Today, a story of success. I know, just about the last thing you'd expect, right? Same here.
Yesterday we looked at our latest batch of chips. Our gold beads have anti-HGH attached to them, which means that the beads should want to stick to the chips that have HGH on them, but not stick to any other chips. We took a lot of pictures of the chips yesterday and saw a lot of white spots on the HGH-coated chips, so we assumed that those were the gold beads and left the lab feeling really good. On the last day of working in the lab, it seemed like we had finally accomplished our goal.
Today we got some help from a undergrad students in the lab, Joey. He used some specialized software to look at our images, and he analyzed the same regions of the chips that we did. When he saw the white spots though, he was instantly skeptical that they were in fact beads, and our hearts fell. Had we failed after all? In a sense, yes. The spots were actually dirt of some kind, perhaps salt crystals or some other debris, but they were clearly too big to be the gold beads. However, rather than give up, Joey decided to study part of the chip that appeared to have nothing on it, just to see what would happen. Turns out it had nearly 100 gold beads on it. Finally, we have tasted success, and I can only hope that the rest of the research groups were able to feel the same.
As this experience comes to a close, I can say that I have changed. No longer do I see research as a process of speed, where scientists are continuously at work in a lab working on machines, pipetting solutions, or furiously completing calculations. I understand that most of the work is expected to fail, and that successes come well spaced. I feel that in my time I have mostly acclimated to the process but lack deep background on the content of the lab's work. If I were placed in a microbiology lab I would doubtless have been more effective from the start, but would likely have learned less, and so I am glad that this lab expanded my horizons. I pepper my teaching with stories of science, and now that I have some personal experience with research, I can add it to my growing repertoire. I know my students will appreciate it.