Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Strictly Business

Jeepers, I didn't realize how long it had been since I last posted. Now that I think about it, time has really flown here. I have three weeks left now, and only two of those will be work. That means I have to start writing my report (joy!). It also means that I'm running out of time and need "get a move on," as we say back home. I guess I'll start and end with work this time.

New Data = Fun
I remember mentioning earlier that I enjoy the thrill of discovery and the puzzle-like side of experimental analysis. Well, I got to test my optimism last week. You see, over the last two-and-a-half months I have performed a series of time-consuming and somewhat expensive experiments with the calorimeter. For the most part, we assumed a fairly basic and well-known mechanism for what was happening within. (We have to assume because we do not yet have a way to verify this directly.) I slightly varied a few different parameters and things were going pretty much according to plan. Since the main purpose of these experiments is to develop a way to test new catalysts, I had to start with new materials eventually. I'll leave out most of the technical details, but suffice it to say the latest experiment was basically just to verify what we already "knew." Hah.

When I showed my mentor the new results, I believe the reaction was, "Oh no." It turns out we don't really know what's going on in there. This happened last week, and suddenly I was all too aware of my time constraints. We had already switched (at my suggestion) to longer experiments--we get better resolution, but each one now takes twelve hours. If I'm feeling really dedicated, or especially curious, I can finish two experiments in a day. (My time spent actually preparing each one is about half an hour--I get to leave it alone after that). So, at this rate, I can do at most 14 more experiments before I leave, since they all have to be repeated at least once. I really wish I had more time here since this has potential to be a simple, useful method that would be used to save time, money, and effort in the future.

Back to the optimism bit. As I see it, this could have gone one of two ways: depression or euphoria. OK, I wasn't exactly happy about this new development, but I felt like I had made the jump from a 100-piece cartoon puzzle to a 5000-piece based on a Pollock. There's so much more to look at now, so many things that need answers, so little time . . . . These last two weeks will be busy. I'm planning two overlapping courses of experiments that will hopefully end in similar and comprehensible results. If they don't, I feel sorry for--and a little jealous of--the person that picks up where I left off.

My other project, the analytical chemistry side, looks like it will be wrapped up this week or next. I had a bit of a breakthrough last week. It was a bit of an epiphany moment--I was reading some related literature and suddenly everything came together. Pieces falling into place, if you'll let me continue my earlier metaphor. There's more work to do in order to check and quantify everything, but it looks promising. I'm hoping there are no more "oh no" moments.

I have several travel stories to tell, but this post is long enough, and I need to go to bed so I'm rested for soccer tomorrow. So pictures and more later.

Until then,
Joseph

3 comments:

Nick said...

Joseph,
When will I ever see you again?

Charlotte said...

that Pollock analogy is hilarious...

Adam said...

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