Who am I?
Hi everyone, my name is Bhavini Patel and for 8 weeks this summer I worked at the Open University in Milton Keynes conducting a research project on nanomaterials for drug delivery. I’m currently about to start my third year doing Chemistry at LMH – and I’m definitely looking forward to it! Some of my personal hobbies include drawing, painting, reading and the occasional binge-watching of a Netflix series. I also love travelling and meeting new people whenever I get the chance. In this blog post, I’ll go through some of the things I got up to this summer – from what exactly I was doing (what even is a nanomaterial??) to some of the things I learnt whilst working in the lab!
P.S. please enjoy this bunch of lab BeReals – 8 weeks go faster than you’d think!
The Project: Deconstructed
Iron deficiency is a global health problem that is currently addressed through the use of soluble ferrous salts (dissolving iron-based salts), however, this treatment can cause many side effects that lead to patient non-compliance. To combat this, a new class of iron nanoparticles have been reported and this material has shown to be more readily absorbed by humans compared to standard treatments. My project this summer was to modify this new material in hopes of producing a drug that would be more soluble at a lower dosage.
The material that was made is a nanofiber– which sounds pretty fancy! They were made through electrospinning, which is a really cool technique I’ve never used before. The main part of the project involved capturing the iron nanoparticles (which were small particles in a solution) and ‘electrospinning’ them into polymer nanofibres. Here’s a little visual representation I drew of what electrospinning looks like:
So, I would put a small solution of nanofibers into a bigger polymer solution and then it would be ejected through a syringe. This is all passed through a 15kV electric field, which caused the solution to evaporate, leaving behind nanofibers that are collected on the plate at the end. It was very cool to see nanofibers being made, and once they were done (this process took several hours) they kind of looked like compressed cotton candy. There was also a large amount of analytical chemistry throughout the project; analytical chemistry is the chemistry of making sure what you’re making is the right thing. I used high-resolution microscopes to get images of my nanofibers, and here’s what they looked like! Personally, I think they’re incredible – no bias obviously. In Figure 2 you can see the iron nanoparticles encapsulated in the nanofiber – the nanoparticles are the black dots.
Who else is in the lab?
Although doing all this chemistry is fun, the truth is chemistry lab work takes a lot of time – most reactions take several hours and don’t necessarily require all your focus. Hence, it’s good for the soul to make friends with other people in and around the lab. This was an independent research project – so I was the only one doing electrospinning in the lab, but I was lucky that there were 4 other interns doing Chemistry focused projects, alongside two PhD students. One of the best parts of the internship was definitely making friends and meeting new people. The other interns made working in the lab fun and we had long conversations over films we liked, the difference in culture (they were all French!) and so many other random topics. They taught me new card games to play over our lunch break and we even went to watch France vs Germany women’s Euro semi-final together as it was hosted in Milton Keynes (it was very disappointing when France lost)! It was great interacting with other students who are still figuring out what they want to do, and realising that it’s okay to not know and instead just make the most of every experience that presents itself. I also had great conversations with the PhD students; they gave me some real, first-hand insight into what it could be like pursuing further education, including what the day-to-day life in the field looks like and how the world of academia runs.
Overall, I would highly recommend doing a research internship if you’re unsure of what you really want to do. I learnt so many practical and life skills, and had a great summer as a result of it!