STEP Undergraduate Research Reflection

My name is Avidaan Srivastava and I am a third year Physics and Astrophysics double major at The Ohio State University. For my STEP Project, I decided to study and predict a theoretical model of the behavior of Super-Paramagnetic Iron Oxide Nanoparticles (SPIONs) when attached to a DNA Nano-hinge, placed in an external magnetic field. On this Project I worked under Ms. Prerna Kabtiyal, a PhD. student working in Dr. Ezekeil Johnston-Halperin’s Condensed Matter group at the OSU Physics Department.

I have been a part of Dr. Johnston-Halperin’s research group for a year now and the entire experience has been an eye opener for me. As someone who plans on going to graduate school and eventually get a PhD., undergraduate research has been a very important step for me. To say the least, it completely changed my understanding of how reasearch is done.

My idea of research first came from TV shows and movies, like The Big Bang Theory, but it wasn’t until I actually got involved in the process of doing research that I realized how complicated it actually is. The biggest problem I had to face was that we did not know the answer to the question we were asking. My experience is classes and life so far was to ask someone if I wasn’t sure about something. But now, I had to find the answer myself or figure out a way to find it. It was both a challenging and rewarding experience. Challenging because I knew what was to be done and I had to figure out how to do it and for that I had to read and understand quiet a few research papers that contained some complicated physics that I hadn’t learned about at that point. Rewarding because once I did accomplish some task, be it figuring out some part of the computer code I was stuck on, or some physics related topic, it really felt like an achievement.

Another quite important thing I learnt was the ability to work together. Previously when I had worked on group projects, it had mostly been diving the various tasks, individually completing them and finally putting them all together at the end. However, here it did not quite work like that. In my experience working in the Johnston-Halperin research group, the coding aspect of the project was mostly my job and a part of it depended on another member of the group completing their tasks and in turn my worked served as a basis for yet another member’s work, thus it was a system of building on and contributing to the previously done tasks. This always kept me on my toes and gave me the drive to finish my end of the project in a timely manner, which is very important.

Working on this project has been extra challenging this year because of the COVID-19 situation. Thankfully, my side of the project mostly involved computer coding, so it wasn’t affected to an extreme degree, but the overall progress, especially in the experimental side. This reinforced the importance on communication and coordinating with all the members of the research group. Because of that, we were able to make a lot of progress in the theoretical modeling part of the project and once the experimental group has their findings, we can compare it to the our model and finally publish a paper.

Overall, this has been a huge step in my development as a person and for my future career. I have thoroughly enjoyed doing research and this experience has strengthened my passion to pursue a master’s degree and finally a PhD. If there is a thing that living in the pandemic has taught me, it’s that I have to love doing my work, because only then can I actually be productive.