Thursday, August 13, 2009


After visiting London, I spent the next two weekends just relaxing around Belgium and visiting some nearby cities. Both weekends I ended up going back to IMEC to work on a couple things. Even though I'm over here in Belgium, I'm still able to work on some things for my research back at Hopkins like editing figures and drafts for papers we're in the process of submitting and publishing.

My time here at IMEC is winding down far too quickly. Even with an entire summer over here, it's not enough time complete a project. No matter what type of facilities you have, finishing a project in 3 months is incredibly difficult. Originally, INBT's IRES program was slated to last between 8-10 weeks for undergrads. I can't imagine being limited to such a short time span. It took me at least 3-4 weeks just to get situated and trained on the basic instruments. I waited 2 weeks just to get trained for general clean room use.

I think I forgot to mention the differences between university research and industrial research. Transitioning into university research is significantly more fast paced than in industry. At the university setting, your research groups are generally small and it's much more personal. You can use almost any instrument as long as you receive training. Training itself is generally easy to obtain. Simply ask someone to show you how to use the instrument. At large companies, there's always paperwork involved and training sessions to be scheduled weeks in advance. This is all for liability purposes. If you make a mistake, there is a lot on the line for the company, including its reputation and your own personal safety. As a result, in order to limit liability, companies have formalities that must be followed to the dot.

My last internship at ExxonMobil was exactly the same. In order to use certain solvents, I had to file paperwork and then wait for it to be processed. Specifically, I wasn't allowed to use chloroform until I had the correct paperwork filed. It's an annoying inconvenience, but for large corporations it's a necessity. IMEC, however, isn't as strict as ExxonMobil. I've used HF without ever having to sign a document beforehand.

I've already mentioned before that technicians operate a lot of the instruments here, including thermal evaporators, select sputter systems, select plasma etchers, e-beams, and a large majority of the expensive instruments. Before being allowed to use some of the instruments, I had to verify my fabrication process with some of the technicians. I had to discuss with them the composition of my samples and why I needed to use certain instruments. It took me almost 3 weeks to get approval to use a plasma etcher. At one point, I almost wasn't allowed to use the etcher at all because the technician feared that my sample might ruin the instrument. After some convincing, I was luckily allowed access to the instrument. My point here is that in industry, your research goes by much slower than in a university setting. Sometimes I'll wait 3 days to run my samples through a single process. If I was back at Hopkins, I could have it done in less than half an hour.

The most noticeable difference between research at the university and in industry is the pace at which it progresses. Although it may not be desirable, you just have to acclimate to the change in pace.

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