Friday, August 20, 2010

Commence Educating . . .

I'm more or less fully moved in (a few bags, mostly clothing, are still in the trunk of the car) and while still unpacking and getting everything set up the way I want it, am pretty comfortable in the new place.

I'm slowly unpacking my stuff in the new office, but can't really do much till I get a set of bookshelves up from 3rd floor storage. Till then, no point in unpacking the textbooks or samples that I usually keep off my desk.

Got the paperwork started to audit a math class. This way, I can effectively refresh my math skills (or, arguably, my lack thereof) without having to worry about it affecting my grade. Given especially that my somewhat-abortive attempts at university math ended several years ago, it's necessary to get a fresh start, so beginning near the beginning with Calculus I. (Why not, anyway? It's on the University's bill and it'll make me a better scientist.)

Saw one of the doctors at the campus clinic yesterday morning; one I hadn't seen previously. She did a couple of *yet different* tests and found there's a decent chance I have a small tear in a ligament running through the distal side of my hand and wrist. Thankfully, I have full range of motion and keeping it wrapped up or braced when working should be adequate support to allow it to heal. Not sure how long it will take, but expecting several weeks minimum.

In other news, I'm totally not prepared for my audition on Monday. Somehow, I knew this would happen. I'll hit what I can tonight and throughout the weekend, but there's a good chance I'll simply end up pulling one of my old solos out of my pile o' music and hope fervently that I'll make it into one of the ensembles. Would love to make one of the middle-level groups, but after a year off, honestly anything would do.

With that, I've probably procrastinated enough. Time to go process some rocks so we can get them shipped out for powdering next week.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'm Back . . . For Now.

Don't pay enough attention to this thing. Probably a chicken and egg problem in which I don't have many readers so I don't make a habit of updating, which means I don't have many readers, which leads to . . .

You get the point.

Been a busy summer. Bought a hybrid bike, went to Wisconsin, learned building was condemned, found I LOVE road biking, blasted up to the Cabin, moved my office 3 times (shouldn't have to move again), did field work in Colorado, started processing a substantial number of my samples, nearly re-fractured my hand as a result of biking, pulled at least one major social gaffe, actually went to the movie theatre SEVERAL times, was maid of honor at a close friend's wedding, registered and submitted an abstract to a national conference, spent too much money on upgrades to the bike (but will save plenty thanks to the find of Dad's old clipless pedals in the garage), upgraded, cleaned, and tuned the bike, and undoubtedly a few other random things. Heading up to the Cabin this Saturday as soon as I take care of a doctor's appointment in Detroit. After that, I get to move into my apartment (FINALLY!!) and attempt to get my trombonesmanship up to par enough to land a spot in one of the university bands.

Whew. School is going to be somewhat of a vacation from this summer.

Oh yes, and the class thing. That starts again, and am thoroughly looking forward to it. Taking a methods class and an isotopes class. Scientific writing is only made easy through lots of practice and good feedback (really, though, what isn't?), and I requested that we do a bit of that if possible in the methods class. I doubt I'd be the only one in that class who would benefit from said practice. There are certain advantages to having your advisor as a professor!

Past that, I could probably bore what people actually do stop by to read this thing occasionally with what I've learned about cycling this summer. The important part is that I've set a goal of doing a century ride (100 miles) next spring. Haven't picked out the event yet - that will probably happen early in 2011. Based on the light base training I've done so far, my knees should hold up okay, and with the new equipment I shouldn't have anywhere near as much trouble with my hands. I've already had one "expert" tell me that a century on a hybrid isn't possible, but everything I've read so far points to the fitness of the rider rather than the superiority of the equipment (but it does help to have a decent setup).

So that's my summer in a nutshell.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Magnitude 4.9 earthquake in Utah.

Northern Utah on the UT-WY border. Felt reports coming into the USGS are currently from as far south as American Fork, UT and as far west as the Great Salt Lake. This isn't a major one, and no idea of any damage yet. It's of interest because it's an intraplate earthquake, despite it being not-unexpected because of its location in the far-east end of the Basin and Range Province.

A group called Earthscope was hopefully able to pick up some good data from this quake. I mention them specifically because they held a small conference on campus earlier this week. Regrettably, I was only able to attend one session - it was absolutely fascinating! The discussions on seismology and tectonic work, as well as their goal of setting up a high-res seismic array in North America is a fascinating listen. I can't even imagine what such a network will do for tomography underneath the North American Plate.

In other news, was on a field trip last weekend and am leaving for another tomorrow at noon. St. Francois Mountains or bust!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

LHC Has Collided Protons at 7 TeV!!!

Read the posting here.

If you're wondering how colliders work, ArsTechnica put up a great article this week on how they work.

As a freshman at Michigan State University, my family and I had the pleasure of being able to take one of their periodic public tours of the Cyclotron facilities. One of my favorite parts was how they curved the acceleration path at one point to separate particles by mass, so they could then sort of collect particles in Faraday Cups at the end of the path. That a machine so complex and powerful replies on the fundamental principle of inertia to sort the subjects of its studies by mass is somehow poetic.

Turns out we use that exact principle for isotope detection, except that it's on a far smaller scale. My research group makes frequent use of a multicollector induced-coupled plasma mass spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS), which allows us to measure with a high degree of precision (when the machine's behaving; I swear it's sentient sometimes) isotopic ratios. In particular, I'm looking at stable (or non-radioactive) iron isotopes. In the future, I'll be looking at stable magnesium isotopes, (obviously unstable) uranium isotopes, and possibly stable silicon isotopes. Silicon's difficult because of its low solubility in most solutions and its tendency to fractionate.

Fractionation occurs when some mechanism allows the preferential movement of one isotope over another. I'm being vague on that definition for a reason; there are multiple ways in which this can happen. One example is heating the sample to a level where silicon melts and could possibly vaporize. Heavier isotopes require more energy to lift, just as lifting a car requires more energy than lifting a bicycle. If there is only enough energy in a system to vaporize a few silicon atoms at a time, it's much more probable that the lighter silicon atoms will vaporize.

It doesn't exclude the possibility of vaporizing the heavy silicon atoms at this time - it's just less probable. However, if more energy is introduced to the system, the probability of heavier silicon isotopes being vaporized increases greatly. Were I to analyze collected silicon vapor collected from each of the energy levels, I'd find that the lower energy vapor has a "lighter" signature, whereas the higher energy vapor has a "heavier" signature.

Recall, though, that this is only one way to fractionate stable isotopes. It's by far the most common process, but there is also chemical fractionation. I won't go into as much detail about this process as I'm less familiar with it, but it's definitely a fascinating study and I'm hoping we go into great detail about it in my isotopes class next fall.

Why silicon is being problematic isn't clear yet. Part of our chemical procedure to prepare samples for analysis hasn't been perfected yet, and we know that for sure. One particular chemical added in extremely small amounts is intended to "anchor" the silicon in solution so it doesn't form a colloid or precipitate out, trapped in telltale wispy flakes that settle at the bottom of the sample tube. Too much of this chemical and it will occupy all available site on the silicon atoms in solution and turn into a gas, which means it will fractionate out an eventually escape. Dilution of the sample beyond the theoretical minimum volume required to dissolve the amount of silicon present hasn't entirely helped, either.

But the best part by far is that mass spectrometry and photospectrometry of the samples have provided results exactly the opposite of each other (there should be at least a rough direct correlation between the two). Hard to say. We're still working on the method.

And on that note, I should head into work fairly soon. My first class of the day was delayed by half an hour, but I have an array of small tasks I should plow through in some capacity before then.

Monday, March 29, 2010

MSU in Final Four and Back To The Grind

Got back to the home base yesterday afternoon in time for the second half of the MSU-Tennesee game, which I'd been tuning into for the last hour or so of my drive.

If I can get tickets at a reasonable price, I'm hoping to be able to watch the games in person, seeing as I live a mere hour and a half from Indianapolis. Chances are that I will not be successful in my quest, but it NEVER hurts to try.

In the meantime, we're starting the second major unit of the class I help run, and the camping trip is next week. Need to get plans solidifed, since it's highly likely I'll ultimately have to plan all of the underlying infrastructural parts of the trip (things like food, propane, etc.). Working for this prof certainly has been interesting, and not really something I want to do again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Thinking Like A Scientist (Well, Me)

Been thinking a lot about how we think and brain structures/types lately. Not going into details why, but the more simplistic of the reasons is that ADHD, something I've lived with my entire life, is a fascinating disorder. The spectrum it exists on is facsinating as well: Asperger's/ASD, manic-depressive, OCD. It's rare to sit at purely one of those endmembers.

I'm no medical doctor or psychologist, so I have no qualifications upon which to make a diagnosis, but I can certainly find the correlations between what I've found in literature and my brain. Better yet is that my observations are inherently contaminated because I'm making the fundamental mistake of observing myself. It's funny how that works.

In my case, though, whatever particular point of the spectrum I occupy has proven to be advantageous. I've had the luck of good, solid parenting in which I can root my morals, values, and behaviors. The first two are obvious; the third is not. I've never been able to entirely unconsciously assimilate acceptable social behaviors. There are an array that I've had to consciously learn, some by trial and error. Means that in some ways I've become a good actor. In other ways, it's gone from consciously responding in what's deemed an acceptable way (and avoiding other things like smiling at inappropriate times, which is something I've caught myself doing as an apparent standard emotional response where it's NOT recommended), to it becoming second nature because I've done it so much.

Anyway, I'm veering a bit. Back to the advantageous bit. I can argue that "disorder" is a misnomer for my brain's setup. It may have been at one time, but I've learned how to function in tandem with it in such a way that I can turn my tendencies into helpful behaviors. Some behaviors that I naturally want to engage in I know not to. One is busting into a room with voice at full volume, announcing what may or may not be a triviality. I save that for when it's really needed, sort of like the time we thought NHB was on fire (a bio student on the 3rd floor managed to mix ethanol, a Bunsen burner, and his lab manual), but other times, I consciously remind myself to suppress. That's one extreme.

The other extreme is the ability to hyperfocus. That comes naturally when I find myself doing something I find highly engaging. I don't take my luck for granted, especially when it's good, and I've certainly been lucky to find my subject of choice. Had no idea what I wanted to do, even coming into college, and thought I did shortly after. Found geology by chance partway through my junior year, and my mom was supporting enough to let me do an extra year in my undergrad to let me get my degree in geology instead of my previous major, which I'd been starting to flounder a bit in because I couldn't find research (no interested faculty), and as a result no real semblance of guidance. That alone caused me to start spacing out again. Getting into the Geology Department gave me a more engaging environment, a wide variety of subjects to sample, and a sense of community. I had the community with the band, but not so much in the academic side.

Fast fowarding to now, I'm in my niche area of study, which makes it easy for me to sit down and work 8 or more full hours a day. I don't always (not always 8 full hours of work to do), which means I can fill it by puttering around in the storage room of my teaching lab, reading papers, or engaging in the community in the department here. The key is that I enjoy what I do, so it's hard to consider it "work." If it's not so much work as fun or a game or a puzzle in my head, it's a relatively simple matter to sit down and expand my knowledge in the area or go work on my samples in the lab. Given the Scientific Method is essentially the thought structure I gravitated to at a young age, working the way I do is natural. Field work makes life even better.

However, try to get me to figure out something about insurance or business and it can take a few tries (sorry Mom!).

I'm loath to admit that there are a couple of downsides here and there to this "disorder." Though I'm one of the lucky ones who rarely has emotional downswings, they DO happen, and they can surprise me - sometimes just the right trigger, especially if I've been stressed about something. Thankfully, they never last more than a few hours, maybe a day or two at most. Stress is another issue in and of itself - can deal with it okay until it hits at the wrong angle and I break (insert shear stress/structure joke here). I'm sure that's true of almost everyone. Social stress is something I'm not used to, and there's been a fair amount this semester. Details as to why are irrelevant in this medium. All that matters is that I've once again demonstrated that I don't hide emotions well, which means it's probably very clear to the person with which I have a conflict that I have a conflict. Ironically, it's because this person and I are so much alike, but at different stages. This person is so close to the scientific rationale, except that it's clouded by a combination of upbringing and behavior that has obviously been advantageous in the past.

Once this person reaches a level proper for this academic environment, life will be better. The question remains as to whether or not the capability exists, because of some fundamental differences in this person's upbringing.

To bring this post full-circle, it's the above paragraph that has gotten me thinking about all of this again. We are very alike and very different, and I've been trying to reconcile the differences in our thinking. In doing so, I have turned inward to try to figure out again what my brain's up to in somewhat of an attempt to figure out what's going on in this person's brain. I don't know why I'm doing this. It fascinates me, but it won't be productive until the group faces this problem. We won't face it because no one wants to be the first to address this person. It's definitely not been ideal (never mind I have to suppress a laugh anytime we discuss "ideal" in class because it essentially doesn't exist) and I think that's what's been stressing me out the most.

Brains are weird, people are weird. Yes, I'm attaching labels, and only because it's the best way I can explain at the moment.