When I was a child I dreamed of becoming a "mad scientist" like the ones in the cartoons, making loud and colorful experiments, inventing machines, or finding a cure to a disease that would be of benefit to the entire world.
With time I realized that experiments in academic labs are not as easily feasible and zany as they are in animation. There are structures and rules to follow, complexities to understand, and demands for scientific creativity. Yet this realization has not diminished my passion for science, and during the last two summers I've translated this interest into a research internship at NYU Abu Dhabi's Center for Science and Engineering.
My research experience began last year with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ali Trabolsi, who is doing research in organic chemistry. As I had little knowledge of chemistry and lab experience, I was both excited and worried. However, it was the one-on-one learning experience that I loved. Professor Trabolsi was a true inspiration for me and that summer I became determined to become a researcher and teaching professor.
After taking organic chemistry classes and gaining lab experience during study away at NYU New York, I was looking forward to another mind-blowing research experience with Professor Trabolsi this summer. This time he was waiting for me with a new project: synthesizing and characterizing a polymer that can be used in factories to capture or store CO2, which could help reduce global warming. I finished the synthesis of the polymer in a week rather than the expected several weeks, so Professor Trabolsi gave me several other projects on novel molecular cages and other polymers.
Despite my strict ex-Soviet Union upbringing, in which a teacher is seen strictly as a supervisor, Professor Trabolsi became my friend, which I believe was the most impactful aspect of my research internship.
Unlike last summer, when I was part of a team, this summer I worked solo. Because the projects had not been reported before, I was to come up with various new syntheses and purification methods. This was where my dream of having complete independence with my creativity — through which I could try out whatever I felt was right and suitable — was fulfilled. Yet there were times when experiments failed or data showed impurities after long purifications. Professor Trabolsi encouraged me to continue; failures were to be celebrated, because failures in research are also findings to learn from. Thanks to his support, my scientific thinking skills were improved.
This summer the lab was more crowded with interns and postdocs, but it also felt more like a group of friends. Despite my strict ex-Soviet Union upbringing, in which a teacher is seen strictly as a supervisor, Professor Trabolsi became my friend, which I believe was the most impactful aspect of my research internship. My overall experience — not only with Professor Trabolsi, but also with other professors at NYUAD — has shown me that these friendships create an environment in which a student feels comfortable to share his or her opinion and suggestions openly and to be able to make independent decisions. This was a surprising foreign novelty for me that gave me confidence in my scientific research.
The highlight of the summer was an invitation to present a scientific poster on last summer's research at the 44th IUPAC Chemistry Congress, held in Istanbul, Turkey, from August 11-16. After long preparations and rehearsals, I was excited and also very nervous about my first-ever presentation of a poster. Now I understand the importance of being able to understand the concepts and the research conducted, as well as having the ability to explain the research to other people so it has meaning outside the lab.
When my internship came to a close, I was impressed with the progress I'd made with strong motivation and hard work. The opportunity was so enjoyable for me that even when there was not a free minute during working hours, at the end of the day I wished the days were longer. I am grateful to NYUAD for giving me such inspiration and passion for chemistry research.