Summer Internship Ignites Passion for Electrochemistry Research

Emma Lord in the lab

Emma Lord

A period of struggle and a subsequent breakthrough was the highlight of Emma Lord’s summer research experience. On a small scale, she had the benefit of experiencing the highs and lows of scientific research, not unlike many of our graduate students and faculty members.

Over the course of the summer, the fourth-year chemistry student worked on developing ultramicroelectrodes – or probes – that are used to detect electrochemical changes in biological systems and corrosion processes as part of the paid Undergraduate Student Research Internship (USRI) program at Western University. Under the supervision of professors Samantha Gateman and Zhifeng Ding, Lord was responsible for researching, developing and testing probes that were much cheaper than commercial options and more customizable.

“Most of my time was spent in the lab trying to develop these probes. One model I really struggled with and spent every day for three or four weeks trying to make it, but I couldn’t make it work; it either would break or wouldn’t conduct electricity,” describes Lord. With the support of her supervisors, Lord persevered and was able to make one that was successful. “I was so excited when it finally worked. Having been able to overcome that difficulty and doubt was a memorable experience.”

Samantha Gateman, Emma Lord, and Zhifeng Ding

Samantha Gateman, Emma Lord, and Zhifeng Ding

What Lord loved most about the summer internship was the hands-on learning. She was able to work independently, but also had the support of her supervisors and other graduate students when she needed it. Making mistakes was all part of the process and allowed her to learn through trial and error.

“You don’t have to know everything so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” advises Lord to students who may be considering taking on a summer research project. “At the beginning of the summer, I didn’t think I had enough chemistry knowledge to be able to do it, since my undergraduate courses hadn’t yet provided insight into to such niche fields of research. It’s ok to go in feeling like you know nothing because you are there to learn. Focus on what you do know and your strengths and go from there.”

Before this experience, Lord was focused on medical school or health care related research. However, this experience has helped her find a passion for electrochemistry research and academia that she had never considered.

“This summer completely changed my mind and my future path. I am glad I believed in myself and applied.”