Tales of the lab: 2 Perseverance

“I did not though it would be so hard. It works on paper, but when you try to make it, so many little things I did not thought of.”

The transition between theoretical modelling or computer simulations to experimental validation can be a little bit demotivating, especially for young graduate students. The comment of this young student in mechanical engineering with no experimental experience yet reveals how high his expectations were.

Indeed, many things can go wrong when carrying lab experiments. I had to explain that to obtain this fancy composite, I had to make one every day for a month. And it approximately takes one day to make it.

This requires a lot of work and perseverance. Lot of work for sometimes very little success.

In producing a material after having defined a plan and a strategy, the evolution process is the following. The first sample is usually terrible. After some thoughts, several hypotheses are raised. From personal intuition and experience, they can be ordered depending on their probability of success. The next experiment will be carried to validate the first hypothesis.

If it does validate but something else came up, then the new or second problem needs to be fixed in the same way. If it does not validate, then the next experiments focus on the second hypothesis, and so on.

When lack of ideas or decrease in motivation come up, a fresh eye and mind is required. It usually only takes a few keywords to type in google search to find publications related, closely or remotely, to the topic, or google image to have some graphic inputs. A quick chat with colleagues will probably boost enthusiasm over new ideas.

At that moment, crazy ideas out of the blue are generally the best because they are often shouted with a lot of enthusiasm and confidence, like a “Eureka”. They rarely lead to a result other than: “this was actually really stupid, but….” It is this “but” that triggers the bigger step by leading to a more rational assessment of the problem, thus a more appropriate solution.

And this goes on and on until the final product is made.