August 16, 2013
Lionadi collecting the plants and loading them on to a rickshaw.
I arrived back in the US two days ago. Doing research in India was a once in a life- time experience, and I am glad I did it. Not only was my goal for immersing myself in bioenergy research accomplished, but I also got to experience how people in other countries work their way around bioenergy problems by using different biomass, maximizing technology at hand, and even using their culture to create the optimum results for research. My time in India has shown me that even though I was working on one single step – the pretreatment process – there are actually a lot of steps required to achieve the wanted result. Among all the processes, one thing that really blew my mind was the collection of biomass. Coming from United States, when I first heard of collecting biomass, my mind was set on, “Ok, how and where do we order it from?” However, there is no such thing in India. Substrates are collected by us.
Lionadi with the substrates drying in the sun and then the oven where the drying process continues.
Ricinus communis grows around campus so we went somewhere near the river to cut some of it. We cut only the big ones, and left four to five branches so that the plant did not die. After cutting the plant, we rented a rickshaw to take it back to the lab. In the lab, we laid it out in order to semi dry it. Then we cut the plant into small pieces for further drying under the sun. This step is extremely important because if the substrates are put inside the oven too early, there will be too much moisture built up inside the oven which makes the drying time much longer. We then put the sun-dried substrates in a big oven, which is as tall as me and has 24 slots. After drying the plant out, we grind it using a blender making the substrate into powder.
Lionadi with members of the lab.
All of this is just the first step, no chemicals are involved at all, and it takes two to three days to process. I really like this process because I used to think it was easy, but I was proven wrong (especially when I need to get 25lbs of this powder). It proved to be really fun with everyone helping me. I am really glad I joined this program. Thank you Cal Energy Corps!
July 19, 2013
Students getting a tour of the lab.
This week is a very exciting because the new equipment for pilot plant production of lignocellulosic bioethanol has arrived and it is currently being installed.
It is projected that this equipment can process up to 500kg of lignocellulosic substrate. My supervisor told me that the advantage of this equipment is mainly in its ability to keep the substrate mixing while incubating in order to avoid unequal distribution of enzymes. Even pretreatment with 100g of substrate requires a lot of mixing while the incubation process takes place.
The second reason this week is so exciting is because the classes at IIT Kharagpur started on Monday and students of Prof. Rintu Banerjee had a tour through our lab. We were able to show them our new pilot plant equipment. Today was only for lab introduction. The real lab lesson starts on Monday, which means my project will get exponentially busier since my supervisor will be teaching me to use computer programs to enhance my research.
July 16, 2013
It’s been four weeks since the day I arrived in India. I’ve learned a lot about the culture not only in India, but also the culture of being a scientist in India. Here lab and research are not a job; it is a lifestyle. The lab team are all friends with each other. Their schedule is to wake up, research, and sleep because they can spend 12 hours in the lab. They even go as far as working seven days a week given that IIT Kharagpur is actually far from big cities (about an hour drive or so). Sometimes I join my lab members on the weekend to help them in their research and to practice my technique (more about it later). But I mostly spend my weekends in the library. The library has a really good collection of fundamental books, and reviews about bioenergy research in India. This helps me with my background knowledge.
As I mentioned previously, I practice lab techniques such as incubation, mixing, grinding, choosing the appropriate glassware, titration, preparing various kinds of buffer, preparing chemicals, using balloon pipets instead of automatic pipet (what I usually use in the US), using the characteristics of liquids to pipet. All these techniques, I would say, are very intriguing since it comes from a lack of required facilities. For example, incubation can be a very easy thing to do. You just turn on the water bath to a desired degree, put your glassware in, and close it. But what if there are 70 treatments needing water bath while only four water baths are available. Or what if there is too much water and it makes the glassware unbalanced? Both of these problems are solved by taking out the original flask holder and tying the glassware to a metal/wooden stick with a rubber band so that they do not float around, and this technique actually minimizes the space size between each glassware so that the amount of glassware that can be put in increases. I’ve learned how to be more creative in the lab, mainly due to a limited amount of resources.
If you were to compare a scientists in India to a scientists in the US I would say that in the US they have a lot more equipment to go around. People in my lab have to live with, for example, 70 Erlenmeyer flasks for 30 lab members, which is really not a lot, given the idea that a person needs at least 15 flasks to do one experiment. It makes me appreciate their efforts to contribute to the science world. Sometimes being limited can teach you how to not take anything for granted.
June 28, 2013
I arrived in India on June 15th at 2 am in the morning. I am staying at the SAM guest house and on my first evening here one of the graduate students from my lab knocked on my door to show me around the campus. ITT Kharagpur is set up different from universities in the US because there are two gates for the school. The first gate separates the city, the campus and housing area. The dorm, canteen, barber shop and a traditional market are also inside this first gate. The second gate borders the campus area with the housing area. The traditional market here is called the Tech Market due to its location to a technology school. Tech market consists of a lot of small shops here and there, selling various things. I get all my daily necessities there.
My first weekend was calm and peaceful, yet surprising because it rained the whole weekend. (It’s the rainy season here in Kharagpur). On my first day in the lab I got introduced to all the members of the lab. This was my first challenge because it’s hard for me to pronounce the names of my labmates, let alone remember their names, but I get better each day by interacting with them. My supervisor, Professor Rintu Banerjee is very nice. She helped me with some ice breakers when meeting people in the lab. She kept on cracking smart jokes, and laughing with my new team, which makes me feel that I am one of their lab members already.
One my second day, an amazing thing happened, Professor Rintu Banerjee won the Best Scientist in India Award – the whole lab was filled with euphoria. She treated us all to samosas and indian sweets. This award will be added to her collection of awards that sits in her office – it’s already filled with a lot of trophies. This makes me think – wow, I am working with a great professor.
Her lab has two teams, a food science team and a bioenergy team. The bioenergy team, which is my team, is called PKS. PKS has a total of 8 people. Everyone is great and because of that I know I will have a great time here.