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My Experience As An Intern at TRI Princeton: The ‘That's Funny…’ Moments

By Sharon Sango, July 2023

My Name is Sharon Sango, and I’m a sophomore at Trinity College, Harford, CT. Before coming to TRI Princeton for my summer internship, I liked the idea of being a scientist. What that meant did not really sink into my brain until I started this internship. I started with the enthusiasm to learn and understand what this field would demand from me. As a Biochemistry student at Trinity College, Hair Cosmetics was not the field that I was well equipped for. I have approached my scientific endeavors with a strong desire to achieve flawless results in my experiments. However, over the past month, I have begun to adopt the wisdom expressed by Isaac Asimov in his statement: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'eureka!' but 'that's funny...'” In embracing Asimov's perspective, I have come to realize that the pursuit of perfection is not the ultimate goal in science. Instead, it is the cultivation of an inquisitive and receptive mindset that allows for the recognition and exploration of the unexpected. By welcoming the "that's funny..." moments, I am more likely to uncover novel insights, push the boundaries of knowledge, and contribute to the exciting journey of scientific discovery.

As an intern, my "that's funny" moments are often accompanied by words and phrases such as "Why?", "What?", "how?", "I don't understand", "hmmm", "I am going to search for that", or "I will read this book". These expressions have elevated my perspective and understanding to a higher level compared to before, especially in Cosmetic Chemistry. Initially, I expected to receive complete formulation procedures for the lip balm formulation project. However, I've learned to start from the beginning by reading articles and determining suitable percentages. My early trials were imperfect, leading to my first "that's funny" moment. These weeks were frustrating as I desired quick success. Despite eventually achieving the correct formulation, satisfaction arose from gaining an understanding of formulations, particularly what doesn't work.

From this initial project, I have moved on to different projects that were insightful and exciting which include:

  • Cysteic acid analysis using FTIR where I did the testing to evaluate the difference between dog hair from different dogs, human virgin hair, and bleached hair.

  • An ongoing project: the "Rinsibility Project," which aims to evaluate the speed at which various shampoos rinse out from hair. This project has provided me with numerous amusing moments, but more importantly, it has given me a profound understanding of the perseverance and resilience required to be a scientist. It has taught me the invaluable lesson of going back to the drawing board and starting anew, armed with the knowledge of what doesn't work.

  • Evaluation of Tress Surface Friction for Smoothness – where I did some dry friction runs and was included as a contributing scientist in the report.

  • Training that includes hair pollution (making dirty hair), the 3-point bending test (evaluates the stiffness of hair before and after treatment), crimping training (clamping a hair strand between two clamps to use to evaluate the strength of hair), the basic operation of a camera that I will use in the upcoming hair bounciness project.

  • Color cosmetics where I used a calorimeter to evaluate the transferability of lipsticks after application.

Through the ‘that’s funny’ moments I have been able to fulfill most of my initial goals from this internship which includes developing proficiency in doing basic analytical chemistry skills by completing a series of online tutorials and demonstrating the ability to perform basic tasks independently. Also gaining an understanding of the requirements for chemical industry operations and practical experience in using advanced analytical instruments for chemical analysis e.g., the FTIR. To develop skills in conducting literature reviews by reading papers on hair research that are related to the projects by the end of the internship.

My experience at TRI has been truly exceptional, thanks in large part to the invaluable support and mentorship of my supervisor, Dr. Xuzi Kang. Under her guidance, I have been able to thrive and develop as an individual that pays attention to details. Xuzi has not only provided me with scientific guidance but has gone above and beyond to coach me in various aspects of life. Her mentorship has allowed me the freedom to explore and make discoveries on my own, fostering a sense of independence. I greatly appreciate the space she grants me to have those moments of curiosity and amusement, where I can ponder and question before she offers guidance or answers. Her unwavering support and insightful feedback have been instrumental in my growth as a scientist. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to work under her guidance, as she has played a significant role in shaping my experiences and fostering a positive learning environment.

I truly enjoyed the experience I have had at TRI.


For more information about internship positions at TRI please go to our internships page.

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