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. 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.