Third year. Third term. How was it?
Sitting here in my room with a single deadline to hold on to. I had my last lab today and it was lit. There were barely any people in the lab today because most of them had finished their experiment on Tuesday which I didn’t manage to do because I am super slow in labs.
I also had a poster presentation yesterday which was great fun because I got to present something for the first time and also read a lot of other posters. I have to say – the assessment could have gone a lot better. I was barely prepared though as I was still recovering from the fatigue from labs. Nevertheless, it was a great few hours and I stayed there for the whole of three hours despite that my assessment had finished in the first hour because I really enjoyed the liveliness of the environment. I also read a lot of other people’s research. One of my mates did her poster on chemical warfare agents which was super good. A lot of people had done research into environmental stuff like oil-spill cleanups and managing plastics as well as solar cells. I read all those posters (as you can tell, I was brutally selective) which was great fun.
I had labs the entire term which I really enjoyed. This year labs were five days per experiment and they were designed such that people could finish them in the time available without having to rush anything which means that even a sloth like me didn’t feel overwhelmed or under pressure. Demonstrators were very helpful and I felt very calm and relaxed in fact I enjoyed it. Nah, I loved labs.
This year the lab preparation before entering the lab was so much more interactive, creative, challenging and fun. It was no longer all about following a set protocol. Some labs required us to do reading, others required us to find the experimental procedure ourselves using literature, there were group projects involved which are of course always fun haha, and some labs required us to think of experiments to do ourselves.
I made a real solar cell this year, in fact, quite a few. These are made using extracts from berries so we made what are known as dye sensitised solar cells which was really cool. I did a polymers lab where I did ATRP, RAFT and SET-LRP reactions and I ABSOLUTELY loved it. I swear I love polymers. My RAFT and SET-LRP didn’t work which was quite upsetting but the demonstrator told me that “sometimes you can do everything right in polymerisation and yet not make a polymer” and I was very tempted to say that one can say this about life in general as well but I didn’t because I wanted to keep philosophy out of polymers haha. My ATRP did work and I had a nice picture of the polymer to post on my newly made Instagram account which I am far too excited about.
Also, with SET-LRP we were told that we could bring any drink from home to do the reaction in. Two people brought whisky, two brought energy drinks and I took Darjeeling black tea lol. I swear tea is so lit though.
My flatmate this year taught me how to use Matlab so I have been making my graphs on Matlab which I feel really pleased about as this is a skill I’ve learned alongside so a huge shoutout to Megan! Matlab is actually a lot more efficient with making graphs than Excel and I barely have to do any editing. I am still learning how to plot functions such as exponential graphs etc but I bought myself a book on Matlab from abebooks (super cheap) and this is something I can practice in the coming weeks.
I also enjoyed the organic labs a lot because they were multi-step synthesis reactions which means that the product from the first reaction was required for the following reaction and so on. This was very interesting and I grasped a real sense of good experimental technique, assessing purity and writing up proformas and reporting key data. TLC is still not a favourite technique of mine and column chromatography still sounds very scary but the one time I ran a column, it worked! I had a product and the TLC analysis was beautiful so I cannot really complain either. We also learned about this software called Spinworks which is used to analyse NMR spectra and it works wonders. When you combine Spinworks with ChemDraw, suddenly everything seems to fall in place (provided you made a relatively pure product).
Then there were inorganic labs which were very colourful and equally tough when it came to washing up because literally as my mate said in the lab today, as soon as you get metals involved, you know washing up of glassware later is not going to go well. It often involved standing at the sink trying fairy liquid and water and then acetone and then acid and failing and then having our demonstrators feeling pity and telling us not to worry about the stained glassware.
It feels very strange and poignant that it was my last day in the lab today. Hopefully only for this academic year though! Some of my friends are graduating this summer so this was my last year with them. Let’s see how life goes but I was thinking about this when walking it back to campus and an acquaintance from Krishna Consciousness society who I only met a few weeks back said hello to me and it occurred to me that perhaps I should happily say goodbye to those leaving, remember them and look forward to enjoying my time with the friends I haven’t even met yet.