After my first full week on the job, I feel like I'm finally starting to get acclimated to the new environment. I have access to the necessary rooms, all of the computer logistics have been solved, and I have gowned up and gone into the clean room a whopping 3 times! Everyone has been wonderful to work with and very supportive, I'm glad I chose to spend the summer here (plus the view from my lab is amazing).
Now, onto the science!
Since the project is new to me, I'm not yet confident with the specifics. However, here is my current understanding of what we will be working on: We are applying multiple layers of molecules to chips in order to detect small quantities of proteins and viruses. Specifically, I will be working with another RET (Valentina Sountsova) and grad students/post docs on applying thiols to a gold-coated wafer. These thiols will arrange on the surface with the sulfur functional group bonding with the gold. This leaves carboxyl groups organized nicely on the open end. This carboxyl will then react with a protein/antibody that has a receptor specific to our compound of interest. The goal is to be able to use light to measure the thickness of the layer of materials to see how much of the virus has been bound to the surface.
I am excited to see how my knowledge will expand in the coming weeks so I can refine this understanding :)
We have been lucky enough to get a few hands-on experiences already. The first was our trip clean room. The two areas are designated class-1000 (less than 1000 particles per cubic foot) and class-100 (less than 100 particles per cubic foot... we have to be extra careful in this room). This level of cleanliness is required for much of the processing of the chips we are working with.
Here is a picture of one of the class-1000 rooms.
We also learned the steps involved in bonding different thiols with our gold chip (I must say, all this talk of gold makes me feel like we are working with untold riches, however the layer of gold is so thin that it has no resale value). This is a multi-step process that requires an entire night to react completely. A particularly interesting step required us to clean the gold surface using a substance called "Piranha Cleaner", 3 parts sulfuric acid to 1 part hydrogen peroxide. I had visions of little fish attacking all of the residual organics on the surface. Munch Munch. Jokes aside, this is not something you want to mess around with. You can see the work station below.
Finally, we learned 2 types of measurements; ellipsometry and FTIR. I understand some of the basics, but will save a more detailed explanation until we start getting some results.
All in all, it was an eventful first week and I look forward to what the next 5 weeks will bring!