Home > Laboratory Adventures > Super-Lab-a-Rama


September 7, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today was lab-a-riffic.  Nothing but labs as far as the eye could see.

Step 1: CHY 123, the first of the Intro Chemistry labs (last week’s lab period was taken up with a safety briefing).  Met the TA (a young woman named Virginia who looks oddly familiar – she reminds me of, but isn’t, a person I worked with at one of my tech jobs many years ago), completed the little test designed to find out if one was paying attention in the previous week’s safety briefing, received equipment issue, acquired lab partner more or less by default, had first serious equipment problem.

You see, approved safety goggles are required at all times in the chemistry lab.  This is a wise precaution and I do not cavil at it.  Unfortunately, the approved goggles have a small problem, to wit: If you wear eyeglasses and tend to sweat from the hairline, they fog up in a stuffy room pretty much instantaneously.  Performing careful calculations and delicate laboratory operations like pouring precise amounts of liquids into graduated cylinders under poorly lit fume hoods – hard enough as it is when your vision is as poor as mine – become quite impossible under those conditions.  Clearing one’s goggles requires leaving the lab, which is not hard – there’s a breakout room right next door, where bags are left and pre-/post-lab discussions carried out – but one does need to be able to spend enough time in the lab to actually perform the experiment.  This can be challenging.

Still, my lab partner – whose name, I’m ashamed to admit, I almost instantly forgot in my standard fashion, except that it started with J and his surname was Brown (he is so recorded in the “lab partner” box on that page of my $80 lab notebook, “J. Brown”) – was pleasant enough, and the experiment itself was interesting once all the fiddly business with tareing our graduated cylinders (three times each for eight teams of two in a room with only three balances – that took a while) was over.  We were combining 4% solutions of polyvinyl alcohol and sodium borate, which causes a polymerization that turns the two liquids into a fairly stiff gel.  In this particular exercise, the point was not so much what the chemicals themselves were actually doing as what we were doing to (and about) the chemicals.

Also, I am, it pains me to confess, a pretty poor laboratory glassware washer.

After that, it was off to ECE 101 lab.  That’s usually on Wednesday for my unit, but because of the Monday holiday this week (and the fact that we spent so much time getting familiar with the setup last week that no one actually got the first lab done), all the week’s remaining lab section times were declared Open Lab.  My partner We’ll-Call-Him-Matt and I decided last week, when this was announced, that we’d go in today and see about getting it finished so that we wouldn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week.  He had to leave after an hour to get to another class, but we were well along by then, so I finished up without him.  I was the last one out, which makes me suspect that I rather held up the instructor and TAs, but nobody said anything about it, and the period was scheduled to go for another hour or so after I got done.

I have been informed that I am now officially an electrical engineering student, something one is not until the first time one commits so egregious a foul with a soldering iron that one blurts “Ah!  Goddammit!” and drops the instrument on the table.  Admittedly, I may have earned this honor more cheaply than some of my colleagues, simply because my threshold for pain is fairly low, particularly when heat is involved.  I don’t appear to have done myself any actual injury, though I did have an interesting conformal patch of lead on one fingertip for a while.

Also, there was a lab within that lab today, as Andy brought his dog with him – a large, friendly black Labrador retriever who works as a hospital therapy dog in her spare time.

Then I moved on to the Astronomy 110 lab I signed up for on Last Day To Add last week.  Except that I didn’t.  Or maybe I did.  It’s hard to tell.  Remember what I said earlier about the university’s plethora of online coursework systems?  One thinks I’m in the Tuesday lab section; the other thinks I’m supposed to be there on Monday.  I stuck around long enough to complete the preliminary test (another one designed to see if you’d read the syllabus) and the pre-lab for exercise 1, then informed the TA that I had the wrong day and bailed, because I prefer to believe the system that thinks I’m supposed to be there on Monday.  It would suit the rest of my schedule a lot better.

One of the items on the syllabus-reading test said that AST110 satisfies the General Science w/Lab graduation requirement if passed concurrently with or after AST109, the lecture component.  I passed AST109 in 1993, and I’ve still got the credits on my transcript to prove it.  Now, I think CHY121/123 is only on the engineering curriculum because it’s the most straightforward way of satisfying that same requirement.  If that’s the case, I might be able to drop Chemistry this semester and not be under any particular pressure to pick it up later on at all.  And if that’s the case, then I think I’ll seriously consider it, because though I had fun in lab, I’m clearly not cut out for that sort of work.  (I wonder, if you’ve already locked down the lab science requirement, if you can unlink 121 and 123.  Not if you intend to move on to 122/124, obviously, but… well, anyway.)

Tomorrow I meet with my advisor to talk about the failed-dependency issue with MAT126 and ECE177 next semester.  He told me in the email exchange we used to set up the meeting that he didn’t think it would be a problem, and my ECE 101 instructor said pretty much the same thing, after having a short and puzzled meeting with his TAs about it.  (“Did you even use calculus in 177?  Why did Rick flag it as a prereq then?  What are they doin’ over there?”)  I grumbled some more about having left CS because I didn’t want to program the damn things; Andy asked if I had any credits from programming classes in the old days, because I could probably get out of ECE177 with them, but unfortunately although I took several programming classes in the old days, I didn’t pass any of them.  That’s kind of why I stopped signing up for them.  Christ.  A man just can’t get away from it nowadays.

After class I popped over to Kmart and picked up a wifi router (why Kmart? because I could put it on my Sears card) for Dad’s house, so that I can use my laptop in the spare room he’s kitted out for me without having to go uncable his DSL modem from behind his desktop computer and bring it upstairs every time.  I had to talk him through the security system and how it means that roving Sudanese terrorists won’t be able to park their van in front of his house and hack the Pentagon in such a way that the FBI will come and shoot him, and it did the usual thing that wifi equipment always does where it pretends it’s not going to work for the first couple of attempts and then magically starts working, but now all is well.  It’s quite a nice room, actually.  Good view of the river.  And it’s much closer to the university than my house, which makes it a handy fallback for the times when I have a late evening and am expected back early the next morning (when my AST110 observation periods actually start next week, for instance, at which point I’ll be at the observatory from 2000-2200 on Mondays, weather permitting).  The only downside is that, between laptop, books, a change of clothes, various toiletries, and Magic Nose Machine, I have to travel with more gear than a friggin’ Everest expedition.

This blogging-before-bed thing is giving me a serious Doogie Howser, M.D. vibe.  If they were making that show now, he would totally be updating his blog at the end of each episode instead of just reflecting in a WordPerfect document.

  1. Dave Van Domelen
    September 8, 2010 at 19:31

    Talk to your instructor. The Approved Lab Goggles that are typically sold in the bookstore…SUCK. Seriously. I can’t use ’em myself. But there should be other Approved goggles you can get via other sources, before you need to actually take the course (since it appears you’ll be putting it off now). I wore alternate goggles in my chem class and was glad to have them, even if they were a few bucks more expensive.

    • Ben
      September 8, 2010 at 19:52

      The goggles used in the UMaine chem labs are kept in the breakout rooms I mentioned above, in what could charitably be described as a “heap”. On the plus side, the students don’t have to buy them (unlike the five other strangely expensive bookstore items associated with CHY121/123). On the minus side, they tend to be a bit… well, like you would expect goggles that are kept in a heap in a classroom to be.

      I’m no authority on laboratory goggles, but the aforementioned university-issue ones do seem to be of fairly good quality. If nothing else, they’re more substantial than your standard two-dollar Crews jobs. (I have a pair of the latter that I use to protect my eyeglass lens coating when I’m stir-frying. They’re not very good either, but at least they were cheap. And I only need to wear them for a couple minutes at a time. :)

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