July 19, 2012
It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post, and things have definitely picked up in the lab. For starters, it turns out I am still performing pretreatment research on algae. We recently cultivated algal biomass from a species known as chlorococcum infusionium, and are working to grow another species, Nostoc calcicola, as well. These microalgal species can be pretreated by physical, chemical, and biological means to obtain sugars to later ferment into bioethanol. My goal is to wade through the literature and suggest various pretreatment methods to test in order to maximize carbohydrate recovery. However, there is one major snag: unlike the bacteria I’ve worked on in my previous lab, algae takes over a week to grow! The Chloroccum infusionium I’m currently using had been growing for well over a month. I don’t think this will turn out to be much of a problem, but it does mean that I need to make sure I’m meticulous with my work and my suggestions.
While I wait for the algae to grow, I am continuing to assist researchers working on the MEOR project I discussed last time. We’ve moved from the preliminary testing and literature readings to actually performing the sand-packed column experiments in the new PK Sinha Center for Bioenergy building. In addition to the customary rituals of cleaning, collecting sand, and preparing the columns for the next day’s trials, we have been varying the temperature and concentrations of our biosurfactant blend and a cationic additive to see what conditions are most optimal for oil recovery purposes. The cations induce a shape-change in the biosurfactant molecules that can improve their performance, and we are testing to determine if that improvement can be carried out for MEOR. So far, tests are going well, and we’re hoping the research portion of this project can be completed within the next couple of weeks. After that, if we have enough time, we’ll begin to see if this biosurfactant blend can be used to clean up metal-contaminated soil.
I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve gotten here at IIT. I’ve learned so much more about environmental biotechnology here than in my classes back in Berkeley, and I’m excited to continue this kind of work back home. I’m currently working on an MEOR review article that my Professor says will be sent to a ‘high impact’ international journal for publication, and I will also be one of the authors for the MEOR and—time permitting—bioremediation papers as well. 19 years old, with my name attached to three scientific publications? My fingers are crossed.
June 29, 2012
I originally came to Khargapur to work on a project related to algae pretreatment for biofuel purposes, but upon my arrival, my sponsoring professor and I agreed to change my focus to the use of lipopeptide biosurfactants in both microbial enhanced oil recovery (MEOR) and bioremediation. When an oil well is drilled and subsequently flooded with chemical-infused water to recover crude oil (primary and secondary recovery, respectively), up to two-thirds of the oil remains in the well. Biosurfactants have recently been used to emulsify the oil and lower the surface and interfacial tensions present in the well to enhance oil recovery (the process is called tertiary recovery), and they are advantageous over current means because they are more environmentally-friendly, less toxic, biodegradable, and because they have the potential to be produced from cheap raw materials and industrial waste products. Furthermore, they can be used to clean up after catastrophic oil spills, enhance drug delivery, and make more robust cosmetic products. My current project deals with analyzing a particular three-biosurfactant blend and its potential in tertiary oil recovery, though it is possible that I will be also involved in side projects related to these remarkable products as well. Along the way, I shall continue to immerse myself in the algae research being conducted in the lab and see if there is any way I can link the two for a future research project.
The research scholars here have been incredibly warm and welcoming. My mentors Vivek and Mayank have been nothing short of spectacular, and are really helping me learn this material. It is also rather humbling to see my supervising professor cited in nearly all of the 15 articles and papers I have read so far on the topic of biosurfactants.
A number of things make this research experience unlike the research I have done at UC Berkeley. In Berkeley, I have worked in two different research labs (the Arkin Lab and the Coates Lab), each of which required me to comb through literally hundreds of pages of security procedures and lab safety protocols. Despite this, being here has been a worthwhile experience so far. Hanging out with the other interns is a blast, and I’m incredibly excited with the direction my work is going. However, with weekly presentations, a 10-12 page mini-review paper to write regarding the future potential of biosurfactants, plans to publish, investigation to do on the patentable aspects of this research, possibly creating my own secondary project, and a desire to also learn about the algal projects going on in the lab, I feel a bit time pressed. There’s a lot on my plate, I’m just hoping I can sufficiently manage.