Tuesday, August 5, 2008

back home

Finally back home from China and almost fully recovered from jet-leg after sleeping heavily the last two days.  Feel glad to relax and be back, but miss many of the friends I've made this summer in our group and in China.  I think it will take awhile to feel a sense of normalcy in Michigan after being in Beijing with non-stop activity every day.  Recently, I've been trying to fit myself back into mainstream US news and popular thought by reading "Time" and "Newsweek", my two favorite magazines, which has helped to acclimatize me back into American culture.  I think the toughest thing for me to get use to while being back home is using a fork and spoon on a regular basis. Although my mastery of the Chinese language is far-off goal right now, my "chop-stick" fluency is enough to make me look Chinese while I eat.

I hope my trip to China is not my last, but my first of many to come.  Also, the research I did this summer at Peking University revealed to me that my interest lies in biological research, rather than physical chemistry research.  Nevertheless, I believe many of the techniques I learned in conducting physical chemistry research will aid me as a biochemistry scientist, since the two fields are becoming intricately woven together in this coming age.     

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stadium, Alameda and Research

Here for the last week has given me a chance to do some last minute site-seeing before going back. Today, some of us went to take some pictures of the Olympic Stadium and the Ice Cube so when we get back we can say to our friends and family that we were there as we watch from the TV set. The stadium is truly magnificant to see even from a distance, but It would have been great to be able to see the inside. While we took pictures a formation of guards walked by us, which was interesting to observe...especially since they couldn't keep there eyes off Kelly. Xu was able to catch a priceless picture of this that will hopefully be on the photo diary soon.

After our Olympic excursion, I was able to experience what its like to get a hair-cut in China with my friend Wu Di from lab. Before going I had my doubts, but the hair-cut come out exactly as I hoped with Wu Di's help all with the phrase "Just a little off the top" to my barber in Chinese. Furthermore, it only cost 3oRMB, equivalent to around $4 US, which is a price I could never get a hair-cut for back home. This is why I usually got my roommate during this last year at school to cut my hair for me so I could avoid paying the $20 US that it usually costs for one in Ann Arbor.

Tonight, I also was able to go to a restaurant named Alameda, which had amasing high-class Western food. The placed is tucked in a little unassuming alcove in the Sanlitun bar strip area. Spencer, Donna and myself were all able to get there fairly quick (45 minutes) by taking bus 394 from our appt. and one of the new Subway lines (10). Some of the others didn't want to go since they thought it too expensive at 158RMB; however, I would never be able to find a meal this good or this cheap anywhere else. For this price you get an starter course and an entree that would cost me well in the $60 range to purchase in the US. For my starter I had roasted Asparagus with Mozzorella cheeze and Ceaser Dressing and for the main entree I had Sea-Bass with Grilled Potatoes and Salsa. I might have to venture here again before we leave on Sunday.

Tomorrow is our big presentation day, where a few of us will present our work via an online-feed to other RU programs (2 at U of M, and 1 at Notre Dame). I think it will be a good way to recap what some of us have done and give us a chance to see the work of others, which will be very varied since many of us have worked in different Chemistry labs including Nanochemistry (physical), Organic, Analytical, and Applied. But, before our presentation I think we plan to go to a Museum in the city and then I'm going to have a farewell dinner with my Professor. Even with all the hassle that resulted from the Olympics with work at lab, I'm happy with how this summer ended in the lab has ended. If I pursue grad school, I may come back for a few months out of the year to do some research, which my Professor has encouraged me to think about.

Monday, July 21, 2008

new changes

This week there have been quite a few changes that have appeared as a result of the approaching Olympic games. For instance, on Monday we all had to get photo ID cards made to enter into Peking University's gates. So far I haven't had any problems getting access through the gates after showing my card, but yesterday Spencer got stopped by the guards so the undergraduate student I work with had to help him out. Also, there seem to be many Olympic teenage volunteers around Beijing, who are easily recognized by their blue and white uniforms. Some even look to be helping with traffic crosswalks, which I think is a very noble task given that the intersections here are much more dangerous than back home. Many of the buses are becoming more crowded too since the amount of traffic allowed on the roads is now restricted, which started this last monday. The other day I got bumped into after the bus driver made a halting stop and consequently stepped on a girl's foot in front of me. I tried my best to say "I'm sorry" in Chinese, but even if I said it perfectly she didn't let on. Now, though, since bumps on the bus are becoming more of a frequent part of the ride back to WanLiu, I've gotten used to it.

I continue to be busy in lab with research and am waiting until I finish this coming Thursday/Friday before I work on my final presentation for our lab meeting this Saturday. So far we've been unsuccessful in our attempt to photo-oxidize multi-walled nanotubes, but there's still a few different ways we plan to do this before Thursday that may work so I continue to be optimistic until then. Now, in lab it feels as though I'm much more a part of the group than when I first arrived. I think the more time I've spent here putting in long hours with experiments I garnered more respect. Many of the lab members tell me I work hard, but in reality I work no harder than anyone else. All the lab members in Prof. Liu's lab are very dedicated workers. The undergraduate student I work with, Wu Di, for instance, decided to get a head start with his grad school work by staying here over the summer instead of going home like most undergraduates do when they graduate before they attend their first year of grad school. He's been a great help since he's been collaborating with me on my project. Recently, we've been looking through many papers and thinking of different ways to get our photo-catalyst to work. If I'm not able to get a good result before I leave, I'm confident he will be able to achieve this when I go back from the insight we've gained this summer.

This weekend after as my lab work draws to an end, I plan to go with a student in our lab to visit a modern art exhibit called "789", which requires about a 1hr. bus ride. I hope it will be a fun event to explore.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

trip flying by

Yesterday a few of us, which included myself along with Kelly, Zhaleh, Spencer, Alisa, and Donna decided to go see the Peking Man site in Zhoukoudian, which is about 50km southwest of Beijing. I’ve wanted to see this site for awhile since we first arrived, but had trouble figuring out exactly how to get there by bus. Fortunately, Julia from the Joint Institute was able to help me with this last Friday by supplying me with directions and a map. It was quite an excursion, since the whole trip required three buses and some careful monitoring of the Chinese characters for the stops that we wanted to get off at, but we made it there with little difficulty. If future participants in this program want to go here from Wan Liu next year simply take bus 394 to Liu Li Qiao Dong, where you’ll take bus 917 to Fang Shan Dong Da Qiao and then board transfer bus 38 to Zhoukoudian. We knew when we got off at the Zhoukoudian stop that we had arrived at the right place, since we saw a giant-sized brass head of Peking Man outside the exhibit’s entrance about 200m from our stop.

I found Zhoukoudian to be a very tourist friendly place. We were allowed to go into all of the caves that the H. erectus fossils of Peking Man had been found in; however, most of the Peking Man specimens have been recovered from the caves so the current excavation of the site has all but stopped. The peak time of excavation occurred during the 1920’s to the 1940’s, which began with the discovery of a couple of human molars here by Swedish geologist Johan Andersson. My favorite Anthropologist that worked on the site, though, was Fanz Weidenreich, because it was his casts of the original Peking Man skulls (about 40 altogether) that allow us to still know what they looked like, since the original skulls were lost during WWII (now, somewhere at the bottom of the ocean) as they were shipped from China in a US freight to keep them from harm. Since I’m a dual Chemistry and Anthropology major I found the museum to be my favorite part of the exhibit, but I think the others enjoyed lunch the best. When we went to the restaurant for lunch, we had just missed the last serving time of 12:30pm so we were first bummed out since we were both hungry from the long bus ride and because I told everyone that it was supposed to be a four-star restaurant (info I got from an online source). However, even though we were late the chef insisted we stay and instantly made us a delicious vegetable dish from two heads of cabbage and some tomatoes he brought in from an outdoor garden. It was probably some of the best, inexpensive dishes I’ve eaten while here. After the museum and lunch we visited the scientists’ memorial where some of the old anthropologists who worked at the site were buried and also some more of the caves (also called localities) before we headed back to the bus.

To switch gears to research, my work in the lab continues to keep me busy for most of the week, where I run experiments pretty much autonomously now. I am still working on Multi-walled nanotube synthesis and believe I have found the growth conditions (temp, flow-rate) that give me the best aligned nanotube array so now I plan this week to attempt the photo-oxidizing step. One problem I’ve had in lab, though, is finding time to get use on the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), since everyone in our lab needs this machine to look at their samples. There was a communication mix-up between my grad student and myself last Sunday where I thought I had been scheduled time to use the machine from midnight to 1am, when he actually meant 12pm to 1pm…so when I got there at midnight the person using the machine was very confused why I insisted on taking his time away from him. However, I’ve made friends with those who are scheduled to use the SEM for long durations, which has given me more accessibility to the machine since they let me view my samples at the same time they look at theirs by putting both of our samples on the same stage in the SEM. I hope this week I can get a lot accomplished so I can begin to prepare my PowerPoint presentation in our lab on my work; it seems many of the lab’s members are eager to hear me speak as I am continually told by others in lab “I hear you will be giving a presentation”. If nothing else it reminds me that I need to move quickly to put my ppt. slides together before my presentation date of July 22. Just writing this date is a shocker, I really can’t believe how fast this study-aboard trip has gone this summer…in 3 weeks I probably won’t want to leave.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

nanotube synthesis success

Last Monday in my post I mentioned that I was trying to complete synthesis of a nanotube array on my own. I have, indeed, accomplished this task but it took me a few days to achieve success because as every scientist knows you must usually try many times before you get what you hope for. In my case, it took three tries, so I guess the cliché “three time’s the charm” held true for me. Both of my first two attempts to create a nanotube array ran into error with the last step of the procedure involving the furnace, which uses methane and hydrogen gas to grow nanotubes from the deposited FeO3 catalyst on the surface of silicon wafers. The first time in the middle of the experiment the furnace ran out of hydrogen gas, while the second time was even more frustrating because a grad student accidentally pressed the wrong button on the circuit breaker that powered the furnace and subsequently turned it off during my experiment. However, when I finally achieved construction of a single walled nanotube array (SWNT) with my third attempt, it made my success feel much more worthwhile.

Recently, instead of doing SWNT synthesis I have been given the project to make multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs), since we want to see if we can cut these nanotubes with our photocatalyst. If this is possible, it will have great implications for nanotube devices in the future if such cutting can be done on a large-scale. Surprisingly, MWNTs are much easier to make than SWNT since some of the preliminary steps can be taken out, such as exposing the silicon wafers to the piranha solution; this is because with MWNTs it is not as important for the silicon dioxide surface to be protonated by this highly acidic solution. The only preliminary steps that need to be done with the wafers are to expose them to acetone in a water-bath for 10 minutes, then in ethanol for 10 minutes. The rest of the procedure is carried out in the furnace. I was very fortunate to get one of the grad students familiar with MWNTs to walk me through how the engineering dynamics of the furnace work, which actually is a very simple process. In contrast to SWNT, the carbon source for MWNT synthesis is held in a cylinder at the bottom of the furnace as opposed to the methane gas flow, which serves as the carbon source in SWNT synthesis. Therefore, Argon gas is used to carry the carbon source in the furnace to the quartz tube where the reaction happens. The grad student who helped me with this was named Yongyi Zhang and he will be going to U of M this coming fall for a Post Doc position in the Mechanical Engineering Department. Other students in the lab told me before that Yongyi is sort of the engineering genius in the lab, where if something breaks he’s the one to fix it. I had no question about this statement after we worked together. For example, he fixed a small electrical device, which we needed to heat up the iron cyclohexane catalyst in the quartz tube, by detaching, reattaching, and splicing wires together. I do believe he might become a great professor at U of M in the near future because of his engineering expertise and his ability to teach others---in this sense U of M is very lucky to have him. In the last few days Yongyi has been looking online for housing at U of M, which I have tried to help him with; however, this is no small task since much of the housing close to North Campus is already taken and it is very difficult to make any arrangements with landlords when you’re not in Ann Arbor. I know I have hard enough time myself to find close, affordable housing each year I’ve lived off-campus in Ann Arbor. Melody and I have talked about this on numerous occasions; I sometimes think students are more stressed out with housing negotiations than with classes during the “house signing time” of the year. Nevertheless, I hope to help Yongyi find a few places that might work out for him.

When I get back to campus in the fall I hope to take what I’ve learned from nanotube synthesis and apply it to biology. Since professor Liu’s lab is focused strictly on Physical chemistry, I don’t have a chance to pursue this type of research at the present moment, but feel nanotubes could have many implications in biological science such as with molecule detection and cancer research. In fact, one of Professor Liu’s former students named Hongjie Dai has conducted a lot of biological research with nanotubes at Stanford University. In one of this papers, I read, he attached the peptide RGD onto nanotubes and subjected these tubes through the bloodstream of mice to determine the efficiency with which these nanotubes contact localized tumors that express the alpha(v)beta3 cancer integrin. Though some of these nanotubes were found in the liver upon dissection, many of them localized to the site of the tumor; this is a promising result since it implicates the Kanzius RF (microwave) therapy as a potential treatment that might be available to cancer patients in the near future. Another one of Prof. Dai’s papers involves drugs bound to nanotubes through base-stacking, which could be equally promising. Therefore, one thing I have learned from my research experience so far is just how connected all the sciences are to one another, whether that is physical chemistry, biology, physics, or engineering. If I had came to this revelation earlier, I probably would have taken some of my former courses like physics of physical chemistry more seriously, now I have a new found passion for these two areas of science.

Monday, June 23, 2008

nanotube synthesis and lunch

Today, I worked in lab with Zhang Guoming to hone my nanotube synthesis skills before tomorrow, which will be the first day I’ll be given the chance to carry out the whole process through (from start to finish); Therefore, the majority of my morning consisted of typing up a protocol from the notes I had taken on nanotube synthesis, which will support me in this pursuit tomorrow. Also today, our whole group went to eat at a Japanese restaurant for our weekly group get-together. Each week different students from our Chemistry group are given the opportunity to bring their grad students along to eat out on Mondays at our usual meeting time of 11:30. This week myself and Allison were given the opportunity to bring our grad students so I chose to bring Zhang Guoming who is the student I predominantly work with as well as another grad student named Pan Zhonghuai; mainly for the reason that Zhonghuai invites me to many of the lab’s social events like soccer on Sundays. However, it was quite an escapade to get to the van that took us to the restaurant, since there was a traffic jam on the side of the road that the Joint Institute lies on. Since I had originally been told to meet the group at the Joint Institute, I had to switch our route on the fly, which meant switching sides of the road once Prof. James Lee called to say they were waiting there for us, where the traffic was less dense. On top of this I was trying to convince both grad students that we had to hurry and that this was not like one of our leisurely walks to the Campus’ dining hall. I think they finally got the message when I started to jog and eventually we got to the van, although we were to last ones to get there.

When we arrived at the Japanese restaurant we were led by the restaurant’s staff to a small private room with sliding bamboo-like doors, which had an outer cobble-stone edging to lay our shoes on. The room made it possible for us all to eat together and share experiences from lab and experiences with eating out at other places in Beijing ironically. The food at this restaurant was different from many of the restaurants we had visited, not just because it was Japanese and many of the other places were Chinese, but that the meat such as the chicken was served without bones. Although this difference may be thought of as minuscule, it is a happy alternative to clearing our meat of bones before taking a bite as we’ve grown accustomed to at many of the Chinese restaurants. From all the dishes that were served I found the steamed cabbage and hotdog dish to be my favorite from the restaurant. Prof. Lee told us that each week we go here there will be a new assortment of dishes served, which will give us all something to look forward to each Monday. However, looking forward to lunch is something I’ve found to be fairly consistent among Peking U’s students, regardless of the day or place since it gives them a break from school, studying and whatever else might be on a restless Peking U student’s mind.

When I arrived back at the lab after lunch, I helped clean the machine that deposits a thin layer of titanium (appox. 6nm) on the quartz that is the photo-catalyst layer instrumental to Zhang’s PhD work. Zhang’s tells me that this machine is probably the oldest piece of equipment still operational in the lab, but as long as it gets the job done he doesn’t mind that it’s slow. I’ve been studying how to use the machine quite closely for fear if I mess with a wrong dial I’ll break it somehow. Therefore, I’ll probably just leave this machine alone for now, since my primary task tomorrow will be to synthesize a nanotube array solely from my notes’ guidance.

Friday, June 20, 2008

4th week entry

This last week I have been working hard in my mentor’s lab to learn the method of nantotube synthesis. The procedure is straight-forward enough, but like everything done in lab it takes much practice to achieve a good result. Since I am more familiar with biological lab procedures such as DNA polymer-chain-reaction (PCR), cell-culturing, and preparation of Western blots I am amazed at how much manual engineering is involved. For instance, the first step of nanotube synthesis involves cutting thin square-sheets a few micrometers in width from a larger circular sheet of SiO2. This is done with a diamond tip pen that must shear through the SiO2 at a perpendicular angle. Furthermore, all the measurements for where to cut are made with a metal ruler; it makes one feel as if they are a mechanic and a scientist at the same time.

Unlike the intricate handiwork involved in the first step, it is the solution that does the labor in the second, where small squares of SiO2 are put in a solution called “piranha” for a few minutes in order to wash away a thin protective layer which coats the surface. Some of you might wonder why they name this solution after a vicious, sharp-toothed fish that resides in the Amazon. If you guessed it’s because it must be handled with care, you’ve guessed right. Since it is composed of 1 part H2O2 and 3 parts H2SO4, the solution is very corrosive; however, great care is taken to make sure the only surface this solution comes in contact with are the SO2 square wafers. This is why administration of the "piranha" solution is done under a hood with acid-resistance gloves stretching to the forearms (so grandparents please you can relax now). After the thin protective layer has been removed, the square pieces of SiO2 are washed with ultra-pure H20 and dried with N2 before a FeO2 catalyst is deposited on them. After these preliminary steps, the silicon wafers are all set for the furnace, which is the key to the whole experiment, much like an oven is key to cooking a good roast after all the ingredients have been added. I will safe the details on what buttons are pushed and which parameters are set to facilitate nanotube synthesis in the furnace, but here's the jest: The furnace is heated to around 900oC and Carbon and Hydrogen are allowed to flow in the furnace at particular time-points to fuel nanotube formation from the catalyst. Theoretically, after 45 minutes or so you should have a linear array of nanotubes on the silicon wafers, but I am still working to meet this objective since all the ones I have done so far show as an entangled network on SEM (scanning electron microscope). By next week, hopefully I’ll get the eureka result I’ve been waiting for.

The person I've been working with to do nanotube synthesis in the lab is Zhang Guoming. He is very helpful and I believe his English vocabulary has improved significantly since the first time I met him. Everyday, he asks me for the English name of some instrument we have in lab. The other day he asked me for the English word that describes little pinchers that grab tiny objects; when I told him that I call them forceps, he was puzzled since he thought they were called tweezers. Then, I told him that they could be called that too and it made me even wonder why there was even a difference. The conclusion I came up with is that forceps is the name given to this instrument in lab, while tweezers is the cosmetic alternative that American consumers reserve for their home-body care use. Therefore, this last week has made me realize just how many words there are in the English language to describe the same thing.

Other members I have met in the lab are very welcoming as well. Last Sunday one of the other grad students in my lab named Zhonghuai invited myself and others from our study abroad group to take part in a soccer match, including Marko, Xu and Spencer. Though I felt like I still had some foot-skills leftover from my AYSO (Am. Youth Soccer Association) days when I was 12, I found out just how much these skills needed improvement. As a result I left most of the offense to Xu and Marko, while I supported our team on defense as the striker (or, in other words, the guy who tries to stop the ball and kick it back down-field). I hope this weekend to try my luck in our lab’s badminton tournament, a sport I used to be decent at as a high-schooler. I’ve been told that apparently Prof. Liu is the best player, so I’m interested to see if this hype turns out to be true or if the lab-members have been instructed to say this.

I continue to enjoy the Chinese food, but some of us (Kelly, Spencer, Justin and I) decided to take a break from the food offered at the University dining center for an All-American burger at “Lush”. On second though, only two of us par-took in eating a juicy, savory, delicious burger, since Kelly and Justin are vegetarians. However, Justin is what I like to call a bandwagon vegetarian since he is easily swayed when there isn’t another vegetarian at the table to encourage him to not eat meat. This was evident as he continued to ask me “How my food was”, which was really code for “If Kelly wasn’t here I’d so devour that burger too.” Anyway, it was a good break from the cafeteria to eat at “Lush”, which is located near the Wu-Dao-Kou subway station above a quaint bookstore. Nevertheless, I believe I’m at the point where I could eat Chinese for the rest of the trip and be content.

In addition to the badminton tournament this weekend, our lab also has a discussion tomorrow at 2pm, which will consist of students presentations of their work. I’ve already attended one of these discussions with Zhang Guoming serving as my Chinese translator, but even with this aid the discussion can be hard to follow at times; my saving grace is that the slides are in English. Honestly, though the feedback given by peers and Prof. Liu is very constructive. The other day, for example, Prof. Liu made a point of telling one student that he needs more than a few data points to verify that a linear relationship exists between film thickness and transparency. I hope in the coming weeks I might also get a chance to present some experimental ideas I’ve come up with. However, I may have to take the reverse approach by presenting my slides in Chinese, since I will need to speak English. (I guess that’s why it’s good to have a roommate like Xu, even if his Chinese reading ability may only be at a freshman level).