All posts by Carlye Flores

So long and farewell

Wow!  I can’t believe that the summer internship is coming to an end.  It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was traveling to UTEP just to find where I was going to be this summer and now I am working on a poster which sums up what I have learned this summer.  …and boy, what an adventure it has been!

When I first started on my research journey I had an idea that I would tackle the problem of algae blooms.  To start on the process I was paired with an undergraduate student and we worked on the applications of titanium dioxide paint to rid water of organic dyes.   What an amazing process that was to see, how the exposure of polluted water sources in containers with titanium dioxide paint applied could be purified… mind blown!

When it came down to my algae project, I found that I do not have a green thumb per say when it comes to algae.  When placing the algae in the titanium dioxide painted glassware the algae did in fact die… all of it dies, including the control.

So, back to the drawing board.  This week I have been working on the chlorophyll extraction practice of my algae samples after they were exposed to UV light.

Unfortunately, as the internship is coming to an end, the algae portion of my summer internship will be discussed not as the basis of my research but as future work.  No worries though, I have learned so much this summer and what I will be presenting next week I will do so with as much excitement as I have had for my algae research.

See you all next week!

Why did I think this would be easy? :0)

It was me, I admit it…I killed the algae.

So throughout the summer I have been focusing on using titanium dioxide nanoparticles suspended in resin to destroy organic pollutants.  Initially the focus for my internship was learning the process behind the titanium dioxide paint and its applications.  I had worked on it for weeks and so I thought that when I was to try it with my algae samples that it would be easy cheesy lemon squeezy.  What was I thinking?  I know better.  I know that is not how science works.

So, as I am sure that you have noticed from previous blogs I have tried putting the algae samples in glass jars which were specifically made for my algae samples.  Initially I placed them outside for two days to see the effects and the samples were in fact dying.  Trouble was, all of the samples were dying, even the control samples.  :0(
As I explained my process to the lab’s PI he gave me another idea.  He told me to expose the samples to UV but in a controlled manner and by doing so to use the UV chamber.  By doing so I could collect the samples at various times to work on extracting chlorophyll from the samples to see if there were any noted changes.  So, that is what I did!  I prepped the samples, placed them in the jars and placed them in the UV easy bake oven.  (That is what I like to call it.  Review the picture below and you will see why.)

This portion of the experiment took a bit over 8 hours.  During that time period I would take out the jars every hour, take and label a sample, and place the jars back in for another hour, repeating the process every hour.  The samples were then placed in a drying chamber so that they could dry before the chlorophyll extracting process takes place.

…and here is where my samples wait.

Week #3: Round and round we grow

This week I have continued to work with the experiments utilizing both methyl orange and methyl blue as indicators to determine the effectiveness of titanium dioxide as a water purifier. These experiments have been done both using a UV crosslinker and out in direct sunlight. Although I have done this experiment a number of times throughout the course of my internship, it never ceases to amazes me! When I see the results in action it is hard for me to reflect on the fact that it probably took months to research the background knowledge necessary to even develop the materials and techniques that we have been using. With that in mind, I can’t wait for the day when the applications of what I have been doing this summer will become a well-known piece of technology used by anyone who needs it.

This week I also continued to work on the applications of titanium dioxide on the inhibition of algal growth. As an initial step my mentor and I worked on first drying out the current algal samples from Ascarte park. To do so, the sample, including the water it was placed in, was filtered out. The remaining algae was placed in a beaker with filter paper and covered with a chem wipe and placed in a drying chamber overnight. The idea was to see a way that we could dry samples of algae to determine an initial weight prior to inhibition studies. Before checking on the sample I assumed that it was going to look like dried oregano. Surprisingly enough when we went to go and check on the sample the next day, it looked as if we had just placed it in the drying chamber. Whaaaaat?!? Mind blown! Since neither one has worked with algae before, we decided to leave it in the drying chamber and check it again the next day.

As a backup plan, I also went to go and collect a lot more algae from Rio Bosque, a local nature preserve (see image below). This in itself was quite an exciting adventure as it including hiking along a variety of trials, spotting a variety of organisms. While out I saw and heard bullfrogs along the water’s edge, hoping to catch the dragonflies in the area I am sure. I also saw a variety of birds, trees…and algae. It was quite an adventurous trip to collect the super stinky specimens…now off to the lab!

Finally, perhaps the most helpful task completed this week included the round robin lab tours. Before completing these tours I assumed that I was falling completely behind during this summer experience. However, when I was presenting what I had been doing in the lab so far as well as future plans, I began to realize just how much I had learned in the short time that I have been in the lab. Also, when speaking to the other interns, I realized that some of the fears I had were shared among the group or were easily displaced once we had a chance to discuss. What a relief that exercise turned out to be.

…and with that, and with everything that has been done this week, I can see just how much we all have grown.

Algae, food dye and nanoparticles: A recipe for water purification


Who knew that algae could be so cool and yet so gross at the same time?

This week, for the algae component of my research project, I was able to obtain an algae sample from a co-worker. He obtained this sample from Ascarate Park, a water source here in El Paso. The day that I brought it into the lab I felt like the coolest kid at show and tell. The graduate students were both amazed and a bit grossed out by the newest addition to the lab. (This is exactly how Jimmy Sanchez must have felt in the 2nd grade when his mom let him bring his new puppy to show and tell.) :0) My next steps with the algae is to find an effective way to grow it in the lab. The idea then is to expose the algae to titanium dioxide to see if the algae growth and replication will be inhibited. Now, you may be asking yourself…why? Well, with the thousands of algae species that have been classified so far, there are a number of consequences to algae ranging from rashes, stomach and liver complications, respiratory problems, neurological affects and even death! Not to mention the negative consequences on the organisms that live in water sources polluted by algae.

Until an effective method of cultivating algae in the lab is found, I am currently assisting in an experiment to determine the effectiveness of titanium dioxide (Ti02) paint as a tool for purifying water. To date, a number of indicators have been used to identify if the chemical reactions (the formation of ROS: reactive oxygen species) used to identify effective water purification are taking place. So far methyl orange and blue have been used as indicators to test the effectiveness of the paint. An interesting addition to the use of methyl blue and orange is the use of food dyes? Why food dyes you ask? An extension to the application of the titanium dioxide is to coat plastic buckets with the titanium dioxide paint for individuals who do not have access to clean water sources. Then, after the buckets are filled, they can be exposed to sunlight. These individuals will then know when the water is clean based on the absence of the food coloring as its absence indicates that the water purification process is complete.

Below you will see the plates being used for this experiment. Each plate contains dioxide water and food coloring. The plates are then exposed to sunlight with samples taken every 20 minutes for an hour and 20 minutes.

From left to right: control, resin only, 1% Ti02, 2.5% Ti02, 5% Ti02 and 10% Ti02.

For the initial red food dye experiment you can see below how the 10% concentration of the Ti02 is the most effective but the 5% and the 2.5% concentrations are not lagging too far behind.

From left to right: control, resin only, 1% Ti02, 2.5% Ti02, 5% Ti02 and 10% Ti02.


…mind blown.


Until next week my nanopeeps!



(Said to the tune of “Do you want to build a snowman?”) Let’s create an innovation!

The first week of the NEWT RET internship has been both the shortest and longest week that I have had in a long time.  My experience so far has been a flashback of my days in graduate school which included long days filled with classes, reading scientific articles, trying out procedures in the laboratory and running on caffeine.  This week has included all of those things and more.

During the first meeting with my mentor and PI I was introduced to a new scientific approach which includes 4 basic steps when developing a research program.  These steps included identifying a need, developing an approach to met that need, analyzing the benefits of your research and reviewing current end products by competitors.  Such an easy approach but it made me think of research in a whole new light.  It also gave me a new approach to share with my students!  From that conversation my PI encouraged me to develop project ideas that I was passionate about and so the work began.

The ideas that I had brainstormed oddly enough stemmed from the environmental science class that I teach vs. my biology course (which is the main component of my teaching).  I toyed around with a variety of ideas from breaking down plastics in water sources, to treating water sources at dairies to researching ideas concerning deadly algae blooms.  When conducting my research I found that the breaking down of plastics, which I thought was going to be “THE ONE”, was not as interesting as I had hoped.  Instead as I continued my research I began to find a link between toxic algae and dairy farms and so began the look into algae.  When I presented the algae idea to the PI he was excited, first asking though if I would be passionate about the idea.  Oddly enough I found myself smiling and shaking my head and now, I am all about algae.  :0)

The idea now?  To see the effects of paint containing titanium dioxide in reducing the growth of algae.  Why algae?  Algae I found is not only harmful to fish, but is also harmful to a variety of other organisms including cattle and even humans.  Plus, algae can just be unappealing in a variety of water sources including fish tanks, man made water structures (such as those in golf courses and residential areas) and pools.

My next steps are to now become familiar with growing algae in the lab and to see the research that exists on treating algae with nanoparticles.  Hopefully by doing so formulate a research plan including titanium dioxide in reducing the growth of algae.

The first week of NEWT RET has been the shortest and longest week and it has been a stressful and tiring week of finding my place in the world of nanotechnology.  It has also been a week of laughter, comradery, caffeine and pushing myself beyond self imposed limits.

So, in a nut shell, what I have learned this week can boil down to the following:

*Collaboration is key.
* Blessed are those who are flexible, for they will never be bent out of shape.
*Try, try and try again.

…and lastly, but perhaps most importantly… Let’s create an innovation!