Two weeks have passed since I arrived in Taipei and settled. On the first day of my work, I met Professor Jiann T'suen Lin. He was the complete opposite of my first impression of him. Contrary to his stern and menacing appearance in his profile picture that I found on Academia Sinica's website, Professor Lin was a down-to-earth nice guy who loved to talk about his research and would usually become so excited that he would start talking randomly and go off on tangents for an hour. After our first meeting, he introduced me to his lab and his lab members: Juju, Hen, Ling, Elvis, Jing Han, Mulu, Dr. Sumit, Dr. Yang, Dr. Liang, and Dr. Lee, and many more whose names I'm still learning. Everyone I met so far is very nice and accommodating and helped me settle in the lab as well as show me how to navigate Taipei. What I really found interesting was that so many of the lab members were wearing short pants and sandals, which are usually a violation of laboratory dress code. It turns out, after asking one of the members, that Professor Lin is a very nice and relaxed man who isn't too stringent with rules which further contrasted his actual personality with my initial perception of him.
On that same day, Professor Lin asked me two questions: if I wanted to do research on dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC's) or perovskite solar cells (PSC's), and if I wanted to work on synthesis or device fabrication. I talked with some of the other lab members on their research and almost all of them do DSSC research with only Dr. Lee doing research on the perovskites. This was because the perovskite research was only just recently undertaken by Professor Lin and his lab. I found the perovskite research to be interesting, and having already done some synthesis in my undergraduate research, I wanted to acquire some exposure to device fabrication. So I told Professor Lin that I wanted to work on device fabrication of the perovskite solar cells. Hence, I started studying and learning the material under Dr. Lee, who was actually learning the procedure herself as she usually conducts DSSC research.
These first two weeks overall, however, were quite slow in terms of my learning and research. Dr. Lee was absent for a great period of the time as she went to National Taiwan University to consult with her former colleagues and labmates on the procedure for the device fabrication of perovskite solar cells. During these slow days, I would spend my time reading as many publications as I could on perovskite solar cells to get a basic understanding of the material. As I was reading these papers in the lab, I couldn't help but notice the casual nature of the group members who would laze around and fall asleep at their desks or even play games on their phone and watch YouTube videos. I thought this was a very peaceful and relaxed setting where despite being new and unsure about myself, I didn't have to feel so pressured or scared about messing up or not contributing anything.
Once Dr. Lee returned from National Taiwan University, we began to work on the device fabrication of the perovskite solar cell using a procedure given to us by Dr. Wu who works on the floor above us. I learned how to etch fluorine tin oxide (FTO) glass during this process. During the second step, the spray-coating of the TiO2 layer, is when Dr. Lee and I encountered trouble. The burner we were using wasn't capable of heating the glass to 500 C, which is the temperature necessary to spray-coat the TiO2 without having carbon burn on the surface of the glass. We performed this step multiple times only to end up with the same undesirable results. We then improvised and decided to spin-coat the TiO2 layer instead using a centrifuge. Not only did this produce the desired results, but it also required significantly less time to perform and could be done at moderate temperatures.
Research aside, I've had multiple opportunities, thanks to my new lab mates, to explore different restaurants and places in Taipei. Never before had I seen so many restaurants and stores lined up along one street. I found the economical use of space and roads in Taipei to be a little unnerving at first as I wasn't used to it and I thought it a little dangerous for people to be crossing the street so casually next to rushing cars in rainy weather, but I realized that this was the norm for the people here. I've had the chance to see what convenience stores in Taipei are like and even had a chance to try some Taiwanese bubble tea, which I personally think is the best tea I've ever had.
Overall, these first two weeks have been a pretty amazing experience and I'm sure it'll only get better in the coming weeks ahead.