My Project SEED Summer

Last summer, I was admitted to the Project SEED program, though I had little chemistry experience. I was ecstatic. Only after accepting did I realize with mild terror that I was about to spend 400 hours of my summer in a college lab, equipped with nothing but wide-eyed awe and a rather basic understanding of the metric system.

For the first three weeks, I was lost. I stood out badly, and I felt that everyone could see the holes in my knowledge. I didn't feel intelligent or mature enough to deserve a chance in the lab. My mentors were tough though. I was not going to be a passive observer; I was going to do research.

As I started getting the hang of it, I began enjoying little things. Sometimes I would look down at my notebook and admire my series dilution calculations, enjoying their complexity, or I would suspiciously pipette 1.26 microliters of DNA juice into the first micro-centrifuge tube and test my faith in biology, doubting that strands so small could affect the whole situation. They did. I started learning about bigger things, like sacrificing summers, and working eight hours, and understanding paychecks and bosses. And oh my goodness, I learned about science.

As I started asking one of my mentors general questions, the smallest details grew into discussions. I was the most engaged I'd ever been in my life. We discussed everything from steric hindrance and gold nanoparticles and defending theses to calculus and quantum physics and succulent plants, and a thousand other things. He knew everything, and had the patience to explain it all. I've never met someone I admire so much. I wanted to know as much as he did.

Throughout the summer, I attended meetings and wrote reports and read more science articles than I ever knew was possible, and I started to realize that working in science isn't just about using science—it demands social skills, writing skills, literary analysis skills. If I decided to make a career out of it, it would not mean abandoning any of the other knowledge I had. In fact, I would have to use it constantly.

The first day of the program I couldn't have explained to you a single thing I did. But now I can tell you I worked on utilizing the plasmonic resonance properties of gold nanoparticles and a catalytic DNA hybridization scheme in order to make a solution that detects target molecules and reports their presence colorimetrically. I fell in love with a field I'd never enjoyed before. Each day as I drove home from the lab, I began to feel like a new person. I knew more about science than I ever imagined I was capable of. I cannot say science has been my lifelong dream, but I can say without a doubt participating in research has made me passionate about science. I think differently now, and have started to enjoy learning the how of life's chemical processes. I want to study biochemistry in school because I want to explore it more. Though it is very challenging for me, I like learning how to think differently. And there is so much more learning left to do.

Samantha Ward presents her research
Project SEED student Samantha Ward is a recipient of the Alfred and Isabel Bader Scholarship to help support her first year of undergraduate studies.

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