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.