Sunday, January 15, 2012

Away from Boston and Back Again: Christmas Break and a Research Update

Two weeks away from Boston for Christmas break, a week and a half back in Boston working on research without the distraction of classes, and the start of classes impending in the coming week.  It's been a busy month since I last wrote!

I went home to the Midwest to celebrate the holidays with family.  We had lots of laughter, family gatherings, time spent relaxing, present exchanges, and good memories.  Highlights included going to the Indianapolis Symphony to see the annual Christmas Yuletide show as well as having lunch with a good friend to see her new engagement ring!  While being home for two weeks was wonderful, all good things come to an end and it was back to Boston on January 4th.

The past week and a half I have been working on my research without the distraction of classes.  I must admit, having such large blocks of time for research tasks was productive but also pretty strange.  I'm used to doing 20 different things at once.  For example, a year ago I was student teaching full time in a rural high school and writing/defending a senior thesis at the same time and the semester before that I was taking 5 classes, including a couple upper level geology classes, while TAing for another 2 courses, working as a planetarium operator, working on research, and doing classroom observation hours.  The chance to focus on just research...well it's been a while since that chance came along.

It's been a fairly eventful week and a half in regards to research.  I have now learned most of the garnet dissolution and lab techniques that we use frequently and my first actual garnet samples should be analyzed within the next couple weeks... well as soon as the TIMS is working again.  For those of you unfamiliar with the TIMS, it is the main analytical instrument that our lab uses to generate chemical data on garnet.  I don't want to get into all of the particulars of the machine's operation or purpose at the moment (I'll save it for a more extensive post with pictures to illustrate) but suffice it to say that the solution for fixing the instrument involved disconnecting all of the electrical connections and probes, rolling a 900+ pound magnet away from the instrument, and using heating pads, internal heating elements, and insulating blankets to literally bake the instrument to high temperatures to burn off any accumulated debris from years of use.  I got to help our lab tech. go through the steps to prep the instrument for baking and learned a lot about the instrument in the process!  I have also been doing major sample preparation in anticipation of a trip to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) this coming Friday for preliminary chemical analysis.  Keep an eye out for a post next week on my adventure to Woods Hole!

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