Andrew Vidalis: Undergraduate Research

BAM Set-Up Isotherm

1.) I performed a variety of surface tensiometry experiments on palmitic acid. Studies were done to determine its equilibrium surface pressure and examine its relaxation characteristics. This information is useful to better understand aerosols formed from the top most layer of the sea surface.

2.) During the course of my STEP project, I began to gradually realize that my critical thinking ability had transformed into a sharper, more refined skill. Coming into the experience, I had routinely practiced critical thinking in the classroom on topics that were well-known and explained in detail to me. However, I was weaker at thinking critically on novel concepts that required further investigation and experimentation from me. Now, I know that I can solve unique problems by logically creating a plan to approach the situation and then executing a series of steps to resolve the issue.

3.) My experiments on equilibrium surface pressure showcase how I improved my critical thinking on novel tasks. I was tasked with determining the numerical value for the equilibrium surface pressure of a system of lipids, a type of experiment that the Dr. Allen lab group has never done. To start, I had to determine the most effective plan of action to save both materials and time. For weeks, I did a comprehensive search of the existing literature and compiled information of the various experiments. For example, I would note the experimental conditions like pH, whether the authors spread solid or liquid samples, and the numerical values obtained from the experiments. Eventually, I was confident that I had weighed the pros and cons of each experimental set-up to begin experimenting.

The first experiment was fascinating as I learned new things. I observed what appeared to be a metastable state for the system and the crucial need for high humidity to prevent evaporation that leads to the loss of surface material. Since my original approach was not successful to match the values I obtained from literature, I had to think of ways to improve my experimental design. Over the course of a few experiments, I had changed the relative humidity levels and switched from using a Petri dish to a Langmuir trough to hold the water and palmitic acid. Changing these experimental parameters allowed me to see the situation from multiple angles and develop a better comprehension of the system. While I have yet to perfect the technique, I am getting closer.

Another project that displays my maturation in critical thinking occurred when I had to construct the Brewster angle microscope (BAM) set-up with Curtis, a first-year graduate student. Both of us had some experience with BAM but have never built the set-up. I read materials on how BAM works, proper alignment techniques, and part specifications to understand the system before beginning. We approached the BAM build by following a logical order like setting the stage height then working distance of the lens, learning the corresponding computer analysis software, and obtaining images first from a simple gold plate then water before finally doing a stearic acid monolayer, the most complex to image. There are only a few components to BAM so we had analyze systematically the interconnectedness of the pieces to deduce which piece or pieces might be problematic. In the end, our work led to a proper BAM configuration soon after.

4.) The strengthening of such a crucial skill is invaluable. For instance, it is imperative to enhance my critical thinking since it will play a significant role in determining my levels of success. While my STEP research experience will strengthen my resume for medical school, the mindset I refined from it will help me in the medical classes. Beyond academics, critical thinking will continue to define what I can achieve. As a doctor, I will need to think critically about novel situations when the patient’s symptoms are not a perfect match from the textbook examples. Ultimately, critical thinking will be essential for the rest of my life.

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