After a week spent in the library with a 21 hour session on the final day and falling ill in between, all of the deliverables were finally handed in, ending in a tired late afternoon society drink when everyone finally woke up. And so begins molecular cell biology and nanoscience.
This module is based around two problems: a review article on the techniques involved in the identification of novel proteins with cancer cell transformation data as a case study, and the science behind and feasibility of using quantum dots in medicine. Both topics are related, and span areas in cellular imaging, quantum mechanics, gene expression, magnetism, cell biology and the behaviour of nanoparticles in biological systems. So far we’ve been studying the many types of microscopy for visualising cells, in particular the use of fluorescent tags in cell lines to study the effect of gene expression over time.
This week also marked the first of many project seminars. With the majority of dedicated project time placed in the second term, seminars are less frequent before Christmas, but are equally important now in discussing how your project is progressing with your peers. Essentially, each student gives a short presentation on the recent developments in their work, and the group discusses different avenues they could explore that they perhaps hadn’t considered. Being the first one, it was the first time to properly hear what everyone was doing, and it was fascinating to see the variety of projects in everything from ionic liquids in forensic science, modelling contamination between Earth and other bodies in the solar system, and refining nitrogen dioxide detectors, to using remote sensing to calculate biomass loss in Southern Africa, identifying the molecular basis for photoperiodic seasonal timing, and investigating human transcriptomic diversity.
For my own project (summarised here) I’ve been looking into the different theories of observed double-peaked UV spectra in metals solvated in helium nanodroplets, with some claiming such a result stems from distortion of the bubble-like cavity formed around the metal, and others stating a foam-like structure would produce this effect. I’ve also been getting set up on the software I’ll be using throughout my project. The package is called Gaussian, and it will allow me to design interactions between metals and helium both in terms of potential energy surfaces and UV emission spectra. These models will then be queued onto Leicester’s supercomputer, ALICE, from the results of which I’ll hopefully be able to elucidate what behaviour is predicted.
Alongside this, I’m nearing the end of my first programming project in Python this year. The computing model in the third year carries on from the second in still using Python, but goes beyond short exercises of different concepts to the design of larger programmes, the first of which involves calculating changes in vegetation over time from satellite data. This is achieved using what’s called the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), which essentially just measures the amount of infrared and near infrared radiation being reflected off of vegetation. As living vegetation absorbs strongly in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum and reflects more near infrared radiation relative to dead or dying vegetation, comparing these values allows different levels of vegetation to be inferred. Trying to design a program to process thousands of images has been challenging, but a great experience in getting to grips with structuring many small parts to make everything work together.
Coming up next week is the annual I-science Society winter meal, with the second academic seminar not long afterwards. This time we’ll be hosting a talk on electrochemistry applied to forensic science, which should be a good one!