Thursday, May 14, 2015

Designing an Experiment

I think that I learned the most useful and practical knowledge in 109 through the final project. As undergraduates-- in classes and UROPs, we are always presented with a research question and most often the methods to investigate/answer that question. I think that there is a large jump between doing research that is given to you, and research that you design. In the 109 final project in which we had to develop a research proposal, I learned how to go about designing a thorough and well thought out experiment.

#1: I learned a lot about literature searching.
A large part of creating our novel research proposal was searching for applicable literature. When developing a new idea, it is very, very important to do a literature search and learn what else is going on in the field. I guess I have done some small literature searches for my UROP; however, typically the graduate students in the lab take on the responsibility to find current research, and then they summarize the findings to me. It was not necessarily easy for Joseph and I to find applicable literature for our project. We had to find many different papers for each step in our methods-- because nobody has ever enforced porous bone repair scaffolds with M13 phage. I gained valuable practice searching for scholarly articles while developing the research proposal.

# 2: I learned the importance of collaborators.
Since Joseph and I chose to investigate a very interdisciplinary topic, we looked to some experts in the respective disciplines for help. One of Professor Belcher's PhD students Po-Yen Chen, helped us a lot in the development of our methods section. We basically came to Professor Belcher and Po-Yen with a rough idea: we wanted to incorporate M13 phage nucleated with hydroxyapatite crystals in a bone repair strategy. However, we did not understand how to take page that are on a nanoscale and make these phage into a 3D macrostructure able to mimic bone. Also, I was a bit uncertain on the appropriate tests that we should perform on our scaffold. So, I turned to a Course 2 Post-doc in my lab, and my PI for some advice on mechanical testing. I went to Professor Grodzinsky and asked him what type of machine could test the shear strength and compressive strength of bone. He then walked me to a custom sterile machine in the room I typically work in at my UROP. I never noticed this machine before...oops. He was more than happy to explain to me how the machine could calculate the shear and compressive moduli (so much 20.310!). With the guidance of Po-Yen Chen, Professor Belcher and Professor Grodzinsky, Joseph and I were able to complete our proposal.

#3: I learned the importance of keeping things simple.
So, when Joseph and I first began throwing the idea around about using M13 phage for bone repair, we had some lofty aspirations and goals. We were thinking about in vivo studies and growing bone and creating a sterile model of bone repair in vitro. We then realized that we should really simplify our experiment and focus on one clear goal. We decided to focus on improving the mechanical strength of acellular porous scaffolds. I think that we ended up with a clear, simple and achievable goal.

Overall conclusion: Designing an experiment is much harder than it seems.

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