Ethan DeBrosky – Innovation and Adaptability

“I wanted to be a police officer as a kid. I also grew up watching TV crime shows; but wasn’t until high school that I got exposed to science. I got to like it!” Ethan started out as a biology major, then found he “just gravitated toward chemistry – the labs actually interested me.” The next decision was whether to major in Chemistry or Forensics Chemistry. “I chose Chemistry to keep my options open.”

Ethan was looking for something to do over the summer, explaining “I’ve never really had a time off thing – I’ve always been doing something.” When he saw a flier in the middle of campus about the summer research program for the Cleaning Research Group (CRG), he saw it as a great opportunity to work with Dr. Williams, a Professor at SHSU. “I’d had him for Physical Chemistry – that influenced me – I liked the way he approached things.” Ethan explains that “his approach is much more applicable to real world, so you can immediately get out into the work force. A lot of programs for undergrads are research projects that don’t really apply to industry. Dr. Williams actually works with people in industry.”

At CRG, Ethan became aware of the significance of precision cleaning to society. He explains that “people don’t think in general about how important cleaning is, about how prevalent cleaning is. We depend on effective cleaning for spaceships computers, phones. Precision cleaning is involved in everything!”

While Ethan has had many projects related to the Product Quality Cleaning Workshop (PQCW), his primary involvement has been seeing how variables associated with ultrasonic cleaning such as temperature, frequency, and different solutions interact with soils.

Especially with regard to the workshop, CRG people had to figure out hands-on lab exercises and illustrations that would be effective in teaching cleaning. Determining the best way to teach a cleaning method meant trying them over and over again.

Ethan explains that one challenge was to demonstrate cleaning effectiveness in black and white, to put numbers to cleaning effectiveness that could be put on spreadsheets and converted to graphs. Ethan’s approach was to use a black “sharpie” to completely color in the frosted end of a glass slide and track how much of the ink was removed as a measure of cleaning effectiveness. Ethan explains that they photographed the slides and used “image J” software to look at the ratio of black to white pixels. An unmarked slide would be 100%.

Ethan discovered that cleaning results could be surprising. For example, working with Alex (Lu), he saw instances “where we got weird results that can be difficult to explain. For example, some solutions won’t clean for, say 20 seconds, and then they immediately clean.” As another example, Ethan explains that “Alex and I wondered if we could actually see the effect of soil loading in a cleaning bath. So, we put dirt on a slide, tried removing it, and then, without changing out the cleaning agent, we tried it again. You would think that the fresh, fully-clean solution of cleaning agent would clean the best, but the dirtier cleaning bath actually cleaned faster!” The Rocket Scientist and I sometimes talk about this effect as an example of “like dissolves like”.

While Ethan would like to get a masters degree in chemical engineering, his immediate plan is to find a job. “I really don’t know what all is out there – I’ll figure it out as I go along. I don’t have my sights on any dream job. If I find something I like to do, that will be my dream job!” He adds that one big thing he’s learned is to say, “no, I don’t know how to do this; but yes, I am willing to learn.”

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