Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reflecting on a PhD Beginning

It's been two weeks since I last wrote for my blog and the fact that I am doing it now means one thing- finals are over!  Now that I have completed finals, I can officially call my first semester as a PhD student complete!  This post is mostly a summary of the classes and research progress I made in my first semester, plus some musings about the year as a whole.  I wrote it for myself as a way of providing perspective on what I have accomplished, as a benchmark to record my progress, to encourage myself for the work ahead, and as a preemptive New Year's reflection.  I decided to share it publicly since a few of you may be interested in a progress update and to encourage you all to pursue reflection on your own accomplishments.

These past couple of weeks have been packed with two major projects, two comprehensive finals, and quite a bit of research.  This semester I completed two classes- Geochemistry and Mathematical Modeling.  Geochemistry was largely review of the basics I learned as an undergrad. and reinforcement and further development of topics that I picked up and taught myself while working on my senior research project.  The class was fairly straightforward and clearly applicable to my area of study without any significant stretch of the imagination.  Math Modeling, however, was a totally different challenge.  It focused on the use of partial differential equations and modeling to examine everything from diffusion to advection to stress and strain and is one of two courses required for all geology PhD students at BU.  For a geochemistry student who had never opened Matlab (a computer program that uses basic coding and commands for math computation and modeling), never had a course in differential equations, and had not been in an advanced math course since senior year of high school, the whole idea was daunting.  If you had told me as an undergrad that my first semester in graduate school I would be required to take a course that covered these topics and that I would successfully produce a one-dimensional model that shows diffusion of Mn in garnet both analytically and numerically as my final project, I would have told you that you were crazy. As I went through the class it was often difficult to see any progress being made amid struggles to follow the lectures and to find any possible application of the class topics to my research area.  But now that the class is done, it is much easier to look back through the struggle and to appreciate how my thinking and skill sets have changed, how I have gained a new appreciation of diffusion and its relevance to the mineral analysis that I already love, and even how new topics that I was exposed to during this class could benefit my research in the future.  This is a large part of the reason that I pursued graduate work in the first place and it has been exciting to be able to see personal growth when I picked up a paper that went over my head six months ago that I can now understand or when I was able to correct a typo in Fortran code used in modeling that other scientists missed.
"All things good to know are difficult to learn."- Greek Proverb    

Besides classes, my other major task has been to begin the research which will eventually become my dissertation.  I've already started to share some of the research tasks that I have worked on this semester with you through my blog, and there are many others that I have been learning but haven't had time to share yet.  I have plenty of material for future science blog posts!  I am now one chemistry and one analytic step away from generating my first set of detrital garnet analyses.  I have done sample preparation on material from three different locations total, which will allow me to push forward their chemistry in coming months.  I have started a test that will be used to directly compare and analyze the accuracy of the ages produced by detrital garnet geochronology to the ages generated by the lab's currently accepted techniques for dating garnet from metamorphic rocks.  Not bad for 3.5 months and having to learn all the techniques from scratch, although I think it is the nature of the scientist to always wish for more progress. :-)

Exactly one year ago, I was a senior undergraduate student at a small private school in the Midwest.  I was submitting my finalized applications to graduate schools across the country, preparing to student teach during the final semester of undergrad. (Spring of 2011) and knew big changes were coming in my life.  Since then I completed one semester of full-time teaching experience in a rural high school, defended my senior thesis, graduated at the top of my class, chose a graduate program, went abroad for the first time to complete fieldwork in Scotland, moved across the country to Boston, and I have now completed a full semester as a PhD graduate student.  It constantly amazes me how much can happen in a year, and I can only imagine what this coming year is going to bring! (Here's hoping the coming year brings my name as a coauthor on a peer-reviewed, published paper!)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Boston Common Lighting and a Gingerbread Girl

Thanksgiving is now over and December is here!  Sorry I did not have an adventure to share with you last weekend, but I was away from Boston and home in the Midwest with family.  Plus pictures of me while Black Friday shopping from Thursday at 9PM until well into Friday just weren't going to make it onto the blog. lol.

Boston welcomes December with the lighting of Boston Common on Dec. 1st of each year.  I talked Elise into accompanying me, we bundled up in our bright, color-coordinated winter weather gear, and set off to see the tree.  We arrived a little before 7 and joined the crowd gathering on the Common.  There was a stage set up and we enjoyed entertainment from musical groups, the Rockettes,  and members of the Boston Ballet.  The show was super cheesy and included a giant Frosty the Snowman and dancing Reindeer and lots of Christmas music.  The tree is a large spruce tree donated by Nova Scotia.  Evidently in 1917 a huge explosion rocked Halifax and Boston rushed to their aid.  In return Nova Scotia has been sending Boston a tree each year for about forty years.  As the tree was lit, the city sets off fireworks and immediately after everyone joined in Christmas carols.  This is definitely a cheesy, super fun way to welcome December and we have already made plans to attend again next year!
The lit Christmas tree on Boston Common
Since December is here, it's also time for Christmas parties!  I attended a holiday costume party across the river on Saturday night.  I went dressed as a gingerbread girl in a dress and hat I painted myself.  So much fun!
me as a gingerbread girl

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Metamorphosis of a Superhero

Spies go undercover, adopting a new set of clothing and a new appearance in order to fulfill their missions.  Superheroes have brightly colored suits, capes, and a wide array of weapons and gadgets at their disposal while they save the day.  Geochemists often have their own equivalent of the superhero costume or undercover spy clothing- they have clean lab gear!

Several weeks ago I shared a picture drawn by my best friend that shows me as a superhero named GeoKate.  Here it is again in case you missed it the first time:
This picture along with questions from several people about what I have to wear when working in the clean lab have inspired me to present a real-life view of GeoKate, who by attending grad. school is in training to become a geochemistry superhero.  Enjoy!

The Metamorphosis: From Ordinary Grad. Student to Clean Lab Superhero
Upon entering the outer room of the clean lab, the heroine leaves behind the tools of her everyday life (keys, phone, shoes, etc) and prepares to transform.  Winding her way deeper into the lab, she encounters the cloak room, and the metamorphosis begins.

1)  Shoes- Lab shoes not only prevent acid from damaging the heroine's feet, but add a stylish touch to the superhero uniform.
 2) Hair net- A stray hair in your lab beaker is definitely not acceptable.  Neither is having your hair in your face while you're flying.
3) Hood-  A key part of obscuring your identity, since it makes everyone in the lab look identical from most angles.
 4) Lab coat-  Besides the practical use of keeping her clothes clean while fighting crime and dissolving rock, it nicely doubles as a cape while in flight.  It also confuses all of the various evil doctors and villains who often use lab coats as their standard uniform.  They don't expect a superhero to wear one!
5) Face shield/goggles-  GeoKate is modeling the face shield here but most of the time wears the less extreme goggle option.  But sometimes you just need the extra protection and a bug guard while flying!
6) Gloves- Blue nitrile gloves.  Definitely an up-and-coming fashion trend for the functionality conscious.  No germs, no mess, and a splash of color that matches the shoes. Not to mention no fingerprints.....
  Voila! The metamorphosis is complete.  Now...off to save the day! (or learn more about garnet...)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

BEE #8: Boston Public Library and Boston Common in Fall

The first of this weekend's wanderings brought me and my roommate to the Boston Public Library.  The Boston Public Library was the first large and free municipal library in the United States.  There are two buildings that are a part of the central library, one dating from 1895 and the other from 1972.  My roommate and I entered the older of the two buildings and were greeted by the main staircase, guarded by two lion statues.
Main staircase at the Boston Public Library, viewed from above
The Boston Public library is full of statues and artwork by many notable artists.  The architecture is also very impressive.  I want to go back and take one of the free tours to see more of the building and learn more of the history associated with the building and its art.  Unfortunately, on this trip most of my sightseeing of the library was confined to the main staircase and Bates Hall, where we settled in to study.  I have a big midterm coming up for my Mathematical Modeling class, so studying is a major priority right now!  Of course, it didn't hurt that I had an impressive view during my four hours of studying differential equations and numerical modeling. :-)
View while studying when I wasn't staring at differential equations and calculus
On Sunday, my roommate and I took advantage of another beautiful day and went walking after church and lunch with new friends.  We walked through Boston Common and Boston Public Gardens to enjoy the fall colors which have FINALLY arrived!  Nothing like pictures with beautiful foliage!
Steeple through the Foliage
The Boston Public Garden Bridge

BEE #7: Modern Pastry and Sunday Wanderings

Last Sunday was beautiful.  The weather has been unseasonably warm for November, generally in the high 50s and low 60s.  I made plans to hang out with two of my friends from GCF, so we met up near Park Street after church.

Street performer in Boston Common
The afternoon started with going out to eat.  Then with the beautiful weather sticking around we decided to go on a walk through Boston Common and the Public Gardens.  The trees had started to change, but were not fully ablaze yet due to the long stretch of warm weather.  We stopped to watch a wedding party taking pictures and later a street performer with a crazy one-man band get-up singing a song about chocolate and talking to his plastic chicken.  You never know what you will find when exploring Boston!

After that we went to the harbor to enjoy the boats and the water. Nathan made friends with a couple of seagulls, we watched planes land and take-off at Logan airport across the harbor, enjoyed conversation, and considered taking Sunday afternoon naps along the water.
Boston Harbor with friends

Modern Pastry
Finally, we decided to walk to the North End to visit an Italian bakery.  This was a new area for me to explore!  In Boston, the North End is essentially Little Italy with loads of awesome looking Italian restaurants and bakeries.  There is an ongoing debate between whether Mike's Pastry or Modern Pastry is supreme in the North End.  I have heard people argue passionately for both sides in just my short time here.  We decided to go with Modern on this day, since Becca prefers that one.  We arrived at the bakery and found a line out the door, which I always consider a promising sign.  After all, Garrett's Popcorn in Chicago required waiting in such a line and it is superb.  We waited patiently and finally got inside, where we were greeted with a case full of tasty looking treats.  I opted for a cannoli filled with ricotta and a "Lobster's Tail" (flaky cream filled pastry) to take home for later in the week.  I was quite pleased with my choices- they were pretty yummy.  Now I'll have to try Mike's sometime so I can make my own decision on which camp to join!
My cannoli

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grains of Sand

About a month ago I told you about my piles of sand.  Now I am headed for single grains of sand and you are invited to follow along with my next science installment!

My last science installment followed the steps involved in generating several vials of sand with magnetic properties close to those expected for my mineral of interest- garnet.  This process narrows the search field, but unfortunately never yields a vial of pure garnet.  That's where the next step comes in.

The next step is known as hand-picking.  It takes place under a stereoscope, which looks like this:
Stereoscope on and ready to go
Basically, it's a microscope that allows the user to examine three-dimensional samples under varying magnifications and light intensities.  This particular scope is also outfitted with a digital camera for taking pictures of the individual sand grains when necessary.

The samples, which can be seen in the vials to the right of the scope above, are dumped into a weighing boat (the blue plastic dish the vials are in- above) or a clean glass dish.  The dish and sample are placed under the stereoscope.  Then I have to use the magnifying powers of the stereoscope, very fine tweezers, and my mineral identification skills to sort the garnet grains from all of the other grains of sand, proceeding one grain at a time.

PTFE-coated Tweezers, ink pen and lab notes for scale
I have two pairs of tweezers- one made from non-magnetic stainless steel and the other pair coated in PTFE (Teflon).  Both are considered needle-point and are essentially some of the finest tipped tweezers available.  They have to be...I am using them to pick up individual sand grains!  Why two pairs you ask?  The pair coated in Teflon is intended only for use with my detrital garnet grains, to minimize the exposure of the grains to unnecessary metal.  Contact with metal objects could, theoretically, contaminate my samples and skew my results since I am working with such extremely small sample volumes.  I am pretty sure that any potential impact of metal contact will be mitigated by later processing, but it never hurts to avoid the potential problem altogether when possible!  

Ultimately, each grain of garnet is individually picked out of my piles of sand using the tweezers and placed in a new vial containing only garnet from a single sample.  Generally, garnet is fairly easy to identify beneath the stereoscope's magnification, since it is pink to red to reddish brown.  Most of the other minerals that end up with it when grouped magnetically are nowhere near this color spectrum.

Hand-picking continues until I have gathered a vial with enough garnet to be analyzed.  This can take quite a bit of time, since each grain is selected individually.  Once enough grains are selected, it's off to the clean lab!  More on those adventures will be coming soon..... 

Of course, this is nowhere near an ideal system for mineral separation yet.  My original sand contains an extremely large volume of two minerals known as quartz and feldspar.  They are so abundant, that although magnetic separation should keep them far away from the garnet, they have permeated everything and to make matters worse, the feldspar is pink!  I am currently researching additional processing steps to add to our current mineral separation methods, such as heavy liquids and/or a water table, to eliminate this problem. Hopefully there will be posts in the future about new processes and procedures that I have added to our lab's capabilities to deal with these issues.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

BEE #6: Cambridge Beginnings (The Friendly Toast and the Charles)

Last weekend was less of a single adventure and more of a compilation of smaller adventures.

On Friday I had to attend my first of four Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) seminars, which are required  for all students funded by NSF grants.  Basically they are two-hour sessions that use case studies to foster conversation on ethics in research.  The topic for the first one was why fabricating data and/or lying about your results is not how research should be done.  And yes...the conclusions that you just drew and assumptions you made just from reading that last statement are the same conclusions you draw after discussing it in depth for two hours in heterogeneous small groups.  But I suppose there were good points made by some and that some people probably needed the reminder.  I was reminded not to lie about my results, learned how to use the BU shuttle to get from the main campus to the med. campus, and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the Boston skyline from the fourteenth floor of the Medical School building, so I am counting it a success.
My beautiful city as seen from BU's med campus
Saturday morning I went out for breakfast with a group of people from GCF at the Friendly Toast in Cambridge.  Not only did I realize how much I already love these people, but I found a new place that I would HIGHLY recommend for breakfast.  It gets pretty busy after 9 though, so come prepared to wait or get there early!  I had two very large toffee crumble pancakes, which I could not finish because they were just too big.  Other people at the table had everything from pumpkin pancakes to waffles with pomegranate molasses to a build-your-own omelette and everyone seemed to love what they had.

After breakfast, we had some picture-taking fun then walked from the restaurant, which is near MIT, down to the Charles in hopes of seeing the regatta that was supposed to be occurring.  While we didn't see the regatta, we did see plenty of sailboats out on the river and I got another beautiful view of the city from a different perspective. :-)
Across the Charles- a view of Boston from Cambridge
Finally, Saturday afternoon I got out of the city for a while and attended my adviser's fall party.  I got to meet his wife and adorable children and enjoyed some quality bonding time with my labmates while proving that we fail at identifying apple varieties based only on taste and that peanut butter/chocolate dessert bars should be eaten in the largest justifiable quantities. :-)

Yet another successful weekend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

BEE #5: Boston Common and Public Gardens (Late Summer/Early Fall)

This post represents a summary of my first exploration of the Boston Common and the Public Gardens.  Since both change with the seasons, I offer a first look from the perspective of late summer or early autumn.

The Gated Entrance
Boston Common and the Boston Public Gardens are adjacent park areas in the heart of Boston.  They form the northern end of what is known as the "Emerald Necklace," a string of connected green spaces and parks in the city.  Boston Common is the nation's oldest city park and encompasses about 50 acres, while the Public Gardens are spread over roughly 25 acres.  Together they contain many statues and monuments, fountains, seasonal plantings, open green space, an old cemetery, and have hosted many cultural and historical events over the years.  With so much to see and the changing seasons, these sites will require return visits- not to mention that they provide a beautiful escape from urban landscapes!

The Frog Pond

My roommate and I visited the Common to enjoy a Sunday afternoon lunch we packed with the intent of savoring a beautiful October day while on a park bench.  We sat beside the frog pond in the Common, a shallow pool sometimes used for wading in the summer and used as a skating rink during the winter.  (Perhaps a future adventure might include skating here!)  Not only did we get to enjoy lunch outside, we got to people watch as well!

Plaque on statue commemorating ether!
After lunch we walked around, enjoying the day and some of the sights the parks have to offer.  There are so many plaques, statues, and fountains to be appreciated that we couldn't possibly see them all during this trip. We did get to see some of the highlights though, such as the equestrian statue of George Washington with the Boston skyline behind it, the statue based on the children's story Make Way for Ducklings, the pond where the famous Swan Boats can be seen during the summer months (another possible adventure...), and a fascinating monument to commemorate the invention of ether for pain management.  Okay, so maybe most people wouldn't include that last one as a highlight- but me being the science nerd that I am..I loved that one!
George Washington and the Boston skyline
With everything that remains to be seen, I can almost guarantee that future adventures will occur here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Adventures of GeoKate!

I got mail today in my box at school.  I LOVE getting mail, but especially when it is birthday mail from one of my best friends.  Inside the envelope I found some fun birthday notes and cards and then all of a sudden I spotted this masterpiece:
Cover Page for the Comic "The Adventures of GeoKate!"
Not only am I outfitted as a super-hero geochemist (complete with my awesome purple/blue lab clogs, rock hammer, and stylish face shield to protect my face from hydrofluoric acid), I also have the power of flight fueled by reading journal articles.  Knowledge is power, after all!  (Is there really ANY question why she's my best friend?!)

You better believe this went straight up on the wall in my cubicle.

Beyond Boston: New Hampshire IV Retreat

After a weekend away and a busy beginning to this week (first exam as a grad. student and beginning to learn partial dissolution procedures in the clean lab!), I am just now writing about this past weekend's adventure.

I took the opportunity to get out of Boston and see part of neighboring New Hampshire.  Intervarsity offered graduate students from around Boston the opportunity to go on a fall retreat to the Toah Nipi retreat center, near Rindge, New Hampshire from Friday night through Sunday afternoon of the long weekend.

View from the Beach
Toah Nipi means "wide waters" in the Algonquin language.  It has long been a meeting place where people came together, whether from the Algonquin people or attending modern retreats and camps.  In fact, a birch-bark canoe recovered from the location attests to the rich heritage of the site.  The buildings are surrounded by woods containing miles of hiking trails on all sides and are near a beautiful lake rimmed by trees just beginning to change colors.  

Becca canoeing!
Almost 200 graduate students were in attendance for the weekend event.  We had all kinds of activities spanning everything from fun and games to worship and learning.  On Saturday we had free time, which I filled with canoeing on the lake, an hour-long hike in the woods, helping to assemble apple pies for dinner, and many rounds of the game Bananagrams.  Other fun activities included a late-night game of Dutch Blitz (that I won!), group games with BU GCF, and a Jack-O-Lantern carving contest between the groups from different schools.  We also had meaningful times of worship, joined in group Bible study with other graduate students from our own schools, built friendships while having fun and around the campfires, and received invaluable advice from people who have been where we are now and are willing to share their experiences by serving on a mentor panel.  We were also challenged to seek balance in our lives and to live now like we want to live the rest of our lives.

Campfire on the beach
On Sunday, I also happened to be celebrating my birthday while on the retreat!  At breakfast they surprised me with a large square of coffee cake and candle and sang happy birthday.  I don't think I could have asked for a better way to spend my first birthday of graduate school than building friendships and being challenged to grow.

It was wonderful to be able to leave behind some of the worries and stresses of graduate school for the weekend.  Don't worry though- I am a geologist through and through.  As I sat on the beach on Sunday morning, I found myself looking down at the sand around my feet and thinking "I wonder how much garnet I could separate out from this sand in the mineral separation lab...." then proceeded to sort through a handful to find a grain to show to a friend so she could see what I am studying!
Ever the geologist...."How much garnet is here?!"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Piles of Sand

Am I doing any work or just exploring the city? What have I been up to in the lab?  I'm so glad you asked, and I have an answer for you this week.  Prepare yourself- this is a (lengthy) science update post!

I am now officially one month into my time here in Boston.  Besides adjusting to life as a grad. student, life in a new city, and my two classes for the semester (geochemistry and a mathematical modeling course), I have plenty of ambitious research goals for the semester.  In fact, I have at least four projects that I am supposed to be starting or working on at some point in the next couple months.  I have a feeling you'll hear about them over the coming months..or years.

But before I can produce large amounts of relevant data in the lab, I am currently in that joyous stage of being the newbie, the trainee, the person who has no idea how to do most of the routine procedures in my new lab and has to ask someone for help every time I come up against the next step.  Clearly there are some benefits to that situation (like being limited in what labs I have been trained in so therefore feeling no guilt at not spending every waking moment in the lab or the constant learning of new and exciting things) as well as drawbacks (like not being even remotely self-sufficient and making slow research progress).  I have been assured by my adviser that it could take me a good year to two years until I can confidently handle any and all of the research tasks expected of me- so I suppose I am doing well for a month in. It's all about perspective.

That being said, I am happy to share with you what I have accomplished this month in the lab.  Really, it all centers on making piles of sand.

Glen Clova, Scotland
The first of my four projects involves sand collected from a river flowing through Glen Clova, Scotland.  Glen Clova is a famous glacially-carved, U-shaped valley and is part of the type locality for the Barrovian metamorphic sequence.  I visited in June and collected the sample, along with my adviser and field assistant.  (If you missed my post on summer fieldwork and want to see more details on my trip to Scotland or pictures, check it out here.)  The current goal for the sample is to separate out the mineral garnet and attempt to establish an age for individual garnet grains.  This sample will be a part of the method development for my dissertation.  My overall PhD project is focused on developing a system for dating detrital (eroded and then redeposited elsewhere) garnets, which has essentially never been done and would open a whole new tool for geochronology.

The first step is taking my bucket of sand and separating out the grains of garnet from the overwhelming amounts of quartz, feldspar, and other minerals present.  While you could theoretically just sit there with tweezers and hunt through the bucket, that would be terrible and not very efficient.  Therefore, we can use properties of the minerals to separate them into different "piles."  Many geologists (and most prospectors) have gone through a similar series of steps as a part of the basic sample preparation that is my current lab activity.

The first step is to send the sand through sieves with different size mesh screens.  This divides the grains into piles with similar grain sizes.  This is important not only for later mineral separation steps, but allows me to gain an idea of the grain size distribution for garnet in this sample.  Since I am developing a new method that uses a single grain of garnet at a time, I would ideally like to find the largest grains that exist to start with, before working down to smaller grains.  Also, since my samples have much larger grains than what my lab is used to working with (finely crushed "pure" garnets), I got to determine that we need some sieves with larger mesh sizes and order them.  Thus, my first contribution to making my lab more versatile! Hooray!

Once the grains are separated by size, I have been using a Frantz electromagnetic separator to divide the grains based on magnetic susceptibility.  Most mineral grains are magnetic to at least a small degree, especially if you use a big enough electromagnet and set it appropriately.  The differences in magnetic susceptibility between minerals of different types allow sand to be separated into piles based on the degree of magnetism.
The Frantz I've been using the past couple weeks
Here's how it works:

  1. Clean the machine thoroughly.  (You definitely don't want grains from the previous user's sample contaminating your sample!)
  2. Turn on the magnet and set the desired level of magnetism.  Since I'm aiming for garnet, I usually start with a high setting to eliminate the least magnetic minerals and work my way towards gradually eliminating more magnetic minerals.  People who want to separate out other minerals may approach it differently.
  3. Load whatever sample you wish to separate into the glass container that will feed the grains into the machine.  Usually you want to use a hand magnet on this sample before you load it, because that will remove one mineral (magnetite) that is the most magnetic and keep very magnetic grains from sticking to the magnet.
  4. You can control how quickly the glass feeder container and a tray between the two portions of the electromagnet vibrate to control how quickly grains move through the magnet.  Grains fall out of the feeder (ideally basically one grain at a time so they don't influence one another) and move down a tray between the electromagnet.  The tray is tilted so that by gravity, grains prefer to move down the side away from the operator.  However, grains that are more magnetic than the magnet's current setting will be pulled up to the portion of the track closer to the operator.  The grains are then separated into two containers at the other end- the closer one being more magnetic and the one further away less magnetic.
  5. Since I want garnet I continually rerun the pile collected in the container closest to me at a lower magnetic setting so that it is separated into two new piles.  This continues until I have one or two piles that have a larger proportion of garnet than any of the other piles.
Some people use heavy liquids or water tables to separate minerals by density and to reduce the amount of time required and increase the efficiency of the Frantz.  We have been discussing having me implement these strategies in our lab eventually, especially since I may have to separate relatively large amounts of sand.  We shall see what the future holds.

I also got to make another contribution to improving my lab's efficiency by constructing a "backboard" to keep my grains from bouncing out of the Frantz as they dropped out of the feeder.  Evidently the combination of larger grain size plus an old Frantz model leads to quite a few grains trying to jump ship before they head down the tray- regardless of how high or low the vibration of the feeder and tray is set.  I improvised a shield from weighing paper and label stickers- nothing like scientific McGuyvering.

That pretty much sums up month one in the lab.  So far it has been basic sample processing (all of which I actually did once upon a time as an undergrad. for a term project) but at least it's progress!  I'll share the next step for these piles of sand in an upcoming post.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

BEE #4: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA)

Saturday, Sept. 24th was Smithsonian magazine's Museum Day.  Museums across the country offered two free admissions per household if you simply registered in advance and printed off your voucher.  I looked into it and found that of the participating museums in Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) was on the list!  I registered and received two free tickets, one for me and one for my roommate (a $40 value for free!).

On Saturday we headed for the museum by T (the public transit system).  The museum is located off of the Green E line, so we had to transfer to get there.  Unfortunately, the station that looked like it should connect us to the correct line on the maps did not allow you to pass from the inbound to the outbound platform, which is what we needed.  So instead we ended up going up to street level and walking a couple of blocks to the next station, where we made the transfer successfully.  Turns out this was an added bonus!  We got to see another part of the city (a portion of Back Bay) that we will return to for a future adventure...

We arrived at the museum, turned in our vouchers for tickets and entered.  The MFA offers free coat-check, so we were able to get rid of our jackets before setting off to view some art.
Me in front of one of the entrances to the MFA
The MFA is BIG.  Granted my roommate and I are both "sign-readers"...so it takes us a little longer than most people to get through an area.  However, we probably only got through about a fourth of the museum in a 4-5 hour visit!  I will just have to come back in the future, but for now I'll share what I saw in my first visit.  On this trip we saw the exhibits on jewelry and musical instruments, the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, and a special exhibit of five works by Monet.

Both the jewelry and the musical instruments are housed in two small exhibits near the Huntington entrance to the museum.  The jewelry exhibit contains everything from a jewelry set that belonged to Mary Todd Lincoln to a box decorated in exquisite amber cameos to a set of pieces that included taxidermy hummingbirds in their design!  Many of the pieces were either very beautiful or rather unusual and were well worth the time we spent looking at them.  The old musical instruments exhibit included a couple of pieces that stood out to me among a lot of less interesting but historically relevant instruments.  My favorite in the room was the rotating glass bowl instrument that Benjamin Franklin designed to reduce the effort necessary to produce the sound made by rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a goblet.  The intricately decorated grand piano and inlaid guitar were also some of my other favorites in the exhibit.

We then headed to the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.  This wing of the museum is new and just opened in about the last month.  It provides a home for more modern pieces of art that range from statues to neon signs to the odd and slightly weird.
"All Art has been contemporary"
The neon sign on the wall says "All art has been contemporary," which makes a good point.  I think highlights of the wing included a work made out of bottle caps and aluminum bottle labels that resembled a topographic map, a twisted hand-carved clay sculpture, a lattice-work basket made of Pyrex rods, and a piece supposed to resemble an ice flow.  For the ice flow piece the artist had traveled to the Arctic and recorded the sounds of bubbles and water moving under the ice.  She then made it into low frequency vibrations, so that when you sat on the ice flow mold, you could feel and experience being on an ice sheet!  (If you noticed...a couple of the pieces I just mentioned could be linked to science....lol.)

We got lunch at the cafeteria in the museum and ate it in an outdoor courtyard.  Then after lunch we finished the contemporary wing, walked around to explore the layout of the rest of the museum.  Here is my favorite staircase we discovered in our wanderings.
Staircase in MFA, lined with vases
Finally, we visited a special exhibit that was in its last two days at the MFA.  The special exhibit displayed five works by Monet and five by Lichtenstein all inspired by the Rouen Cathedral.  Monet painted the cathedral from five varying perspectives with different lighting.  Lichtenstein then drew inspiration from Monet's five paintings about seventy-five years later and created images of dots silk-screened over a base color to echo the outlines of the cathedral recorded by Monet.  The contrast between the classic works by Monet gathered from museums around the world (all together in one place!!) and the more modern works by Lichtenstein was very interesting and it was fun to see how the same subject could lead to very different pieces of work!

There is still a lot left to explore.  Besides our wandering to get the layout of the museum, we did not get a chance to explore the Art of the Americas, the European Art, the Ancient Art or the Asian Art wings.  I guess there is always next time! :-)

After we finished at the museum, we took a detour on our way home for a repeat trip to Haymarket (BEE #1).  Nothing beats four nectarines or a bag of lemons for a buck!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

BEE #2&3: Fenway Perspectives

More of the quintessential landmarks in Boston are Fenway Park and The Green Monster.  I knew that I wanted to visit Fenway at some point in my five year stay in Boston and that my brothers have big dreams of coming to visit me so they can visit Fenway...but I didn't exactly expect to be attending not one, but TWO Red Sox games in my second full week at school!  With two games under my belt, I have now experienced Fenway from different perspectives...and I think I might need a Red Sox hat for Christmas if game attendance is going to continue in the future!

Game #1:
Field view from outfield bleachers
My first trip to Fenway involved four tickets that one of my fellow grad. students had to the Wed. Sept. 14th game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  The plan was for myself, my adviser, the new lab manager, and one of my adviser's other students to attend the game after work on Wednesday.  Of course, what they thought was a night game turned out to be a day game!  After much discussion, we decided that playing hooky (shhhh don't tell!) was acceptable to attend the Sox game...as long as we all went back to work after the game and made up for the time missed by working in the evening!  We had seats in the outfield bleachers and it's from there that I got my first look at the Green Monster.

The Green Monster from the outfield bleachers
For those of you unfamiliar with baseball and Fenway Park, the Green Monster is the tall, green wall in left field.  When Fenway was built, the city road on the other side of the wall prevented them from building out, so instead they just built up!  The wall also houses the scoreboard, which is changed manually from inside as well as updates on other games happening around the country, which are manually changed by a worker who exits the wall through a door onto the field between innings.

In my first game I saw my first major league home run, ate an Italian sausage with onions and peppers (which I'm told is a staple), and began to learn the names of some of the Red Sox players.  Unfortunately...I didn't get to experience my first Red Sox win- they lost 4-5.  (Just to set the record straight- we did go back to work afterwards and I spent my evening training in the mineral separation lab..yay!)

Game #2:
My second Red Sox game came on Sat. Sept. 17.  Since I am in a new city, making friends and finding people to connect with has been a priority.  Therefore, I decided to attend an event for BU's Graduate Christian Fellowship group which meant...Red Sox Game #2!

Instead of having tickets already in hand, this time I experienced the "Game Day" ticket sales process.  We met up as a group at BU around one then walked over to Fenway, where we joined a long line of people hoping to purchase tickets for the 4:00PM game.  The Red Sox games have sold out for the last couple of years, so you have to get there early for any hope of getting a seat!  We waited in line for a couple hours talking and getting to know one another until they opened the ticket sales window.  When we got up to the front our choices were $90 seats or $20 standing room only tickets...we're poor grad. students....so I'm pretty sure you can guess what we went with!  After we got our tickets we went straight into the stadium and sat down for a while in someone else's seats to rest up for potentially standing through the game!  This gave me a new perspective on the stadium that I'm sure I could never otherwise afford (note the padded seats...).
View from the padded seats in left field
Once the people came to claim their seats, we got bounced and stood in designated standing room for a while, until we eventually got to sit in different unoccupied seats.  Turns out we landed in a season ticket holder area, where people had chosen not to use their seats that day.  This gave me yet another view of the field, which frankly was my favorite because it provided a good view of the players up to bat:
View from left field bleachers
We had a lot of fun teaching the international students who were with us how the game of baseball works.  We also participated in the time-honored traditions of the seventh inning stretch and the eighth inning singing of Sweet Caroline (which evidently no one really knows the origin of).  A good time was had by all, even down to the Cracker Jacks!

The one downside is that I still haven't seen the Red Sox win!  They lost to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday 3-4 in a bit of a nail-biter.  I guess there's always next time....

My office + Bonus City Picture #2

When I was an undergraduate, all of the geology majors had a drawer in the main room that we hung out in, learned in, did labs in, sometimes slept in, and often ate in.  Now that I am a graduate student, I have moved up in the world and I get my very own desk!

When I arrived at BU, I was assigned a desk in one of the smaller grad. offices adjacent to the graduate student lounge and shared by four or five other grad. students.  However, offices at BU are seniority based...so that assignment didn't last very long before I was displaced by one of the more senior students.  Now I have a desk in a cubicle in the biggest grad office, which houses the desks of ten geology grad. students.  Honestly, I was a little bummed at first to be moving down the hall and away from some of my adviser's older students, but then I realized that my new office is much quieter- so I'm pretty happy with the change.  It's nice to have a work place that I can decorate with my own stuff!  (For any of the Olivet people reading this...if you look hard enough you just might recognize a rhinestone stapler or creepies from Jamie or my graduation gift!)

My cubicle in the grad. office!
Bonus City Life #2:
Like I said before, walking down the streets of Boston you never know exactly what you are going to see if you are observant.  On Friday I was walking home from school since it was a gorgeous day, and I spotted this across the street:

Food truck!
At home this past summer I watched a LOT of shows on the Food Network.  One of those shows was the Great Food Truck Race...and this truck (known as Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese) was one of the trucks competing!  I decided that since it was dinner time I might as well add to my list of adventures and make my first food truck memory at a truck featured on the Food Network.  I ordered the "Green Muenster"- a muenster grilled cheese with bacon  and guacamole.  It was delicious!  As I waited for my order I also got a sample of the special of the day, which is perhaps the most odd grilled cheese I have ever eaten.  It was a local cheese with almonds, chocolate covered bacon, and mango.