Equipment failure – not always a bad thing!

The research I am currently working on recently took a very interesting turn due to a unexpected turn of events. During the summer, my #1 piece of equipment broke down.  Unfortunately this means that my main project is at a standstill until the can be repaired.  However, this rather sad turn of events meant that I was able to switch projects for the time being and work more closely with my graduate student mentor on some new materials science. The focus of the research at the moment is to make smart jello – but out of DNA.  The most exciting part of this research, besides its promising applications as a drug delivery method, is that this project requires learning a whole new set of techniques and procedures that are new to both my mentor and I.

During fall quarter my mentor and I spent two weeks figuring out how to correctly ‘cook’ our pieces of DNA in order to get them to form into gel structures, and at least a month testing different ways in which to observe and test the gels.  Several failed ideas and broken devices later, we eventually found the best way with which to observe our gels.  While this was somewhat frustrating, it was a very rewarding experience, as I was able to participate quite a lot in the design and troubleshooting process.  Finally solving our testing problem also meant that we were one step closer to being able to start collecting a lot of data on our gels, which was a relief given that we were unable to produce any really great data (aside from a lot of preliminary results) until we found the right way to test the system.

The trials still haven’t ended yet though.  The methods my graduate student and I came up with to test our gels are still very difficult, and we have a lot of practice to do before we truly master them.  Even though the failure of a critical piece of equipment can be crushing, it is not always such a bad thing.  Though all the work I had completed during the summer had to be put on hold right when it was at the most exciting point, there was another great opportunity to learn about a new system available and I’m very happy that I had the chance to take part in this research, and look forward to continuing work on the gels until the equipment is fixed.