by Nadya Osman '19
“So what you’re seeing there is basically toxic gas coming from the reaction between titanium tetrachloride and oxygen. If you come into contact with that, you can die.”
That phrase, “you can die,” wasn’t one I heard often. However, after spending two summers in a chemistry lab at Georgetown University, I came to accept the fact that if I screwed up at any point, I could go to jail for involuntary manslaughter.
It was quite the responsibility.
I landed my position at the lab after doing some networking at a conference held at the university the spring of my sophomore year (that’s a crucial skill, kids). The first summer mainly consisted of trying to understand the way the lab worked. This year, I had more independence and conducted my own experiments. Essentially, I felt like a full-blown scientist.
And it was pretty damn cool.
There were different types of people in the lab, so let me set the stage. Firstly, there were the “mice.” These people were insanely smart but kept to themselves and refused to even say “excuse me” if they wanted to get past someone. There were the “alphas,” leaders of the group who were rigid about keeping people on track with work. There was the “guru,” the one guy in the lab who gave the greatest life advice (and lunch suggestions) to anyone who needed it. Then there was my corner of the pack: the “jokesters.” We were the people who knew how to make lab work fun and engaging. We had weekly ceramics contests using clay from a scientific instrument to see who was the most talented artist, we spent lunch periods debating whether Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande would last, and we planned watch parties with pizza for the World Cup every day from 10 AM to 5 PM for a week. Our catch phrase became: “Sure, we do chemistry!”
And we weren’t lying, because we actually did do chemistry. My lab was investigating the role of nitric oxide in biological reactions, focusing specifically on the copper complex present in many biological molecules. I personally worked with the functional group called thioethers, attempting to get it to form the copper complex. I won’t bore you with the details, but long story short, the experiment didn’t work. Which, hey, is okay! Science almost never works! But, I was proud of my ability to run a reaction whenever my mentor told me to. I could do the stoichiometry, measure the compounds, mix them, run a spectroscopy on it, and integrate the data into a neat graphic to show to my Principal Investigator.
Ultimately, what I really enjoyed most of all about the lab, and the cheesiest of all, was that I created a great group of important people in my life who I can reach out to for help whenever I need it, whether it be in the college process or just as leisure. Plus, I didn’t kill anyone, so I’d say my summer was a success.