I'm hard at work on my PhD at the moment, trying my best to graduate by next June. I had a committee meeting in February, and then with the committee's approval I spent the spring semester building a machine that I would use to accomplish the research. I finished the machine, and this summer I've been trying to - well, get some results. I had a schedule for this summer, that ended with me having some experimental results and a second committee meeting this August. (The results, of course, being popularly understood as a good thing to have for the meeting.)
But here's the thing - it's not working. I've tried a lot of combinations of parameters, materials, and processes, and I can't get the basic process of my research to work. Here is the basic process:
Step 1: Apply ink to stamp
Step 2: Stamp onto a glass slide
Not hard, right? Really, can't be that bad.
Well it took me a good three weeks to get the "apply ink to stamp" step to work. Turns out you have to have a stamp of the correct material, you have to do some pre-treatment to the surface of the stamp with the correct parameters, you have to apply the ink in the correct manner, and you have to use ink with the correct properties.
Ack. Not trivial.
But now it works, Step 1. Step 1 and me are good buddies. I can do Step 1 all day long.
But Step 2? Step 2 is not cooperating.
I tried using my machine to do the stamping, and it wasn't working. I thought, fine, I'll go back to doing stamping by hand. But that wasn't really working either. I could sort-of get it to work under some conditions, and one day I even got enough to transfer to take a picture of under the microscope. Finally! I thought, I have proof that I can transfer the ink from the stamp to the slide!
But it's not repeatable, and I have no idea why it worked that day and now I can't get any good results. A tease, I tell you, a tease...
Flat stamp? Patterned stamp? Different patterned stamp? Different temperatures? Different methods of stamping? Different ink? Different pressures? Click my heels three times and say "there's no place like home"? Tried all those, and nada.
And all the while, that schedule is glaring at me. I know that research does hit obstacles, but I always expected I would be able to figure a way around them - I always have so far. But if I don't get that committee meeting in August, one of my committee members goes away on sabbatical for a whole year. So this July has really been crunch time for me getting something worth showing.
Well, July is flying away, and I'm crunched alright. But I don't feel like I have anything to show for it, and I'm nearly out of ideas on what else to try.