Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Return to Normalcy and A Tale of 8 or 9 Planets


Things are finally settling back down in Huntsville. I've neglected writing anything here for the past three weeks, but have still been carrying out several projects which I will post about soon. One is a nightly comparison of my sleep rhythm based upon readings from my iPhone accelerometer and the other is the classification of the insects I collected from Costa Rica last year. I'm just now completely over my sickness from a month ago, so I'm waiting for another beautiful night to take the telescope out. It's been far too bright and cloudy lately, so I'm anxious to get out and look around.

With Bishop out of the way, her lab still has a considerable amount of money left to blow. As a result, Ernie has commissioned Taito and me to draw up an experiment to finish up our NMDAR work. I think Ernie is worried about his future employment after all of the recent shenanigans (He shouldn't be, he's a good scientist). We will be running our abridged western blots Thursday, after lysing cells, spinning them down, and doing a protein assay. If there's one thing I especially love about science, it's procedure design.

Monday afternoon I managed to teach BYS 120 lab rather successfully. We combined two weeks of exercises into one week to make up for lost time. I think this is the first time that I felt I really taught the material well. I feel all of the students kind of knew what was going on and appreciated the hands on activities. My ego was pleased when one student told me I was the best TA he had had—particularly since I natively speak English. I try and stress having fun and being curious during these labs—many of the students have never looked at plants critically. Plant science is going to become increasingly important to human kind if we expect to feed the growing population in the upcoming future. Still, I feel like a tutor more than a for-real teacher. I would really like to better develop my teaching skills in the next six or so years; I think it's important for both myself and for those students I encounter.

I have an exam in my astronomy class in the upcoming days, so I've been thinking a lot about stellar evolution and felt like this would be a good place to tell a story:

Imagine, approximately five billion years ago our star, the sun, was just a budding protostar, surrounded by a disk of gas and dust. At this point in our history our sun was composed of relatively little material, perhaps containing only 1% of its total final mass. This relatively light body would not have the mass to begin nuclear fusion, which requires intense pressure and heat to begin. However, the mass of our protostar would grow constantly as ever more material fell onto its surface. As it gained more mass, the cloud of dust surrounding our star began to form a disc, from which planetessimals formed. These planetessimals formed from the accretion of condensed material, for this reason, near sun planets formed into essentially clumps of rock—made of carbon, iron, and silicates, while planets further from the sun formed from more volatile materials, namely H2O, ammonia, and volatile organics. As our sun begins to turn on, there was lots of gas in the solar system which will be captured by the near sun planets. These primary atmospheres would not last, however, and will burn away as soon as the sun's nuclear fusion kicks into high gear. Mercury will never again regain a significant atmosphere, yet Venus, Earth, and Mars are able to produce secondary atmospheres through geological processes. It is here, just several hundred thousand years after the start of our solar formation that our solar system takes a shape comparable to its current one. The stage is set, and in less than two billion years life will arise on our planet as carbon dioxide becomes trapped in carboniferous rocks—providing the basis for much of earth's buffering capacity.

Hopefully you enjoyed my tale.

-Andrew

1 comment:

haley said...

That's a lovely tale; there's something familiar about it.

Sounds like your year may actually have a shot at wrapping up nicely despite everything... I'm glad. Someday you're going to be everybody's favorite professor.