Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Mini-Crisis

The room was tense as my lab partner and I put our solar cell under the Solar Simulator to be tested for efficiency.  So far, the groups before hadn’t had such great efficiencies – the record was 0.7%, and we had been expecting a range of 1-4%.  The professor fixes on the output screen waiting for the efficiency, hoping it to be higher.  Well, we double the efficiency of the other group with 12nm gold particles, but considering they had an efficiency of 0.1%, that’s not saying much.  Professor Belcher whips around and fiercely begins conversing with a post doc of the lab.  The grad students join.  Some super experienced researcher from the floor above rushes in, alerted to the efficiency disaster, and assimilates into the discussion.  He grabs our solar cell and dissects it.  That focus on his face, the intensity of the situation - it feels like he’s diffusing a bomb or performing an intense surgery.  He explains to Belcher that the dye is not dark enough.  The dye was not dark enough!!!!

“How long has it been since---”
“12 hours.  Can we save it?”

Wow I felt like I was watching an emergency surgery.  The lab situation was getting real!  What was going to happen?  Could we save the cells?  

"We can add more dye.  I don't think it's been too long since we took them out."

Everyone rushes out of the room.  Belcher and the crew rush for the dye, analyzing its components and preparation.  

"Was it made with 10%, 20%?"
"How old was it?"

Us lab kiddies are ushered out, told that the grad students and post docs will take over from here, and we are left pondering the fate of our precious solar cells.  I loved this intense mini-crisis.  It was exciting to see first hand the sorts of problems that may occur in a lab and the problem deduction and repair that goes with it.  It was interesting to see the PI speak as an equal to the researchers when it came down to the field data, and it was heartening to see discussion between employees in multiple labs.  This mini-crisis makes me optimistic for research I hope to one day being doing.  I look forward to such on-the-spot problem solving and team work.  Thanks 20.109 for once again showing me the beauty of lab research!

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