Day 1: August 5, 2014 (8 hrs***)
The Shanghai summer climate sits around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The first thing I did when reaching the campus of Shanghai Jiao Tong University was getting Professor Fu Lei to look through and sign the necessary paperwork. He then handed me off to a doctoral candidate, Yang Fu Zhi, who is conducting research in his lab. Professor Fu oversees many graduate researchers, so my whereabouts are known to just a few. Dr. Yang was reading research when I was introduced so he sent me to the office to get acquainted with the US’s 200 best selling pharmaceutical drugs. The professor requires his students to remember most of the drugs. Its layout and use is reminiscent of the periodic table of elements. I spent the first half of my day learning about the pharmaceutical demands of the world and looking up some of the drugs to learn about their chemical structure. After a lunch break, we began our experiment with 2-Amino-4-fluorobenzoic acid and cyclohexanone. I mainly assisted with measurements and recording.
Day 2: August 6, 2014 (8 hrs)
We purified the newly bonded chemical using column chromatography with a manual pump. To verify the success of the reaction from the previous day we had to use the lab’s new 400 MHz NMR machine. This allowed us to see the amount of 1H in the molecule and check the formation of bonds. I helped prepare the NMR sample and learned to operate the software in the morning, so that I could perform these tasks more efficiently later in the day on the next step of our chain of reactions. Before proceeding to the NMR room, we used silicone gel board samples for ultraviolet analysis. I prepared many silicone gel boards so that the chemical content of the liquid leaving the column. Ultraviolet analysis allows for verification of product purity and helps make sure that the reaction is taking place. When the sample looks saturated enough with the desired compound, the NMR sample is prepared. Many types of software are used in the lab, and some can be used for the purpose of bettering one set of data. The software in the NMR provides a graph and data, but upstairs in the lab, another software is used to view the data in another format. This software then applies the Fourier Transformation, allowing for clarity of data. It also shows the range the data point lies within. The manual column chromatography is very time consuming, but the method is cheap and trusted.
Day 3: August 7 (5 hrs)
The last step of the reaction requires bonding another compound with the one purified through column chromatography. The reaction takes place under acidic conditions so we used tosylic acid. I measured out 347.4 milligrams of the recently created compound and 163.2 milligrams of the other. To ensure that the reaction went in the positive direction only, a Dean-Stark apparatus was set up. The reaction is very slow, and because the first part creates a Schiff base, a second part of the reaction had to be performed. While waiting for the first part of the reaction to finish, I was introduced to several databases the doctoral candidates used to develop their own experiments. I also read more of the patent paper we were working out of. The paper was written by several researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, one of whom contacted Professor Fu for help to make the process more efficient.
At the door of one of the laboratories
Me with a M.S. student who was shadowing in the lab to get a preview of what she would be doing in the fall. In China, you have to earn a master's degree before going on to receive a doctoral education.
At the door of one of the laboratories
I spent some time at Shanghai Jiao Tong University's College of Pharmacy assisting with research projects in the lab of Associate Dean Doctor Fu Lei.
When Professor Fu gave me the orientation, he told me not to worry about my lack of knowledge of chemistry terms in Chinese. Because research papers are in English, my process of learning the English version of terms would help the doctoral candidates themselves. It didn’t feel like I was helping them as much as they were helping me. I learned so much in the short time I was there. From day 1 I was overwhelmed with knowledge. I learned to use new software, operate advanced mechanical machinery, and how to be precise. One of the things I noticed while observing these procedures is that a scientist can work quickly because they have a deep understanding of measurement. Even when the graduated cylinder was lifted diagonally, the doctoral candidate could measure out the exact amount of liquid necessary, the meniscus lining up perfectly against the line. Practice does make perfect.
My main duties were to assist with minor tasks during experimental procedures. I used graphic software like ChemBioDraw and analytical software like MestRec. I spent a lot of time every day preparing silicone gel boards for ultraviolet analysis, weighing compounds, and recording data. Because so many concepts were new to me, I spent all the time waiting for reactions to take place reading material and familiarizing myself with concepts we barely skimmed through in chemistry class. At night, when I stayed at the student exchanges center, a hotel for visitors, I would look up all the words I had written down during the day and study them. During my internship, all of my time was dedicated to work.
While on the clock, I spoke in Chinese. I moved back to the United States when I was about six and kept up on and off with Chinese through the years. However, the academic Chinese spoken in the lab was almost foreign. I struggled to keep up, but managed by listening very closely. I carried my notebook with me everywhere, so I also was able to write down any words that I did not understand. Using baidu and yahoo, I could quickly learn new vocabulary during my down time. Not giving up on speaking and learning this new level of Chinese was perhaps my greatest challenge.
For my daily duties, I had to use a variety of skills. I had to read social cues, be extremely alert, and observe carefully. While preparing silicone gel boards and using the NMR machine, I had to exercise foresight, ensuring that my actions were exact. Chinese and academic culture dictates a very specific set of etiquette, so I had to adapt quickly to my surroundings. While carrying out my tasks, I felt a lot of pressure to perform. When one of the NMR scans came out with a problem, it was attributed to my lack of care with the machine. I had not apprehended that it was so fragile, but I learned quickly to be cautious. Even under pressure, I could perform tasks involving high precision efficiently after a little practice.
Not only did I learn more Chinese, scientific terms, and lab equipment, I also experienced what it was like to have a pursuit. Throughout my internship, we worked to create a heterodimer that could be used effectively as medication. Stacks of papers were studied so that the experiment could yield the best results. When I asked the doctoral candidate I worked most closely with how much product he thought we would have after all procedures have finished, he estimated around 1.5 grams.
***Note: I turned in my logs to counselor Eryn Kjelland already, the hours by day may not be accurate, but I did complete at least 20 hours of work