Finish Strong

This week I functionalized reduced graphene oxide (rGO) with iron nanoparticles. I used water and ethanol to clean the functionalized rGO and then I dried the sample with the rotary evaporator. A graduate student ran IR, TGA, and BET for this sample as well as two others. I gave Jose the samples early in the week, but I have not heard back from him (and there is always a high demand for characterization tests). Although I have already made GO with two approaches, we are trying another synthesis procedure, which is a slight modification of the original procedure. I have about a liter of GO in solvent that needs to be dried, but this will take quite some time.

I have continued to help Luz, another NEWT student. I prepared two different zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs): ZIF-9 and ZIF-11. Each of the ZIFs has to be heated in an oven for a couple days at specified conditions for crystal formation. Next week, I will be able to collect and isolate the crystals. Luz’s project is similar to mine, but graphene oxide will be functionalized with ZIFs and APTES in addition to the magnetic nanoparticles. The idea is to take advantage of ZIF’s porous properties and ability to adsorb contaminants. For the last week, I will continue to work on my project and summarize key findings. I plan to finish strong and wish the best to my fellow NEWT interns as well.

and then there were two… weeks left

This fifth week has been very eventful to say the least. I have continued to make samples in preparation for the desired characterization tests. A graduate student ran the characterization tests for me and sent the data files. I used excel to make the plots and interpret the data. I used ChemDraw, a drawing toolkit, to create a schematic for an overview of my research project.

Schematic new

The figure shows how we will transform our starting material into reduced graphene oxide functionalized with nanoparticles. I am currently on the last step where magnetite nanoparticles are mixed with rGO for functionalization. Once this is done, several characterization tests will be run to assess the successfulness of the experiments. In my Friday presentation, I summarized most of what I have been working on and also included characterization data for graphene oxide and the magnetite nanoparticles. I have IR data for both samples, indicating which functional groups are found in the sample. For the nanoparticles, I also have Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) data, which gives the surface area per gram of material. Below, thermo gravimetric analysis (TGA) shows how the mass of the sample changes at various temperatures. We are interested in the potential application of magnetite nanoparticles in extremely hot environments and this data shows the temperatures at which the sample begins to decompose.

TGA new

My parents drove to El Paso to visit for part of the weekend. It was really nice to catch up with them and tell them about all of my experiences here during the internship. We went shopping and ate at the Mesa Street Grill afterwards. The place was pretty nice and they prepared one of my favorite deserts, bananas foster, table side.

Bananas Foster Cook

Bananas Foster Done

We also enjoyed a few beverages at the Hilton Garden Inn minibar. The bartender recommended that we try this cucumber drink that is apparently popular in the El Paso area. It comes with this spicy chile powder on the rim, called Tajín.

Cucumber drinkkk

After my parents left Saturday morning, I had the chance to finally put my passport to use. I went to Juarez for the first time with some of my coworkers and had the chance to test out a couple Spanish phrases I learned. Although the people, places, and atmosphere were all very different, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Week 4: Score

I think this past week has been by far the most productive. I have been staying later than usual each day in lab and I’ve gotten pretty deep into my project. I don’t mind working late as long as there are other people around and I have good company. Sometimes, I’ll get really excited to work in the lab just because there’s not too much going on in El Paso anyways. I have been making significant progress and have also been working on an additional NEWT project with another student.

With 3 weeks remaining, I will focus on preparing samples and running various characterization tests. I am familiar with some of these techniques, but there are some new ones I had to look up. Overall, we will be doing SEM, TEM, EDX, XRD, IR, TGA, and BET analysis for each sample. I took the time to look up each of these to familiarize myself with the theory, operation principles, and applications. This week, there was a NEWT thrust 1 meeting where I got to hear other people discuss the work they are doing. I did not give any updates on my work, but I enjoyed listening to others. At the next group meeting, I will be giving a brief PowerPoint presentation to summarize my progress.

Temporary Setbacks

Unfortunately, this week has been a little slower compared to the previous two weeks. The isolation of graphene oxide is challenging and this compound is not very cooperative. I went through several rounds of heating and drying, but graphene oxide retains moisture really well regardless of the solvent making it difficult to work with and manipulate. After heating and drying the sample overnight, GO was dry and stuck to the walls of the container. I had to spend quite a bit of time scraping the walls of the container with a spatula. The good news is that enough GO was produced for several uses and that I should not have to repeat the synthesis.

After this is accomplished, GO will be reduced using hydrazine and ammonia. This will remove oxygen-containing functional groups from the surface of GO. With a quick search on the web, I found that hydrazine is known for being a strong reducing agent and is also a common component of rocket fuel. Hydrazine is highly toxic and will react in the presence of metals, releasing heat up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.


It is crazy that the program is almost half over. Each day here in El Paso seems to go by faster than the day prior. I also paid for a membership to the recreation center so that I can workout a couple times a week. I have been hanging out with my coworkers and the other intern, Sophia, quite a bit in my free time. I had the opportunity to take a ride on scenic drive over the weekend (pictured below). Not having a car limits my exploration, but I am thankful that all of the essentials are within walking distance. Since I have been here, my use of the Uber app has reached unprecedented heights.

Scenic Drive

I know some other bloggers have mentioned it, but I definitely recommend taking in as many experiences as possible during the internship (both in and out of the lab). I have realized that this internship offers so much more than raw knowledge from another lab. This internship has given us all the opportunity to travel to a new place alone and essentially fend for ourselves. While it is vital to have minds that are well versed in science, I think it is equally important to be able to adapt to new environments. I encourage my fellow NEWT interns to step out of their comfort zone and embrace everything that this summer program has to offer.


Week 2 – Done

In the lab, I have continued to synthesize magnetite nanoparticles because my project requires a large quantity. I have also carried out this procedure because some partner universities of UTEP have requested samples of the nanoparticles. This week, I began the synthesis of graphene oxide. This synthesis is done with the following starting materials: graphite, potassium permanganate, and a mixture of sulfuric and phosphoric acid. In comparison with the previous synthesis procedure, this one has much more precautions involved. When dealing with highly corrosive acids, the chemicals should be handled under the hood at all times and be kept a safe distance away from the skin. The reaction for graphene oxide production is extremely exothermic, meaning that it is very heat sensitive. Needless to say, this procedure could be very dangerous if not handled properly. Graphene oxide was produced by the end of the week, but I still have to do the isolation and purification steps carrying on to the next week.

I am glad that some of the techniques I practiced in my previous lab proved useful here. The purification of product material follows a procedure that I am very familiar with involving solvent addition, centrifugation, and decanting the supernatant. I feel that I have absorbed a great deal of information in just two weeks, but I realize that I still have a lot to learn. When I am not working on my own project, I am trying to learn about the other chemistry-related techniques and procedures going on in the lab. In the down time between experiments, I enjoy reading relevant literature to gain a deeper understanding of my project. Once the working week was complete, some members of my lab group celebrated the birthday of a graduate student. It was nice to hangout with my fellow lab mates in a relaxed, nonworking environment. I also went hiking/exploring on a trail that was not well maintained. It is important to tread carefully on unknown terrain because there were some breaks in the trail and obstacles along the way. There were also some jackrabbits on this trail, but they were too fast for me to snap a picture (maybe next week, right?).

Some Miner Updates from UTEP

This first week in El Paso has been very eventful and a lot to take in, but I have really enjoyed my time here. As far as laboratory work, I have found out more of the details and scope of my overall project. I hope to accomplish as much as possible during this internship. Since my very first day, I began to work on my project and had hands on experience. I am very thankful for this because I feared that the first week or two I would just be training, cleaning, or not allowed to touch anything. About half of the time I worked under the direction of my mentor, and by the end of the week I was allowed to perform some lab work independently.

The main focus this week has been the synthesis of magnetite nanoparticles. The procedures following this were halted because some of the chemicals have not arrived yet. The next phase of my project is to synthesize graphene oxide and use hydrazine and ammonia to reduce graphene oxide. Each sheet of reduced graphene oxide will then be functionalized on the edges with magnetite nanoparticles. After making it through the first week, I was grateful to have a relaxing and restful weekend. I am definitely looking forward to another productive week ahead!

The Internship Begins

I am very excited to be starting the NEWT internship in just a few days. I will be arriving in El Paso on Sunday morning and will start working in Dr. Dino Villagran’s laboratory the following day. I have had two years of experience conducting research in a laboratory environment, but this will be my first time doing research in an internship setting. I will do my best to fulfill the duties as a NEWT intern because I would like to reflect well on my PI and research team at ASU. I will be working directly under the direction of graduate student Karen Ventura for the duration of the program. Karen has sent me a few papers and research procedures to look over before my arrival. It was nice to look at these research documents and I noticed right away that they are quite different from my prior research. In Dr. Dino’s laboratory, a large emphasis is place on metal organic frameworks (MOFs). These microporous structures with a high surface area are taken advantage of for applications in gas separation and catalysis. An interesting application of MOFs is the capture and separation of carbon dioxide, which is harmful to the environment. Overall, I am looking forward to working in a new laboratory and meeting the rest of the research team.