July 17th, 2020

By Michael Meleties


When I was first applying to graduate school, I initially wanted to remain at the institution where I completed my undergraduate degree. It was a good school, close to home, and I was comfortable there. When my professor suggested that it would be difficult to do that, I was stunned. It just didn’t make sense to me. After my professor explained that the conventional thought in the engineering field is that students shouldn’t do their graduate work at the same place they do their undergraduate degree in order to “learn a different way of thinking”, I relented in my pursuit to stay where I was comfortable.

Fast forward a couple of months and I was starting my graduate studies at NYU. I was excited as I was joining a growing department that looked poised to become a powerhouse in engineering and I was able to stay in New York. Of course, along with my excitement came an air of nervousness, natural when starting somewhere new. Eventually, with time I became more comfortable and everything was going smoothly.

At the end of my second year at NYU, I was given the opportunity to do research at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Dayton, Ohio for one month. I knew this opportunity was too good to pass up and that I would have to be well-prepared to make the most of my time there. I spent the weeks leading up to the summer testing different conditions and trying to find the ideal parameters for my experiments, eventually arriving to what I thought were ideal conditions. I had all the work I would completed at the AFRL planned out, and assumed everything would go according to plan (spoiler alert: never assume this in science).

I arrived in Ohio, and on the second day there I found out that some of the materials I needed for my protein purification weren’t available. I knew there were multiple methods of protein purification, but I had grown accustomed to the protocol I perform in my lab at NYU, and because of the limited time I had, I wanted to stick to what I was used to. After a period of anxiety and not knowing what to do, I contacted my lab mates back in New York on how I should proceed. The general consensus of the advice I received was to just get on with it. I was able to rework the protocol based on the available materials and instrumentation and still got the same results.

I consider my experience at NYU to have given me my first way of thinking, as it was my first exposure to research. It wasn’t until my third week in Dayton that I finally understood what my undergraduate professor meant when they said I needed to learn different ways of thinking. It seems like the perfect example that one of my purposes in spending time at the AFRL was to get trained in differential dynamic microscopy. I already had knowledge of multiparticle tracking, from my work at NYU. These methods are both microrheological techniques where tracer particles are introduced into a solution with the aim of getting information on the mechanical properties of the solution. While both methods have the same raw data (videos/image stacks of tracer particle movement in the sample) and the same results should be obtained, the methods of analysis to arrive at the results are what’s different. Each method has advantages and disadvantages relative to others (including ones I’m not as familiar with), so it is important to consider which would be more suitable for the experiment at hand.

(Left to Right) Dr. Zach Reinert, Me, Dr. Rhett Martineau, Dr. Maneesh Gupta


The experience I obtained in Dayton was beneficial for me in two ways. On a small scale, I was trained in the implementation of differential dynamic microscopy, a technique that I will be using throughout my studies. On a larger scale, the words of my undergraduate professor were validated and I see the value in experiencing new things and seeing how things are done in different labs. My advice to the reader would be to not be afraid to seek out opportunities that push you out of your comfort zone; eventually you’ll find that it’s the best way to make your comfort zone bigger!


They told me I haven’t been to Dayton unless I go to the Air Force Museum, so here I am!