Other Thoughts…

I know I have alread summarized my main research findings from the summer in my previous post, but I wanted to flush out just a bit more some of the other lessons I learned from myexperience this summer while I wait at home for the impending hurricane doom to decend.  🙂 

This summer I not only learned an incredible amount about 19th century painted rooms and the operation of complex instrumentation used to analyze them, but also about the research process and its many rewards and challenges. 

Throughout the summer I experienced numerous highs and lows as I conducted my research.  When I first arrived back on campus I was excited to jump straight into science, which in my head meant taking samples and collecting data.  However, my first few days were actually mostly spent reading papers, taking notes and making a thorough and detailed plan for myself with the help of my research advisor.  Although reading papers is not what immediately comes to mind when you tell people you are working in a chemistry lab, the time I spent educating myself about what others were doing in the field and how their work could help me was invaluable as the summer progressed.  Whenever I hit a sticking point throughout the summer I often found myself sifting through articles again for help and inspiration. 

And believe me, those sticking points came.  The first was soon after I identified the red pigment in the Carolina Room, when I began to realize the blue and green pigments were not going to be quite so easy to identify.  I methodically searched the available literature and tested every known pigment my advisor and I could think of to find a match.   The summer months showed me the importance of patience and determination in the lab.  Rarely do things go right the first time, or even the second or third.  Although this situation was frustrating at times, I still felt like I had some control over the situation and would eventually find a solution if I just kept pushing.  However, I also learned that sometimes in the process of scientific research, things go wrong for no apparent reason. 

I experienced this challenge somewhere in the middle of July.  One day,  my nanoparticle synthesis just decided to quit working.  The nanoparticles are what I mix with art samples in order to get stronger Raman signals, so without them I was basically stuck and data collection came to a standstill.  Since I started working in the lab in the fall of 2010, I think I’ve sucessfully completed 20-30 nanparticle syntheses.  Basically, I could do it with my eyes closed.  And as far as I knew, I hadnt changed anything or done anything differently to trigger the problem.  I tested every variable to see if I could find the problem, super cleaned all the glassware, and even ordered new chemicals, everything I could think of so I could get the synthesis working again and get back on schedule with what I wanted to be doing.  For about a week and a half nothing seemed to be helping, but then just as suddenly as the synthesis stopped working, it started working again.  Go figure.  My research advisor and I ended up blaming it on “wierd science voodoo magic” that occupied my corner of the lab for a bit.  🙂 

I was very fortunate to be able to end the summer on the high note that I did, finally identifying the blue and greens!  That feeling of accomplishment was worth all the hard work it took to get there and it is something Im very much looking forward to sharing with everyone at the showcase in a few weeks.  Once again, thanks to all who made this summer possible and allowed me to experience every aspect of the research process!