Reflecting back upon these last few months, I have definitely acquired a much larger sense of what my future may consist of depending on which path I decide to take—research, pharmaceuticals, education, government organization work. Each has its struggle, each has its confrontations, and each has a different output with the same goal in mind – changing the world for the better. While it may be cliché, it proposes a kind of determination that can be applied to different fields that makes it worthwhile to pursue.
To give you a little exposition of how I have come to this analysis, let me recall the research I have been digging into over the past couple of weeks. Towards the beginning of July, I set out to prepare shale and serpentine solutions and analyze their decomposition when placed in acid digestion chemicals: sodium citrate, sodium acetate, and DI water (all at pH 3). While it was clear to the naked eye that sodium citrate was the strongest at digesting shale and serpentine, the samples underwent the ICP process where the elements in the solution were categorized in order of dominant elements. While the results are still underway, I learned the difficulties of running machinery. The ICP was a very fragile machine, as many are, that required a specific temperature to run, certain amount of airflow running through the vents, enough two percent nitric acid to rinse the solutions, and the proper set up.
Another project I began was a brand new experiment of capturing carbon dioxide from lime kiln dust (LKD) and cement kiln dust (CKD). While it has a strong tie to the rest of the projects ongoing in Professor Park’s group, this research was specified towards understanding the material composition. Michele (an Italian student researching for his Masters) and I began to analyze the CKD and LKD in the TGA, BET, Carbon Analyzer, and Pore Size Analyzer. The Carbon Analyzer was used to determine the inorganic carbon material in the solution.
Rereading my past reports, I know that transformations have occurred in my thinking, learning, and absorbing process. I have definitely learned to motivate myself to do research, step foot into the curious experimental procedures, and determine what procedures are appropriate for our current project. I have also learned that a lot of the lab work may be team work, but not as much as I had thought…While one person was running the TGA, the other was setting up the samples for experiment. It was a quicker method to complete all the tasks necessary to proceed.
I have learned to ask the right questions to better understand the current research topics of interest, but I have ways to go. That is the beauty of the science field—always more to learn! Now I can confidently say, that each project was tied to carbon capture and storage through creation of mineral carbonation through calcium carbonates or magnesium carbonates. My PI wanted to look more into the strength and volatility of the magnesium carbonate, which has not been done yet! She also allowed me to look into these characteristics, reaction conditions, and behaviors of CKD and LKD for the same purpose. The more understanding facts that are discovered in these materials, the deeper in we can investigate the proper methods to limit CO2 emissions and decrease the ozone layer.
In coordination to transformation about the STEM fields and education, I have learned that it is up to the individual to absorb/reflect as much as they desire. Some interns working in the lab would come 3 times a week, and did not feel enlightened as much as I did. This is because STEM is a learning process over extensive periods of time. It is the day after day, week after week, that one starts noting changes in the chemical reactions, running samples after samples, fixing what is broken, and gaining a new sense for the lab and its environment. Being absent for one day may have left one out of initiating an experiment, or even bouncing back ideas from other scientists entering the lab randomly.
While my time in Mudd 390 was pretty limited to the summer, I am hoping on extending my stay in the lab for Fall 2014. While it may be a hard transition with courses and extracurricular activities, I am looking forward to beginning my own personal experiment and undergoing literary research and the physical chemical reactions with some guidance. To publish a paper under my name by junior year would be the most ideal case!
These past four weeks have flown by with tasks ranging from submerging myself in the lab culture of recording data, fixing equipment, attending meetings and conferences, as well as initiating my own research! Each day presents a new challenge, each week presents a new journey, and this month presents a new focus.
The first week kicked off with a variety of BET problems. The machine is used to read the surface area and cumulative pore volume over the absorption and desorption processes. The absorption process consists of change in volume as relative pressure increases; desorption describes the volume of the particle as the relative pressure decreases back to its original state. The BET is can record surface area varying in size of micropores (<3 nm), mesopores (3-50 nm), and macropores (>50 nm).
Upon being asked to use the BET more often, we (interns) noticed a gap in the data when the relative pressure increased higher than 1 atm. This glitch in the vacuum resulted in “error” readings. Therefore, the search to understand the originating source of a non-sealed vacuum initiated.
Xiao Zhou, another post-doctorate student of Professor Park, gave us a few tips about using the BET. He mentioned to always use gloves when touching these tubes because it prevents body oils from affecting the tube weights (recorded in milligrams) and air tightening seal. In addition, Xiao Zhou showed us an effective and productive way to wash the tubes. He placed the tubes in the sonicator with soap and DI water to vibrate the particles stuck onto the walls. Then, the tubes were placed in the vacuum oven to dry.
While we continue to do research to answer our curiosity and perform the tasks Greeshma has gives us, we are simultaneously exposing ourselves to green energy ideas through the work of creating pamphlet descriptions about Millennium Villages Project technologies (like LifeStraw and the Hippo Water Rollers) and attending the North American Student Energy Summit conference. The Millennium Villages Project pamphlet compiled a list of advanced technologies being used in third world countries.
This idea of technology to better the planet and people was then reestablished at the UN conference. The North American Student Energy Summit challenged me, along with a group of undergraduate and graduate students, to project the key energy issues in the world.
Melanie Kenderdine, director of the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis for the United States, along with other important speakers such as Mark Jacobson and Professor Lackner spoke at the conference. Each of them offered a distinct perspective to energy needs and resources with political and scientific reasoning. Some believed that renewable energy would prevail to be the new source, while others believe that as long as it is existent, there is no problem! However, it was interesting how they all seemed to present a fear of reliability and dependency on other countries for energy resources.
I hope to achieve the goals listed in my last report by continuing on this track of peaks and valleys, trial and error, and refocusing my views on what is crucial towards Earth’s future. I am slowly understanding the reasoning behind each experiment and the final results anticipated. I also mentioned that I wanted use my time efficiently to learn more background on the current research to understand the statistical and chemical reaction analysis.
Now, I am fully submerging myself in this sea of mysteries. Within this transition, I am setting up a new goal in mind: designing a new experiment to work on throughout the next month and incoming fall semester.
Upon stepping into MUDD, day one, I must admit I was pretty nervous. While I had worked in the same Earth and Environmental Engineering lab last semester, it was quite a change in setting… I had a different personal investigator (PI), project assignments, and of course, new colleagues. So now, you might be wondering, what am I doing? I, along with the group of other interns, are working on distinct projects in the Earth and Environmental Engineering lab.
These projects pose solutions to reduce carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. This summer’s projects are looking specifically at mineral carbonation, since it is the most efficient method when storing and not leaking carbon. It allows one to use natural processes to chemically bond carbon dioxide with other minerals to create solid, sequestering the gas within the pore spaces. These projects include: performing two-step dissolutions and carbonations of MgCO3, testing MgCO3 strength as an additive in material fillers, analyzing efficient methods to store CO2 in shale rocks, dissolving magnesium into solution phases, in addition to mini analyses of pore size distribution, pore volume, and surface area of samples on the BET and XRD for other group members. Another exciting experiment consisted of using concentrated NITRIC ACID!!
The experiment consisted of measuring 1L of nitric acid and 100 g of serpentine. The focus was on digesting the serpentine in the acid for 48 hours, attempting to break it down for further pore analysis. In conclusion, the more time I spend in MUDD 390, the more I realize my true passion is chemical engineering…but that is not completely it. My desire comprises of also transmit this information to empower women to be part of the changing world where the female population can work in this field. After all, women in the engineering fields should not only be 18%, but 100%!