Sunday, September 4, 2011

End of summer experience

As the program came to an end we had been tasked with creating power point presentations and posters to present to faculty members in the photonics center [both poster and presentation can be found on my website]. As we presented our power point and answered the various questions people had, I noticed how much I learned in only six weeks. My information regarding the experimental process, photonics, chemistry, physics, and even mathematics grew. There were no questions regarding the theory, process, or procedure that I was unable to answer. When I reflect back to June 30th, I knew NOTHING!!!

On our last day, we had to present our poster in an open lobby to any one who was interested. Well, since we had a robot on our station, we received a lot of visitors, many of who were intrigued by our lego robot. As I presented, I felt comfortable knowing what mistakes were made during the experiments, why we made certain corrections and things that we could have done differently to obtain more accurate results.

Reflecting on this experience, I have realized how lax the research environment, but how being an easy going environment also means you need to be discipline. I wonder is this kind of mentality can be created with success at the secondary level? During the poster presentations the presenters were eating and drinking food, discussing their project with other presenters, and really sharing ideas, even the faculty who attend the poster presentation shared ideas related and not related to any of the other projects going on. How cool would it be if secondary students also had an opportunity to just share ideas? How much will they learn? What would be the the risk? I need to reflect on these questions and hopefully, be able to create an environment where this kind of learning and discipline can take place.

During the three weeks I spent traveling to various locations, I could not stop thinking of the applicability of photonics. For example, every time I saw a jumbotron or digital advertising signs, I though about LED's and professors at BU help develop these technologies. I also saw places such as "laser hair removal" and though about how it works? and how lasers have so many applications. When I watched the news on TV, I almost always watched a piece on medical research that required some kind of scanning, and my brain quickly though about the photonics center.

The Experiment

After weeks of planning our project  and some trial and error, Ned and I finally were able to run our adjusted experiments. Our original idea of leaving an open container of DNT in a room until equilibrium is reached failed. Although not certain, we believe the ventilation system in the room was to strong. We have decided to test the concentration at different temperatures to determine if the DNT detection chip will work in all field environments. Our testing took place in three consecutive days, from August 2nd to August 3rd. On day one we were having difficulties obtaining certain results that we knew should work as we calibrated the Raman Spectrometer. This long delay added to some frustration, but by the end of the day we had obtain results. We then created different DNT concentrations and placed them on water baths of different temperature. The following day we arrived and tested the various concentrations we made. The results appeared to be promising, and disappointment quickly turned into excitement. We obtained results for DNT solutions at 40 degree Celsius, 50 degree Celsius, 60 degree Celsius, and for the solution that we kept in an open environment in our lab. We obtain promising results from all solution except from the open container that we had in our lab (our original experiment).

On day three we decided to test DNT concentration that was at 0 degree Celsius, and at room temperature (but in a closed vile), one gain we received a great result for the vile at room temperature but nothing for the vile at 0 degree Celsius.

Data Collection and Analysis.
To be certain of our results we had to do Data Analysis on the data we had collected. I initially though this was going to be easy, especially since I am a mathematician. But this turned out to be a bit more complicated. I was given a task to sort the data. Using a program I have never used before and over 15 data collection files which each contained over 3,000 data points.
As a teacher I am use to doing data analysis of data that contains a fix amount of data points no greater that 12 points. How in earth will I be able to sort through this data? I asked. With no hesitation, I opened the program and asked for help, the program simple to use. Next I had to sort through the data and ignore any outliers that interfered with the consistency of the project. This took a lot of time, I then had to subtract background interference with the actual data from the experiments and turned those results into graphs.

Doing data analysis made me realized that finding mean, median and mode that way I teach it, is not really preparing my students for the real world. Although, the concept is of significant value, I need to supplement the concept with more practical data analysis that will be more applicable for my students, hence increase data points and provided students with data analysis software.

This experiment was hard, and although we were not able to execute our original experiment we did receive some promising results, that suggest we were in the right track. Working in experimental research is not as easy as creating an experiment and the observing the results. The planning process is a lot more rigorous than one may believe. I know understand why it takes so long to find cures to certain medical viruses and disease. This opportunity has been of great significants to my growth as a teacher and person.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Week 2 - The Project

On Tuesday, Ned and I met with Dr. Reinhard where we discussed our project. We started by asking him a few questions regarding his "teaching". His answers to the questions asked made me realize that he has the same challenges as a college professor that I have as a high school teacher and that Ned has in the middle school level.  Some of the challenges he has when teaching is knowing some students pass, even though they are not prepared. He compared his experience at Boston University to when his experience in Germany. He said, "because in Germany the university is free, students who do not know what is expected, do not move to the next level. But when students pay $60,000/year its hard to fail." In addition, another area of struggle, is that students do not have strong work habits which is challenging because it takes time to teach.

Prior to meeting with Dr. Reinhard, Ned and I had discussed several testable variables but do to the uncertainty of the science and the expected outcome we were not sure if they were feasible. As we discussed our project with Dr. Reinhard we gather data that allowed us to begin a design for our project. We were also able to discussed testable variables with greater detail, and develop a strong testing plan. In  addition to creating the testing plan, New also forwarded the information to the graduate students we have been working with Bo Yan and Yan Hong. After the feedback they provided us with, we still have a little more research to do, but feel confident that our testing plan is do able.

Ned and I have decided that we are going to test
1)  the exposure time of the explosive material vapor on the sensor chip.
2)  the concentration of the explosive material vapor that is exposed to the sensor chip.
3)  the location of the concentration so that the molecules are exposed to a more "typical" environment.
4)  the distance from the source of the explosive material to the sensor chip.

In oder to do this we need to
1) Hold the concentration of the explosive material constant at 15 ppb.
2) Continue to use the NaOH solution on the surface of the sensor chip.
3) Hold exposure time the same for all tests. 5 minutes.
4) Vary the distance, from 0 - 3 feet. and varying distances between.
5) determine the rate of evaporation of the solution.

In order to analyze the data we are going to learn how to use the microscope with Bo Yan.

Overall, this week was very productive. I have learned a great deal and we have made great progress with the our robot and the overall design of the project. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dr. Selim Unlu

I am know getting into the swing of things. I am beginning to feel comfortable with all my summer colleagues, and I feel my role for the summer is more clearly defined. On monday we attended a lunch seminar with Dr. Selim Unlu on what makes good research. Dr. Unlu commented that good research is original, has an impact in its field or society, leads to knew questions, and improves quality of life. In order to get this accomplished the researcher must be motivated or curios (which according to Dr. Unlu is hard to teach). The research must set goals, manage those goals by managing his/her lab properly, maintain good and accurate records, analyze the data fairly and consistently and then disseminate the information. I started thinking to myself, "these skills are applicable in any work environment. Do my students poses these skills? Do I or other teachers emphasize these characteristics in the classroom?".

As a teacher I feel that we often lower our standards to avoid confrontations with administrators, parents, other teachers, or students. What I mean by this is that sometimes we know we are being to "easy" in how we operate our class, and that we are passing students who are not prepared for the following grades. We fear administrators will judge us on how many students we pass, we do not want to hear parents complaining because it can be harmful to our reputations, other teachers may pass negative judgement, and students will "not like" the class or the teacher because it is to "hard". All these variable have a negative effect in education (at least I think so) because although students may be passing a class, they are not learning the necessary skills, work habits, or intrinsic perseverance that is necessary to succeed.

From Dr. Unlu's presentation, I now feel that my experience and observations are more certain than before. Although Dr. Unlu only discussed how to create and conduct strong research, he mentioned a few items that I feel are imperative in a complete education that we fail to take advantage of. Dr. Unlu mentioned that good research is original, and that originality comes from having curiosity, being imaginative (open minded), being able to manage and having an ability to communicate (positively and negatively) with peers. I feel that these characteristics are not fully developed with students (I only have experience in urban districts, and do not know if these characteristics are developed in other educational settings). So how can I change this? How can I be the unafraid teacher? Willing to challenge students character and to develop strong habits of perseverance. Unfortunately, I do not know the answer. But I am certain through perseverance the answer will come.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Week 1 Experience

Wow! Coming to work at BU this summer is exciting. I feel important, like my work is valuable. The funny part is that I have not done anything. I guess I feel this way because the environment is so professional and welcoming. Maybe it's just psychological and because I am working at a university with really expensive equipment and very intelligent faculty members, that I feel the way that I do. I was very nervous the first 4 days, mainly because I did not understand what any of the scientist were doing. I just kind of smile and nodded and ask questions I knew the answers to so that the scientist don't think I am dumb. I felt like a freshman in high school or college, I was intimidated by the intelectual ability of the people who will become my teachers.

On day three (tuesday july 5) I was given four 10 page articles to read. I was sadden by this, because know I had to go home and do homework, but because I wanted to feel confident about the work and be able to maintain a strong conversation with my summer colegues I read. That night I spent three hours reading a research article that was assigned to me by Prof. Reinhard. After reading it for three hours I still had no idea what I read. I highlighted, marked, circled, and made notes. But it still seemed like a foreign language. I gave up and did not read the following articles. Instead I went to bed (a little frustrated because I still had no idea what it was that we were doing). The next day, I questioned my partner on the readings, he had read all articles but was still uncertain about his reading, we both laugh at the foreign text we had read, because we were expected to report to our professor and his students by the end of the week. That night I, again, read the same article, but was only able to understand a little. Once again I skipped the other articles. The next day, I was able to observe a graduate student use an evaporating machine, my mentor Yan was able to answer all 309 questions that I had. He provided me with details on the machines he was operating. More importantly he was able to provide me with details on the project he was working on. After this two hour adventure where Yan was able to evaporate gold, silver and Crome into 1" square chips, the article finally made sense. Upon leaving the lab I immediately hit the articles I had yet to read and was able to comprehend their content. Although not an expert, I felt much more confident in being able to maintain an intelligent conversation regarding the work my professor and his students were doing.

The moral, never give up.