Christmas Time

Merry Christmas!

It’s been a while since I have posted and that is due to the full time research I have been involved with starting with new members to the team, new projects and still working towards fixing my microfluidic device. I understand now what researchers mean by the last 5% of the project taking the longest to achieve compared to the previous 95% of work.

So the last 5% generally is the polishing touches to the setup and the method which is almost there as well as getting the device to a point where it is repeatable which is becoming ever more important in research as a whole. It is frustrating and I would like to move onto the next part but I am determined to do this project well and without a solid base to build upon, all the following work will dilute my time to possibly many incomplete projects. Currently I have some interesting results so hopefully *soon* I can move onto the next phases.

Also, I have said it in previous blog posts, time has passed very fast, where I have been working on my PhD for a year and a half now and thinking back to this year from presenting at the science museum, all the different people I have met at various conferences (NanoMED, Advances in Nanotechnology. etc) and all the new techniques from microfluidics to robotics, it feels far longer than one year worth of experience.

I’m very excited to look forward to next year, if it’s anything like this year then it will be very busy, stressful but very fun and rewarding.

Hope you have a good holiday and thanks for reading!


 

PhD Update – 14 months.

Funded by EPSRC at the University of Bristol; Associated with Bristol Robotics Lab, University of the West of England.

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One Uni Year Later

I have found it very strange coming to the realisation that it has almost been one university year and it makes me think about to my experiences of undergraduate study with all the modules and hard work and how it now compares to doing full-time research.

At first glance it does not seem that I have accomplished much during what feels like a short time since I have graduated. Although, looking at all of the experiences and skills I have learnt in these past few months I can’t help but be amazed that I now have skills using and preparing microfluidic devices, MatLab for several image analysis techniques, coding Kilobots as well as the use of simulation software for these various techniques.

A lot of these skills I wouldn’t have imagined learning or using such a wide variety of programs since a lot of the data I had previous collected is displayed in chronological data points with varying values. With these values, a lot of the data can be displayed in a graph using Excel. Given what the data I am trying to display requires density/intensity histogram maps, using excel to run these tasks may be out of reach or difficult to achieve so learning how to use MatLab has saved time and increased my productivity.

Although learning skills and improving methodology is important, I feel a greater skill I have learnt over this time is the people who you meet, teach and collaborate with to reach a shared goal. With greater communications now more than ever, I feel these connections where ever and who ever can only be a great benefit and this PhD has given me the best opportunity to meet these researchers and to talk at the same level, the same language. As well as learning these different skills, I feel I can communicate across engineering to biomedical sciences understanding the benefits and limitations of each process such as the simulation compared to the In Vitro and In Vivo studies.


 

PhD Update – 10 months.

Funded by EPSRC at the University of Bristol; Associated with Bristol Robotics Lab, University of the West of England.

Communication of positive results to avoid the negative

A few months have passed since my last update and a lot of stuff has started happening with the beginning of lab work.

Lately I have been busy with work involving the production of some initial nanoparticles for testing. This process has allowed me to relearn old skills as well as learn new skills for the first time such as synthesising nanoparticles such as freeze drying, rotavap and reflux. So far everything has gone very well but I am expecting everything to get tougher very soon as we try adapting these nanoparticles with different functionalities such as fluorescent coatings. To analyse these particles, I am apply current methods of imaging such as dynamic light scattering (visualise size and zeta potential (charge)), TEM (transition electron microscope – surface characterisation and size) and potentially more to fully characterise these particles. The importance of these tests is to know precisely what we have made as this solution of nanoparticles, with unknown characteristics, may produce the exact behaviours (little toxicology, very specific to cancer cells) but we are not able to reproduce the results as we are unsure what the particles were.

A lot of the lab work has been challenging where I can easily spend a day in the lab from 8am to 8pm working on the synthesis of nanoparticles as well as researching. I feel planning is very important in these situations, where you plan to work one long day and make sure to use the best of the time available. The best part of a PhD is the flexibility, although there are long days, you have some choice when these days occur and you develop skills of organising and time management based on when peers or equipment is available. Given that there is going to be a time soon when everything will not go to plan and will not work, I feel time management is going to be fundamental to how I approach every problem as to not overwork and to take time to think about the problem from various angles.

Due to how well connected everyone is online now, we have the ability to message researchers all over the world, using ResearchGate, and have access to huge achieves such as Scopus so you are almost guaranteed not to be the first with a particular problem. Firstly, this can save time by amending a protocol to get a desired result than trying to synthesis from scratch. Secondly, it allows researchers to pull information from many different fields for one project such as a specific method of imaging, a novel way of coating a nanoparticle and looking into different proteins to coat to give a desired effect. Thirdly, looking at different papers may give information on how different procedures were attempted by the research group and adapted for their specific interests can help avoid similar mistakes. I think the importance is to make sure to use all the resources available and learn as much from journals and other researchers to avoid wasting time making mistakes which have already been documented but equally it can be hard to judge the difference between being novel or attempting something which has been tried and failed many times before.


PhD Update – 5 months.

Funded by EPSRC at the University of Bristol; Associated with Bristol Robotics Lab, University of the West of England.

New Year, New ideas

The first three months of my PhD have passed by relatively quickly, looking back it’s hard to believe how time has flown! The Christmas break has given me time to relax as well as to focus and be refreshed; Looking back at my work as well as towards the future to plan my next steps and consider new ideas.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, most of the work up to now has been literature reviews on the various aspects of nanomedicine such as the various materials used for nanoparticles which affect and define a variety of applications. There are daily breakthroughs in nanomedicine, similar to many other fields of research, so my work is never done. Research is only half the job, the other half is producing new novel work.

This novel work can take many forms but mine is focused in the wet lab space, playing around with nanoparticles and producing useful. Most of the focus at the moment is on the ground work but I’m using this period of time to plan experiments and work out possible complications (almost the only guarantee in research). Also, I am working in the Bristol Robotics Lab, where I have the opportunity for dry lab experience programming robots.

This year, I am hoping to produce useful information for the computer models as well as improve the current microfluidic devices I have designed which I will begin testing soon. Also I am looking at attending conferences which will give me new directions to take my research.


PhD Update – 3 months.

Funded by EPSRC at the University of Bristol; Associated with Bristol Robotics Lab, University of the West of England.

Getting to know the ropes

Last month has been very busy, after initially start with introductions and settling into doing a PhD, now comes the planning phase. The planning phase involves the student to really understand the project and to start taking ownership which sounds a little odd but really it is planning the initial experiments, working out the stages and how to reach the goal of your research. I already know that many of these plans may not happen as research never goes to plan, if it did then it wouldn’t be research!

Personally I take inspiration from Albert Einstein “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler” which is a great way to think about planning experiments. As the more complicated an experiment is, the more factors need to be considered and if something does go wrong, which it is bound to, it’s very difficult to pinpoint the problem and it may be a contribution of several factors. Also, rather than taking something complicated and making it simpler, it’s far better to use a very simple idea and adapt that. It’s very easy to see the whole project and all the different problems to solve and design something very complicated, I feel it is difficult to break down the experiments into bite size chunks where useful data can be obtained and understood.

As for myself, I’ve planned a few initial stages for my project and I am learning a little bit of programming and computer aided design (CAD) for different parts of my project. My skills before my PhD were only from the biomedical arena and although I could outsource a lot of these challenges to other colleagues, I want to have the essentials skills so I can do the basics as well as understanding the limitations of the different applications. Furthermore, the reason why I wanted to do a PhD was to pick up new skills and continue research into nanomedicine. I feel a job as a researcher is to never stop learning as medicine and technology is always evolving and it’s valuable to pick up any and all skills as they may be useful in the future or at the very least to gain experience.


PhD Update – 2 months.

Funded by EPSRC at the University of Bristol; Associated with Bristol Robotics Lab, University of the West of England.

One month into my PhD!

Progression and change are never easy things in life, especially when starting a new journey only a few months after finishing the previous. What I’m referring to is my progression from undergraduate to postgraduate!

My degree at the University of Lincoln felt it would last forever but here I am reminiscing back on my time there and it feels like a distant memory, especially the graduation which only took place two months ago. There are definitely friends and lecturers I’ll miss seeing and hanging out with as well as the community formed throughout the degree which is something I may never experience again.

I’ve been asked if I feel different now that I have progressed from undergraduate Biomedical Science degree to a PhD in Engineering Mathematics at the University of Bristol, personally I feel that it has changed everything. It’s something which is hard to quantify as there are always going to be big changes when moving from one place to another. I feel one of the main changes is that I am now truly independent. I have a basic income meaning I no longer have to fill out the dreaded Student Finance England forms which seem to get progressively harder to complete whilst still requesting the same basic information year on year. The biggest change by far is coming from a taught degree with a 3 month research project to a full time research degree with 3-4 years of a research project. My mind set from my undergraduate is to do small experiments and produce data and write it up within 6 months. A PhD requires many experiments, improvements, failures, developments and progression which aren’t feasible as an undergraduate balancing taught modules as well as a research project in a short period of time. Also research degrees require a lot of self-motivation and dedication as I am in charge of my work and setting my own deadlines. A PhD is one project over the course of 3-4 years where you start from the basics and quickly progress to the advance novel applications, all the while becoming an expert in your field.

My field, changing from Biomedical Science to Engineering Mathematics may sound crazy, ludicrous and frankly impossible but the basic overview is that I am applying swarm behaviours in nature to understanding and controlling nanoparticles in a cellular environments. Compared to other PhD students I’ve met, I am very interdisciplinary. I have the opportunity to experiment with nanoparticles in microfludic devices and cellular environments in the wet lab (using my undergraduate skills) to modelling the particles using robotic swarms (although with more guidance and support in that area!). There are currently two places I work between which are the Queen’s Engineering Building and the Bristol Robotics Lab; Soon I should be working in a third place when I acquire wet lab space to run nanoparticle experiments.

Many people talk about PhDs being very difficult but, although I only have one months experience so far, I love it. I love the freedom to research, attend engaging lectures and to be creative and suggest interesting, novel applications as well as working in nanomedicine, on nanoparticles which I’m very passionate about. Also working with a supervisor who is very passionate and outgoing inspires me to do my best, to be the best.

To summarise my experience after one month, I know it’ll start getting busier, stressful and difficult, but this is something I truly love. I see this as my dream job; researching in nanomedicine to produce swarm behaviours in nanoparticles.

RE: Upcoming events

I recently stated in “Upcoming events” I would return and post media accompanying the event and after a long delay here is my update.

First was the radio interview where I appeared live on BBC Radio Lincolnshire with Yasmin interviewed by Leigh Milner as tweeted here. Speaking on the radio was a great experience as well as nerve-racking one which I definitely would do again given the chance. The offline broadcast can be listened via Youtube using the embedded video below:

Regards to David Barnett for uploading the interview on my behalf.

Secondly in the Upcoming events post, I mentioned about the University of Lincoln Life Sciences conference where I presented the research I carried out during my final year dissertation project. I really enjoyed the conference and it was a good opportunity to look at fellow students projects as well as present my own project. I have attached an image of myself and the poster taken after the conference below:

University of Lincoln LifeSciences Conference PosterRegarding the exams, I receive the results very soon and I hope to push for the highest grade possible supported by my current results from this final year.