Reaching the end of third year and staring towards a year of independent research sounds pretty intimidating. But it lets you have a new level of freedom that you wouldn’t have experienced so far in chemistry. Now you get the chance to explore the areas of chemistry that really excite you (for me, bioinorganic!).
Preparing for 4th Year
The way the final year works is that you get to nominate supervisors and areas of chemistry you love. Then you get assigned a supervisor (or two, if you’re me) who will guide you through the final year. What happens next changes person to person. For me, I started doing some background reading into my project (more on that later), while some are specific papers to read over ahead of the new year.
As I said earlier, what really excites me in chemistry is bioinorganic chemistry, as well as a few other areas, so I really wanted to research something that had a little bit of biology, with some transition metals thrown in. I’m currently coming to the end of first term, having spent the past term in the lab studying the action of lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases (or LPMOs for short) which are copper-based enzymes (biology and transition metal chemistry right there) with some intriguing applications. If we can harness the enzyme’s ability to degrade sugar-based biopolymers to produce energy, we could potentially have a brand-new biofuel on our hands as an excellent replacement to fossil fuels.
A Day in the Life
Now that I’m doing my own research, I have a bit more freedom and choice to decide what to do. I’ve progressed from the teaching labs into the PhD labs in the Dorothy Hodgkin building, where I have my own desk and fume hood for my research. Usually, I get into labs between 9.30-10 am (a bit more of a lie in compared to years 1-3). The first thing I do is head into the lab to switch on the UV-Vis Spectrometer and remove my enzyme from the freezer. For my research, I have been investigating the oxidative degradation of dyes using hydrogen peroxide and seeing if there is an increase in degradation when adding the LPMO enzyme.
After making up my stock of dye and hydrogen peroxide, I combine my reagents together (peroxide, dye and enzyme, all in a buffer) and place it into the UV-Vis spectrometer, which lets me see the degradation of the dye via the decrease in absorbance over 30 minutes.
While I wait for the spectra to finish, I usually head back to my desk to carry on researching the topic area, in preparation for writing up my report.
One of the nice things about conducting your own research is the freedom to choose what to do next. I’ve been able to choose what concentrations of reactants to investigate and can look at the results I record every day and decide what would be best for me next, rather than sticking to a strict script.
Additionally, now that I’m working in PhD labs, it means there’s always people around me who can help out or give their input if needed. They might not be working on the same project as me, but the PhD students are all super helpful and can often point you in the right direction if you’re struggling. No one expects you to become an expert in your area overnight, so you’re always encouraged to ask questions when you’re stuck.