Well, here we are — ten weeks into my time at the Ancient Ink Laboratory, and my summer in New York is almost over! Time has passed by ridiculously quickly, and in many ways it feels like it was just yesterday that I made my way to the 10th floor of the CEPSR building for the first time and nervously met my colleagues; yet at the same time, so much has changed over those few short weeks: I know a whole lot more about the process of making charcoal than when I started, I’m no longer intimidated walking into an engineering lab and working alongside graduate students and post-doctorates, and I’m much more confident in my ability as a scientist to design and run an experiment and come up with creative and successful solutions as problems arise.
It was only in my second-to-last week that I successfully completed the first part of my goal for the summer – creating charcoal at 200 °C, 300 °C, 400 °C, and 500 °C. It sounds easy enough, but with a variety of factors including material temperature, heating rate, time, rate of nitrogen flow (in order to successfully purge the oven), and cooling time, there was a lot to get a handle on. But after six weeks of struggling with only ash to show for it (the product I did not want), the success of making real, quality charcoal was extra sweet. Once I finally had good samples, I was able to analyze the charcoal using SEM imaging and microRaman spectroscopy, the latter of which can be seen in the attached pictures.
Doing research work in the lab this summer has certainly affected my perspective of STEM. Before, when one of my textbooks mentioned some of the “real-life applications” of a particular concept, I tended to gloss over it since, at least most of the time, it didn’t seem all that relevant to my life. But now that I’ve finally had the chance to put my knowledge from years of science classes to practical use, those “real-life applications” will be that much more applicable to me.
As for the future, I’ve got a few plans. In the immediate future, I plan to return to the Ancient Ink Lab this coming fall and continue my research. Beyond that, I hope to explore the possibility of going into conservation work. At Barnard, that means continuing with my chemistry studies and taking some art history, anthropology, and sociology courses. In the meantime, I’ll espouse to anyone who will listen – kids, adults, and anyone in between – that working in a lab is an invaluable experience and one they should absolutely take it they are given the opportunity. Thank you, Barnard Noyce, for doing that for me!