I had always envisioned a national laboratory as a building full of white rooms occupied by chemists in white lab coats. However, with the trip to Argonne National Laboratory, I was able to experience what an actual laboratory was like, which turned out to be much different than what I was expecting. This trip was very beneficial in many ways; not only did we get to see the national laboratory, but we were able to take part in the work and experience the joys (and pains) of research outside of the structured labs at Wabash.
Argonne National Laboratory is a sprawling campus located not far outside of Chicago. As we approached the guarded gates to the lab, we stopped into guest services to pick up our official badges, which would allow us to enter the premises and eventually get to the Advance Photon Source (APS) where we would be working. However, when we
arrived at the guest services building at 8:30am, the power was out.
We immediately learned the first lesson of the trip – research does not always go as planned. It ended up taking around 10 hours before the APS was back up and functioning from the power outage, which nearly cut our time on the beam in half.
We did not let this setback discourage us. Instead, we spent some of our downtime exploring the building. The APS is located in a circular building which is about 1.6km in circumference. Because of the size, there were actually tricycles everywhere on which people rode from sector to sector. We made sure to make a few laps around the building to explore the different sectors. As news spread that the APS was about to go online, we were able to begin preparing our samples. This involved freezing our protein crystals with large amounts of liquid nitrogen, which we enjoyed refilling a few of times.
Even though we lost nearly half of our beam time, we were able to collect high resolution structures of almost all of our protein crystals. We found out that research comes with many challenges, but we were able to work through these challenges to collect great data, and have an enjoyable time while we were at it!