Whenever I had a bit of down time during this trip, I was scrambling to put together a paper, poster, and presentation for the research I had been doing this summer. Having spent most of my time in a nano biophysics laboratory this summer, I’ve gained some perspective on what it’s like to be in the trenches of hard science. Before, I had only seen the glitz and glam of new discoveries, and I had never realized how difficult, lonely, and often discouraging it can be as a researcher. I’ve spent long hours sitting in front of monitors, in the cold, bug infested basement of Sid Richardson, feeling lonely as I worked in solitude in a lifeless environment, feeling totally incompetent as I sifted through publications in scientific journals full of esoteric jargon that I couldn’t comprehend, feeling disconnected as I worked with microscopic nanomaterials I couldn’t see or touch, feeling hopeless as results were inconclusive or didn’t match with hypothesis. I realized that being a researcher was far from being a comfortable career, and I lost confidence in my ability to pursue it.
Every single scientist honored in the Nobel Prize center had also felt the same way. But they still pursued a career in science despite all the uncertainty, the low probability of success, and the low appreciation by the public. Which is why I felt so much joy to see scientists honored in the Nobel Prize center in Stockholm. I felt kinship with them, seeing their sacrifice, hardship, and important work that I get to build on. In 2004, Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov extracted single-atom-thick crystallites from bulk graphite via the Scotch-tape method (see picture above). In 2010, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of a method to produce graphene. This very graphene was the center of my research this summer.
When I saw the scotch tape exhibit in the Nobel Peace Center, I suddenly felt full of pride for my work and for being a successor to the work of such great minds. I felt a renewed motivation to go back to the lab and maybe one day, just maybe, be featured on those walls.