The Beginning of a Journey

My first day of lab seemed to be the most surreal moment I experienced. Being a student that has been looking for research over the course of a year I finally felt that I had accomplished my goal. I wanted to be as productive as possible in lab in order to show my PI that I was really motivated for my project. I guess you could call it enthusiasm but I saw it as my first real opportunity to succeed in my career as a chemical engineer.

After having a brief meeting with my PI about my project, I never anticipated that the next thing we would do is walk to the lab together, only to find the most mysterious machine I have ever seen. It looked like fire hydrant but of course I was not about to say that to my PI. It did not click to my brain until I realized that this machine would be my best friend for the rest of my summer. Sometimes in life you do not pick your best friends, and I never thought that my best friend would be a fire hydrant. Nevertheless, I was ready to learn something new.

The so called fire hydrant is actually a chamber where I create plasmas, which is a beam created from cascading electrons. There was an intensive information overload and I have yet to grasp the whole concept of plasmas and plasma deposition but for now I am satisfied with understanding as much as possible from my PI.

The first couple days of lab involved assisting my PI to properly calibrate the device used for plasma deposition. We needed to calibrate things like flowrate, voltage, and current and the measurements that I needed to do for these calibrations were the most rewarding measurements I have ever done. I actually told that to my PI and he expressed surprise to my reaction of the grunt work that I was doing.

The best thing about my PI is that I am never worried about sounding unintellectual. Often times during lab my PI cracks light-hearted jokes that lessens the tension in the atmosphere and it makes me realize that the environment that I am working in is meant to be a nurturing one. I guess the worry of not being smart stems from classes where hard work is represented only through a letter grade. Of course devotion and growth are not reflected in grades and the only person that can understand my hard work is only myself. Classes are not just for grades, but it is nice to do research where I have no grade at all. I has already been two weeks and I feel that I have learned a lot of useful skills than any class could teach me. My PI taught me to drill holes, apply tape to screws, and create airtight containers. As he taught these tasks to me, he always ensured to stress the reasoning behind each thing that we did together. I would say that I am on the right track.

Mathew Wanees

Mat is a rising third-year Chemical Engineering major where he is inspired by his love of environmental conservation to work in photonics. Not only has he been dedicated to training his dog but working diligently in a lab as well.