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Q&A with Amelia Linton

Amelia Linton is a rising senior at NCSSM from Clayton, North Carolina. This summer, she took part in Summer Research in Chemistry within Summer Research and Innovation Programs 2022. 

What’s your research project? 

I am researching heavy metal contamination in wastewater. My goal is to use nanoparticles to adsorb these heavy metals. I am particularly using metal nanoparticles because they are known to be good at adsorbing contaminants, and I am combining them with biochar – which is the result if you take biomass and you burn it in an inert environment without oxygen. 

This biochar is very porous, so when I combine it with the nanoparticles it’s really good at adsorbing together. I am going to try to adsorb lead and copper from water. 

What’s your hypothesis? 

My main goal is to take both nanoparticles, using glycine-functionalized-magnetite nanoparticles and zinc-oxide nanoparticles, and then load them on the same piece of biochar. Then I want to put that biochar into water to adsorb lead and copper simultaneously.

I haven’t managed to put both nanoparticles on the same piece of biochar yet, but I’ve done them separately on biochar, and I’ve been able to get some results and see some adsorption happening –  so that was really cool! 

How has gathering your data been going?

It’s been good. During the first two weeks of SRIP, I mostly just synthesized my nanoparticles, which I originally only thought it would take a week to do, and it took a lot longer. 

But I think that’s just part of the process, everything takes longer than you think it’s going to. But I learned a lot, because I learned how to use all the different equipment in the lab, so I am better at using a centrifuge now, and I know how to set up my own procedures. 

And also just looking at the papers and knowing what things you might need to adjust or change to fit your lab. 

What made you want to do this project? 

I know heavy metal contamination is a big problem. A lot of people have heard about lead contamination – that’s been a big national thing. And copper is another heavy metal that is also dangerous. Heavy metals are basically just metals that are toxic in small concentrations. I went off of that, and I did some deep dives and searched around, and I ended up learning about biochar which sounded really cool.  

What are you hoping to learn from this project? 

I am hoping to learn more about water contamination and what can be done to prevent it, but also once it’s happened, what can be done to reverse it, to help people get clean water in their communities. 

Also I just want to learn more about chemistry and lab work. I came from a school where we didn’t really have labs at all. We didn’t ever do labs, we didn’t have hands-on science. And then coming here, I got to do AP Chem and now I get to do so much more in Research in Chemistry, so I guess just becoming more proficient in the lab and learning how to use all the equipment and actually planning my own project and see it through. 

What has been the hardest part for you so far? 

The procedures not working out. Or sometimes you get a procedure and it looks so simple, and then you start doing it and you realize there are all these things that aren’t very clear or didn’t work out. 

Or like, I had some pipes come off of one of the setups when I was synthesizing nanoparticles, and there was water everywhere. 

So just, like, problem-solving, and you have to go back and fix things and try them again. And rerun syntheses when they didn’t work the first time. 

Have you had to go back into your protocol and fix things because it just wasn’t working?

Yeah. Because I would look at the experimental design that the paper I was going off of used and then like it wouldn’t be specific enough. And you have read five more papers and fix it and go talk to Dr. Anglin and Uma [Volety] to figure out what to do. 

What has been the most fun part? 

Definitely just the lab environment is really fun. 

Being able to work with everyone. We have music going on in the lab, which is fun.

Also just getting to do something: all of our projects have a novel part to them. We are obviously basing it on research we’ve seen in papers we’ve read, but there’s a small part that we are trying to change and do something new that hasn’t been done before.  So getting to be a part of a project where you are like the first person to do this thing, or the first person to do it a certain way is really cool. 

And also thinking about the impacts our projects could have, and if our projects are successful, that’s a really cool thing to think about. If this works out, I could actually use it to take out heavy metals from water. 

All of us have real things that have real, important, real-life impact. So knowing if we do our project and if it works that it could have a real impact. 

Are you planning to continue your project?

I don’t know the extent to which I could continue without the resources from the lab. But public water and water contamination are really interesting and are things I would want to pursue in college. So I feel like this is a good start as an introduction to the field and figuring out what I could do with it. I looked at it from the biology lens before coming here, but now I see it from a more chemistry lens. I could do more public health stuff. Which is kind of cool. 

What are you most proud of since you started your research? 

Yesterday, I used the atomic absorption spectro-photometer which is like, where I took my biochar nanoparticles, and I soaked them in lead water, and I was trying to see how much was adsorbed, like if it actually worked. 

And I got really good data, and it was showing that it did adsorb, so that was really cool, because it was my first try using it. 

Dr. Anglin showed me how to use it, and the data was really good – it was in favor of what I suspected – so that was really exciting. 

Because it was like two weeks of making all the stuff and setting it all up and waiting. And then getting data, it was my first set of data I had gotten as well, and it was good data. It was really exciting. 

It’s so exciting when you’ve waited so long and worked hard on it, and then actually get good data. I know a couple of us have gotten some promising stuff. 

What do you think students who are thinking of applying for the program should know about it? 

If you are interested at all in any of the research science programs or mentorship – I think you should take your shot and apply. 

I didn’t really think I had a great chance because I didn’t have a ton of chemistry knowledge.  I did take chemistry at my home high school, but we all have different levels of how stuff was taught at our home schools. 

I had AP Chem here, but I didn’t feel like I was excelling in AP Chem, and then I was like, ‘This sounds interesting. This is something I am interested in.’

The water is something I am passionate about. So I just applied. Give it your best shot. Because I do think everyone has a chance. 

Most of the people in our current R-Chem class don’t have research experience. I think a lot of people come in thinking ‘oh, I don’t have experience, so I don’t have a chance,’ but I would say, I think only a couple of us actually have experience. 

You can be taught everything. You don’t have to come in with that much knowledge. You can still have a successful project without being a chemistry genius, or whatever your program is. 

Put a personal touch in your application, in your interview. They want to see what you want to do but they also want to see you’re a human. If you are someone who doesn’t give up, and someone who works hard and can communicate, that’s just as important as being passionate about your project too. 

Read more stories about students’ experiences in SRIP 2022.