Sunday, May 3, 2015

How are we expected to come up with novel ideas?... Hey, it's better this way

Yeah, it is better this way.

Will is not amused with 0.1% efficiency
Personally, I am very excited to start module 3. Although it is fairly disappointing that we haven't seen much success yet with our solar cells, my favorite part of this module is developing our own novel ideas. I can't say that Arinze and I have stumbled across anything that's going to revolutionize biological engineering as we know it (well not yet), for me I enjoy working on projects that are open-ended and require some creativity.

The most shocking case for me is when I was doing the equivalents of 8.13 and 8.14 at Cambridge. There were two projects that stood out for me: particle physics and ferrofluids. For those of you about to break out in hives, no I will not be talking about physics again (refer to blog #1) but I am just sharing the experience.

Let me answer your question....
Yes, this was on a Strokes album cover
First of all, the particle physics experiment was absolutely dreadful, I know that I'm preaching to the choir but man this may be a career path that you want to avoid. The point of the experiment is that we had to calculate different properties of particles by analyzing gas chamber particle tracks. The concept is cool- charged particles fly through dense gas and leaves an ionization trail. Well, this entailed sitting in a dark room for two weeks (England already significantly lacks sunlight) just reading these slides. It was not entertaining, I didn't learn much and frankly, I was not entirely interested in reinventing the wheel and calculating properties that we already know. Yes, this is arrogant of me as a undergraduate student who doesn't know much to aspire working on novel projects in school.... but I had the chance in my ferrofluids project to do just this.

Yeah this stuff is really cool
The ferrofluids experiment wasn't particularly tricky- we were given an apparatus to observe the dynamic behavior of ferromangetic fluids in the presence of magnetic fields. The instructors came in on the first day, introduced the equipment to us and told us "you have two weeks to design your own project, find something interesting and write it up". Now, some people didn't thrive in this environment and did not respond well to assignment. This was still my favorite project to date (got an award for the best physics lab report to show). I decided to work with a ferrofluids model that is well received among the physics community. I was able to test this theory, both upper and lower limits, and identified limitations to this theory and was even able to give my explanations to explain this behavior.

Now, I didn't share this story to put myself on pedestal. Who knows how many people would have gotten this far! Alas, I have alot of respect for 109's emphasis on working on novel projects. You won't get many opportunities to do this in your other lab classes and I think that you'll come to appreciate it later on. Although I am not too familiar where to start a novel biological engineering project, it has been loads of fun discussing different, pie-in-the sky solutions with Arinze. So far, our projects have varied from separating chiral molecules with chemistry techniques to designing neural wires (resembling our solar panels now) to finally designing genetic circuits. I hope that everyone is enjoying their opportunity to explore the field of biological engineering and discovering new paths that you didn't consider before.

You just gotta have a little bit of:

Finally, some freedom

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