Getting Settled In — Week 1 at Stanford Chemical Engineering

Feb 19, 2019

Hello everyone! 🙂

Ethan Feng here — for the next 12 weeks, I will be working at Stanford University’s chemical engineering department as part of Dr. Matteo Cargnello’s group, which focuses its research on metal-nanoparticle-based catalysts (shout-out to the legendary Angela Ye for recommending this lab to me). I’ve been really passionate about chemistry ever since freshman year, especially inorganic chemistry and catalysis, and I’m so excited to have this opportunity to learn and gain more experience in the lab!

The essence of my project: Hydrocarbons are extremely unhealthy for the environment, so we want to get rid of them. The best way to do this is by turning them into less harmful things (intuitive, right?), which can be achieved through a reaction known as combustion. But uncontrolled combustion takes a lot of energy and usually involves really big explosions; so in order to make this combustion process safe and energetically feasible, what’s known as a catalyst is needed. Scientists have already discovered preliminary versions of these catalysts, one of the more promising candidates being platinum nanoparticles. My project will be centered around optimizing these platinum catalysts, specifically with regards to their role in the combustion of propane, performing experiments in the lab in order to maximize their efficiency and efficacy. During my time here, I intend to explore the various characteristics of these potential-showing nanoparticles, and I hope that by the end of this project, I will have made some substantial, respectable progress in advancing the knowledge in this field.

TL;DR: I am making platinum nanoparticles in order to save the environment from dangerous chemicals.

Week 1 at the lab started off fairly moderately. My lab mentor, Angel, who by the way is literally the nicest person in the world (not to be confused with Angela), was actually still in Taiwan for the lunar new year last week, so we weren’t really able to start any experiments yet. However, I still learned a lot and was also able to take care of some other introductory matters.

On Monday, I went through a long 4+ hours of online safety training, and Tuesday morning, I completed the training process with an in-lab walkthrough/orientation — safety is always #1 priority! On Wednesday, the entire group went to go watch a talk given by an MIT/Harvard PhD who was applying to become a Stanford professor (the talk is part of the application process) — he talked about various applications of the quantum mechanical properties of light in everyday life, and it was fascinating, especially because I could connect a lot of it back to what I learned in the Capstone Quantum Chemistry I just recently completed at school, as well as the bioinorganic chemistry/photochemistry research I did at Boston University over the summer. Following the talk, the professor-hopeful was questioned quite intensely by a Stanford committee… I hope he did well!

Thursday and Friday were comprised of a lot of acclimation and learning. I discussed the vision and outline of my research project with professor Cargnello, after which I proceeded to pick his brain extensively — he’s very friendly and taught me a lot! Following that, I read a bunch of research papers related to my project that Angel had sent me, which were very eye-opening. I also shadowed Emmett (another member of the Cargnello group, who was actually the mentor of Angela Ye last year), and he showed me some of the cool equipment in the lab (…it’s REALLY cool — more on it in Week 2’s post) and also walked me through one of the experiments he was running! During my down time, I read some Fahrenheit 451.

Angel is coming back from Taiwan, and we’re planning to get started with some real, serious science as soon as we return from the long President’s Day weekend! Even only a week into my project, working and learning at Stanford has been so cool, and I very much feel at home in this research environment. After the things I’ve seen, read, and heard so far, it looks like the next 12 weeks will be a blast, and I can’t wait to dive right in.

~Ethan Y. Feng

Quote of the week:

“The true method of knowledge is experiment.”

— William Blake; Shriram Center 1st Floor Entrance, Stanford University

5 Replies to “Getting Settled In — Week 1 at Stanford Chemical Engineering”

  1. William G. says:

    Great blog post! Super interesting and I like the weekly quotes =)

  2. Dennis Woo says:

    Whoa this is cool. Not gonna lie, I’m a little sad that you’ll be avoiding the really big explosions, but I can’t wait to hear about the lab equipment! This sounds like a really technically advanced project (perfect, for you, of course), and I’m looking forward to your next blog post :). Love the quote at the end.

    Also: MIT AND Harvard???? Wow. Those are serious credentials.

  3. Ivana B says:

    Hi Ethan, you BISV advisor here. 🙂
    That’s a lot of stuff you got to see and do during just one week! I am looking forward to hearing about cool equipment. Please ask premission to take some photos and share them on your blog. For one of your future blogs, could you please elaborate on the difference between efficiency and efficacy as they apply to catalysts?
    Also, I am very curios – and I am sure Dr. Neff would like to know too – did you ask any questions to the candidate who gave a talk?

    1. Ethan F. says:

      I’ve been trying to take as many photos as possible lately! I included a picture of the catalysts I synthesized in my week 2 post, with more to come in future posts. I will also keep in mind to elaborate more on the goals and desired features of the catalysts I am making in a future blog post! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask any questions to the professor-hopeful — only the people on the Stanford committee were allowed to (I definitely wanted to, though! I’m pretty sure I found a hole in his claims haha). His presentation was on the applications of up- and down-converting micelles — very interesting! I can tell you more about the talk itself when we meet! 🙂

  4. Kayra I. says:

    Awesome post and very detailed! It sounds like you have a lot of opportunities even when you aren’t doing your research there! I would also love to hear about some of the more technical aspects of your time there, like what made the lab equipment so interesting???

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