When you first hear the words chemistry, one’s mind naturally wanders to scientists showing cool explosions or reactions that involve lots of colour and different smells, hazardous or not. I can tell you after over 3 weeks working with lots of different hazardous powders that one does not wish for explosions in most chemistry research. However, while the chemicals I’m using are toxic, there is typically no cause for alarm when synthesizing them as I’m simply spending most of my days grinding different coloured powders together and then firing them in an oven. Sounds thrilling right? You can imagine I have a lot of time for reading papers in between the heating steps, which typically take up to 3 days to complete.
From the time demanding process I reached my first real roadblock in my research about a week and a half ago. Since my project idea is rather open-ended and is therefore inherently more exploratory, the challenge of time management is my main issue at the moment. With only 8 weeks for my internship and seemingly endless amounts of different chemical products that we can try to create, I’ve struggled a bit with how to narrow down the path of production that I want to take. I have talked to my supervisor and he has helped me decide which derivatives we should focus on, so that I would have a little more structure to my last 4 weeks. We’ve decided to stick to attempting to make lead based derivatives less toxic (by substituting in similar sized, but lower toxicity metals for lead) and a more interesting type of sodium, chlorine, metal combination that has exciting possible electronic properties.
While the chemistry behind the basis for my project is relatively simple, (and I won’t go into detail here, otherwise you would be reading a 5 page long blog) the applications of the products I’m producing are as intriguing and useful as they are complex to understand. I have not, and probably will not be able to fully understand the entire chemical make-up of the perovskite products I create (for those of you who are not chemists, a perovskite is just one type of many different structures that solids can form into – see below). What is more useful for me is knowing some of the basic electronic properties from the structure and how those can apply to things such as electronics and memory storage.
As an example of useful applications for these materials is helping create non-degradable memory switches for data storage. The type of electric properties that perovskites have is called ferroelectric. The short explanation of this is that the structure of the material can switch between two different phases of charge. This can then be applied to a binary number (0 or 1) and allows for switchable memory storage based on the changes.
So far, I’ve had a blast with my project and the postgrads that I get to work around are also very cool and helpful whenever I forget my basic chemistry (believe me it happens more often than I would like). This past 4 weeks have been positive and helpful in understanding more how to deal with challenges in a research project and who you can go to for help. I look forward to some of the results we might have in the next 4 weeks now that we have narrowed down our scope. I would also like to say here that I am quite thankful for the members in my ALS group, because as well as having other people to help you with problems you might encounter, I enjoy chatting to people with more similar areas of research and know that if I get tired of being isolated in the lab, I can go find someone near me to talk to about being isolated in the lab.
I hope everyone else is enjoying their research as much as I am, and I do apologize a bit for having written a blog mostly about chemistry, but I am just so excited about what I’m doing that it was hard to find a reason to right about anything else! Good luck to everyone else and I can’t wait to keep reading about other people’s experiences so far.