important to being a good teacher.

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