The first and only lab project I took up was during my senior year of high school. I engaged in a year-long supplementary research course that pairs students with an advisor as we develop a hypothesis, research proposal, and presentation on a topic of our choice. I focused my research on antibacterial herbs on the African continent that have the capability of inhibiting bacterial growth. The end goal (cut short – somewhat ironically – by COVID-19) was to synthesize these herbs into an all-natural hand sanitizer, allowing communities to sanitize and protect themselves by using the natural compounds found in their backyards. I only had access to a tiny incubator with an ancient dial to regulate the temperature, an autoclave that could fit about 2 conical flasks, and a Soxhlet extraction apparatus. Even though, I felt like a scientist in my beat-up safety goggles as I meticulously poured agar into petri dishes and streaked them with bacteria I had collected from around campus.
As I walked into Dr. Wray’s lab – the lab I am working with while participating in B-SURF – I knew that the learning curve would be steep. The incubators had options to regulate not only temperature, but humidity and CO2 levels; the lab benches were covered with all types of fancy gadgets, glassware, and tools I soon hope to get my hands on; and everyone was deeply engaged in some sort of fancy intricate experiment. My goal for the end of the summer is to make this place my home and hub for creativity.
I hope to develop the seemingly effortless muscle memory required for efficient one-handed opening of tubes, the ability to deep dive into research papers as I apply an analytical lens to decipher the methods and results produced, and to build the confidence to develop my own experiments and execute them in the lab. The goal would be to end the summer a little less clumsy and lost then when I started. And if I find out that the lab just isn’t the place for me (which seems highly unlikely, but I’ll keep the option open), the experience will be just as important – as even in science, every failed experiment is a step closer to the solution.