With summer winding down and classes about to begin, I figured it would be a good time to reflect on what I had learned during my ten weeks of NMR research. In my research proposal, I stated that I hoped to “further mankind’s current knowledge of piezoelectrics,” and “to gain experience working in a proper physics laboratory.” While I may not have succeeded in completely fulfilling my rather lofty first goal, the multiple-pulse sequences I helped to calibrate will make it easier to study scandium oxide and similar compounds. While this contribution to the field might lack the grandiose scale I had hoped for initially, it is still a contribution nonetheless, and will hopefully pave the way for greater advances in the future.
Additionally, my research was extremely informative about the day-to-day lives of scientists. During my tenure at the NMR lab, I learned exactly what it means to work in a scientific setting. Scientific research, as it turns out, is a much more nebulous process than I had previously thought. (See Paul Vallett’s comic, pictured above.) For ever good piece of data obtained in the lab, there are days of calibrations, tests, and failed runs. Results are not something scientists just go out and find: instead, they must fight for every data point they get. These difficulties, though frustrating, make the taste of success all the sweeter: there is nothing quite as satisfying as getting a perfect spectrum after days of preliminary scans and calibrations.
Finally, I have amassed a great deal of knowledge about magnets, NMR, and general quantum mechanics. NMR experiments take a while to run, so I was able to get quite a bit of scientific reading done during the wait: I now have about a hundred typed pages worth of notes about the general principles of quantum mechanics and the specific inner workings of NMR equipment and experiments. This extensive background knowledge will be very useful later in my physics career, particularly during my Modern Physics course next semester. To summarize: I’ve learned a great deal about both the scientific details of NMR and the triumphs and travails of a life in science. To summarize the summary: It’s been a great summer.