July 7, 2011

Men and Tools

It's been a week full of new people and new toys.  I have a good feel for how research is performed on a day to day basis, and I've been introduced to a number of cool toys, many of which cost tens of thousands of dollars.  More to come on that later.  First the people.  Dr. Ünlü is the professor in charge of the entire lab, which consists of about 15 people.  There are researchers who work at the school and run the day to day projects in the lab.  Dr. Lopez (Carlos) is my go-to guy, and he's one of them.  Then there are post-doctoral fellows, who have their PhDs and are continuing to do research, but with guidance from the researchers and Dr. Ünlü.  Lower on the food chain you have graduate students working on masters and doctoral degrees, and then finally a couple undergraduates.  At the very bottom you have me and my partner, Jared.  Thankfully it's rare for everyone to show up at the same time because the lab room itself is actually rather small.

But it's quite impressive what can be fit into such a small space.  The main attraction is the pride and joy of the lab, a one-of-a-kind instrument that these people have developed.  It's called IRIS, the Interferometric Resonant Imaging Sensor.  Sounds fancy, but it's just a set of LED lights, prisms, mirrors, and a video camera.  It's special because it can use light to measure the thickness of the tiniest amounts of stuff (proteins, dirt, blobs of liquid) on a slide.  One day they hope to be able to identify viruses and determine the amount of virus by using this instrument on living tissue.  Perhaps a blood sample.  Right now I'm helping them test it on "simulated" virus particles, which in this case means gold beads.  Yes, I'm playing with pure gold.  It's not worth much though, since the gold beads are so small you would need an incredibly powerful microscope to see them.

Good thing the lab has one of those too.

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