Sundogs at Sunset

Sundogs at Sunset
light diffraction through ice crystals

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Week One Reflections

My first week as a research teacher in the Biophontics Center at Boston University was filled with more information and things that were new to me, than I could ever convey in words. As a new student, my feelings are very much like those of 5th graders preparing to enter middle school; feelings of uncertainty, excitement and being overwhelmed all mixed together in an unsavory chicken soup.

Luckily, I knew several staff members from Boston University and Northeastern University who were welcome faces during the orientation period. One individual, Dr. Michael Ruane, I knew many years earlier during my years teaching at the Driscoll School in Brookline, MA. Mike showed me the laboratory we'd be conducting our research and introduced me and my lab partner to the undergraduate teaching assistants, Nick and Alex. Nick, Alex, Gary and I will become a team over the remaining five weeks. By the way, there are eight other teachers in this program.

Our lab is a third of the size of my science classroom at Diamond. The lab is filled with very expensive optical equipment; designed to observe light waves and conduct experiments using visible light waves:red, blue, green, yellow. Some light experiments will involve using laser light (like the laser pens used during a classroom presentation.) We follow many safety procedures to protect our eyes and body from laser light. I'll tell you more about that later; in the meantime, the laser glasses we wear are way cool! I was able to find a small storage area to keep some lab clothing and small desk area to work away from the laser experiments. I use my laptop everyday to record my work, add to my blog, build my website and, eventually, create a poster of my research. The project and presentation to my peers and professors is scheduled for August 6th. I'm already feeling anxious about that.

Much of the first week, was spent establishing email accounts, resolving computer problems, setting up addresses, meeting new people, finding classrooms and lab rooms. I also met my professor, Dr. Haltice Altug. She is nice, young, very smart and famous in her field. Dr. Altug gave Gary and me a couple of articles and a lab report that needed revision. Gary and I have taken that on the revision and we share our edits with Alex and Nick. Once completed, we'll send the revised lab report to Dr. Altug. We hope she will be pleased with the revisions. We also organized (cleaned up) the lab; finding places to store the optical equipment, clearing the lab tables and setting up the optical equipment needed for a summer camp experience on the 14th. We also ordered equipment needed for the summer camp. We expect 13 high school students to do light experiments, called diffraction grating. I'll tell you more about the camp and all the science terms in a separate posting.

I haven't learned new lab techniques as yet. Although, I had two lectures and presentations on lab safety and laser safety. Later today, we will be introduced to safety rules (called protocols) in the "clean room." We'll need to wear bunny suits; including, hats, boots, gloves and glasses. Can you picture Mr. C in a white bunny suite and way cool laser glasses? On second thought...don't!

Dr. Altug's research uses visible light waves to understand and analyze protein molecules and the bonds that hold the atoms of the protein molecules together. The use of light technology and cells is called bio-photonics. "Bio" meaning life, "photon" meaning light. The bio-engineering technology, enables us to see, what we can't see! By observing and analyzing how the light waves change as the photon particles pass through protein molecules, researchers can "see" whether the protein molecules are healthy. The impact of this particular research is far reaching. Medical specialists will be able to detect pre-cancer cells at an earlier stage and improve health care for people in remote geographical regions, who do not have access to medical facilities. For example, a hand held unit will send light waves into a single layer of cells in your finger to detect malaria. The light will react with the protein molecules of the cells. No blood samples are needed. No delay waiting for the blood lab results. The patient will be able to be treated immediately and will return to their families on the same day.

A knowledge of optical physics, wave theory, math and organic chemistry are needed to fully understand Dr. Altug's research. Alex and Nick have a deep content understanding of the physics of light waves (wave theory) as does my partner, Gary. Nick and Alex will be undergraduate teaching fellows in the fall. Trust me, this is a great honor.

One of Dr. Altug's projects used last with her students had to do with solar panel technology. Specifically, exploring the effect of different (nano) materials used to make solar panels. I want to find out more about this module, learn about the characteristics of the nano materials used to make solar panels. I'd love to find a way to adapt the module for middle school students at Diamond. I already have manufactured solar panel and materials to build wind turbines, this could be a great hands-on, minds-on activity for middle schoolers when we are learning about energy and energy transfer.