31 July 2013


One of the best things about research and the most challenging are the continually moving goals.  These can happen for several reasons such as availability of equipment, technology, current theory, and discoveries that launch scientists into new domains.  Therefore, research requires a certain bit of flexibility about it because one never knows if and when their goal can change.

The challenge comes from the ever changing goal and the fact that once reached, it may or may not be the end of things to come.  For instance, there was a time when elements like oxygen, hydrogen, and helium were believed to never be any other state other than a gas.  However, as experiments progresses, one after another the gases were liquified.  This created a continually moving goal as one after another gas was liquified, with helium being the last.  The challenge is not only to work hard to attain the multitude of goals but to be continually searching for where others may come from in the future.

The looking towards the future is one of the best things about research.  It rarely ends but is a continual journey into the unknown.  Just when something is figured out, more questions appear needing to be answered such as:  Why did this happen?  How is it working?  Are there any ways this information can be used? And of course many more questions about the phenomena that was being studied.  This makes it exciting because there is always an unknown to investigate and more to consider just around the corner!

19 July 2013

Welcome Back - and the New Lab

It is always great to be welcomed back to an environment one is familiar with and the same can be said of research.  While there is always a little trepidation with starting something new it helps to know how to approach where you are headed.  The following entries are a follow up to the first research experience as a second year of research ensues.  There is a new lab and with it new challenges and experiences.

This year the goal is to find out new things about Terahertz spectroscopy with respect to several samples.  As of now, much of what we know about the world around us comes from investigating via the electromagnetic spectrum.  Up to this point scientists have studied many things through the spectrum building up fairly complete pictures in certain wavelengths such as the Infrared and Ultraviolet. However, there are still areas to investigate and one of these areas is the Terahertz regime.  The goal of the project is to simply learn more about how objects behave spectroscopically in this area of the electromagnetic spectrum.

One of the greatest things that science has to offer is the unknown.  Science is constantly pushing boundaries to invent new technology, discover affects never seen before, and create theories about how the world around us functions.  The exciting thing about the experiment being worked on is that we do not know what will happen.  It may be that our samples give us spectra and we can investigate these.  It also may be that we are given nothing with the spectroscopy and this is still good because it gives us new information.  This means when gathering information and researching topics one has to look at the information in pieces from different sources to try and create an expected picture where from there the experiment can be set up and followed through.  Either way, we are moving to the unknown to see what nature has to offer us.

20 November 2011

Effects of RET

There are several points taking part in the experience of research.  Not only does it help increase the knowledge base of a community but it also offers insights into methodology and acts as an experience which can be woven into actions and choices for the future.  Having a research experience can also be beneficial in the teaching sphere.

When teaching science in high school, it is important not only to help students gain knowledge but also to gain experience, intuition, and a way of thinking that can only come form science, just as studies in different areas like languages and history also impart their own ways of looking at the world.  Therefore, sharing experience both in action and conversation are important.

For the classroom, the RET can manifest itself in more science activities, explorations, and labs for students to experience more hands on activities where they see the science and data first hand.  Not only do students then become exposed to the material that is being learned but they are now using their other senses to fully incorporate the material into their understanding.

The RET can also be used as an interesting experience to encourage students about modern day applications of science.  Unfortunately in the classroom, many students do not make the connection to the science they are learning and the world that they inhabit.  Students learn and solve problems about objects falling off bridges, being shot in the air and electrical circuits; however, students do not connect these scenarios to modern day science and what they see daily.  However, by sharing the RET students can then see some of those connections fall into place and begin to build up their connections.

Overall, the RET can be a way to view some of the ideas behind teaching by incorporating more activities and discussions in the classroom not only of the material that can be found in the science text books but with the science that is happening currently.  It is important to make sure that experiences such as the RET are not just left in the past but allowed to affect choices in the present and future.

16 August 2011

About Research

Research is a complex thing and can mean many different things to many different people.  Below is a video about research from the perspective of a college professor.

05 August 2011


Typically research happens over periods of time with different grants and programs.  At the ends of these periods finished projects are expected, questions answered, and some results, conclusions, and discussions are conveyed.  In this regard of time period with end deliverables, a research project ends.  However, the idea and concept of the experiment does not disappear and in this sense, a research project will never end.  There will always be questions, the improvement of methods, and more information to be sought.  It is with these deliverables from research that society is able to create building blocks for future endeavers.

Therefore, when considering the end of a project one of the first considerations is the data.  Is it meaningful or not and why?  If a project collected data from contaminated samples then this situation cannot truly tell one reliable information on a phenomenon.  Part of determining whether or not data is meaningful also depends on how the meaningful is determined.  In problem solving, when a goal or solution is sought, conditions for reliable and successful solutions are also defined.  Consider the behavior box experiment.  The goal of the experiment was to create a box that allowed flexibility in the traditional way of training mice to later be studied using optogenetics that was automated.  Therefore, success is based on whether the box can function in the old sense of training with the mice and also if it allows some flexibility for the mice as well as the fact that its parts must all be automated to collect data.  As the project is drawing to a close the box is just about complete.  However, since the box is still being completed then it has yet to be fully tested with the mice and therefore there is no data yet for the box.  The data will be seen at a later time period after training the mice and observing the results of the training.  It is important to note that once the data is collected, that it is considered meaningful and successful if the mice are trained in the box successfully and if the box is able to take automated data.

Another aspect of a project's ending is to reflect on the project as a whole, its obstacles and its accomplishments.  Such reflections happen both internally in the scientist when considering what has happened in the project as well as externally through outlets like discussions in science papers.  To reach considering the project as a whole a prudent first step is to consider the various hurdles that took place.  In the behavior box experiment there were several challenges along the way.  The first major obstacle was in the research for the materials, in finding all the required parts with the correct dimensions and decent pricing.  The solution to this was patience and determination.  The second major challenge was the actual design for the port for the mice.  The issue was that none of the ports for the nose pokes that the lab had were large enough to allow all of the mice to poke through and set off the sensors.  Therefore, to solve this problem there was a brainstorming session and then the making of several ports.  After testing the ports and seeing the reactions of the test mice, some changes were made.  It was tested again a couple of times until the final port was decided on and then implemented.  The final major hurdle in this project was creating the ability for the ports to have the ability to be at two different distances from each other.  To solve this problem again there was brainstorming as well as making small prototypes of what was desired.  After some prototypes and discussions a layout was decided upon and that became the final model for the box.  Realizing such obstacles in research and taking the time to analyze both the challenges, solutions, and the processes to reach  a solution can help in future decision making for both the experiment and the scientist.  By using problem solving skills and critical thinking, both problems in the lab and out of the lab can be tackled and dealt with.

Another aspect of finishing research is the final days in the research lab.  This is a careful balance of continuing the research as well as working on the deliverables for the moment that the research project is finished.  Therefore, the last week is an amalgam between finishing up your project, organizing your area and materials, working on the presentations or posters or papers, and making sure that all of the work has been carefully documented.  The documentation and procedures are important to record because once one has left the lab there is still research and other projects being studied.  If one wrote a computer program and then did not tell anyone how it worked, if something needed to be changed or added the lab would have to try and figure out what the program involved or start over with a new program which would consume more time and energy than needed.  It is reasonable to expect one's final week then will be a lot of paperwork and the combinations of the research with how the research shall be presented.

It is important to use one's time wisely during this period because a lot of work and discussion takes place.  When writing up presentations, posters, and papers for research it is a discussion, a collaboration, and a cooperation with members of the lab both to check how the research is being presented as well as if the facts are portrayed properly as well as to catch any parts that need more clarification.  The purpose of sharing scientific research is so that others can either work collaboratively on joint research or can use information to enhance their own.  For either of these purposes however, communication is paramount to success where lucid and descriptive presentations are desired and necessary.  Research that is not understandable helps no one.

28 July 2011

Research and Impact

Whenever one starts a new activity or challenge in life it affects the person who undertook it.  This change can happen in small ways or large ways but it happens.  Then how does research fall into this catagory?  Most people, when they think about research and scientists consider an image of a man who is middle aged or older with some facial hair who's unkempt, wearing a white lab coat, and typically with scientific instruments or equipment, books, filing cabinets along with some phrase like eureka or formulae (here is a study that includes a section on the public image of scientists).  However there is so much more to scientists, where they work and who they are.  An example would be the lab in which the current project is being worked on.  Professor Han's lab is filled with diverse people who all enjoy their research but also enjoy other activities as well.  In terms of research, while it does involve a lot of work as well as books, equipment, and filing cabinets to keep everything organized and perform experiments, there is so much more to research.  It involves a creative mind to approach problems and it involves a lot of cooperation and collaboration, research is social.

Having entered a research lab, one learns more about scientists, research, and one's own competence in research.  After one has entered a lab, worked in it, and had the chance to assimilate, a wonderful event occurs.  Research can be done!  The trick with research is to endure, be open and willing to learn, and to try one's best.  If this is done then a niche can be made in the lab.  Research is definitely challenging but so are numerous other things.  It is a great experience to enter a lab and to then develop a sense of competence through such an experience.

The research experience can be brought to the classroom as well, a way to disseminate information.  Research is a mix of times of patience and hardwork and times of problem solving and creativity.  Having moments in the classroom with problem based learning is a way to convey some of the ideas involved with research in the classroom.  These introduce problems and then encourage creative and critical thinking just as research does in a lab.  Another way is to have moments that require looking up information and then critically considering the information, not just to write down every fact that appears but to analyze and filter it.  Just like in research, it is important to know which information is pertinant for a project.  Bringing in ideas and topics in modern day research is way to bring research to the classroom while connecting to the present day and making information more modern.

There is a lot involved with research and it is a fun and extraordinary journey to explore.

27 July 2011

Lab Meetings

In many labs, there are group meetings for the entire lab.  How often these happen depends on each individual lab as well as schedules.  For this research group, these meetings happen an average of once per week.  However these meetings can happen more frequently if there is a lot of work to be done on a project and less often if members of the lab are going to conferences, working more independently on their own separate projects, or are time crunched in activities that are time sensative.

What can happen in a group meeting?  These meetings can be used as a way to check in with some of the other projects happening in the lab, as there are typically several projects happening in one lab.  An example would be several members of the lab group giving short couple minute presentations on what they have been doing, some data, and other important points for their project.  This not only informs the rest of the group what is happening but also opens it up to the group to help talk out possible problems and offer an outside eye to the project.

Another way group meetings can be used is to share information.  If the lab is a neuroengineering lab, such as the one with the current project, then having weekly talks about the different parts of the brain and how they function.  These would be beneficial for the whole lab and are good general knowledge for all of the members to develop.  These meetings also give valuable experience for the presenting members since giving talks in science is an important media of communications in the scientific community.

Group meetings are also used to disseminate information.  These can be used to inform members if and when other events are happening as well as updates or changes in protocol.  Members from the lab can even demonstrate a technique which is important for the whole lab to understand.

These meetings also help to build a sense of community in the lab.  During the last group meeting professor Han made a great statement about the lab: that any problems are not just those of the individual member but are something that are a part of the whole lab, it should not just be someone else's problem.  She is very encouraging of the individual members as well as the members as a whole.  Research is both cooperation and collaboration between people and it is important to foster a community that allows both.