I’m spending the entire summer in a suburb located just outside Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Mississauga, it’s called, has everything you could ever need to thrive: a good transit system, plenty of clothing shops and grocery stores, and so many houses that I get lost easily in the sea of driveways and grass. Mississauga’s most famous buildings decorating its skyline are two condos with hourglass-like shapes, commonly known as the “Man” and “Woman” for their likeness to human bodies.
I came here for the university, located quaintly on the edge of Mississauga and buried in all the deciduous, leafy trees found so commonly in the east. The University of Toronto – Mississauga is a satellite campus of the renowned University of Toronto, known for its research and position as arguably the top university in Canada. After a few emails, the help of many, and a lot of luck, I found myself accepted into the Chemical Sensors Group for the entire summer, focusing on the cutting-edge research of nanoparticles.
With plane delays, I didn’t arrive to the campus until 1AM. However, with the help of some friendly campus police, I was able to break my way into the room I would be calling my home for the next three months.
“If I get fired for this, I hope they’re hiring in Montana, eh?” one of them said.
On my first day, I was picked up in a sleek black BMW. Its driver was Matt, one of the best teachers and scientists I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and my boss and guide through my lab work this summer. While showing me around Mississauga, he explained his research project.
The goal, he said, was to cover a nanoparticle with a certain molecule on one side, and a different molecule on the other. That is, to find a way to cover each face of a sphere with something different. This could in theory be useful in something like drug delivery – have molecules that detect a sickness on one side, and the drug to treat that sickness on the other. Give these nanoparticles to a patient, and the drug will only be released where the ailment can be found.
But first, this has to be proven to be possible. On particles so small, chemistry does not always work so easily. At the bottom of the page is a diagram of Matt’s strategy:
A nanoparticle is first immobilized on a flat surface by the attachment made through a “linker” molecule. By virtue of geometry, given short enough lengths of the linker, only some of the surface of the sphere can be covered. The linker can then be cut to free the nanoparticle into solution. The nanoparticle retains its bareness on the opposite side, allowing for a separate reaction to occur to decorate that opposite face.
You could even cover more or less of the sphere by varying the linker lengths:
Matt and the rest of the people I work alongside in the lab never cease to amaze me. They’re super hardworking in the lab, and often I can’t fathom how they can keep up with eachother. No matter how many failures they have, or weird results they can’t explain, they always put their heads together and help eachother out. It’s the best work environment I could ever dream of. I find myself hanging around the lab even hours after I’m done working, just to see if I can help them with any work and get to know them better.
Equally as fascinating was my first roommate, Anjana. If it weren’t for her and her boyfriend, it would have taken me weeks to even locate all the best grocery stores. Or heck, even the mall.
Anjana wasn’t given any notice that I would be showing up as her roommate. She had started her summer business classes nearly a month earlier, and simply assumed the second bed in her apartment would remain empty. I woke up the first morning to the sound of her voice on the phone, in perfect English but tainted with a Tamil accent that I would come to love.
“I have no idea, I just came home and the door was open and there’s stuff everywhere!”
Even though she hardly knew me, she shared her food, took me out with her friends, and taught me all about her culture and her former life in Sri Lanka. No matter if it was planning a surprise birthday party, going to a Hindu temple, or dealing with the inevitable drama of relationships, she always welcomed me into her life.
She finished classes and moved back home a couple weeks ago, leaving nothing behind but a bag of roti and a rose in a blue wine bottle.
A diagram of the research I’m involved in (described above), and a shot of the famous CN tower taken on Lake Ontario.