In The Spotlight: Lawrence's Research Project at CIO
What is your background?
I started studying in Groningen back in 2013 and chose to study Biology in the Linnaeusborg, since it was my favourite subject back in high school. I finished my bachelor’s degree in Biology three years later in 2016, where I majored in Behavioural Neurosciences. Immediately after, I started with the Master programme Biology, which is also a two-year programme. However, this turned out to be a mistake; I quit the programme after one year to do something completely different and in hindsight I should have taken a gap year to take more time to choose a Master programme. After that, I worked in the kitchen in the party catering business for about two years before I started to even think about studying again. In 2019 I decided to continue my education and entered the Energy and Environmental Sciences Master programme, which is a completely different direction for me. The first semester went really well, and since I want to do the Science, Business & Policy track, I started my first research project at the Centre for Isotope Research in February.
What are you currently working on?
I am doing a literature review in which I investigate the best possibilities for the sampling and analysis of micro- and nanoplastics in the air. Since plastic pollution is currently a big, worldwide problem, a lot more studies have focussed on the pathways of pollution. The marine pathway is studied extensively, but there is not a lot of knowledge about the atmospheric pathway. To study micro- and nanoplastics in the atmosphere you need a standardized approach, which is still being developed at the moment. At first, my project was an experimental project and a pilot study of a new sampling and analysis method developed in cooperation with Utrecht University. However, due to the corona-crisis we had to change the approach of the project, and therefore it is now more theoretical.
Is it your first or second research project?
I have started a research project in the first year of the Biology Master programme back in 2017, which was technically my first research project. But in the Energy and Environmental Sciences programme this is my first project.
How’s it all going so far?
It was going really well at first; preparations had been made to do sampling campaigns at different companies in the vicinity of Groningen. We wanted to sample in a plastic packaging factory and even at the indoor karting-track in Kardinge. Then I would have gone to Utrecht University to analyse the samples. But now, like many, I am stuck at home, and doing a literature review instead. This is interesting as well, but admittedly a lot less exciting than an experimental project. Progress is not that great, but I am confident I will be done before the start of 20/21.
How did you come up with the topic that you’re investigating?
I did not come up with the topic on my own. During the Master programme you come in contact with many different staff and professors, who all have different directions in research. I just talked with some of them and asked around if there were any projects available, and eventually made the choice to do my current project at CIO. I am supervised by Ulrike Dusek and Dipayan Paul, who have both been very helpful in guiding me, which I appreciate very much!
How have the EES courses helped you prepare for this research? Did you personally feel like there were any gaps?
The first semester of the Energy and Environmental Sciences programme is considered by many as a sort of introduction, to gain the essential knowledge and learn general principles and topics, and that will help you understand more complex subjects later in the programme. So, I found it really nice to help prepare me for a research project, since you learn about many different subjects in a relatively short amount of time. Generally, I think there could have been more focus on basic research skills, like working in Excel or giving presentations, which will benefit you during the project. For me personally this was not such a big problem, since you will learn most of these kinds of skills during the project anyway.
Has this research helped shape you towards a particular career path?
I think the research project will definitely help me to do research independently in the future. I will follow the Science, Business & Policy track next year, so I think this is even more important, since you are being trained to be a scientific advisor. In that function, you have to be kind of all-round I think; be able to do research by yourself or in groups, but also know a lot about business and policy. So, yes, I think it will definitely help me find my way!