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Researcher of the Month
Engineering Science major, University Scholars Program, class of 2013
Research Mentors: Dr. Gary Halada, Materials Science & Engineering; Dr. Alexander Orlov, Materials Science & Engineering; Dr. Tinh Nguyen, NIST
As a freshman who'd been at SB for less than a week, James Ging was surprised when Dr. Gary Halada of Materials Science & Engineering invited him to join his Environmental Nanotechnology Research lab. Yet Jamie did not hesitate for one nanosecond to make the most of this opportunity!
Jamie hit the ground running, dedicating many hours to the Halada lab where he began to get familiar with electrochemical synthesis methods, UV-vis spectroscopy, Raman spectroscpy and electron microscopy; and delved into research on the development of a nanoparticle formation based on electrochemical deposition of chitosan. In spring semester of his freshman year, Jamie was named a team winner of the Environment Sustainability challenge for University Scholars, and presented at URECA 2010 and the Earthstock Research exhibition. After studying abroad in Japan in summer 2010, Jamie continued to be fascinated by nanotechnology research throughout sophomore year, and in the summer of 2011 was selected to participate in theNanotechnology REU program at Stony Brook where he began working with Dr. Alexander Orlov’s group (also in Materials Science & Engineering) on novel nanocomposites. James continued this work through his junior year, while still also maintaining his involvement in the Halada group where he explored biomedical applications of anti-bacterial nanomaterials. This summer, Jamie is participating in the national SURF program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Virgina where he is complementing his ongoing work in the Orlov group on nanoparticles’ release from composite materials while working with Dr. Tinh Nguyen (Polymeric Materials Group - Materials & Structural Systems Division, NIST), a collaborator with Dr. Orlov.
Now, nearly 3 years from his fortuitous start in undergraduate research at SB, Jamie will be presenting 3 posters this month at an upcoming American Chemical Society meeting in Philadelphia, including: 1) “Anti-microbial properties of AG nanoparticle-chitosan composites formed electrochemically on stainless steel surfaces”, and 2) “Environmentally benign electrochemical method for formation of silver nanoparticles in a chitosan matrix” (both co-authored with Dr. Halada); and 3) “Ennvironmental safety of nanocompositiies: assessing degradation of nanocomposites under environmental conditions " (co-presented with Girish Ramakrishanan, a grad student in the Orlov lab). Looking back on the progress he's made in his field, Jamie reflects: “Honestly, everything that I’ve accomplished in terms of research I would not have been able to do without the guidance of Dr Halada and Dr. Orlov. I was incredibly lucky to have met them. If I never started research with Dr. Halada, I probably never would have learned about the nanotechnology program, so I never would have started that. I never have learned about the REU last summer, so I wouldn’t have met Dr. Orlov. And if I hadn’t met Dr. Orlov, I probably would never have heard about the NIST program!" Jamie has also presented at on-campus forums (e.g. the URECA research symposium, the Earthstock research symposium; the Nanotechnology Studies Symposium; the REU poster symposium) and plans to pursue a graduate degree in the field of nanotechnology.
Reflecting on his SB experiences, Jamie is very enthusiastic about the University Scholars program: "I’m extremely happy that I’m in it because I got to meet a lot of brilliant people— including my girlfriend (who I’ve been with the last 3 years!) and whom I met at an ice cream social through the University Scholars program. Plus the advising that I’ve gotten through Scholars is great!" Below are excerpts of his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your summer research activities.
This summer I have been working at NIST, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, on a research project involving nanocomposites of epoxy and carbon nanotubes. These composites are currently being used in a whole bunch of different industries ranging from sports equipment to the aeronautics industry and even the shipping industry. Nanotubes are poorly studied in terms of their health effects and their environmental effects … so what we’re working on now is studying the degradation of these nanocomposites under artificial UV light over time, and examining them to see if these nanotubes are being released.
Is this type of work new to you? Do you have any background in this area of research?
Actually, the work I’m doing at NIST in Virginia is a continuation of research I’ve been doing at SB for about a year since I was in the REU program last summer, working with Prof. Orlov and Girish Ramakrishnan in the Materials Science & Engineering Department (Environmental Nanotechnology lab). Before that, I’d worked in Environmental Chemistry lab with Dr. Gary Halada (also in Materials Science & Engineering), since freshman year. I’m also still currently working with Dr. Gary Halada on a different project involving nanocomposites.
The research at NIST has been going very well. I’m getting in depth training in a lot of research techniques, including FTIR spectroscopy, UV visible spectroscopy, confocal microscopy, atomic force microscopy….
Sounds like a great program!
Yes, it’s a really great program, not just because of the fact that I get work with all this amazing equipment, and be exposed to brilliant people in the field. But also, the people who are in the program are all really nice; it’s a really well put together group of people!
Everyone is working in different areas, from materials science engineering to nuclear physics, fire prevention to computer programming. Once a week we have a guest seminar, where we have a speaker come in and talk on a topic. One person came in to talk on science in the media, another week, we talked about solar flares and the effects on the future on GPS technology. It’s always really interesting and fun. In addition to the seminars, we’ve had picnics, and an inter-NIST soccer tournament which was amazing.
What do you enjoy most about doing research?
I like the actual lab work! I enjoy actually working with the chemicals and being able to make new materials. The fundamental thing though — the thing that really got me into science — is that it’s an unexplored frontier. When you’re doing scientific research, you’re always making a new path. You’re not going to be able to find the answers in the back of the book because what you’re doing is new. I really like that feeling, knowing that what I’m learning, and the things I'm going to be publishing, are things that nobody has ever known before.
You mentioned that you started working in Prof. Halada’s group as a freshman.
I had decided to switch majors the very first week I came to SB and so I had to take a form for Dr. Halada (ESG) to sign. I remember waiting in his office for awhile, and seeing a bunch of papers on his desk. I was curious, and asked about one scientific paper he had on his desk – which happened to be in Spanish. And we ended up talking about the project for an hour! At the end of the conversation, Dr. Halada asked me if I would be interested in joining his lab. Of course I said yes! I’d been at Stony Brook only 5 days. And I am super lucky that I got to work with Dr. Halada and then that Dr. Halada introduced me to Dr. Orlov. Both ended up being very supportive, very enthusiastic research mentors. And now at NIST, I have the opportunity to work with Dr. Tinh Nguyen –a collaborator of Dr. Orlov’s.
What a great start. And it’s interesting you didn’t know you would get involved in
nano research when you started college.
When I first came here, I was really interested in all areas of science. One of my conflicts was: what do I study? Because I really loved physics, and I loved biology, and I loved chemistry… And nanotechnology ended up being exactly the kind of field I wanted to go into – because to do nanotechnology, I have to have a very firm background in chemistry, as well as engineering as well as quantum mechanics and physics. I’m working on a project where I’m making prosthetics so I have to have a firm understanding of the biology involved with that as well… So this field really was the perfect choice for me. Through nanotechnology studies, I got to explore all these different areas of science.
How does being involved in research enhance your knowledge of your field?
There’s been surprisingly little I’ve learned from classes, relative to what I’ve learned through being in the lab and doing research. I think over time, too, you really develop a sense of independence in research. When I first started, I was basically doing whatever I was told by the graduate student. But the longer I’ve been working here, the more independent I’ve become. And I feel like that’s really helped me out because now I’m even part of the experimental design from beginning to end.
What advice do you have for other students about research?
The sooner that you can get into research, the better! It takes a while to get acquainted with actual research. It takes awhile to get the experience and to become more independent ….Once you’re in, I think the biggest advice I can give is: don’t get discouraged. Research is long at times but if you stick with it and if you stay with it, it’s really rewarding.
Do you have any frustrating days, when things don’t work?
Goodness yes! A lot of times, things go wrong. Setbacks can be frustrating, especially if the setbacks last weeks. The project we’re doing now at NIST is actually the 4th run-through of our experiment. From beginning to end, it’s about a 3 month process. The first few times we did the experiment, I’d say these were basically rehearsals, just to figure out how to do it right. I would spend a week making samples – this would involve me coming at 3 o’clock in the morning to change pieces of equipment. (I’d be doing this 2-3 nights a week!) After I make the samples, we spend two or three months degrading and analyzing them. …So during those first few times when we encountered a setback, you could get discouraged knowing what that means— it’s another week where we’re back to square one, back to making samples so you can do your analysis. But that’s research. That’s how it’s supposed to work. "If we knew what it was we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research"- to quote from Einstein ...And it’s so true! When I first started research, the one most naïve thought I had was figuring that we'd have all the data we need, and get this work published, in a few months… Meanwhile this is my 3rd year on the first project we started, and we’re just starting to understand what’s happening on a fundamental level.
I think that’s a common misperception – the amount of time that goes into any one
Yes, because the more questions you answer the more questions there are to ask. …The NIST project I’m working on currently though is pretty laid out now. Up until now, I was doing background research, making the samples. … From now on, the second half of the program, it’s going to be day after day of analysis, which is what I’ve been trained for, what I’m looking forward to. That’s where all the information will be coming from.
What are some of your favorite research-related experiences?
I can’t pinpoint any one thing. One thing that I do enjoy on a regular basis with the lab that I’m working in is that once or twice a week, Professor Orlov will take the lab out for coffee. We’ll all just go back and forth with ideas, what we’ve been doing that week. It’s a really good experience in general, because it’s an opportunity to get feedback on the work we’ve been doing and to get new insights on the work we will be doing . . .
Is it helpful being able to interact with the graduate students in the lab?
Interacting with the grad students has really taught me a lot, and prepared me immensely for grad school. Up until now, I had never really interacted with graduate students all that much. But being able to see academic life from a graduate student’s perspective is really helpful, especially seeing as I’m going to be in that position soon. ...It also adds a dimension, being in the lab and being around people from all over the world. My professor is from Russia, two grad students are from China, one grad student is from India, one from Spain …So just being open to other cultures and being culturally aware is important especially if you’re going to be working in the scientific field.
You’ve been a part of an undergraduate honors program/community too, with the University
Scholars program. How has that had an impact on your Stony Brook experience?
The University Scholars program is the best. I’m extremely happy that I’m in it. Because I got to meet a lot of brilliant people—including my girlfriend (who I’ve been with the last 3 years!) whom I met at an ice cream social through the University Scholars program. Plus the advising that I’ve gotten through Scholars is great! I’m so lucky to have Dr. Maynard. A lot of times I feel like I’m being drowned in a jungle of red tape. He’s really good at cutting through that which is great. We go on fun trips. One year, we went to see the Bodies exhibit In NYC. … My first formal presentation (URECA 2010) when I was a freshman also developed out of a University Scholars competition – the Sustainability Studies challenge.
And the URECA symposium was something you continued to be involved in, wasn't it?
Since then, I’ve presented at URECA twice with 4 different projects. I’ve also done talks on my research—and had a poster presentation at the end of the REU program. Even though my first poster didn't look as professional as some of the other posters there, I remember that first freshman presentation, at URECA 2010, being an experience that I learned a lot from ...When people did come up to my poster to ask me about my research, it gave me a lot of insight, and it gave me a lot of opportunities to figure out ways of looking at my research that I didn’t have otherwise. You become better at presenting with more experience. Now I have my first professional meeting coming up – with the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia (August 19-23). I’m nervous but also kind of excited. I’m a co-author on 3 projects, two with Prof. Gary Halada and one with Girish Ramakrishnan. It’s going to be fun to be at an actual professional conference, being table to talk to people in my field in industry as well as in academia about the work I’m doing.
Going to an off-campus meeting should be a great experience. Congratulations!
Honestly, everything that I’ve accomplished in terms of research I would not have been able to do without the guidance of Dr Halada and Dr. Orlov. I was incredibly lucky to have met them. If I never started research with Dr. Halada, I probably never would have learned about the nanotechnology program, so I never would have started that. I never have learned about the REU last summer, so I wouldn’t have met Dr. Orlov. And if I hadn’t met Dr. Orlov, I probably would never have heard about the NIST program!