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The SRIF Guide to Student Projects

The Shared Research Instrumentation Facility (SRIF) is a great place to get hands on research experience through a student project. The many current or previous projects that have used the SRIF lab can attest to that. This guide attempts to give some ideas about beginning and finishing a student project. This page is new and may not be complete. In time it will evolve into a valuable starting point for students who wish to begin projects using SRIF instruments. Please take our advise to heart. It is based on the personal experiences of the SRIF staff as well as our observations of many students working on their own projects.

First and foremost, read our lab policy . It explains the important safety considerations as well as the protocol for working in a shared research environment.

Since any member of the GMU community can sign up for the instruments at SRIF, the availability of the instruments can be very competitive, especially late in the semester. Therefore, careful planning of your project is essential.

Be prepared to work hard and work independently, especially if your project is an ambitious one. Instrumental analysis requires patience and techniques that only practice can teach. Long hours of observation may be involved. Things do not always go as expected and they rarely go according to a predetermined schedule. Be sure you have adequate time to do the work and have an alternate plan ready in case you reach one of the infamous dead ends.

With that said, keep in mind that the rewards of a successful project are great. The techniques you will learn are applicable in the many scientific career paths in today's job market. Your project will look great on a resume!

Before beginning any project, it is important to learn as much as possible about the methods you will be using. You don't want to waste your valuable instrument time learning something you could have read in a textbook or published paper.

Start by learning the basic theory behind the instrument you wish to use. There are many books that teach the fundamental concepts of any analytical instrument. Read the chapter in an instrumental analysis textbook such as "Skoog and Leary," (Saunders College Publishing). If you've taken a course in instrumental analysis, review that work. You must understand the theory in order to choose the right instrument for your project. You must know how an instrument works if you hope to achieve good analytical results.

Keep in mind that each project will need a unique set of methods and techniques. A method that works for one project may be the wrong method for your project. You will need to find out more specifics about your application.

This typically involves a literature search on similar work. If you are lucky, someone at GMU may be doing similar work. Scientists very often love to talk about their work and are flattered when someone wants to continue it.

Published papers on similar projects will also give specific details of sample preparation techniques and instrumental parameters that you may find useful. Do a keyword search through the scientific journal databases in the library. You'll be amazed at what you can turn up.

The instrument manufacturer is a great source of advise about your specific application. Even the catalogs from companies that supply parts and consumable items to these instruments have sections that discuss the theory and methods for many common applications. SRIF has many of these catalogs on hand.

SRIF does offer instrumental seminars on many of the analytical instruments in the facility. Plan to attend one early in the semester, especially if your project has a semester deadline. Drop us a note as soon as you can to let us know you are interested.

These seminars will tell you how to operate our version of the instrument. We'll show you how to start and stop the instrument and how to operate the data aquisition software. We may be able to offer advice from our own experience or refer you to good sources of information about your project.

SRIF disclaimer: These seminars are not a substitute for a course in instrumental analysis, and they are not a complete background in the project skills you will need to successfully complete your work. Keep in mind that SRIF is not an academic department.

Finally, be sure you have what you need to complete this project. We cannot always supply many of consumable items you will need such as organic solvents or analytical columns. Our supplies are for demonstration purposes only and are very limited. Talk to us about your needs.

We wish you luck with your project. Please stop by and see us if you have any questions. We look forward to your presence in our lab.

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