Honours student Bryn Scott talks about difficulties of research in the pandemic.
One of the coolest parts of doing research, according to Bryn Scott, is the equipment it grants students access to. Scott is in her fourth year, completing an honours research in Dr. Meli’s lab. Between chemistry classes and classes for her biochemistry and German minors, Bryn spends her time in the lab looking at nanoparticles. When studying nanoparticles, she gets to use Mt. A’s Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), a privilege rarely granted to undergraduate students. “I also have to use a dry freezer for my research. Basically the freezer freezes particles (obviously),” she laughed, “but it does so in a way that removes the moisture from the particles.”
Bryn’s research focuses on adding to the relatively new field of nanoscience. Nanoscience is a branch of the physical sciences that looks at the structures, attributes, and relationships between particles at the nano level (10^-9 m). Dr. Meli’s team works with gold nanoparticles, attaching them to different compounds. These nanoparticles are then spread in a thin layer onto the surface of water, or the air/water interface. Then, they look at the interactions occurring between the particles on this interface, adjusting specific parameters of the particles and environment to study their effects on the interparticle interactions. “The coolest thing that I’ve seen with this research was the particles causing the water to leap up the sides of the container like in Alien or something. It was really cool, even Dr. Meli hadn’t seen anything like it before.”
Breakthroughs like this are scattered throughout massive amounts of hard work and difficulty. The lab was hindered over the summer by COVID-19, where important ordered products arrived nearly 4 months late, causing Scott and the rest of the team to have to scramble to come up with side projects and other ways to keep the research momentum going. “I can get bogged down really easily, which can be hard. You’re following a plan, but things go wrong, and there is a lot of readjustment. It can be discouraging.” Besides setbacks from the pandemic, Bryn’s project is somewhat at the mercy of the technology she is so fond of. “Sometimes equipment dies or goes on the fritz, which can be frustrating especially if the program doesn’t save or something.”
Overall, Scott is enjoying her honours research. “Chemistry was the only science I enjoyed in high school,” she explained. “Having a research background will help me solidify if this is something I want in my future, this strain of Chemistry. I’m not set on anything, but I do love research. It can be stressful, but magical when something goes right.” As for her advice to students considering doing research, she said: “Make sure to take the time to interact with your potential supervisor. Find out if your learning style matches their teaching style. And make sure you really look into the research! Anything can be fun for a month, but an honours or independent study is at least a year’s worth of work, so make sure you enjoy it.”