Interview with Lane Allison and Garrett Tom from UCSB

​This summer, undergraduate students Lane Allison and Garrett Tom from UCSB have spent ten weeks at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg for a research internship. The internship program is an exchange between UCSB and Chalmers, through the Materials Science Area of Advance. Lane, who is a junior in chemical engineering, worked for Professor Anders Palmqvist along PhD student Johanna Dombrovskis at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Garrett’s major is in biology, and he worked in Pentti Tengvall’s group at the Department of Biomaterials (University of Gothenburg).
​What research project have you been involved in?

[Lane]: I’m doing research on catalysts for fuel cells, particularly the cathode catalysts. Generally, platinum is used as a commercial catalyst, but that’s a fairly expensive material, so a lot of research has been put into either reducing the amount of platinum or coming up with an alternative kind of catalyst. The ones we are looking at are noble metal free, including metals like iron and cobalt. We’re actually exploring iron, trying to develop a catalyst that will somewhat match platinum, to be economically attractive.

 

[Garrett]: This project is essentially a model study of adding drugs to silicon plate wafers for enhancing implants, for better bone regeneration, or reducing inflammation when putting metal implants inside the body. I’ve taken silicon plates, and created protein matrixes of albumin and fibrinogen. Then I’ve attempted to add drugs on top, either by natural adsorption or through a catalyst. The drugs I was testing were gamma tocatrienol, a vitamin E that seems to have benefits for bone healing, and interferon gamma, an anti-inflammatory drug that would help inflammation when putting an implant inside the body. Both drugs are useful for similar purposes, for better healing processes.

How come you became interested in this program?

[Lane]: At UCSB, I do work for Professor Chmelka, and there I was working on ordered mesoporous silica structures. Every week I went to their research group, where his graduate students would give presentations on the research they were doing, and I noticed that one of them had cited several sources from Professor Palmqvist’s group here at Chalmers. I was also interested in this program, as they sponsor kids to go to places like China, England, the Netherlands – all kinds of places. I noticed that one of their locations was Chalmers, so I thought: “Wouldn’t it be convenient if Professor Palmqvist was on this list of professors that were registered in this program” – and he was! So I talked to Professor Chmelka, and he thought it was a great idea, because he is already in close collaboration with the group. So I thought maybe this would be a good transition for me. He’s also been working on ordered mesoporous structures, and Johanna has been working on them for some time now, so it seems like a logical transition, and it would be a good collaboration of groups.

[Garrett]: I’ve done a lot of research before I came here. I’ve worked for two years in Herbert Waite’s laboratory. Herbert Waite works with mussel plaque adhesives and understanding the protein interactions that the sticky plaque adhesives that allow mussels to stick to wet surfaces and rocks. I’ve been doing a lot of protein analysis through that type of research. So I decided to come here to Sweden to partake in a different type of biomaterials research that was a little more hands-on and a little more medically active, so to speak. Last year, I actually travelled abroad to Australia. I partook in another ten week program, where I studied marine biology and the Australian wildlife. That was all very interesting but the research I did there was not so interesting. When I came back, I lived with some Swedish exchange students. One was from Gothenburg, one was from Lund and one was from Stockholm. They all told me “You should travel to Sweden, for a little vacation some time. It is really nice there in the summer.” And then I heard of this program, where you get to travel to all these various locations, and one of them was Sweden. I really wanted to travel abroad again, but I really wanted to partake in a different kind of biomaterials research. This is a lot more medical than what I was doing back at Santa Barbara, and I thought I need a different research topic for a while, because this would help me figure out what I would like to do in biomaterials later on, for graduate school.

Did you know anything about Chalmers or the University of Gothenburg before you came here?

[Lane]: I didn’t know much, no. I knew it was in Sweden, and I knew that my professor had been here a lot to do collaboration with Professor Palmqvist, but other than that, there was not much that I knew. I knew that was a well-known institute of technology, but that’s it.

 [Garrett]: Initially, I thought I was just going to Chalmers. My Swedish friends told me it was a well-known university in Sweden; it was like “the MIT of Sweden”, and I thought that was fantastic. To be honest, I am very impressed by the facilities here at the University of Gothenburg. I didn’t know anything about it before I came here, more than that it was a fantastic research facility. I did read a lot about Pentti Tengvall and the other researchers when I was deciding who I would work with before I came here, and I did decide that Pentti’s research here was a lot more interesting than working on fuel cells or some other topics that I was not so familiar with.

Are you looking to become a PhD student?

[Lane]: I am unsure. This is sort of what this summer program has been for me, to figure out whether or not a PhD program is in my future or something I would be interested in applying for. At the moment, it is definitely a possibility, and Chalmers would be a possible school that I would apply to, but we’ll have to see!

[Garrett]: Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I should apply for graduate school and what I will do after I leave college. I think I should go for a Master’s and apply for graduate school in biomaterials. A number of faculty members have told me here that you have to be creatively fearless when you think about science and when you do science. You just don’t read directions and then do them, you have to think. Even though I was given a basic project at the very start of this program, I really delved into it, stayed committed and changed a number of parts of the project to make it my own. Some changes caused me to stay her till late at nights. But I still enjoyed it. So I am considering graduate school in the biomaterials field. I haven’t really narrowed down a specific research topic, but I do know that it is something that I want to pursue in the future. Maybe I’ll apply to the University of Gothenburg, who knows?!

What do you like about Chalmers/University of Gothenburg?

[Lane]: I was thinking about this before I came over, and I have found that the environment of researchers is, I don’t want to say more collaborative, but maybe there is more comradery. And I think that actually has to do with fika, because people spend more time getting to know each other here. Also, I think this PhD program is more research oriented than the one at UCSB. But that’s just my impression, as I am not actually in the PhD program at UCSB. But it seems that the PhDs here spend a lot of time working alongside each other. It just seems more like friendship.

It’s a very pretty campus. People are very nice. Everyone speaks English, that’s really nice. The facilities are really accessible, there’s always someone who can explain how to use an instrument, and there are many instruments to use. There has been no occasion where there was a machine I wanted to use, that I couldn’t find or find someone to help me use. So that’s been very nice as well.

[Garrett]: I’ve never really been to the Chalmers campus. I’ve walked around it, but I’ve never really been inside the buildings and seen its facilities, so I can’t really comment on that. But I can say that the facilities here at the Department of Biomaterials are really nice. It’s fantastic. The lab back in Santa Barbara, it is not so clean, compared to this place. But you also have every possible chemical at your disposal here. It’s a great place, and I am going to miss a lot of the technological advancements here when I go back to Santa Barbara, working in the lab again.

Would you recommend other students to go here?

[Lane]: Absolutely, no question! It has been an invaluable experience, not just for the research. Going to a new place, everything is different. It is something that helps anybody learn about themselves, learn about the world, and understand how they can react to a new situation. And I think with the addition of research it’s a great way to keep yourself stimulated over the summer. That experience you couldn’t get anywhere else. I think I was really lucky to have been awarded this internship. And I’m really glad that I came.

I have come to really appreciate Swedish bakeries and things. The food’s really delicious here. I have really enjoyed my stay here, although the weather has been quite an adjustment for me, being from San Diego. We usually don’t get this much rain in the entire year that you do in two weeks. But otherwise it has been really nice!

[Garrett]: I would! I would recommend other students to attend this program. It’s fascinating. There is a lot of really good research going on here. I would highly recommend people to just travel whenever they can on the weekends. You should really go out and see what you can. The people here are very friendly. Pentti Tengvall I have to thank for a lot of care in the very beginning. I remember on the first or second day, he actually took time out of his work to help me figure out a way to get home by the bus line. He printed out a map and bought a map for me when I came back the next day. That’s a lot of effort to go through for an undergraduate working in your lab for the summer and I think he kind of went above and beyond his call of duty in that regard and that was really fantastic. And the graduate students here are very nice as well. They’ve invited me to go out and have a drink, they’ve invited me to see soccer games, to the Gothenburg Cultural Festival…there is a lot to do, and I am really fortunate that I got to meet all of these very nice and happy people here.

 

Interviewed by Per Thorén, Area of Advance Communications Officer - Materials Science

 

Published: Fri 07 Sep 2012.