The field of microbiology was one of the first things I encountered upon entering Queen’s University, Belfast to complete my pathway in pharmaceuticals as the application of such knowledge is considered to be at the forefront of medical development with the intention of not only removing microbes through the means of sterilization, destruction of such species etc. but also through the prevention of the initial microbial colonisation, thus reducing the possibility of infection within the human body. While I was aware this concept is a key factor in human health and in many other key areas to a degree, I had never considered the possibility of using 3D Printing in order to manufacture anti-microbial plastics utilising lignin, one of the main constituents in natural wood which is commonly found as a waste product in the process producing paper, in order to impart to the newly printed plastic the anti-microbial and anti-oxidant properties characteristic to lignin.
The opportunity to complete this internship came in my second year, where, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I believed that I was lacking in not only laboratory experience, but an impression of what research actually is and how it would relate to my career. So, intrigued to see what would become of it, I applied through the School of Pharmacy to show my interest where I was put into contact with Dr. Juan Domínguez-Robles where an application was later made.
From the first day of my placement, I was immediately trained in the use of stereolithography (utilising UV light to cure a liquid bed of photosensitive polymer in order to solidify it) and later the school’s “BioScaffolder” which allows us to print plastics containing biologically relevant materials. This training applied to my project so that I produce my own plastics containing lignin and then later test their mechanical, anti-microbial and anti-oxidant properties in order to lead discussions regarding the medical applications of such plastics upon perfection of the polymer formulation. The results that were found were seen to be positive and my work is to be continued upon completion of the internship by the research group. I was later allowed to write about my newfound knowledge in a chapter which was to be submitted by the group, something which I found to be a great application of what I had learned during my time there.
After finishing the internship, I now believe that there are many more paths to take in the pharmaceutical industry, rather than the common patient-facing roles which are commonplace for pharmacists. My time in research has also given me an insight into what research is all about: diligence, patience and plenty of failed attempts before the correct results. I hope that the skills which I have acquired will assist me through my degree where I would complete a research project in my final year. I would like to thank the research group and Dr. Domínguez-Robles in supporting me throughout my time and helping me understand the work that they are doing. Also, may I thank SfAM for offering this opportunity to students which I feel is of great benefit to all those who complete it.
Queen's University Belfast