Creating Hexagonal Polymers—10th grader’s science internship at SIT

IMG_3795I was extremely excited to find out that I was accepted along with other students from international schools in Tokyo and from abroad for a science internship at the Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT). The internship promised the chance to study topics ranging from superconductivity and materials science to robotics engineering. SIT is a Japanese University, established in 1927, with campuses in Shibaura, Omiya and Toyosu. It is specialized in, and most known, for its engineering programs.

Since it was my first internship, my first day was nervewracking yet exciting. Each of us, were required to give a 10-minute presentation about ourselves. I presented on my family background, hobbies, my home country of India and the preliminary research I had done on biomaterials and nanotechnology before the internship. After our presentations, we were welcomed to the program by the director of the internship, Professor Miryala and the professors of each department.

My two-week journey into the realm of science had begun in the Department of Material Science and Engineering!

On my first day in the lab, Prof. Matsumura and his college students showed me around the lab and explained my assigned research topic, the science of honeycomb structures. Honeycomb structures are hexagonal structures known for their high strength-to-weight ratio, and have applications in everything from airplanes all the way down to bathroom floors.

My mentor, a fourth year college student, whom we all lovingly called “Kagawa,” (after a famous soccer player in Japan that he looked like) helped me make my first polymer film with a honeycomb structure. We made this under standard conditions, which meant at a temperature of 25°C, a solution concentration consisting of 10 molecules of PLA for every molecule of DOPE (the chemicals we used to make our honeycomb structure) at a relative humidity of 85-90%.

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Apparatus set up to make honeycomb structures

My goal at the end of the project was to discover a way to make the pore size of the honeycomb structures large enough (about 5 micrometers) so that it could be applied to a new application, which was to create synthetic multicellular structures that could mimic human tissues for life sciences. Through these artificial tissues, we can use honeycomb structures to act as placeholders so the cells in the tissues are not constantly moving, as cells do. To be able to hold these cells, our honeycomb structure needs to be at least 5 micrometers. By doing these steps, we will be able to observe biological reactions that happen in our cell and know the exact location of what’s happening between cells, and the conditions that these reactions occur in. Through this, we can get a deeper understanding of the biological processes that happen in our cell, and also apply it to other applications that require the understanding of these reactions.

In order to do this, I hypothesized that tweaking the standard conditions of temperature, concentration, and relative humidity when making the honeycomb structures would affect its pore size. In order to see how temperature would affect the pore size of the honeycomb structure, I made multiple honeycomb structures at varying temperatures and concentration levels to find a linear relationship between temperatures and pore size, and an inverse relationship between pore size and concentration levels. Unfortunately, I did not have time to explore the relationships of other variables, such as relative humidity.

Dissolving chemicals used to make honeycomb structures

Dissolving chemicals used to make honeycomb structures

Despite the successes I had in conducting these experiments, there were times when I encountered some obstacles, such as the pore sizes for a particular honeycomb structure all coming out to be different. However, despite these difficulties, I managed to problem-solve my way through it by adjusting the conditions, which made my desired end result much more satisfying. For those who would like to know more about my experiment, you can check it out on my blog or download the presentation I gave at the end of my internship.

Aside from all the interesting experiments I conducted in the laboratory, I had plenty of enjoyment outside—from playing table tennis in the arena to getting to know the lives of college students while having lunch with them.

A final presentation after two weeks brought an end to our internship; we had officially become “internship graduates!”

Overall, this internship gave me exposure to life at college and also gave me some knowledge about Japanese Universities and their college programs. Aside from this, this internship also gave me some insight on what my interests are and what I might want to pursue in the future by giving me exposure to advanced concepts and techniques that I otherwise wouldn’t encounter at school. Lastly, it helped me in my problem-solving skills by allowing me to face my own challenges and hurdles, shaping me into a more confident and independent problem-solver. Dev Gulati (10th Grade)