It’s been one of those months. Yep, you know the ones I mean, where you seem to be simultaneously rushed off your feet and bored out of your mind at the same time. The main deadlines we have been working towards are linked to the Smart Matrix™ patent.
Vaibhav and Elena have been trying out different chemicals ensure we have the best formulation for Smart Matrix™. This means carrying out coagulation experiments on our new spectrophotometer. They have to repeat the same experiments over and over again. This is often a tiring exercise, and it can get very confusing if you are not concentrating.
If you walk into a lab, you will hear Heart FM blasting out on the radio, you will see them hurrying about trying to get the reagents ready, then staring eagle eyed at cuvettes as they add the reagents at certain time intervals. The next half hour is spent calling out and recording seemingly random numbers. Intervals between experiments are marked by Vaibhav’s characteristic laugh, which can be heard from the other end of the building.
They then have to take the successful reagents and make scaffolds out of them. Seven of the 10 scaffolds will turn out as unidentifiable blobs which may be comparable to blancmange – according to Dr Julian Dye.
The three successful scaffolds will then be handed to Nivedita for histology. Histology is like an archaic and mysterious art and watching Nivi perform histology is like watching a magician. She will first use paraffin wax to preserve the samples, slices them into sections as fine as turkey ham wafers, and carefully mounts them on glass slides.
Then begins the confusing process of dipping these slides into various chemicals, which are brightly coloured and smell dubious at best. She will chat away effortless as she sets, and resets the timer to an exact protocol that she has long ago committed to memory. Nivi will then glue on cover slides to hold the fine scaffolds in place. The result of this process is images of pink and white scaffolds, which show us the microscopic structure of the scaffold.
This is where I come in. Part of my work involves stitching the images and organising them by giving them labels and specifying the formulation. This is possibly one of the most mind numbing tasks I have ever done, by the end of the day I am haunted by pink and white scaffolds; they are there even when I close my eyes forever imprinted on my retina.
Melodrama aside, these images are vital for the patent paperwork, without which we will not be able to proceed with our work. The other side of my work is the rheology. Since you last heard from me, we have been able to obtain a second hand rheometer at a very reasonable rate.
Rheology has proven to be a challenge, to say the least. I have been experimenting with the rheometer using various materials like washing up sponges and such, to try and get some results, and I will hmm and aah at the screen - I have yet to figure out where on earth the software is saving all the graphs (but that’s Windows 95 for you). I have been teaching myself from a old text book and whatever is on the internet.
As you can imagine, there isn’t an awful lot there, and whatever there is, is badly communicated - here’s to reinforcing scientist stereotypes. A lot of the time they like to assume you know exactly what they are referring to, causing me a lot of sarcastic forehead slapping and exclamations of ‘Oh what poetry!’ from my corner of the room.
Unfortunately the work I’m doing right now involves a lot of reading, and something else I have rapidly discovered is that some articles are deceptively titled. You spend a good hour trawling the internet for papers, get excited at the prospect of a few that have titles that sound relevant to your work, spend a whole two hours deciphering the paper and then only discover three-quarters of the way down that it has almost nothing to do with what you need.
But that is research for you, like everything else in life, full of highs and lows. It’s all part of the experience, and a lot of the time I have to say to myself ‘the good things in life never come easy’, but when you make a breakthrough, God, it’s so worth all the work!