Summer Centered: Daniel Van Beveren ’20 Sparks New Discoveries in Nanoscience
The physics major is conducting on-campus research on the electrical properties of modified DNA strands.
For physics major and Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Science Center Summer Scholar Daniel Van Beveren ’20 working in the lab of Walter Smith, the Paul and Sally Bolgiano Professor of Physics, was an appealing summer opportunity from the get-go.
"I was interested mainly because the research grabbed my attention, which was sort of a gut thing,” Van Beveren said, “although I knew it involved lasers and liquid nitrogen, which is always a plus.”
The rising junior is continuing an ongoing study of the electrical properties of modified DNA strands, and, in particular, is focusing his research on how well the strands conduct electricity when illuminated with a laser.
"Answering this sort of question can help lay the groundwork for the use of DNA strands as wires in microscopic, 3D, self-assembling electrical circuits,” he said. “This idea sounds pretty far-fetched, and it’s definitely not in the immediate future, but it has shown real promise and become an important topic in nanoscience.”
Van Beveren has taken multiple classes with Smith, and is enjoying the chance to collaborate further with him and a few other physics students over the summer.
"The professor is super cool and I figured I could learn a lot about the experimental process from working with him,” he said, “The lab team, which consists of five students working on related projects with the same professor, is really tight-knit, and I’ve found that valuable as it both fosters a fantastic work environment and gives me a great group with whom to work through especially difficult problems.”
While Van Beveren says there is no “typical” schedule in the lab, he spends most of his time reading scientific literature on the subject, preparing samples, setting up experiments, and using the lab’s microscopes to examine the samples.
"I have a lot of freedom to set my schedule and help plan the day’s experiments,” he said. “This research has made me seriously consider pursuing nanoscale physics further in the future.”
Ultimately, one of the most important lessons Van Beveren has learned at his internship is the role of innovation and creativity into the scientific method.
"Science, it turns out, is not a mechanical process,” he said. “Proposing a theory or designing an experiment both take creativity, which is a faculty that can only be sharpened by actually using it. I’ve found a great opportunity to do that here.”